"Veldt and Vixens"
A dream. The same reoccurring dream he’d had for months had come again, and just as those times, it troubled him, for he knew that it was but the inklings of a larger vision to be had. The future was clouded with uncertainty and half-truths, but this premonition was all too clear. As he sat along the side of the bed, his thoughts turned to the woman lying next to him. His love to her was more than he cared to admit. He had been born, cultivated for his position, and a woman at his side would nothing more than a show of weakness. That he had attachment. That he was human. He didn’t want that. He didn’t need it. With his plans commencing, he hoped that his feelings for her would subside. That’s what he needed. That’s what he wanted. That’s what he told himself. She stirred.
“I can sense your unease Dev’adon,” she said, wrapping herself around him from behind.
The annoyance was evident as he brushed off her embrace and rose to his feet. He’d allowed his feelings to flow over to her. He gave a silent swear as he brought up a barrier between the two, lessening the connection.
“You feel what I want you to feel, and nothing more,” he said coldly.
She fell to her knees and bowed her head deeply in answer.
“Well apparently the initial rejection didn’t satisfy them, and they were not going to take a no the second time around,” Zephyr said.
“My question is if you’re trying to recruit someone, why would you be so militant about it?” Ulrich asked, “The time they came here was no different.”
“That’s just it,” Malk replied, “it’s so out of character for the Syndicate to do something such as this.”
“And what makes you the Syndicate expert Malk?” Ulrich asked
“As the Alderman Regent of District 27, it’s my job to learn about how these criminal organizations such as the Syndicate operate.”
Though it was not a day of competition, the spaces of the Understage were commonly used as the group’s gathering point, most notably Akko’s room. He usually did not mind their company, but after Ulrich informed them of the events that had transpired the day before, their talking gave Akko little time to sit and think on the situation as well as he wanted. He sat in front of his mirror, away from the others, who sat on and around the crescent shaped sofa. Zephyr’s feet lay propped up on the end table, while on the other end of the sofa, Sineca lay across Ulrich’s lap, her face against his thigh as he stroked her pale blue hair. Across from them, were Pietro and Malk.
“Akko,” Pietro called across the room. “You’ve been quiet over there for a while, what’re you thinking?”
“I’m thinking we need to talk to the source.”
Malk nodded in agreement, “With my position as regent, I think I can get you in contact with someone who can help sort this all out.”
Little over a week later, Malk had gotten them the arrangement they needed; an Aduri living in one of the wealthier districts, and from Malk’s telling, a frequent to the arena. His name was Nikita Vikaeli, a Dux within the Syndicate, putting him on a tier just below the Kontikoff. There were many Duxen within the Syndicate, as with any organization, but Nikita alone ruled the crown jewel of their criminal empire-- Alter City.
Opposed to any other city in the kingdom, Alter City held a strict “ground only” position, disallowing any form of air based technology aside from the police owned air patrol ships. Planes, airships, hovercars, even diesel based aircycles were prohibited within twenty miles of the city limits. When Akko joined his brother in the capital, he had to part with the biplane his uncle had given him when he came of age. It resided with him in southern city of Montferr while Akko contented himself with a black Cadillac. The black and white tires rolled along as the brothers traveled to the home of the Dux. Akko drove up to the entrance of the gated estate, the suited guards there seemed to shooting daggers at the police officers positioned across the street, seated atop the hood of their car. A leading member in the Syndicate, it was of no surprise to Akko that the man they were about to meet, was being watched. Turning their attention to the vehicle driving towards them, one of the guards put his hand up to bring Akko to a halt, while the other stepped forward to the car, looking from Akko, to Ulrich on the passenger’s side.
“Name?” asked the guard
He looked to his fellow guard, “Is he listed?”
The second guard nodded, “He’s here to see the Dux.”
The large wooden doors opened as the guard waved Akko inside. The driveway was a long stretch, leading up to a circular form in which a fountain was centered. This area of the city held historic homes; the Dux’s estate was one of the oldest, a manor house of many windows and towers, it embodied the centuries past aristocratic architectural style of the former Kingdom of Fire capital then known as Flazca. Aside from being well trimmed, the grounds held little to behold. As they made the slow approach, Akko noted the watchful eyes upon them; the groundskeepers who tended the shrubbery that lined the driveway, the woman walking a very large dog along the edge of the estate, and the two men washing the windows, who looked as if they had a crick in their necks every few seconds. Standing at the foot of the steps leading into the manor was an attendant dressed in a fine black tailcoat, there to meet the brothers as they exited the car.
