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    COTY

    Firion -- Year 217

    QOTY

    "She approaches the cave and there is nothing but that anticipation and her ever-present fire inside her. No fear, no flickering echoes of love. It’s all been consumed for now. She is a wildfire contained only by the thin layer of her flesh." --Mazikeen, written by Squirt


    || The Sweet Sting ||
    #1
    The city of New Tomi always seemed to come alive at night, blinking and breathing plumes of gray-black smog like some massive steel animal in the dark. Wolfbane, sitting quietly in the back seat of a black car, observed the thing in motion from behind darkened windows. The blood of the city pumped itself out into the streets: a mass of people pushing and shoving past one another, their hoods pulled low or their umbrellas opened above their heads to keep off the slightly acidic rainfall, thousands of insects crawling in search of their next meal. Here he was, cruising past it all in the blink of an eye.

    Seamlessly, the nondescript vehicle curved past one street and pulled itself between buildings, causing the lights of the working world to disappear. Bane leaned back into the stiff comfort of the leather seats and pulled his hand from underneath his chin where it’d rested moments before, trying to maintain an aura of calm despite the sweat beginning to bead around his neckline. This far inside the belly of the beast and he felt out of his element, exposed even though they were slipping down into the dungeons of an unmarked parking garage. He saw nothing, heard nothing from the quiet figure at the wheel, just stared out between the headrests and watched the low beams drift across concrete shapes in the dark until they finally came to a slow stop.

    The car shifted audibly to park and the driver slipped out, prying open the door he’d been leaning on moments before with a wordless invitation to get out, to which he complied in the same fashion. He could see a dimly lit door, closed off and made of heavy gray steel, positioned underneath the flickering bulb of a blue-white fluorescent and flanked on either side by men much larger than himself. All business, he looked them over. The lumps underneath their slick, black jackets weren’t all muscle. They stared back, unamused.

    The buzz of the light and the sound of his dress shoes clicking against the sleek pavement filled up the empty space, and he listened as the soft pull of rubber tires faded to nothing behind him. He reached for a pocket inside of his own overcoat- both men jerked into motion and he held out an empty hand palm-side up to stop them from overreacting - pulling out a sleek, blank card. The two brutes looked at one another and then one, clean-shaven with a nasty snarl, reached out to pluck the card from between Bane’s fingers. He withdrew and held the thing up to the light, causing hidden letters to appear like magic over the surface of the thin paper.

    “Don’t touch anything.” He grunted at Bane, reaching to swipe his palm over an invisible scanner built into the door. The heavy frame clicked and whirred, swinging open for Wolfbane to pass through.

    “Can I have the card back?” Bane asked, getting a brusque laugh out of the other guard and a scowl from the one who just put the slip of paper into his own lapel pocket.

    “Fuck off.” He snarled at Bane, who shrugged and slipped into the hallway.

    Inside the lengthy corridor the walls were lined with expensive decor and the floors were carpeted in thick, plush material. As he walked the distance, Bane thought it was an odd choice to offset the mood by using ultraviolet light, but his thoughts were cut short when he stopped at the end of the hallway and saw nothing to his right or his left. He waited, confused, considered turning back before the wall itself shimmered and slid back to reveal the sleek metal door of an unopened elevator.

    “Clever.” He murmured as the thing opened, not so surprised by the attendee waiting for him inside.

    She was a tall woman, pleasantly slender but not soft. Her hair was cut into a severe black bob, her eyes the color of silver moons. She smirked at him, sweeping her palm in a gesture that was just as erotic as it was professional, and then clicked a button on a recessed panel when he came to join her in the lift.

    “I’ll need your weapon, please.” She purred at him, hand outstretched. For what it was worth, Bane played dumb.

    “You can search me if you like.” He grinned back, shrugging. For a moment she considered him coldly, then she curled her fingers toward her palm and shook her head no. “Shame.” He sighed, flicking his wrist to reveal a small but deadly sharp knife from inside his sleeve.

