Hiyma was a bit surprised by the boy's original ambitions to be an accountant, that was certainly a change of pace and could be somewhat useful later on. Though the fact that he admitted to not being able to pursue his ambitions due to financial struggle made Hiyma sighed a bit in disappointment muttering "What a shame." . As she continued to listen and type, Hiyma barely interjected, as she listened in on his thoughts about the four main gangs. The fact that he didn't know much about the Dragons or Snakes made her think that he only took an interest in the gangs that were in the area he was living in. "Yeah, loyalty is highly sought after when it comes to bringing in Phoenixes, as for family, yeah I guess you could say most of the gang is like an annoying cousin." she said that last part a bit light-heartedly though she still did find some a good portion of folks Phoenixes to be somewhat annoying. Before a short list of Pheonixes could come to mind Hiyma quickly got back on the topic of the interview.
"Alright so yeah, loyalty is a highly sought-after trait when it comes to joining the Phoenix, which leaves me to my next point." As Hiyma finished typing a new set of information down she turned her attention back to Charlie with a more serious expression plastered on her face. "Alright it's time to get a bit more serious, you know how I referred to you a 272 earlier today, well that just so happens to be the number of people that took Revenant's trials and do you know how many Sponserees she has at the moment? One." While it was true that Helva only had one Sponseree at the moment, the actual number of people that took her trails may have been a bit less, as her trails had changed a few times, there were also repeat trial takers, and the fact that some Pheonixs took her trails for the experience of it, but she wasn't really going to say that. " Now since you've been honest with me I'll be honest with you, my main job is to assess your threat level and the chances of you betraying Revenant or the Phoenixes. If Revenant takes you in as a Sponseree she becomes responsible for you, almost in the same way a parent is responsible for their child, so the actions of her little Sponseree can reflect back onto her, and if that Sponseree betrays the Pheonxis well then I guess you could see how badly it would look on the Sponsor. Now from what you said you are from the West correct? and as you know the West is currently held by one of our rivals the Tigers, you can kinda see where this is going don't ya."
Hiyma let what she said sink in for a moment, her eyes completely focused back onto Charlie as she said as much in order to gauge his reaction to the information. But she soon began to get to the point of things saying "But I do recall you saying that you and your family weren't on the best of terms correct? So do tell me why that is. Do you have any first-hand experience with any of the other gangs? Why do you even wanna be a Pheonix? Just what is your goal in joining the Pheonixs? How can I be sure you aren't a Tiger spy or someone who might decide to turn traitor on us?" These questions were more direct than what she usually goes with, but she figured being direct with him would be the better route in this case. Though Hiyma soon got a telepathic message from Helva simply saying I'm here now. Hiyma didn't bother to respond knowing the Helva was gonna begin setting up in the warehouse for the next stage while she wrapped things up here.
“I’m…sorry,” she mumbled as Park indirectly chided her. Though her expression remained as stony as ever, her genuinely apologetic, if a little unsure, tone, and the very slight slump of her shoulders still reflected the image of a dog who had been found breaking their owner’s potted plant. She eyed Park as she sauntered over to a drawer, and began to dig through it. A few offending articles were disposed off to one side, though, in all honesty, Dagger couldn't figure out why. They seemed functional enough. She continued to watch, and her eye began to widen slightly in some confusion as Park continued to filter through the various clothing, slightly worried that she might be digging a fair bit too deep into what now seemed like a bottomless container.
She only realised she had been holding her breath when Park finally picked up one of the piles of clothing she had sorted out and set it on one side. "...thanks," was all Dagger could muster as she looked at the pile. Maybe she should have just kept her own clothes. She picked up the first black t-shirt she could find, and drew it over her head. It was decorated with a picture of a cat holding a suitcase in one paw, and in the other, held onto a suspended handle in what seemed to be a train, with the wildly sarcastically cheerful words of "Hang in there!" printed beside it. She drew out a pair of track pants from the pile, and put that on as well. A simple outfit, one that served its purpose. Dressing pretty had never been her strong suit.
Park spoke again, drawing her attention over to the assorted DVDs and VHS tapes.
"I'm not…" she looked despondently at the items presented before her. Father had liked what they called 'action comedies'. In fact, almost all of the squad did. Simone was more interested in the romantic ones. She, herself, never found much joy in movies. The only reason why she had sat through the things that Simone, Father, Talbain, or Chloe had picked were because it simply allowed her to be with them, and as an excuse for her and Simone to hold on to each other. It was all noise and flashing colours to her, and, in the few times that she was actually capable of understanding what was happening on the screen, she found herself criticising the characters and their tactics. She picked through the collection. Most of them did little to draw her attention, outside of a nagging feeling that this would be something the people long gone would have liked.
She had almost given up when, at last, one seemed to call to her. Black spine, with the words HARD TO KILL in red. She drew it out of the collection, and turned it over. Pitch black background, with a tall building on the center of the cover, with its rooftop set aflame by an explosion and a helicopter careening off to the side, and a face she couldn't recognise on the right, half obscured by the building, his mouth agape in what she could assume was anticipation. Text covered the empty space of the black background. She slowly mouthed the words.
'High above the city of L.A., a team of terrorists has seized a building, taken hostages, and declared war.
One man has managed to escape… An off-duty cop hiding somewhere inside.
He's alone, tired…and the only chance anyone has got.
Everything was happening so fast and Celestine realized a second too late that there was no getting out of this without a fight. The moment the red-haired one threw the first blow the outcome of this encounter was decided.
"Surrender or die... Both of those options are not ideal, but it seems you," Celestine turned her cold stare to the red one, her gaze boring into him angrily, "have already decided our fates."
She heard the voice of another person behind them, saying something about how they were surrounded, and sighed, sparing a mere glance in their direction. Just what they needed, one more person to worry about- Oh joy.
It wasn't long before the red one struck again and Celeste flinched, eyes widening, "You are escalating this situation unreasonably quickly. You are here to kill us, not get us to surrender." She didn't appreciate this creature hurting her people like this and grabbed ahold of the back of Tick's collar, yanking him away from the dragon and pushing him toward the van.
"As my associate said, you need not do this," Celestine glanced out of the corner of her eye at Jozef. He was too far from her and getting to him would leave the others unprotected. She cursed to herself, irritated she couldn't have been born with a potential more useful for situations like this, "Surely we can-"
The red one spoke again, cutting Celestine off, and his words surprised a laugh out of her, "Our chance? You hardly gave us a chance, though I cannot say I am surprised. You do seem the type to kill first, and ask questions later." She mused, hands hovering over the hilts of two serrated daggers strapped to her upper thighs. Celeste would not strike unless they forced her hand by hurting the other serpents again.
Deirest scratched and scratched, and scratched. Caked in mud and filth, her nails dug messily into open wounds. An outline of teeth, three deep pits in her gut, and a splattering of other scrapes and bruises. Whenever she let them wander, her fingers wormed into them like insects. Stinging and biting, trying to dig out the infection that they were only making worse.
She was a mess. While her frenzy might have been soothed, delirium still held her in its grip. She'd been wandering, and then wandering more, only stopping once or twice to collapse in a gutter, which she'd stained thoroughly red. Her stomach growled, and her feet ached, but she still wandered. Searching. They could take care of themselves, anyway.