“What is your business with the Vikaeli household?” he asked
“We’re supposed to be meeting with Dux Vikaeli,” Akko stated
“Right this way,” the attendant said, ushering them into the home
Ulrich whistled upon entering the entrance hall. The domed ceiling reached to the second floor, upon it as well as the top half of the walls, lay ornately carved designs against white marble. From it, hung what Akko would not doubt to be a pure gold chandelier. The dark red carpet on which they stepped, led up the stairs and onto the second tier. Beneath it lay atop polished wood flooring; the same dark colored wood that covered the walls, meeting the marble of the ceiling. Surrounding the stairs were pillars of white marble that stood atop foot high wooden crafted plinths, each connected by wooden arches, supporting a rounded balcony.
The attendant looked to Ulrich, and then Akko, “Only one of you may speak with Dux Vikaeli, the other must remain here.”
“That’ll be me,” Ulrich said. He took a step back to rectify what he knew sounded as if to say he was to see the Dux.
The attendant looked to Akko, “Right this way then.”
Akko followed up the stairs, onto the second floor, as the attendance led him down a large corridor, and though a series of small side hallways until, at last they stopped in front of a door that bore what could only be the family’s crest. A single flame rested between a V entwined with vines, a closer look showed that within the flame, lay a single eye.
“One moment please,” said the attendant
He stepped into the room, leaving Akko in the hallway. A quick exchange of words could be heard coming from beyond the door, followed by footsteps.
“Mr. Vikaeli will see you now,” the attendance said as he stood within the doorway
Akko walked into the room, the Dux sat behind a large desk, his hands clasps together, and a smile upon his face as Akko stepped forward. Nikita was a sharp featured man of middle age, a thin slanted cut along his left cheek marked an otherwise handsome face. As he looked upon the smiling man whose long, black, braided hair lay entwined with golden thread that touched past his dark red vest, he could not think but to be wary of such a man, for a smile as thus, could only be a façade. The attendant pulled out the chair across from the Dux, and gestured for Akko to be seated.
“Yes, take a seat, take a seat,” Nikita bid. “It’s not very often that I entertain a renowned fighter as yourself.” He gestured for the attendant to remove himself before continuing, “Now tell me, what brings you to honor my home?”
“I’m sure you’re fully aware of the recent encounter I’ve had with your Syndicate brethren.”
Nikita nodded, “I take it from this meeting that you’ve had a change of heart?”
“On the contrary,” Akko said, “I’m here to reaffirm my rejection, because apparently the first time around wasn’t good enough.”
Eyes narrowed, the smile gone from his face, “What are you getting at?”
“Don’t play coy with me Vikaeli,” Akko said. “I’ve given your people my answer, the second time around it had to be reiterated with a little force, but this meeting is meant to drive the point home.” He leaned forward, “If another Aduri thug comes after me or anyone I’m connected to, well, let’s just say our next meeting won’t be as pleasant.”
He got to his feet, turning and walking towards the door.
“Is that a threat Mr. Adregi?”
The underlying anger in his words was palpable, hidden behind a calm voice and vaguely humored expression.
Akko does not turn around, “Take it as you may.”
“Take it as you may,” he repeated under his breath, a slight chuckle accompanying this. Nikita removed himself from behind the desk, and began walking towards Akko, “I welcome you into my home as a guest,” he said. “In return I receive idle words and empty threats.”
He came up behind Akko, leaning forward such that Akko could feel his breath against his neck.
“Tell me something Mr. Adregi,” he said softly, “Have you ever killed a man? Do you know what it feels like to take someone’s life into your own hand— and end it? Just. Like. That.” He gave a single snap of his fingers for emphasis.
At Akko’s silence, a superior smirk came across the Dux’s face, “Yet you come into my home with the threat of death.” He took a half step back, “Make no mistake Mr. Adregi, I’m not a man you should care to lose your tongue with, least something…unfortunate befall you before leaving my home.”
