The Black Dragon - Black Dragon R5 - Shadowy Links

[Toggle Names]

Description: While Katarina's forces engage the mercenaries in direct warfare a shadowy figure slips unseen into the heart of the casino in search of evidence that will aid his cause. But such a prize is not one to be claimed easily.

"Think we pissed them off?"

Kira turns to flash a wolfish grin at the handful of mercenaries gathered around her on the roof. Though their expressions are hidden behind the reflective faceplates of armored helmets she can hear the chortles of laughter through the comm bead hooked to her ear. Even her typically stoic lover cracks a faint smile.

"You always did know how to get under people's skin," Zhenya says.

Kira's grin only widens, her reptilian eyes sparkling with mischief.

"I prefer to do it with bullets and knives but a good old-fashioned war crime every now and then keeps things interesting."

Down below on the streets the screaming furious horde of Librarium soldiers surges forward in a disorderly charge, provoked into reckless action by the sight of their abused comrades. Whatever control the noble commander in charge may have had over their forces has been completely shattered, at least for the moment. But a single mistake in warfare can often be all that is necessary to turn the tides.

Fortunately for the NOL, Kira isn't actually interested in winning this fight. Even if she were to drive back this assault force there would simply be another and another and another. Trapped inside of her casino, she would find it extremely difficult to replenish supplies. It would only be a matter of time before sheer attrition won out. On top of that, it would run counter to the very reason that she started up this entire siege to begin with. Her goal was to stir up hatred and resentment against darkstalkers and those who would ally to their cause. She needs the NOL and those like them who are willing to stand up and fight back to be in a position where they can actually do that. Having successfully kicked the hornet's nest, her main focus now is making a convincing getaway before being swarmed.

As they begin to approach what will soon be the battlefield the lead elements of the Librarium soldiers begin to hurl blasts of magical energy ahead of them. Bolts of thunder and balls of fire ripple forward in an advancing wave of arcane detonations that shred the pavement and loose dirt apart. Several secondary explosions punctuate the rolling barrage as hidden land mines detonate sending geysers of deadly shrapnel flying harmlessly into the air long before the oncoming tide of bodies reach them.

"Well, well, not completely blinded by rage it seems."

Kira's smile remains unchanging as the first layer of the prepared defenses are neatly swept aside. She had used a similar tactic when laying out a defense of the power plant so it isn't surprising to her that they would fail to fall for the same trap a second time.

"At this rate they'll hit the outer perimeter in less than two minutes, commander."

One of the faceless mercenaries voices their concern over the comm network. Every head on the roof turns to look at her questioningly for a response. Kira lifts a hand up to silence them, a finger waggling back and forth playfully.

"Ah ah ah... wait for it..."

Their gazes return down to the street as the sea of azure warriors draws ever closer. Like a wild and furious horde of fancy barbarians they surge forward in a massed line, clearly intending to simply hit the defenses like a tidal wave and sweep them aside. Strangely, none of the soldiers stationed in the trenches and pillboxes open fire upon them, instead hunkering down behind their protective fortifications as stray bolts of magic crash down around them. To the untrained eye it might appear as if they are simply too frightened to retaliate, cowed by the vast numerical advantage and superior might of the magical army.


Kira's expression morphs into something wicked, her grin stretching from ear to ear as her mutated eyes widen in predatory anticipation. She opens the hand that had been held up earlier revealing a small black cylinder hidden in her palm, nondescript save for a bright red button situated atop one end. With dramatic emphasis, the mercenary lowers her thumb to the top of the button and presses it.

The entire street appears to erupt in a volcanic detonation of raw force. Thunderous plumes of shattered concrete blast skywards as yet more hidden explosives buried deep underneath the ground detonate below the leading edge of the charging Librarium forces. Those not caught directly in the blast are sent flying in all directions or left blinded as choking clouds of earthen debris roll over them.

Now the defenders finally emerge from their hiding places. Chattering gunfire rakes across the thick clouds in deadly accurate bursts, the tactical helmets offering the mercenaries thermal image overlays to pick out the warm bodies hidden behind the settling haze. Mortar shells begin to rain down among the tightly clustered mages in rippling bombardments, harassing anyone foolish enough to emerge from the obscuring wall to attempt to push forward.

Most of it is for show, of course. Kira had timed the explosion so that only a few of the Librarium soldiers would be caught in the blast. While she is loathe to whittle down their numbers further she has to make this defense look convincing. The hail of bullets sweeping across their ranks intentionally miss or rattle harmlessly against the shimmering shields of energy that the mystical warriors conjure forth once their wits have returned. Likewise the mortar rounds detonate well outside of their effective range serving to act more as flashy deterrents than effective killing strikes.

Kira watches all of this play out for a minute or two before nodding in approval. Everything is going as planned. Striding forward to the edge of the roof, she plants one foot on the stone lip and leans forward, fearlessly peering down over the open void at the bodies strung up like Christmas ornaments. Contrary to what it might have seemed from a distance, none of the captured prisoners are actually dead, though most have been sedated to make it look that way; a bit of extra theatrical flare for the show.

"Looks like your friends have come to save you," she calls out, smirking down at the figure in the center of the gruesome message.

A young woman with darkly tanned skin slowly lifts her head up to glower at her from behind a curtain of ragged black bangs. Naomi Storm, commander of the first failed assault against the casino, returns the Dragon's haughty sneer with a weak but smug grin. Despite being tortured, bloody, and naked while dangling like a fish on hook she still has some spirit left in her.

"Gonna... get it... now... bitch..."

Kira chuckles, amused. Her gaze lifts up and she watches the carnage unfolding before her with a knowing smile for several long seconds.

"Guess we'll find out won't we? Enjoy the show. You've got the best seat in the house."

Turning away from her captive and the battle, Kira moves swiftly towards the rooftop elevator. Zhenya falls into step with her quickly and the rest of the mercenaries follow, all of them piling into the large freight car hidden underneath the giant dragon statue.

"I'm head down to the command bunker to keep things on track. Z, you hold down the fort in the casino. There's almost certain to be a few cockroaches trying to scuttle in through the cracks while we're focused on the main attack."

Kira turns and places a hand on the younger woman's cheek, caressing it tenderly.

"Make it look good but remember not to get yourself killed, mm?"

Zhenya offers her a faint smile in response, her cold mask slipping away momentarily to display a hint of affection.

"Don't I always?"

With the retaliation, it might be almost to easy to miss that flicker.

It would start a stray sparkle. With the magic being flung around, it would almost be just another decoration of warfare. It was an indigo light, flitting on and off as a haze. It'd almost be a trick of the light with each flash of blue-purple motes. But as it flits across the battlefield, a figure emerges in the flashes. One moment, an indistinct low shape, vaguely shaped like somewhere between a bird and a man, then a flicker, and somewhere about 20 yards away is that indistinct low shape again. It starts at the far edge, away from the main assault, away from the fortifications. And right through each of the pillbox fortifications. Less than a second between flashes, sometimes cutting right through live firefights. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. So light through minefields, so quick to outrace a gunshot. Up the walls now. Heading to the rooftop.

A cockroach, it seemed, wriggling his way in to the administrative buildings at the casino.

Between the flashes of gunfire and eldritch explosions tearing the battlefield apart the strange bits of stray energy are hardly noticable as they dart back and forth among the nooks and crevices between the two warring forces. Even the momentary flashes of a humanoid presence within the will-the-wisp manage to go without drawing undue attention thanks to the plethora of debris offering excellent cover for the little cockroach to scurry behind and thus avoid notice. Up the wall of dark obsidian it scuttles, little more than a glint of oddly colored light reflecting off the glassy black surface.

The rooftop proves to be rather sizable, roughly the size of a professional basketball court. A large chunk of the space is taken up by the gargantuan dragon statue situated near the center, its coy watchful gaze directed down at the conflict playing out below. Several bulky industrial air conditioning units create a neat line along the back of the roof creating a subtle droning din of constant background noise that competes with the staccato barks of gunfire and mortar rounds. A pair of small shacks can be found as well, one on either end of the space, each sporting a metal door that likely offers entry into the casino.

Perhaps surprisingly the roof is unguarded, at least to casual observation. No mercenaries patrol the upper exterior of the facility ready to repel strike teams. Kira had thoroughly disabused the Librarium of the idea of trying to approach her from the air the last time they tried. The doors, however, offer no such convenience. A heavy electrical lock holds each one fast, a small keypad mounted in the wall nearby demanding a proper code to gain access.

Steady, steady, on the roof tops.

The final burst of motes comes, as the figure reaches the roof. He is short, and as he stops his frantic flashes, it obvious why he had to keep moving. He is clad in golden ceremonial armor, layers of feathered gold leaf placed across a purple and red striped body suit. On his forearms is thicker silver gauntlets, the handguards of them in the shape of a raven head, and the finger tips ending in long talons. Purple and red striped pauldrons sit on his shoulders, bearing a wide, glowing purple cloak.

Clearly, a paragon of stealth suits.

His face is a mask of silver and gold, concealing the upper portion completely in a style of a raven. Hazel eyes dart from behind the mask out as he gasps for breath over his painted lips of gold. He tip toes lightly with brief, brisk hops upon his gold-plated purple boots, practically spinning on his stiletto heels as he flits to the door, hips swaying with every movement. Spinning once as he reaches the security lock, he peers down at the keypad, a smirk on his lips. And then, a sigh in frustration. Covering his eyes in disgust, he holds up a single talon, and gently touches the slit between the door and the door frame. Indigo light fills along the gauntlet to the talon, as it flows along through the talon. The tip of the talon pokes out so slightly on the other side of the door. And from it, the light spreads on to the opposite side of the door and the passage within, filling it as a dim outline. The figure sways his hips side to side, still covering his eyes, as he allows the light to spread.

"Now lets see how annoying life has come to serve me~" The man chortles to himself, as the shape within reveals.

No alarms sound as the gaudy masked infiltrator drops his cloak of shadows. It seems thus far that his presence has not been noticed thanks to the chaos of the battlefield, though there's no telling how long that luck will hold up. The Dragon has not presented herself as someone to be careless.

As Bela's magical light floods into the room beyond the sealed door it becomes rather apparent why there are no guards. The shack is not particularly large, offering only enough space to house a few storage lockers and pair of large elevator doors. Above the elevator a dark black glass dome protrudes out from the wall like a blister - no doubt hiding some sort of camera or security measure against intruders. There is nowhere to hide from the watchful gaze of the dark eye inside the small room. Any attempt to bypass it will require some cleverness on his part or another display of magical stealth. Assuming he can get past the door without setting off an alarm first, that is.

"Alas, it seems fate has conspired for annoyances."

Time was the essence, and yet, with his eyes still covered, he had enough of an impression of the room. "It seems I am doomed to merely delay my discovery, rather than avoid it entirely." He mulls swiftly, on alternate means of entry. He could simply bypass the entire flow, but scrambling into unknown rooms is no better than this one. The vents? Same issue, he needed to track the camera positions; the longer he could avoid cameras, the more freedom he had. Standing around like a buffoon was hardly an answer either. He had to act, and act now. "Well, if it serves them to know that something is sneaking around, it might as well serve me to make them guess what is." He coos, uncovering his eyes... and shutting them tight.

As his profile began to grow indistinct.

For a brief moment on the other side, there is a silvery bloom from around the door frame. Like a rose, the petals begin to open up as a plant growing for a crack. The face of the flower would turn, aiming for the black orb. For a moment, there is a flicker of indigo. And then, a flash. The camera would be shut off, physically, by the sheer impact of a singular smash right across it. The cockroach would be on the opposite side of the door now, inside the small room, as indigo motes cascade around him. Shaking his hand, tendrils of gold and silver return to his form, as he steps lightly. A downed camera would absolutely be a warning to the security of the building, within and without. What it would mean would be a decision on the priority in the war. Was it hit by a stray fireball, a rooftop bombardment gone astray? Was someone inside? All questions for whoever was watching the feeds. For now, the Podiebrad would move to open the elevator doors.