    He handed the thing over and the lift came to a rest, his guide turning back to the door unopened, and Bane wondered how she knew that was all he’d brought. The thought made him shiver. Quietly, the door slid apart to reveal a room littered by opulence, decorated in a style that oozed class and wealth so far above his status he felt dizzy just trying to absorb it. He was afraid the sole of his shoes might stain the fur carpet just by association, but that didn’t stop him from following the black-haired lady out into the open where a large desk took center focus.

    The rest of the room disappeared. His breath caught in his throat and he thought nothing of the bobbed girl or the way she slid comfortably into one of the guest chairs. All Bane could do was stand beside her, one hand coming to rest on top of the seat while the other slipped itself comfortingly into his jacket pocket as he waited for the audience that’d been years in the making.

    @[Straia]
    [Image: Wolfbane2.png][Image: 3bCHvj.png]
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    #2
    New Tomi never slept, though it changed from day to night. In the daytime, the streets and skyscrapers wore the sunshine like a well-pressed suit, ready to buy and trade as the law allows, a pleasantly groomed and upstanding citizen. At night the shadows came out, though Straia always thought the city wore its’ suit well, even in the darkness. But the edges changed, sleeves rolled up, hats pulled low (literally and figuratively) because this is when the real money was made. Night was when life truly started, and all the rest of it was just a play, a requirement to whittle away the hours until the real work began.

    “Derek, darling,” she says, purring into the phone, her voice honey laced with arsenic, “your excuses are clever, but I do not pay you for excuses”. Straia is standing in front of a large window-pane wall overlooking the city streets below, long fingers with manicured red nails hold her phone to her ear. The acidic rain seems to have started again, and she watches the people below her pull up their hoods and open umbrellas as they dart between the raindrops. Her silver eyes follow them calmly, a cat watching its’ prey.

    She’s silent for a moment, listening to the man on the other end of the phone while checking her watch. Eleven fifty-seven. Wolfbane would be here any moment, and she did not want to be late for their first meeting. Not that she needed to impress him, but still, she had a reputation to uphold. “I really don’t care,” she says into the phone, turning away from the window. “Get it done or get out of New Tomi.”

    With a quick motion, she ends the call and returns her phone to her pocket, heels clicking against the tile floor as she crosses the room to the lift. It was time to meet her guest.

    When the lift door opens into the hallway, she finds him waiting for her as expected. Her smile is real enough, though more of a smirk (reputation, remember?), as she gestures for him to join her in the elevator. She already knows there’s a weapon on him, and she stifles a sigh before asking him to hand it over. They all try, which is foolish, though she’d be disappointed if they didn’t try. After all, her ability to know just how many weapons they have seems to set them on edge, and that is how she likes it.

    He hands over a weapon after playing at the flirting game (they all try that too). She pretends to consider, though she won’t, because that’s not the angle for tonight. Anything Straia does is calculated and precise, and she needs no more power over Wolfbane than she already has. The flirting ploy was far more useful when she’d been working up the ranks of New Tomi, but now she was the head. The weapon he hands over is small but beautiful, and she contemplates keeping it because she rather likes the delicate but deadly knife. Not that she needs knives to kill, but still, she often kept the things she liked.

    For the moment she pockets it, undecided as to whether or not he’d actually get it back. That would depend on their meeting, and on him. The elevator comes to a stop and the door slides back open, revealing the room she’d just left. The room truly is opulent, purposely so, for everything begins and ends with appearances. The ceilings are high, the lights clear though dim. The room is covered mostly in a large fur carpet, though white and gray marble tile can be seen around the edges of the room. The desk is a beautiful, rich cherry wood with a crystal decanter sitting on one side. The brown liquid inside cost more than most people make in a month.