Akko whirled around, only to stare down the barrel of a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol; its wielder bearing a grin across his face as a blade lay pressed against his throat.
“Haven’t you heard the old expression?” Nikita mocked, “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.”
“Best look downstairs Vikaeli.”
Nikita’s grin faltered as his eyes slowly turned downwards. Akko’s other hand held a Colt 1903 pistol aimed directly at the Dux’s groin.
“You’re quite the character Adregi,” he said, “There is more to you than meets the eye.”
The Dux’s son Niki stood in the doorway, stopping midsentence upon seeing the scene. A younger version of his father, Nikita Jr’s own thin lips were agape as he registered the situation before him. In the moment Niki went for his gun, Akko grabbed Nikita’s arm, pulling him up and over into a throw that sent him slamming into the bookshelf. Thinking fast, he leaped onto the desk just as Niki began firing. He threw himself forward, crashing through the window and tumbling to the ground below amid a shower of shattered glass fragments. The shots brought the Aduri on the estate running to the scene; quickly surround Akko as he got to his feet. The front entrance burst open as Ulrich rushed outside, gun in hand. Though he too was also surrounded, he took to switching to and fro as to which Aduri he had his gun aimed.
“Akko!” he called over. “You okay over there?”
On bringing himself to his feet, Akko looked around at the dozen Aduri who now encircled him, “Better than ever,” he said.
Niki stood at the edge of the now shattered window, the Aduri below looking up for instructions.
“What should we do with them father?” he asked, as the Dux came to stand beside him.
Nikita met Akko’s eyes as he glared up at the duo, before turning his attention to something beyond the walls.
“Nothing,” he replied. “Let them leave.”
With that, he turned on his heels and walked to the door. Nikki whipped around and called to his father’s back.
“Father! You can’t be serious,” he said.
Nikita stopped just outside the threshold, “An attentive eye will do you some good.”
As his father stepped out of view, Nikki turned to the window again, looking out in the direction his father had. The two policemen stood atop the hood of their car, binoculars and notepad in hands. Displeased though he was, Nikki gave a sweep of his hand, dispersing the Aduri, and without a word more, exited the room.
“Hello?” Akko asked as he picked up the rotary phone.
“Hey Akko, its Malk,” the voice on the other end said, “How’d it go?”
At that, his thoughts went to the events of the day prior, his meeting with the Dux, the hostile confrontation, and the ride home that followed. It hadn’t felt like they’d succeeded, if anything, yesterday’s events assured that they would be seeing the Aduri again soon.
“I got my point across,” he said at last, “but it didn’t go too well.”
“You come out alright?” Malk asked.
“I’m fine,” Akko assured him.
“Well I’ve got some news that may cheer you up.”
“And what is that?”
“I’m throwing a party tomorrow night.”
“Of Alter City politico,” Malk continued.
“My interest just depleted.” Akko joked.
“So will you come?”
Akko sighed, “Nothing better to do, so sure, I’ll come.”
“Great!” Malk said, “Oh and this is kind of a big deal, so dress nicely.”
They parked in a lot around the corner from the Rama Hotel at which the event was being held. Both Akko and Ulrich wore tailored tweed suits of gray and dark blue respectively. Seeing them near the street, the brothers walked over to meet Pietro and Sineca, both finely dressed; Pietro in a white topped, black bottomed suit, while Sineca had donned an opal blue backless empire-waisted dress that ended just around the ankles.
“Ya know, just because I said I didn’t have plans, doesn’t mean I wanted to come,” Ulrich stated.
“Yet you came anyways,” Akko replied.
Ulrich shrugged, “Sineca’s come, so there’s that.”
“Have some restraint tonight.” Akko said as they neared the other two.
“What took you so long?” Pietro said smiling.
“Oh look you took the car this time,” Akko replied, feigning shock.
“Even Deva rode a horse sometimes.”
“Highly doubt it,” Akko replied. “Come on, we going in or not?”
“May I?” Ulrich extended an arm to Sineca, while using the other to run his hand through his short sleek hair
“Why certainly,” she said.
“Come on you two,” called Pietro, as he and Akko rounded the corner.
Upon doing so, they walked smack-dab into a crowd of reporters and news groups, there to cover the event. Many began to turn in their direction as the group came into full view. Some of them showed recognition as they saw the three pro-formists step onto the red carpet that led into the hotel. Without a moment’s hesitation, the questions and came all at once, while cameras flashed amid the crowd.