It still wasn't clear to her what it was. That she was missing. That she was looking for and needed to find. It was an awful sensation. Pounding at the back of her head. Absence. An absence of what? Something she was supposed to have but didn't. She was naked and hurting and vulnerable. She needed to find it. He hadn't needed it before, not in there. It had still hurt, but never this badly. It'd been nothing but her in the cold, nothing but her in the red and in the black.
And then there'd been the light. The stinging light. Light and noise and...
"Aaaahhhhhhh..." Deirest's voice was thick and dry. "Why... Where is... Why, why, why..." Even if her mutterings had been more than whispers, there wouldn't have been any meaning to glean from them. Her mind was as disheveled as her body. There was barely a person there at all. Only an animal in human clothing.
"Find it... Need to..." Her legs wobbled as she walked. It'd been years since she'd eaten. Until now, fervor and adrenaline had spurred her forward, but now, all alone, the tank had run dry. Still, she inched forward, clumsily stumbling from one alley into the next, until finally, she stepped into a clearing in the concrete jungle.
The moon shone down on her, wrapping around her fingers and pouring into her flesh. The distant, silver thing shone, and she took it in her hand.
"Round." She muttered, barely, to herself. It was round. She was remembering. "Oooohhhh...! Round and hard! Like a... Like a...?"
Her face was painted with a lurid grin. She was so close now. So close.
"Young looking? Me?" Sebastian was almost offended, "I'm going to assume that means you're complimenting my skincare routine. Thank you."
Part of him knew that Vissarion wanted a reaction out of him, so Sebastian allowed his emotions to take full rein. In most situations, Sebastian would've brushed off such a comment, but just for Vissarion, he didn't.
"I can't believe you're teasing me," Sebastian matched Vissarion's smile, "Color me surprised. So you do have a sadistic side."
Despite the tense upcoming situation, it was nice that Sebastian and Vissarion could find solace at the bar. He turned around to give a lazy look at the duo of important-looking figures. The look in his eyes wasn't full of the hungry murderous intent that he displayed whenever he caught sight of his prey, but it similarly dehumanizing. His gaze only lingered for a moment before his attention returned to Vissarion.
"I wonder how you deal with those sorts of people without a way to let off some steam," Sebastian commented, "But if you wanted to, I could help get rid of these frustrations, or even introduce you to how you can do it yourself. After all, doing it is quite..."
Sebastian inhaled deeply. What was the word to describe it? It was a maddening sort of exhilaration, a rush that was better than sex. He felt the lingering feelings from the last time he had indulged, and he exhaled slowly to savor those memories. Ah, yes, that was the word. The glint in Sebastian's eyes was markedly dark, and the conspiratorial, toothy smirk on Sebastian's lips was partly blocked by the vermillion glass of his drink.
Of course, Sebastian knew that Vissarion was unlikely to accept Sebastian's offer. The two of them lived in different worlds. Whilst Sebastian would never truly understand the capitalistic urges that Vissarion had, Vissarion would never be able to understand the primal urges Sebastian felt. And that was okay. When the day came that Vissarion wanted someone taken care of, Sebastian would be happy to oblige.
"Anyhow, I don't feel too out of place here, but I think that's thanks to you," Sebastian said. It took only a moment for the sadistic and maniacal tendencies that Sebastian had to get hidden behind a veneer of normalcy. Mirroring Vissarion, Sebastian gave his watch a glance. They had less than five minutes, "What do you think about keeping those scumbags off balance by arriving early?"
The ends of his lips curved slightly as he watched Ruriko's reaction to the pungent taste of the medicinal tea. It was good for the body, but not so much for the tongue. At the very least, it made up for what it lacked in taste with its potency. That quickly became apparent as the haze that clouded Ruriko's mind began to clear.
But it seemed like that was the only thing getting better. The smile on Isaiah's face faded when Ruriko tried to sit up, only for the pain to send her straight back down.
After setting the cup on the nightstand, he placed more pillows behind the wounded Dragon's head, helping her adjust her position without risking another agonizing aftershock. Once she was propped up, he placed a hand to her forehead, his palm still carrying a bit of lingering warmth from the heated porcelain.
"Try not to move too much. The tea should help with the poison, but the rest is going to need some time." Until he could get Ruriko proper medical attention, the best way to recover was to take it easy. Although, with the current state of the city, there was no telling how long they'd have to wait.
"Do you remember what happened now? Do you have any other injuries?" Now that Ruriko's memory was returning, tending to her wounds would be a bit easier.
Despite not having much of an appetite, Ashley managed to down his food without any issue, hardly leaving a crumb on the platter. He didn't kick up a fuss when Hitoshi insisted on paying for the meal either. It was something the older Phoenix had set his mind on, and he didn't want to get in the way of that, especially not now. He'd just make sure to pay him back with something nice in the future.
When the group decided it was time to move on, Ashley followed his flock to their destination. While he didn't know exactly where they were going, he was more than familiar with the area, having combed through every street and turned over every rock during the last few weeks. Not wanting to get sucked back into that during an outing, he let his legs carry him forward as he distracted himself by shooting the shit with the others.
Eventually, he and the others traded in the rough-looking roads for a slightly less rough-looking dojo. While old and empty, it still looked like a great spot for a bit of exercise after a big meal. Everyone else seemed to think so too, eager to grab a weapon and a partner for the time-honored Phoenix tradition of beating the hell out of each other.
Ashley watched Hector's exchange with Hitoshi and Gideon for a bit, giving the trio his attention until he caught Charlie's display from the corner of his eye. Hands in his pockets, he turned to face his friend and the weapon he brandished. A challenge.
Sparring with the other Phoenixes was hardly new for him. Getting into brawls with folks was one of his favorite pastimes, especially with good friends like Blue. It was as natural as breathing. However, at that moment, there was an almost nostalgic feeling. It came coupled with an odd realization, and he took a moment to search for an answer to a question that had never come up before.
When was the last time he enjoyed a fight?
It felt like ages since he was able to just shut off his brain and have fun knocking heads with someone he liked. He'd been in tons of scrapes lately, but none of them were enjoyable. He was always busy worrying about who would be the next to die. Would it be the guy he was fighting, someone he cared about, or himself? How much restraint did he need to show? When did he need to stop holding back? Who would get caught in his path? He'd been dealing with bullshit like that constantly.
Simple pleasures like the rush of adrenaline and the thrill of the challenge seemed somewhat foreign to him now. They'd been lost in a sea of blood. Thoughts like those made his head hurt, and everything with Lyric was only pushing him deeper into it. He would probably go back to normal eventually. Maybe. For now, he just needed something simple and stupid. Something that didn't put a heavy weight on his shoulders.
"I ever been the type to chicken out of anything?" Grinning, Ashley cracked his knuckles and stepped toward the rack. "Same goes for you."
Removing his jacket and necklace, Ashley set the items to the side before grabbing a practice baton. "But lose the jacket first. Don't want it getting scuffed up, yeah?"
As Passeri passed the case over in her hands, and odd sense of nostalgia crept up from it. She might not have been an expert on movies, but for a brief time, Brandy Baker had fancied herself one. The sight of faded paper, enveloped by degraded plastic had once been a familiar one, and it further returned to her memories of that dilapidated old apartment that she and Caio had spent so many afternoons in.