He would skip the button, for now.

The black dome shatters apart as the magical blast crashes into. Beneath the glass blister the remains of a small camera dangles from a mechanical arm by a few wires, sparking and sputtering angrily in its death throes. No other defensive measures reveal themselves as Bela manifests into the room. If his actions have alerted someone to his presence there is no indication to warn him, no blaring alarms or bright red lights.

The elevator doors unsurprisingly do not budge when he attempts to pry them open, held tightly fast by pnuematic pressure and mechanical servos. A rather standard feature of such mechanisms meant to ensure the safety of those riding the car and anyone who might foolishly attempt to open the doors only to find an empty shaft on the other side.

While it is highly unlikely that anyone will mistake the destruction of a camera inside of a sealed room as an accident of stray fire that somehow flew three stories over the heads of the intended targets, activating the elevator's call button will most certainly dispel any questions about the reasons for the camera's sudden loss of communication. If he wishes to bypass pressing that button, or the ones on the inside of the car once he's through the doors for that matter, he's going to need a tool or another fancy trick.

Fancy tricks, fortunately, were a banal luxury for the House of Podiebrad.

As the elevator door proves itself to be stubborn on opening manually, the masked man gives a hmph. And then a second hmph. A pair of hmphs, as his talons tap on the doors. Tearing them apart would not only serve to open it, but certainly feel good doing it. No, no, he needed to be restrained. It's easy to dismiss a broken camera for some kind accident, or even a second story man at minimum. Ripped apart elevator doors? That's going to start an alert. The Podiebrad sighs. He was loath to do it, but as he works with the door, the simplest solution was the obvious one.

He just hated the repetition.

Touching his talon on the elevator door, silvery tendrils draw forward. Worming through, winding through. It doesn't need to be a wide gap. But the masked man would cover his eyes again, as indigo light would spread along. Another scan through, to confirm whether the elevator was up or down; and whether it was or not, he would let the blossom grow once more on the other side, and make his switch through to it. From there, he can move on to his next trick. If the elevator was up? Well, he would make sure to make another check for cameras, before making his smash if there was one. Casinos were always particular on their cameras. If there was no elevator up, however? Then he would be making his grapple a little slow, letting himself fall down the wire as he would straddle it.

All with that burst of indigo motes again.

Perhaps fortunately for Bela, the elevator car is currently elsewhere. No need to worry about cameras then. Reappearing into the emtpy air he finds himself suddenly being beckoned downwards by the alluring call of gravity. Prepared as he is for this possibility it doesn't take much effort to snag hold of the bundle of cables running vertically down the center of the shaft and arrest his movement into something a little less terminal.

A quick glance down offers a faint view of what lies below. Sporadically placed emergency lights paint the interior of the tunnel in dull red light doing little to dispel the shadows. At least he isn't forced to descend in total darkness. There's even a convenient maintenace ladder running down an alcove in the shaft offering him shelter in the event that the elevator starts to move for some reason.

Below him the faint outlines of more elevator doors offer access to the lower levels. The shaft seems to descend at least three floors which would take him all the way to the ground level should he choose.

It's eerily quiet inside of the enclosed passage. The noise of the battle raging only a couple hundred feet outside are completely muted by the thick walls as if it were happening in some other place entirely. Only the sound of his own breathing and the subtle creaking of metal as he shimmies down the cable break the silence.

Dead air.

Years of experience within the Raven Guard surges before the rest of the instincts, as the POdiebrad finds himself in midair. Instinctively, he grabs the rope. His hand goes hot as the friction grinds against the silver, and the Podiebrad hisses in frustration. Swinging his legs, the cables wobble until finally, the descent stops. Casting his gaze down, he studies the layout. Elevator is down. THat would buy time.

The next trick was to orientate.

The masked figure needed to pinpoint down accounting. Administrative facilities tended to be away from the hustle and bustle of the fun part of the casino. Which floor actually held accounting. Time was of the essence. He was borrowing time with interest against the inevitable discovery of infiltration, followed by evasion, followed by the bloodletting. And he wanted to hold off on bloodletting as long as he could muster. But he couldn't dispose of every camera. If he wanted infinite time and control, he would be going directly to the security offices and shutting it down at the source.

But he didn't need infinite time, for what he needed.

The Podiebrad begins his diligent descent, leaning the inside of his thigh against the cables as he spirals down it. Reaching the next set of doors down, he moves swiftly at the very top. Another scry, but wayfinding more so than anything. A scattering of blue light was going to be a telltale for a camera on the other side. A thin blue line? Less conspicuous. He just needed to clear a theoretical camera, and get a sense of how far away the wall was so he wouldn't flash himself straight through a wall blind. From there, he would just need to get cover in the second afterwards to adjust. There was a risk and a gamble. But he needed to get his bearings within the casino floors, get the location of the administrative offices. If there is more than 10 feet to the next wall? He was gonna flash through the other side 10 feet. If there wasn't?

He would flash flat against the wall, just short of blasting through it like a human wrecking ball.

The augury spell sends a faint glow through the cracks of the sealed elevator doors giving Bela a quick glimpse of what lies on the other side. Like most large facilities, the entrance to the elevators seems to be tucked away into a small alcove. A second set of elevator doors lies directly across from the shaft he currently occupies, likely a twin to the doors he currently peers through. A single pearly white button next to the elevator indicates that it only travels down, however, likely meant for the customers to move between the floors open to the public.

To the right, another of the camera blisters is nestled near the top of the wall at the T-junction where a hallway branches off to either side giving it a full view of the elevator nook. Any attempt to step out of the shaft physically would have been impossible to for the security systems not to notice. Fortunately, the mage has other means at his disposal.

The ethereal glow of his probe intensifies for a few brief instants as Bela wills his magic to draw him through the door and across the open space. The flash of magical power carries him like the wind between the cracks in the steel door and an instant later he finds himself standing in the hallway, body pressed flat up against the wall just beneath the camera's watchful eye. Behind its tinted dome, it's impossible to tell if the mechanical eye has the range of motion to notice his attempt at subterfuge but seeing as there aren't any alarms going off he doesn't have much choice to but to press on.

Another burst of quick teleportation would carry him beyond the reach of the camera. Now free of the immediate threat of being noticed, he has a moment to take a look around and get his bearings.

The first thing that makes itself obvious is just how luxurious and expensive this place is. The entire place seems to shimmer with wealth and grandeur, quite literally. Neatly polished gold plating covers the walls in intricate artistic patterns of Western design, most of them bearing some sort of dragon motiff. What parts of the structure aren't made of precious metals are composed of what appears to be obsidian or black marble in keeping with the theme of the casino's exterior design. Large ornate tapestries made of black and red silk compete for attention with massive masterwork paintings on the walls. While some of the artwork depicts more modern aesthetics the majority of them share the theme of being based around dragons engaging in some sort of brutality, usually decimating helpless villages with scorching flame or tearing apart a foolish would-be challenger in graphic and gory detail.

This proves to be but the tip of the iceburg when it comes to ostentacious displays of wealth, as he soons discovers upon moving a short distance down the hall. The passageway opens up to reveal a massive singular room that seems to encompass almost the entirity of the third floor of the casino. The glitter of gold redoubles itself here in the form of a lattice-work of arching pillars built into the outer wall each rising up to meet at the center of a domed roof. A chandelier of what very well might be nearly a hundred diamonds hangs from the center of the dome, reflecting the light of a hidden bulb within as thousands of tiny glittering motes that dance and swirl around the room like an army of lazy fireflies. The setup doesn't actually illuminate the room particularly well but the atmospheric lighting makes for an impressive sight.

Underneath the cloud of swirling motes, the majority of the room is dedicated to the sorts of gambling often preferred by people who cannot be described as anything other than fabulously wealthy. Roulette wheels made of pure ebony and ivory with inlaid numbers composed of precious metals sit abandoned at the center of the room. Dozens of card tables laden with abandoned casino chips form the next layer of vice available to those who once frequented this elite gambling den, likely offering such games as blackjack and baccarat.

The outer ring of the gargantuan room is dedicated to a massive bar. Dozens of shelves stocked with bottles of dark liquor line the wall behind the polished counter. Each sports a label in a variety of foreign languages and it's not hard to assume that the cost of such fine vintages is well beyond the reach of any average person making the collection on display here yet another sign of ludicrous affluence as there must be hundreds of bottles scattered about the circular shelves.

Unsurprisingly, the presence of security is omnipresent in this room. Dozens of small camera blisters line the outer wall, discretely placed so as not to make their presence obvious to the wealthy clientelle or interfere with the ornate decor. While there are plenty of tables to hide under, attempting to slip across to the other side unnoticed would require a miracle, assuming anyone is watching the cameras in this part of the casino with everything going on at the moment.

Fortunately, it seems unlikely that he need bother. This entire floor seems to be dedicated solely to catering to the whims of the upper social elite. His prize must be somewhere else on the floors below.

Alas, wrong floor.

A sizable mistake that would have been corrected if the Podiebrad actually cared to review the advertising pamphlets. But adventure demanded exploration. When the Podiebrad clears the elevator door, leaving only a thin silvery sheen, he lands admist the casino floor. He can barely hide his disgust on his lips, scowling at the environment. It was certainly less trashy than he had imagined; he had half-expected A Circus Circus display of cheesy monster girls in bunny suits straddling garish nickle slots, presenting trays of watered down beer. Even -during- a siege.

Already, Kira was exceeding his expectations.

"Feh!" Was the brief sigh, as the Podiebrad holds up two talons. "One more tell, so many so soon and my discovery will be imminent!" A jest or a joke, he snaps his fingers. There is a flash of blue as motes scatter; he would be back in the elevator shaft, and slipping down to the next doorway. He would repeat the same trick as before, flash in, leave a silver sheen, and if it seemed safe for a moment, flash back. But the trouble wasn't returning, no.

It would be the thin, sparkling motes that only briefly shine on the way back.

The second story of the casino immediately looks to be more promising. As the mage emerges from the elevator nook in a sparkle of light he finds himself beset on both sides by long corridors lined with heavy wooden doors. The decor is almost as flashy and over-the-top here as on the previous floor but lacks the grandiose displays of wealth meant to impress in favor of more subtle touches.

For one thing, the obsidian-to-gold ratio is much more heavily in favor of the less expensive building material giving the hallways a sort of dark and foreboding look to them as they stretch away into the distance. Most of the glitter to be found here comes in the form of intricate golden inlays set into the glassy black walls depicting images of yet more dragons. In addition to this, each of the doors has its own shimmering nameplate set neatly into the wood. Unfortunately, the lettering on them offers little aid in guiding his search, consisting of nothing more than a series of letters and numbers.

The first one he encounters is marked "2-F" with the next down the line being "2-G". A simple enough pattern though not particularly helpful. A quick glance into one of the rooms would reveal it to be an office of a sort. A large table the likes of which are often found in boardroom meetings takes up the center of the space accompanied by a dozen very comfortable looking chairs. A pair of desks laden with sleek business computers sit at one end of the room flanked on either side by steel mini bars filled with chilled spirits and decanters of aged brandy.

Either Kira was running some sort of corporation out of her casino in secret or these rooms were meant to be utilized by wealthy clients seeking to do business in a comfortable environment. Either way, it seems like he's in the general area most likely to contain what he seeks.

A quick trip down the hallway reveals more rooms of a similar persuasion. Each one he stops to inspect contains obvious elements of corporate business use intermingled with the glitzy decor of the casino. Sadly, there are no obvious elements that might indicate which of these offices might possibly contain the information he seeks. Without any way to interpret the labels on the doors, every one of them could either be the treasure trove he wishes to plunder or a complete waste of time.

