Description: The night after Shang Tsung's demonstration, some of his 'esteemed guests' are gathered in the barracks for some basic reminders of how /not/ to let Outworld overrun one's planet. The guest lecturer has some eavesdroppers, though, who are quick to offer their critiques. Nothing is what it seems... or perhaps everything is?
The palace which occupies the prime real estate on this curiously isolated island is enormous, sprawling across hundreds of acres of land. The primary building material is stone, but even still, there's way more stone than one would consider it feasible to have mined from the island alone. And what's more -- the buildings are much too large to have been established as a temporary affair.
Simply put: this island has likely been here for centuries. And from the extent of the construction, it was almost certainly built with slave labor.
Case in point: While some have been granted sleeping quarters to rival the best five-star hotels in any palatial island estate elsewhere in the world, others have been granted much less. There are a number of communal sleeping barracks, providing bedding for upwards of thirty people apiece. Bunk beds cut from rough-hewn wood have been securely fastened to the wall, but even those have not been sufficient for the excessive number of persons -- of all walks of life -- assembled here.
Bunking assignments were decided with enough thought to separate the males from the females. This barracks room is one of those set aside for men. Some are businessmen with an MMA or an amateur fighting background. But others are hardened criminals, renowned in their limited circles for their viciousness and tenacity. Many are hunched over on their bunks, gawking awkwardly at the lithe beauty dressed in Chinese silk as she extends her hand out to each of them. Each man is different -- some are enticed by the casual arrival of a woman into their midst, while others are less interested -- but not a one is attempting to ignore her words.
"Gentlemen, if you were all paying attention, you would all have heard the same message. We, collectively, are all here to -fight-. We may not know the -conditions- of the fight, but that, friends, is why I am here!"
She's been talking for a while, and yet, the men aren't jeering or pointing -- their heads are nodding in quiet, spellbound agreement.
"You all have eyes -- you can -see- that we're being buttered up for something, yes? Some of you were taken from your homes, shoved onto a boat, and thrust onto the floor like a common animal. Gifts of fine clothing, and banquets of free food are offered to you. Shang Tsung must be the greatest man in the world, yes?!"
Cheers ring out, as the crowd resonates with the smile of the Ainu puppetmaster as she holds her hand up in a grandiose gesture.
Her hands close into fists, and the mood of the room drops considerably. A shockwave of oppression is thrown across the room.
"But this woman says we're being -lied- to, =deceived=... " The Scarlet Dahlia looks around, singling out one man in particular, grabbing him by the shoulders and looking into his eyes. "How can this be? He has shared all these riches with us!"
She releases the man, whirling about to single another man out, to beseech him with her rhetoric. "It's a clever manipulation, you see -- just as the woman said. So I come to you tonight with a simple and effective warning..."
Her mood settles; the pressure room reaches a calm equilibrium once again. "It is simple. Do not let this man play into your emotions. If we are to survive -- we must do everything possible to remain calm. Keep your eye on the prize, after all... hmm?"
The Dahlia reaches into a satchel she carries over one shoulder, a sultry smile crossing her lips as she peers over one shoulder for effect. "The prize, gentlemen... you've all seen them, right...?"
Zach had had the chance to sleep off some of the events of the banquest. He woke up aware, if not restored. He had half a mind to do what he normally did during these big tournament: look around and see what he could stick his nose into. It was on this jaunt that he felt... a familiar presence. He followed that for a moment, and then he heard a familiar voice. He cannot place where he's heard the voice. But he /KNOWS/ he's heard it before.
Zach follows the voice, and arrives at the doorway to a men's barracks. He waits a moment, listening for a moment when the speaker is moving away, before peeking in. He watches for a second, watching how the woman is working the room before slipping back out after he catches the woman's face in profile.
This... this was not a side of Honoka he had seen. Not often, at any rate. He keeps his position outside of the doorwy, listening. Paying attention not only to what she is saying, but what she is doing to work the crowd.
To the Earthrealmers this palace may be the stuff of fantasy. An ancient castle that extends almost as far as the eye can see, filled with exotic riches, luxuries, food and entertainment. A palace for Kings amongst Kings.
And yet, it is naught but an insignificant spec of dust in comparison to the Emperor's palace in Outworld.
Though arriving late to the party considering he had been tasked to explore Earthrealm far away from where the tournament was to take place, Kotal is nothing if not adaptable. He already had enough of a solid grip mainland that he felt comfortable removing his presence from the States and head to where the main Konflict was brewing. The presence of his warriors however, those loyal, acquired and even borrowed were yet to be determined. After all, no one in the island needed to know what Kotal was doing. Their task was to run the tournament, Kotal was to concentrate on the details of the invasion.
That said, the tournament itself was part of the invasion, and if Outworld could in fact overpower these mortals in honorable Kombat then there would be no need to go around the Eldergods' decrees and break the veil some other way. For now, Kotal decided that his time and presence were better spent here, where battle was joined.
Used as he is already infiltrating these mortals, Kotal was immersed in one of the communal rooms where the fodder of the Earthrealm defenders were located. A man of the people at heart, Kotal found it very easy to pose as simply yet another fighter and hear what all the fuss was about.
A skill that has thus far proved very useful to him. Way at the back sat the disguised god Huitzilopotchli, his appearance being that of just a muscular Hispanic man with short hair.
