Springtide Rosalia 2021 - Rosalia: Dark Reflections

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Description: While Scarlet Dahlia had been transported to Castle Alucard, she's been poking her nose into a few places where she wasn't expressly invited. One place in particular: the ballroom of Countess Karnstein. Trapped within the many mirrors are ghosts of her past, or futures that would never come to be... and a figure which seems both familiar and alien at the same time.

Scarlet Dahlia had hoped for insight into Makai, the realm of the Demons. And if she were to write up her thoughts, all she would have to say is: the bastards like showing off how rich they are. Part of her wonders if these riches were fabricated whole-cloth from nothingness, like from the Backyard, or if they were simply stolen from the realms inhabited by humans as reminders of long-past empires.

In the end, it's of no matter. Here in Castle Alucard, Dahlia has encountered a number of places which would be called "anomalies" in her home realm, but seem to be more the rule than the exception here. When appropriate, she's been keeping to the nice Euclidean spaces. The immortality of a Champion is counterproductive to one lost in a dimensional rift, after all.

But then she happens along a certain ballroom, shrouded in darkness. Dahlia encountered the name 'Karnstein' as she enters, etched upon a small placard. Probably little more than useless trivia, but she commits the name to memory anyway as she steps inside.

Her amber-flecked eyes scan the room. A number of tables scattered about the vast hall, with attendant chairs that would each fetch a small fortune in her own realm. A number of curious gilded mirrors around the room's perimeter. And -- as her nose twitches -- the scent of blood.

The Akatsuki executive tightens her necktie, and straightens her black overcoat. Oh, that she could have received a handbook to her immortality; then she might know if it afforded any protection against the vampiric embrace. But with that unsettling thought cleared from her mind, Dahlia cinches her gloves, and begins to walk around the macabre ballroom.

She stops the first time she passes a mirror, and sees herself within. Or rather, a disheveled version of herself, with hastily-applied makeup, a gray-and-yellow school uniform, and a boys' gakuran jacket draped across her shoulders. The mirror version of her bears black hair, tied back into a severe bun -- a contrast to her vibrant red hair and a bit more flattering arrangement. In the mirror's background, a dystopian, overcast version of Southtown greets her, with anti-aircraft vehicles and tanks prowling the streets. No soldiers are present -- just rowdy schoolkids in similarly unkempt uniforms.

Dahlia stops to squint at her reflection. She makes a ghoulish, asymmetrical face, and the mirror responds in perfect synchronicity. Rolling her eyes, she reverts to a smirk -- and walks on to the next mirror.

She is a little more cautious approaching this one, though. As there is a version of Southtown here as well -- gray, and bleak. This time, the mirrored figure holds a pair of batons in her hands, with a well-worn string traced between them. The reflection is of Honoka Kawamoto -- no longer a -famous- circus performer, but a pale shadow of her former self. Ash-grey hair, lacking in extensions -- and a small troupe of destitute homeless children, following along for what seems to be a juggling lesson. Dahlia stares back at herself, at her reflection who scowls back in mutual disgust. Smoke rises in the distance.

Dahlia shudders as she walks past the mirror. And walks on to the next.

For all her apparent wealth, the owner of the castle doesn't seem to be able to afford to keep on enough staff to ensure that its vast, seemingly infinite halls, are able to stay clean. The massive ballroom doesn't appear to have been visited in years, perhaps centuries. A layer of dust coats everything in a thin coat of ashen snow that mutes the otherwise vibrant colors of the room into sullen uniformity. There's no cobwebs though. Perhaps this alien land doesn't have spiders or perhaps the castle is simply too antithetical to the living to support even such basic life forms.

That does raise the question of the source of the smell, then. Despite being a vampire's home, Rachel Alucard's manor doesn't typically reek of blood or have gruesome torture instruments lining the walls that might suggest a regular habit of indulging in the sorts of stomach-churning pastimes oft attributed to their monstrous kind in old fairytales. The ballroom, however, positively reeks of freshly spilled vitae as if someone or something had been completely bled out on the floor recently. Any attempts to locate the source of the pungent aroma would offer nothing that she hadn't seen upon setting foot into the room. It's almost as if the atmosphere itself has changed within this place, the stuff moldy air growing cloying and sickly-sweet, invading her nostrils and throat as if eager to be tasted.

But, as with almost everything in this strange demented castle, nothing is ever quite what it seems. The heavy coating of dust is mysteriously absent from the strange mirrors, there polish surfaces immaculately clean so that when she passes by to gaze upon her reflection there can be no doubt as to what is portrayed. Grim images of possibility, vague and unclear in what they suggest as prophecies often are, laden with symbolism that could be interpreted in a dozen different ways. An amusing parlor trick, no doubt; to consider them otherwise might require some unpleasant possibilities to be confronted.

Moving on to the third of many such mirrors, Honoka is met with another strange reflection. This one, however, is rather unique in that she doesn't seem to be in it at all. For once the large ballroom spreads out into the depths of the silvery glass, it vast beauty recreated perfectly in every detail, save that it seems as if what little color still manages to show through the heavy layer of ancient dust has been completely devoured within the reflection. It shows her a world of sinister shadows and smudged gray hues, utterly devoid of life and cheer - save one thing.

A young girl sits in a loose heap upon the dark stone floor. Though her face is covered with both hands, the slender silhouette of her body beneath a dress of pure inky midnight makes it impossible to mistake her for anything else. A long cloak drapes from her shoulders, wrapping her in a bright smear of scarlet that stands out all the more against the dreary backdrop. Silky flaxen hair hangs loosely from beneath a deep hood which has been drawn up over her head, further obscuring her features underneath a shadowy veil.

As Honoka draws close to the mirror the scent of blood becomes all but overwhelming, seeming to waft out from beyond the silvery surface as if being blown through it like it were a window. A noise rises up to penetrate the silence, soft and faint, as if it too were being carried upon the invisible breeze. The girl's sobs echo from the mirror in a persistent forlorn wail, her voice and shoulders quailing with some inconsolable distress.

Dust is not something particularly foreign to Scarlet Dahlia. Especially not here. If this room were supposed to be holy and sacrosanct, then perhaps it should have been locked. As it is, well, the worst crime she's guilty of would be trespassing in a home to which she was invited. Leaving her criminal record in the human realm aside, of course.

She does, however, give some thought as to the scent of blood, and the possibility of walking into a pool of such. It's a bit harder to get out of her boots and clothing than the fine layer of dust. And the only way the Shadaloo executive would find such a pool is by exploring, so... a systematic approach is best.

She approaches the third mirror, blanching at the increased intensity of the stench. But if she's to find the source, she must soldier on. She steps just past the threshold of the third mirror, expecting to find a version of herself staring back. And when she does not, she stops, with a frown, her upraised bob of red hair taking a bit longer to register the pause in motion.

And then Dahlia sees her. The figure, with long flowing hair, draped in a cloak.

Dahlia draws in her breath -- a sound in itself, to be sure. But it also causes the champion to cough, as an unexpected and not-quite-desirable sound of its own, forcing her to raise her fist to her mouth. She hadn't -wanted- to draw attention to herself, but there it is.

Her fist is lowered; a gloved palm flattens itself against the mirror glass. And for a moment, her eyes grow glassy, as she leans upon her psychic senses. A way to delve further, through the mirror -- to determine if what she's seeing has any particularly -useful- signatures before she proceeds.

The amber eyes grow sharp again, a moment later. Staring back at the curious child with the flaxen hair as if she were a zoo exhibit.

