Description: It started out like a routine day at the club - long hours, endless paper work, unsatisfied customers. If only life could have stayed so simple.
The last stop for tonight.
There may be a certain sense of irony in the fact that the checkup round on an actually legitimate business holding is the last item on a crime boss' schedule on any given day-- but then again, the particular business being part of the city's nightlife does help with that kind of timing. And in any case-- for Tairyu, the change in the nature of venues to end the business day with is a welcome one, after spending hours locking down 'partnership deals' with businesses in territories left in flux after the shakedown of Southside Syndicate's local structuring and herding smaller gangs.
Nevermind that he's only here on business, too. It's not like he really gets to sample his own merchandise, so to speak.
In the end, the purely professional nature of his presence in the club, too, is marked by him parking himself in the upstairs office, running through paperwork... employee applications, mostly. The day managers handle most of the other boring minutae, but even now he still insists on vetting any potential employees personally.
The clock strikes one in the morning, and the Yakuza's eyes briefly wander to the couch tucked away to one corner of the office. Probably going to end up sleeping in here again. Most nights lately seem to end up resting either there, the gambling hall or the Aizawa-gumi HQ proper. Probably going to be a while before he gets to have enough time for himself to actually sleep on a proper bed again.
But that's just the nature of all the responsibilities he's taken on.
The sharp, cruel tone of the office phone ringing out breaks him out of the momentary passage into more rueful thoughts. Rather than working up the motivation to pick up the receiver, he does just switch the speaker on and let the seemingly ever-needy floor manager say his piece through it.
"The customer in the second floor VIP room wants to see you."
Ugh. That's not an entirely uncommon thing either. Plenty enough local politicians and other business owners been asking to provide personal congratulations and praises in hopes of buttering him up for donations or partnership deals... or in the case of the more corrupt lot, hopes of persuading the Aizawa-gumi to doing some kind of dirty work for them. Or heaven forbid, some spoiled trust fund child that decided they like the club and that they want to pay their way to becoming a co-owner.
Bloody snakes and vultures, all of them.
"...Fine. Someone I know?"
"Ah... No, sir. First-time customer, and I took the freedom to cross-reference their name already. Not a local, at least."
Well, that's curious. Usually it's only the local blood that bothers with these kinds of pleasantries, as fake as they might be.
"I guess I'll find out..." Jacket caught into one hand, and then smoothly brought up to slip his arms through it's sleevess, before a finger is caught to the 'hangup' button on the phone. "I'll be down there in a minute."
The second floor of the business - Club Venus - bustles with activity on a nightly basis. The tables and booths along the floor nearly completely filled out tonight, too. But it's only through the dimly-lit hall that Tairyu's path takes him, now.
Past all of it, a curtain-covered door leads into the VIP room. All the other seating options are already comfortably cushioned to begin with, but no other option provides a room fully seperated from the rest, or an entertainment system the customer is given total control over. The reservation of the room does come with the added benefit of allowing the bypass of the usual 'one-for-one' rule when it comes to the amount of hostesses the customer can pay for to have attend to them.
Rumors may abound of the VIP room also being the one place where the 'no physical contact' rule can be overruled too, but if you asked any employee directly about it, they would at least not admit to it.
And it's here that the owner of the club comes stepping up to, now. Slowly sliding the curtain out of the way, first, to let him see just who exactly has asked to talk to him, tonight.
The work of a crime boss is never done. This is something that Kira understands well. From the humble beginnings of a ragged freedom fighter to the self-proclaimed throne of the Queen of Mercenaries, her meteoric ascent from rags to riches was built upon a foundation of raw perseverance. Of course, determination isn't the only ingredient required to succeed in the underworld. A whole lot of ruthlessness and the willingness to be the scariest motherfucker in the game carried her a lot further than anyone could have dreamed. Sprinkle in a healthy dose of caution that borders on the paranoid and a willingness to do whatever it takes to survive. Finally, add just a hint of insanity for flavor. Presto - one bad ass bitch.
That had been enough to be the apex predator in Africa where she had chosen to set up shop. No person in their right mind wanted to set down roots in that sweltering hellhole to begin with which meant all she ever had to contend with was the local warlords and the occasional uppity international agency looking to bag themselves a high-profile mark. Nothing too difficult for someone with her resources and skill. But the past few years have shown her that the world is a lot more dangerous than what she'd come to believe.
Everything changed when that portal opened up over Metro City. Sensing an opportunity unlike any other, she'd plunged into that screaming hell mouth with her crew in tow and emerged again with a cargo hold full of honest-to-god monsters. Perhaps she should have known that such brazenness would not go unchallenged. But then again it's not like she could have expected such a thing as a 'noble' dark stalker to exist, much less that they would take offense to her incursion into their domain.
Jedah Fucking Dohma. His arrival into her life seemed to have been the catalyst that made everything start falling apart. Her vast criminal empire and the fabulous wealth it had brought her, the small army of men and women she had come to consider her family, and the confidence upon which she had built her sense of place in the world - all of it threatened in that one horrible moment of realization that she could do nothing to stop him.
That feeling of helplessness has haunted her ever since. She'd long since come to accept that her life might come to a violence and bloody end. A stray bullet on the battlefield, a carefully planted explosive in her APC, a knife in the back from someone who'd gotten a better deal than what she offered - any of these could be her fate. The difference was that she could plan for those things, try to mitigate the risks. It was why she was also so fucking careful and diligent, never blundering blindly into any situation. Her back up plans had back up plans. But what the fuck do you do against someone who can take an RPG to the face and shrug it off?
That dread had sparked a new kind of nightmare in the cold and callous mercenary, a vision of a world dominated by monstrosities and horrors that shouldn't even exist. She didn't know anything about these 'dark stalkers', what they were capable of, what they wanted, what their ultimate goal was. But Jedah - he made it very clear what he wanted from her and the very thought of it churned her stomach.
She'd fought far too long and hard to carve her own kingdom out of the dirt and mud to just let it all go without a fight. Not that she had much of a choice. So, as always, she'd swallowed her pride and did what was needed to keep surviving. She joined forces with the devil, promising him the skills and knowledge she'd spent a life time perfecting all for the sake of overthrowing her own world for some madman's twisted dream.
Of course, she had no intention of honoring that deal. It was all a matter of buying enough time to set things in motion, to acquire the necessary tools to fight back. Not that this was going to be an easy task. Humanity, foolish as always, had quickly tried to embrace the presence of dark stalkers into their welcome arms oblivious to the truth of their foul nature. Even the damned NOL started to induct the beasts into their ranks, eager to put that inhuman strength to use for their own purposes. Idiots, the lot of them. She had to show them the truth, get them to understand the nature of the threat lurking in the shadows.
And show them she did. What better way to provoke a nest of hornets than to lead the predators to its door? Not in such numbers as to actually destroy it but enough to inflict wounds that will ache for a long time. The damage inflicted upon Southtown will be remembered for many years to come, as will those responsible. While she might have put herself forth as the mastermind behind the attack, the common man would know little except that his loved ones and friends had been torn apart by frenzied monsters. Even if the reaction isn't immediate, that sentiment will grow and fester, slowly turning the tides back in the desired direction - a united humanity ready to burn out the tumor slowly growing in its guts.
"-didn't say that! You're so naughty, Marie-san!"
As Tairyu approaches the heavy curtain blocking off the VIP lounge, the faint snippets of a conversation begin to drift out past the thick cloth. The owner of the voice is easily identified as one of his hostesses, her Japanese flowing quick and naturally in light-hearted conversation. A second voice, also feminine but with a much deeper and richer tone to it, chimes in, eliciting a girlish giggle in response.
"Aren't you a bit old to be playing hard to get?"
The sound of the curtain being drawn aside interrupts the conversation, two pair of eyes swiveling Tairyu's way as he announces his presence. In the center of the room, the two women are seated upon one of the large sofas. The hostess, a young woman with short brown hair and large doe-like eyes, lies sprawled across the lap of the other occupant in a state of dress that could be described as 'unprofessional'. The woman's eyes go wide in surprise at the unexpected arrival of her boss, yanking her top up quickly as an embarrassed blush quickly spreads across her cheeks.
"Ah, that was faster than I expected. Guess play time is over."
For her part, the foreign woman seems unbothered by the gangster's untimely arrival. Her hand traces a slow path down the hostess's back, giving her a quick smack on the ass that sends the woman shooting to her feet with a surprised squeal. A wicked grin spreads across the gaijin's face, her green eyes sparkling from behind a mess of blue bangs.
"Scamper off. Me and your boss have some business to discuss."
Without the buxom hostess in her lap, Tairyu gets a closer look at the person who has called on him. She seems fairly tall for a woman from what he can tell, though her actual height is difficult to discern thanks to her slouching posture. Loose wavy hair that's been dyed a bright neon blue hangs in a haphazard mess around a narrow face riddled with various piercings. The haircut is youthful and punkish and her attire is likewise akin to something out of the 'teenager's guide to looking cool', as if she grabbed random articles of clothing off the rack that met only the requirements of being scandalously tight and covered with as many chains and studs as possible. Little is left to the imagination in regards to her figure, save for her arms which are concealed behind long black and white striped warmers. A set of techno-looking headphones hangs around her neck like a collar, the faint sound of some upbeat electronica drifting out of them.
Somehow, the owner of the club doesn't seem... exactly *surprised* by the scene that greets him on the other side of the curtain. Though there might be just a *smidge* of disappointemnt visible in his otherwise stoic features.
He doesn't say anything on any of it, however. He merely waits for the hostess to get herself proper, and off of the customer's lap. --Though, when she's about to slip past him, his hand finds itself on her shoulder, stopping her short just long enough to exchange a few meaningful looks.
Whatever was communicated in the silent interaction seems to satisfy the Yakuza enough to release the brunette's shoulder, and allow her to make her leave fully, sliding the curtain closed as she does.
Leaving Tairyu alone there with this neon-punk girl. Emerald eyes subtly narrowed while they draw over her, in quick study. Her outfit's loud. Deliberately so. Maybe there's significance in that, too, but whatever it is, he can't suss it out just like that; not yet, anyway.
He doesn't let himself linger there by the doorway for too long, before he guides slow, deliberate steps towards the seating, and the customer draped upon them. They may be smooth, those steps, but even in spite of it, they seem to hold a great weight to them regardless. As if something metaphysical was making the very presence of them heavy.
"Marie-san, is it?" His heavy baritone comes out in all it's velvety tones, the question pronounced with the final step settling just a few feet away from her -- where he dips into a subtle bow.
"Tairyu Katashi," he offers in introduction like that, keeping himself in the leaned-over posture of the bow a few seconds afterwards still, before letting himself straighten up. "What is it you need of me?"
'Marie' slumps against the arm of the sofa, reclining lazily as her companion and the stoic man have their little heart-to-heart. Her gaze wanders over the hostess's backside, enjoying the process of watching her leave even if she'd have preferred to let the woman stay. Ah, well, there's plenty of time for fun later and she's paid to have this room to herself for the entire night. Of course, depending on how this upcoming conversation goes, she might need to take her leave early.