Arms crossed, he watches as this Dhalia plays the crowd expertly, warning them of foul play ahead and yet.. not sounding all that sincere herself. Clearly they are naught but pawns to be toyed by her, but for what purpose? Was she trying to save herself? Was she a fighter for Earthrealm? These mortals are so very strange in a frightening way almost. How readily they are willing to sell each other off if only to give themselves a few seconds more of existence. Or perhaps Kotal may simply be jumping to conclusions, seeing as this is the first time he's seen this woman before. He would have recognize that showmanship in Outworld if that were the case.
For now, he simply watches, trying to understand the purpose behind this.. performance.
A plain plastic gem, in amber resin, is pulled out of the Dahlia's satchel. It's gaudy, and cheap -- and yet it gets the heart of every man racing faster. A quartet even leaps out of their bunks, making wild grabs for the obvious fake -- so driven by their delusion that it might be one of the Soul Shards as witnessed last night. And yet, even with the multitude of taller men reaching for the trinket, the 5'5" Dahlia has no problems effortlessly weaving the token out of their grasp, her red Chinese dress flowing about languidly to further demonstrate the futility of their gestures. In some cases, it is necessary for the woman to shove an arm aside, or sweep a hip out of her way, but in every instance: success.
Once her point is made, she stands apart, raising her hands up. "These trinkets -- presuming you get your hands on one -- will obviously be the most powerful artifact you have ever wielded in your life, and may -ever- wield. But nothing comes without a cost."
The Dahlia casually tosses the gem into the chest of the man standing next to her. A wave of rage sweeps through the crowd -- its origin, the mysterious woman in red. The catcher weakly grabs for the gem, moments before disappearing beneath a dogpile caused by a dozen others. As he flails about on the floor, the Dahlia raises her voice.
"This is exactly the sort of behavior this Shang Tsung -wants- from you. He wants you fighting each other. You are all the chosen ones, those most likely to defeat his forces in bloody fights to the death."
The Dahlia hesitates, glancing at the open doorway for a moment. A presence -- one with the hint of familiarity.
She exhales a breath through her nose, before turning back to the awestruck crowd. "If you value your lives, you will save your strength for the fights that matter."
Still the battle for the worthless trinket wages on at her feet -- but with a slam of her open palm towards the floor, all men act as if they've been crushed under an avalanche of lead weights.
Her words carry weight -- though she is not raising her voice, the effect echoes throughout the room. "If you allow yourself to be -bought- by fancy clothes and sumptuous feasts, the next trinkets will be formed out of your blood. Your hearts will beat the soundtrack that drives the agents of Hell into our world. Your strength will empower the axes that behead the leaders of the world. Your flesh will bolster that of the monsters closing in."
The Dahlia draws in her breath, as the true import of her metaphor begins to set in.
"From this point on, you have but -one- goal to keep eyes upon. The goal... is your survival. If you look away from that goal, for even one moment, your life is forfeit..."
She gestures towards the worthless trinket laying upon the floor, as the dogpile of men unsteadily crawls away from it.
"... If you forget that, in the pursuit of vanity or power... your life will be worth no more than currency for this invading army."
The men in the room begin to sit up, nodding quietly in unison with the Akatsuki advisor's words.
Zach simply leans against the door frame, out of sight, his arms folded across his chest. Not a single thing The Dahl-/Honoka/ has said is untrue. Glenn frowns, something warning him that there is more to this than the words of the speech. More than getting the reactions from these men. He waits, wanting to see where this goes.
Wise words. Perhaps a sign that Kotal has laid judgment upon these mortals too quickly.
To keep your morals pure and to break yourself free from all material possessions should be the one true path for all fighters out there. Forget individual gain, work together, and strive for a better tomorrow. Words that Kotal himself had said centuries ago.
And yet he had seen them fall upon deaf ears, what are the chances that it might be different now? Nothing comes without a price, true, and as far as Huitzilopotchli had seen across the years, very few mortals act without wanting something in return. Money, power, fame, there is almost always something they want back for their actions.
What does this woman want in return for rallying the troops of Earthrealm?
The Dahlia's plan is inscrutable at first glance -- for she appears to simply be urging the men to action, without actually giving them a goal. But indeed, what she is really hoping to do is instill the men with confidence -- to get them to -remember- the horrors witnessed the night before, and to reiterate the mortal peril in which they find themselves.
In the lack of concrete knowledge of the Soul Shards' true abilities, after all, the psion can only take her best guess. She could remain silent, but is loathe to waste a moment of opportunity -- a moment in which she can bend a potential army to her will.
"You have been given a gift, a blessing in disguise. The Emperor will be playing a game with your souls over the next few days. He hopes to invigorate your thirst for... Kombat." The Dahlia knows several languages: Ainu, Japanese, and English. But Shang Tsung has his own manner of speaking, and it had left an indelible mark upon the Dahlia's memories of the evening. "But never forget that he spoke the word Mortal before Kombat... "
The scarlet dress swirls about, as she attempts to make eye contact with every person standing in the room. The one who reached first for the bauble. The one who pushed him over first. And the man who appeared to be a muscular, short-haired Hispanic man off in the wings -- her gaze lingers upon him for just a moment longer than the others.
"There is no doubt in my mind that a number of you in this room now will not be riding alongside me on the boat out of here. Do not waste this time. Strengthen your bodies. Bolster your minds."
The speaker takes a step for the door, folding her hands behind her back, brushing idly past the the black lacquer of a three-sectioned staff secured to a sash upon her left hip. A smile spreads upon her face, visible to the men only in the profile as she turns her head sideways. "Perhaps you will even prove me wrong."