As luck would have it, even paranoid mercenary crime bosses have to adhere to some standards of normality. Turning down yet another seemingly identical corridor, Bela finds himself greeted by a small golden plague mounted to the wall. It reads, in neat blocky embossed lettering: "Management". A small arrow at one end of the sign points him further down the hall where, for the first time, the pathway branches off towards the exterior of the building.

As might be expected, the presence of another camera at the junction ahead is unmistakable. A quick scouting glance down the hall from beneath its field of view reveals the worst possible scenario for his continued efforts at stealth.

A long hallway leads down to a single heavy door. The passage is completely devoid of decoration or obscuring terrain that might allow him to slip down it unnoticed in short bursts of teleportation. Anyone wishing to approach the office will do so under the watchful gaze of security. And, to make matters worse, a second camera is mounted over the door at the far end.

One camera going out during a highly dangerous conflict might be chalked up to an electrical failure. Two, on the other hand, is probably going to raise the alarm.

The arrogance of the Podiebrad is only tempered by his frustrations.

The man had apparently come to the conclusion that the vast casino complex would have his prize right there in front of him. Yes, in spite of his warning from his commander, he did not actually believe there would be hard work. No, not hard work. Toil. It was toilsome. The Podiebrad was steadily growing into almost madness as numbers, letters, numbers. No maps, no signs of office work. Just meeting rooms! The corporate world was like a poison to him, an inexplicably hostile environment that was strangling him, choking him. He almost is drawn to pounce upon the decanters... and yet, it was not his prize! The building outrage is only finally ceased, falling into a whisper when he sees those words. Management. He is almost trilling in delight as he stride across the walls, bounding side to side in flat profile-

And he realizes the camera set up.

There is hesitation. In a flash he recoils back into a tumble, low and fast. He comes to a harsh stop, crouched low, as he stares. The Podiebrad freezes as the analysis takes over. Calculations. Intuitions. A hidden conversation underway, the hollow words hitting like a hammer across the ether. Failure. Impossible. Escape. Failure. Failure. Failure. The Poidebrad runs through what limited scenarios he had experienced, and comes up short. There was no clear path. "Fabol vaskarika." He sighs, almost a gasp of defeat. An iron ring made of wood. No matter what he did, he would reveal himself. Whether by mote or by violence, he was trapped. Right before he could make it to the management. His prize. Alas. The game was over. The chase had ended. The cloud of despair lifts. The argument within ends. And answer, a path forward is cleared. "Addig nyujtozz," He begins, as he straightens his posture, shaking out his clawed hands as he adjust his outfit. "Amig a takarod er."

And he steps out.

The cameras would reveal the truth. Hips swaying, claws dancing slowly, a painted smile spreads across his lips. It is a steady dance, a stride of elegance and careful footwork. There is no music, but pinched fingertips conduct an unheard symphony, as he comes down the hall. He would hide himself no longer. Let them all of the Dragoons see the source of mystery and deception. Kira had won; the dance was her prize of fortune. Rounding the corner, the Podiebrad had little time left before the hounds of war would be descending on him. But he would not need much time for his purposes now. His arrival would come with the flourish of a king. The pace quickens as he piroettes. Once. Twice. The third time, the sparkling motes of energy would dance around him, as he was upon the door.

The shielding met with raw, severing slash of the indigo energy.

Cleaving hard into the door, the demonstration was made. An infiltrator? No. A danger. The imprint was made, as a swift kick snaps to clear the debris of the initial slashes. Rolling his neck, he almost successfully pretends to double take at the camera. He mimes a gasp, bringing the backs of his hands to his silver-masked cheeks. Twirling taloned claw tips, the Podiebrad pinches the five together, and gives a kiss upon their tips, gesturing towards the camera before he strides into the cleaved open door. He would be diligently at work, until the response force would arrive. He has reached his destination without complication.

Escape, however, would be complicated.

Despite his decision to make a flamboyant entrance in the face of imminent discovery, the mage's dramatic reveal is not met with the wailing fanfare of angry klaxons. No hidden turrets emerge from the walls to drown him in a deluge of hot lead nor do any pitfalls drop away beneath his feet to send him plunging into a hole full of deadly spikes. Hidden as they are behind their tinted glass domes, he doesn't even get the satisfaction of seeing the cameras swivel down to regard him with their cold mechanical gaze.

The door to the office proves equally disappointing in its attempts to provide him with any sort of sport or challenge. The flash of magical claws rends the heavy wooden door asunder allowing Bela to kick his way in through the split halves like a cowboy stepping into an old saloon with their guns drawn.

The interior of the room proves to be as opulent and glittery as one might expect the manager's office to a casino covered in gold should be. Yet immediately it is obvious that something went terribly awry here in the recent past. The expertly crafted furniture, an array of bookshelves, tables, chairs, and filing cabinets made of hand-carved marble and covered in lush velvet cushions, shows signs of obvious abuse. Several of the furnishings are covered in cracks or outright missing large chunks of their surface as if someone had gone to town on them with a sledgehammer thoroughly ruining what was probably hundreds of thousands of yen worth of ornate craftsmanship.

The main attraction to the room is a large desk, its spacious bulk taking up nearly a quarter of the room on its own. Despite being as extravagant and decorated as the rest of the furniture, the desk stands out as seeming somewhat out of place. While everything else in the room seems to exist solely to provide an atmosphere of wealth and comfort the desk resembles much less the work surface of a wealthy CEO and more the command center for a military operation. Half a dozen monitors are stacked up across its surface each one displaying an image feed from cameras spread throughout the facility. At present each display seems focused on the conflict raging outside offering Bela a glimpse at the desperate battle being waged.

Despite their righteous fury, the NOL forces have been kept at bay thus far, prevented from advancing by a constant barrage of mortar shells and gunfire that seems to be keeping them from regrouping into properly organized units. Though the occasional blast of magical destruction finds its way into the mercenary ranks their heavy armor and rigid discipline seems to make each such strike have a negligible effect. The wounded are pulled clear of further danger and fresh soldiers move up to fill the gaps before any openings can be exploited.

But, as interesting as that might be, his priorities are elsewhere. A series of heavy file cabinets make for the most obvious targets. Naturally, they prove to be locked, forcing him to either cut his way into them with delicate care to avoid destroying anything that might be contained within. Not a difficult task but something that consumes yet more of the precious time allotted to him. Once access to the treasure trove is gained the spy finds himself rewarded with a plethora of documents. A quick glance through the first few folders proves them to be precisely the sort of thing he was hoping for - financial records.

Pouring through the information as quickly but thoroughly as he can, Bela quickly realizes that the contents of the first drawer aren't going to be particularly useful. While each and every business transaction is recorded in meticulous detail none of them seem to be related to anything other than mundane construction costs. If nothing else, he learns that price on this facility is absolutely absurd. Kira's pockets must be some of the deepest in the entire world to fund something as crazy as this.

A second drawer is delved into and then a third. As with each before it, every new rack of folders offers a deeper insight into the obscene costs necessary to maintain a facility like this and the equally obscene amount of profit that it generates from its upper class clientele. All very fascinating but not what he's looking for.

As he finishes pilfering the contents of the first file cabinet the lack of response to his intrusion becomes somewhat suspicious. Certainly by now his presence must have been noticed. Even now one of those ever-watchful camera domes hovers ominously overhead almost certainly keeping track of his every move. Yet there are no signs of anyone bothering to come and deal with him. Are they simply too busy to spare the manpower to thwart his efforts? Or, perhaps more chillingly, they aren't bothering because there's nothing here for him to find.

It's almost insulting.

The flourish of his arrival should deserve it. A response, that is. The Podiebrad very neatly desired not only a mere reprisal for his reveal. No, he had yearned for the full force of hell and fury upon his head. And yet, as he neatly picks the lock at his clawtip, touching them gently for a winding collection of seconds, before they pop open like the bodice of a lover. It was soulless to him! The whole of the defenses ought to be pouring in to deal with him! The boil on the backside of the casino. And yet, it was a fuming bitterness that was cutting upon his painted lips as he perused the files. It was growing more and more distracting, that miserable silence. It barbaric. Offensive. Disgusting, even.

For a Shimotsuki to stop -him- from stealing the show was practically criminal.

It was adding to the growing obsession as the lack of obvious easy answers failed to leap out to the Podiebrad. Even the numbers was not pleasing to him. They were just numbers! Money. Transitions. The shape of the letters and words. This Podiebrad did not care for numbers, only the lack of their existence. Of course, for the infiltrator, he wasn't discouraged at that yet. Only annoyed. Because there had to be evidence. All this effort, all this flourish, all these schemes and humiliations depended on the presence of the evidence. The proof, as Szabolc would have said. It -had- to exist, in order to justify it. The very outcome was assured in its assumption. Reality might be proving something else as he goes through the first cabinet.

But perhaps, it was up to the Podiebrad to prove otherwise to reality.

He is lackadaisical at the very end of the first cabinets, as he keeps one or two of those terrific financial documents. "How -frustrating- that I am forced to pick through scraps. I dare not hope this miserable Slav is going to force me to descend to Shipping and Receiving... or is it Receiving and Shipping?" He purrs to himself, looking over the two papers. He reaches back into the the second drawer, and grabs a third to round of the set. Almost random in their seizing. Turning back to the camera, he glances up, lips pouting under his mask. Lifting his head high, he sweeps his arm defiantly, as he desperately looks for desks to rip open, bookshelves to pull apart. There had to be his absolute truth revealed.


Despite his petulant posturing, the desired attention that the infiltrator seeks fails to manifest. He is given all the time he needs to pour over the fresh sets of documents liberated from their drawers. None of them offer anything of substance, unless he is planning on opening up a massive resort of his own in the near future. There's probably enough data here to write an entire textbook about the nuances of such large-scale capitalistic pursuits and the intrinsic issues of maintaining and staffing such a ludicrously extravagant facility. The cost of importing rare and expensive foodstuffs alone would bankrupt the average grocery store in weeks.

Reams of carefully organized paperwork start to form a veritable mountain as he pours through them in search of what is increasingly looking more like a needle in a haystack. The file cabinets are exhausted without any sign of his prize. Turning upon the expensive decor, the thief tears into the stacks of books and binders arranged upon the shelves upending copies of classical literature and tome of business advice onto the floor in frustration. Even when divested of their contents and hurled to the floor the bookshelves grant him no succor for the desperation building up inside his chest.

There is a brief moment of hope when pulling aside one of the large pieces of hanging artwork reveals a small hidden safe in the wall. Despite its complex security measures, the technology begrudgingly gives way to the mage's supernatural talents. Yet, rather than salvation within, Bela finds only more disappointment. A few small stacks of Japanese yen along with a large caliber handgun and a fully loaded magazine are all that rest within the protective shell. If it had ever held anything of true importance within it has since been cleaned out.

Nothing. Despite his firm belief that the truth had to be hidden away somewhere inside the casino his search has produced no results. If the Dragon's personal office contains nothing of value then where else would he even start to look? Surely such sensitive information wouldn't be kept on their 'legitimate' databases where even moderately talented hackers could potentially dig up their secrets. No, even if she wasn't a highly experienced and competent commander, Kira has proven far too paranoid to allow such an obvious blunder. Perhaps the damned woman was right and there really is nothing here for him to find.

As this possibly begins to overshadow his resolve, a small detail catches his attention, something that he missed before in his distress. The heavy marble surface of the Dragon's ornate desk is cracked and pitted in several places as if it had been struck by something extremely hard. In fact, it almost looks like someone used the thing for target practice with live ammunition. This damage had been obvious when he first entered the room. However, upon closer inspection of the desk's front edge what he had originally mistook for a crack in the smooth stone turns out to be a hollow gap.