"Sure! I don't think I've seen this one before." A faint glimmer of recognition did chime in the back of her head, though. A few of the names, displayed in white-bold on the case's front were familiar to her, though from where exactly, she couldn't recall. An award ceremony or some talk show, probably.
While Passeri fiddled with the ancient VCR, the shower shut off, and Lisette rejoined the pair. Gaudy make-up washed away, a woman of poise now stood before them, thoroughly unruffled by Dagger's change of clothing, and the crackle of static on the as-of-yet unused TV.
"What's all this?" The older woman arched an eyebrow and peered over Passeri's shoulder. "Hard To Kill? That's a classic, but I never penned you for the type. It's more knives and bullets than it is golden tickets and chocolate."
"Mmm, well. I'm not really planning to see the ending." Passeri's focus stayed trained on the task at hand as she spoke. The VCR slid into the player with an archaic 'clunk', and then the static soon gave way to a credits screen, playing a familiar seasonal carol. "...Or not. I guess the store didn't bother rewinding any of these." She frowned and thumbed down on the rewind button.
"They're secondhand? Didn't think you'd have to pinch pennies like that. New album not sellin' so well? If you're struggling for cash, then I know this lovely little place that's always looking for pretty girls~"
"Hah hah." Passeri laughed dryly. "Actually, I just didn't want to leave any traces. You know, those dingy little thrift stores you find everywhere never keep any-"
"Yeah yeah, Miss Broke Idol. You didn't even stock this up with any booze, either. How am I supposed to relax?" Lisette's nose was now buried deep in the pantry, sifting through bottles of seasonings and cans of food in search of anything palatable.
"With a movie! Right, Dagger?" Finally finished rewinding, the movie sat on a frame of the urban evening, and Passeri immediately hopped to her feet. A plane descended into view as she returned to her place on the couch, and settled back in. "Can one of you guys get the lights? I haven't watched a movie in, like, nine years or something, but I'm pretty sure you're supposed to do it in the dark. Or do you think cinemas just do that for privacy?"
Who knew what people were doing in the darkness in those places? Especially with everyone else staring at the screen.
Past Midnight, October 9, 2021 | Between Arc 2 and Arc 3
Markus' Penthouse, West District
Catch A Tiger By The Tail
Perhaps it was the drink that clouded her judgment. In the ruin that was his palace, still on the brink of collapse, all of her senses screamed at her, that this was possibly the worst place to have this interaction. Hounds could still be lurking in the shadows, still tracking their scent. Not knowing the current score was a terrible habit to start, especially if she was a betting woman.
Yet, she didn't pull away. It wasn't terrible. She had had better, but it wasn't bad. His lips were dry, and she could still sense the alcohol in her own breath. It was wholly unprofessional of her, and wildly unprecedented for him. And yet, as her hand traced itself up across his bare chest, up his neck, and cradled his face within her palm, drawing him closer to her, she was aware that she, herself, was not willing to break the embrace.
There was no fire in her heart. Rather, there was simply just wild heat. Up until now, she had possibly not realised that she had been pent up for so long. This was not love, this was purely just animalistic lust. She moved closer, now atop the very throne of her employer, her hand guiding his face upwards as hers rose slightly above it.
Their lips parted, and, still, her grim expression had not changed.
"Are you sure?" She asked quietly.
Even if it was simply just lust, and nothing deeper than that, it was beyond her simple mind, so obsessed with only the hunt and the kill, even if she had once been held like that, that someone would desire a stray dog from the gutters like her.
Vissa hid his smile with his wine glass, taking a sip before indulging himself further with the conversation. "I'll admit, you do have a good skin care routine. Too bad your skin will never be as glamorous as mine." He considered himself well kempt, though he'd never admit when he thought he was outdone. His cheeks turned a slight tint of red as Sebastian called him out. Being in the Tigers was like dealing with a pack of wolves. He always had to watch his back, there wasn't many times where he had a chance to relax. "It's not like that..." Vissa could only lie through his teeth so much. Sometimes cracks of Vissa's true self would shine through, you just needed to chip at the shell.
To be honest, there wasn't many times where Vissa had a chance to vent his frustrations, in fact, they usually got shoved down so he could deal with them later. "Unfortunately, I don't think my investors would like it if I got my hands dirty. I usually try to drink it away, I've never actually been in a physical confrontation." Getting physical wasn't something that he was fond of. The only time he liked to get physical was in bed.
Vissa smiled as he heard Sebastian was comfortable. He wouldn't be a good acquaintance if he kept those around them on their toes. "I'll never let of friend of mine feel out of place. I know that feeling all too well." He finished the wine in his glass, setting it down on the bar. He heard Sebastian's suggestion, rubbing his chin as he pondered over it. "I don't see any downsides. It's already dirty business, delaying it any longer wouldn't do anything." Vissa made his way over to the pairs table, walking with purpose. He sat across from the businessmen, not saying a word yet. They had a look of discomfort and he was going to make them much more uncomfortable.
"Let's stop with the games shall we. I don't wanna hear of this blackmail talk any longer. You're lucky I didn't have you both dealt with in a less civil manner." He wanted to make it clear that he was not playing any games. While he considered himself a reasonable person, he wasn't afraid to get dirty to remove those that were in his way. He wouldn't have gotten where he was if he didn't do so. Business wasn't pretty, especially business that involved a lot of money. Blood money was an accurate description of the revenue flows within the city. "If you stop the shenanigans now, I'll forget you even started them. I'm not a person to test.. nor is my companion." He learned a lot in this industry and the first thing was to have loyal friends. You wouldn't get far without them.
"Mmm! Aaaa Crr'rrr, 'ooos!" Guinevere shot Tatsuya a thumbs up, and mumbled... something, through the fig and jasmine lolipop resting between her lips. Twinkling unfettered, her eyes were bright even within the gloom of the alleyway, deterred not by the blood trickling down her partner's forehead, nor the dark gleam in his eyes.
Why would she be? It was all so noire. If only it'd been raining. If only this were a dark, misty night. Then this would've all been wonderful and perfect. It was just like the midday sun to spoil a good thing.
"Mm!" She cooed happily and she plucked the fruity treat from her lips. "Did you know that you can find wasps in figs? It's where some of them lay their eggs~ Alva says you should clean yourself up before anything, too." It really didn't mean too much to her. Another charge of misdemeanor on the stack wouldn't matter much to her dazzling senior, she was sure, but then there was her brother and his harping. She could hardly hear a thing! That wouldn't do for a stakeout.
"I'll go get us a seat~" She smiled, returned the lollipop to her lips, and then stepped from the alleyway. Out in the light, with the wind in her hair and, most importantly her troublesome mouth shut. All-in-all, she didn't appear too differently from any other health-food-obsessed hippy, happily shelling out all of her hard-earned drug money on an omega-six rich salmon roll lunch. Or in this case, all of Tatsuya's hard-earned drug money. It would've been a perfect disguise, if it were a disguise at all.
So it wasn't hard for her to blend in. To sink into the crowd of floral shirt-wearing, man-bun sporting college students, and look simply enamored with the window menu. Oh, how her eyes glittered at the sight of Amestrianized maki, and definitely-not-frozen sashimi.