Message delivered, she begins taking steps for the door, her short-heeled shoes clacking loudly upon the concrete floor in the wake of an awed silence from the assembled men.
Zach waits until Honoka actually leaves the room before announcing his presence more than he alredy has. He doesn't turn to follow, but simply speaks on a frequency that most other won't actually hear him.
<<Interesting speech,>> he says, curiousity coloring the whole thought. <<You always did know how to work a crowd.>> No accusation yet, though. He would not be able to hide it from Honoka even if he was inclined to.
The fact that Zach Glenn's voice reaches her here comes as a small surprise -- but it shouldn't, she reminds herself, based on the fellow psion's reaction to the events of the preceding night.
The response is crisp -- daresay, lacking in the warmth he may be familiar with.
<< The women did not need a reminder to avoid risking their lives for trifling toys. >>
A spectacular performance. Why, if he didn't know it would dispel the doom and gloom mood of the sorcerer's island, Kotal might even be inclined to clap.
He sees no particular reason to cry out and try to start havoc in the ranks of the Earthrealmers. After all, even if the Emperor does not expect a good fight -Huitzilopotchli- does, being the god of war. These warriors better bring all they got against them, as should befit the Mortal Kombat tournament.
The dark skinned Hispanic stands and walks past the rows of mumbling men. He saw how the woman's gaze lingered upon him and even if it didn't she is a subject worth of further study.
Kotal walks out of the barracks just behind Honoka, though he does not appear to have yet noticed Zach silently communicating to her.
"An exemplary performance." The Hispanic talks to her, his voice carries no discernible accent. No particular hint to his vocabulary that would mark him as born in any particular region of the world.
"Almost as if you have done this before."
And she always was good at throwing herself into a role. Some of what Daniel had expressed to him is becoming disturbingly clear to him now. Was this person, this cold and manipulative lady the real Honoka? Or was it the circus performer. <<Yeah,>> he thinks wryly, <<Us menfolk can be idiots about things like that sometimes.>>
And then Kotal emerges from the doorway. Zach keeps his silence; Honoka, or the Dahlia for that matter, can handle herself when she needs to.
The woman in Chinese silk had continued striding a few feet away from Zach before coming to a stop. The psion would know her from any angle, undoubtedly, but =facing= him is not a challenge that the talented performer is prepared to take on at the moment. Her hair is different -- but that matters not. Her eyes, a cold blue rather than the natural brown of her Ainu ancestry. Her stance -- very different, a testament to the years spent in confident control of a secret army of followers.
<< Do you really want to bicker with me? -Here?- =Now?= >>
The Shadow Advisor of the Akatsuki turns her head at the unfamiliar voice, looking once more over her shoulder, even knowing that Zach awaits just a few feet away. She sees not the thirty-odd men trailing her out -- she sees only one of the many faces. One who does not bear an accent.
A second conversation begins, one audible to anyone.
"You could say that, yes." Her voice is cold, but rational -- her smile, one tinged with a touch of amusement.
She knows nothing of the man before her -- a fact which bothers her, but not enough to dampen the hopeful mood she had tried to instill upon the gentlemen. "Corporate trainer. One of the many hats I wear, from time to time."
Zach listens to Honoka tell that smoothest of mistruths to the stranger. <<No,>> is his answer after a moment. There is a need there, one for truth if one were to judge. <<This is not the time or the place. But I think that it will need to happen.>> Zach considers Honoka, then the stranger, as he pushes away from the wall. He nods once in greeting to the stranger.
<<That's a nice look,>> Zach says, honestly. Without any rancor or sarcasm, either, it should be noted. But /maybe/ a little something else. For another venue. He starts to walk away.
Secrecy is a powerful tool in battle. Play your hands close and none of your enemies know what are your capabilities. Let them think you a fool rather than speak and prove that you are one and all that rot. While prone to grandeur and almost equal showboating to the Emperor himself and his sorcerer minions, unlike them, Kotal knows the power of subterfuge and presets himself to this talented woman not as a deity but just a common man. Lord Raiden knows the power behind this tactic when dealing with mortals after all, it would not be surprising that it would also be employed by Huitzilopotchli.
"Interesting." Continues the man with no accent. "It is no surprise then why you are here."
Speaking directly to her, the man seems aware of others around him and Honoka, but nothing says that he is privy to the telepathic conversation that is happening around him.
"The men will continue having need of a leader such as your for the trials ahead. I hope you are ready for such a task."
The only mistruths are those one refuses to believe. For the pathological liar, all realities are equally viable.
The Dahlia turns more openly to the man who has defied the mild compulsion she had placed on the others within the barracks. If he was hoping to remain veiled in secrecy, a wolf among sheep's clothing, he failed in that goal the moment he set foot outside, daring to challenge the master of puppets with a voice not entirely matching the clothing claimed for himself.
But, like Huitzilopotchli, the Dahlia is well-accustomed to walking and talking as another persona. The strong of will are immune to the charms of the psion -- she may not know why -this- man is immune, but until she knows his true nature, she is willing to do more than simply acknowledge Zach's part of the conversation with a simple, tacit nod. Not the time or place... but it will indeed need to happen.
"I was ready the moment I set foot on that boat. If you've consented to the first step of a marathon, you should be prepared to run the whole thing."
History looks unfavorably on the indecisive, and weak of fortitude.
There is always a time for everything, a time for secrecy and a time for showing the blades of your macuhauitl and digging them into the face of your opponents. This time is.. neither actually, as Kotal makes himself known as above average but not in a way where he'll challenge Honoka in open Kombat.