    The focal point of the room is the large window-pane wall. Tonight it is dark, but through the glass they can see the lights of the city glistening in the acid rain. Her heels click against the white tile until they find the large fur rug, their sound disappearing as she slides into one of her chairs, upholstered in cream color leathered. Straia, with her raven hair and her black suit, is stark against the armchair, though she looks comfortable and more than confident as she sits. She crosses one leg over another, flashing the red undersides of her black pumps.

    Bane continues to stand, and she motions to the chair across from her with a nod and a wave of her hand. It’s not really a request, though she’s not about to threaten him just to sit down. If he really wants to stand like an out of place puppy dog, then he can. After all, he doesn’t belong. Not yet, anyway.

    “You worked hard to get yourself here,” she purrs, regardless of whether or not he’s actually bothered to sit down. Again, that honey and arsenic voice, tantalizing and terrifying all at once. Anyone who gets here carries the signs of it, and her eyes search his briefly, looking to see if she would find that familiar, haunted look in them. She sees it so frequently in the men and women that fight their way to this very room, though she herself has never carried her past sins so obviously. In fact, she hardly carries them at all. These things were a means to an end, and there is always a new end to achieve and new means with which to achieve it. If she carried those things, would she be able to stand the weight of it? It was no small feat to become something so much greater than herself. 

    “So what is it you want?” She doesn’t say ‘from me’ for this meeting was a two way street. He attracted her attention, and she’s not foolish enough to believe he did so without reason. No, he’s too smart for that. Besides, if he was just unlucky enough to catch her attention, then he’d already be dead. No, those that come here want something, and the question always becomes whether or not they are willing to pay the price. First though, she needs to know what it is he wants. 

    @[Wolfbane]

    Use of mild power playing is allowed; no injuries without permission

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    #3
    The association had debated long and hard before Bane had agreed to come to this meeting. Being recluse members, it’d been a nearly impossible task to get them to speak to one another - much less ask them to confer amongst themselves on who would be the face of their dirty, underground organization when the time came. Bane had been a part of it all, had been a part of everything from the very beginning, which made the silence of this moment seem louder in comparison to the arguing that’d taken place long before it ever came to fruition. Straia had no idea.

    Or maybe she did, cunning woman that she was. The movement of her legs and the sweeping gesture of her palm towards the seat opposite her came unexpectedly, so much so that Bane gave her a confused sort of glance when she offered it. For some absurd reason he’d expected there to be someone inside the room waiting for him; not the someone who’d met him in the elevator and played the part of an attendee.

    He sat anyway, as quickly as he could.

    “The organization caught your attention, you mean.” He corrected her, tugging at the stiff lapel of his buttoned shirt. The outfit had not been of his choosing; relaxed was more his style, but the orchestra behind this little rendezvous thought a trim appearance necessary and so he’d trimmed the hard edges until they were acceptably soft. Having met those silver half-moons before, he found it easier to glance sidelong at her and meet them again.

    He was nervous. Anyone would be when confronted with the person pulling the strings of such a massive puppet as New Tomi, but he wouldn’t have her thinking he was one unit alone. Bane wholeheartedly believed in the association of so-called terrorists he’d been working with the past seven years. Their efforts in calling attention to the disparaging inequality of classes and human rights in New Tomi was his life. He truly considered their actions and recent string of attacks justified, despite what the tabloids would have the commonwealth think. As he squared his drab olive eyes with hers, there was an underlying current in them that thought Straia might feel the same - or at the very least, consider them a usable sort of puppet in her grand scheme.

    “We want leverage.” He murmured, leaning back uncomfortably into the overstuffed chair. His was a spine more accustomed to the hard ground or sleeping upright if need be. “And all of the underbelly of New Tomi knows you’re the one to talk to about things like that, even if they don’t know you personally.” He told her, admitting to his earlier surprise at having been duped by her little stunt in the elevator. There was even a part of him that wondered if the woman he was speaking to really was Straia, or if the act was still in play.

    She’d gotten a step ahead of him already. He’d need to tread carefully from here on out.

    “There’s talk.” He said, on the level. “About impossible things: Magic, powers. We want in.”

