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The City's Dark Jewel
A flurry of information. Fuck but Ivan liked to run his mouth. Kid had no reason to trust Ryker beyond a general mutual loathing of Yun Kao that for Ryker’s part was entirely fabricated. Yun was a tool like any other, and when Ryker fucked her brains out, she’d call it duty to the job, and they’d both move on. Until then, Ivan had some hard lessons to learn. Ryker’s decision oscillated between letting him shoot himself in the foot or dragging him along by the nose.

The toast derived little mirth, though Ryker chuckled anyway. Underground party room was an interesting comment, but not surprising. The Custody declared their self-righteous allegiance to justice, but then they sent men like Ryker to decimate any that speak against his lordship Ascendancy and they called it a counter-terrorism mission. Ivan was let off lucky, if anyone asked Ryker.

His milky gaze slipped from Ivan to the one to whom was shrugged off. The swell of a rising tide darkened the room, but Ryker contained the reaction. Absently, he twisted the ring on his finger, and shrugged. 

”He’s not the one I find most interesting,” and this time it was his turn to indicate someone. The pup that followed his leash-holder like a slave on a chain. Nervousness wafted from that one like he was beaten recently. Perhaps by the chain holder? 

It was the same woman, certainly. He all but memorized every angle of her face and every ferocious howl of her defiant eyes. But another pair of eyes captured the light and flung it back rejected. Gold coins like the bribe for death’s door. Ryker coveted those pieces and their sharp tang clenched between the teeth. Ivan did not know the woman could channel. The ijiraq confirmed as much. The ignorance spiked frustration within. Information was priceless, and for now, he was woefully lacking all the facets to this puzzle. She could channel. Ivan didn’t know it. Not yet.  ”That would be Oriena Rusayev.” He quirked a dry grin as he watched them. He leaned close, ”You think I didn’t look her up? You can do your own digging, now, detective.” So far, Ivan had yet to inquire why Ryker was even at the ball, what he represented, or for whom he worked. The idiot was too trusting. He’d learn.

Lips pursed, and he whistled two loud, pure tones that blasted through the room. Attention snapped. He pat his knee at her companion, eyes brimming with promises unspoken, but it was to her the dare was flung. A fanged smile touched his lips.

”Did it hurt, Oriena?” He called to her.  ”You writhed in torment. Looked painful.” His laugh was empty.
Nhysa turned as bid to catch a glimpse of the stranger who intrigued Li. "Wolfkin." The word tasted unfamiliar on her tongue. The man was coiled tight like a spring; an affectation she would have previously attributed to substance abuse. But his eyes were like gold coins, almost luminous in the teasing shadows of this place. 

"I always liked wolves," she said. As she watched a shrill whistle from the bar struck tension like a blade. One of the men she pegged as military, or ex. The wolfkin practically snarled, but remained in his seat. The woman at his side barely flinched. Something about her made Nhysa smile. 

"You would hunt him for being a little bit wild."  She considered it. How likely was it that this one had killed anywhere near the number of people she had? Her deaths were calculated -- chosen -- but death was still death. Li called himself a monster with regret, but Nhysa armoured herself with it. "Perhaps she freed him to a better life. Much like you freed yourself." 
"Men. Stare." 

The words were new, his voice gruff and unpolished. Ori did not respond to the warning, her chin still tilted up to observe the screen above. The current fight captured little of her imagination. Almaz had its uses, but it still forced structure on the chaos of serving base needs. Her fingers twisted the stem of her drink.  "Seems Rafael made an impression on you, sweetheart."  

A sharp whistle pierced, then, even through the thump of the music. Kasun stiffened like invisible hackles stood on end, the snap of his gold eyes drawn to the bar. The flick of his lip revealed white teeth, and his fists gripped down flat like he was about to rise. Her attention shifted to behold a familiar face; two of them, actually, though it was curiosity more than ire that greeted the intrusion. At least for the moment. 

"You can rip his throat out if you like, Kas; I won't stop you. But security will have something to say. Not that you'll hear it with a bullet in your brain." She spoke to her companion before indulging her attention, not  pausing to check the advice had been heeded; mostly because whether Kasun reigned control or flung fury, it suited her purposes. Nothing seemed to stir, though she could hear something of a soft growl low in his throat. 

She'd never bothered to learn the stranger's name, but this was the third time his scarred face had ghosted in her peripheral of late. That he knew who she was after Ascendancy's ball was unsurprising given her starring role in the perverse entertainment.  "You almost sound jealous. I'm starting to think you have a crush."  

She knew what he meant though he left the meaning grey enough for denial. Just enough rope for hanging, though Ori didn't baulk from the noose. The curve of her lips suggested she heard something suggestively explicit in the provocation. He needn't have bothered with the ruse; she had little to hide, at least when it came to the churning secrets of that night.  

Her languid gaze cast a net. Appreciation devoured him before, at least until he'd stalked away impotent from confrontation with Mikhail. She studied his face  and lower before she found his eyes again. Like she considered the slap of that invitation for herself.  