A quick inspection of the small crevice reveals that there is indeed a small empty space on the other side. Tearing the stone front of this hidden drawer open proves to be remarkably challenging as it seems to lack any sort of obvious lock, perhaps operated by some electronic signal or remote. With a bit of effort and magic, however, he eventually manages to wrest the stubborn thing open and get a good look at what might lie inside.

The drawer is small and slender providing only barely enough room for what appears to be a small tablet. To his surprise, the device lights up at his touch, apparently having been left activated by its previous user by accident. Flicking through the menus, it doesn't take long to realize what it is that he has in his hands - the Dragon's personal notebook. Dozens of files fill its digital databanks, catalogs of information that include black market deals, troop movements, weapons shipments, and more, dating back almost two years.

He doesn't have to look that hard before coming across mentions of 'non-human product'. Though everything is labeled in short digital codes as if they were pieces of merchandise being cataloged at a warehouse it isn't hard to figure most of them out. DS-WOLF and DS-MINO seem fairly self-evident, obviously referring to the two most prominent elements of the invasion force that overwhelmed the city. DS-CAT and DS-NAGA are likewise easy enough to figure out, though there are others such as DS-MER and DS-B that remain vague enough to be a mystery.

Sadly, nothing immediately jumps out that seems to refer to a connection between Kira and Jedah, but that doesn't discount the possibility. There are simply too many files to scan through all of them in a timely fashion and judging by the flashing battery symbol in the screen's corner he wouldn't have time to sit around and try. He'll have to get back to somewhere safe before it reveals all of its secrets.

The moment that he makes to pick up and abscond with his prize, however, the situation suddenly changes. A small pool of shadows that had been sitting quietly in the far corner of the room shifts without warning, seeming to physically detach itself from the wall. The formless blob of dark matter silently pulses as it slips forward, swiftly oozing along the floor to interpose itself between Bela and the doorway. From within the puddle of inky blackness a long slender arm that seems to be composed of the shadows itself emerges and reaches out to swing the heavy wooden door shut with a resounding thud, cutting off his avenue of egress.

The dark stain on the floor bubbles with silent tension for a few moments before its surface begins to balloon upwards. Flowing like living ink, the shadows mold themselves gradually into a humanoid shape that becomes more distinct with each passing second. The facsimile of a young adult woman finally takes shape from the primordial darkness.

The creature looks indistinct and unfinished as if some generic female had been used as the template for a mold. The face lacks a nose or mouth on its tar-like surface, sporting only a pair of almond-shaped indentions that resemble eyes and burn with a florescent purple light. A short bob of shadowy black hair frames its slender face, seeming to flutter in a silent current of wind that touches only the shadowy apparition.

Upon fully manifesting itself into the desired form, the inky elemental turns its burning gaze upon Bela. Though its featureless face lacks any obvious expression the pair of long shadowy blades that manifest into its hands a moment later say all that needs to be said about its intentions. Falling into a loose crouch, the wraith deftly flourishes its weapons and brandishes them at the mage in silent challenge. Looks like he won't be getting out of here with that tablet without a fight.

COMBATSYS: Wraith has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Wraith           0/-------/-------|

Nothing, nothing, NOTHING!

No violence, no information! Just bland, tedious oblivion. The Podiebrad almost wants to fall over on a table, and promptly die. Let all of the House of Podiebrad weep for him, for the thing has failed to reveal itself. The Podiebrad was more than well demonstrated in a laziness in actually carrying out the most important plans of his agenda. And worse, no retaliation! He was in the sanctum! Where was the revenge! The mere idea that the NOL, and that miserable Shimotsuki getting all the attention was making him suffer indigestion. He was sick! Plagued! Of course he was still grabbing one or two spare papers as he goes through, the details of numbers living up to their namesake as his brain becomes number and number by the moment. By the time he reaches the safe, he practically savages it as his tantrum takes hold. And when it is just money and a gun? Well he leaves the gun, and stuffs in the money in spots in his suit. No sense wasting it. And yet, as he was ready to start peeling apart the floorboards... the eyes catch on the marble. The crack. A voice rattles within. He slips over it, and his touch grazes on its secrets.

And the tablet is revealed.

He almost snaps it as he inspects it furiously... and the weight of its existence dawns on the artist. This was it. This was the evidence he claimed, that Szabolc claimed they wanted. His response to the success? "Tch." Was the hiss. "This changes things significantly." Bitterness. Dread. And a voice rattling in the back of the head. This drastically changed the plans, the schemes. Wretched technology, they would need to leverage experts. For having the delight of the treasure, the pleasure, the Podiebrad was more disappointed than ever. The tantrum had -not- stopped. Was this surrender? Mockery? A seed of rage finally blossoms into a flower of floral fury, ready to savage every fly and bee, every insect that would dare to come close to the inviting stamen of the wrathful mercenary.

And then, the darkness reveals itself.

The moment is sensed before the sound. He is facing the door when it is slammed shut, legs moving unconsciously as gold and silver shimmers with indigo light. An assassin? A guard? A -response-? The lust for the attempt of imminent murder was almost overwhelming for the Podiebrad, as all his attention shifts from the promise of tedious toil is replaced with suggestions of existential terror. The shape ebbs and flows, molding into the mockery of a woman. Hardly an attractive enough one, for the Podiebrad's standards. As the light burns, the Podiebrad senses the power within it, that faint imitation of a living thing. It was a guardian of sorts. But for Bela?

An abomination worthy of violence.

A smug smirk spreads over the painted lips of the Podiebrad. Ectastic combat was nearly upon them both. Even if it did not understand him, the stance becomes gentle, as he sways as he holds up a finger. "In a moment, poor creature." He sweeps his hand across his chest... and the tablet fixes in place. Silver spreads from his gauntlet over the tablet, merging with armor on his own suit as clay. The gauntlets are thinner in silver, as the gold swirls upon its surface. He claps his hands together delightfully, before sweeping his arms across. Lowering himself down into a crouch, he loosens his arms, posture spread out wide as he rocks across his stilleto'd heels. He speaks softly still. "I had been curious what sort of experience she would be offering me." Was the purr; he did not even care if it understood him. Bela licks his painted lips, inspecting the new -thing- for him to try out. Mission be damned, he wanted to try this.

"I hope you are suitably exotic enough to entertain my mind, as well as my body, sweet beast."

COMBATSYS: Bela has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Bela             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Wraith

Somewhat surprisingly, the strange construct seems content to allow Bela his moment of dramatic preparation for the coming scuffle. The tablet is subsumed by the liquid silver magic with no intervention, tucked carefully away to avoid any unfortunate accidents during their play time. It would be a true tragedy should he come all this way only to be foiled by a carelessly placed strike in the heat of the moment - or a carefully placed one, assuming his assailant's intention is to prevent his escape with that information in hand.

The shadowy woman's blazing eyes watch with silent intensity from her dark corner of the room. Despite her apparent passivity, the inky elemental is not completely idle. With each passing moment the color within the office seems to slowly bleed away shifting the dark rich colors of marble and wood to a stark greyscale fascimile. The body of the shade, previously a nearly transluscent silhouette, solidifies as it absorbs the light and hue of everything around it. It becomes more tangible and solid, its body taking on an inky ooze-like texture as if a bucket of tar has come to life and assumed a human form.

As it grows more cemented in reality the indistinct features of the creature begin to grow more defined. Its face offers the most notable change, shifting into something more closely approximating a human woman. A nose takes shape from the shifting ooze along with a mouth, both features slender and delicate. The creature's hair elongates out to nearly waist length and as it does so the thick lockes begin to intertwine themselves into a simple but functional braid. The rest of the inky woman's body retains its indistinct doll-like appearance, fortunately sparing the mage the need to display a sense of false modesty in the face of a more anatomically correct opponent.

The final stage of the transformation draws to a close mere seconds after Bela's own preparations are completed. If the shade understands his desire for entertainment it offers no confirmation of his challenge save that contained within the context of violent action. Twirling its twin daggers in a brief flourish, the shadow's unnatural eyes narrow slightly. That is the only warning Bela receives before finding himself under attack.

In a blur of distorted motion, the ink elemental bends its knees and lunges, hurling itself bodily in the thief's direction. Both of its weapons flash in a deadly crescent pattern as it brings the knives to bear, but the attack is early, seemingly striking out at the space a few inches in front of Bela. The ruse behind this attack is revealed a moment later when the shadowy blades leave the wraith's hands, spiraling out in wide curving arcs that send them boomeranging into the showy intruder from behind. The ooze doesn't allow its forward momentum to go to waste. It delivers a sudden powerful side-kick from the front, attempting to herd him directly into the path of the supernatural projectiles.

COMBATSYS: Wraith successfully hits Bela with Shadow Sting.
Glancing Blow

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Bela             0/-------/------=|==-----\-------\0           Wraith

The duo finish their preparations, and battle begins in earnest.

The first attack comes out in a blur of speed, and the Podiebrad is immediately intuitive towards it. Bela doesn't see it. He doesn't need to see it. But the little voice in his head, the little sound that rattles his spirits and bones was more than aware. The mercenary is crouched down as the initial attack comes. And he leaps. Bela arcs around the launching kick, the Podiebrad flipping backwards to the ceiling. A dramatic evasion, but one that doesn't lend well to the spacing. Launching backwards, he ultimately flings himself into one of the arcs of energy, tearing through shoulder first it as it cleaves deep within his spirit, his aura. There is a hiss of pain as he reaches the ceiling, heels first. His shoulder was bleeding now; but his spirit was intact. He was outraged at first that he had fallen for it.

But it had -tricked- him.

Howling mockery rattles in his soul, as the Podiebrad defiantly refuses to take offense. How could he, when his expectations were subverted right in his very face. It unleashed a feint, and drove him into a trap. A creature? Perhaps not now. He was expected many things from a shadow, but an act like that, well. He was getting excited. And with the leeching of color, of the darkness, of the spiritual presence. And it even concealed its genitalia, how delightfully modest. Bela was originally planning on dismissing it as a mere guardian, but the mostly successful act of violence, combined with the expressionistic noir oozing literally and metaphorically in the room, well.

The Podiebrad was ready to have fun with this inky plaything.

"A -clever- creature, aren't you?" Bela thrists delightfully, instinctively touching on the tablet upon his chest protectively. There was pain, yes, but there was a growing passion underneath the Podiebrad. What it brought was not an unfamiliar technique, no, it had similar shapes and forms. Methodical in execution, and yet, so fluid, so clever. Bela launches straight back, indigo energy arching around him as he flashes through the air, landing behind the creature on his hands. All the while, the masked man purring as he considers the style, the execution, that nature, the art in this martial style. "A monster, a shadow a..." A thrust of a second party's will, driving into the creature unseen, infinite eyes in a sea of howling ghosts to latch on and -see- the shapes behind the dark mirror, the essence underneath it. All as the soft words purr.


Bela brings his legs around as he balances around on one hand, swinging them both hard with the force of momentum to launch himself off the floor. Indigo energy swirling around him as he flings a savage two-legged kick aimed squarely for the creature's center. The pure soul energy boils out, eager to savagely drive not only it's amorphous body forward, but it's very spirit in piercing force. Bela was going to look to drive the creature towards the heavy wooden door. This room was too stuffy, too confined. He had prowled this casino too long. No, no, this creature had struck him with a -trick-, a technique, a stylish flourish not unlike his own men, not unlike his own, precious, darling Zsa Zsa. He wanted to take this thing on a journey now. And either he would be smashing it through the door, or he would try and smash himself through. This casino would all but likely be razed by the time the NOL had finished it's tantrum at the defiance of the Slav.

IT would be a waste to squander both a performance and a venue in such a miserable room.

COMBATSYS: Wraith reflects Strong Kick from Bela with Blade Cyclone EX.