“Pietro, is your being here a sign of political aspirations?”
“Ulrich, are you and that young lady a couple?”
“What do you think about the increase in sky piracy, Akko?”
As they made their way into the building, Akko turned to Pietro “I sometimes forget we’re sort of famous here in Alter City,”
“That, and the fact that this party is apparently a who’s who of the city,” Pietro stated.
The lobby was packed full of men and women in suits and evening gowns, the fine dress of those in attendance matched the elegance of the hotel to which it took place. Akko couldn’t help but feel out of place, for these were not his kind of people, though he couldn’t help but see the similarities between this gathering, and those to which he attended as a boy with his father. The pompous attitudes and self-importance were present in both regards. He turned as a long wavy brown haired gentleman with thick eyebrows walked over, his hazel eyes alight with joy.
“Guys, I’m glad you could make it,” Malk said.
“Nice little shindig you got going on here,” Akko noted.
“An expensive one at that,” Pietro added.
“None of its coming out of my pocket,” Malk laughed, patting Pietro on the back.
“Really?” Ulrich began, “Then who—”
Malko shook his head, “Either way I’m glad you guys are here; personally, the early goings has been pretty dead.”
“Speaking of which, that guy looks like he’s gonna drop any minute now.” Pietro pointed to a wispy haired ancient looking old man
“Alderman Yama, District 7,” Malko stated. “Come, everyone will be going into the next room soon, let’s take our seats.”
Once seated within the ballroom, “What of Zephyr,” Akko asked. “I was under the impression that he’d be attending as well.”
“The invitation was given,” Malk said, as a waiter placed drinks onto their table, “But he informed me earlier today that he would be working late at the lab.”
“What is that, the whole week now?” Pietro said, “He’s seems to be putting pro-forming on the backburner.”
Akko shrugged, “If he finds more interest in that then so be it,” he said, “I don’t expect him to continue much longer with the team. He’s doing well with the science gig.”
Pietro nodded his understanding, “So Malk, what’s this event all about, did you just get bored one day or what?”
“The mayor has some announcement that she had spoken sparingly with the Alderman I’m filling in for, but since he’s gotten sick, he’s been unable to speak, and the Mayor isn’t letting me in on what’s going on, so I’m just the host.”
“I’ve always been curious about the Princess of Alterus’s decision to play Mayor,” Pietro said, “She’s young and beautiful, but chooses to surround herself with politico.”
“Even women as young and beautiful as her want power,” Akko commented, “Perhaps even more so.”
“But that’s the thing,” Pietro replied, “She’s next in line for the crown; all she has to do is sit and wait.”
“You forget about the Vote of Succession,” Ulrich stated. “Some Prince-Governor comes along and makes strides in the kingdom, and next thing you know, the electors have him as the heir. She has to show that she can manage something.”
“Perhaps she is trying to be an active figure to compensate for her older brother,” Sineca offered.
“Ditero?” Malk replied, “No one blames her for what he did, in fact, she should be happy.”
“I don’t see much light for happiness to come from what happened back then,” Akko said in a low tone. “To lose your mother…there’s no happiness to come from that.”
Seeing Akko’s reaction, Malk spoke apologetically, “Sorry, I only meant that she otherwise wouldn’t have been heir had he not—”
“Cut it Malk,” Pietro said
Malk got to his feet, “Yes, well, I’ve got to start.”
He excused himself before making his way onto the stage. When he’d stepped up to the podium, he cleared his throat purposely; the chatter died down as those in attendance turned.
“Welcome all,” he began, “I’m happy everyone could make it tonight, because apparently, there’s some big news to be heard. Some of you’ve known me as Vice Alderman, others most recently as Alderman Regent, as I’ve come in contact with more of you while filling in for the duties of the bedridden Alderman. In doing so, I am here to present the lady of the hour, Princess Lamia Ebuza.”
The spotlight shone down into the corner near the stage, where the mayor stood, giving a small wave before walking onto the stage amid applause. Still in her twenties and in her second term of office, Lamia Ebuza’s sincerity and beauty made her the city’s prized possession, respected by those who knew her, and admired by the people. She wore a black layered evening gown; her curly golden locks flowed down, resting against the black dress. Malk bowed away as she took to the podium.