"Mmm..." She hemmed and hawed as she traced her finger across the menu. "Mmmmb' smmthn' wif fuh 'nngs..."
"Oi." A gruff pair of hands gripped down on the steering wheel, steering the vehicle with a practiced grace. "You mind remindin' me why I'm chauffeurin' you around again? 'Ya know, babysitting isn't exactly in my job description."
"It's because I trust you, Prez! You should be happy, you know?" Behind her frowning driver, Passeri lounged, wearing a wide grin. "You know you're the only one I tell about all my little adventures, right? I think it's pretty flattering! Girls aren't supposed to kiss and tell like this, you know?"
"Yeah yeah..." The man waved off her buttery words with a sigh. "And what else? 'I should be proud', too? Because I, 'Do such a good job' that you 'just can't find anyone better'?" He grumbled blithely, and the car turned from the street, onto the winding driveway of Vissarion's estate. He let out a low whistle, admiring the sprawling lawns and glimmering gates. If only, he thought, that his passenger had such classy tastes. It certainly would've been easier to keep the paparazzi off her scent if she didn't insist on living so deep into the city's guts.
"Now this is different. What are you doin', meetin' with a prince? That'd make for a great headline."
"Nobody so annoying, thankfully." Passeri's eyes were still out the window, now focused on the strapping blonde waiting for them. "Maybe we can work on that, though. There's a little part of me that thinks he'd suit a crown."
The look in the silver-haired woman's eyes was inscrutable, but then again, when wasn't it? While the impromptu driver may have fancied himself the foremost expert of how Our Dream's most profitable troublemaker thought, there was still a wall that he had never been able to pierce.
"Right, then! Thanks for the lift!" Passeri chimed, and stepped from the car once it had rolled to a halt. "See you in an hour? I promise I won't be late this time, okay~?"
"Hurry it up." He sighed. An hour or two, it didn't matter. He'd cleared his schedule for three, just in case. "Text me when you're done. Chop chop."
"Hey hey!" The car pulled out of the driveway as Passeri approached. "Thanks for having me! You know, I do a lot of meet and greets like this, but I don't see as many estates as you'd think. It's all restaurants and penthouses. It's nice to get out for a change."
She greeted the gold mogul with a curtsy, and a smile. She hadn't seen the man since the night of her charity ball, and even then, she'd not had the chance to give a proper goodbye amongst the chaos that had taken the later after of the evening. Briefly, she considered an apology. It'd been her night to host, and yet she'd let things go so awry. It was almost as embarrassing as it was frustrating. But she thought better of it.
Despite the smiles, while he was doing quite well, she hadn't quite warmed up to the man. Thanks to Markus and Takakazu's little series of stunts, she'd never had the chance to fully get a read on him. That was why she was here today. The judgment that had begun those few nights ago was set to finish. For her own sake, she hoped that it went well for him.
"So, what's on the bill? Tea and crumpets?" Her eyes glode over the rolling grass of Vissarion's estate. Maybe they'd play croquet, too. In sweater vests. "If you don't mind, I'd like to speak somewhere private. Loving the fresh air, but... You never know where there are ears, right? Wouldn't want any goss leaking! You might not know it yourself, but the paparazzi around these parts are ruthless."
"Only if I can call you Craig!" If Passeri shared Kiwi's sentiment towards her uncle, she did not show it. The cunning in the man's smile was matched in her eyes, in which a shrewd light glittered. "I've never believed in that 'fashionably late' thing, you know? I'm sure you've figured it out- In showbiz, it's all about being a trendsetter. You've gotta be bright and early, the first on the scene! Or else you're just gonna spend your life chasing around other peoples' tails."
A veil of silver hair trail behind the woman as she stepped through the door, and made a show of admiring the talk-show host's mansion. An air of fascination followed her. Oh, how these ill-gotten gains glimmered.
"Well, that, and my last appointment canceled on me. Apparently, he forgot about his homework. Child actors, am I right? I'd spent all day rehearsing my lines for this commercial, and then I find out the guy got grounded! Here I thought that showbiz babies were supposed to be spoiled." Of course, there was no prior appointment, nor any calculus-stricken teen heartthrob. Thankfully. The last one she'd worked with could not catch a hint.
"Did you do the decorating in here yourself, or do you have a guy for it?" Not that she cared. This was all terribly not to her tastes. "It's pretty chic! Must be a pain to keep clean, though."
She took a moment more to gawk. To really get a good look at the luxurious furnishings, and sprawling architecture, and more importantly, to give her green-haired boss for the day as thorough an inspection of the building's interior as she could.
"What do you have in mind for snacks, anyway? I've been starving all day because of that mess with the shoot. I was supposed to catch my snacks in between takes, but, like, that obviously didn't pan out." She sighed. Languidly. "I was in the car when the call came in, so it was right into the nearest roundabout, and then straight into traffic. Honestly, I'm surprised that I even made it here so early. It's a good thing that my driver-" Briefly, she could feel the middle finger that her company-president turned chauffer was flashing her. "-is as good as he is. Best in the business!"
Even if it wasn't even his business. The President of a media empire? What a waste! She'd make a taxi driver of him yet.
Passeri had long since relinquished herself to the fact that she just didn't get some of her fans. Posters, she could understand. Concert tees and limited editions of albums? Those were a blast, too. But cereal? Cereal with a pop star's face on it? Not to mention all of the basketball players and WhoTubers she shared the aisle with. The art was tacky and the cardboard was cheap. She couldn't even fathom how hard these things were to preserve.
"Thanks for coming!" She chimed listlessly as she jotted down another set of glittery swirls, which only vaguely resembled her stage name. Maybe it wasn't the cereal that was bothering her. Maybe, instead, it was all this. Sitting behind another plastic desk, with a plastic smile, handing out plastic pleasantries.
It was all a part of the job, yes, but boy, even after all these years it still felt a little dirty.
The upside, though, was that she barely even had to think about it anymore. The words she needed poured from her lips like steel into a mold, and it was like she wasn't even the one moving her hand for her signature, at this point. So, here she was, left with all of this time to ponder. To ponder such trivial things as the karmic implications of maybe, this time, not paying proper attention to another iteration of 'I'm your biggest fan!', followed by that sad little box being thrust into her face.
She'd tried at first. Really, she had, but there was only some many variations of the same conversation she could go through before she started to go mad. At least the fans who attended her handshake events were colorful. You had to be at least a little off-kilter to be willing to pay that much to shake a celebrity's hand. But with this whole cereal scheme, anybody with five bucks and fifty minutes could show up for their moment in the sun.
The kids were cute, at least. Whenever one of them stammered at her about how much they looked up to her, she felt her dwindling energy reserves rejuvenate at little. But, somehow, they only account for a tiny fraction of her market today. It was all squealing college and sweaty stans. She appreciated them too, really, she did, but would it hurt them to have a little more-
She heard a tiny 'mew' at the table's foot.
"Oh." She blinked, and then careened over the table to inspect the armoured... Creature which had crept its way to the front of the line. "Hi? There?" Her tone was quizzical, the surprise on her face hidden from onlookers by a curtain of silver hair.