    @[Straia]
    [Image: Wolfbane2.png][Image: 3bCHvj.png]
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    #4
    There is not a lot that happens in New Tomi that Straia isn’t privy to. You do not become The Pawnbroker without having eyes and ears everywhere, shadows and birds that listen to and learn even the most innocuous things. It is often the lovers on a date, or the parents watching their children at the playground, that have the most interesting things to say.

    Like most others, he’s surprised that she was the one in the elevator. They usually are, as they should be. Though really, Straia still believes in getting her own hands dirty. She will not ask others to do her bidding if she is unwilling to do it herself. Besides that, it’s really hard to find trustworthy help and she’d rather not have to worry about her own elevator anymore than she already has to worry about looking behind her back.

    His comment redirects her to his organization, and she raises one eyebrow just slightly, though makes no other motion or sound and certainly doesn’t correct herself. It doesn’t particularly matter to her who exactly got her attention, because he is the one in the chair before her now. The fate of his organization rests squarely on his shoulders now, whether he likes it or not. The weight of leadership likely fit him as well as the suit he’d been clearly forced to wear (yes, she does not miss the way he tugs at his lapel), but he seems promising enough in his new role.

    She lets him speak, leaning back in her chair, one elbow on the armrest with her long red fingernails resting lightly against her cheek. A smile creases her lips as he makes a joke of his own earlier surprise, and it’s clear enough she’s amused and pleased at the comment. She really does enjoy setting them on edge a bit. There’s a lot to learn from how well someone recovers.

    The smile does not disappear as he comes around to his point, but it does sharpen slightly. “If these are impossible things, then why ask for them?” The question is a challenge, and her voice is slightly sharper now as well, her eyes keen as she watches him. “And should I somehow be able to produce such impossible things for you, where do I fit in this world you want to create? Clearly, I do not intend to give up my power and wealth to make the world an equal place.”

    Certainly he didn’t expect such, but she needed to know if they had thought this through. Of course it could all be a lie (she expects nothing less from all those she meets), but she would at least like them to have put in the effort to come up with the lie. In truth, the mission of his little organization was one she could support, in at least some respects, but she’d worked far too hard to suddenly just give it all up in the name of equality. But she could support a desire to bring some equality to a place that was far too polarized, a place where the money and power sat in the grubby hands of a handful of sweating, overweight men instead of being used for anything halfway decent. There were enough starving children in the streets that she wouldn’t mind making sure a few more of them actually got fed.

    @[Wolfbane]
    Reply
    #5
    Bane had always liked the feel of fresh air on his skin. Even the acidic, rainy streets of New Tomi would’ve been preferable to those of a stale, well-kept office. The empire Straia made for herself was an admirable one without question: as clear and purposeful as the decanter filled with liquor on her desk. To Wolfbane, it felt like a prison. He neither despised nor coveted a gilded castle of his own making, which was probably why he’d been the foremost choice to represent the terrorist association on this visit, but there is a thread of himself that hums in tune to the one she pulls at sweetly. Straia is a lioness prowling the serengeti, the true muscle and driving force behind the pride of fat, egotistical lions who called themselves senators and ministers of the people. Wolfbane is his namesake, and he maintained that he liked his underground nickname more than the one he’d been born with.

    They are both animals of a savage kind, and he knows the pack must be fed as much as the pride lusts for blood and control of the savannah.

    “What does a Vampire desire most?” He answered her question for question, appreciating how cool and concise she was making things. Bane found it hard to return the easy half-smile, so he interlaced his fingers together and propped his elbow onto the armrest instead, leaning in toward her. “They long to walk in the sunlight as much as they navigate the dark.”

    “Why be a shade when you could be the sun? The association understands that a leaderless municipality is a lawless one, we only care that the one in power is the right sort. It’s our understanding that you’ve been moving this city for a while now anyways. The difference is you finally get the recognition you deserve.” He leaned back again.