Despite her worries, the cough doesn't draw the attention of the young woman immediately. Wracked with grief, she seems rather oblivious to the world around her. Even when the psychic moves forward to place her hand on the surface of the mirror its occupant fails to react, either unwary or uncaring of her presence.

Only when Dahlia extends her mind into the shadowy realm of the unnatural reflection does she get any sort of reaction. As if able to sense the gentle touch of the psychic's will upon her own, the girl's wracking sobs suddenly die out. Her hands lower slowly from a face cloaked in shadow and the heavy hood tilts upwards as the wraith turns her attention towards the mirror.

The information that Dahlia gleans from her quick brush with the entity on the other side of the glass is both confusing and troubling. The first and most obvious thing that she notices is the overwhelming cold that lances into her mind upon extending her senses into that shadowy realm, as tangible as if her presence was a living thing that had invaded a void utterly empty of life or sensation. Simply touching that nothingness is like having her head dunked into a bucket of frigid water without warning, only instead of simply being cold it is as if the water is trying to siphon the very life out of her.

Second, and perhaps of greater concern, is her brush with the mind of the girl. There simply isn't anything there. Or rather, there /shouldn't/ be anything there. No doubt in her long years of experimenting with her ability to influence the minds of others Dahlia will have had occasion to touch the will of someone that has recently died. There are faint traces of memory, the faded sparkles of what used to be a vibrant source of life, dying embers of a fire that has been snuffed out. That is what she feels when her mind meets that of the girl lurking on the other side of the glass.

And yet, despite what should very clearly be a corpse, the girl is also very clearly not dead. Even more puzzling is the feeling she got from those motes of psychic residue. They are faded and worn, offering only a vague sensation of familiarity. It is as if she is looking at an old photograph of someone she used to know or saw in passing, the image blurry and smudged with soot from being partly burnt away.

As she withdraws her mind from the chill touch of that nether realm to stare openly, the girl suddenly lets out a strangle gasp of surprise. Nearly tripping over her long elaborate dress in her hurry to rise, she rushes forward so quickly that she hits the opposite side of the mirror with a muffled thunk. One hand, trembling with some barely contained emotion, lifts up to press against the glass opposite of Dahlia's. A moment later, the other reaches up and pulls the hood away to reveal what is hiding underneath.

The face that looks up at Dahlia brings with it much the same sort of feeling as the traces of memory. It is one that she both finds familiar and unrecognizable at the same time, some property or element of its design bringing to mind a memory that tantalizingly dangles just out of reach like a word on the tip of her tongue that she cannot recall.

The girl looks like she might be in her late teens, a flower on the cusp of blooming into full adulthood. Her features are delicate and pretty, astonishingly free from any obvious blemish. Wide doe-like eyes stare up at her with quiet intensity, her irises an unusual but alluring shade of red that contrasts sharply with her almost porcelain pale skin.

Up close and standing at her full height, it's easier to get a measure of the girl's proportions. She stands around the same height as Dahlia, though much more slender and delicate in her build. Underneath the flowing crimson cloak, an elegant evening dress of black silk clads her from neck to ankle. The sleeves extend all the way down to cover her hands in thin gloves of midnight. They, like the rest of the garment, offer pale glimpses of her flesh through missing panels of fabric that seem intentionally designed to draw the eye to improper places. The ensemble evokes a very Morticia Addams sort of aesthetic.

For several long seconds the girl stares in silence through the mirror, her expression one of cautious hope, as if she can't quite bring herself to trust that the image she is seeing is real. Eventually, however, she musters up the courage and leans as close to the glass as she can without smushing her nose up against it.

"Is that really you... Dahlia?"

Like its owner, the voice is soft and graceful. It struggles to pierce through the barrier at an audible level, escaping the grasp of whatever dark enchantment fills the shadow world only as a gentle whisper. But even in those brief words the teenager's question carries the unmistakable lilt of a heavy Slavic accent.

The look on Dahlia's face as she snaps back away from the mirror is... puzzlement, to be sure. The cold, frigid fingers of death wrapped tightly around the dying memories of a recently-deparated soul. The juxtaposition of such a vividly -familiar- circumstance -- the death of an older veteran, perhaps a yakuza competitor or some such -- with the teenaged girl before her -- brings a shudder down her spine as her psychic presence snaps back to her material form.

That figure jumps in alarm. And Dahlia takes a hesitant step back, lowering her hand to waist-level in her caution. A blonde -- exotic, perhaps even beautiful under the right conditions, but purely haunting in the current environs. A desperate soul reaching out for connection, so hard that to risk even pushing through the impressively solid pane of glass.

The Akatsuki leader has a near-photographic memory of both those who've worked with her and those who've stood against her, reinforced through rote study during her most sleepless of nights. Dahlia does not know this person, she -would- know it -- and yet, something strikes her about the girl on the other side of the glass. A hungry desperation, brimming over with hopeful optimism. Mostly unfamiliar -- with traces of a person she'd met long ago. Whispers of memory flutter past, thoroughly incongruous with the outfit, the body, the -reality- of the person standing before her.

And yet, the figure stares in silence. And nothing truly registers.

Until she speaks.

Dahlia's eyebrows lower, lips pursing in judgment. For this unfamiliar ... -stranger- to know of her. It would not be unheard of. This could just be an alternate reality -- an alternate Eskerimrim in trapped in a different guise through some other unique happenstance. Just because the first two mirrors were synchronized with her movements says nothing about this new plane of existence.

Dahlia shakes her head. If that were so... the familiarity would not be so fleeting. Something would match.

The wheel of her mental rolodex spins. Details, pain-stakingly written down onto note cards for rapid recall. Flaxen hair. Boldness. Languages, pronuncication. An accent akin to that damn Burkoff's.

The ostentatious -nerve- of the only soul brave enough to march in with an entourage before the sight of Lord Vega.


None of it matches. None of it makes any sense at all. And even as her lips change shape to speak the name -- her voice remains soft, near silent, afraid to voice the syllables for fear of their coming true. For what can this even mean... if one of her rivals in crime could be reduced to a mere shell of herself. A woman rumored to have died -months- prior, to be trapped in a body, her soul only minutes departed?

She does not repeat the name. She has more important questions.

Dahlia's voice rings out clearly -- a trick of her psychic nature, a way to defeat the sound-deadening flass. "What happened to you?"

The young girl's expression flows through several emotions in rapid succession upon hearing Dahlia's response. Relief comes first. Her eyes close and she lets out a long exhale, leaning her forehead against the glass as if she might fall over without the support. After a few moments, however, they open again and her gaze remains pointedly fixed on the ground as she shuffles her feet with obvious embarrassment. The imagery of this timid doe-eyed teenager is somewhat discordant with the confident ruthless mercenary that she'd remember, someone always quick to try and take charge or prove they were the scariest thing in the room.

Of course, pretty much everything about what she sees makes very little sense. Kira Volkov was a woman in her thirties, a battle-hardened mercenary with a lifetime of warfare carved into her body. The girl standing in front of her looks like some spoiled princess who has never had to tie her own shoes, much less sortie onto a battlefield at the head of a squad of grizzled gunmen. Trying to imagine an assault rifle gripped in those twiggy arms of hers is almost laughable.

As if that very line of thought were running through her own mind, Kira suddenly seems to regain a bit of her courage and scowls ferociously. Well, she tries to, anyway. Her strangely innocent features turn the expression into something that veers more towards adorable than intimidating, though there is an edge of cold fury reflected in her crimson eyes that allows a glint of her former self to shine through.