It was the product of a Potential. That was what she was looking at. It was obvious. So obvious that the little thing had managed to saunter its way all around the grocery store without a worry in the world. Still, wasn't it weird that it was here? In her line? Patiently waiting for a signed box of Petal Pieces Limited Edition Rereleased Signed By Passeri Park for only $4.99?
She blinked again. That was definitely weird.
"S-sorry!" It was rare for her to be lost for words like this. Maybe it was because she'd been in since a trance just a moment before, that this whiplash was affecting her so thoroughly. "Thanks for coming...! Sir? Sorry for staring! You're just very..." She sifted through her vocabulary carefully. Tiny cat-man or not, it never did to offend a fan.
"...Striking!" That would do. It did a great job omitting the fact that she couldn't decide whether to laugh, or scoop the tiny creature up and make him into a gang mascot.
Hector, Hitoshi, Ashley, Charlie, Gideon and Kaede
Gideon tried to seem impassive in the face of Hitoshi's hesitance. It got even harder to keep a straight face when Hector approached him. He was also practically quaking in his boots-- or rather, quaking in his cast. His legs almost willed themselves to bolt despite being broken. Was Hector going to shove over his wheelchair?
Gideon was not quite right with that idea, but he wasn't far off either. He slung a string of cusses as his wheelchair spun out of control from Hector's kick, and his hand wildly yanked the joystick back, forth, and all around in a desperate attempt to regain control. Finally, he stabilized himself, and spun the wheelchair around so that he was facing Hector once again.
"Chill, Hector, it was a joke," Gideon said, returning the gun to the wheelchair's holster, "Of course I know I'm in no shape to do anything."
The gun was primarily used to dissuade any NPs from thinking that they could bully the wheelbound villain. After all, guns barely did anything against an HP. And Gideon knew that. He had no chance of hurting Hector in the slightest. He wheeled himself backward a little to make sure the nervous Hitoshi didn't think that he was actually going to fight Hector with a gun.
Instead, Gideon regaled himself to sitting on the sidelines, his head propped up lazily against his arm which rested on the armchair. Perhaps he'd be able to glean a bit of insight into how to spar with someone based on how the four boys fought.
Unfortunately for Keith, Peyton wasn't about to let the Dragon go. He wasn't going to leave him alone. Peyton had gotten to know this guy so well, he even made tentative plans with the cherry haired boy. If they couldn't be friends, that was okay.
"If you don't wanna be friends, we can be enemies!" Peyton declared, "You can still come by the library. There's plenty of Serpents to kill there, and afterwards, you can even fight me! Doesn't that sound fun?"
It seemed that this budding friendship was going to end up like the vast majority of Peyton's relationships. Into the gutter. After absconding from the Dragons, many of his former coworkers became enemies with only a pocket of exception. The same was true of the Serpents. Many of them still wanted to get back at Peyton for leaving eight years ago. And that was okay.
He didn't mind their hate, in fact, he fed off of it. Nom! Nom! It was quite satiating. The roar of their words made Peyton's pace quicken, a small dose of adrenaline pumped through his veins. It was euphoric. Maybe he was some sort of adrenaline junkie.
It seemed that Keith was also going to fall into the same group of people. But unlike the others, his hatred didn't seem like it stemmed from gang responsibilities. In fact, Peyton doubted that Keith was a part of a gang. His hatred was more primal. More emotional. Like a steaming kettle with its lid about to blow.
"Why do you all of a sudden hate me just cause I'm a snake?" Peyton asked. He stepped forward so that he was side by side with Keith, "Is it cause you're in the Dragons? Cause if you aren't, you should join! They really don't like the Serpents!"
The innocent, joyous, shit-eating smile remained on Peyton's face as he stared up at Keith and drank in his expression. He knew he was really pushing it by continuing to agitate Keith. But he wanted to grow closer to Keith. If not as friends, then so be it. As enemies. And he wanted to hear the extent of the verbal abuse that he could hurl now that he was free from his shyness.
Gideon and Jozef's Dorm Room, New Oasis Central University
January 11th, 2022 | Post Arc 2
The Trials of Belial
And with that, Bechamel finally released Jozef from his grasp. He caught his roommate in his embrace, squeezing him back. This felt nice, interacting with a possessed Jozef was unfamiliar and tiresome.
"Sounds like sleep paralysis," Gideon commented. He personally hadn't experienced it, but what Jozef was describing sounded quite like the mind trapping, body numbing experience others had told him. Gideon felt kind of guilty subjecting Jozef to such an experience. But based on how Jozef didn't seem to be too traumatized, it seemed that all's well that ends well. "I'm glad you can stay yourself. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Gideon frowned. He wasn't sure if there was any documentation about what it was like to have a demon residing within someone's body. Perhaps he would need to research more about that stuff. But not now. Now was time to celebrate. Finally, after years of yearning for it, Gideon finally acquired the power to take over New Oasis! He wasn't sure when it would manifest or how it would manifest though, and only time would tell.
"Yes, cake sounds delicious," Gideon said. He looked at the ground in distaste. The cranberry sauce, chocolate wrappers, and chalk had all made a mess. "I happen to have a good box mix of fudge cake if you're up for it."
It all seemed strangely mundane-- Gideon was now poised to be overlord of New Oasis, and Jozef was possessed. Yet they still had to clean up their dorm, and they could savor a cake. Gideon didn't mind it.
Gideon had no idea just how much Jozef was pranking him. It would only be after Jozef's death at the hands of the Dragons that Gideon would know that this was all just a farce.
It was swift and vicious. A phantasmal maw bore down on the Webber heiress, tearing through the delicate threadwork of her reinforced suit like a knife through butter. She snarled, just as low and animalistic as the ghostly thing assaulting her as she tumbled back under its weight.
And then her finger squeezed.
A sharp, vicious shot, just barely, glanced past Passeri's head, and ricocheted harshly through the tiny space. A veil of fresh blood ebbed down from her forehead, and for a moment, her breath stilled, but her heart continued to beat. She blinked, surprised, but was only able to think for a moment before another scream of white-hot pain shot up from her leg.
As Dagger collided with her captor, the three women crumbled into a pile of struggling limbs. Jennifer's gun had tumbled from her hand, but even occupied with Akela, her grip remained tight, firmly clasping down on her last and only bargaining chip.
Passeri found it difficult to think. To breathe through the pain and process this brutish struggle in the dust. As much as she played at being a gangster, this was a part of the role that she was woefully unprepared for. As much as she might've tried to ready herself all those years ago. As much as her youth spent in the North may have taught her about the ugliness of the world. As much as her current helplessness made her blood boil, this sort of primal violence was alien to her.
Flesh and bone churned against one another, flashing hot and red with each desperate kick she made at Jennifer. A bead of sweat, thick with desperation, mingled with the blood seeping from her forehead. She felt Dagger's grip, cold against the searing pain, prying her away from her captor's grasp. It was enough, just barely, to bring her back. Firmly, she pressed her foot against Jennifer's gut, and then they separated in a flash of violent, violet light.
If the pain had been bad before, now it was unspeakable. The room's sparse furnishings clattered loudly as she flew into Dagger's grasp, and then flung the both of them clear across the subterranean lounge, but she hardly heard a peep of it. A red mess now dangled at the bottom of her leg, painting a crimson trail that led from Jacob's impromptu cell, to the room's entrance.
