"Alexei, long time no see old man..." The young man entered the spacious room as though he owned it, his bright yet shifty smile lit confidently across his face as he approached Alexei, who was seated in an antique leather chair before a large woodcut mounted on the wall. "Mr. Edgar, you know my policy on visitors..." he said without turning his head. A small, elderly man in a butler's tuxedo, who had only just then entered the room replied, "I'm sorry Mr. Lethaliov, but Mr. Burzese forced his way past me..." The young man approached Alexei, and removed his expensive Italian suit jacket, flinging it onto the back of a nearby chair, "Come now, Alexei, is that any way to treat a guest"? Alexei raised his hand and waived off the butler, "It's all right Mr. Edgar. He's here now, he might as well stay a moment". As the butler reluctantly left the room, Alexei carefully put on a pair of black leather gloves as he addressed his uninvited visitor, "You are not supposed to come here Maurizio, you know my policy". "Lex, you live up here in this huge mansion all by yourself. You only talk to people over the phone. You've done work for my father for what, seven years now? Do you know this is only the third time I've seen you face to face?" Alexei scowled as he continued to admire the work of art before him, one of the dozens which filled the colossal room, "That's more than most. You of all people should be aware of my reasons, Maurizio. Your father respects my wishes, why is it that you cannot?" "My father is afraid of you -I'm not. Besides, one little visit won't kill me, right?" Alexei sipped his scotch on the rocks before turning to face his visitor, "It might." Maurizio smiled even more broadly as he sat down on a marble bench along the wall, "Maybe, but I had to come all the same. I heard about your brother, Lex, and what I'm hearing isn't good." Alexei stiffened slightly in his chair as Maurizio, somewhat more seriously now, continued, "Why did Yuri go to the Cambrano's casino? What was he thinking?" "He wasn't thinking," replied Alexei, "Yuri has...a problem with gambling." Maurizio leaned in, "Well now he has a REAL problem, Lex. A $750,000 problem. The Cambrano's don't just forgive that kind of money." Alexei continued to sit stoically in his chair, his mask of displeasure only slightly cracked by signs of concern. Maurizio pulled a chequebook out of his pocket, "Look Lex if it's a question of money, you know I can take care of this for you. You've always been straight with my father and he appreciates that. You can work it off, no questions asked." Alexei stood up from his chair, grasped his leather-clad hands behind him and examined the woodcut more closely, "It's not the money, Maurizio. I have ten times that amount in accounts all across Khazan. The artwork in this room alone could pay Yuri's debt 100 times over. They don't want money." "So what's their angle then?" "They want me to kill someone."
Body of Work
Environmental Awareness: Superior
"Kill someone?" exclaimed Maurizio in surprise, "Are they nuts? You don't do that anymore. You've been out of the game for what, ten years now?" "Thirteen, actually," corrected Alexei. "Well, you told them to stuff it right? I mean, I know this is a big thing with you." "Actually, I accepted. They're holding Yuri, it would seem that I have little choice." Maurizio slumped back against the wall, "Lex, let me talk to my father. Maybe he can talk to old man Cambrano and work something out..." Alexei interrupted his visitor mid-thought, "You know as well as I do that isn't an option Maurizio. Your families have been feuding for years - he won't listen. I've examined all the possibilities. There is no other choice." "You're an art thief now - best in the world. They can't drag you back into the game like this, Lex, it ain't right. It ain't fair." Alexei motioned for Maurizio to stand, "Come here and look at this work. What do you see?" Maurizio, glanced at the woodcut for a moment and replied, "It's some old guy, and in these squares around him are pictures of him doing stuff. You know I'm no good at this, old man - I don't share my father's love of art." Alexei ignored his comment and instructed, "The work is a 12th century Byzantine icon - very rare. This 'old guy' is St. Nicolas the Miracleworker, and these squares depict his great deeds. Here, he is surrounded on all sides by his own accomplishments..." Alexei motioned with his hand the rectangular box made up of the saint's miraculous feats. "And yet," he continued, "Look at his face. There is no pride. No joy. No happiness..." Maurizio moved closer so as to stare St. Nicolas right in the face, "He looks kinda sad, actually... why?" Alexei turned and walked to the centre of the room, admiring the full majesty of his unparalleled collection, "He is sad, Maurizio, because as great as his deeds were, he is now trapped by them - physically on the woodcut but symbolically in life. Who he is shall be forever defined by what he has done. I find myself in the same situation, my friend. I have spent the last 13 years avoiding my own past - losing myself in my work, in my collection - but in the end I too am trapped, like St. Nicolas, by my own actions. I must do this job for the Cambrano's, Maurizio... I can hide no longer."