"I... I don't know," she growls, her voice still soft and wispy through the glass. "I got some invitation to come out to this castle in the middle of nowhere. My investigation revealed that the source was likely a dark stalker of considerable power. I came to investigate but... it was an trap."

Memories of the vampire flood back into her mind as she recalls her encounter with the dark lord. Even now his insidious voice sometimes echoes in the back of her mind, mocking her with that arrogant haunting laughter. The girl winces, a hand going to the side of her head as a wave of biting hunger washes over her. The smell of fresh living blood very nearly drives her to her knees with desire and it takes all of her willpower to clench her teeth tightly shut. Eventually, the moment passes and she lets out another long slow breath.

"I was ambushed by... something. Some sort of demon, maybe, I don't know."

She keeps her gaze averted as she lies her ass off, pretending to lean on the glass for support again. While she's pretty sure Honoka isn't nearly as knowledgeable on the subject of dark stalkers as herself, modern media has turned vampires into a common household name. There may or may not be much truth behind the various Hollywood embellishments on the old legends but most people certainly wouldn't know any better. Letting Dahlia know that she was bitten by a vampire lord is almost certain to significantly reduce the odds that the woman might help her get free of this damned mirror.

"It used some sort of power, magic maybe. Changed me into this," she continues, gesturing at herself with one hand with a grimace. "Then trapped me in here."

Scarlet Dahlia can tell that some things aren't quite adding up, here. The emotions flitting across this girl's face do not align at -all- with those she normally attributes to the so-called Black Dragon. Far from the brash, confident sort of woman who was seared into her memory, this girl comes across as lost and confused, shy and timid. Whereas the twentysomething staring back at her is calm, collected, and fully in control of herself. Dressed as someone older and more mature, to be sure, but able to carry off the look with far more success.

It's possible that this is a side effect of whatever magic has done this to her. And Dahlia is just... observing, and doing her best to maintain a neutral expression, so as not to disturb the subject of observation.

Her look of neutrality slips, though, when the girl attempts to scowl, and it comes across like a toddler's first grocery store tantrum. Dahlia flashes a lopsided smile back in return, her left cheek dimpling more than the right. It's a priceless look for the oppressive warlord.

The expression does shift more towards skepticism, though, as the girl begins to tell her story. Or, rather, a toned-down version that paints Kira out as someone who is much, -much- less mercenary than herself. And she was... ambushed by 'something, some sort of demon.' 'Some sort of power, magic.' Dahlia arches an eyebrow. The lack of precision from Volkov is jarring, from what she knows of the mercenary queen. The con artist can recognize the tells of a fib -- and when the truth is less than the whole truth.

And yet, for some reason, she decides to hold her tongue. Call it professional courtesy.

Dahlia folds her arms, her shoulders rocking away from the glass of the gilded mirror. "Transformed you into a younger version of yourself, minus the scarring and the tobacco addiction?" Her thumb and forefinger reach up to cradle her chin, stroking lightly. "It would almost sound as if he'd done you a favor, aside from the imprisonment."

The pieces are rough. They don't all fit together. And yet -- before the girl knew she'd had an audience... she was crying. The true mark of character is how you act when no one is watching.

Dahlia grows pensive, her eyes half-lidding in thought. She strokes her chin once, twice more.

"Have you tried calling for help?"

She lets the words hang in the air for a few moments, before offering a limp shrug. "I'm not certain how any of these things work, here. All I know is that I've walked around this castle for almost two hours now. And not once have I come across a creature in a cage that didn't expressly belong there."

She waits a beat, her mouth opening as if to say 'until.' But she doesn't vocalize that thought, closing her mouth a moment later.

It isn't hard to read the lack of trust on Dahlia's face as Kira tries to keep the details to a minimum. Of course, trust was never something that either of them shared for the other before, as evidenced by the psychic's ill-advised attempt to send an agent into the casino to spy on her and the mercenary's rather heavy handed response. It would be rather odd for that to change considering the circumstances. And yet, Kira needs this woman, this rival, to trust her.

The girl shifts her weight, frowning as her circumstances are described. Losing fifteen years is something many people would quite literally kill for, particularly if it came in a package deal with a full restoration to picture perfect health. Kira, however, seems less than pleased with the outcome of her transformation for reasons that aren't particularly obvious; other than the imprisonment, of course. Perhaps she was rather attached to the grizzled veteran aesthetic - but given a few years of her typical lifestyle she could no doubt achieve that look again if she wanted.

More importantly, there is the question of why. Why would some fel beast with the power to alter someone's body so thoroughly want to change her to this idealized storybook princess? To humiliate her? She certainly seems upset at the change if her crying is any indication.

"Yes," Kira confirms sourly. "It used some sort of... illusion, I think. The mirrors in this room show you things that aren't true. Or aren't true yet, I suppose. It used them to show me a reflection of..."

The girl hesitates, not sure she wants to elaborate. There isn't any blood left in her body to make her cheeks flush with embarrassment nor a beating heart to push it there but she feels the twinge of shame all the same. But, right now, she needs Dahlia on her side more than she needs to protect her tough-girl mercenary cred. Perhaps giving the psychic this little glimpse into her soul will help.

"Of a dream I used to have. A silly little fantasy I would entertain when things got particularly rough. About how I could have turned out if things had been different, if my life hadn't been ruined by the wars."

Kira looks up again, her eyes flicking up to Dahlia's face for a moment. She smiles ruefully, her hands clasping together at her waist in a demure fashion.

"I was always pretty quiet and shy before that, you know? Daddy's little princess. Never got into any trouble, never caused any harm or disobeyed. I was interested in butterflies and unicorns and ballet and all that girly...stuff."

Her hands move down to her thighs, gripping the soft fabric of the elegant dress. She swishes the skirt around a bit playfully, the smile taking on a more genuine element for a brief moment.

"Sounds utterly absurd, doesn't it? A dragon dreaming of being a princess."

All of the amusement fades out of her features as she continues. Her hands ball into tiny fists, clenching into the dress so hard that it rides up a couple of inches. That childish dream had never been anything she put a great deal of value on - it was a fantasy, an idle longing for something that could never be. But it was /her/ dream, /her/ fantasy. And that monster had callously used it against her in the most treacherous manner possible, turning her own weakness against her.

"And yet that... thing just reached right inside of me and found it. Took hold of my silly daydream and made it reality, mocking me the entire time."

Her voice starts to break, the tremors of raw emotion working their way into it. Her face twists up again, not in rage, but grief. Kira struggles to keep her composure but the telltale signs of someone on the verge of tears are impossible to miss on the girl's innocent features.

"And there was nothing... oh god, Dahlia. There was /nothing/ I could do to stop it!"

She releases her death grip on the dress, instead hugging her arms around herself like a child remembering a traumatic nightmare. Her body hunches slightly as if she just wants to curl up into a little ball at the mere memory of what happened.

"I... fought back. I fought so hard and it just... laughed at me."

Save for that one Shadow Council meeting, the two had never spoken. The Ainu woman's intelligence on one Kira Volkov was an incomplete picture -- one of a power-hungry warlord, eager to make her mark on the world. But now, she gets a clearer picture of Kira Volkov -- a vulnerable person, just trying to make the best of a less-than-optimal situation.