That can come later.
For now, he simply wishes to learn of his opposition, even though he has not yet shown for which side he fights.
"Wise words." Agrees the dark skinned warrior. "I take it you were one of the few who came here willingly then? Dare I ask how was it that you were invited into the tournament?"
The small group doesn't get very far out of the door or deep into their conversation before the sound of clapping interrupts them. It is a soft thing, produced by only a single pair of delicate gloved hands, but it carries well in the tunnel-like hallways of stone, bounding through the air like the toning of a bell. The source of the noise remains obfuscated for several seconds, seeming to come from everywhere at once in the echoing reverb, until it is joined by the melodic tone of a girlish giggle.
A young woman sits atop a tall statue set into an alcove in the wall, her legs draped over its broad shoulders like a child riding her father's back. It doesn't take much more than a glance to realize that she doesn't really belong here. Where all of the others are clothed in fine silks and extravagant finery, she is wearing something resembling the outfit of a schoolgirl, albeit a prestigious one, her outfit a collection of soft blues and frilly edges inlaid with golden embroidery. Long hair flows down her back like a waterfall of glistening snow and it seems to reflect even the scant light of the torches that provide illumination to the dark interior of this grand castle in a dazzling manner. Twin crimson orbs glitter in her eyes, twinkling with amusement as she casts her gaze down upon the small group of enchantress, investigator, and god.
The girl's voice, like her clapping, is soft and delicate with an air of nobility to it as it echoes through the hall. She leans forward, setting her elbows upon the head of the statue and creates a small platform with her palms upon which to rest her chin, beaming a broad smile directly at Honoka.
"Quite the speech! Wise words, indeed! I dare say you've gone and stolen my thunder. Not that I mind, mind you. It's always nice to see the best and brightest put their talents to good use."
She leans forward, pushing her face a couple inches closer as if to intensify her gaze upon the Ainu woman, but her radiant smile remains fixed neatly in place.
"You did have /good/ intentions, mmm?"
Zach stops when he hears the new voice. He turns to face the woman, his eyes narrowed. There is a flash of irritation, brutally suppressed that both woman might still pick up on; it's only buried deep enough to keep off his body language. This was something he did /not/ need now.
Still, he walks closer to Ingrid, deciding to get a better look before he does... well... anything else. This could get "interesting" really quickly.
The Dahlia is barely over 20, but her confidence and self-assuredness has led many to believe that she has many more years of experience than that. Her left hand cradles her chin as she meets the gaze of Kotal. She already knew what his body shape looked like from the earlier pep talk, so she need not glance at his body again -- it's his eyes, after all, that will prove to be the window to his soul.
Especially since she sees -everyone- here as a viable threat to her ambitions.
"You can ask," she states cooly, curling a hand around her red-sleeved elbow. She pauses but a beat -- not wanting to belabor the obvious follow-up to the question posed by Kotal. "I was invited, it is as simple as that. The message was relayed to me, and I answered the call."
The Scarlet Dahlia offers a faint smile to the chosen form of Kotal, but before she can progress further along that line of thought, a platinum blonde begins a round of delicate applause from a nearby statue.
The smile dims significantly.
Another look places the woman as someone involved in the King of Fighters tournament. She recalls the mayhem that took place in the Pao Pao Cafe, and its eventual... end.
Her smile returns, as she continues to listen to the facsimile schoolgirl.
The charge and its implication are summarily ignored. Who in their right mind would answer 'no' to such a ridiculous query? "-Your- thunder?"
Perhaps the emphasis was on the wrong word.
"Are you sure you're not confusing me for the woman who saved a smartaleck blonde from certain death last night?"
The feisty response is to be expected. One does not provide such a show without being quick of wit and the sassy nature that accompanies it. However, Kotal rather not get into a verbal joust with the Dhalia just yet. Though amusing, it would put him in a position where he'd have to show more of his hand that he wishes. He had already risked a bit much by presenting himself as one that could overcome Honoka's mental suggestion, the War God was trying to appear mortal for as long as possible.
"That suffices." Says Kotal simply to Honoka's vague answer. "It tells me enough that you were hand picked as opposed to happenstance or abduction as some others."
Then, what is this? An intriguing presence. The warrior turns to look upwards to see a girl with maddening eyes and an expression that does not at all match the foreboding tone of the island. Everyone here is at risk of a brutal demise, and yet this girl appears to be above it all. Literally in this case in the way she appears upon that statue.
Furthermore, it looks like these two girls have a history with each other, and Kotal takes a step back to let the two talk. For now, the God of War remains silent. The more he talks the less he'll get to listen and listening in this case means learning.
Ingrid had ofcourse no illusions that she would receive a straight answer from the psion. Not that she needs one. She has only to look at the state in which the occupants of the room behind have been left to understand the mindset of the Ainu woman, the methods which she employs speaking volumes in the void of the unanswered question. The amusement in her expression doesn't fade in the slightest at the dodge; if anything, it grows a little brighter.
Leaning back, the girl puts on a feigned look of thoughtfulness, one gloved finger coming to rest daintly on her chin as she gazes up at some random spot on the ceiling while letting out a considerate hum.
"Well, let's see now... you both bear something of a resemblance, I will admit. It was quite a surprise to see two of the ancient clan present here at once! Coincidence? Or maybe simply destiny. Who knows? I certainly don't!"
