"There's nothing to negotiate. The commercial street is my territory," Loden said coldly. He was initially curious why Blackjack wanted to see him and just found out they wanted to take a bite of Bloodhand's meat.
"Forgive my frankness, but I doubt you can make that decision for the whole brotherhood. Unless you're saying your leader's already agreed and you're just relaying his decision," the other man countered.
"I'm here to represent myself."
"Alright. We don't need you to decide immediately. Just pass the words on to Mister Taewon."
"You don't even need to think to know the boss won't agree!"
"Really? Does Mister Loden really think so?"
"The boss is no idiot. Why would he agree to a deal that cuts his profits? The boss aside, are you telling me Blackjack will agree as well?" Loden smirked.
"Of course he won't. Most normal people won't do something to hurt their interests, however--" the man suddenly closed in, "--how can you be sure there isn't a reason this time?"
"You..." Loden felt a chill run down his spine. He knew someone had gripped his weakness.
"I admit I've held a sense of respect for the brotherhood for the years I've been here. But that man's appearance changed everything" Respect flashed across his face when he said 'that man'.
"Dark Requiem..." muttered Loden.
"Yes, Dark Requiem," the man nodded, "I'm curious how the brotherhood managed to make such an enemy."
"None of your business," Truth be told, he didn't know why either.
"It's just a fact," the man shrugged, "I've thought about it quite a bit, but don't you think a sinister assassin like that must have an even bigger power behind him?"
"What d'you mean?" Loden kept his poker face.
"An even stronger faction."
"You can look into it on your own."
"I don't have to. Regardless, I believe the brotherhood will be ripped apart."
"You're saying you're here to exploit our predicament?"
The man nodded frankly.
"Yes. We're here to do just that. In fact, apart from us, quite a few factions are staring and waiting for a chance. Especially the commercial street. If we're not mistaken, the street brings the brotherhood a quarter of its income. Others, us included, are pining for that profit."
"Well, you can try. Stretch your hand into our mouth and take our meat and I guarantee it will be bitten off," Loden hissed.
The man smiled.
"Mister Loden, I'm sure you're a pretty smart man, you wouldn't have secured your current position otherwise. Why would you say something so stupid?"
"I'm not sure I follow."
"Oh, you do. With seven of your branches destroyed, I'm sure the brotherhood is in for a hell of a ride even without our interference. We would never dare make these demands in the past, but the lion is wounded and its fangs and talons are blunt. We have to rebuild the natural order and restore the equilibrium."
Loden humphed. Blackjack was well-prepared for the negotiations. Since the name 'Bloodhand Brotherhood' no longer threatened them, it was their turn to play ball.
"Blackjack is willing to give you an olive branch. In exchange, Taewon will give us part of the street's profits."
"In exchange? For what? You aren't contributing one bit but you demand part of the street's profits? That's not a trade; that's robbery!"
"So you're telling me the brotherhood has never robbed anyone? Or are you saying you had a hand in building the street's prosperity? If you're willing to give us part of the profits, we'll ensure you hold on to the rest. At the same time, Blackjack will help you survive this predicament."
Loden gazed at the man silently as he considered the offer.
"I believe you are aware that, apart from Taewon, Blackjack has never feared anyone in Kent," the man continued, "Even if we don't take anything from the street, there's no doubt the other factions will give it a go. How will you weather the pressure from all the factions? You won't keep hold of even a single stone in the street on your own. Why not trade a part of its profits for Blackjack's friendship? This is the best choice you have. And our price is the best you'll get."
Loden stayed silent.
"...I'll talk to the boss but I can't say whether he'll agree."
"That's all we ask." the man smiled confidently, "Thanks for your time. We'll wait patiently for Taewon's reply. You know how to get in touch."
"Yes," Loden nodded.
"Alright, we'll be on our way. The bill's on us, so enjoy yourself a little." The man and a few henchmen stood up and left.
Loden sat in the room alone silently. He stood up and left after some time. A few of his goons were patiently waiting outside.
"We're heading back." he ordered.
A vixen caught his eyes the moment he spoke. She had long, lush black hair, a soul-stealing face and a godlike figure. Loden lost himself immediately; it only got worse when his eyes wandered over her revealing clothing. The woman glanced at him and disappeared into a nearby washroom.
Loden's need to vent overwhelmed him. He'd wanted to vent after the infuriating exchange, and now the greatest vent possible had just revealed itself.
"Keep an eye out, I'll be back shortly." he ordered as he stepped towards the door.
"Don't worry, I'll make sure nobody bothers you!"
His head henchman immediately understood his boss' intention.
Loden nodded and stepped into the washroom impatiently. As expected, the woman was waiting for him inside.
"I wonder for whom a lady such as yourself is waiting in a place like this?"
Though he was small and weak, his face was still slightly handsome. His trademark smile had allowed him to conquer quite a few women over the years.
"Well, you're not wrong," the woman replied huskily.
"Oh? Who might it be?" Loden's smile intensified, but he felt a sense of discomfort gnaw at his insides. The vixen was too easy. It felt like this was all arranged. She smiled, a stabbing gaze suddenly breaking through her aura. Her delicate lips moved, but a youthful male voice clawed out between them.
"You, of course."
Horror shot up Loden's spine. He knew something was off the moment the woman's gaze shifted, but before he could react a dagger pressed against his throat.
"Ssssshhh! Relax. Don't do anything rash. If you surprise me, my hand might slip."
"Who are you?" Loden tried to suppress the stutter in his voice. He knew he couldn't afford to show any weakness now.
"Dark Requiem," the shadow behind him answered.
Loden broke out in a cold sweat.
"Loden, right? What were you doing in there? I had to wait for a long time."
Loden stared daggers in the shadow's direction.
"Why are you guys always so stubborn? I shouldn't complain too much, it means I get to try out a few new techniques."
"Sounds like the boss is having fun!" commented one of the guards standing outside. They listened to the moans cracking through the door and couldn't help picturing what might be going on inside.
"Did you see? That woman is a goddess! I've never seen someone so hot!" another added, drooling.
"Of course. Damn it, I would marry her without thinking twice!"
If Loden had heard their comments, he would no doubt screamed.
'So you want to give it a f*cking go? I am going to heaven, but not in the fun way!'
Inside, Loden lay with greenish-purple bruises dotting his skin. They weren't obvious, but he knew exactly where each was thanks to the pain. He wanted to cry out, to yell until his voice broke, but he couldn't make a sound, he had no control over his voice box. The closest he got was a few wheezes and moans, none distinguishable from the moans that accompanied sexual release.
"So, ready to tell me what I want to know?" the shadow asked.
Loden caught his breath, waiting for the pain to subside some. He answered once he could think straight again.
"Good," the shadow nodded.
Its hands vanished into a pocket on its robe and emerged a moment later with clutching a vile. Inside was a small pill which it stuffed into Loden's mouth.
"This is a poison I made myself. You'll be fine for the next five days. But, if you don't get the antidote, you'll insides will turn into a smooth paste and ooze out of every hole you have, and a few you didn't know you had. You'll be awake for it all as well. Trust me, the pain you just felt is just a small prick compared to what you'll suffer in a week's time."
Loden glared wordlessly.
"You don't have to believe me, believe the slight prick you feel in your stomach. It'll get worse as time passes and slowly climb to your heart. When it does, nothing can save you."
Loden's face finally paled. He could feel the prick slowly emerge in the pit of his stomach. If the shadow didn't lie… He shivered at the thought.
"Yes," the shadow smiled, "I won't make thing unnecessarily hard for you, you just have to do a few simple things for me and I'll give you the antidote..."
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