Kyouka expressed delight after Jiayi agreed to the terms, enabling the vanquisher to trigger the talisman between her fingertips. Flames quickly burned the piece of enchanted paper as its rune symbols appeared on the back of Kyouka’s right hand, as the same occurred to Jiayi. A slight sting was all it took for the rune symbol to be activated, giving the duo the green light to begin their confined conversation.
As requested by the other party, Kyouka was the first to ask the question. She cleared her throat and began her intended segment, “Ahem. Having noted the time limit, I shall do us the favor of skipping to the main course.” Kyouka took a sip from the mediocre tea, slightly off the mood due to the poor texture. Nevertheless, she continued shortly afterward, “Your refined Exousiarch. Naturally, it is uncommon for one to have its potential unlocked. May I ask how you were able to unravel the dormant ability hidden within your blood? For simpler terms, I wish to know what methods you used to develop it. Surely, the Symbols didn’t offer a hand to keep you working for the Directorate.”
Kyouka's aim in the short 15 minutes was simple: to validate her suspicions about the Zhenra girl and use them to her advantage against the Sishens operating on Sector Twelve. For what reason she was so obsessed with the Sishens would be unknown to the de Jager brothers, but that was a gamble that she was willing to play. After all, the Sishens were merely a step to her final mission.
A small twinge of pain, fascinating, enough to provide some semblance of a confirmation that the words that she had spoken were indeed true, while not being enough of a pain to warrant anything other than the silent acknowledgment she had given it. She was left looking forward at Kyouka, waiting for her to begin their conversation, where she'd take note of the somewhat eager hurrying along she gave the conversation, not that Jiayi particularly minded.
“Your refined Exousiarch. Naturally, it is uncommon for one to have its potential unlocked. May I ask how you were able to unravel the dormant ability hidden within your blood? For simpler terms, I wish to know what methods you used to develop it. Surely, the Symbols didn’t offer a hand to keep you working for the Directorate.”
Ah, a question that quite potently cut to the heart of the issue - the thing that had identified her so surely as someone of note to Kyouka - her Exousiarch, and Incarce. Jiayi would glance towards the door and then the window, considering that someone might be listening on them, it would be difficult for any of those who weren't aware of her in some form or another to do so, though, so, she'd just take a deep breath and then speak.
"My Exousiarch wasn't unlocked by any of the symbols, yes, it was... Forcefully awakened through a method that I believe most would consider, what would you say... Repugnant? Likely the source of my evidently foul-smelling incarce, the operation we shall be disassembling within the near future is innately tied to said method, though, I'm not entirely aware of all of the specifics of it, just what I received during the process."
She'd then pause for a moment, wetting her throat with more low-quality tea as she raised an eyebrow and looked at Kyouka, speaking once more.
"I do suppose it is my turn to... Ask a question. You seemed to be rather interested when you determined that I, and several of my comrades hail from Zhenra, why is that? What is your interest in the place, or, well, perhaps a better way of saying that would be... Do you have a reason for distrusting that place and its denizens, beyond the mundane considerations we're both aware of?"
She'd then place her tea on the table, awaiting the response from Kyouka.
A vague answer that purposefully avoided details for the sake of keeping it a secret. How crafty, Kyouka would think, before scoffing under her breath. "Very well, that'll do," Kyouka responded after the mention that it was indeed Qinglong's turn for this round. She listened with her eyes closed and the cup of tea on her lips, intermittently taking a sip after every couple of seconds, until the end of her question.
Like a natural, Kyouka answered her questions without thinking too heavily about her choice of words. "Those born from the world of inequality will forever make their adversity known. It is what builds their character and makes every and each of them so precarious. Have you ever visited the lowest-rated institution of Iliosie, Agent Qinglong? Compared to it, the common Zhenra institutions would only dream to have their qualities. Even the most ambitious and kind-hearted fools fall to their greed eventually when someone is exposed to the corruption that is the Zhenran system. I do not distrust the people who hail from that region. I distrust the corrupt system that molds its subjects into a monster of greed. Above all, it holds responsible for lowering the reputation of the Empyrian beauty."
She sighs after a short pause, "Do not mistake me for a patriot. I am well aware of the evils that lurk outside of that province, even in the immaculate Caliburn Vitos. Anywho, I believe that will suffice as an answer. If you wished for a more direct and concise answer, I'm afraid I am terrible at those. Now, my turn."