And now she that she is vulnerable -- and has been spotted as such -- she sees no hesitation with turning her belly up, with -showing- that vulnerability. To win trust. So that she can bite the hand when it comes close -- of that Dahlia has no doubt. An opportunist, in every sense of the word. Dahlia can respect that. And she does -- by remaining quiet and pensive, as Kira continues to relate her tale of how the demon peered into her mind. She can tell that Kira is still on the back foot -- Dahlia does not need to risk her position by sharing any vulnerabilities of her own. So she listens, lowering her right arm, pulling her glove taut as she listens.

But as Kira starts to relate a tale from her childhood, Dahlia finds her mind wandering to a time when she, too, was innocent and carefree. A time when -she- was Daddy's little "princess" of sorts -- a time before she grew bitter at the Ainu's lot in life. A time before teenage rebellion would take on a much darker turn.

When Kira's hands clutch into fists, Dahlia finds her hands doing the same. But for different reasons. Her hands drop to either side. She sets her jaw, glowering at the memories Kira had stirred up. She closes her eyes, listening... And it might even seem like she's getting wrapped up in Kira's emotions, rather than her own.

Dahlia's eyes open once more, as she purges her own thoughts. As she mentally rewinds through the words Kira has shared -- as she catches up to the real -rudeness- of the demon that has afflicted Kira with a fountain of youth. It isn't that this monster gave her youth.

Her response comes quickly, at the end of the tale; she was paying attention. Mostly. "He violated your memories. Thumbed them in your face, and stranded you here. And now you have to live with the proof of that." Cold, clinical, and incisive -- to hide the anger at having her -own- past resurrected through no fault of her own.

Dahlia stares back at Kira for a few moments, her eyes smoldering with unsettled emotions. Her nostrils flare -- a breath is drawn in.

And then, she expels the bad thoughts, ready to move on. Her expression lightens with relief. "Wonderful. We're bonding now. Just what I've always wanted." And as she unclenches her fists, she flicks her wrists to the side -- as if she were tossing aside a piece of trash she'd balled up in her momentary burst of anger.

Her demeanor lightened, Dahlia turns to the side, taking a few short paces while brushing her gloved fingers through her hair. "It's been an interesting look into your past, but... I'm curious, really. You're dead now. You know that, right?" She taps her temple as she walks, musing as she paces the width of the gilded mirror, letting that sink in for a few moments.

And once it does, she stops and turns back to Kira, mirth lifting the corners of her lips. "Is it that you're looking for absolution, or that you think I plan to do something about it?" Her fingers flatten, pressing against the glass. "You've been dead for months, after all, and I was kinda getting used to it."


Kira trembles again, her hands clutching a little harder at her side. It is an accurate summary of the violation that took place in the broad sense, though words can likely never fully capture the pain and terror she experienced during that horrific encounter with the vampire lord. Nor does Dahlia's cold reply cover the worst aspect of the fate that has been foisted upon her - the all-consuming thirst that gnaws at her insides like a ravenous beast trapped in a cage.

Even now, as the speaks with the woman on the other side of the glass, she can feel it thrashing madly at the scent of fresh blood, desperate to slake a thirst unlike any she could have ever imagined in life. The girl manages to keep her composure despite the gut-churning need raking at her mind. She's always been good at that. Keeping a cool head under pressure is one of the most important skills for any dangerous task and she's experienced several lifetimes worth of peril throughout her career as a mercenary. And so she quivers with emotion, looking pitiful and abused, but she doesn't break - not matter how much she wants.

Dahlia likewise seems to have a brief struggle with some personal demons of her own. Kira watches her in silence for a while, absorbing her reaction to the story, trying to read between the faint lines of anger that crease the corners of her eyes. Did some part of her story rouse an old memory or two? It looks like the woman just swallowed a spoonful of vinegar.

Before she can interpret what Dahlia's odd reaction to the tale might mean, the psychic shifts gears suddenly. Kira blinks, momentarily confused, but she musters up a faint smirk at the joke that makes her youthful face appear radiant with unnatural charm. It would seem, violated dreams or no, being embraced by a demon has its upsides.

"I'd offer to swap gossip and braid your hair but, well..."

She raps her knuckles on the glass a couple times and gives Dahlia a look akin that of a child waiting to unwrap their presents at Christmas, her big eyes becoming puppy-like with the unspoken request. Her hopeful expression quickly sours, however, as the conversation turns back to her to current predicament.

You're dead now.

She can't tell if Dahlia means that literally or is making a reference to her so-called demise upon the destruction of her casino. Naturally, she is fully aware of her own fate. Demitri had been quite pointed in ripping the veil of illusion away from her mind just in time to make his cruel deception all the more painful. The fact that her heart no longer beats and her lungs no longer require air is but further proof of what she is now.

A vampire. One of the undead. An abomination that until a couple of years ago was nothing more than a fictitious devil that existed only on the silver screen and in cheesy teenage romance novels. While she has been called an inhuman monster for many years now, the need for metaphor no longer exists.

And yet, as decidedly final as that fate sounds, she just can't bring herself to give up. Her entire life was a constant uphill struggle for survival against a world determined to crush her like an ant under its boot. She had beaten long odds and clawed her way to the top through sheer stubborn tenacity and a willingness to do whatever dirty deed needed to be done to get what she wanted. She had debased herself in ways that Dahlia likely can't even imagine, done things that to do this day make her own stomach churn with revulsion and self-loathing - all for a brighter future.

And she'll be damned if some fucking leech with an ego the size of the moon takes that away from her.

"There must be a cure!"

Kira presses up against the mirror again, her small delicate hands flat against the glass. The life-draining grayness of the shadow realm can't hide the desperation in her voice. She gives Dahlia a pleading look, casting aside any hint of pride or playfulness. There is only need in her voice, a desire to be free from the cruel prison.

"Please, Dahlia! I... I can't get out on my own. I need you to break the mirror! Whatever you want... whatever I can give you, it will be yours! Any favor, any price! I just..."

Kira's voice starts to quaver with ragged grief, her pretty face twisting up like a child about to cry. There aren't any tears, though, she doesn't have any of those left. There's just raw emotion, guileless and genuine.

"I just want to see her again..."

"Oh, right. That."

Dahlia smiles as she continues to walk along the width of the mirror. If it weren't for that thick layer of glass, the two rivals wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Though, as Dahlia walks, she is thinking -- and considering. Just what -is- the affliction that's plaguing Kira? That's allowed her to roll the clock back to a younger and more juvenile state of existence? The -sort- of demon that afflicted this upon her was never fully revealed, and yet... she knows.

And when Dahlia stares back, her eyes go to the dense crimson on the lower hem of the dress. The only infringement on an otherwise flawlessly clean garment.

There must be a cure, says the girl all but smeared upon the glass. There's a certain allure in one of her rivals going to such lengths to draw her attention. For as far as either of the two knows, should Dahlia leave -- it might be millennia before another visitor arrives. It would be maddening. And perhaps worst -- the heat Dahlia would earn from turning a blind eye would be an unbearable inferno.

But Dahlia keeps that card close to her chest. Closer than the glass, which she keeps at half an arms' length.

Scarlet Dahlia smiles. It's a macabre expression on her scarred visage, the way her flame-broiled skin contorts to allow such a swell of muscle. A harsh juxtaposition against her naturally brown eyes, veins brimming with glimmers of golden radiance. A match for fiery red hair that bobs slightly with each movement.

She smiles. And stares back at Kira's eyes, not even swayed in the slightest by the fetching way the young girl's body presses intently at the glass. Not by the lack of tears. Just a desire to make it absolutely clear that Dahlia is the one in control here.