The foreigner fishes around in her pair of tight shorts, a hand emerging with a half-empty box of cigarettes and a cheap lighter. She draws one of the smokes out with her lips in a practiced fashion, setting flame to the tip even as Tairyu stalks over to introduce himself in a rigidly formal manner. The woman inhales deeply before letting out a long sigh that expels a puff of smoke into the air from the corner of her mouth as she gives the yakuza a sideways glance.
She never did like the Japanese. So polite and up-tight all the damn time. Even their fucking gangs are wound up tighter than a spring. But needs must when the Devil drives and all that. Her options for seeking out allies are understandably limited at the moment.
The Aizawa-gumi's allegiance is, as of yet, owned by no one as far as she is aware. Just some standard 'you stay out of my hair and I'll stay out of yours' sorts of deals going on. More importantly, they haven't thrown in their lot with Dahlia. Getting them on her side won't shift the balance all that much but every dynasty has to start small and she's got a lot of rebuilding to do.
Rudely, the blue-haired punk doesn't respond to Tairyu immediately. Instead, she lazily picks up an open bottle sitting on the floor nearby and takes a swig, enjoying the taste of the high-quality booze with an obvious expression of pleasure. After a few long seconds of further awkward silence, she suddenly sits up, kicking her feet up on the small table situated in front of the sofa. A motion with the cigarette-holding hand is made towards one of the other sofas nearby.
"Why don't you have a seat, Tai? This is going to be a long conversation."
The cultural contrast is like a knife cutting into the air between the two of them -- but not at all unfamiliar to Tairyu. He's dealt with foreigners under both of his professions. It's not the first time he's had someone treating business talks like they were having a casual little talk with a servant in their own home, either.
But something about this one feels different. Many of the little things, mannerisms and all, that he takes in feels familiar, in some way or another. But at the same time, something feels *off* about it all. She doesn't give the usual 'entitled trust fund kid' vibe.
The silence left behind is waited through patiently (no matter how terribly impolite it might be considered), but when she does finally speak up, one dark brow quirks up. A long conversation she says. He may as well humor her for a while, at least.
Slowly, the Yakuza carries himself to rounding the table she's propped her feet on, and to turning to sitting on one of the other cushioned seats surrounding it. Not the one directly opposite from her, but the one facing the adjacent side of the table from her.
It's there that the first sign of at least subtle relaxation is allowed to come through-- his posture isn't quite perfectly upright anymore. Not quite a slouch, but enough, at least, to let him lean back against the soft backrest of the lush sofa.
"I would say I hope you have enjoyed your stay in our establishment so far..." He murmurs there, while his hand slips underneath his jacket, fishing through an inner breast pocket for what is revealed to be a small, fancy metal casing -- flipped open to expose a row of thin - but likely rather expensive - cigars. "But, I get the feeling..." One of the expensive smokes is drawn out and brought to be held between the pinch of his own teeth, before the case is set over onto the table -- still open and in easy hand's reach for both of them. A silent offer, maybe?
"...That you're not here to talk the part of me that faces that way."
Marie takes another hit from both the bottle and the cigarette while the gangster situates himself. A faint smile plays across her face as Tairyu seems to relax. Perhaps he's trying to placate one of his 'customers' by toning down the formality, if only a little. His statement is met with a bemused look from the punkish woman, her brow quirking up at him as if he'd just said the most obvious thing in the world.
"Bit stuffy for my tastes," she says, leaning forward to flick a spray of hot ash into a ceramic tray on the table. The cigars get a brief glance but are otherwise ignored, her attention focused on the mob boss.
"But you're right, I didn't call you down here to talk to a club manager about his choice of wallpaper. I'm here to have a chat with the head of the Aizawa-gumi."
That simple name drop is enough to change the tone of the conversation. While her attire might be somewhat ridiculous for a professional thug, Tairyu would no doubt be thoroughly familiar with the often eccentric personalities that tend to wind up as prominent figures in the underworld. Nor does one simply bring up such topics on a whim. Southtown might be one of the most corrupt and heavily-infiltrated cities on the planet but not so much so that gangsters can openly discuss business on the streets. Referencing his shadier organization is a signal that this woman isn't just some rich kid come to throw around daddy's money, as he already suspected.
Another long pause is given for Tairyu to ponder how to take that statement. The woman stares at him with a lazy expression, smoke wafting from her nostrils like a resting dragon. She seems to be completely at ease, showing no obvious signs of fear or worry that her unannounced visit might warrant some kind of violent response. Yet, as an experienced fighter he can see that there is a sense of awareness about her, a subtle hint of tension simmering just below the surface, ready to explode at a moment's notice. Her eyes seem too focused, too quick to react to every move that he makes. Even the way she moves her hands about to take puffs of her cigarette or drinks from the bottle are coincidentally timed with his own shifts in posture, ready and in position to react to any hostility.
This laid back attitude is a facade and a damn good one. Only someone intimately familiar with violence would be able to take notice of the subtle cues she gives off and even those seem almost deliberate, as if she wants him to see that she's far more capable than she looks. A form of intimidation, perhaps, or just a way of proving her credentials.
"So," she says, leaning back into the soft cushions once more. "Let's start with something simple. What do you know about dark stalkers?"
"Mmmh." If there's any surprise Tairyu has to give for the ten-ton namedrop, he isn't letting it show. The slow, deliberate motion of digging out a lighter and drawing it up to bring flame to the tip of the cigar between his teeth on it's own wouldn't be enough to hide it on it's own, either.
But he does clearly mull it over. And the presence of Marie as a whole, for that matter. Just like her, there's a certain readiness hidden behind the outward show of indulging in the more material delights. Every little motion in the woman, even the subtle motions of her facial features are accounted for and filed into some repository in the back of his mind for processing.
And though his upper body might allow itself to rest against the cushions, one of his feet has already pressed itself to the floor. A firm leverage point to use to jolt the rest of his body into more firm wakefulness if need be.
It's not an uncommon dance, when it comes to negotiations between officers of different organizations. An otherwise perfectly amiable sharing of drink, food, smoke, whatever, in a comfortable setting, with a layer of threat hidden underneath. Be it the presence of triggermen in the backgroudn on both sides -- or in the case of these two now, the faint currents of violent preparation, ready to be made manifest on a millisecond's notice, pulsing against each other from their respective sources.
Walk softly but be ready to jam a boot down the other guy's throat and all that.
"I'm no expert," Tairyu confesses readily, at the prompt of her question, the words rumbled past the cigar between his teeth before a the essence of the expensive tobacco is inhaled in to linger within his mouth. Forefinger and thumb curled along the base of the cancerstick after, and drawn out, with a cloud of smoke flowing out from betwixt the lips it leaves behind. "But I know enough. Supernatural creatures... The definition's a bit jumbled. Some say they're all from a different realm, others say lot of them are just people born with different genes... Varied in too many ways to really be counted."
When he leans over to reach for the ashtray, to shake off little dustings of it from the lit end of his cigar, he still keeps his gaze firmly on the blue-haired woman. This is not the kind of conversational partner he should let his focus divert from for even a fraction of a second.
"And a horde of them were channeled to nearly destroy this town. Where are you going with this?"
While she's never been much for playing games, this bit of subtle maneuvering is something Kira can do quite easily. More than a few of her earliest years were spent acting as a spy and an assassin and she got plenty of practice using body language to express various moods. Right now she's quite relaxed, the subtle threat of her potential for violence only lightly hinted at, matching the quiet display of power put on by her host. She doesn't need to engage in a dick measuring contest with him, just make it known that any attempt to take aggressive action would not end lightly.
'Marie' leans forward, once more flicking the burnt up ashes of her smoke into the tray. Unlike Tairyu, she seems less concerned with keeping her attention on him exclusively, allowing her gaze to drift down to the tip of her finger as she taps it against the smoldering stick.
"I am," she says, her tone conversational. "In fact, you might say I'm rather intimately familiar with the things."
The woman sighs and returns to reclining on the sofa, shifting her legs to a more comfortable position. If only she could go back and undo all of that mess. While the thrill of hunting actual monsters in an alien world was quite the bit of excitement the aftermath has brought her nothing but trouble. Not that she'd ever admit to having made a mistake. Her philosophy has always been one of dominance and aggression. The moment you show weakness is the moment that you open yourself up to attack. Regret is just another form of weakness, a pathetic pining for the easier path. That isn't her - it won't be her - not when she still has ways to fight back.
"The part about them coming from another world is true. Well, most of them at least. I've heard claims that a few existed before the Majigen portal opened but it wasn't until after the Metro City incident that they started to pop up like weeds. Maybe some of the weirder things just got reclassified afterwards, who knows."
The woman shrugs noncommittally, taking another sip of fancy champagne before continuing.
"Ultimately, it's sort of irrelevant where they came from. The issue is that they are here now. And they are a problem."
Her pinky extends from around the neck of the bottle, a neon-blue fingernail jabbing at the air in his direction as she gives him a sideways look.
"As you so aptly put it, they very nearly destroyed one of the largest cities on the planet over the course of only a couple of weeks. A city protected by the mighty Librarium, no less. And, from my reports, this was accomplished by a force of less than one thousand."
She pauses, letting him soak that in. The logistical data of the attack was likely still being processed by the authorities and withheld from the general public. Field reports and camera footage from around the city would have been poured over and analyzed to try and get accurate numbers but one of the reasons she'd been able to ambush the city so effectively was by making use of the sewage tunnels.
With the occasional nudge to push them in a tactically useful direction, Kira had kept fresh reinforcements pouring into the battle lines while also shuffling around their formations to prevent any of the packs from being surrounded or pinned down. The inhuman toughness and speed of her soldiers had more than made up for their lack of modern weaponry and even the deadly mages struggled to stand their ground under the coordinated assaults of various monsters utilizing their strengths to compliment each other. Had she wanted to actually win, it would have been disturbingly easy to focus her efforts into small areas all at once to systematically take apart the unprepared squads sent to respond to the initial attack.
"Considering the damage done by what appears to have been only a small group, would you not say that it would be in humanity's best interest to take measures against these monsters?"
While Tairyu has been content enough to listen calmly for the most part, without any desire to interrupt, or even show any sign of anything the woman has had to say really rattling him much--
The number. Less than one thousand. Her reciting that alone has him wrinkling his nose. It's a brief thing, but for someone as attentive as her, it's noticable enough.
And that means he at least *thinks* there is some significance behind her saying that.
And then the newly-presented question draws his brows subtly towards the beginning of a scowl.
"... Before I give an answer to that," he rumbles, keeping himself still in that leaned-over posture after the initial shaking off of ashes. Pausing, there, to take another puff out of the cigar while he ruminates on... *her*, now, rather than the question she has just asked of him.
"Let me ask you something else first. ... Who exactly are you?"
Ah, there it is.
This was a question that was going to come up at some point. Obviously, a man shrewd enough to make his way to the top of a yakuza gang, no matter how small, would be cautious enough to want to know the identity of his business partners. Not that she intended to keep it a secret even if he hadn't asked for some reason. No, her entire argument hinges around the fact of who she is and what she would know because of it.