Kyouka clears her throat and lays the empty cup of tea on the wooden round table before her, "You mentioned methods. Methods that should not exist in this world, as those who are capable of bypassing the rule of an Exousiarch are those who have dove into the wrong side of curiosity. I take it that you're affiliated with... the Sishens, yes? Or perhaps you're affiliated with Akuno herself?"
Jiayi would nod at the end of Kyouka's answer to her question. "I see, a satisfactory answer to my curiosity, I find that we are... In agreement there, I believe." She'd say, almost as if she were uncertain in her statement, not quite sure if that was entirely what she believed, but nonetheless, she'd offer a sigh and move into her answer for Kyouka's turn of the conversation.
"I suppose it'd reflect poorly if I were to lie in this regard despite our agreement... To be rather blunt, I'm intimately familiar with every Sishen, Akuno moreso than most, we are of the same blood, you see. I..." She'd pause briefly, clearly not entirely comfortable with disclosing this information. "I am the twin of Xianshia, the Sishens current leader. As you can likely tell by my presence here, I do not hold them in high regard, unnecessary cruelty, and every other vice that you're aware of with them, I have found to be rather... Distasteful." She'd take another sip of the tea.
"I do hope that is of satisfaction to you for an answer? You now know something that only Tianshu and the Director herself are aware of in its entirety. With that, I believe it's my turn to ask you a question, who are you associated with? You use several methods I'm admittedly unfamiliar with, the seal upon our vocal cords, the ability to... Smell, my incarce, the like, It's all rather unfamiliar to me, it raises a fair bit of curiosity within me on just who you work for, or, rather, worked for before falling under those twins' employment."
The day had passed relatively uneventfully for everybody, save for perhaps Qinglong and Yaksha, in Cullan City. A backwater that is a far cry from what is back on Agartha. Instead of a vibrant metropolis bustling with life and activity is a bleak city lined with public housing apartment complexes that have a strikingly similar appearance to plattenbau with faded paint, cracked walls, and decrepit interiors unless the building was well-kept by the tenants or the municipal governments which is fairly uncommon. To go with such residences are relatively simpler commercial lots of similar quality that don’t even have fully functional bathrooms among other things save for the buildings that were first built by the mainland Emyprians back in Cullan City’s infancy as a colony before it became even more developed to become a proper city with the few accompanying highrises, and large commercial complexes and trading areas that were much newer and well-maintained quite simply because such could be afforded.
Parts of the city are a testament to the quality and robustness of Empyrian engineering, even if something had poor or subpar maintenance, it would still work properly and as it should albeit not optimally. Locally-constructed buildings can hold a candle to Empyrian standards… provided there is enough money. Cullanes is one of the poster children of the saying “Throw enough money at a problem and it will solve itself.”
However, the more developed portions were only the tip of the iceberg compared to the cesspit that is the slums scattered planetside in cities, in Rythen refugee internment settlements as if they weren’t deplorable enough, or outside of them as poorly formed communities. Even more decrepit public housing complexes, old and contemporary, that stand alongside improvised houses, some on roadsides, under bridges, or adjacent to polluted creeks and rivers. These makeshift houses are made out of wood, plastic, galvanized metal, steel sheets, and anything else that could be used to prop up what is no more than a pile of garbage to the mainland Empyrian where entire families ate and slept in the candlelight without electricity and basic amenities. The difference was that the impoverished people of Cullanes call these piles of garbage “home.”
Likewise, criminal elements from the petty criminals to the organized crime syndicates also call the slums of Cullanes ‘home’ as it was their prime recruiting grounds and where they chiefly operated in with the locals typically under their control, payroll, and care, much more so than the sectoral government, which has more or less become an open secret with both the criminals and sectoral government tacitly colluding with one another aside from the routine corruption. A proof of this tacit collusion being the fact that for the most part, only small-time criminals are caught and brought to justice, not the bigger fish that swam in the murky waters. Should one be caught, there is always a way for it to break free from the hook or the net. The pen, the money, or the more ‘direct’ sword and gun.
This order of things would soon change with the Imperial Security Directorate and the Hand of Agartha having a vested interest of solving part of the overall problem by conducting joint operations of their own against what the sectoral government could not ever pursue – the biggest fish, the Sishen Yakuza. The Zhenra-based intranational organized crime syndicate that has claimed hegemony over Cullanes’s underground. The goal, to massively disrupt their operations on the Sector, thereby weakening their grip on it enough for the Hand of Agartha to take over and finish the job, doing as it has always done as per the demands of the late Eleanor Ophelia whether anyone liked it or not – root out evil and proliferate Empyria’s ideals and facilitate the means to do so by uplifting the lives of the people of Cullanes, one community at a time. Why they’re moving now instead of way earlier in Cullanes’s history is for anyone to guess. It was better late than never.