He lounged like a king, but it was a poor throne. 

"I saw you. Standing back in the shadows. Doing nothing. A bark but no bite? I'll let you guess which I prefer." Storm-dark eyes moved to his friend, a ripple of amusement in their depth. He barely looked like he'd slept let alone changed, the jacket draping his broad shoulders still the cheap rental. He stuck out raw amongst the luxury; clearly not here on his own tab. "Seems I have been a very bad girl. It's something of a habit. But you'd know about that."  

He was a cop, and if he was hanging around with this one he was a dirty one too. The Syndicate held little draw. Yun, beautiful little devil that she was, did not sway easily from business. The Custody's rotten core didn't much interest her anyway; not when it did such a good job of consuming itself. 

But it seemed Ori wasn't the only one with a leash.
Ivan's eyes narrowed suspiciously. This was not the same woman from the ball. Oh, she was her, alright. But there was no universe where he could imagine this woman staring in terror at something so innocent as a champagne glass held out to her with the power. Or anything else, for that matter. Especially not if that was what she had come to see in the first place.

Was it a joke? The blood was real. Lots of it. He suddenly realized that he'd never seen a woman channel. He couldn't imagine why it would be different. But it was like a blow to the head. Duh. Of course women channeled.

This woman- Oriena, Ryker called her- was a cat, he realized. He felt the anger that had relaxed during the last few moments start to resurface. This bitch was the reason he'd been held for two days. He looked her up and down, studying. No denying she was smokin. And dangerous.The way she looked at people. The way she trailed the gruff looking man as if he too were a pet. Or a mouse, rather. Cat's loved playing with their food.

Gorgeous in a viperish way. He'd known a few. Always prodding, provoking, pushing men to see what they'd do. Just because. It all made sense now. His eyes relaxed as he half smiled, eyebrow raised impishly, and then, after a moment, began to slow clap. "Aren't you the consummate actress," only a hint of mockery in his tone. "And to let yourself be hurt in the performance....bravo."

Then he grinned at her, though not in a completely friendly way.
A scene was about to unfold. There was some sort of disturbance with the wolfkin's keeper. The woman looked almost as deadly as Nhysa. Though he'd not want to bit either woman against the other. At least not without good reason. A fight in the Almaz was prohibited unless in the ring of course but there were always disturbances.

Li was only mildly entertained with their words he was still mulling over Nhysa's words. Freed him to a better life. Was running a better life? Was being fired a better life? He shook his head. "Freedom does not imply a better life. He's still in a cage, leashed by the woman, leashed by society. His base instincts are to kill, more wolf than man. But enough humanity I won't kill him yet." Li admitted.

Though given the outcome of the situation at hand, there might be a lot more problems than a roan wolf.
“What you must do," said Monkey, "is lure the monster from its hiding place, but be certain it is a fight you can survive.” 
― Wu Cheng'en, Monkey: The Journey to the West


Actress indeed? A scruffy brow drew a thin, curious line quirking upward. Ivan’s clapping elicited a beam of pride that frankly, Ryker did not know existed within himself. When he joined in, it was with all the earnestness of the lion batting its great paws together. Her words dripped poisoned honey, the taunt of jealousy. But the swipe of those claws were closer to the skin than he liked. “I’ve endured more pain than you can imagine,” was the response. Maybe he’d prove it to her; the webs dipped far below the collar of his shirt.

He leaned close to Ivan, hand shielding his mouth - and what was spoken - from Oriena. He wanted her to know she was being discussed. Wanted her to find him irritating. Wanted her to bait him along farther. “She was there the night I met Yun Kao.” The whisper planted seeds for Ivan to cultivate like prospective little fruit trees they were.

When his hand dropped to the bar, Ryker was appropriately lounged for her eyes. The stem of her legs were not overlooked, the crook of those claws wet his mouth. Maybe he had a crush after all. Wouldn’t she like to know?

“Maybe my friend should arrest you?” The tease was a ploy, of course. Urging Ivan to poke at the spider’s web until the venomous little insect dropped loose. He could practically feel the rage wafting like body odor. Undoubtedly Ivan would enjoy synching metal handcuffs deep on her wrists. Leashes, indeed.
The slow peel of applause crooked a smirk to her lips. Did they imagine such derision would hook needles into her pride? Recklessness and boredom fuelled idle hands that night, but men would forever warp the story to their own. Usually with their ego enshrined in the centre.

"You seem bitter. Did I hurt your feelings, sweetheart? It was nothing personal. I don't even know your name." Brief question burned along the trail of where he had been taken, but she had not thought of his face since. The scarred man spoke of pain with a certainty that claimed monopoly, but he was wrong. Real pain was the wrench of soul from soul. One, twice, thrice. The memory of that silence was terrifying. It flattened the smile from her face.