She screamed, raw and hoarse, as she and Dagger slammed into the wall. Her consciousness swum, and she flirted briefly with the idea of just letting herself slip away, but her resolve remained firm. Her breath heaved, and her own blood pooled around her, but slowly, her senses steadied, and her wits returned to her.
"A little..." She spoke between long, heavy breaths. "Help here...?" She waved over Ezra, her face twisted into a deep, labored grimace.
"And don't... Get carried away..." She strained out a few, bitter words at the Webber patriarch. His daughter had joined him on the ground now, brought low by a combination of Passeri's explosion, and Akela's vicious maw.
"Unless you want me to put her in the dirt... You are going to tell me... Everything about your... Little club..." One of Passeri's constructs, a long, thin needle, suddenly blinked to life and settled next to the younger Webber's head. "Now. Start talking."
She still remembered the girl who couldn't keep eye contact with anyone in the squad. She remembered the girl who vanished into the shadows after she had picked up her gruel of the day, banishing herself to some corner where no one could find her, with the exception of, perhaps, her father. She remembered the eyes that stared off into the distance, looking straight through anyone in front of her. She remembered the same eyes coming to life as hailstorms of bullets thundered against a wall between them and certain death. She remembered running her fingers through her unkempt hair, surprised at how soft it was. She remembered the caress of her lips, and how her remaining eye, at last, found some light in it, as they embraced for the first time. She remembered the first time she laughed with her.
She also remembered the light darken, replaced by immutable fury and hate. She remembered her figure, her hair wildly billowing, and her fatigues, torn and ragged, like a revenant amongst the flames. She remembered the anguished howl that heralded the birth of the White Wolf. She remembered the bodies that she had found, ravaged and torn apart as if beset by a wild beast, and wondered how any human could have executed such levels of violence.
Creature comforts had reined in the wolf, the love and kind words had tamed it, and, for a moment, it had forgotten about the wild. Once those things had been taken away from it, however, a wolf would naturally return to its instincts, and one who had formed a bond with its caretakers would use just that to exact its vengeance. She knew, after seeing Elise at work for the first time, that she was born for war and battle, but thay idea was only driven in when she witnessed firsthand just how much the Olive Tree had been the chains that held the wolf back.
She wondered if her new employers had put a new chain and collar on her. That young woman with her- whatever her name was, Elise seemed rather protective of her. Even if she had only growled and snarled, her body language said it all. She had only seen her act that way in her own company. A tinge of envy rose within her, but quickly subsided when she remembered the worry and panic present in Elise's face when she made her entrance, not because she had been found, but because she was in New Oasis. Elise never had been one to express her feelings, but the minute changes in her expression betrayed them anyway. Pride began to bubble up in the remnants of her envy. She doubted any of Elise's new associates had ever seen the corners of her lips rise ever so slightly, exposing the one genuine smile she had. She had seen it a lot more times than them. She doubted any of them had heard her actually laugh, one that wasn't a sarcastic growling sound, or a derisive snort.
But, both of them had moved on. At the very least, one of them had. After tonight, it would have to be both of them.
"Mercs have moved in, ma'am."
Whether it had been her distracted about her thoughts of a partner from years past, or that Squeak had always had a talent for involuntarily sneaking up on people, she nearly jumped out of her skin when his voice spoke up from behind her. She managed to compose herself before the rest caught her, and, to his credit, Squeak was as quiet as his namesake when it came to things that didn’t relate to his current job.
"About goddamn time." She chucked the empty bag that once held an assortment of gummy bears across the desk.
She slammed her fist on the wall beside her, startling one of her dozing Rodents next to her, sending him scrambling for his gear. "Alright, rats, wake those damn asses up, we're moving in in 20 minutes, and we're evicting the current tenants of the top floor suite of Actaeon's Rest! Now, before any of you go nibbling on any of our friends up there, we will give them a chance to politely take their leave, and if they refuse, then, and only then, you're allowed to tear them to their bones, is that understood?"
"Sir, yes, sir!"
"Good! Now get that gear on! You've got one minute! Scab, you forget your goddamn mag one more time, I'll string you up on the flagpole at midday! I don't want to come back to this stinking shithole just for a lost-and-found! Gnawer, if we get back, and I find out that he's lost something again, it's on your ass as well!"
Squad leader. She wondered if Elise would have been under her command if things didn't happen the way it did. Maybe she'd have been assigned to another squad, or even given command of her own one. She almost laughed at the thought. She wasn't the type to lead. She was more of a 'do everything by herself' kind of person.
Even now, all those people with her up there- they were simply dressing for the real show. She didn't need any of them.
A knife zipped past him, scratching his cheek and drawing blood, sending him ducking back under his cover.
“Watch out, Saito! Looks like you’ve got a fan!” Kravinski was laughing as another knife whistled past his own head. That damn idiot was laughing at his misfortune! This wasn’t just bothersome, this was just aggravating. As if his japes and jabs weren’t enough, the man decided to abandon him to his own fate, leaping over the table behind them and darting away into the back of the penthouse. Gods damn this woman! He couldn’t get a clear line of sight to use his own Potential. He hazarded another peek out from his hiding space.
Tang was still doing her dance, weaving through the bullets and skilfully parrying them with her bare hands. It seemed as if the target had managed to wrest a gun from one of the mercenaries, and, true to her reputation, was handling her opponents well. Firing at Tang just to keep her occupied once every few seconds was enough to stall her while she continued to down more of their meatshields.
Wait. Where were the knives? Did their controller finally give up the ghost?
He had only just finished that thought, before sharp pain lanced through his arm. He stifled a cry, and rolled out of the way, just before two more knives slammed into the chair, where his head had been just a second ago. Another knife sliced through his left thigh, and it was all he could do to clamber over the table that Kravinski had conveniently left toppled over in his escape, but not before catching another knife straight into the lower half of his back. He tumbled onto the floor, hissing like a leaking balloon. Fuck New Oasis. Fuck these goddamn Oners. It was easier to do things when it wasn’t against people with Potentials.
Four knives whistled around his cover, spun around, and aimed straight at him.
“How bothersome,” he muttered, and closed his eyes, prepared for the end.
It didn’t come. Instead, the sick, lurching feeling enveloped his entire body again. He opened one eye, and found himself cradled in Kravinski’s arms, holding him as if he were but a babe. He gave the bespectacled man a wink, and a shit-eating grin.
It was the worst day of his life.
The Cordesco woman was innovative, to be sure. A home-made magnesium flash grenade? The White Wolf swept in front of Park, placing herself between the oncoming flash, and shielded her own eye just before it went off, scattering blinding white particles in the area. She tossed her now-empty rifle aside, and swung her knife across, burying its blade in a nearby mercenary’s neck, changed her grip, and brought his now-limp body towards herself, wresting his rifle from his hand and fired at the new arrival.