[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Bela             0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0           Wraith

The touch of the shadowy blade brings with it the bite of unnatural bone-deep cold. So intense is the sensation that it scrambles his nerves and in their confusion and panic they register a mixture of numbness and burning, fluxuating erratically between the two ends of the spectrum for the brief couple of moments that the ghostly dagger is in contact with his body. It is a novel sensation to be sure, like having icy-hot applied directly to one's pain receptors.

Strangely, the departure of the weapon from his flesh takes with it the bizarre antipode of conflicting sensations leaving behind only a light physical wound - hardly a scratch really, yet the pain it had caused was nigh overwhelming for those few instants. More worrisome, however, is the dark blotch of muted gray color that it left in its wake. It had taken with it not only a fragment of his vitality but sapped the very color from his body as well. As far as side-effects of being stabbed go it ranks up there among the weird and worrisome.

Bela's quick dramatic retreat to the ceiling allows him to escape the worst of the experience, suffering only a brief brush with a single of those wicked projectiles. What would have happened had he found himself skewered upon both, pinned between knife and heel as the creature's trap closed around him? Perhaps her very touch carries that same property. If so, the very real risk of being outright debilitated by his all-too-mortal senses being driven haywire at this dark spirit's leeching caress adds a fresh element of danger to the confrontation. The faster he can get out of this room and secure an escape route the better.

Unfortunately, he still has to get past the inky guardian and, while she does not begrudge him the few moments he takes to collect his wits, she seems disinclined to allow him to leave. Perhaps she is offended that he remains the only source of vibrant color that yet stains her perfect grayscale demense.

The elemental remains content to stand at a distance while he muses over its nature. It stands with casual nonchalance, its arms hanging loosely at its sides with its hips cocked sideways in a feminine idle stance. The sizzling purple flames of its eyes offer no response to the questions he voices, neither confirming nor denying his suspicions through overt shifts in behavior or expression. Whatever conclusions he wants to draw will have to be made on his own.

The wraith's idleness vanishes in an instant when he moves to take the offensive. The creature moves with a grace impossible for any mortal to achieve, its semi-corporeal form shifting and flowing like a mixture of smoke and water. The colorless backdrop of the room acts as the perfect camoflague for its movements, the blacks and grays blending into an almost contiguous stain of dull color that turns the elemental's flowing movements into a smear of motion and shadow upon his eyes.

Retreating several paces in the blink of an eye, the ghostly woman's body shifts into an indistinct blur as she spins in place. The edges of her silhouette morph and extend outwards creating a jagged tornado of dark void that rapidly expands outwards to meet his flying assault. Like the dagger that had bit into his arm, the slashing tendrils of black shadow bring with them an intense burst of raw suffering upon contact. Worse still, they seem to feed off the very energy that he had imbued into his own strike, siphoning the deadly sheath of magic away from his legs upon contact with the inky corona.

Caught in the guardian's bizarre attack, Bela finds himself being drawn into the pulsating mass of spinning blades like an asteroid that passed too close to a black hole. His airborne body is held aloft for a second or two by the irresistible pull while dozens of razor-thin ribbons lash at his defenseless legs. For a brief terrible moment it seems as if the chaotic void might simply devour him entirely, shred him to pieces like a spectral garbage disposal grinding up a piece of spoiled meat. Instead, it suddenly seems to change its mind, spitting him out with enough force to send him flying backwards across the room. Perhaps his soul was a little too flamboyant to agree with its stomach.

Upon expelling him from its spectral maw, the miniature shadow-nado winds down to a stand still and the inky woman regains her form. Though there is no visible change to her doll-like expression, the creature rests a hand on its hip and uses the other to flip its shadowy bangs at him in a gesture that is very clearly dismissive. Obviously, she is not impressed.

The sensation was unnatural to Bela, at first.

The supernatural chill was not an experience that the veteran of the Raven Guard and S Rank Hunter had personally held. Which is problematic in its own way, being the house was well renowned for its Vampire Hunting. Of course, Bela -had- claimed a Vampire Elder, staking through its very heart. An entire vampire clan collapsed, destroyed utterly. It was proven, it was evidence, and it was sufficient to secure the ranking. And yet, the shock was like diving into the old Roman baths of the Podiebrad Manor, when the heat was sealed off as part of a cruel prank from the Mistress of the Halls. Even a flicker was uncomfortable, unnatural. And yet, in mere moments, the experience floods back into him. Yes, of course he was well experienced in this.

The House of Podiebrad was well experienced, equipped and trained against the powers of darkness, even in its dilapidated state.

The assault on his nerves is magnified, when his attack is interrupted by being utterly devoured. Captured in his attack, he is personally helpless for a moment, rended across as the blades strike upon the soft gold and silver again and again. The flood and flow of the shadow envelops him, ripping into him in a whirlwind of blade and blood. And by the time he is hurled out, tumbling across the ground instinctively before settling on a low crouch, a new sound comes silently through the ether. A laughter roars in his mind. There was nothing out for others to hear audibly; but those attuned to more supernatural and spiritual noises would well sense the bellowing cackles now rattling in the Podiebrad. Deep laughter. Cruel laughter. Hungry laughter.

It was not Bela's. 

"Mo Ho ho!" Was the laughter that actually boiled out from the Patriarch. "You cheeky creature. Are you mocking me?" Bela's attention wasn't on the creature though. It was elsewhere, distracted. Even his tone seemed detached; There was a caustic venom dribbling over his painted lips, as a howling continues unheard deep within. He had emerged nearly intact from the mangling attack. The numbness only subsiding, to allow the pain of the grinding slashes come forth.

Except there wasn't that many cuts. 

Oh, there are slices; nicks. But for a figure who had just been thrown into a figurative meatgrinder,  there was only cuts here and there, oozing through the bodysuit. And his face, most of all, was unharmed, not a single cut upon it. Even the brutal assault on his nervous system seemed... far away. The burden of the assault granted on the shoulders of the house, not only its Patriarch. Even the gold and silver armor pieces, which had experienced the grace of the attack like a fistful of silverware in said garbage disposal, only briefly carried the signs of deep lacerations stained in blood. The deep, consuming shadow darkened and greyed the once shining metals. And then, with a surge, its drawn into the hungry gold, sipped away with ferocious appetites. The armor surges with life again, shifting back in wholesome shapes with the movements of its master. Bela sways his hands a moment, silver and gold shimmering and shifting upon him in the briefest delay along it. He stretches his claws through his long hair, letting himself feel the full damage of the good dozen cuts spread across his body. The dance breaks, and he rolls forward once, head over heels, before stiffening up into a stand. The stance shifts, the style changes. The posture of the hand shifts, from claws dangling to rigid palms. Body erect, feet steady, hands back.

In imitation well with the House of Strolheim.

"I am getting annoyed by this brattiness, tormenting spirit!" Bela states lightly, his words bearing the growing rancor if not his tone. It didn't matter if it understood him, truly; the words weren't entirely for it. He jerks in a palm strike with his left hand at the creature's chest, a surge of indigo energy pouring out like a spike in the heart of it. Rigid movements come with sturdy strength, as a second palm surges upwards to connect squarely underneath the shoulder, coming with a clamp aiming not just her body, but her very soul, seizing it in his own icy cold vice grip. Should the assault manage to complete, he would step in firmly, to lurch the larger wraith over his shoulders for a moment. And there, promptly slam himself and the wraith hard upon what was left of the bookshelves in a stiff, ragged takedown. A clear shift in the acrobatic styles of before. But a prime setup for what would come next.

Should he managed to grapple the wiggly elemental, that is.

COMBATSYS: Wraith dodges Bela's Charged Combo.

[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Bela             0/-------/------=|===----\-------\0           Wraith

Perhaps it is a good thing that Bela does not have an audience for this particular debut. No doubt this unseemly shift in personality would have raised a few eyebrows in polite company, not to mention that of his fellow soldiers. While the Podibrad's rank and file might be willing to maintain discretion about his Dr. Jekyl performance it is unlikely that those under the command of Katarina would offer him the same courtesy.

As it stands the only spectator to the change has little to say on the matter. The shade remains flippantly idle in the face of the mage's transformation, hand on hip, hip cocked petulantly outwards with obvious lack of concern for his apparent regenerative powers. If there is any recognition to be had for his new combat stance it fails to register in the creature's expression or demeanor. She simply stands there, waiting for him to make the next move in total silence.

Once more the wraith's apparent arrogance proves well founded. The sudden lunge forward is countered by an equally rapid shift to the side, its body flowing around the strike as easily as smoke on the wind. The second attack proves equally futile as the emphemeral entity dances in the opposite direction with ease, apparently unaffected by things like momentum or inertia. Like the flame of a candle it flickers away from his touch, moving so quickly through the monotone surroundings that it seems to blink in and out of existence making its movements difficult to predict.

Flitting deftly back and forth in a series of feints, the shadow finally decides to make its move. It blinks first to his left then vanishes, reappearing on his right a moment later. Each time that its smokey form winks into the visible spectrum it slashes with one of the slender blades, once more wielding the deadly combat knives with expert skill. Unlike before, however, the strikes lack the unnatural soul-sucking chill, each black blade solidfying into something more tangible.

Mundane, but no less deadly, the shadow daggers carve wide swaths aimed at vulnerable weak points. The first drives up towards the bottom of his armpit, attempting to pierce the soft sensitive flesh in the hopes of disabling one of his arms. The second strike, which comes when it flickers to the opposite side a moment later, scythes into the side of his knee.

COMBATSYS: Wraith successfully hits Bela with Medium Strike.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Bela             0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0           Wraith

It says a great deal of the House of Podiebrad that the passions of their Patriarch nary causes eyebrows raised amongst the rank and file.

Of course, the cultlike worship of their lord had it's own nuances and features. It fueled that desire for an audience, people to watch the Podiebrad perform, to create, to dance! Let the Shimotsuki conduct her symphony as she saw fit. Bela's offense was roaring forth, the creature's silent arrogance deftly weaving around his steady attack. Bela cursing of the creature was only for his benefit; the elemental's movements was like water, like the flicker of light. It was beautiful, and the flow of the dance was exhilarating, every step meeting the Deacons mercenary arts show. Predicting the creature's attack was nearly impossible, at least, for Bela's own mind. But there was a deeper intuition driving his technique.

Something that becomes more obvious, when the wraith makes her counter attack.

When she flickers in shape with her own flash step, she catch the Podiebrad exposed. And yet, with only a half-hearted watch of the Patriarch, something else was reacting for him. Each weak point finds itself bearing a strap of silver and gold that wasn't there before; every strike is met with the soft metal to slow its penetration. The impaling stab breaks through the electrum mix, piercing the flesh underneath with barely any slowdown. The hiss of pain comes as he shifts out of his sturdy stance, twisting to keep his movement going as he grips the injured point. The second slice comes for the knee, and once again, before Bela seems to comprehend the assault, the gold and silver finds itself slithering in place, ready to catch the incoming slice to slow it down. A grazing blow there, a less severe than the clean penetration, the morphic metal able to defend against the slices more cleanly than the straight penetration. Knee bending, he falls into a tumble, breaking away from the assault a mite, before springing back. "Why you nasty little creature!" The Patriarch retorts, his tone not becoming any less gentle and lifting. Was he furious? Was he taunting? Only one thing was certain. %
He was accelerating.

Blood was pouring from his side; it was now wet with the crimson ooze as the injuries build up. Bela flings in with a surging knee, flashing forward with a flash of indigo motes. Aiming straight for the throat of the shade, he quickly flashes to the side. Blazing at the flanks, he is hurtling an axel kick with the opposite leg, bringing it high and low before even touching the ground at impossible speeds. And he is flickering again, slower this time with an aerial pirouette, twirling around with a wide kick as he spikes straight down nearly on top of the shade, indigo motes cascading around him like a fountain. The wounds were building up. And the burden of insult was weighing heavier and heavier on him, unseen. And yet. He was growing fonder of this guardian more and more.