The punky woman's mouth twists up into a wide grin, flashing her teeth on one side. She makes no attempt to hide the enjoyment she gets out of him broaching that subject. While she can certainly guess what most people's reactions would be to learn that a bona fide psychopath is in the room with them, she's quite curious to see precisely how this plays out. He's played it cool up until now but that might all change in light of what she's done.
Rather than answer him with words, 'Marie' slowly slides a hand down between her legs. The look she gives Tairyu is one of sultry suggestiveness, and for a moment it seems like the answer she has to give him might be a little spicier than he could have anticipated. Instead, her hand vanishes into the space between the cushions of the sofa, emerging with a curved piece of metal clutched in it.
Winking at him, the woman tosses the object onto the table and leans back, crossing her legs once again. It turns out to be a mask of some sort. Crafted from dark steel, the domed face-covering bears a faint resemblance to the headgear worn by hockey goalies. A trio of wide narrow slits forms a vertical pattern down either side of the mask offering a limited amount of vision. Below, the lower half is taken up by the painting of a large open mouth, twin rows of jagged shark-like teeth bared in a snarling grin.
By now Kira's face is almost universally known. Shortly after her broadcast to the city of Southtown, her mug was plastered across almost every television in the world, identified as the person taking credit for the horrific act of terrorism. But, what many may have forgotten, is that among the various bits of information dredged up about the mercenary queen's dark organization were images of the fearsome warlord engaged in various theatres of combat. And in every image, though her face was always concealed, it was behind a ballistic face-shield of exactly the same design - that of a fearsome fanged smile.
"The one person who knows better than anyone precisely what we are dealing with."
Between the look and the impending path of 'Marie's' hand, Tairyu's brows end up jumping upwards. He doesn't entirely lose his cool, but the unexpected nonverbal response to his question was... unexpected, certainly.
"Wait, now hold on--" He starts to protest, only to let it fade away when her hand makes the dip between the cushions instead of... between something else.
And out comes the piece of metal. A mask? The connection is not immediately made, not for the first few seconds he spends in staring at the bizarre piece of metal after it's landed on the table.
But then, neurons in his brain start snapping together, steadily connecting memories to more immediate sensory feedback. Her words reaching his ears are like a final nail into the metaphorical coffin of conclusions.
"...Tch. I see now."
The more idle scowl deepens with the unconscious twisting of the muscles along his brow, as his bright green gaze sweeps it's way back to the owner of the mask herself.
"But there's one thing I still don't *quite* understand here," his voice rumbles, but with an edge to it that creeps it towards a much more icy temperature.
"What kind of joke are you making here exactly, Volkov?" No honorific added in this time around. To his credit, his reaction to this revelation is... phenomenally restrained, even if he isn't exactly hiding the distaste creeping into the gaze he's levelled on her.
The woman stares at him in silence for several seconds, watching the emotions play out across the gangster's face as recognition slowly dawns. The deepening scowl is a far more subdued reaction than she anticipated, though her intel had suggested that Tairyu tended to be rather reserved. In her experience, however, it was always the stoic ones that tended to lose their shit the hardest when something finally managed to crack their calm. But, no, it would seem the revelation of her identity has not yet managed fracture his stoic bearing, though she can hear the edges starting to crinkle.
Kira smirks, casually taking another drag from her cigarette. The use of her last name without any titles is an obvious indication of his disdain. It's mean to be an insult but honestly she doesn't really care. People have done /far/ worse to try and get under her skin than fail to be polite.
"A joke, huh? Sure, I've got one for you."
The mercenary leans forward and creates a bridge with her fingers, resting her elbows on her thighs while her chin settles on the platform. Her gaze turns up towards the gangster, the pretense of a lazy ambivalent young punk vanishing as she fixes him with an intense stare.
"Several years ago, a portal to an alternate dimension full of monsters was ripped open by an insane vampire lord. Said monsters poured into our world, flooding to all corners of the globe so quickly that almost every country now has a noticeable population."
Reaching behind her, Kira fishes what looks like a cell phone out of her back pocket. However, as she brings the device to life it quickly becomes obvious that it is a far more advanced piece of hardware. Shimmering holographic images appear in the air between the two of them, photographs of various creatures engaged in deadly combat with humans. Werewolves tearing into helpless civilians, shredding flesh and bone in sprays of visceral gore. Half-human, half-snake things devouring people whole while others writhe on the ground as their flesh melts away. What appears to be nearly naked young girls with bits of fur in strategic locations and pointed cat-like ears tearing into Librarium soldiers with wicked dagger-like claws. Hulking brutish humanoids that tower twice the size of a man with the faces of angry bulls swinging axes almost as large as they are, cutting down swathes of police officers in a single blow.
"Many of these monsters - in fact, one might say the vast majority of them - possess incredible supernatural powers and inhuman physical attributes. Quite of few of them outright feed on blood and souls. And yet, despite this cartoonishly twisted collection of abominations, large swaths of the population have rallied together to accept these demons and fiends with open arms."
Kira shifts her gaze back up to Tairyu, peering at him through her wild blue bangs while she pushes an obviously fake smile onto her face.
The cracks in the stone are certainly not too far off from forming. The pressure of erosion at the calm of Tairyu's being is seen in the scowl, the disdain - and perhaps some irritation - in his eyes, and the subtle shifting of his jaw while teeth grind together.
And still, he maintains it enough to let her speak her piece. Even if the display brought on by the holographic imaging from her phone - or whatever that device actually is - visibly makes certain facial muscles twitch.
"...Yeah, I've been laughing about this whole time," he rumbles finally in response -- though his voice still hardly suggests anything of the sort.
"Laughing at every corpse me and mine have had to clean off the streets. Every child turned into an orphan. Every bit of death and destruction that every intel source ties to a certain Kira Volkov."
His tongue clicks against the roof of his mouth with audible annoyance, and the fingers curled along the cigar start subconsciously applying pressure down, too.
"And laughing while that same Kira Volkov talks to me about how dangerous and monstrous the same Darkstalkers from that skirmish are. I just can't *stop* laughing."
He's definitely not laughing.
The hand holding on to the cigar reaches over, and all but smashes the cigarette into the tray, stamping the lit end into it hard enough to utterly smoosh the smokestick and nearly threaten to crack the ceramic plating underneath it.
"What hell is your game here?" He asks, with faint growling tones emerging behind the words, as his bright green eyes settle to staring straight back into hers without any hesitation. And without any further attempt made in hiding the disdain within the emerald orbs.
Kira doesn't flinch away from the steadily growing fury building in the man next to her. She isn't afraid of what Tairyu might be able to do to her. Plans have are already been put into place to deal with him should she somehow find herself unable to handle a violent outburst. But, more importantly, that anger is precisely what she'd hoped to stoke. The pain and suffering that he'd witnessed as the monsters she'd unleashed tore through the city is what she needed people to feel if they were going to understand the gravity of the situation. The target of his ire is simply misplaced; now she needs to make him realize what his true goal should be.
The mercenary's fake smile fades away leaving a look of steadfast determination in its place. Kira meets the gangster's hard stare without trouble as she puts the cigarette back to her mouth, puffing on the last bit of smoldering remains before snuffing it out alongside his ruined cigar with a great deal more control.
"The same one I've played every single day for most of my life - survival."
Tapping the screen of her PDA a few times, Kira brings up a fresh set of images. One by one the scenes of violence and carnage are replaced by various pictures of a tall slender figure. Though he appears to be similar to a man, the creature displayed is obviously not human. Long wing-like protrusions extend from the side of his head which a second much larger set emerge from his lower back. An elegant purple suit covers the figure almost entirely leaving only the pale bluish skin of his clawed hands and angular face exposed.
"I trust you've seen the interviews, but in case you are unfamiliar with this... creature, take a good look."
The vampire lord's alien appearance makes it easy to identify him as a dark stalker. While some of the other 'nobility' among their kind possessed forms that made it easier for them to blend into the general populace, Jedah either did not or chose not to utilize such means. From what she had gleaned of his personality in their various encounters over the years, his ego probably wouldn't have allowed him to debase himself in such a manner just to fool a few humans. He considered mortals with the same regard as insects or herd animals generally, though she was pretty sure he didn't look at his own kind with much more fondness.
"This... is Jedah Dohma. A so-called 'high noble' of the Makai."
The woman's neutral expression suddenly twists into an angry scowl as she stares one of the floating holograms, her teeth flashing in a snarl beneath wild eyes in response to the subtle smirk on the dark stalker's face. That same fucking look he'd had while casually demanding that she become his slave or die.
"Vampire. Warlord. Immortal monster. Arrogant condescending purple prick."
Kira closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, trying to keep her temper under control. Anger has always been one of her weaknesses, even more so since the change. She can literally smell the rage building in the yakuza boss as his body responds to the change in mood with the production of various chemicals. It takes a conscious effort to keep her body from responding to the threat, suppressing the heightened sense of aggression that all but demands she hurl herself at him like an animal to establish dominance.
After a few moments of steadying herself, the mercenary turns to look up at Tairyu's eyes again. She can't completely hide the unreasoning rage pulling at the corners of her expression, her hatred for the creature that had made her feel so small and helpless unable to be completely contained.
"And... the reason why I did what I did."
It is an effort on both their parts, perhaps. To keep things under control. To not just let go and allow that voice demanding violence to take over. In Tairyu's case, it's the memory of all the suffering he's witnessed that demands it. Retribution enacted in place of those who cannot.
But if anything, Tairyu is also a man of principle. And unfortunately, the particular principles he adheres to also demand that he at least listen to what this woman has to say.
No matter how much he might wish he was at least a *bit* less principled, tonight.
At least that same look of disdain does seem to extend to the holographic image she summons forth next. There's a measure of understanding, at least, if not outright recognition. Of what is presented to him, and what the presence of it would mean.
"... I think I understand, some," he grumbles, leaving the ruined cigar behind at the ashtray, while he lets himself lean back some, bringing him back to a more upright posture.
"It's people 'waking up' to the dangers inherent in Darkstalkers that you wanted, right?" His brow lifts slightly with that question, only to furrow itself towards it's companion all over again after. "Well I suppose it *worked*. Considering all the anti-Darkstalker sentiment that's come up since then."
A low grunt slips past his teeth, and he guides one hand up knead the tips of two fingers along his left temple. Admitting to that much to her damn near brings on migraine spiking through his braincells.
"... I'm going to do my goddamned best to ignore for a moment how twisted that is," he growls after a few seconds of ruminating on all of it, and his eyes turn to meet hers once again, narrowed nearly into slits.
"So I'll just ask: What are you doing *here* now then?"
Kira offers him a tight-lipped smile at his evaluation of her tactics. Twisted. Most people would probably see it that way. But most people are blind idiots whose hardest decisions in their day to day lives boil down to what flavor of coffee to order that morning. She's spent an entire lifetime making calls that she knew would result in the deaths - those of her enemies and her own men. Time may have numbed her to the emotional impact of that responsibility but she remained keenly aware of the weight of those choices every single time.
"Despite what you might think, considering my profession, I'm not actually a fan of casually murdering thousands of people."
It isn't so much that she's particularly broken up by the all those deaths, it's just bad business. Even the most hardened criminals tend to grow wary around people who prove themselves a little too unhinged. She's worked hard to establish herself as a professional, someone who can be counted on to do a job and do it right no matter the cost. Marking herself as the person responsible for one of the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the modern world was not something she did gladly. But, seeing as the world already saw her a villain, it was a mask that was easy to sell.