The red-and-black woman snarled, her initial target lost. She stumbled in the blazing fire that Dagger’s gun spat at her, and started towards her, but only came to two steps before another bullet struck her back, knocking her balance off, and sending her pitching face forwards into the ground. Dagger glanced at the direction where the round had come from. The lift, huh? Guess Cordesco would be meeting her first. She dropped the body, and patted Park on the back, indicating that she was moving away from her, before she lunged forwards at the downed woman. The crimson eyes snapped open, and her shotgun went up. Too slow. Dagger batted the shotgun aside, and the shot went wide, taking a chunk of the upholstery out with it. Dagger grabbed the woman's arm, and slammed it against the floor, forcing the gun out of her hand, and spun around her, attempting to press her arm into her back and pin her to the ground. With a shrill shriek, the woman stood up against her weight, throwing her off. Her knife and the woman's second shotgun clattered across the floor. Dagger lunged for her weapon, but this time, she was the slower of the two, and the woman collided into her, bringing both of their bodies to the floor in a wild scuffle where both black and white blended together in a flurry of wild punches, kicks, and bites.
She was finally free of distractions. She didn't know where Saito and Kravinski went off to, but she would put good money that they would be safe, especially if it was Kravinski. From the short five minutes that she had spent with him, she could tell that the man had a talent for getting into and escaping danger. She, herself, only had the talent for the former. With Cutter now pre-disposed of with Val, she can finally move in on the fight. She peered over the railings. There, at the corner, a rat was skittering across the floor, away from Val's hideous presence. She took a step back, and took a running start forwards, leaping atop the parapet and, using it as a springboard, flung herself off the second floor. She landed ahead of the crawling rat, her robes clearing some of the obscuring smoke as she landed. Time for some pest control. Every one downed made it easier for them to control the fight. Best to take out their weakest link first. The eye within her palm glowed, and she thrust her hand forwards, straight at Lily. The air itself exploded, sending a ball of flame at the young lady.
Amidst the dying chaos, the lift finally decided it was time to leave. The doors slid shut, closing off Corvo Cordesco's sightline, and with a rumble, as if it were reluctant to move, it began to descend, carrying with it the redheaded woman.
Downstairs, in the lobby of Actaeon’s Rest, among the bodies of the mercenaries who had refused to take their deal, Simone Justicar was furiously punching the call button for the lift. “C’mon, hurry up!” she gave it one more punch, before she kicked the door, to no effect. Squeak lingered behind her, looking blankly at the LED indicator slowly and gently tick down, almost as if he were judging her. The rest of the Rodents decided not to observe their squad leader take her frustration out on the lift, though she swore that she heard Fink exhale through her nose. Trust Elise to choose the top floor for this. Always liked presentations, that one.
A sour, metallic note rang in Deirest's ears. It made her brain shake. His blood was on her nails. He'd fallen. He was writhing, biting, and struggling. That was wrong. His blood was on her nails, so why was he not dead?
Dead. As her blood pooled into Peyton's mouth, that word trembled within the depths of her mind. Dead. That was what she was. What she had been.
Peyton's teeth tore are her flesh, pulling away a mouthful of stringy flesh. She felt him kick at her. She felt her blood surge, pooling under her skin into what would be a series of fat, purple bruises. She felt it all, and yet she did not flinch. Her eyes were wide and wild, filled with animalistic hate. She had been dead. For so long, she had been dead, and now, he was trying to put her back. Into the dark. Into the cold.
"Yooouuuu..." Deirest's voice gurgled, filled to the brim with blood and bile. "YOOUUUU. WHY. DO. YOU." She punctuated her words with fat, clumsy swings. Blind trashing to peel away the vicious little thing off of her. A punch, a kick, a knee, a sharp tug at his hair. Her body was autonomous, moving with a mind of its own. She had as much control over it as a deer did the instinct to stare into a set of headlights and freeze.
"HATE." Her body tensed with all its might, hoisting both her and Peyton off of the ground. Palms slick with blood and sweat grasped at his hoodie, and then heaved. Her flesh tore away in his teeth in a messy chunk, and then she heaved again. Up. Up. Up and over. She sought to toss him clean over her head.
"ME!?" She flung his body away from hers. Her lungs fought for air, struggling through bruises and internal bleeding to keep the manic woman standing. Everything was telling her to run. Every shred of humanity and animal instinct warned her that the next injury would be her last. She'd go back to the dirt.
A sloppy smile formed on her lips.
"You'reeee... not like those other ones." He wasn't breaking. Why wasn't he breaking? Splat. Shred. Butcher. Gore. Her body was screaming it all, and yet, he was still there. Why was he still there? Maybe he could tell her. Maybe he could help. "I... Need help. Nobody's doing it. You. Tell me. What am I..."
Her voice tumbled off into murmurs. She was stalking toward him again. Her mouth wanted to speak, but her body wanted to kill. Now, again, it was the time to kill.
“Mm…okay – I’m okay…” she breathed out in pain though the statement was more directed towards herself than to Isaiah. Her hand weakly slid over her abdomen, probing the tender area to gauge how fucked she was currently. Ruriko winced at the weight of her own hand and let out a sigh of defeat as Isaiah helped prop her up with extra pillows.
Anticipating additional pain caused by physical touch, she flinched slightly as Isaiah brought his hand up to her forehead. However, her headache was momentarily soothed by his unusually warm palm; a quick glance at the teacup he had set on the nightstand answered her suspicion. Her eyes lingered on the medicinal concoction for another brief moment before shifting to meet Isaiah’s eyes. She blinked slowly as she stared at him, wondering why her pain didn’t seem as bad as it was seconds ago. Perhaps she was growing delusional but she chalked it up to becoming aware of Isaiah’s presence. A sense of relief? Safety? She wasn’t sure of the psychology behind it.
“We…raided a Serpent lab…” she sighed tiredly, trying to recall the events that had happened leading up to now. “...it was a fucking shitshow from the start.” Ruriko gritted her teeth as she averted her gaze. Given her early years, and the emotional and mental abuse that followed not meeting expectations, admitting failure wasn’t something that came easy to her. “Jiak fucked off and did his own thing…fucking semi-trucks somehow came to life…and then Silva went ahead and ran inside on his own.” The mission was completely chaotic from start to finish, at least, the parts she was conscious of were chaotic.
“I couldn’t just let Silva dive in by himself so I chased after him…then it was…four? Five on two?” Ruriko frowned, trying to remember how many Serpents they encountered. “Some Serpent with snakes for hair got too close and bit me…then…” Then what? The memory of the rest of their encounter was a blur. “Kicked…thrown…Silva got me out…shot out the sky…then here…?”
“If I just paid closer attention, it wouldn't have gone south. I could have done better...” Her hands balled into fists in frustration. She breathed softly to get her emotions under control before looking back at Isaiah. “What about the negotiations? Seeing you in good shape, it must have gone well?”
Passeri felt the crowd. The electric weight of her Potential, bristling in her chest. The Captain and his gaggle of goons were resourceful, to have thought to utilize an existing event like this. They had her respect! But, unfortunately, she was supposed to be conspiring against them.
"Gotcha, boss!" She gave the Captain a small salute, and then sauntered before them. In the distance, a few stray murmurs ran through the crowd. That veil of silver hair. The faint glimmer of pink that sparked between her fingertips as she summoned a prop of a microphone. It couldn't be, could it?