But first, with the Hand preoccupied as they are mobilizing the necessary templars and volunteers for the next phases of the joint operation, the Imperial Security Directorate must do its part in destabilizing the Sishen’s operations as part of the initial phases. They would do so by raiding the ports that constituted the interplanetary logistics network between Cullanes, Agartha, and other corners of Empyria that the Yakuza operates in after years of intelligence gathering. Most importantly, stop the illegal trafficking of Rythen refugees and other Rythen biological material that were and are still being used in the Yakuza’s experiments in duplicating the invaluable Exousiarchs for use by the Yakuza, and the highest bidder.
The real contributions of the ISD would begin with a raid on a small, but important port under the Yakuza’s control. The raid would be spearheaded by a certain “Dorten de Jager” and a certain squad composed of talented people with backgrounds normal and questionable alike that arrived the day before.
The relatively quiet cloudy afternoon in the port was soon to come to an end as it was beset by a small convoy of armored cars, one of which served as the mobile command post from which tactical coordinator Eina Irscheide would be operating in with the protection of 8 men. The sirens were kept off, it was already enough that the Yakuza would see them coming, they didn’t need to top it off by letting them hear they were coming. The raiders had discussed this the night before over the briefing about the combat plan calmly in contrast to the tense and nervous atmosphere as they quickly disembarked and put themselves into position. Dorten and the special team would enter through the first gate of the port while another 16 ISD tactical troopers would enter through the second.
Dorten, donned in tactical light plate armor with his face covered by a visor-covered tactical helmet and his voice altered by the latter’s software, cocked his assault rifle and looked at the team and spoke to them as they were starting, “We-he-hell, this is it folks! Day one of the shitstorm so let’s not keep our Sishy boys waiting!” He speaks to his communicator as the clock strikes three, “It’s go time! MOVE! MOVE!” As soon as the order was given, the troopers outside would vault over the port’s gates and have them opened with all barriers lowered or raised as the teams move in. As per the plan, Dorten and his team would go for the main office while the other team of 16 would split into 2 teams of 8 with one going through the warehouses before rendezvousing with Dorten’s team while the other would continue to the container yards. Eina and 8 other troopers would remain outside to watch for escaping enemies and to control the recon drones flying around the port that were deployed prior.
It wasn’t long before everyone heard the sounds of gunfire coming from the warehouse with a trooper radioing in that they have engaged the enemy, armed with a mixture of melee weapons and firearms. As Dorten and the rest were moving through the open parking area to close in on an entrance, a few Yakuza gunmen, at most 10, started to peek from the windows of the first and second floors facing the parking lot and started to pepper them with automatic gunfire, prompting them to take cover by the parked cars and smaller trucks.
The parking lot wasn’t empty either as under covering fire, Yakuza grunts armed with swords, pistols, and ballistic shields moved from their positions behind some parked vehicles and started to move towards Dorten’s group. The De Jager peeked out amidst the fire and saw them coming, alerting the team as he ducked back into cover with a round barely missing him, hinting that the gunmen knew what they were doing, “We got incoming. They got swords, pistols, and ballistic shields. If you have armor-piercing ammunition, use them! Melee people, be more creative!” He sighed, mumbling to himself, “Good thing I brought nothing but armor-piercing because fuck stopping power and hooray lethality.”
He starts them off by peeking out of cover to pick off a small group of three making their way to them with a burst from his rifle, his shots penetrating cleanly through the shieldman at the front, killing him before the other two behind him. Dorten then rolled over to a nearby car with bullets landing close to him. He had attracted the attention of a substantial fraction of the gunmen who proceeded to greet him in kind, giving a bit of a safer opening to the others as the remaining gunmen cycled between covering fire and reloading while their fellows below closed in which made covering fire a bit more risky.
It was a curious feeling, the moments before entering into a battle, the tension is always palpable, did the opponent truly see that you were coming, or would you be setting upon them utterly unaware, free to begin the execution at your leisure? She'd encountered all sorts of combat scenarios during her time, none quite as unique as facing off against the very kin that had raised her into the thing that she was in the modern day. The emotion was distinctly unfamiliar, she didn't know what quite to call it other than a strange sense of excitement, she would put her boundless talents to use against targets far more deserving of it, rather than whomever her superiors had decided needed to be extinguished.