She grins as her voice trails off into a giggle at this, as if it were some great joke, and resumes leaning against the statue's head, kicking her legs back and forth in the empty air. Her stares settles once more on Honoka, ignoring the others present for the time being, though she can sense the unease building in the air.
"Then again," she says, her voice drifting back down into a soft whisper, "there are some rather stark differences as well, wouldn't you say?"
Her eyes shift towards the room behind them in a very obvious fashion to where the spell-bound combtants still stand in a muddled trance. Her gaze lingers there for several seconds before moving back to the Ainu, an expression of what might be imperious smugness creeping into her otherwise beatific smile.
Zach stops short when he actually hears the exchange. His eyes narrow. This is... this is not what he remembers of Ingrid. Zach takes up his perch on the wall again, amused and curious.
The Dahlia nods her head quietly in response to Kotal, a trace amount of humility in her smile at the acknowledgement of her skills. Like the platinum-haired schoolgirl propped upon her statue, she represented her team in the first round of the King of Fighters tournament -- that stands for something, at any rate.
Tiny lap dogs seem to have a problem with thunder -- just one of many problems where incessant, repeated barking is mistakenly believed to be the only viable course of action. The Dahlia could easily draw attention to the parallels, but with Zach Glenn grimacing off in the corner, and Kotal feigning ignorance immediately before her, the room dynamic does not exactly favor showing her hand, either.
That said... the psychic show of force may have been a touch overdone, but the fact remains that as it fades, the message left imprinted upon the men will impel them towards training; to keep their wits sharp and their skills sharper. Ingrid will find that the Dahlia has no regrets in what she's forced upon the men.
But nor does she have any particular urge to continue this line of conversation, as the chain of unrelated coincidences delivered with mocking, condescending laughter seems to be getting longer and longer. "Miss... Holzmann, is it? The fate of the world hangs in the balance, as you've surely heard. If you've any thunder to present, I'm certain our gracious host would love to bear witness to it."
The Dahlia adjusts the thin glasses upon the bridge of her nose, arching an eyebrow in expectation.
But then she points her eyes at the blonde grinning at his perch. Perhaps she doesn't even need to make a psychic suggestion that he can jump in at any time, here.
At this, Zach's grin goes wide. Neither the curiousity nor the amusement are directed at Honoka. Those are all aimed squarely at the woman up on the statue. "Oh no," he says in a tone that suggests explanation as he gestures up toward Ingrid. "She's not at all like I remember her being, is all. It's interesting to watch in action." His tone is completely polite. As if the two people don't actually know one another, which was kind of how she was acting at first. Zach's willing to engage in a little roleplay, and maintain the illusion somewhat.
Besides, he's not sure if he could have communicated that without Ingrid picking up on it.
Now this is more like the type of mortals Kotal is used to dealing with. Give them an ounce of power and they already think themselves so much higher than the simply carbon-based life forms that they are.
Arrogance non-withstanding, time and time again had these mortals shown that against all odds even they can face the horrors of Outworld, and though this cheeky girl with the crazed eyes somewhat gets under the skin of the War God, Honoka's presence reminds him that not all humans are like that. Huitzilopotchli should know, he has fought both beside and against mortals, he knows they always have a chance.
Aah, but then comes Honoka's response to this strange girl, and Kotal realizes that paying close attention can really pay off. The talk about thunders being stolen, the uneasy rivalry these two girls seem to have, the odd way the men were acting now. It all makes sense now, and Kotal realizes then what were Honoka's true intentions. That which she desired.
These men really are naught but pawns to her. She'll force them to fight their very best if only because it'll increase the chances of Earthrealm's survival.
Well, Kotal thinks he can't fault Honoka's logic. If Outworld wins this tournament, the Earth is doomed. We shall see if their so called King of Fighters can survive Mortal Kombat.
When the challenge is given, all Kotal does is take a short side step to allow Zach an opening. Though still unaware of their previous telepathic talk, Kotal has noticed the exchanges between the crimson dressed Honoka and Zach. They seem to be at least be tag-partners, and thus he'll let them deal with this interloper as they see fit.
After all, he's still posing as naught but a simple mortal.
Ingrid clucks her tongue like a chiding nanny, her smile fading to a disappointed frown. Her arms cross over her chest and she shakes her head from side to side, looking positively put out.
"Miss Holzmann? First of all, it's Holmann," she says, with a hint of annoyance in her voice. "But I can forgive you for the mistake, you were close after all. Secondly," she adds quickly, "I would much prefer that you simply call me Ingrid. Miss Holmann, indeed! If you must be so formal then you may refer to me as Your Majesty the Eternal Goddess!"
She pauses, resuming her former look of curious contemplation. "Or, hmm, that may be a bit of a mouthful. How about, Your Eternal Majesty? My Goddess? Avatar of Eternal Light?" Her dour look slowly creeps its way back to a smile as she rattles off a list of potential monikers. "Your Radiant Holiness! Most Wonderous Deity of Youth and Charm!"
Just as quickly as you please, the girl shifts gears again, completely abandoning that line of thought as she turns her attention back to the group below. Honoka's suggestion that she bring the lamentably slippery sorcerer into the conversation causes her to frown again, although only briefly. By way of response to the not-so-subtle implication that the young man standing at her side would be keen to defend her so-called honor, Ingrid plants both of her hands on the statue's head and vaults over it with a casual grace, dropping lightly to the stone floor.