"But," she says, leaning back in her seat. "You are correct. Jedah has been busy behind the scenes, pushing policies and promoting activism meant to ingratiate dark stalkers into human society."
She snorts, picking up the bottle of champagne again.
"Hell, even without him lifting a finger, there were already idiots tripping over themselves to make friends with the poor misunderstood monsters."
Her voice drips with sarcasm as she sneers at the thought, taking a long swig from the bottle.
"Fucking bleeding-heart hippies. Trying their best to hand our world to the demons on a silver platter."
Another long pull from the sparkling liquor goes down her throat before she sets it aside and looks back at Tairyu. It should be fairly obvious why she might reveal herself to him in such a fashion, particularly when the rest of the world think her dead and buried in the rubble of her demolished casino. But if he wants it spelled out for him, so be it.
"Seeing as a large chunk of my assets are currently unavailable to me, I find myself in need of allies. People who can understand the danger of what it is we face. People able to make the hard decisions that will ensure the survival of our kind."
Not a fan of murdering thousands of people, she says. And Tairyu's brow twitches, visibly.
"That right? Just a cost of *business* then, is it?" Just saying that, even if it's meant to come across with a sarcastic note, already makes him feel sick to his stomach.
He lets himself lean further back now, all the way to where his back has settled against the backrest of the sofa again, while his arms fold up along his chest. If only to add a more conscious effort to maintaining the calm that usually persists so effortlessly in him. Usually.
She seeks allies. And she's come here, in the center of her previous battleground, in hopes of finding at least one.
After she has confirmed as much, the Yakuza remains silent for a moment. Maybe he's contemplating on the actual logistics and benefits such a thing would bring -- but no, he doesn't seem any happier now than when she first allowed her identity to become clear to him.
"... I can't claim I entirely... *disagree* with your sentiments," he eventually confesses, with a heavy sigh. "But what I can't agree with are your methods. Surely you didn't come here thinking I would put away the feelings left behind in the blood you spilled immediately after you dangle a potential common goal in front of me?""
And now comes the push back. Humans are strange emotional creatures, often allowing their feelings to interfere despite reason suggesting an obvious course of action. While Tairyu may put on a good show of keeping his emotions in check with that stoic bearing of his, it would seem he's just as vulnerable to allowing his mind to be polluted by something as corrosive as empathy.
Kira narrows her eyes at the gangster, feeling the rage start to boil up again. To hear such a pathetic whimpering answer come from a man of his position is almost sickening. Someone who had fought and clawed his way to the top, someone who should understand the necessity of sacrifice. And he wants to bitch and moan because his fucking /feelings/ are all wound up?!
The mercenary suddenly sits up and leans towards Tairyu, her expression full of fire. The bottle of champagne hits the table so hard that a small crack appears at the bottom of the thick glass container as she slams it down onto the wooden surface.
"What I came here thinking," she says, her voice a low furious hiss, "was that the reports brought to me by my contacts indicated you were a man of power, not some simpering fucking child."
Growing restless from sitting on her ass for so long, the mercenary pushes to her feet and stalks to the far side of the room. She turns her back to Tairyu, putting distance between them so the sudden urge to start throttling him doesn't overwhelm her. It takes her a few moments to regain a portion of her calm, her fingers clenching and unclenching. When she finally turns around to face him again, Kira's face is visibly contorted with anger.
"Don't like that people die? Well, too fucking bad! This isn't some struggle for turf that you're gonna solve with a goddamn tea ceremony. Our enemies aren't some jumped-up punks pushing poison or a bunch of muscle heads from a rival gang. They're fucking /monsters/. Straight out of those shitty old movies. The kind with fangs and claws and hard-on for pointless and wanton violence. And who don't give a shit about your fucking /feelings/, Tairyu."
Kira's own emotions manifest in wild gesticulations as she talks, her hands almost as energetic and furious as her words. She jabs an angry finger at the Yakuza boss accusingly, punctuating that last sentence with a fierce snarl.
"The blood I spilled was a drop in the fucking ocean of suffering that Jedah has planned for this planet. And I'll do it again. And again and again and again, if that's what it takes to get people to pull their heads out of their asses and pay the fuck attention!"
Ironically, while Kira's rage bubbles up more prominently to the surface, Tairyu... seems to calm down. His own anger and disdain may not be gone entirely, sure, but at the very least there's much less restraint that he needs to focus himself on.
Less grinding of teeth, less tension built up through his body, less violent urges demanding immediate fulfillment. The Yakuza boss merely watches the Mercenary Queen throw her fit and yell out her piece. His expression doesn't so much as flinch this time. Once she's done letting it all out - for now - he merely leans himself over, slowly, and reaches his hand out to the discarded bottle.
"I expected the fabled Black Dragon to be able to form a better sales pitch."
It's not anger now. It's disappointment.
Fingers curl along the neck of the champagne bottle, drawing it up off the table and giving it just enough of a shake to get a gauge on how much of it's contents still remain (and give a brief eyeballing to the crack formed in the thick glass).
"Don't get me wrong though, Volkov. In spite of everything, I *was* thinking about it. But."
Green eyes flick up from the bottle, to peer up to her past the shade of dark brows.
"Seeing how you react to what should be the most *obvious* point of resistance if you've done your homework like you claim to have, tells me all I need to know what would come of a potential alliance. Either that, or that you had too much to drink before I made my way down here."
A subtle shake of his head before he tips the bottle up for a quick sampling of the champagne's leftovers suggests that alternative wouldn't leave him with a *much* better impression.
"Mmm." A quiet smacking of the lips after, and a look spared to the bottle. "Good taste in drink, at least."
There aren't very many things that can manage to push Kira's buttons these days. Tairyu just found one of them.
For nearly three decades, she's worked her way up from being little more than some pathetic orphan with a sob story to one of the world's most deadly and powerful crime lords. She might not have been fortunate enough to be gifted with terrible psychic powers like the twisted dictator of Shadaloo or the ability to warp minds to her will like Dahlia. She doesn't possess whatever supernatural power seems to fuel Duke's boundless fury nor command the ability to focus her chi into raw killing potential like the legendary Geese. And yet, despite being just some mundane woman, she's struggled and fought and come out on top time after time.
At the age of fourteen she'd already started her journey down the path of blood and killed a dozen men, several of them officers of the Russian military. By her sixteenth birthday she was one of the most wanted assassins on the KGB's list, responsible for the largest death toll out of anything other than outright pitched battles in the entire Chechen War. By the time she was old enough to legally drink she'd been captured and enslaved by the same, only to slip from their grasp and found what would one day become known as Kira's Dragoons. Before she'd hit thirty she was the most powerful warlord on a continent known for devouring the weak in a constant struggle for dominance.
And this fucking little snot-nosed piece of shit who's spent his entire life living the easy life in one of the largest cities on the planet thinks he can condescend at /her/?!
There isn't any warning as the mercenary shifts from angry words to furious to action. The gangster hasn't even finished lowering the bottle from his lips when a human projectile slams into him with all the tenderness of a runaway freight train. The chair all but explodes into splinters as the weight of both thug and mercenary send it crashing backwards onto the floor with a heavy thud.
While losing one's temper is often associated with a loss of control, Kira puts the lie to that idiom. In an almost inhuman display of agility and precision, she kicks her feet out at the small table, kicking off of it to propel their initial fall into a full on backwards roll. The momentum pushes them clear of the chair and while he might yet struggle to get a hold of his bearings, the punk-haired mercenary seems to be completely in control. Fingers that seem as hard as tempered steel snap closed around his throat like a vice while her other hand latches onto the wrist holding the bottle, wrenching it sideways as her thumb digs into the tendons at the joint like a railroad spike.
When their joint tumble brings the two crime bosses around for a second spin, Kira once more kicks her feet down hard and diverts their course into an upwards angle that sends them flying at the nearest wall with Tairyu acting as the unfortunate backstop. His shoulders hit the solid surface hard enough to crack the fancy wood followed shortly by the back of his head as the whiplash brains him against the wall. Gravity attempts to take control of his body and drag him to the floor but Kira's strength proves to be the greater in that contest. Her fingers press hard against his neck, pinning him to the wall with such ferocity that he can hear her nails punching holes into the surface. His arm, still clutched tightly in her viscous grip, slams next to his head a moment later, likewise pinned by claw-like fingers that dig divots into both his flesh and the carpentry.
Despite having him at arm's length and essentially using only one hand to keep the bulk of his weight lifted, the mercenary seems to have no trouble holding her arrogant counterpart several inches off the ground. An expression of wild and deadly fury turns up towards the gangster, Kira's eyes wide with madness and her lips peeled back in an animalistic snarl. She says nothing for a few moments, too angry to even form coherent words. When she finally does speak, her voice is all but a roar, blasting him with an audial assault even as she slams his head into the wall again.
"You worthless little shit-eating MAGGOT! Who the FUCK do you think you're talking to?!"
The thumb pressed firmly into his wrist digs in even harder, driving her long nail into his tender joint. She twists it back and forth, cruelly digging away until blood starts to trace a slender crimson trail down her knuckle. It's a cruel gesture, one designed to inflict torment and pain for seemingly no other reason than to prove that she can.
"I was tearing the hearts out of people older and more dangerous than you with my bare hands before I even had tits! Don't think that just because I don't have an army at my back this very moment you can get away with running your fucking mouth!"
It's an effort to keep from just snapping his damn neck here and now. The raw animal aggression flows through her like a sweet narcotic, keying up her senses to dangerous levels as her body reacts to the spike in her mood. The drum-like beat of her heart, rapid and eager, hammers out a war dance that calls out for blood. Every instinct in her body tells her to give in to the desire, to simply surrender herself to that maddening need to establish dominance in the most primal way possible.
Kira's grip loosens just enough to drag her fingers out of the wall, allowing the thug to sink down closer to her level. Her fingers cinch tightly shut once more the moment that is accomplished, offering only the tiniest of windows to slip free of her grip should he wish to attempt some sort of struggle - a fraction of a second at most before he's slammed into the wall again indelicately.
She leans in close, bringing her face only a few inches away from the Yakuza. She's fully aware of the danger of doing so - fighting dirty is pretty much the only way to fight as far as she's concerned. But even if he did attempt to pull off some foolish cheap shot just to spite her, his neck and arm are both still tightly in her control. All it will take is one quick twist and then she starts talking to his second in command, this time without any of the subterfuge or pleasantries.
"I didn't come here to be your fucking friend and take selfies for the year book album, boy! What I need is soldiers and resources so I can save the fucking world, not attitude from some smart-mouthed little punk who thinks running some two-bit operation for a bunch of lonely perverts gives him the right to talk down to me!"
It's a shock of momentum to the system. The exterior and the core. Splintered wood and feathery cushion-fillings scatter through the air from the sudden human cannonball colliding with the head of the Aizawa-gumi. It alö happens so fast.
So fast the next thing he knows, he's pressed up against the wall by his neck, and the bottle left behind in his hand as an afterthought more than anything slips away from the grip of his fingers while a razor-sharp nail digs through skin and flesh at his wrist, all barely registered after the back of his head jolts against the wall like a bell getting rung out.