“Thank you for the introduction Malk,” she said.
Malk gave another bow before stepping off the stage, headed back to the table to join the others.
“As most of you may know, there have been an increase in violence in such a short time here in Alter City,” she began. “The police force is ever vigilant, but our numbers are stretched thin. The recent appointment of Destnol Wun as Commissioner of Police has been a major step in reshaping our force.”
The spotlight shone back at the Mayor’s table, now on a young man dressed in the paramilitary attire of the Alter City Police Force. His olive complexion glistened against the light; the shine of his short sleek hair imitating that of his boots. A woman near Akko touched her forehead as if to feint as he gave a two finger salute to the audience.
“There’s something about that guy.”
Malk having returned to his seat at the table, remarked of the Commissioner of Police.
“The Commissioner,” Pietro asked “Do you know the guy?”
“Comes from a well to do family, rose amazingly quick to his position as Chief,” Malk said, “and on top of that, he’s dating my ex-girlfriend.”
Pietro laughed, “Yes he’s such a bad man.”
“Is that jealousy I see Malk?” teased Akko
“I dumped her,” Malk insisted, “don’t forget that part.”
“Alright, alright,” Pietro said, turning back to the Mayor’s speech
“…with us needing a stronger force in our fight. That’s why I would like to introduce my special guests here tonight.”
A side door near the stage opened; six cloaked figures in masks stepped out into view, forming a line behind the mayor upon the stage. The room goes abuzz with murmurs at the sight, while the six masked figures form a line behind the mayor. Akko took note to their masks; white with black slanted holes for eyes and a thin slit for a mouth that curved upwards just slightly at the ends, a dark purple streak carried down along the left eye Another hooded figure walked out, this one maskless, though his features not any more distinguishable; his gloved hands behind his back as he ascended the steps onto the stage, stopping to stand beside the mayor.
“This special task force will be working alongside Commissioner Wun in our war on crime, helping to rid us of the criminal organizations that plague our city.”
Mayor Lamia stepped away, allowing this tall figure to come forward. He brought his arms up slowly, removing his hood, revealing a bold, strong faced man.
“My name is Orojin, and I am the leader of the Order of the Veldt.”
Silence. Everyone in the audience was left open mouthed and wide eyed…
The magik wielding Veldt had been long thought extinct following the years of the final 4th Magik-Elemental War some two thousand years ago. As the initial shock ebbed, the room became abuzz with murmurs; cameras flashed here and there hesitantly, as if their holders were unsure of what to do. The voices grew louder and the lights flashed more swiftly, the audience spoke in a mix of curiosity and awe, while voices of uncertainty also bespeckled the room. The man, Orojin, stood quietly at the podium until the noise died done enough, before speaking once more.
“My people have seen the struggles of the common man against the menace that are the Organizations,” he began, “Throughout Alterus; the police are valiantly going against the Orgs, going against a much stronger foe in the name of justice and peace. These actions are to be commended, as are the actions of Mayor Lamia and Commissioner Wun for accepting our help in these troubled times, understanding that without us, how long will it be before the police patrolling the streets are replaced by the Terragotto, the Black Falcons, Hydra, or the Aduri Syndicate? What I give you now a promise, a promise that we will take back the streets and end the Org menace once and for all.” The audience gave a standing ovation as Orojin made his way off of the stage.
As the affair got back underway, Akko’s attention grew less on the conversation the others were having, and more so on something across the room, having caught the young woman in the corner, again looking in his direction. Dressed in a close fitting silver gown, her small yet soft featured face was partially covered by her straightened black styled hair. She’s cute, he thought to himself, and alone. He looked around, wondering if perhaps she was looking at someone else, Malk and Pietro were in deep conversation about an upcoming match, the latter of whom could not help but shift uncomfortably while Sineca was being overly affectionate to Ulrich’s neck. At seeing the tables around him empty, many of the party goers having left to mingle out on the floor, he got to his feet, leaving the others to it while he made his way through the crowd. She saw him coming about halfway across, so he gave an awkward wave, not knowing what else to do, putting his hands in his pocket as he moved forward.