No longer shadowed by the depths of the alcove and its statue, her radiance is all the more plain to see. Faint golden light seems to waft off of the girl in response to the torchlight upon her shimmering white hair and pale skin, enhancing her youthful beauty in a way that goes beyond simply physical. Just being near her causes a gentle sense of awe to settle in, a subtle suggestion that this strange teen is worthy of more respect than she might appear. There is something mysterious and alluring to her presence, a hint of a deeper meaning to her pleasant smiles that lurks just below the surface and yet so far out of reach.
Ingrid dusts herself off, smoothing out her skirt with the same sort of royal grace and disinterest that has colored her attitude thus far, before moving to stand a little closer to the trio. Whatever threat Honoka and Zach might think they pose to her, Ingrid shows no more signs of concern for her safety than she has done so for the mere fact of being on an island designed by an otherworldly invasion force as a staging area for their impending conquest. To look at her, one would think that she isn't even a part of everything that is going on, merely an observer watching the act of a mildly interesting play.
"Oh dear me, no. While I do not doubt that I will have need to interact with that detestable man in the future, I have no intention of seeking him out for something so pointless as to deliver your empty threats for you."
She smiles again, flashing too-perfect teeth of pure white at Honoka. One hand lifts into the air and she waggles a finger at the Ainu woman, clucking her tongue again.
"Besides, as much fun as it might be to watch you play at subtlety, I did not come here as your enemy. Quite the opposite! Strange as it may seem, you have been chosen as a representative of Earthrealm, a place which I have grown rather fond of. So, it seems to me that, whatever our differences might be, I should offer what help I am able to assist any and all champions of Earth in their glorious struggle for the fate of mankind. What with Raiden otherwise indisposed and all."
As Ingrid goes full-on goddess spiel, Zach starts to look a little... confortable. Not at all what he remembers, and not at all convinced that this difference is a good one. He seems to have been lost in the shuffle of the exchange, though, and he's willing to roll with that.
The Shadow Advisor to the Akatsuki is thoroughly pleased that these wiseacres are nowhere near her when she is actively coordinating illegal activities, because they are completely incorrigible now when she's actually trying to do some good for the world.
First off -- Zach. When looked at, he starts talking about Ingrid as if the two have been wordlessly communicating behind the backs of both Ingrid and the mysterious Hispanic man. ... They have been, but you don't just -say- those sorts of things. Irritation rises in the Ainu woman, the exasperation clear on her face as her jaw drops.
The expression is one that would suggest she -didn't- know Zach to anyone who didn't already know the truth.
And in all honesty, even Zach isn't 100% clued in on the woman's true nature.
But then there's Kotal, posing as someone who has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion. The Dahlia is rather envious, and wishes =she= had nothing to do with this discussion, as she feels as if she is fully within the crosshairs of the platinum-haired, self-declared goddess.
And a... decidedly un-humble one at that.
The Dahlia radiates disinterest in the list of recommended titles for the patron saint of white and periwinkle. Any awe in the scarlet-clad Advisor's countenance is expressed only in the slow closing of her jaw, an imperious eyebrow raising.
Her hands press together in a transparently obeisant bow, "Wonderful. I am glad to have such illustrious support at my side. I am grateful for any help you may offer. However, if I might ask: is there something specific you need of me... Ingrid? For it pains me to leave just after introductions have been made, but I -am- running late for another meeting..."
Awe... yeah. That's not the most precise descriptor for the emotions roiling through the Dahlia's mind right now.
There's no outward change from the large imposing Hispanic man standing next to Honoka and Zach.
Inwardly, however, that's an entirely different story.
Quite possibly, never in his entire existence has Kotal been exposed to that level of narcissism. Not even the tiresome tirades of the Eternal Emperor Shao Kahn compared to this girl's arrogance. Suddenly, as irritating as he might be, Kotal is starting to miss the presence of the so called protect of Earthrealm Lord Raiden.
There is a frown from the warrior's eyebrows when this Ingrid points out that said God of Thunder is indisposed, but otherwise Kotal continues to say nothing, lest they find out he's not the human he appears to be.
Besides, Honoka seems to be well in control of the situation, and considering how absolutely vexing this girl seems to be, Kotal thinks he'd rather not get involved with this at all.
Suddenly, he's also looking in a rush to be anywhere but here just like Honoka appears to be.
While the platitudes offered her way are painfully fake, Ingrid treats the gestures and words with the utmost sincerely. She grips the edges of her skirt and gives a slight but graceful curtsey in return, presenting another brilliant smile full of genuine charm.
"Excellent! So glad that we have reached an understanding."
The desire for her captive audience to be elsewhere does not escape the notice of the Eternal Goddess. In most cases, she would be happy to simply let those who did not want her help to be on their way. After all, there is a whole wide world out there filled to the brim with those in need of aid against the forces of darkness and destruction. Humans have ever been talented at digging up trouble. However, it's quite rare for the very Earth itself to be in danger on quite the same level as that which is presented by this tournament. She would be remiss in her duties as one of the self-appointed guardians of the world should she allow something as simple as some silly human's impatience to disrupt her work.
Still, she can't pass up the opportunity to badger this woman a little more. Despite her desire to see the Earthrealm protected, leaving it in the hands of such a dangerous and selfish individual rubs her the wrong way.
Ingrid glances down the hallway, first to one side and then the other. Her expression shifts to one of conspiratorial cautiousness and she leans forward, motioning all three of them to draw closer so that she can speak quietly so as to avoid being overheard. It's a strange shift from her flamboyant display thus far but one can never be too cautious while in the heart of the enemy's lair.