Eyes crack open after the initial sting of pain, though his teeth remain grinding together while she roars out her rage at him, every word seeming to burn all the more fiercely into him while the nail of her other hand so cruelly draws blood and threatens to cut at something very vital inside.
The Yakuza's emerald gaze glares right back at her through it all -- though, no. It's not entirely anger, not even amidst the pain she's inflicting upon him. There's something else. It's just a hint, but that close, the glint of it is still unmistakeable.
The instant her grip on his throat loosens, a burst of motion surges forth. It's only a fraction of a second that her digits are loosened, but it's only a fraction of a second that he turns out to need. In that time, his free hand thrusts up in a blur of barely perceptible motion -- not at her, but at his own neck and her hand, to force his thumb into the tiny space left between his own throat and her finger in that split-second window. The next millisecond, the rest of his fingers curl along the outer side of her hand -- but that grip is not enough to do much, no.
It's why in tandem with that motion, he presses one foot back against the wall before the other kicks furiously back into it. It's enough force to create a cratering crack upon it, to connect with the one formed just above the damage her shove brought upon it while his weight is launched outwards, and into the mercenary.
Against someone weaker, such a sudden explosion of force would certainly bowl them over -- but not her. He knows as much, just from that initial exchange alone. But it serves as enough to force her skidding back along the floor to clear some space, while his hand uses the unusual grip to wrest at hers -- hooking his thumb further in to slip through the gap between middle and ring finger to secure hold and threaten to snap joint and bone as he forces his throat to freedom again while his feet land on the floor again. A bodily manipulation like that is hardly something one learns from running paperwork and customer service at some decadent club.
It does still leave his other arm in the incredibly painful, nail-stabbing grip of her other hand that still urges rivulets of red to staining her knuckles and dripping down to form little pools of crimson on teh floor below.
However, while he digs his feet in there, and gives just enough of a push of his finger-capturing hand's palm against hers, and thumb tightening about the two digits, to make resistance clear, his expression's not one of fury brought on by violence. It looks almost... satisfied. Not out of some sense of triumph, no, something like this would hardly settle things with the Mercenary Queen if she had intentions to continue. No, it's something different. It's something more acknowledging of her.
"Haaahhh... That's the Kira Volkov I heard stories about," he rumbles, voice left a bit hoarse for the moment from the earlier killer grip upon his throat, eyes remaining locked onto hers even now. "Your strength is something else... Truth be told, I felt disappointed when I first heard the claims of your demise. Disappointed I never got to see that strength for myself."
While she had expected some sort of struggle to be put up, the sudden show of brutal force had meant to leave the young gangster dazed and cowed enough to keep him from doing much more than kicking and sputtering. His foolish burst of crazed resistance, while impressive, is not entirely unexpected. Kira had reviewed what footage of Tairyu's martial prowess had been scrounged up and was fully aware of his tendency for bullish and stubborn resolve. Yet, even so, to so wantonly put his own life at risk seemingly for no other reason than to prove that he can manages to catch the woman off guard.
Even with the element of surprise, peeling Kira's fingers back is like trying to fight with a pack of worms made out of metal. Her strength goes well beyond absurd, pushing the limits of believability considering her relatively slender form. Only by virtue of acting where she did not expect it does he even seem to gain any ground, fighting not only her raw might but the technique employed as well. Any pain he may have hoped to inflict in order to weaken her grip fails to have the desired effect, her years of hard life making her intimately familiar with such suffering. If anything, the threat of broken bones just makes the woman look more pissed off as he tries to twist her fingers to the side.
Though he successfully manages to free his neck from the imminent threat of being crushed like a beer can, Kira's gouging hold on his other arm remains mercilessly tight as the two of them scoot across the floor. Even as he coughs out a respectful acknowledgement of her display of power, her death grip fails to loosen in the slightest, unwilling to give him even a fraction of an inch with which to try and surprise her again. If he wants his arm back, she's taking a chunk of it with her. She might just do that any ways if the mood strikes her.
Kira meets the young warrior's gaze with a ferocious stare, her eyes still wild and wide, her pupils narrowed down to tiny beads of deadly focus. Her body language gives away no indication of a reduction in her willingness or desire to do violence, the woman's toned muscles rippling with coiled tension and her nostrils flaring with each rapid exhalation of breath as she snarls silently. Her expression evokes images of a rabid dog struggling against the sickness consuming its mind, urging it to lunge at anything foolish enough to catch its attention.
Slowly, bit by bit, her grimace manages to relax into a more neutral expression, her breathing steadily slowing to something less wild and erratic as a measure of calm returns. The tension bleeds from her arm, the pressure that had still been steadily pushing back against the hand prying her grip away from his neck finally relaxing entirely.
"The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
Kira flashes him a ferocious smile that manages to convey a mild sense of playfulness behind the growling rumble of her sonorous Slavic accent. She's probably had that one in the chamber for a while.
%t"Which is precisely what I wanted. No one comes looking for vengeance against a corpse."
The tone of her grin quickly shifts back towards anger, though it is a cold and calculating fury now.
"And that's what you're going to wind up as if you dare to test me again."
The tension, the focus, the readiness for continued violence is reflected right back from the Yakuza's own green irises, even if the tone of it isn't quite as beastial as that of the Slav. A silent staredown left between the two warriors, pressure applied to each limb. Watching for who makes the first move.
And so it is, then, that the lessening of tension in her is mirrored in him, as well. His push against her hand easing up, until his fingers unfurl fully, with just one last little nudge made for the full seperation.
Air huffs out from his nostrils in time with an upward curving to one corner of his mouth, when that particular stereotypical - but oh so fitting - line comes out. Even while he still remains within easy range of further physical punishment, he's apparently able to find at least some humor in *that*.
He doesn't flinch at the more verbal declaration of the so-far-unspoken threat. But that smile does briefly return, and he rumbles, "...You give me the chills, truly. In another lifetime I might have been even happy to serve you."
Though he doesn't make so much as a move to try and release his other arm from the blood-drawing grip, he does let his stance adjust slightly-- posture straightening up some, feet shuffling back to a more comfortable spread,
"What do you plan to do then, exactly?" He asks of her then,, without his eyes ever having left her own. "About Jedah Dohma?"
"You're still young. Plenty of time to come your senses."
Another joke, another small shift in the tone of the conversation. It would seem that the mercenary is equally at home cracking wise as she is cracking bones. Now that it's becoming more obvious that the gangster is willing to see reason, Kira's demeanor slowly starts to pull back from the brink of wild frenzy towards her more natural state of playful aggression.
Withdrawing her thumb from Tairyu's wrist, Kira's death grip finally loosens and she releases her hold so that he can attend to the wound. Somewhat disturbingly, she doesn't reach for a cloth to wipe the gore from her skin, instead casually running her tongue along the back of her hand. There isn't anything suggestive about the move, no sensually exaggerated licking while making flirty eyes at the gangster. It just seems to be something that comes naturally to her, like licking at a bit of ice cream that melted and dripped onto her hand. A strange sight which makes the topic shift back towards vampires a little on the nose.
"I have plans in motion," she says, shrugging slightly. "The most drastic of my moves you already witnessed. An ugly business but unavoidable."
That is putting it mildly. While it seems like she might have another chance to win Tairyu to her side, she doubts his previous anger at her extreme methods was entirely a lie. She can't entirely blame him for his disgust. Not everyone spent decades growing desensitized to death through almost daily exposure. And she knew it was coming, whereas he would have been as blind-sided by the sudden ferocity of the raid as anyone else.
"I did consider alternatives. But, ironically enough, when you are on as many wanted lists as I am it is surprisingly difficult to get anyone to believe you are suddenly concerned with the well being of your fellow man."
She gives him a sardonic smile and shrugs again.
"Besides, if you're as familiar with me as you seem to think, you'll know that I don't really give a damn about people getting hurt. Nothing personal, kid, but I'm not in the business of caring about anyone but me and mine. Costs too much."
Fetching her box of cigarettes from her pocket, Kira lights up a fresh smoke and takes a long drag. She considers going for a fresh bottle from the mini-bar but changes her mind. The kid deserves her full attention while they're on such a sensitive topic since it seems to be something of a sore point for him.
"But, the way I see it, having the entire planet get eaten by monsters doesn't do much for my profits either. No customers, no money. And, you know, all my stuff is here too."
She smirks at him through a haze of smoke. The motivation behind not wanting to have her entire species wiped out shouldn't be too hard for him to swallow. Even a filthy criminal like herself stands to lose everything if the vampire's plans come to fruition.
"Unfortunately, Jedah's been busy. This city was already rotten to the core and he's been sticking his nasty fingers into as many pockets as possible. I'm sure you heard of the various pro-dark stalker laws being suggested. And, of course, there's that floppy dildo of a tower that he conjured into existence. His 'embassy'."
The woman snorts loudly, making her thoughts on that nonsense clear. Too many idiots desperate to believe that the things going bump in the night want to be friendly.
"Under normal circumstances, I could fight a war in the shadows. Politicians might like money but they like not getting shot more. However, that purple fuck sorta has my balls in a vice at the moment. When that portal opened up a few years ago, I led an expedition into the Majigen and 'acquired' several of its inhabitants. Apparently, Jedah is under the impression that these creatures are his subjects and he's some kind of feudal lord."
A fresh cloud of smoke fills the air as Kira finally breaks eye contact, turning to stalk back to the small ring of cushioned seats. Flopping onto her sofa, she stares down at the surface of the small table, her jaw clenching at the memory.
"He made me an offer - servitude or death. I made the counter-offer of shoving an RPG up his smarmy nose. It bothered him about as much as if I'd sneezed in his general direction."
She frowns, taking another hit, the cigarette burning down quickly. Her gaze shifts back up towards Tairyu as she flicks some fresh ash into the tray.
"And, seeing as I am still here, alive... well, I'm sure a smart kid like you can figure it out."
The sharp-nailed thumb leaves his wrist along with the rest of his hand, and with it comes a briefly-more-urgent spurt of the crimson life fluid that spills ont othe floor. Where many easily be left to writhing in pain and desperately clutching at their abused limb to try to blindly stem the flow, Tairyu doesn't seem too bothered. At least not enough for him to not keep his newly-regained calm and roll up the sleeve of his jacket -- and tear off a piece of the sleeve of the red shirt underneath to wrap along the wound. It's not the most sanitary treatment option, perhaps, but it is fast enough to avoid an interruption to the discussion.
But, calm as it might be, the disgust over Volkov's methedology a few months earlier - and the distrust born from it - still remains, and it shows in a brief flash within his eyes while she brings the event up again.
"No, I didn't figure you did," he mutters while he rounds himself over to the circle of the seats again. THe one he'd just occupied has been demolished, so now he settles himself down to sitting directly opposite from her, instead.
He doesn't indulge in the smokes or the drinks this time. But he does keep his attention on her, undivided, while she speaks of her story. Of what lead up to the Darkstalker raid on Southtown.
"You decided life was more important than a few seconds of pride," he speculates audibly, apparently ttaking the last words as some kind of prompt. "Lot of people claim they would do otherwise, but few are actually put into such a situation."