She lets the word hang there, in the space between them, for a long, torturous moment.

"Even if I were to ask for -her?-"

Dahlia's lips remain smiling for quite some time. "It's a lot to ask, risking the wrath of our noble host. I need to be sure you're sincere about holding up your end of the bargain. How can I trust you..."

The psychic draws in her breath. Hazarding a guess that this is just one of -many- things that Kira might be jealous of.

Dahlia takes a half-step back from the mirror, turning and pivoting to her left. "... when you haven't even been open with me?" 'Some demon or something?' Surely, you meant -vampire-, right?"

She keeps Kira in her periphery as she paces to the side, her boot treads gaining a thicker coating of ashen dust. And as she walks -- a small line of amethyst-tinted energy begins to form upon her right sleeve. It starts dim, but grows brighter. And in a moment, the line grows into a third dimension, taking on the appearance of a ribbon as it rolls down her sleeve. The ribbon continues to grow, one inch at a time, even as she stops her pacing, and turns back to the glass.

The sadist's smile is gone, replaced with a more pleasant expression. "I won't keep you much longer. I just have one... last question." What other... -factions- have you spoken with since your very public 'demise?'"

Kira had known when she spoke those words that someone like Dahlia would be practically salivating at the chance to take advantage of her. She isn't the only person who has created an empire with ruthless determination. While she's never truly clashed with the Ainu's operations, her intelligence reports painted a fairly unpleasant picture of what kind of person she is. Oh, she puts on a pretty good mask, acting like its nothing but natural charm and charisma that compels hardened criminals to cast aside their masters and swear allegiance to her. But there's at least one person in her employ that could see through the web of threads connecting her so-called loyal followers.

Dahlia's abilities were partly the reason that Kira never saw profit in crossing swords with the fledgling criminal mastermind. No matter how well trained and loyal her own men were, she couldn't protect them against literal mind control. Zhenya might be able to shield the Dragon herself, if she was close enough, but warding an entire army is another matter entirely.

Whether or not Dahlia is actually aware of the powers possessed by Kira's second-in-command or simply trying to capitalize upon a moment of weakness is unclear to the mercenary. Perhaps she doesn't even know who is being referred to by the vague pronoun, simply fishing for a response by trying to dig at the Kira's own words. And, boy, does she get one.

A look of shock washes over the girl's face, clear evidence that she hadn't suspected even Dahlia would stoop so low as to suggest such a thing. Kira's pupils narrow to deadly pinpoints as her eyes widen to an unnatural size. Her body goes completely and utterly still. Not motionless like a person might but completely rigid and unmoving in the way only a corpse can manage. No breath stirs her chest, no pulse throbs in her veins. She simply stares at Dahlia and lets the cold quiet rage consume her.

With no further need to conceal the truth, Kira's lips finally peel back to reveal a pair of fangs, tiny and somehow adorable on her. The expression on her features is much less cute, however. Unholy fury contorts the unnaturally perfect beauty of her youthful face into something clearly inhuman. The shadows make the angles look all wrong, her cheeks seeming far too gaunt, her eyes deep and sunken like a ghoul. Those big doe-like eyes start to shimmer with profane demonic power becoming glowing blood red orbs of pure malice.

"Kill you..."

The words come out low and quiet, almost inaudible through the barrier of the glass. A sudden pressure exerts itself upon Dahlia's mind, a sensation both familiar and yet entirely alien. Raw will slams into her mental barriers like a sledgehammer as the youngest vampire noble directs her outrage at the woman in a wild and uncontrolled frenzy of murderous thought. The sensation that assaults her is much the same as that she experienced upon venturing her psychic senses into the darkness beyond the mirror's surface. Cold so deep and intense that it burns like molten steel attempts to lance into her thoughts, digging at her mind as if a clawed hand has gripped it like a vice.

"If you so much as touch her... I'll kill you...!"

Dahlia's final words are lost in the sea of blinding rage that swirls up to empower the young vampire. Though she has been deprived of the vital essence necessary to give her the full powers of an unholy denizen of the night, she instead feeds upon that cold fury, seeming to draw strength directly from the intensity of the emotion that swells up inside of her.


/ What other factions have you spoken with since your very public 'demise?' /

The look of shock was noted. Oh boy, was it noted -- ingrained upon her memory, given a fast track to become one of the Ainu mastermind's favorite memories of all times. For Dahlia to twist a memory so tender and pure into a knife with such an infinitesimally narrow point -- the Ainu manipulator is so very, very pleased with herself.

She had only a little idea of Zhenya's existence, really. Little more than rumors, for the number of people Dahlia's spoken to who have stepped into the Dragon's Den and lived to tell about it is... on last count? One. And the thought of dragging her treasured associate through any more of that torturous experience was anathema. The poor girl was broken enough as it is.

The legions of soldiers were, naturally, the bigger threat. A psychic like Lord Vega would have no problem wading hip-deep through all of the Dragoons simultaneously. Scarlet Dahlia would survive a head-on assault, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Swaying the minds of impressionable teenagers is one thing; swerving a band of loyal, well-paid soldiers against their own fearless leader is something else entirely. The Dragoons' loyalty is -- or is it 'was?' -- legendary. And it was all thanks to the Black Dragon's legendary control.

And Dahlia smiles back, as it shatters before her. The psychic she had heard of? Was so, so much more than that. Wasn't she?

She feels a low pressure at first -- low enough that she could turn aside, walk along the gilded mirror once more. But then that pressure swirls into a blizzard. The smile remains cemented in place, even as bricks and support beams materialize into existence behind faltering barriers. The storm turns into a hailstorm of ice-cold hammers, colliding against the psychic's hardened parapets.

And the tusukur pivots on her heel. With a smile still fixed in place, even as frost threatens to freeze her mental fortifications to the core, fill the mortar with cracks, and shatter it from within. What other factions...

Dahlia's question is drowned out by the sound and fury.

Three seconds pass.

Dahlia's eyes flare with brilliant intensity. The ribbon glows with similar light, the band spiralling its way up the length of her forearm, enveloping her hand -- and shaping itself into a glowing, golden auger. And at once, the psychic sense of -cold- is banished, evicted from her fortifications, swept away by a volcanic heatwave powerful enough to melt steel lances into little more than slag.

For here, the Dragoons are nothing. Here, there is no sweet Zhenya to protect her. Here, there is only a tiny, scared, shivering slip of a girl, wrapped in her own insecurities and -daring- to voice the only one, true, ultimatum that could ever possibly exist.

In the Countess' Ballroom, when Kira's rage subsides... Dahlia will still be there, smiling. Her eyes shining with golden radiance, standing against the cold fury.

When she can speak without raising her voice, she does so. "Anything, but her."

Dahlia stands against the fanged nightmare, defiant. The smile is just a facade -- to be sure -- but it's a damn good poker face. And it might take some time to realize that if Dahlia weren't pouring her focus and concentration into the rotating, rippling drill which has wrapped around her right fist, that her heart is beating faster than it's done in a long time.

"I doubt she's my type anyway. Now, then..."

She angles the spinning spectral auger towards the glass pane. An indication of just -how- she plans to thwart the mirror which has kept Kira confined for the past... however-long she's been here.

"Factions that you have brokered deals with, that I need to be aware of. Particularly in Southtown." Her eyes gleaming gold -- her warning to any -further- overstepping of psychic boundaries -- she gestures with her left palm. "Whenever you're ready."