Zach leans off of the wall and moves forward. His expression has become a cool mask, as he is trying to keep things cool. His left hand is in his pocket, his right down at his side as he approaches the statue. Ingrid might get some impression of tension from the former Marine.
Honoka, who is far more aware of Zach's mindscape and its characteristics, though? She gets the impression of a Sword, burning brightly in the night.
The Dahlia's eyebrow remains in its high arch. It will not budge. It's absolutely true that the fate of the Earth hinges upon fostering a spirit of cooperation amongst its representatives here. It's so clear of an imperative that she's already done the sum of what she'd wanted to get done for this hour of the morning.
She views the incorrigibly sunny Holmann as one might the Aunt from the other side of the world who wants to hustle her close for a kiss and maybe a group portrait with the family.
If everyone on this island was as resistant to talking as she, maybe she wouldn't have even attracted the attention of Zach, Kotal, or Ingrid to begin with.
A sigh is expelled. And the Dahlia takes her sweet damn time walking over.
Still no change of expression on Kotal, but perhaps his defenses may be suitable lowered right now that Honoka and Zach may be able to clearly hear one solitary thought when Ingrid beckons them all closer.
Is what he seems to project before his mind is shielded once more. Drawing a single breath and, perhaps, against his better judgment, the otherwise non-descriptive muscular man accompanies Zach and Honoka towards Ingrid to see what is it she has to say.
Ingrid waits until all three of the other conspirators have made their way over to her spot, staring pointedly at the one dragging her feet until she joins the others. The girl makes another pass at their surroundings, eyeing every nook and cranny with obvious suspicion, though this requires her to bend and stand on her toes in order to see past the bulk of her companions. When she is finally satisifed, she nods and steps in close, speaking in a low hushed tone.
"Perhaps it is something that you have figured out yourself but I feel compelled to warn you anyways. Do not trust the sorcerer Shang Tsung. He may put on a smile and speak with great dignity but that... man... conceals nothing but lies and malice."
There is a disgusted emphasis on the word. She gestures to the clothes that they are wearing, the fine silks and comfortable garments given so graciously to them by their host.
"It is unlikely that he will outright lie, but nothing he says will ever be the full truth. Everything that he offers you comes with a price. You may not be able to see it but it will be collected all the same."r
She eyes each of them in turn, her gaze lingering on the annoyed face of the woman opposite her. She leans in a little more, stepping right up to Zach. She tugs at his shirt, attempting to pull him down closer to her level as she continues.
"Not everything is as it seems. You may believe yourself to be crafty but he has been at this game for over a thousand years and he has grown very good at playing it. Let the display you saw at the feast be a warning. There may be spies everywhere."
Ingrid slides over to stand next to Kotal, wrapping one arm around his broad shoulders so as to tug him down a few inches allowing her to whisper with a playful tone into his ear.
"They might even be in this very room!"
"The threat this tournament poses is more dire than Shang Tsung will dare let on until he is required unless he intends to use it to break your spirit."
Even in a room fool of master psions, Ryu Hayabusa seems to step free from the very shadows effortlessly. In a moment he shifts from nothing to a bright spark as he chooses now to make his presence known. It's rare that he should even bother to speak, especially once he's chosen to put on the Black Falcon and ready his blade, but it's a voice that flows with authority.
"I don't know why I was summoned here, but the fact that Shang Tsung would intentionally seek the Hayabusa Clan's attention at a time like this is suspect."
The Scarlet Dahlia flashes a blank and completely unimpressed stare back at Ingrid Holmann. Do not... trust the sorceror Shang Tsung. This is advice offered to her by Nakoruru, in a scene in which everyone was attended, and which the Dahlia had in fact pointed out to the men in the other room. For rhetorical purpose.
In fact every word spoken shares a sentiment that the Dahlia already knows, right up until it was made clearly and bluntly obvious to everyone in attendance.
The Dahlia's only conclusion is: That was the entire point. That the subterfuge portrayed by the Dahlia is obvious to Ingrid -- that the spying portrayed by Totally Not Kotal is obvious to Ingrid -- that the portrayal of Zach and the Dahlia as two people who have never met one another is also patently obvious to Ingrid.
This is the conclusion of a paranoid and psychopathic individual.
The course has never steered her astray in the past.
The Dahlia raises her hand as if to speak.
And then Hayabusa goes ahead and does it for her.
The Dahlia frowns at the voice, and the recognition of its speaker. She now half expects the team captain of the -fourth- team to not make it past round 1 of the King of Fighters to show up unannounced.
"Thank you for considering me and these three individuals worthy of this privileged information. I regret to leave so soon, but there -are- matters of urgency to take care of."
The Dahlia bows her head, quietly excusing herself from the Powwow of Power, and quickly and efficiently makes a beeline for the exit of the residence wing. No further snide comments -- just haste and efficiency.
There were better ways to spend her time.
Zach pulls away sharply from Ingrid about half a second before he lets go. Mentally speaking, he was sharply focused on the woman, and that might have proven to be a mistake. He needs an asprin or three. And maybe a six pack of beer. The latter being a /bad/ idea in this setting.
And /then/ the ninja announces himself. Ain't that just peachy.
"Gee," Zach mutters hoarsely as he adjusts the lay of his clothes. "Nothing's as it seems. I'm glad /that's/ a fucking constant." Zach steps away from Ingrid, shaking his right hand loose as he walks away.