A thoughtful grunt makes it's way up his throat, pushing some air through his nostrils while he crosses his arms together just below his ribcage.
"So in other words, your options for direct resistance are... limited. But what I don't understand is what exactly you hope to gain by getting Aizawa-gumi in your corner. Even if we did agree to it... While we aren't exactly a small outfit either, we also haven't exactly made a full recovery from both our conflict with the Syndicate and the Darkstalkers you sent here. Moreover, our operations *are* limited to just Southtown."
Survival over pride. A succinct and apt way of describing the decision she had made. It was a choice that had been presented to her many times over the course of her harsh and unenviable life. She had done things that most people would balk at even on their lowest of days, debased herself in ways that haunted her dreams and clawed at the edges of her thoughts in those quiet moments when she found herself alone and idle.
Survival is all that matters. Those who believed otherwise did so from the luxury of safety, cocooned in a nest of naivety and idealism, free from the constant and unrelenting reality of a lifetime of violence. This life wasn't one she had chosen. It had simply been the only option for a lonely frightened girl stripped of her family and home by a callous and uncaring politician.
Alone and helpless, she'd been forced to take help wherever she could find it, regardless of the price extracted by those who offered it. Pride would not fill her belly nor shelter her from the rain. What good did clinging to her ego and self-esteem accomplish when by doing so she would cease to exist? Kira had never been a religious person. She lacked the delusional comfort that might have come from a belief in some better life on the other side of the curtain. To die in this life was to reach the end of the road. So, no matter how dirty her hands got, no matter what filth she had to crawl through, no matter what vile things she had to do - she would survive and play the game again for one more day.
"Pride... is a luxury, boy."
The woman tilts her head up to look Tairyu in the eyes again. There is no sign of shame or regret in her face as she says those words. Her hair, her eyes, her clothes - she had cast aside her sense of self without a hint of hesitation in order to complete a task in the most efficient and careful method possible.
"Only those who have yet to hit rock bottom fail to understand that."
There is a pregnant pause as she brings the butt to her lips again, slowly inhaling a deep lungful of smoke. A simple vice, smoking. Yet another thing she had been forced to embrace against her own desires. The long cold nights of the Chechen wilderness had taken the lives of many others like herself, too stubborn to see the simple benefits of keeping their insides warm when all that they had otherwise was a ratty old blanket. That had been a lifetime ago. She could have stopped at any time since, her willpower more than sufficient to overcome the withdrawal pains. But, for her, those slender little sticks are more than just a habit. At any time she could find herself drawn into a situation that cuts her off from the basic niceties of modern life. A soft warm bed, a stiff drink, a fresh cigarette - all of these things might well be taken from her in the blink of an eye. Each pleasant puff of soothing nicotine is a reminder to seize what pleasures life has to offer because you never know what the next day will bring - and what it will take from you.
"Don't worry," she says, offering a faint placating smile. "I'm not out to conscript your men into my forces. What I need from you is two-fold and very simple. First, I need a way to interact with the outside world that isn't going to draw attention to me. My contacts in the underworld are extensive but utilizing those people right now will create questions. I need a liaison, someone to act as my hands and eyes."
"Second, I need someone other people are willing to trust. My name might carry a lot of weight but, seeing as I'm supposed to be dead, I can't exactly go throwing that around to get what I want. Your organization might be small but it has a lot of clout. People like you. And, considering my 'unsavory' methods, they're a lot more likely to be willing to offer their aid if it isn't directly tied to a genocidal madwoman."
By now, Tairyu's lips have been pursed to a thin line. He watches every single bit of the woman's mannerisms, still, even if he isn't expecting an immediate repeat of the exchange from a few seconds earlier. At least not for a moment longer.
His expression doesn't ease up much when the terms of what exactly she seeks from this meeting are laid on the table.
"...Anything more direct would be counterproductive for both of us," he offers after a brief moment of rumination. "All my men - officers and footsoldiers alike - have deep ties to Southtown in one way or another. The Darkstalker raid left a... very personal wound there. While that does mean they would be easy for me to sway to more direct efforts against Darkstalkers as a whole... It does also translate to thoughts regarding you that are not dissimiliar from mine. Were any knowing co-operation to come to light... Not just my men, but all my contacts too, would quickly turn against me."
Arms unfold, and he leans over slowly, letting those limbs drape over his knees while he quirks one brow at Kira.
"And to be frank, there's still a trust issue between us-- and I'm sure it goes both ways."
Kira smiles at him again. It isn't a pleasant expression, rather that of a predator lazily sizing up something that it might chose to kill should the foolish thing dare to disturb its rest. It's a much less overt threat than the one's she been hurling around, perhaps more of a warning instead.
"There is one person in this world or any other that I give my complete trust to. Perhaps one day she'll introduce herself to you."
For some reason, that too sounded more like a threat than an offer to induct him into her circle of close friends. If the company she keeps is as prickly as the mercenary queen herself then he might be better off keeping their relationship professional.
"As for you," she says, exhaling a cloud of smoke. "I am willing to extend you a modicum of faith, otherwise I would not have bothered to come or revealed myself."
Her gaze sharpens slightly, her attention seeming to focus for a split second on the cracked ash tray. A flick of her fingers sends the mostly burned up cigarette pin wheeling down at the table like a glowing red shuriken. It strikes the ceramic bowl dead center, bouncing into the air once before settling neatly into the bottom.
"I probably don't need to say it out loud but in the interests of being crystal clear - whether or not you chose to lend me your assistance, I expect your discretion in regards to my miraculous return to the living. Any attempt to inform outside parties about this conversation will make me very... unhappy."
Her predatory smile returns as she looks him in the eyes once more. She doesn't expect him to do anything that foolish. For one, it would raise all sorts of questions. Why would Kira come to him of all people before visiting any of her more well known allies? The mere mention of her presence in his facilities might well be enough to rouse suspicions against him. It's somewhat ironic that her very name has gained such ominous gravity when she spent the majority of her life trying to be as discreet and unnoticeable as possible. Yet another luxury sacrificed for the sake of survival.
"And on that topic, if the idea of acting on behalf of the entire human race isn't good enough to make my offer appealing, keep in mind that the Dragoons have a reputation for being able to acquire anything for the right price. Work with me and your reward will be well worth the effort."
Tairyu's brow twitches. Wether or not it was actually meant to come across as a threat, the japanese man isn't exactly keen on the idea of meeting this person she seems to hold in such a regard. If they are anything like her, it's almost certain he would not get along with them, either.
And when an actual threat comes, his eyes lid downwards, slightly. NOt quite letting them narrow, but enough to be noticable. "The threat is unnecessary, Volkov," he declares. "Consider it as laughable as you like, but I do think of myself as a man of honor, and no matter how I might feel otherwise, you've earned at least enough respect to maintain my silence."
She might have already realized that much, too. Maybe she even counted on it. It's no secret how Tairyu and the late Sohei Aizawa conducted themselves as Yakuza. Both of them men of deep principles who hold great weight to oaths. That may well be exactly why Tairyu has maintained amicable relationships between Aizawa-gumi and both sides of Southtown's society.
But that is also what makes the Mercenary Queen's offer such a difficult one to consider. The ethos that Tairyu has ran his family by is one that has brought him to look after the downtrodden of the city. Maintain a modicum of order where the corrupt police wont and strive to create places for people who have slipped through the cracks of society to feel like they belong in. And this woman sitting in front of him is responsible for the deaths of so many of those same people.
And yet, that, too, is weighed against the workings against a much greater, shared threat. But even then, he can't be sure of what exactly will come of that. How long until she asks him to do something he doesn't agree to? How long until she does something on her own that he is morally opposed to while he was knowingly running errands for her?
His initial response to her may have seemed impulsive, but the moment of rumination taken after her terms is spent in weighing numerous factors together. Calculus of potential scenarios and outcomes counted together and against each other in tandem.
His honor demands he say no.
But his honor also demands he say yes.
HOw much easier would it be, indeed, to live like her, if he could stomach such a thing.
But there is one final piece of information that brings him to a decision. One packed away behind everything else, but no less important. An understanding of a certain weakness he has. A weakness that would have him willingly giving away his own life to be either snuffed away or put into chains.
And if Kira didn't know about it already, she would surely find out. And she would almost certainly take advantage of it. It's a realization that doesn't make him exactly *happy* about the decision he makes, but it does make him understand the further need to try and ensure control isn't lost entirely.
". . . The only money I would ask would be compensation for costs incurred beyond typical business operations," he eventually comes up with, as he straightens up his posture again. "But I do not feel comfortable giving a blanket-agreement to any and all future endeavours. I would prefer to maintain the right to decide the extent of me and my family's involvement on a case-by-case basis. ... Compare it to contract-based work over full-time employement, if you will. Would this be agreeable?"
Kira inclines her head to him in a faint conciliatory nod as he waves off the notion that her secret might slip out into the open.
"I suspected as much but I just wanted to make it clear the importance of keeping my survival a secret. Jedah will no doubt have his own suspicions about the nature of my supposed demise. The longer I can keep him in the dark, the more time I have to put further plans into motion against him. Once he realizes that I managed to escape the collapse of the casino, he will no doubt start keeping a much closer eye on my activities."
By which she means he might very well deem her too much of a threat to be allowed to operate independently. She'd managed to avoid drawing his notice for years by simply doing what she was told, hammering his ragged band of monsters into something more resembling a disciplined fighting force. But he'd ignored her because he underestimated her will to resist, believing his impressive ability to shrug off some of the most dangerous modern weaponry had cowed her into compliance. She was little more than another pawn to him, a piece to move around the board as he saw fit.
But after such an aggressive and extreme bit of independent initiative, that leash would almost certainly get awfully short. No doubt her affiliation with the Hunter's Guild would also factor into his response, assuming he paid that band of psychopaths any attention. That is another avenue that she needs to explore while she still has the chance. Though, much like Tairyu, there are plenty of the members of the ruling board who will almost certainly object to her methods if not her goals. Then again, she did probably drum up more business opportunities for their little hunting club than have existed for several centuries. Maybe that will be enough to win her the support she needs.
Kira slowly rises to her feet as the conversation finally starts to reach its climax. She'd made her case and impressed upon him the necessity of her actions, however distasteful. Now all that remains is to hammer out a deal that allows the man to satisfy his worries.
"Afraid that the mad queen will go off the deep end and drag your honor down with her?"
A reasonable enough concern considering she'd basically gone Hiroshima on Southtown just to make a point. While she would like to assure the oh-so-honorable crime lord that his precious reputation will not suffer for this alliance, the lie would be so obvious that he would find it hard to swallow.
"Can't say that I blame you," she says, shrugging nonchalantly as she stalks closer. "I'm not the sort of person that cares all that much about their reputation. So long as I get the job done, the results speak for themselves, as far am I'm concerned. And the fastest way to solve a problem is often the most brutal."