The torrent of unholy power crashes upon the walls of Dahlia's mental fortress like a typhoon, wild and uncontrolled. It batters at her defenses like a living thing, smashing apart the weakest layers of her passive barriers almost instantly and threatening to rip apart the metaphorical castle that she erects to defend against. Were she left to continue the assault unimpeded there's almost no doubt what the outcome would be. Cold fury pours out of the vampire unabated and unrestrained, all of the rage and pain and fear that had been building up inside of her coalescing into a veritable tidal wave of dark emotional pressure.

Had it been almost anyone else staring at her across that wafer-thin barrier of glass, Kira would likely have crushed them flat with that outpouring of frigid all-consuming hate. But against someone with years of training and experience, a rare mortal capable of harnessing their own will as a weapon, her psychic attack proves deadly but unfocused.
%tDahlia's inner fires ignite at her command and banish the glacial power in an instant. The overwhelming heat of her will tears through the shoddy construct of mental power like a magnesium flare being thrust into a pile of snow, evaporating it in a puff of metaphorical steam.

Kira staggers backwards and tumbles to the floor, recoiling as if physically struck. She stares up at the ceiling for several long seconds, eyes wide and blinking in a dazed expression.

What happened? How had she done that? She could feel her hate like it was a palpable thing, sense it as it reached out and tried to engulf the woman who had dared suggest such a reprehensible thing. Even now she is aware of that presence coiling up inside of her, twisting around inside of her chest like a viper ready to strike at the first thing foolish enough to draw its ire. Something to be explored later in a more agreeable setting.

Slowly, the girl rolls over and pushes back to her feet, lifting her head to fix Dahlia with a wary stare. The shimmering golden drill wrapped about her hand is hard to miss and draws the girl's gaze almost instantly. She flinches from that intense radiance instinctively, one hand lifting to shield her face. It isn't sunlight but there's something about that construct of will that feels unpleasant to behold. Perhaps being born from the living will of a mortal creature makes it a sort of counterpart to the dark undeath of her own existence. Or maybe spending who knows how long trapped in a realm of shadows has made her eyes more sensitive. Either way, she doesn't seem keen to make any further such outbursts.

"Fine," she says, her voice meek and subdued again, unwilling to meet the psychic's glittering gaze. "Get me out of here and I'll tell you whatever you want to know."

Dahlia generally prefers a 'wait and see' approach, especially for enemies already established as considerable threats. While it's true that Kira Volkov's introduction to the Shadow Council had Dahlia laughing like a hyena, it was only with the might of the Shadaloo Lord and two of his most fearsome Dolls at her back that she'd felt safe doing so.

She'd kept the kid gloves on as long as she could. But then Volkov demonstrated a newfound grasp of psychic warfare, forcing a replacement of the kid leather with an golden auger of pure, unfiltered will. Dahlia stares back at the captive, frowning. It's a shame, really -- she had rather hoped -not- to overdo it in such a fashion.

The auger is moved aside, for Dahlia to place a gloved hand upon the glass. She presses firmly, and the pane flexes like any regular pane of glass, thin and brittle. Were Kira on this side of it, there's no question she could have shattered it as easily as any of the other panes. Just a simple incantation reinforces a fragile sheet of silicon into an impenetrable barrier.

Kira gives her response. The girl is ready.

Dahlia's frown grows, as her request goes unanswered -- perhaps conflated with the request to continue? Will she uphold her assurance to tell her more? In the end, the Champion of Mortal Kombat decides that she doesn't particularly care; the threat of the auger should be enough. But she won't let the girl pass without one more statement to set the record straight.

"I don't know what that bastard did to you, Volkov. But the world needs people like you, people who have looked -beyond- the veil, to remind humanity what the stakes of this game of life really are."

Dahlia takes two steps back, drawing in her breath. If Kira can still sense her fortress -- she would feel it -warp- with renewed pressure from within. The bricks expand outward, the grout expanding and splitting -- only to fill with even more bricks inside. She, too, is ready.

"Some would say I should let you rot in there."

Dahlia swings the auger to the side, as if it were no heavier than a fencer's epee, tracing a crescent through the air. The drill of golden energy, already twirling at a decent clip, spins faster, the edges blurring until it becomes a single, radiant cone. Around her, on the floor, dust swirls up in a panicked, frenetic vortex.

Dahlia looks directly at Kira -- even knowing that the smoldering look could prove quite painful. Smirking, she won't let Volkov out of her radiant sight, not now.

"But where's the fun in -that?-"

Dahlia thrusts her auger forward. The tip of the cone strikes the glass surface -- and in one gleaming, reflective wave, the entire glass pane shatters as one into thousands, millions of tiny shards. The wind kicked up from the spinning auger blasts the particles free of the Ainu tusukur. Rays of diamond dust shower down upon the floor, leaving no question as to the decisive point of impact. A beautiful, haunting demonstration of the performer's flair for the dramatic.

And she holds the spinning auger forward, guardedly optimistic in witnesssing the aftermath of fulfilling her part of the bargain.

In any other circumstance, Kira would have no problems making a promise she has no intention of keeping. As someone who has long ago cast aside personal pride for practicality, her word is only worth what value she chooses to give at any given time. To those she wishes to make her allies or fool into thinking that she can be trusted, it is as good as gold. But she's never been above telling lies to get what she wants, particularly when the person who has been wronged won't be alive long enough to spread word of her treachery.

Until that shimmering fortress of will had swatted her down as easily as a fly, Dahlia very much fell into the latter category. The incredible need of her vampiric hunger, denied the opportunity to slake its thirst for what seems like weeks, is all but driving her mad with the desire to hurl herself at the woman the moment that flimsy glass barrier goes down. The rousing of her protective fury in regards to the one thing she holds more precious in this world than her own life has done little to endear the psychic to her either. With her newfound vampiric strength, she could no doubt easily overpower the human physically, take what she wants - what she /needs/. But that brilliant power is an unknown to her and taking stupid unnecessary risks isn't how she survived for so long.

She won't break her promise - but she won't forget this fury and shame either.

As Dahlia steps forward, the vampire retreats further into the shadows behind her, wrapping the darkness around her like a shield against the auger's glow. The heavy hood is pulled back up over her head, further shielding her eyes against the light. As such, Kira's face is concealed in a deep pit of shadows when the woman makes her final remarks, hiding the expression of wry amusement.

The irony of her current predicament has not escaped her notice. She was willing to go so far as to turn herself into a mass-murdering terrorist precisely to remind humanity of what danger the dark stalkers posed to them. In some respect, becoming a monster herself just to drive that point home is simply the next logical step down that path.

She had somewhat embraced that idea already when she exposed herself to the super-soldier serum, risking her life and humanity for the power she needed to stand against the literal forces of darkness. It had made her something far greater and yet so much less than what she used to be. Now she is experiencing that same feeling again, brimming with power that she couldn't have possibly conceived but missing something intrinsic and vital.

Dahlia's radiant gaze makes the monster - for that is what she is now - flinch. Even cloaked as she is in shadow and cloth, she raises her hand again to shield her face from those burning points of light. But she doesn't look away, now matter how much it hurts, as that whirling mass of power slams forward to shatter the bars of her jail into a thousand tiny shards of light. The visual is quite flashy and beautiful, all the more so for what it represents - freedom.

For several seconds Kira doesn't move, her eyes locked on that drill. Her hunger rumbles like a starving tiger within her mind, raw instinct urging her to attack and feed regardless of the danger. With an effort of will, she slowly forces it back, locking that unnatural need into a cage. Only when she is certain that she can approach without losing control does the girl take a few cautious steps forward, moving up to the edge of the shattered portal.