They wanted to play, for whatever reasons of their own, but like fumbling pups their swipes kept a careful distance. One baiting the other. Ori's foot rotated, glinting the metal of the heel. An irritated tip of her head rippled black hair against her shoulder. Flatly unimpressed. "Try it, please. This tedium is killing me."
"He's clean. He looks well fed. Old scars, but no bruises. He doesn't move quite like a man, but neither does he move like he's injured. Compare that to a life here?" Of course, she knew the dark places they kept them; the cramped cages that afforded little in the way of humanity. No wonder they unravelled so thoroughly. Consideration of that made her pensive, like Li's questions illuminated new thought. Something like protectiveness swelled in her chest.

"Those kinds of leashes are just obligation, and who doesn't have those?" She nudged him with her shoulder for the bleakness of his words, though her dark gaze still dissected the scene ahead. The wolfkin's arms were bunched on the table like the barrier might keep him grounded. It was the woman who invited violence with crooked finger and glittering eyes. A sullen dare.

"How do you know for sure those are his base instincts?" Her attention returned briefly to her companion. The tease returned like smoke. "How do you know for sure what my base instincts are?"
The beer was done and Ivan wanted something stronger. For some reason the anger and itch to punch had warped into something equally as dark. Just a word brought him a vodka and he took a drink, felt the fire burn down his throat, the flames rising in his chest.

And he smiled as if he hadn't a care in the world. She was a vicious one, this Oriena. The ones like her relished their power, their games. Half her fun would be seeing what she could do, the trouble she could cause while laughing from the background.

Yeah, he knew bitches like her. Always setting things into motion and then watching everything crumble.

The way her toy followed her around- golden eyes like a puppy looking at his master- came to mind. Then...The actress manipulating things at the ball.

An idea started to form. She had been in pain with her little trick. Lots of blood. Ryker said he saw her in agony or whatever. Ivan, of course had been too distracted getting taken in and what not. But she had put herself in great pain purposely.

And she was bored. The person wandering the floor wishing for something to interest her.

And Ivan felt that darkness stir and he laughed, the realization coming into focus. "I wish I had my cuffs. I have a feeling you're no stranger to a dungeon, madam" and he winked at her.

His dropped his eyes around the curves of her body until they (him sighing regretfully) reached her feet. But not before noticing her shoes. He was no foot fetishist- he totally didn't get that- but they were as wickedly beautiful and dangerous as she was. "Deadly shoes for a deadly woman, wouldn't you say, Ryker?"

An idea sprang to his mind, only half formed. But he was here to have fun and vent himself. The darkness roiled with rage.

At himself for his weakness.
At Yun Kao.
At Nikolai fucking Brandon.
At the people in this room.

At the fucking universe.

He was tired of being impotant, tired of people pushing and pulling him, tired of answering to anyone. It.felt.wrong. And he wanted to push back. One way or the other.

The smile remained but he couldn't hide the thread of darkness in his voice, the hunger for violent expression."You didn't hurt my feelings, dear. But I bet you much prefer to be the one doing the inflicting rather than receiving." A look again at the shoes and those eyes that were like exquisitly formed ceremonial knives.

"Too bad you didn't bring your workout shoes. We could have some fun down there." He glanced at her pet with a smirk. "Or your pet."

Pain was pain. Pain was power. It meant you lived.

Ivan needed to live again.
Well wasn't that downright adorable. Darkness dug into his expression as he beheld this shiny new world, the flames fanning out of his chest, eager to take a bite and hope not to choke. Ryker brought a lamb for slaughter, one who thought he had fangs and claws sharp enough for the dark things that lurked in this underground haven.

She suspected he saw a viper; the kind of woman who crushed a man underfoot for sport. Oriena was more insidious than that; fickle and changeable. They both roamed hungry eyes, but neither slunk so much as a foot away from the safety of the bar. Words were an unsatisfying lure and she considered shrugging the boredom of it off. The cop offered the tameness of a ring. Rules and boundaries. If she'd wanted to fight, she would not be sitting here. And she certainly didn't need an invitation.

Even if she chose to indulge him on pure whim, she was as like to walk straight into the curl of his fist just to feel him flinch as beat him down into the dust. Though she suspected he didn't have the bottle to hit a woman bloody; not by the way his expression widened the moment he'd perceived the sting of her naked fear. It was almost worth it just to tug on the strings of his innocence and see what knocked loose, but tonight Ori wasn't here for whim.

"Oh you think so, do you?" Despite Jensen's healing of her sins, her smooth skin already bore signs of damage. She didn't hide the bloody strips of her arms tonight. The flush of bruising often mottling her flesh was not because she could not defend herself, either. She finally uncoiled. Let them feel the victory that it was she who closed the distance from her table to their perch. If they thought they could trust the dark tease of her smile.

She slid between them, signalling the bar with a finger. The woman's face blackened as she sauntered over."Arisha, a favour. Tell Grigory to clear a pit for me." Oriena had never fought here, but a reputation trailed nonetheless. The woman only nodded and moved away. No questions asked.

Ori's smile flickered vicious as she glanced at the cop. "A pet for a pet. Seems fair. Kasun knows the way."

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