It would certainly be a prize in itself, should he feel capable of claiming it.

COMBATSYS: Bela successfully hits Wraith with Rook Takes Queen.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Bela             0/-------/---====|=======\=------\1           Wraith

Once again the shade slips away after striking, its fluid form fluttering a few steps away to see how Bela will respond to her attacks. It is almost as if the creature is toying with him, batting at him like a cat then scampering away to crouch and prepare for another pounce. If it is enjoying itself it does not show, whatever revelry may be going through its mind in the face of his obvious frustration hidden behind a mask of eerie silence.

When the mage comes at her again the shade is ready. This time it sees fit to change tactics, opting to stand fast in the face of his strike and bear the brunt of the blows upon its inky limbs. It proves to be a poor choice. Whether caught off-guard by the speed at which Bela launched his reprisal or unable to ward away the shimmering motes of his magic, the elemental finally finds itself getting a bit of payback.

The flying knee crushes past the shadow's guard, slamming into the bottom of her jaw. The impact is strangely light and hollow as if the creature's body were not quite solid enough to offer proper resistance to the blow. But she is corporeal enough for the strike to send her reeling making the swift follow-up kick land with ease. The spinning finale of the brutal combo drives the wraith into the ground, knocking her prone. Depite the ferocity of the impact, she makes no sound when falling, her body hitting the floor with all the report of a feather alighting upon the ground.

The entity recovers almost immediately, showing no obvious signs of pain or damage. Its body flickers like flame, shifting out from beneath the mage's looming reach to reappear behind him. The woman leans back, bringing up her blade as if preparing to drive its deadly tip into his spine. But as she begins to swing, her body flickers and shifts yet again, flitting to his flank in a burst of oily motion. The dagger comes down at his wounded arm, once more bringing with it the touch of spirit-staining cold. Again she blinks, this time on his other side, her blade already in motion for wide slash across his ribs.

Over and over, the shadowy killer flicks in and out of reality, appearing and reappearing in flashes so fast that she seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The dull gray and black of the room seems to close in around Bela as its guardian launches a blitzkrieg assault upon his senses, every faint shadow shifting at the corner of his eyes as if to cover her movements with red herrings. After a few passes it even seems as if there is more than one of the creature, distorted smokey after-images lingering in her wake and making it even more difficult to tell which of the ghostly figures is real and from where the next withering attack will come.

COMBATSYS: Bela dodges Wraith's Shadow Dance.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Bela             0/-------/---====|-------\-------\0           Wraith

When contact is made, there is a certain satiation. 

An uncertain meal, for an uncertain hunger. And yet, the flow of soul power comes, and it energizes. Silver sparkles in the air, indigo motes linger. The shadows draw in, hanging deeper amongst the gold and silver that cascades over his armor. He didn't need a response, not yet. He liked this creation too much to demand the emotional impulses. It was a doll, and he would play with this doll until it broke. He glances over his shoulder coquettishly, a toying intrigue that comes with the faint wiggle of his hips with inviting anticipation. She surges in. Disappears. And then, for the briefest moment she's at his flank.

And he's gone. 

He's back at her side, opposite to where he was before, painted lips pursed in taunting mirth for only the briefest moment. For in a moment, she's at his other side, slashing at his ribs. And then, he's gone! Every flicker of the shadow is met with a coorisponding flicker, mirrored in glass of silver, gold, and a haunting indigo illumination. Shadow and light strobe wildly as the duo flash into flashes, one's aggressive flash step being met with a defensive counterpart. Motes linger on the wraith, as the feints are seized upon, and promptly left when the true attacks come along. When the images fragment, the dance ends.

But the joyful laugh begins.

"Incredible! Absolutely incredible!" The words surge up from the painted lips of the Patriarch, as the Podiebrad reappears in the corner of the room. He was almost breathless; such a wild reaction was not as effortless as he liked to make it look. Now, with multiple figures to deal with, he would need to cease reappearing in juxposition to the assaulting shadow. In a flash, he dives from the top. The defense has shifted to offense, and he was spiralling. Long contrails of silver and gold strands follow him, as indigo motes spread out. He would try and smash through at least -three- of them with the flying tackle, before descending with a tumble across the consuming shadows with acrobatic flourish. He didn't have to even catch the elemental on this pass.

But it would be nice, he supposes.

COMBATSYS: Wraith fails to reflect Nevermore from Bela with Dark Gate.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Bela             0/-------/--=====|====---\-------\0           Wraith

In the drab greyness of the colorless void the two figures dance between the shadows. With every flicker of the wraith's inky form comes an answering flutter of violet energy as her quarry darts away. The barrage of deadly slashes finds naught but gilded reflections of their own darkness into which to carve as the glamoured mage escapes by a hair's breath again and again leaving only twinkling motes of light behind.

The exchange is brief but frantic, the two figures moving so quickly that few would have been able to keep up with their deadly exchange in its entirety. But, after a frantic few seconds of attempting to land a solid blow upon her elusive quarry, the shade finally exhausts her momentum. Bela's retreat into the corner does not prompt another follow-up strike, allowing him a few precious moments to catch his breath.

The apparition does not stand idly as he gathers his strength, however. Though she shows no outwards signs of fatigue, the inky mass of darkness that composes her body appears slightly less tangible in the aftermath of the expenditure of such effort, her form growing slightly translucent like smoke-stained glass. While the mage catches his breath the guardian focuses on regaining her own strength. The shadows in the room begin to flow into her like a swirling black mist, reinforcing the substance of her existence in much the same way.

This proves to be something of a ruse. As Bela hurls himself at the apparently winded creature the shadows gathering around it suddenly collapse into its hands as it stretches them out at his incoming form. Despite its preparation, however, it is a little slow on the uptake. Before the seething mass of inky darkness can properly congeal into a solid barrier the glowing mage's body smashes it apart as easily as a hammer crashing through a mirror. His momentum carries him through the dark ward and into the creature itself, slamming the wispy elemental with the full brunt of his augmented tackle.

As before, the entity makes no sound as she tumbles away. Her body hits the far wall in complete silence leaving a dark inky stain upon the gray surface as she sinks to one knee. The woman remains crouched for a few moments as if momentarily staggered though her head lifts up to regard the thief with an impassive stare as if daring him to try and capitalize on the advantage.

A light in the monochrome madness.

The surge of energy rips apart shadow, the very nature of it destruction to spiritual and material alike. He explodes that mirror as it was merely glass, not magic. It was tearing at the very structure of the room. He wouldn't let it make its tricks, despite he delight in them. The prize on his chest was too great now. And the guardian, as amusing as a distraction it was, was only amusing, and still only a distraction. He would make his fun. As he splatters the figment against the wall, the Podiebrad tumbles into the same wall, though parallel to the downed creature. Speed. The speed was accelerating faster and faster, a building battle lust running passionately in the veins of the mercenary. There wasn't the normal satisfaction of truly beating down a wretched creature, no, not like a proper Darkstalker. There wasn't the flickers and flares of desperation, of fear, of terror, of hatred. It was a blank slate; no, a blank canvas. Untouched, unspoiled.

And ready for Bela von Podiebrad to make his mark upon it.

"Yes! Yes! Look upon me!" Cries the Patriarch as he twists, the gold and silver strands recoiling back across his body like serpents. He was crawling across the wall now, talons clenched as he slithered deftly across. Leaping across, he flings himself with immodest ecstasy at the throat of the wraith. Should he get a grip, he would leverage his smaller form to swing across it, spinning as he clenches those talons on the neck and chin, or whatever counted as a chin. With the full force of his body weight and momentum, he would serve to try and wrench the entire head around, whirling and whipping to build just enough momentum to bring his feet back down, digging the stiletto heels into the ground as his body goes erect, and finish with an explosive smash and splash, to slam the head squarely into the same wall in an eruption of soul-scouring indigo light, at that mocking safe if he could muster it.

With or without the body still attached to it.

COMBATSYS: Bela successfully hits Wraith with Power Throw.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Bela             0/-------/-======|=======\=------\1           Wraith

Once again the shadowy woman attempts to slip out of Bela's reach as he lunges wildly in her direction but proves too slow despite her unnatural agility. The mage's glowing claws take firm hold of her semi-corporeal form, hoisting the creature up with no more effort than swinging a pillow. With a violent twist of his body he sends the wispy elemental slamming back into the wall, fingers clutched tightly around her throat as the power of his magic explodes into her.

Though it lacks the sastisfying feedback of a solid body striking a hard surface, the woman's impact against the wall has a clear effect. An involuntary shudder passes through her form as the blistering power scours away at the wispy substance of her body. The inky silhouette fades visibly, her body becoming nearly transluscent as the energies holding the creature together begin to give out.

But the battle hasn't been won just yet. The guardian's body fades away into nothingness, melting through Bela's fingers like mist. The smoky essence slithers across his shoulders and around his legs, reforming into the ghostly avatar once more at his back. The creature doesn't attempt anything in the way of subterfuge this time. Its wicked blades lash out as its body becomes tangible once again, delivering a pair of shallow slashes into the mage's exposed flank. But even as it strikes the shadow is already retreating, more interested in harassing him while attempting to regain a superior position than inflicting lasting harm.

COMBATSYS: Bela fails to interrupt Evasive Strike from Wraith with Fool Repeats His Folly.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Bela             0/-------/-======|=======\=------\1           Wraith

Violence, glorious violence.

Bela's own brutal slam rips apart the essence of the creature, if only a moment. The Podiebrad's artistry in martial matters was raw and unkempt; there were far more elegant practitioners across the world; even in his own house. It reforms, and the Patriarch burbles with tittering joy. "And you still struggle? How droll! Yes! Yes! Struggle you little toy!" Was the purr as his stance stiffens, his posture straightening up as he steadies his feet. She was trying to escape? No, no. 

And he tries to seize her again. 

The wispy tendrils, immaterial and unreal, find silver and gold talons snatching towards them. They are not vapor to the mystic connection of the metal and magic; but more like fluid. To draw her in, to capture her. And that supernatural energy made it all too real to grab the immaterial. The gold blazes with that indigo light, the tendrils that entertwine surging with a foul devouring power, eager to latch on to the energy with a gluttonous hunger. For a moment, he seizes the creature by those slithers, and power surges over his miniscule form.

Until the slashes come.

The Patriarch gasps in pain, recoiling his grips to the sound of howling hidden laughter rattling within. His side. Below the ribs, above the hip. A slash at his organs? A jolt of indigo energy cascades over him, as silver and gold slither over the pair of fresh swipes, sealing over it. His armor was becoming more and more spread out; growing thinner and thinner as each commits to more and more vital places. He stands fast, body steady, back straight. He gives two small steps, as he hands his palms upright. Flashes of indigo fire build in his hands as small pyres. "You're denying me, creature." He purrs, perhaps not to the spectre in front of him. "You do not understand this unfathomable hunger." The shape of metal clenches over his form, as the gold and silver dance over his body like serpents.

"You can't escape your ultimate fate."

Against any normal foe it is unlikely that the shade would have even needed to bother with tactics. Even against the mage, his hands able to grasp hold of her immaterial body, the creature proves tiresomely elusive. Well timed strikes free her from his tenuous grasp and she retreats, flickering backwards with stuttering movements like an old movie reel with half of the frames missing.

For the first time in the battle the creature seems to hesistate. Rather than launch another of its illusory onslaughts or attempt to draw him out with a swift feint the wraith keeps it distance, crouched in a defensive stance that might be considered wary if it were capable of displaying emotions. Either the mage's unsettling lust for violence has finally started to crack its stoic shell or it is up to something else.