She hesitates there, the golden frame of the mirror regarded with a wary look. It wouldn't surprise her to learn that the vampire lord had left some sort of surprise in store for her should someone come along to free her from his cruel prison of isolation. Nothing she can do about it if he did, though. Sucking in a slow breath, a gesture of habit rather than necessity, the vampire steels her jaw and takes another step forward.

To her great relief, nothing happens. No blasts of unholy power, no sudden revelation that the entire exchange had been nothing more than an illusion to taunt her with false hope. She almost crumples to the floor with the overwhelming surge of giddiness that overtakes her, reaching out with one hand to lean heavily against the wall.

"Thank you..."

And she means it. No matter how much she might loathe the woman for daring to insinuate she would ever allow her to touch Zhenya, she is the person responsible for setting her free from what might very well have been an eternity of torment. She won't forget that either.

Pushing away from the wall, Kira wanders deeper into the room, putting her back to Dahlia. She doesn't need her eyes to see the woman any more. Freed from that consuming darkness, she can literally feel the woman's life force. The smell of blood and sweat is like the sweet aroma of freshly baked pie, stirring the caged hunger to rattle against its bars. The wild thumping of the mortal's heart within her chest hammers as loud and clear as a drum in her ears, suggesting that for all her posturing she isn't quite as calm and collected as she would have Kira believe.

Thus shielded from that baleful light, the vampire comes to a halt. She owes a debt of gratitude to Dahlia and it's time to pay up.

"You wished to know with whom I have forged alliances, yes? It may set your mind at ease to hear that I have not joined forces with your enemies in the Syndicate. I have little use for men such as Duke in my schemes. Instead I reached out to several of the smaller independent gangs, paying them for services rendered as needed rather than trying to forge my own personal army of thugs. Perhaps it is my mercenary ways but I find such arrangements easier to manage."

The glass shatters, and Dahlia keeps her gaze locked upon the girl. The spinning auger serves as a pertinent reminder that the psychic will not allow an attack to go unpunished. And yet -- she also saw the hunger from before. She -knows- it can't be easy.

And that is why she keeps her distance -- even stepping back from the threshold, to allow the now-uncaged beast to escape without brushing too close to that terrible auger. For one should not press a desperate foe too hard -- much less a possible ally for the future.

Kira rises to her feet. And there is no shock, no residual trap -- nothing to suggest that there was any barrier -other- than the simple glass pane. Or if it was, then perhaps the auger destroyed that as well. It certainly didn't -feel- like anything more. Dahlia breathes a sigh of relief. And she bows her head in acknowledgment.

"I've never been a fan of imprisonment." Too expensive, too many problems.

Her heartbeat continues to beat in opposition to her enforced calm. And yet, there's only so much she can do about -that-, as she gives Kira the freedom to wander around the ballroom, so much as she might. There's still the threat of the auger, after all -- and she's happy to listen to Kira's response. She does so, while watching Kira's back.

And then... she frowns.
"... Mm."

Dahlia brings the auger vertical once more. With a slight turn of her forearm, the psychokinetic drill sputters, its motion falling off-kilter. The helical ribbon that comprised it unspools rapidly from her right hand. And as it spins free, it loses most of its golden radiance, dimming to an amethyst shade of purple. Her eyes, similarly, dim to an amber, much as they had been during her initial exchange with the girl. The unraveled ribbon hangs there in space, like a discarded bandage.

Dahlia bends her wrist, closing her fingers -- and the ribbon surges to life once again, darting towards her neck with zeal. And once there, it coils around her neck, starting low at the trapezius, and winding its way up towards the base of her skull. Once there, it surges brightly with light, settling firmly into position. Moments after, its intensity fades to a low throb, soft enough that it wouldn't be terribly distracting in conversation. The light falls off -- dimming the overall light levels in the ballroom considerably.

After all, it's no longer necessary as a -threat.- Just a shield, serving in both a physical and a symbolic capacity to dissuade the vampire from giving in to her thirst. Deep within the realm of her mind, though, the castle's defenses remain solid, unchanged from moments prior.

She lowered her guard, because the negotiation has not yet ended. It's just entered a different phase.

"That's it...?" Dahlia asks, skeptical. "I didn't ask who you were /not/ working with." Her heel grinds, as she pivots sideways, one hand settling upon her hip.

Dahlia laughs. Now that she knows the -nature- of her opponent, she shakes her head slowly from side to side. "I reject your payment."

She doesn't expect this statement to go over well. But she holds her ground through the fury she can expect to receive, confident that her previous show of psychic fortitude was enough to dissuade a second test of her defenses.

She holds out an open palm. "But let's keep this simple. We've already established the upper bound for 'anything.' And I've no actual interest in invoking your rage again." She draws in her breath, her heartbeat accelerating -- for even -daring- to mention that topic again is dangerous. And yet... once she's sure she has Kira's ear, she continues.

"We've both been good about staying in our own lanes. I see no reason for that to change." A finger is raised. "So for now... I keep your secret. And you owe me a favor. Redeemable later."

Dahlia stands at the ready for retaliation -- even as her body makes every -other- sign at being diplomatic. "Simple. Right?"

Kira feels the power recede even before the light starts to fade from Dahlia's strange weapon. Her shoulders relax visibly, tension she didn't even realize she was holding bleeding out of her posture as that pressure vanishes from her perception. But not completely. What was a blazing sun dims to a cool ember but she can still feel the power lurking dormant behind the fortress walls, ready to sally forth and do battle with anything that dares to threaten its borders.

With the fading of the light the shadows return in force to the ballroom, seeming to ooze out of the walls and gather around the vampire noble in greater concentrations than should occur naturally. Her midnight dress becomes a small window into an dark and endless void, a tear in the fabric of reality, punctuated by tiny motes of contrast where her pale skin shows through the suggestive slats. The deep folds of her crimson cloak grow darker and more pronounced which somehow seems to augment the waifish girl's silhouette into something more sinister. Tiny flickers of movement start to play at the corners of Dahlia's vision any time she turns her gaze anywhere but directly at the vampire, vague insinuations of movement from the deep pool of darkness at Kira's feet.

The product of an overactive imagination, no doubt. The mind does so love to play tricks.

Dahlia's unimpressed response to the answer she gives brings that tension right back into the vampire's body. Her tiny fists clench into tight balls at her side, lips peeling away from hungry fangs in a silent invisible snarl beneath the shadows of the hood. Gratitude for being rescued or not, this woman is starting to get on her nerves.

She had answered the question in good faith. If Dahlia failed to properly elucidate the details of her request then that is no one's fault but her own. Yet, upon further reflection she cannot argue against the point of contention raised. There isn't much to tell regarding her choice of allies. She had intentionally avoided making truck with any of the major powers specifically because they would be under greater scrutiny. Any attempt to ally herself with someone with considerable power would be noticed. Even if they didn't have a clue what she was up to, people would start watching her more closely and that is precisely what she didn't need.

The vampire turns in place, twisting just far enough to cast a sideways glare at the psychic. Though the shadows conceal her expression underneath the cowl like a mask, the twin red points of ominous light where her eyes should be make it fairly clear that she is not particularly pleased with where this conversation is going. Dahlia's upraised hand interrupts any outburst from the girl, however, and she remains silent as new terms are laid out. The darkness around Kira seems to ripple indignantly when mention is made of the initial suggestion for payment, her eyes narrowing slightly, but no further violence is hurled her way for bringing it up.