Kira pauses as she draws up next to the gangster's chair, crossing her arms. She peers down at him with that deceptively lazy smile, full of confidence and power, somehow radiating a natural aura of subdued threat like a lion stretched out on the savannah grass. There isn't any directed menace in her posture or her expression; after all, she's already gotten what she wanted. Any further violence would do nothing but harm what little rapport they've managed to establish. Yet something about her presence just rakes across his primitive monkey brain like a hot coal, attempting to dredge up some ancient primal fear response that gibbers at his subconscious in abject and unreasoning terror.
"I'm willing to start things out slow, if that's what you want. Give you a chance to get a feel for how I operate. But I think you'll quickly find that those who I consider allies reap considerable benefits. You may think me an unscrupulous monster, Tairyu, but I am a monster that takes care of its own. Serve me loyally and you will find that loyalty repaid in full."
"Fastest option isn't always the best one," claims Tairyu, with a low grunt. "Driving to your house at top speed ain't worth a whole lot if you just end up crashing through it's wall."
After she's risen up, it takes him a few seconds, but he brings himself up to standing, too. It's not that he really expects her to be spiteful enough to break down their conversation through violence now, but...
It's that scent.
He can feel it when his nostrils flare out, feel it slipping into the sensory elements of his brain. Feel it bringing goosebumps rising up along skin hidden underneath his clothes, bringing the fingers of one hand instinctively clutching closed tight enough to dig nails into the skin of his palm.
And yet, stubbornly, he doesn't let himself back off or draw his eyes away from her, as uncomfortable as it feels. No matter how much the lizard brain is yelling at him with fight or flight instincts to the point that he can nearly feel his ears bleeding from that phantom voice screaming at him.
"...Don't mistake my answer for prostration, Volkov," he mutters, voice a bit lower than a moment earlier. "I'm not going to pretend to like you, so don't pretend neither of us is doing this out of anything but necessity, either."
The unwavering response earns Tairyu another smile, this one seemingly more genuine. Kira's respect seems reserved for those willing to fight for it, so long as that defiance doesn't put him at cross purposes with her or delve into the territory of belligerence. A delicate balance, no doubt. As someone who has spent years as a grunt in an organized criminal empire, it is a dance he is no doubt familiar with.
"A man who has mastered his own fear," she says, her tone clearly conveying how impressed she is that he didn't even flinch when exposed to the silent weapon. The woman leans in close, her pheromones filling the air like a sickly-sweet perfume, the sweat triggered by their previous struggle only just now revealing its insidious poison.
"Hmm. Impressive. But don't forget that fear is meant to be a warning. Sometimes, listening to that voice in the back of your mind telling you to run as fast as you can is the smartest thing you can do."
Turning away from him, Kira stalks back to the couch. For a moment it seems as if she might sit down again but when she leans forward to place her hand on the seat it instead dives into the space between the cushions. In a single fluid motion, the mercenary whips around, a military-issue semi-automatic handgun clutched in her grip. She levels it at Tairyu, the barrel's aim settling squarely on the center of his face.
Kira's expression is deadly serious, her features devoid of humor or empathy. Noticeably, she doesn't seem to be angry at him this time either. No scowl, no snarl, no narrowing of the eyes. Just the cold calculating stare of a professional killer.
Her voice, like her expression, is cold and detached. She's killed enough men in her life that it doesn't bother her any more. It might have once, but that was so long ago that she can't even recall the sensation of caring about the lives she snuffs out. This kill would be like any other. Pull the trigger, hear the bang, solve the problem; quick, clean, and efficient.
"First," she says, holding up one finger. "Your security is laughable. Didn't even bother to check me. It's almost like you want a rival to slip an assassin in here. Wouldn't even have to be clever about it, just pay their fee and waltz in through the front door and ask to speak to the manager."
A second finger lifts as she cocks the hammer of the pistol back. The weapon doesn't even wiggle as she goes through the motion, her aim impossibly steady.
"Second. You let me touch you."
Her neutral expression cracks briefly as she gives him a faint smirk, wiggling the two upraised digits at him. The neon-blue polish on her nails seems to gleam with a strange rainbow sheen under the direct glow of the overhead light. It wasn't particularly noticeable before but now that his attention is drawn to them specifically it's easy enough to pick up on.
"And seeing how my fingernails are coated in a slow-acting poison for which you do not have the antidote, that was definitely foolish of you."
A third and final finger slowly rises to join the others. Kira is silent for several seconds, allowing the thug to sweat as he comes to terms with the dawning realization of just how hard he's been played.
"Third," she says, breaking the silence. The gun suddenly lowers, the woman's stoic deadly expression melting away to a smug grin.
"You came alone."
The sudden bite of cold steel presses hard into his throat as the blade of something sharp digs into the exposed flesh. It bites shallowly, a faint trickle of blood running down his neck as the skin parts underneath the wickedly keen edge, stopping short of slicing his veins open though the implied threat is there. There hadn't been even the faintest trace of another presence in the room, nor any place where someone could have hidden from view throughout the course of their meeting. There was no whisper of foot prints, no scrape of steel as the weapon was drawn, nor the touch of a breath upon his neck as the silent assassin approached. Like a shadow made manifest, it simply seems to reveal itself as if it were always there, only just now allowing his mortal perceptions to take notice of the danger.
Kira twirls the pistol around on her finger in a deft flashy display, like an old gunslinger in a Wild West show. She approaches again, taking her time about it like a cat slinking towards a cornered mouse. The mercenary's gaze remains fixed on Tairyu's face as she draws near, her smile practically Cheshire in size now that she's revealed the trap she laid and which he so obligingly blundered into without the faintest hint of caution.
"Oh, and there was one last mistake you made."
She twirls the pistol about in another showy display before leaning forward to tap the barrel on his forehead a couple times. Her voice drops into a low condescending tone that makes her triumphant grin all the more insufferable.
"You assumed I came here to negotiate."
Tairyu's eyes narrow at the gun leveled on him, first. He doesn't so much flinch at the sight of it as he just gives an irritated look at the woman. It's not the first time he's stared down the barrel of a gun.
But the word 'poison' is what catches him off-guard. His eyes sweep down to his left arm, and to the improvised bandaging wrapped around his left wrist--
ANd just the split second after he has, the telltale sensation of cold steel chills against his skin alongside the warning pinch of a blade's edge digging in.
He can't say that he is entirely surprised that she would pull something like this. But he is immensely disappointed -- just as much in her as himself. And it shows in the scowl that he sends at the mercenary, even as the barrel of the handgun is brought to tap against his forehead.
"...Is this how you win the loyalty of everyone under you?" He growls, low and rumbling, past his teeth. "What a magnificient house of cards it must be that you're building like that. So what's your move now? Wait until either I profess complete obedience to you or you get bored and kill me? If you thought putting me down and going to my officers instead would be worth it, you wouldn't go through the effort of putting on a show like this just for little old me."
Just like that, the tone of the Yakuza's mood has turned from compromise-seeking to outright defiant. The eyes staring past the gun barrel for her eyes don't hold an iota of hesitation to them, not even with the realization that he could very well be seconds away from slipping into that unforgiving void, courtesy of one squeeze of a trigger finger or a sweeping motion from a hand holding onto the knife aimed for his jugular.
"Either do it or quit fucking around."
The gun pulls away from his face as Kira takes a step back, the threat unnecessary. She spins it again before uncocking the hammer and tucking the weapon down against her stomach, slipping the barrel into her tight pants in precisely the fashion that every safety instructor in the world would tell you not to do.
"Most people have the good sense to accept cash. Plus, I offer some pretty competitive health benefits. Dental and everything!"
The mercenary's jovial grin clashes with the cold anger that has replaced Tairyu's relatively accepting attitude. The seemingly pointless ambush has shattered the weak rapport they might have started to establish, though from the revelations of how she set him up, it's obvious that Kira never had any intention of bargaining in good faith.
"I've found that it costs me far less in the long run to ensure my employees are well paid and taken care of. Word gets around, you know? And I like to maintain a pretty high standard of professionalism."
Though he might not believe that someone like her could embrace such an altruistic method of doing business, she's telling the complete truth. While she could certainly get away with paying her soldiers far less than the salary they currently receive, the amount of overhead she expends on ensuring her minions are satisfied with their line of work barely makes a difference to the quality of life she herself enjoys. All it takes is one greedy or disgruntled employee for things to go seriously wrong and problems of that sort tend to be far more expensive, particularly when they might cost Kira her life.
"Problem is, I knew you had no plans of playing ball and joining my happy little family. Did my homework on you. Got all those pesky ethics and principles getting in the way."
Kira's hand moves around to her back pocket, digging out a small white envelope. She slides her thumb under the lip of the flap, flicking it upwards to reveal the contents. What looks to be a thin stack of printed photos comes into view as she pulls the bundle out, tossing the envelope aside.
"That honor you love so much," she says, stalking back up into his personal space, her voice soft and mocking. "...is just another word for pride. You think playing by some fancy rules makes you a better than the other scum bags. That it elevates you above the dirt that the rest of us have to muck around in."
Her grin becomes positively wicked. The stack of photos is waved in front of him teasingly, tapping against his chest without allowing him to see the images printed upon them clearly.
"Remember what I told you? Pride is a luxury. I wonder if you're willing to pay the price to hold onto yours?"
Even before Kira's hand moves, his unseen captor tightens their grip, pressing the knife against his throat just a little bit harder as if to pre-empt any wild reactions he might have. The mercenary's wrist twists about as she brings the collection of photos up where Tairyu can see them, the first of many revealing its contents.
The image is a somewhat distant photo of a young girl, perhaps in her early teens. The quality of the images makes it difficult to make out her features but the girl's attire is easy enough to distinguish, a loose red hoodie that hangs low on her hips from under which a short black skirt peeks out.
Kira gives him a few seconds to absorb the sight before flicking her thumb sideways, sending the picture fluttering about to land on the floor nearby while revealing the next behind it.
The second picture is of a slightly higher quality, offering a better angle from which to see the girl's face. A long mess of straight black hair hangs loosely down about the girl's face framing her youthful features in the midst of a faint smile. Soon after it joins the first, making way for yet another picture, this one yet closer and in even greater definition.
This time the girl seems to be sitting on a couch, her back turned to the photographer as she watches television. Though her clothing remains the same the girl's hair is pulled up into a large ponytail that hangs over the back of the sofa. The panes of glass between the two of them make it obvious that the image was taken while standing outside of an exterior window to the house.
The next image quickly starts to ramp up the gravity of the situation. The girl lays stretched out on a bed, all but her face concealed beneath the thick comforter. On the floor next to her resting place, another shape lies sprawled out on the floor - the body of a man wearing a dark suit. Even at a glance it's easy enough to tell that he's dead, his head twisted about in completely the wrong direction in relation to the rest of his body. Whatever was responsible for inflicting such a grisly demise seems to have managed it without disturbing her sleep.
Another flick of the thumb and another terrible snapshot is revealed. Now roused from her slumber, the girl's face is contorted into a mask of utter terror as a massive furred hand easily the size of her torso reaches down into the frame. Long blackened claws dig into the front of her pajama top, the teenager being dragged bodily out of her bed by some unknown monstrosity.