Unfortunately, there is nothing about the creature's demeanor that might give its intentions away. Its expression remains placidly neutral, offering no more insight into its inner thoughts than a statue's fixed stare. Though it seems hesistant to approach him, there are no signs of mortal fear to be found in its movements. It limbs do not tremble nor do its blazing eyes grow wide with terror in the face of something capable of destroying it. The slick surface of its shadowy exterior offers no telltale beads of sweat that might give away a growing sense of panic and the only scent that fills the room is that of stale stagant air.

The entity's body continues to flicker with fading power as it waits. The dark roiling mass of shadows that once comprised its form have faded to little more than a wispy outline. More than ever it looks like a ghost now, some eldritch shade risen from the beyond to destroy an invader that would dare profane its resting place. Yet despite its fading presence one aspect of the being remains strong and clear - the eyes.

Neon purple flames wicker from the wraith's vague face, fluttering wildly like torches in a headwind. It focuses those baleful corpse-lights on the mage, giving the distinct impression that it is attempting to pierce through the golden shell that surrounds him and peer directly into his twisted soul. What it hopes to find there is unclear.

COMBATSYS: Wraith calculates her next move.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Bela             0/-------/-======|=======\=------\1           Wraith

Bela doesn't even register what it was doing, at first.

No, he was adjusting his posture, loosening up as the creature gives an opening. Crouching down, the palms shift down. The veil around him would shift and shimmer... and he would not even tell directly, that the Wraith was looking deeper. Its gaze pulling away the layers. Bela couldn't sense the proper emotional reactions, the inhuman tells like a machine than even a beast. But as he prepared to bounce, he wasn't disheartened. The ghost would finally pierce the auras and walls around Bela, to stare directly into Bela. It would see the soul within. No. Not the soul.

The souls.

The depths were stretched beyond the mere shell and shape of the Podiebrad's own spirit. Connected were hundreds of thin silvery lines, extended well past the very confines of the room. It was deeper than that, as past the lines and spirit, another veil pulls away. Lights, lights, lights in the unfathomable darkness. The smoldering flames, as an yawning abyss of hundreds of thousands of corpse lights deep within. It goes deeper. It keeps going deeper. Each one was an extension of the Podiebrad, each one part of the same one soul of the figure before the Wraith. Some were alive. Most were dead. And everyone one kept the long strands in a web of an abomination of a spiritual entity. But in the heart of the labyrinth of flames, there was an obscuring mist of indigo, pulsating deep within the annals of spiritual flames.

They part to reveal the second spirit.

A second soul, A shape, a figure sits deep within, and yet, tightly bound around the shape and form. It too, shared the connections and strands with the web around Bela's soul. But it was different, intricately distinct from the sea of spiritual energy. The cord between Bela and itself was bound with stronger energy, stronger magic. And it was clear now, that the clarity of vision was at its own will. Any form was an illusion purely on the force of will of the entity of raw, seething evil. Within, the illusion of its choice was the shape on an ossuary throne, the corpse lights swirling around it. The same shape as the Patriarch, slouching with gnarled limbs bound in indigo light, the spirit smoldering without it's armor, only cape and cowl. Upon its neck, there was only with a skull staring back, surrounded in the indigo flames. It's eyes were burning back at the wraith. It too, could see back as well, the golden veil having been pulled away. There was an incredible pressure now, as the death masked doppelganger rises from its seat. And now, with the link reforged, the answer thrusts back with the weight of depravity, of the power of the countless souls within, wordless tongues slithering back with hostile hunger.




Bela is springing at the shadow, surging with indigo light as his naked soul is exposed to the second sight of the creature. The invitation was made, of a second mind. The hidden voice, the snarling mockery was now as much its and his. An unseen link was now made, as the words cut straight into the very essence of the shadow. A surge of will, of dominating ego. Make your offering. The wraith could share with the Podiebrad. You see it now. It sees you now, personally. "Make your offering!" Bela repeats aloud, as he leaps high into the air. He would front flip forward, the doppelganger surging with indigo energy as his fingertips weave, shaping the winding silver and gold as the same energy flares upon the Patriarch's heel. Contrails of energy cascade as Bela would aim a footstooling heel drop, springing up if he could make contact with the Wraith to finish with a quick spin with both stiletto heels on the shadow's head. It was still toying with it.

They were still toying with it.

COMBATSYS: Bela issues a challenge!!

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Bela             0/-------/-======|=======\=------\1           Wraith

COMBATSYS: Wraith reflects Magpie Marauder from Bela with Killing Shadow.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Bela             1/---====/=======|==-----\-------\0           Wraith

Well. Whatever it was the wraith may have expected to find nestled within the mage's twisted heart it was certainly not this.

The piercing gaze of the shadow-thing bores deep into the depths of Bela's essence, submerging itself in his psyche like a diver plunging into the cold depths of a bottomless abyss. It passes through the tangled web of gossamer strings, each silver cord tethered to another living thing like a leash; or, perhaps, a siphon. The wraith drifts down into the darkness allowing itself to be pulled deeper and deeper, past the constellations of entrapped souls, through the veil of shimmering mists, into the very heart of the man's being.

The first sensation that stands out upon making contact with the entrapped entity is a feeling of overwhelming malice and hatred. The shadow does not flinch in the face of this terrible evil, merely takes note of its properties with silent interest. The skull-faced king atop his throne of bones and surrounded in the floating spirits of the damned is regarded with the same clinical detachment given a particularly odd growth of mold being observed by a scientist in a laboratory.

Yet, here in the very depths of Bela's mind, the wraith cannot fully conceal herself. While his physical perceptions have failed to perceive anything more than an empty doll, the probing intensity of direct contact with the creature reveals the faint traces of a guiding mind behind it. This cracking of the mask of placid emotionless disinterest lasts but for the briefest of moments, yet in that meager flash of revelation the ghostly woman gives off the faint whiff of an emotional reaction - amusement.

Just as quickly, the 'crack' in the wraith's mask snaps shut sealing her mind behind a barrier of impenetrable will. It becomes all too obvious in the moments that follow that she had allowed him to glimpse beyond the surface, allowed him to sense the aloof condescension in her gaze as she looks upon the comically blunt image of manifest evil lurking at the core of his being. That tiny touch of emotion lingers within his mind with unnatural persistence, a faint hint of feminine laughter drifting aimlessly within his tangled web of corruption.

The contact of the wraith's essense with his own takes only moments in reality. As easily as it had plunged into his heart, the inky elemental withdraws herself in time to react to the sudden surge of black hunger that propells her foe into motion once more. But rather than attempt to avoid his aggressive lunge the wispy creature merely rises to her full height, casually flipping her smoky bangs aside with a dismissive toss of her head as she extends a hand up to meet him.

The surface of the wraith's transluscent palm suddenly expands, her entire hand billowing outwards into a stormy mass of dark shadows. The inky cloud engulfs Bela's feet as he drops out of his aerial acrobatic flip and once more he finds himself at the mercy of the devouring void. Dozens of gaseous tendrils emerge from the inky stain, flickering with ghostly energy as they sink into his body. The aura of deep blue flames that the mage had conjured forth grows dim as the shade hungrily partakes of that deadly power, feeding off the hatred and malice that brought them forth.

Bela is held momentarily helpless in the sticky trap laid by the guardian, his body held aloft in the creature's tenebreous grip. As she drains his power away her body seems to grow steadily more solid, the transluscent silhouette filling with fresh murky shadow. However, this proves a temporary, for as the darkness swells within the elemental it holds its empty hand out to one side, fingers curled upwards as if clutching an invisible sphere. The collected darkness within her begins to leak out of the wraith's palm, slowly taking form as a roiling mass of inky vapor.

The shade slowly lifts the churning orb up towards Bela and its gaseous mass starts to drift up towards his body as if being carried on a strong wind. The dark mist encircles his torso, slithering about his dapper outfit with the purposeful movements of a living thing. Once engulfing him completely the vapors begin to take a more definitive shape. Slender hands emerge from the cloud as thin arms wrap sensously around his shoulders. Long shapely legs close tightly about his waist and the soft gentle touch of an ample bosom presses firmly against his back.

Like a genie manifesting from the arcane smoke held within a lamp, a mirror-image of the shade coalesces into being around Bela. It clutches at him tightly, clinging to his back like a long-forgotten lover. For the first time he hears a sound come from the silent ghost, a faint whisper brushes across the surface of his mind like a gentle rustling of the wind.

"As. You. Wish."

The dopplerganger purrs softly as it rests its head upon his shoulder, pressing the surface of its cold numbing presence against his cheek. One of its ghostly hands reaches up to caress the other side of the mage's face in a fashion that might be mistaken for affectionate were it not for the steadily growing cold flooding into his body from its proximity. The specter smiles lazily, displaying the emotional response that its progenitor still fails to provide as it gazes with bright glowing eyes into the twisted man's face.

The explosion comes without warning. Arctic bone-chilling cold engulfs Bela as his tormentor's clone suddenly detonates in a violent burst of shadowy mist. The force of the blast sends him hurdling across the room, once more allowed to slip free of the wraith's inky embrace. The shadowy woman, her body dimmed to near complete transclucense by the effort of springing her trap, once more takes up the cocky posture of an arrogant teenager. Though her face remains devoid of expression, her body language positively reeks of smug amusement.

Toy with her? No, no, dear fool. She is the one playing games here and you have already lost, even if you don't know it.

There was certain pleasures in pain well acquainted within the House of Podiebrad.

As the veil of the Patriarch's soul is revealed, the Podiebrad uses the moment to strike. It's offering was requested. Bela himself had his work made for him. Tablet upon his chest, he makes his strike as the invisible gaze seeps its tendrils deeper and deeper back into the Wraith. His heel comes down, down, aiming to strike into the film, into the shadowy mists that only grew thicker and thicker. Everything slows down, as the soul flames are quashed. Dread builds within, as the chill comes through the bone. Dread flickers within.

It was a trap.

There is a howling chasm of uproarious laughter from the depths, the spectre roaring with cruel, mocking laughter. Not at the Wraith, no, but upon the stupid boy, the womanly child that had buffoned his way clumsily into even the most simple of snares. Nails of torment rend hot on one side, the Wraith forced to share in the agony of the Podiebrad as the spirit lets the mockery flow deep in mirrored unison. The howling spirit, the cruel spirit. And yet, as Bela finds the stillness of the chill around him, a crypt, a coffin around him. A coldblooded spirit tearing and toying with him outside, embracing him with seductive allure upon his cheek. A venomous mockery of life, clawing from within. Both sides, all around, slicing around. Was this it? Was this the failure? But the Patriarch's heart refuses to collapse. A gauntleted hand comes over his chest, over the tablet. The laughter ceases, as the words run within.

As you wish.

Something shatters, when the explosion comes. The invitation is made, and there is a jolt of ecstasy deep within Bela. The pulse runs across the line, deeper and deeper into the hostile depths of the splecture abyss. All the way to the figure upon the throne. A howling runs across the halls of the depths, the passionate shockwave now expanding to the endless light within. Gentle eyes peer in spite of the spasming emotions rattling deep within the Patriarch. He doesn't collapse on his back, as his soul quivers to agony numbed. Rolling on the ground, he draws his fingertips across his arm, his body. The gold draws out, forming the shape of a single scepter. Rising up with boneless grace, the full form of the eagle-headed scepter comes out, the Podiebrad leveling it before the wraith. The gold lines of the armor was gone. The mocking spirit deep in the depths was leaning in his throne, wringing his hands in anticipation. The offering was made. And now, it was time to claim it. The words come out smooth and gentle, in analog harmony.