"You are brazen to provoke me so, Dahlia," she hisses in reply once the offer is made. Anger flows through her thick accent like venom, threatening the promise of impending mayhem should she be pushed too far.


Kira's lets out a long breath, the crimson lights winking out as she closes her eyes. Her hands unclench and she pushes the feral desires attempting to smash free of the chains she has bound them in back down into the depths of her consciousness.

"I am not yet completely devoid of humanity such that I cannot recognize the value of what you have done for me. In truth, the price you asked seemed but a pittance compared to my freedom. Because of you, I will be able to return to her side, twisted and broken as I may be.

She goes quiet for a moment, her next words coming out soft and tired.

"That means more to me than you know."

Several long seconds pass as the vampire gathers up her composure. When she speaks again, she pulls herself up to her full height, back straight and posture dignified. She moves towards Dahlia with lithe unnaturally graceful steps, the hem of her inky garment seeming to melt into the shadows to flow out behind her in tattered strips of darkness. She stops only a few arm lengths away from the psychic, regarding her with an expression that seems haughty, brimming with some newfound source of arrogant pride.

"Very well. In exchange for services rendered and your silence, I promise to grant you one favor of your choosing. So long as your request is reasonable..." She lets that tiny point hang in the air for a moment, punctuating it with a pointed look. "I shall do everything in my power to grant it."

Scarlet Dahlia had been dancing on the razor's edge. But, having turned her hand, she now finds herself perched upon it, the knife to her throat -- awaiting the vampire's judgment.

It was a risky play, after all: a slight readjustment to the deal, to avoid losing leverage from a procedural misstep. The demand for more information was intended as a turning of the screws, more than the actual reward. But when Dahlia had forced Kira's hand, Kira's outrage subsequently forced hers -- causing her to fumble forward.

It was risky. And Dahlia stares back, defiant. She no longer pretends she holds the higher ground; her lips press into a firm line, the laughter a fading memory once Volkov turns a smoldering sidelong glare to her. She holds her ground, her weight tilted to favor the balls of her feet, rather than the heels; she's prepared to answer for her provocation.

And yet, she's given an answer she'd expect from the Mercenary Queen. An even-handed response, delivered after a long, vestigial breath. Old habits die hard.

Dahlia's answer is an acknowledging grunt -- scarcely more than a nod of her head. For her heart is pounding in her chest. And any further words could tilt the delicate balance out of favor. The only movement on her body is the slow rise and fall of her ribcage, the faint ebb and pulse of her will-forged choker, the delicate press of fingertips against her palms, as anxiety keeps her egotistical tongue bound into a firm knot.

It's only when Kira stiffens up, stepping close, that Dahlia shows any further signs of presence. The Ainu woman's gaze lifts, as well as her chin, to address the vampiric Volkov's approach. Hauntiness, arrogance... these are all fair allowances for a new creature with the mind of the Mercenary Queen and a body of heretofore-untapped potential.

Dancing on the razor's edge. Dahlia bows her head in a nod. "Then we have a deal." A brief, perfunctory smile follows -- as the Mortal Kombat champion, for any number of reasons, does not feel like pressing her luck any further on this evening.

And only -then- does the tusukur relax, allowing her heartbeat to throttle back. "It's been a pleasure, Volkov."

She takes a step back, pivoting so as to provide less of an obstacle for Kira should she wish to step past her. Her hand unfolds, palm-up. And a hint of that earlier confidence slips back onto her face. ... I'm sure -someone's- going to be upset at the mess. I don't know about you, but I've got no plans to be around when it's discovered."

It's been a pleasure.

Kira has to try not to laugh at the absurdity of that empty platitude. Every single moment of this encounter has been nothing but suffering, a desperate struggle to reign in her literal blood lust. Simply holding a conversation without hurling herself at the glass of the mirror was a trial. Now that she is free and standing only a few feet away from a source of that succulent nourishment, it takes every ounce of control she can muster to hold to her word. Every second that the wild beat of Dahlia's heart remains within earshot is a temptation to feed, an urge that must be deliberately crushed. The faster she can get away from this woman the better.

As such, when it becomes clear that the deal has been agreed upon, the vampire is quick to start moving. Dahlia's sidestep, meant as a courtesy of sorts, is all that keeps her from being bowled over by the diminutive monster. Her escape from being trampled is not flawless, however. The girl brushes past only a hand's breadth away and as she does so the writhing tendrils of shadow flowing from her dress flick out to lightly caress her legs.

A bitter predatory cold spreads from that point of brief contact. No, that's not quite correct. It would be more accurate to say that it simply devours all of the warmth from her flesh, siphoning it greedily into the inky void, as if her foot has just been submerged in a bucket of ice water.

The touch is fleeting but Kira pauses in that moment, an involuntary shudder running through her as the edges of her essence hungrily laps up the living warmth. She hadn't meant to touch Dahlia like that. Hell, she wasn't even aware she had shadow powers that could sap the life out of people. But she is now; and damn does it feel amazing.

A tingle of the same pleasure that had drowned her senses when the dark lord fed upon her rushes up in a thrill of twisted ecstasy that steals her breath away; metaphorically, at least. Maybe it's because she's all but ravenous. Or it could just be the heightened sensation of a first-experience, all the more intense and memorable for its novelty. The first taste is always the sweetest, as they say.

A soft gasp slips through the vampire's teeth as she tilts her head back to stare wide-eyed up at the ceiling. Her back arches sensually into a bow, the tips of her breasts growing more defined underneath the thin fabric of her dress. The girl's arms wrap about her body again, hugging herself tightly, though for very different reasons than before. Judging by her reaction, the taste of Dahlia's essence must have been sweet indeed.

It takes several long seconds for the vampire to regain her composure. When she finally stands up straight and turns to look at Dahlia, her expression is one of overwhelming satisfaction, her eyes half-lidded and glazed like a junkie who just got their fix. She smiles at the mortal, the corners of her mouth slowly turning upwards into a Cheshire sized grin that flashes her demure little fangs in the wan light.

"No..." she purrs, her voice laden with lazy amusement and an entirely different kind of hunger. She glides slowly closer to the Ainu, pressing her slender form up against the woman's side in a -very- unprofessional manner should Dahlia fail to retreat from the advance. Further tendrils of living shadow slither about her feet, playfully dancing about the psychic's legs teasingly without actually touching her again.

"The pleasure was most /definitely/ mine."

Still grinning like a cat that got the cream, the little vampire winks at Dahlia and flicks her tongue across one of the fangs in a suggestive manner. She might not be taking a bite out of the crime lord's neck today but she got herself a good taste anyways.

After lingering in her personal space for what is probably an uncomfortable few seconds, she turns away, either peeling herself off the woman or simply withdrawing if Dahlia managed to elude her touch. Kira all but glides across the floor like a wraith as she makes her way towards the large double doors leading out into the castle proper, her footfalls making not a sound as she goes.

She pauses one last time upon casting the doors wide, casting a mischievous look back at the human, her eyes alight with crimson power.

"Be seeing you... Dahlia."

And then she vanishes. Just up and fades into the gloom as if she had been nothing more than another one of the shadows in the room. Of her passage there is no trace - no foot prints in the dust, nor the coppery scent of blood. Only the faint haunting echo of a girlish tittering laugh that slowly dwindles to nothing in her wake.

Log created on 07:56:48 06/10/2021 by Honoka, and last modified on 16:23:58 07/10/2021.