"Hey hey hey, New Oasis!" Passeri spoke into her 'microphone' with a flourish, and summoned a platform so that she could observe the show. "Today I'm joining you with one of my lovely fan communities for a once-in-a-lifetime event! Today, one of them will be putting his very dignity to the test! It's a test of honor, wits, and courage! That's right, folks, you're hearing me right! Today you'll bear witness to..."
"The Idol-!" Her platform jerked higher with each syllable, bringing her into stark view of whatever store-goers were not so fixated on their plastic prize as to miss it. "Fanclub-!" And then started the pointing. The shouting. The- 'Is it-!?'isms, and subsequent spread of jubilation throughout the crowd.
"TRAILSSSS!!!" Her presentation ended with an exaggerated flourish, and a rippling of the storefront crowd. Not for her on-the-fly babble of a speech, no, but for the genuine edition of that sixteen-to-one scale figurine herself.
"On your marks! Get set! And..." Now, the crowd started to peel away, leaving only the proxy shoppers and most iron-willed of her fans remaining. The rest made for her in an excited stream of bodies, pooling below where she stood.
"GOOOOO!" She yelled, and shot Tak a wink. This one was on the house, it said. A fetter of her fancies. She couldn't very well allow so many of her fans to be sitting around all ripe and sour like they had been, could she? The least she could do was make an appearance.
"Hey everyone!" She spoke from on-high, just barely out of reach of her appropriated crowd. "I heard through the grapevine that there was a bit of a mix around over here, so I thought I'd pop by and see how everyone is doing! I'm a bit pressed for time for too long, but, lookie here-!" She produced a purple glitter pen from the depths of her pockets, and jiggled it merrily. "If you guy'sve got anything you'd like signed, line on up! One each! And make sure to treasure it!"
Her platform descended and found itself repurposed as a table. A sweater fell upon it first, paired with some babble about how lucky the owner was that they didn't decide to order online. Passeri answered with a smile, and some mild pleasantries. She counted fourteen people in line. Fourteen people that, if Scruffy wasn't quick, would be elbowing past him in a few minutes.
It was a harsh truth that Zane spouted, but true nonetheless. Hector knew he’d never get everyone’s support, but he knew there were more than enough opponents within his ranks— ones he knew and took care of, and many still in hiding — for his liking. He still suspected the man in front of him was among them, but sat unwavering as Zane came close.
“Your offer’s a generous one.” He spoke dryly after a moment of consideration. “What do you want out of it?” If Zane had a heart behind all that pomp and ego, it most certainly wouldn’t be offering charity to poor old Hector Moses, and Hector would be offended if it did. “Money? Or more?” Money satiated most Phoenixes, but Zane wasn’t most Phoenixes. Hector didn’t know what else he could reasonably offer though. A place at the table? If Zane knew so many out to get him, he wasn’t willing to give an inch of power. Just reassociating with the gang in any capacity would give him more influence than Hector was comfortable with, but then, here he was still hearing the guy out.
“I’d rather we iron out all our wants now. I’m sure you’ll agree.”
They never took the right choice. That was fine by him. These shoes weren’t made for fisticuffs, but he could work with them. He rolled his shoulders back, and took on a boxer’s stance, fists raised in a guard, and he began to move. Let them come closer, let them have that one single iota of hope in their eyes, let them think they had the upper hand.
Right jab from the man. Deflect with left arm, return with a blow to the gut. It was instinctual, really. Instinct, however, failed in moving against the knife-wielding woman, and he only just managed to step back to avoid taking the brunt of the blow. His sweater and skin opened up where the knife had traced past it, drawing blood from his right forearm. He was glad for the black sweater that Eric had gifted him for his birthday- the blood seeped into it invisibly. It wasn’t polite to bleed in front of a lady, after all. He’d have to get this laundered and patched up.
No matter. It had been a dull day after all. A little bit of pain never hurt anyone. He readied himself into another stance, and thumbed his nose, his lips curling into a smirk. His fists unclenched themselves, now taking on an open grip posture. He motioned towards himself. “C’mon. I don’t got all night.”
Quiet. This time, only silence responded to Hiachi's call. The glumness of the empty penthouse was like a wet blanket, smothering her words. There was a rustle, somewhere deeper into sad, dreary darkness, and then more stillness.
"Mrgh...? Who...?" A cold pit twisted in Passeri's gut. It'd been going so well. They were almost done.
There was a quick rustle, and a plastic jangle of clothes hangers as she, almost on instinct, shoved herself into the nearest closet. No more than a meter away, a head of blonde hair stirred. Red, bleary eyes blinked away the crust of a deep torpor, and the bed creaked as the man hauled himself to his feet.
"Could've sworn I..." He grumbled, his voice still hoarse from a long night of debauchery. Through the closet door, Passeri could only guess at his movements, articulated by shifts in the light. She held her breath, and cursed herself. This was why she had people. People like Dagger, Ji-Young, and Wren. People who were familiar with this sort of thing. What had she been thinking, going about this herself? Not only that, but now she'd put Kenki's sister in harm's way, too. Damn it all.
She needed to clean this up herself.
A light snapped on. That was good. Hiachi seemed smart. She could catch onto what that meant. Then, a door creaked. Big, clumsy footsteps padded from the room. A moment passed, and then a moment more. Passeri strained her ears, scanning for any sign of movement she could catch, and when she found none, he fingers tentatively wrapped around the door.
Delicately, she stepped into the light, her eyes fixed on the ajar bedroom door.
"Guess I ain't that drunk." The man slurred, and then before Passeri could react, charged.
Splinters of cheap plywood fluttered through the hall, mingling with drywall dust as the man's tackle took Passeri straight through the wall. Surprise took him, and Passeri fell away from him as his mouth fell agape.
"Aw, shit! I thought this place was supposed to be premium!" There was genuine panic in his eyes. Not because of the masked intruder, but instead because of the gaping hole he'd just left in the wall. Passeri took the moment to recover herself. She'd managed to form a barrier to take the brunt of his tackle, but he was still right to be surprised. She should've been far more roughed up than this.
"Fuckin' plywood in a five-grand-a-night pad like this!? Shiiiittttt, man! I already thought that the room service was gonna be bad..." He sighed, and resigned himself to his fate. "Fuckin' whatever, man. Gonna be slingin' bills after this, anyway."
He looked smug as he returned his attention to Passeri, oblivious to his intruder's true identity.
"Anyway, what are you, some fuckin' mole? Here to steal my scoop? Nah, man. This is gonna make me a made man." His fists lowered into a boxer's stance, and her lurched over Passeri, dwarfing her by well over a foot. "So how about you just scoot off, eh? I'm in a good mood. Riding the line. I'm perfectly happy to let bygones keep bein' bygones, dig?"
If Passeri could've told him to shut up without blowing her cover, she would've. Instead, she shifted her stance to match his. A bluff, but a bluff that she could quickly tell worked.
"Oh, fine then." He made a show of resignation, but it was a poor one. A wide smile was plastered to his face. His pupils were like black voids. He was riding more than one kind line, and he was having the time of his life. Passeri sidled through the hall, and the man mirrored her movements. Who would make the first move? That was the thought that was running through his head, but not hers. His body twisted, and his back turned. Towards the bathroom, where she'd heard Hiachi's voice.
She seemed smart. She could catch onto what she was aiming for.