Then the gunfire began, Jiayi took a moment to make her final mental preparations, and then she was ready. She briefly looked around the battlefield in order to commit its geometry to mind, along with the rough positions of the targets currently presenting any semblance of a threat. Shame that despite their apparent knowledge of the impending raid, they didn't commit anything more substantial, at least, not yet, it was okay though, she'd force them to reveal their hand, to reveal the genuine challenge awaiting deeper within the compounds inner sanctums.
She'd offer a glance at her fellow agents, perhaps they'd tear through this pitiful offering of resistance straight away? or perhaps some of the more green ones may find an unexpected challenge. Not that it mattered to Jiayi, still, she'd opt to leave some of the poor fools to her comrades, to whom she'd offer a few words, unusually vibrant for the formerly robotic and dead-sounding woman, though still far more subdued than the average person, only the tiniest hints of excitement poking through.
"I am very much looking forward to seeing how well you lot can carry this out, good luck, I suspect the Yakuza will need it."
With that, Jiayi would turn her attention toward the troops currently firing at them, moments later setting off with a tremendously powerful leap, undoubtedly empowered by her Exousiarch, setting her down upon the roof of a nearby vehicle as a mid-way point, landing with surprising grace. Grace which was immediately contrasted by her immediately leaping once more, with even greater force, directly toward one of the grunts, a warhammer comprised of hardlight forming in her hands as she put it to its intended use immediately, turning the man into a cloud of viscera, promptly shifting her attention over to the second one nearby, swinging the warhammers hooked end in order to bring the man closer to her.
"Ah, poor idiot, you aren't important enough to deserve existence, sorry you crossed my path."
The warhammer shifted instantaneously into a spear, which she'd run through the man's heart, rendering him a nonissue and soon-to-be casualty, the spear disappearing while still inside of the man as she'd do a gesture with her now free hands, causing a suit of hardlight, armor of sorts, to envelop her, giving her a bright and eye-catching glow. Once more, she'd set off with force, this time leaping directly into the second floor of the office building where she would do a second hand gesture, this one creating a wall at every end of the hallway, cutting off any exits the grunts may have had, while also adding quite a bit of light into the environment and hopefully momentarily disorienting them.
There, with her photomancy, she'd manifest a large axe, something else manifested too, underneath her shell of dazzling hardlight, a smile formed, promptly followed by her immediately getting to work on the grunts on the second floor. "Oh wow this is sad, did you fucking idiots expect any sort of safety up here? I hope you know that even if I don't get to you first, some bitch with a fucked up rifle is going to blow your brains out across the bedazzled walls - courtesy of me of course - Whiiile I could offer mercy, you all are still here so I don't care! Should've cut and ran when you realized you were going to get raided, now you get to face what you deserve!" A laugh would escape her as she'd promptly slam the axe into the nearest one in the process of her monologue, using the mans body to shield herself from any unnecessary damage from the bullets, promptly shoving it off at one of the further mooks down the hall with a loud thump.
Assuming that no one opted to fire on the hopefully distracted gunmen on the second floor, Jiayi would continue her rampage, until stopped or provided with no more direct targets.
It would’ve been criminal to not use the opportunity afforded by Dorty and the rest of his lot to take the more oblique approach into the port. Then again, the whole place was criminal, but that was a bit of humor that was lost without being vocalized.
Isolde was fairly certain that the guard she was currently running a straight jab into the windpipe of wouldn’t have appreciated it anyway.
The fact that the area still had some of the Yakuza men lingering around even with the full-frontal assault happening led her to believe she was on the right path to find what she was looking for. Her shadowy eye had tagged along one of the recon drones in the morning, and she’d noticed this side entrance to be something that had warranted further exploration.
There were still enough to where it wasn’t just a straight stroll in, but she could handle this much at the very least. Well, more than handle. Her exousiarch provided her with a significant advantage over her enemies, letting her react to incoming physical weapons with minimal movement that left her dodging with harrowing proximity, and put more force behind her attacks despite a lack of proficient background in proper martial arts.