Moving from the gallery to the gymnasium, Alexei spoke not another word. Maurizio followed in silence, concerned for his friend's well being. Although he maintained his unflappable cool, he could sense a sadness in him, like his spirit were somehow broken by the cruel turn of events. "I need to prepare... you may stay if you wish", offered Alexei as he changed into his training uniform. The silence between the two men continued as Alexei strode out into the large room filled with all manner of acrobatic equipment. With an incredible fluidity of movement he began his training regimen, executing a number of complicated tumbles across a large mat in the centre of the room. Maurizio sat on a wooden bench placed along the wall, marvelling at his friend's skill. He had never seen him in action, but was glad to see that the rumours of his speed and agility were not exaggerated. Maurizio had heard his father tell a story once about how Alexei had broken into the McManus Gallery in Uptown - a story that had become legend amongst the Mafioso of Khazan. He had bypassed the security system, relieved the gallery of two of its more expensive oil paintings and proceeded to the roof to make good his escape. Placing a wooden plank between the gallery roof and that of the adjoining building he began to carefully make his way across, only to be interrupted by a security guard, who burst onto the scene with revolvers blazing. Legend had it that Alexei cartwheeled across the plank a full 20 feet - without a bullet even scratching him - before the makeshift bridge gave way just as he reached its end. Plummeting towards the pavement 6 stories below, he somehow grabbed a flagpole and actually catapulted himself back up to the rooftop. The dumb schmuck guard had him dead to rights, but he was so amazed at what he had just witnessed he froze - stood there like a statue with his gun raised as Alexei fled into the night. Maurizio always loved that story, but Alexei would never tell him whether it was true or not. Watching now as he flipped and jumped his way through a complicated maze of bars, rings and poles suspended 20 feet above the gymnasium floor, Maurizio started to believe it. When Alexei finally descended, Maurizio asked him one last time. "The story is not true," admitted Alexei, sweat pouring down from his aged and wrinkled brow, "the truth is, the plank was more like 30 feet long". It was the first time Maurizio had ever seen Alexei smile.
The Master Stroke
Martial Arts: Superior
"Mr. Edgar, would you please send in the training bots?", asked Alexei. "Of course, sir" replied his faithful butler before excusing himself to an adjoining room. "Alexei," implored Maurizio as his host stood ready on the large gymnasium mat, "are you sure there is nothing we can do to get you out of this? Art theft is one thing, but a hit... hits are dangerous. You know how important your services are to my father - if the Cambrano's want to use you like this, they should have at least come to us first." At that moment, two rather large training robots, the latest KOMBG had to offer, marched into the room and onto the mat. "I appreciate your concern," replied Alexei as he bowed to the robots, who returned the courtesy, "but as I stipulated to your father from the beginning I am a freelance operator. The Cambrano's are free to deal with me independently if they wish, even if their methods are less than scrupulous." The robots lunged in unison, their metallic arms and legs exploding a flurry of pre-programmed attacks. Alexei calmly dodged them all, bobbing and weaving through the calculated series' of kicks and punches. "It's a question of respect, Lex," countered Maurizio as he watched the impressive display from a safe distance, "The Cambrano's are only doing this because they know it will upset my father". Alexei dropped and rolled right, sweeping his foot out and knocking one of the robots to the floor. Somehow managing to continue his conversation while in the throws of battle, he noted, "That may be, Maurizio, but it was your father who ordered the hit on Luigi Cambrano's son, Vincent. Surely you knew that kind of bad blood would not just disappear. They are trying to disrupt your father's operations in any way they can - even if it means jeopardizing his supply of stolen art". With a powerful lunge, Alexei swept upward and landed a closed fist to the upright robot's featureless metal face. Flying backward, the robot tumbled to the ground with a loud clanging noise. "Those cowards don't have the balls to attack our family directly, so this is how they do it?", asked Maurizio, increasingly enraged by the Cambrano's gall, "I'm sorry you've gotten mixed up in this Lex. If we knew they'd try something like this..." The remaining robot jumped up off the floor and grabbed Alexei from behind and began squeezing him tight, causing Maurizio to pause mid-sentence. Alexei grit his teeth, then flung his robotic foe over his shoulder and to the mat, where he polished him off with a flurry of devastating kicks. Winded and tired, Alexei turned to his friend, "Do not worry about me Maurizio. Were it not for Yuri, none of us would be in this situation - it is my family who owes yours the apology". Sitting for a moment on the bench and draping a towel over his shoulders, Alexei grew suddenly quiet. Maurizio stood a safe distance away and after a moment of awkward silence asked, "It's just this once, right Lex? Just this one last hit and you are square?" Alexei leaned back, the cool concrete wall soothing his burning muscles, "The lesson I am learning, Maurizio, is that in this business there is no such thing as a 'last hit'. I kept Pandora's Box closed for 13 years - I do not know if I can find the strength to close it once more."