The final image takes place in a different locale entirely, a mostly darkened room composed of cold concrete. An overhead light projects a weak cone of dirty yellow into the center of the room illuminating a single metal folding chair and its occupant. The young girl sits meekly, her body hunched in a cower away from the hulking black shape that looms next to her. What looks to be the largest werewolf he has ever seen rests on its haunches, crouched down in order to get itself into the frame of the shot. Even in this posture, it's body is absurdly massive, dwarfing the child's slender profile by an order of magnitude.
Both werewolf and girl are posed in what could be described as a comical manner, one of the teen's hands lifted to present the iconic V symbol with her fingers as if posing for a friendly photo with her friends. The werewolf likewise has one of its massive deadly paws extended in such a manner, its other heavily muscled arm wrapped loosely around the girl's shoulders practically engulfing her. The wide toothy grin the wolf sports is not mirrored by his new friend, a sad indication that she might not be enjoying the situation nearly as much as he.
Kira looks at the last image, a chuckle escaping at the ridiculous sight of her battle-hardened lieutenant goofing off.
"I can't remember ever seeing Fenrir joke around before. He must /really/ like your sister."
"I've got my own doctor, thank you *very* much."
The scowl of disdain doesn't fade away underneath all this. Though it does get overlayed with a tone of bemusement when the envelope first comes out.
And then the photos are actually turned to his view. One by one, and with each, his expression freezes, his eyes widen, and his pupils dilate to the tiniest dots.
No no no no no no no no
"YOU FUCKING CUNT!!!"
In an instant, the stoic calm that the current head of the Aizawa-gumi has come to be known for among other things is shattered utterly and completely. One foot turns forward with a stomp so mighty that the tiling of the floor cracks into a crater underneath the weight of it, sending small fragments flying up along with a cloud of dust as an overwhelming fit of rage brings him leaning in further to the devil mercenary of a woman, only stopped when the cold, sharp reminder of the knife upon his throat pinches in tighter, opening a further flow of red to paint the lower portion of his throat and his collarbones.
"THERE'S SO MUCH A SCRATCH ON HER AND I WILL PUT YOU THROUGH SUCH HELLS EVEN WHATEVER TORMEND JEDAH HAS READY FOR YOU WILL FEEL LIKE A DAY AT THE FUCKING SPA IN COMPARISON!!!"
Barely-controlled fury paints every single atom of Tairyu's existence now, teeth bared and ground together in a truly animalistic snarl. Every single nerve in his body eager to guide him to pouncing at the woman with intent on tearing her limb from limb.
But he doesn't. For this is the weakness she has found, the crack in the armor torn open to reveal the nasty innards for all to see. And for all that his body fumes, he knows it, too, and in the end, his head slumps downwards, bringing his gaze down to the floor while his teeth grind together tightly enough to threaten cracking the bones in his jaw.
It's not the blade to his life-giving vein that stops him. Not the gun in Volkov's hand, nor the poison in his arms. None of it. It's the thought of what will happen to *her*. The life he values leagues above his own.
It's strange how one single detail can completely alter a person's perspective on a matter. Right up until this moment, the young Yakuza lord had been firm in his convictions. He knew who he was, what he believed in, and what he'd do when those principles were put to the test. Stoic and resolved, he was confident that he could face any challenge with his head held high, secure in the knowledge that even should he fall he would do so with dignity and honor.
And, like many people who have never been truly tested before, he was wrong.
Kira watches the man's reaction calmly, a faint knowing smile tugging the corner of her lip upwards. The enraged outburst washes over her like a wave crashing against the crags of a towering cliff, the mercenary unmoved by his ferocious threats. This isn't the first time she's employed such vile tactics and she's seen this very same reaction play out time and time again. Angry shouting and promises of violent retribution followed swiftly by the cold realization that a critical choice lies ahead.
Tairyu's choice was made long before she ever showed him the pictures. His defeated slump is all that she needs to see to know that. His doting love for the one remaining bit of family he has left made for an obvious chink in the otherwise impenetrable armor of resolve. Perhaps honor compelled his enemies thus far to avoid using such a despicable tactic or the threat of mutual destruction through retribution of a similar kind. It was the nuclear option in a world that placed such high value on familial connections. Unfortunately, the woman standing before him now has no such respect or limits on how low she can sink.
"It's painful, isn't it?"
Kira's voice is soft as she tosses the last photograph to the floor. The picture of the hulking beast and his small captive flutters down between Tairyu's feet leaving the maddening image staring back up at him.
"To realize that everything you thought was important is nothing more than a comforting lie."
Stepping forward, Kira's fingers dig into the gangster's hair and she yanks his head upwards, forcing him to look her in the eyes. She grins again, seeming to take some perverse pleasure in watching his world crumble apart. How did he phrase it? A magnificent house of cards.
"This world isn't fair, boy. It doesn't play by fancy rules or respect your lofty ideals."
Kira sneers at him, flashing a crooked smile as she mocks his naivety. There is no remorse in her expression about having to resort to such measures. If anything, she seems proud of having exploited his weakness, a hunter looming over a helpless animal caught in a snare.
"Honor is an illusion, a made-up concept created by flawed men hoping to elevate themselves above the rabble by adhering to a set of arbitrary rules. The rankest form of pride and arrogance. And what good does it do you? How much will your honor be worth when you are bleeding out in the dirt? Will it shield you from blades and bullets? Will it stave off hunger or thirst? Will it protect those you love?"
The grip on his hair releases allowing Tairyu's head to bow again. The knife at his throat remains firmly pressed in place, though it may be largely unnecessary now that she's revealed her hand. No reason to get careless, however. People tend to do some pretty crazy things when backed into a corner.
Kira turns away from him, stalking to the center of the room. A hand goes to her face as she walks, her fingers seeming to rub at her eyes, though from his vantage he can't be entirely sure what she's doing.
"The only thing that matters in this life is how far you are willing to go to get what you want. Most people are cowards, unwilling to pay the price for their desires. But me?"
The mercenary flicks her hand to the side, sending a pair of small objects onto the nearby table. They splat with wet impacts against its polished surface, glistening with moisture in the light. A quick look reveals them to be a pair of colored contact lenses, bright green circles floating in clear soft plastic.
Kira turns around again and faces him, once more locking gazes with the distraught man. Light blue eyes the color of robin's eggs are what he finds staring him down this time. A strangely gentle and pretty color that seems to clash with the dark mind that lurks behind them. But of far more obvious concern than the change in hue is the inhuman nature of their composition. Tall vertical slits cut the woman's eyes in half, her pupils stretched out like that of a reptile. Any notion that these might simply be cosmetic illusions is dispelled as the black voids narrow into a tight line upon being revealed, reacting to the bright light in a natural and organic manner.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win."
He can barely even hear her. Only a few of the words are properly registered, leaving a different part of his brain the task of filling in the blanks after the fact.
The rest of his mind is too occupied with the clash of pure, white-hot fury and the effort to keep that same fury restrained enough to not move. To not bring Miku to an even worse situation than she already is in.
It's fury, then, that blazes brightly within his eyes when his hair is tugged and pulled to guide them up to the woman responsible. The disdain he already held before has ascended to an entirely different point now, to outright hatred. The want to do nothing more but to reduce her to a bloody pulp of mismatched flesh and ground dust of bones before his own eyes.
And yet he cannot. For so much as attempting it, in this moment, would mean losing something so much more important.
And losing that would mean nothing else matters anymore.
There's not even a single word he can formulate. Not when his head is held up forcefully, not after it's brought to slumping down again. Not even when he brings himself to glaring up to the revealed reptilian eyes of the woman again. The only sound that leaves his mouth is the telltale grinding of teeth and jawbones.
But at the end of it all, he does allow at least some tension to leave his muscles. Enough that the visible part of his desire to enact vengeance isn't so immediate anymore. Enough that he lets his head lean back away from the defiant lean agains the blade to his throat.
Right now, there's *nothing* he can do.
Nothing - except what Kira wants him to do.
Such an extreme method of coercion might feel pointlessly cruel to him. After all, Tairyu seemed to be tentatively considering the benefits of an alliance, if only for the sake of the greater good of humanity. But even a small hint of resistance to her authority is more than she can afford. The stakes in this game are too high to allow even the faintest possibility that one of her pawns might go rogue at an inopportune time. She doesn't need fickle allies struggling to come to terms some internal moral conflict. She needs a guarantee of cooperation and obedience.
Thus the Sword of Damocles hanging over the thing he treasures most in the world. It isn't a particularly elegant or complicated scheme but it remains one of the most effective. Even most hardened criminals and ruthless warlords have emotional attachments that can be exploited. If Tairyu's reaction to seeing those pictures is any indication, this particular Achilles Heel is quite the sore spot. As long as his sister remains in her possession, she will have his complete and unwavering obedience.
The pressure of the knife on his neck loosens slightly as he relaxes, remaining close enough to feel the cold metal against his skin without actively biting into his flesh. The mercenary moves closer until she is only a few inches away. The threat of a violent outburst towards her is all but nonexistent and yet she still moves with the wariness of an alerted snake, subtle shifts in her posture keeping her prepared to react at any moment. It somehow manages to look completely natural, like she puts no conscious effort into this heightened sense of awareness.
Cruel inhuman eyes lock with his own as Kira stares him down, asserting her dominance through the smug expression on her face. She doesn't bother to hammer him with any more philosophical gloating. It's obvious his mind isn't in the right place to appreciate the finer points of that discussion and kicking a whipped puppy isn't particularly entertaining. On to business, then.
"Now that all the chips are on the table, let's try this again. I need someone to act as my representative to the outside world in order to keep my presence hidden as long as possible. That person will be you. You will do whatever I say, when I say, and how I say it."
A finger lifts up to press into the tip of his nose, her poisoned nail denting the soft fleshy tip as she wiggles it back and forth.
"And don't try to get cute with me either. I expect your complete cooperation. Any attempt at malicious compliance or feigned effort will result in... penalties."
She doesn't bother to elaborate on the threat. Better to let him imagine what sort of horrible things she might do to his precious sister if she feels that he isn't living up to her demands. The imagination of her victims tends to be far more graphic and brutal than anything she would actually resort to. Sometimes having a nasty reputation for brutality works in her favor.
"I also wouldn't suggest trying to poke your nose around where it doesn't belong. I rather enjoy my privacy, so don't go making house calls uninvited."
The unrelenting terms are made over the threat on the life of his sister. He only has barely enough calm to fully understand it all now, to let all the weight and implication bite deep into his soul.
Total and complete obedience.
To this woman.
To this *thing*.
To this being he now wishes to kill more than anything else on this forsaken planet, save perhaps for the furry abomination in the photos that dared to put it's paws on his sister.
But not now. Not tomorrow. Not even next week. Maybe not even next month. No matter how far off it has to be, he can't let this go unanswered.
But not now. Right now, there's only one thing he can do, no matter how much it disgusts him. No matter how much the thought of him, while staring back into the inhuman eyes is, without his own realization, drawing his lower lip between the tight pinch of his teeth hard enough to draw a bead of red in between flesh and bone, tugged by gravity in a crimson rivulet towards the edge of his chin.
Only one thing, for now. For Miku's sake. Two simple words, spoken in a voice that's lost all it's edge, just audible enough for the mercenary to hear.
"... I understand."
Log created on 13:36:44 04/07/2021 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 20:15:40 04/11/2021.