The close quarters fight definitely wasn’t something she made a habit of doing, but the narrow hallway, the flickering lights that shook with the resounding noises of battle from the main fight, this was the environment she preferred. As she transferred the force of her jab into a full grab to push the now gasping guard straight into the ground, she used the weight of her body to crush his throat with a sickening crunch as she handsprung into the air. Another sword swing came at her head, which she reacted to midair by vaulting upside down off a dark sliver which snuck down from the ceiling for her to kick off of and bring her foot down with a reverse kick onto the guard wielding the sword’s head. Without missing a step, quite literally, she did a backwards shoulder roll to the gunman in the back that had been really annoying her with bullets the whole fight and kicked off the ground – straight into his crotch.
As he doubled over in pain, shadows reached up from the ground and drove his head further down, straight into the knee that rose to meet him. The pistol flew out of his hands, and she caught it to empty a couple rounds into his collapsed form on the ground.
“Ugh, Zhenra made.”
She disassembled the gun with surprising speed and let the pieces fall out of her hands as she walked ahead into a small office, filled with monitors both physical and holographic.
Let the rest of them secure all the physical goods and whatnot. She was interested in digital information, regardless of how mundane. Likely all she was bound to find here were just shipping manifests and operational documents, but even those could hide something interesting for her to read.
She pulled out her old-fashioned notebook and pulled the pen out of the spine, which she spun lazily around her fingers as she examined the equipment in the room. Seemingly satisfied, she set the pen down on the desk and a small holographic interface popped up from the side. With a couple taps, all the screens in the room briefly flickered as a progress bar came up.
For the most part, Hikaru stayed fairly quiet on the trek to the parking lot. Not because she was in the middle of making sure she packed something very important. What is this very important thing one may ask? Good question. Hikaru looked prepared to go into a firefight. She had her pistol holstered on her hip while her hands were supporting the rifle that was hanging from her by a gunstrap. Pockets of her combat vest housed AP rounds that she picked up from Dorten beforehand.
Soon enough, her face lit up once she patted a certain pocket in her pants. Seems like her cigarettes were packed along after all. Flipping open the top of her cigarette pack, she put a cigarette in between her lips before placing the pack back in her pocket. She hoped to have a moment of reprieve between all the shenanigans and have a smoke, but as soon she found herself lighting her cigarette, she also found herself being shot at as bullets whizzed past her.
Dropping her cigarette from her mouth, she threw herself behind a car not too far from Dorten himself. Annoyance welled up in her as a part of her mind lingered on her lonely, recently lit cigarette on the ground. Poor thing would be trampled on in the midst of all this. Switching the safety off of her rifle, she kept her eye on her boss. Once Dorten decided to leave cover for a small moment, Hikaru peeked from behind cover, providing suppressive fire with her rifle. While her goal was to make sure the Yakuza didn’t land a shot on Dorten, she wouldn’t have complained if her bullets happened to hit one of them.
Once Dorten was under cover, so was the Katsuragi girl. She glanced at her squadmates, noticing that Qinglong was missing. Peeking out from behind cover, she spotted Qinglong in the middle of the chaos. What was wrong with this woman? First she had no clue on how to hold a conversation, and now she had no respect for an organized firefight. How was Hikaru supposed to provide proper support if someone decided to go in without a care in the world? How enlightening. People were such interesting creatures. Unfortunately, Hikaru couldn’t get a shot in. Qinglong had dealt with the mooks far too well.
Then there was Aria, who already ducked behind a corner of the building. With an exasperated sigh, Hikaru decided to follow.
Taking advantage of the cover littered around the lot and the fact some of the forces were focused on Dorten, Hikaru focused on making sure Aria made it inside safe and sound. Unfortunately—for the nameless mob not too far from her—she had to take a little break from chasing Aria. As they pushed forward, Hikaru shot out a shadow tendril from underneath a car, tripping the lone Yakuza member and greeting them with the barrel of her rifle. Without saying anything, she pulled the trigger, quickly rendering the person dead. Although the cocky grin she had on her face said enough.
She truly was a bitch with a fucked-up gun.
Going back to the issue at hand, she lifted the dead member with the solidified shadow and used it as a bullet sponge until she reached the same place she saw Aria last. Dropping the dead body, she looked around. Another body and a disassembled pistol. How quaint.
“If I was one of those... Sishy boys, as Dorten put it, I would have taken a shot at you instantly.” Hikaru hissed over at Aria as she entered the room, tapping at the trigger guard carefully as she tried to make her point known. “What would you have done if you were caught off guard without anyone to support you?”
With a click of her tongue, Hikaru peeked into the hallway, this time using her shadowmancy to create a wall out of her interwoven tendrils to block off the side entrance and the nearest window. No doubt a few stragglers would try and follow them here, so it was best to take precautions before they came in.