    Glancing out at the wall of paned glass, Bane took a moment to collect his thoughts. The twinkling lights of New Tomi were as vibrant as ever, blinking and spinning on without a care as to what was happening in that very room.

    “As to the matter of impossible things,” He started again, voice soft, “they happen every day. You either can or you cannot. We know our recent activity has struck a chord of fear into the hearts of those who consider themselves in ‘command’.” Bane said, glancing sideways at Straia with a phantom smile. The stream of newscasts surrounding their attacks, the unrest circulating online that’d gotten the association trending, the ghost-written press conferences laced with subtle threats of apprehending every member involved … surely she knew.

    “And they’re afraid we’ve found out something that should’ve been kept a secret.” He eyed Straia carefully. “As they should be.”

    It was only a matter of time until the senators, representatives, and political icons came for her too - if they hadn’t already. The association (all of New Tomi, really) knew Straia was in a position of complete and total power when it came to tipping the scales in one direction or the other. They had the means to wealth that the underground organization lacked, while the association had the connections and manpower to expose their filthy legacy, subsequently ruining everything they worked to maintain control of. It was really a matter of what Straia wanted, and Bane saw before him a woman who’d put herself into a win-win situation no matter what. She truly was frightening to behold.

    @[Straia]
    [Image: Wolfbane2.png][Image: 3bCHvj.png]
    Reply
    #6
    She has never found this space, grand and opulent and well, overkill, to be a prison. It is freedom in a strange sense, it is power in the true sense. Power is not just impossible things, it is not just the ability to flick her wrist and summon shadows to hold him or fire to consume her enemies. Power is perception, it is making others believe that you are in control regardless of whether you are or are not. Sometimes the magic makes them believe, sometimes just the atmosphere, the sight of things that scream money. In the end, her power comes because she can sway them in any possible way, not just one.

    She will only offer him one, because she is no fool. To give anyone else too much is to take away her own power, but to give them just enough sustains her.

    He is not rattled by her question, which she appreciates. They chose well (at least so far) in sending this one. Though a few things had caught him off guard (she’d be suspicious if they had not), he recovered quickly and didn’t seem remotely rattled now. He knew what he wanted, and that was what she was looking for.

    Her grin widens as he goes on, mentioning how the activity of his association has struck fear into the hearts of those fat, grubby men. There’s some predatory in that grin, something clearly pleased. “I’ve rather enjoyed watching them scramble,” she says, with an amused purr. It was quite funny to see them running in terror from someone other than herself (though it was funny when they ran from her too).

    As he continues to speak, she reaches a hand to the side of her chair and presses a small, barely noticeable button. On the table between them, a panel slides open and a small vial moves up out of the hole. Many of the senators and politicians had tried to get this from her, though they rarely did so to her face (she might have almost been inclined to agree, had they actually been brave). Still, she has learned to be cautious, not that she hasn’t always been cautious because you do not get to her position without such a trait. She cannot simply give away her secrets to just anyone who answers a question well and catches her attention.

    No, they must earn it.

    She nods at the vial, not entirely sure what it will contain. Iris did an excellent job at creating samples, and though there were a few rules, otherwise it was always a bit of a surprise. The effects of the vial were temporary - a few hours - and the powers were always nominal - extra strength or speed, or things of that nature - but still, it was enough of a taste for this process to work. “Take it,” she says, nodding at the vial. “Your association impresses me, but still, you must earn it. I have a man currently out on a job and, let’s just say, I do not think he will get it done. He can be found at the Metropolitan, most likely failing miserably.”

    The Metropolitan was a usual target of hers. Most of the art in there was fake anyway, the real stuff long in circulation in the underground market, but Straia still found that people were foolish enough to buy fake art. If she ever found the real items, she tended to slip them back into circulation in the museums somewhere far enough away that no one would trace it back to her or New Tomi. “I would like you to steal his target for me. You can leave him alive though. He’s far too chicken to ever do anything that would come back to me.”

    @[Wolfbane]
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