Damage Shield: Supreme
- Area Affect
- Double Damage to l6v:Master Training
The pair retired to the study for a quick drink. Alexei poured himself a scotch, and proceeded to walk to the other side of the room. "I'm afraid you will have to get your drink yourself, Maurizio. I don't mean to be rude, but..." Maurizio put up his hand, "No need to explain Lex. I've probably pushed my luck far enough with this visit." Walking across the room, the young man poured himself a drink. As he dropped a cube of ice into the mixture he shook his head, "I don't know how you stand it Lex... your condition I mean. As much as I've enjoyed our little visit, I'm already starting to feel a little weird y'know? I don't think I'll be back for a while." Alexei admired a bouquet of fresh flowers on the side table that Mr. Edgar had replaced this morning - bright orange and white flowers, bursting with life and vibrancy. He ran his gloved finger down the length of the stem as he spoke, "It isn't easy of course, but it is something I have learned to live with." As he spoke, the petals of the flowers began to curl and shrivel. The bold spring colours faded into a sickly brown as the bouquet quickly shrivelled and died in the expensive crystal vase it was placed in. "My collection provides me some solace," continued Alexei, "though I dare not touch my works directly, they have proven remarkably resilient to my ... abnormality." Maurizio downed his glass in one gulp, "Abnormality? That's a bit of an understatement, old man. Having a crooked nose or buck teeth is an abnormality... shaving years off someone's life just by being near them is a curse." Alexei stiffened again as he removed the dead flowers from the vase and into a wastebasket nearby. He was obviously uncomfortable discussing it, but Maurizio continued regardless, "Just because this is how you are Lex, doesn't mean it's how you have to be. Everything around you, everything you touch, dies in seconds and yet you have gone thirteen years without so much as killing a fly. Don't let the Cambrano's take that away from you." A tear rolled down Alexei's cheek at Maurizio's words, "You are a true friend, Maurizio Burzese. You are wiser than your father gives you credit for." As he spoke, Alexei began to remove his leather gloves. Maurizio grasped his chest and loosened his collar, "Maybe I oughta get going Lex... I don't have the same resistance to your condition that Mr. Edgar has - I'm starting to feel a little off." Alexei turned, his eyes welled up with tears, and approached Maurizio, who stumbled backwards into the bar in obvious pain. "L-l-lex?" Alexei reached out his bare hand and caressed Maurizio's face, "I am sorry, my friend. There is no other way..." At his touch, Maurizio began to convulse, his eyes bulging out as his face contorted into a grotesque death mask. "Don't struggle - it only makes it worse," sobbed Alexei as he gripped his victim tighter. Maurizio's hands shook and blood began to stream from his nose. In a matter of seconds, he collapsed to the floor... lifeless and cold. Alexei sat in the chair next to him and put his head into shaking hands as he wept for his friend. His sorrow was only interrupted by the soft voice of Mr. Edgar, who had slipped unnoticed into the study. "Shall I take care of this for you, sir?" Alexei sat up and attempted to regain some modicum of composure, "Yes. Thank-you Mr. Edgar. Please call Mr. Cambrano and let him know the job is done. He has one hour to bring Yuri here or else I will go to Nicola Burzese and tell him the whole sordid story." Alexei stormed out of the room and down the hall to the gallery. Once more he stood before the woodcut of St. Nicolas, only this time his eyes were clouded with tears of rage and sorrow. With one swift motion, he plunged his fist into the centre of the piece, shattering it with a tremendous crash into a shower of splinters and unidentifiable fragments. Sitting again in his leather chair, Alexei sipped his scotch and stared at the blank space left on the wall in front of him. He knew it would not end here. He knew the Cambrano's needed an assassin to deal with their super-powered competitors. St. Nicolas was now free from his prison, but Alexei's own sentence had just begun.