And the energy crackles along the golden lines across his body. The boundaries of manifests blur. The shape of energy. The unfathomable depths of the crypt beyond accelerates. It all accelerates. Everything accelerates. The borders snap in twain, as it fully manifests. It's the shape of Bela, distorted, twisted. Short and lean like him, but too exaggerated. The wiry limbs, gnarled claws, and hunched-over back amongst nearly jester-like outfits. Howling spirit. Killing spirit that walks. Spirit creature wearing the shape of a man. Everything it is, is abomination. Is aberration. It's very existence was a snarling force of hatred, antagonistic to the very material of the living realm. It's footsteps sear scars upon the marble, it's immaterial drifting rips apart the very gas and vapor. The entity was energy, hostile, surging energy. It's existence was antagonizing the very air, corrupting and consuming it. Hostility, utter hostility.

And now unbridled, at the command of the Patriarch of the House of Podiebrad.

The corrupted spirit clings to the scepter as he pulls away. It hurls straight at the wraith, the soul blue flames pouring from it's neck, wrists, and ankles. The putrid lights of its eye sockets flaring from beneath it's horned crown. Jaw slack, it flings itself with the grace of a corpse, limbs writhing and flailing as it moves to seize it with the one hand, seize the ghost with an eldritch strength well beyond the mortal limits. Grip with cruel, bony fingers, digging deep into the wraith, deep into its imitation of flesh. Deeper, deeper with a heat of passion against the cold, a dreadful appetite for the lustful imaginations that the shape would make.

All while the Patriarch lunges in from the flank, tendrils of gold flowing freely between the spirit and him in flawless syzygy.

COMBATSYS: Bela successfully hits Wraith with Sin Offering.
- Power hit! -

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Bela             0/-------/<<<<<<<|=======\-------\0           Wraith

Consuming presence, driving deep within.

The essence of the wraith is pinned down, stapled upon the floor as the presence of the spirit coils underneath, driving deep through the invisible lines of the spiritual force. The accursed spirit breaks away, as the thin golden lines cascade like a spider web over it. Indigo flames encircle around the wraith, the sealing circle blazing into life as the spirit within turns, focusing harshly upon the wraith within it with devouring anticipation. Mirrored across from him, gripping half the scepter between the pair, was the Patriarch. The bindings of the seal were nearly complete. It would only last so long, only until they had finished their way. They had asked for their offering. It had accepted.

So they begin their dance.

Half crouched forward, attention upon the Wraith, they take two small steps, bounding to noiseless sound. Twirling, they straighten up, swaying their arms side to side two times. A second spin comes, this time with a small clap, before they turn their backs to the sealed spirit. The soul essence draining away, it's life light drawing deep into the crypts of the abyss, deep to the kingdom of the foul spirit. Deep into the spiritual tombs within the House of Podiebrad, deep within the spiritual confines. Drawn away, away away. The duo raise the left, and lower the right, dancing briefly like an egyptian before reversing the arms, giving the final spin. Extending each half of the scepter over the Wraith, the seal explodes into a pillar of consuming indigo flame, and the yawning vacuum comes, as Bela and the Spirit draw as much soul energy within as they can. Devouring it. Consuming it. Revitalizing ancient pacts.

And taking as much, as far as they can away.

The Wraith's smug posture quickly shifts back to its cautious crouch as a nightmare unfolds before its pale blazing eyes. The foul twisted mockery of a man claws its way into reality, called forth by the ancient word of power. The spirit howls with unbridled hatred as the very substance of the material world seems to recoil at its presence as if burned. Corruption spills into the air around it staining the grayscale room with swaths of rancid black like a spreading mold.

Yet even in the face of such a horrific abomination there is no sign of terror from the entity. It reacts no differently than before, drawing its blades up in a defensive ward as it prepares to fend off this new monstrosity. The Wraith pivots to the side, shifting its movement abruptly as if to evade out of reach as the pair of maddened creatures lunge at it, but the aberration proves too quick.

The shadow's form shivers as the aberration lunges forward, pinned it to the floor by its polluted power. It attempts to slither free of the thing's grasp, its vaporous form writhing like eels made of mist, but the golden threads thwart these efforts as the binding spell closes down upon it. The inky elemental twists and flails as it attempts to break free of the web but the spell holds fast as mage and monster begin their bizarre ritual of sacrifice.

The pair strut about as they go through the motions of their arcane dance, twisted reflections of darkness and hunger moving in lockstep. Terrible evil power floods into the air as they summon forth vile magics, a forbidden spell that has ensnared countless souls within its web. The shadowy figure of the woman bound inside the circle, already faded and translucent, flickers silently as what is left of its essence begins to bleed away.

And yet, even as Bela and his foul master engage in their victory dance, there is something very wrong.

The wispy form of their entrapped prey vanishes behind the searing explosion of indigo fire as the seal is completed. Both mage and demon hold their tainted scepters aloft, eagerly awaiting the rush of fresh revitalizing energies that typically accompanies the completion of their devouring ritual.

But there is nothing.

No infusion of raw power, no surge of magical might as a fresh soul is damned to an eternity of servitude. It is as if the entity is as devoid of substance as the very smoke that seemed to make up its ethereal form, completely lacking nutritional value like a bowl of non-fat whipped cream. Like there isn't anything there at all. As the flames continue to crackle hungrily, searching for something to feed upon, a soft sound becomes detectable behind the roaring blaze. Laughter, soft and feminine, cuts through the background noise, echoing like a passing whisper through Bela's mind.

The world changes in that moment. The mage's vision blurs briefly becoming a jumble of distorted colors. A few blinks is enough to clear his eyes and upon taking in the surroundings once more a chilling discovery awaits him.

As before, the infiltrator stands within Kira's office though not as it should be. The signs of battle are no where to be found. The shattered furniture and demolished walls are whole once more, not a single thing seeming to be out of place from the way he remembers it when first slipping inside. The colors have all returned, the glittering gold on everything as bright and gaudy as before.

Before him, Kira's desk stands at the center of the office, its heavy marble polished and clean save for the small craters across its surface that he noticed upon first entering. To his surprise, Bela finds his hand outstretched, the golden-taloned fingers curled about a small piece of black plastic resting in a small drawer as if preparing to pick it up - the very same tablet that he had taken already. His hand looks completely normal, devoid of the twisted magic that had been summoned forth from within the dark recesses of his soul. Of the wraith and his demonic ally, there are no signs, neither visible in the room nor detectable to his magical senses - vanished, like the remnants of a bad dream.

COMBATSYS: Wraith takes no action.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Bela             0/-------/<<<<<<<|

COMBATSYS: Wraith can no longer fight.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Bela             0/-------/<<<<<<<|

Master and servant.

As the final rite and ritual completes, that should be the end. Another soul upon the rock. It should be the escape, the violence, the esctasy. And yet, the borders of reality fade. The boundaries disappate. Bela and the spirit circle, watching the shapes of the room revert, the end of violence returning to its beginnings. The cackling mockery only intensifies, driving, railing, screaming, howling.

And the illusion ends.

The Patriarch cannot help but turn, cannot help but look around as the clawed tips curl around the tablet. The strange sensations, the tickling, the touch of the wards. A dream decided, a dream ended. Another trap left for it. How long was this moment? An instant? A lifetime? Or with the war escalating, somewhere in between. Perhaps it was not him waking up at all, but falling asleep into another dream. He pauses a moment, deep within his thoughts... and within the thoughts of another. A smirk on his painted lips, as he clings to the tablet, inspecting it. It was a beautiful dream, dominating the foul spirit and consuming it. to find his prize. But as he inspects the prize, he dives into this new reality. Was the tablet what he truly desired anymore? Was it a premonition?

Or was it mere fantasy?

The muted thunder of distant gunfire shatters the unnatural silence as the mage muses on the nature of his encounter. The walls shudder as a powerful explosion rocks the exterior of the casino close enough for him to feel the tremors. The battle for control of the facility rages on, a detail that was noticably absent in the shadow realm where he faced the wraith. It would seem that whatever sort of illusion he had been pulled into the defeat of the shade has dispelled it.

More importantly, the prize that he went through all of that effort to find proves to be quite real. Kira's tablet, with all of its damning secrets, provides a comforting weight in his hand. Even should their attack somehow be repelled, Bela most likely now has the evidence he needs to start connecting the dots between the various elements responsible for the growing dark stalker threat.

Perhaps this find will manage to restore his family's honor, if only a little. Actionable intelligence that allows the NOL to finally move against Jedah would be a welcome boon among those agitating for war against the dark noble, of which there are many. Even the haughty Katarina would be forced to admit that his plan bore fruit despite her disdain for him. No doubt she'll be quick to claim at least partial credit for the deed since it was her own forces that provided the distraction to facilitate his infiltration. But maneuvering the political landmines that will be placed in his path is a problem to deal with later. Right now, getting this information safely out of the warzone is the most important thing.

If his battle with the shadow demon had set off any alarms then either they had gone unnoticed or the mercenaries have more pressing issues to deal with. A steady roar of detonations continues to thunder in the distance but more and more of them strike close enough to rattle the building itself. Time to go.

A cruel smirk finishes upon those painted lips.

It wasn't quite perfect. The Patriarch had been teased with the false promise of bloodlust, an offering that was going to be met one way or another. And the fact that there was a prize... Szabolc said it was impossible. The spirit agreed. Bela believed it as well, as he does with his advisors. The entire master plan was built that there was nothing. And yet, here it was. The prize. The truth. The reality. He was leaving out of here with the promise of evidence and facts. Instead of the expectation of fruitful lies. And why wouldn't he be nettled over the lack of lies?

It was much easier to divide the fortune lies bring.

The House of Shimotsuki was going to be a flawlessly crafted splinter under his nail now. He had hoped that this would have been a beautiful failure, that the Shimotsuki would look to scrap off their shoe as swiftly as possible. Bela almost had half the mind to destroy the tablet right here and there. But no. As he twirls, the motes of indigo lights flickering around him, he decides he wouldn't. There was a war going on. The whole building could come in soon. He would take away with his prize. He would bear the insult when it came. But before he left, to begin the much simply escape than arrival, he would make sure to give a last look at the camera. He knew it was all not quite right. But he gives a wink from behind his mask.

Before surge into a flash of indigo light.

Within the safety of the underground control room, Kira watches the battle unfold across a dozen monitors. Scenes of unrestrained violence play out as the enraged mages hurl devastating bolts of raw energy into her men, lighting and fire lashing out as phyiscal manifestations of their fury. But the mercenaries are too well dug in for such wild displays of power to have much effect, the deep trenches and reinforced bunkers absorbing the brunt of the arcane assault while those huddled within offer disciplined bursts of fire in response.

By now the majority of the spectacle has run its course. Utilizing hidden tunnels beneath the streets her men are already in the process of withdrawing. It would appear to the attackers that their constant barrages are wittling down her numbers, as evidenced by their steadily emboldened pushes at the defenses, though the constant rain of mortar shells and heavy machinegun fire keeps them from dedicating to an outright charge for the moment. Angry but not suicidal, precisely as she had hoped.

A sudden sharp gasp from behind causes the mercenary queen to divert her attention from the battle. She regards the woman kneeling on the floor with a look of concern. Zhenya's face is paler than usual and the obvious signs of exertion in her expression are worrying. Kira knows next to nothing in regards to the burdens that are placed upon her second when it comes to utilizing her psychic powers and her friend has a habit of hiding it when something is troubling her. However, showing excessive amounts of concern will only make her clam up further, so she merely waits silently while the assassin gathers her composure.

"It is done," Zhenya says, smoothing out her expression into its usual mask of stoic detachment. The sweat on her skin and the exhaustion in her voice is harder to hide.

Kira nods, tossing her a bottle of water before turning her attention to the monitors again. She is just in time to see Bela's parting smirk before the mage vanishes in a flash of light leaving her office vacant once more. She couldn't care less about the interloper but the sight of the empty drawer in her desk brings a grin to her face.

"Hook, line, and sinker."

Log created on 16:25:45 07/27/2020 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 13:56:20 01/20/2021.