“Let me guess,” he said as he drew near, “You’ve been trying to work up the courage to come over and talk to me haven’t you?”
“I could say the same of you,” she said, looking him over with her uncovered, yet makeup lined eye.
“I wasn’t the one staring from across the room,” Akko returned
A half smile played upon her full lips, “Fair enough.”
“Is there a name to match this face I see?”
“Ferra,” she said, extending her hand.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said upon kissing her hand
“The pleasure is all mine, Akko,” at his expression, she continued, “I saw your fight the other day, I was at the stadium.”
Akko grinned, “I take it you like what you saw?”
“In a way,” she smirked, “though the fighting itself seemed unrefined.”
Akko shrugged off the comment, not sure if he should be flattered or offended, “To each his own I guess.”
There was a moment’s silence between the two, Akko unsure of how best to proceed. Realizing then that just about all of the women he’d come upon, had put themselves onto him, so he never really had to do much to pull them in.
“So,” he began, “what brings you to this soiree?”
“I’m here with my father,” she stated, “He’s here trying to curry favor with the big whigs of Alter City.”
“Do you think your father would mind if I took his daughter for some air?”
They headed out back, entering into a large garden, its scene added to by the light of the moon. A slight breeze blew through the night air; Akko looked on as the wind gently roused Ferra’s hair.
“Now who’s staring?” she mocked.
He chuckled, “Apologies.”
Their walk through the hotel garden continued in silence as Akko tried to think of another thing to say. This girl was not just another fan who was constantly fawning over him; she actually seemed content to walking in silence for the most part. She wasn’t asking any questions about his life or if he knew any other famous people, none of the usual fan talk. He hated to think himself conceited, but it was somewhat surprising considering when she had been staring at him earlier, he was sure she was of that nature. They stopped in front of the reflection pool in the center of the garden; Akko put his hands in his pocket once more while Ferra looked down into the water.
““Haven’t seen you around before,” he said finally.
“It’s a big city,” she replied, “I haven’t been here long either.”
“What do you think of the place?”
“Needless to say, I’m not too fond of this city’s inhabitants.”
“Probably because you hadn’t met a guy like me,” Akko stated.
Ferra turned to him, reached out and grabbed him by the collar, pulling Akko close. Her alluring eyes drew towards him; she tilted her head, the smell of her perfume strong in his nostrils as her lips drew close to his, her lips parting just slightly.
“I’ve met a lot of guys like you,” she said breathily as she pulled away.
Akko smoothly wiped the nonexistent kiss from his mouth as he watched her turn on her heels, and began walking away.
“I’ll be seeing you Akko Adregi,” she said without another glance back.
Watching her go, he saw Nikita Vikaeli, glaring out of the corner of his eye in Akko’s direction while he talked with a group of unnamed men and women. As Akko made his way back into the building, Niki noticed him as well, smirking as he passed.
Returning to his seat at the table, he noticed that it’s all but empty save for Ulrich and Sineca, who, at the moment were conjoined at the face. He cleared his throat.
“Come up for air you two,” he said, “Where are Malk and Pietro?”
Ulrich pointed and Akko followed the direction, looking over and seeing them in what he could only assume to be a boring conversation with a pair of politico. He turns back to the duo, surprised that they had not gone under once more.
“Mind if I took the car?” Ulrich asked
Akko looked from one to the other, before letting out a sigh, “For fear of you two not being able to contain yourselves much longer, go ahead.” Tossing him the keys
Akko took another drink from a passing waiter, now sitting alone at the table. He looked out on the crowd, watching as Ulrich exited with Sineca. Shortly after their exit, three men came into the building. Considering no one had really left yet, and it’s quite a late entrance, Akko watched them, out of boredom than anything else. They didn’t disappoint as he saw them walk up to Niki Vikaeli, say a few words, and after a quick exchange with his father, hastily exited the building with Niki in the lead. Akko shook his head, cursing the Aduri as he drank.
The Adregi brothers shared a home, though modest, it attested still to their monetary status. Upon entering the house, Sineca hurried off to the bathroom while Ulrich walked up the stairs to his bedroom. He began to remove his shirt as he stepped through the door into his unlit room. Pulling the shirt over his head, he looked up—indistinguishable by the dim light of the moon that shone through the window, but unmistakably there, four darkened figures stood before him.