"Not sure if I could handle things being exactly what they seem," he calls out over his shoulder as he leaves. His path is not obvious; he actually departs in the opposite direction as Honoka without seeming to make it look like it was on purpose.
It's not like he couldn't find her again if or when he needed to, anyway.
To not trust Shang Tsung?
Kotal could have probably told these mortals the same and not go through the same theatrics. Indeed, doing so would be merely the sporting thing to do in the odd chance there was an Earthrealmer foolish enough to not realize how the sorcerer is essentially the text book definition of an individual with a forked tongue. Eldergods, people in Outworld itself didn't trust Shang Tsung and it was no secret that the greedy sorcerer has always coveted the throne. The Emperor only lets him live because he has his uses and he accepts working on a very tight leash.
But as Kotal is silently reminiscing these things, he has a certain Ingrid stepping to his side and whisper all so mischievously in his ear. This earns an unamused look from the War God even if he complied to lean down for the girl.
At the very least, Huitzilopotchli seems composed enough to bear this conversation silently. True, interrupting or voicing out a complaint would actually force him to break not all too subtle disguise, but at this point it almost feels as if Zach and The Dhalia would not reproach him for doing so.
And when the ninja appears to chip into the conversation, it finally seems that Kotal's companions of circumstance finally had enough and clear the area.
"Excuse me." Kotal follows in their example and politely makes himself scarce, going in a different direction from Honoka and Zach.
Ingrid releases her grip and steps back, beaming a smile as if she'd just revealed an incredible tidbit of wisdom to the three warriors. Ofcourse, she knew that such a warning was completely pointless - that was, as Honoka has astutely derived, the point. Her words were not meant to be taken at face value but rather to poke fun at their silly beliefs that their usual games will be of any avail in this place. These are not the sort of people which they are used to dealing with.
The small girl gives a cheerful wave to each person in turn as they all take off in different directions, remaining silent with a happy smile on her face until each of them vanishes from view. When she is sure that none remain save for the dark-clad form of the master ninja, she lets out a soft sigh. Her head tilts to one side and she brings her gloved fist up to rest against her temple, tapping it gently with her knuckles in annoyance.
"As usual, that snake has gone out of his way to stack the deck in his favor. Nothing but children and vipers almost as poisonous as he himself. I wonder how many of these 'champions' will fall to their own petty devices before he even lifts a finger."
With the small assembly scattering, Hayabusa is left with only one other individual left: the supposed Eternal Goddess. As it stands, that suits the Master Ninja well enough; none of the rest are likely to have any answers that he could make use of.
"It would be out of place if they weren't attempting to bend every rule to their own favor. I was able to meet with the lightning god once and from the impression I was able to gain of him in that short period, it's most unusual that he'd not make his own presence known to ensure the rules are followed. Another party being forced to step in is... troubling."
As Ryu speaks, his arms cross over his chest. "I know what sort of reputation you claim for yourself as some form of Goddess. If you have some connection to the Elder Gods, I hope you know more about our circumstances than our host is prepared to offer."
Ingrid continues to tap away with her knuckles as she wallows in some inner thoughts, remaining in this stance even as the usually terse shadow warrior speaks more words in a dozen seconds than she can remember hearing him do so in as many years. Somewhat surprised, she turns to face him and offers up one of her famous charming grins.
"You speak as if there is anything that snake has to offer other than falsehoods and convenient truths. It's not a difficult task to tell you more than what he has. Although," she trails off, shrugging greatly, her hands lifting up into the air. "There is precious little that I know which will be of great use. The tournament itself is not that great a mystery. In that respect, the sorcerer has been mostly truthful, for there is hardly anything to lie about. Fighters from each realm will face each other in a deadly series of battles to determine the fate of the Earthrealm."
The question as to her relation with the Elder Gods is left purposely unanswered, glossed over by her reply. There are many mysteries in the world. This will just have to be one of them. Ingrid paces over to the open doorway leading into the bunk room full of several of the more unknown male participants. The lingering taint of Honoka's psychic molestation hangs in the air, clinging to her skin like a sickly-sweet oil. She frowns but shakes her head and only stares. There is nothing she can do. To interfere with any of the contestants would mark her as a member of the tournament and that risk is simply more than she can take with the thunder god's whereabouts unknown.
"This is the tenth tournament since their last defeat. They have won nine in a row. By law of the Elder Gods, a tenth victory here will allow an invasion without any interference from them. Outworld will march on Earth and merge it into their own realm. A rather unpleasant thought, wouldn't you agree?"
A long, thoughtful silence overtakes Hayabusa as he listens to the Goddess's words, mostly confirming what he'd already known about the tournament. The Hayabusa clan has a long history, and takes great pains in keeping track of all the major events facing the world.
"In the past, the Hayabusa Clan has avoided getting involved in these matters. An agreement was brokered among the Elder Gods, and the putting the Dragon Lineage at risk would prove a far more immediate threat than the tournament."
Given that Ryu Hayabusa was the last living individual capable of wielding Ryuken, the Dragon Sword, placed a great deal of responsibility upon his shoulders. He had placed his life in danger many times, but in each instance the threat that faced the world was enough that his failure to act would have created a massive shift in the world's balance.
"We need to confirm all of the rules that are in place. I suspect we will see them bent as far as possible, but it's also quite likely they will attempt to entice someone from the Earth's faction to break them if at all possible. This close to their victory, they will do anything to ensure their triumph."
"Yes. The arrogance and schemes of our chosen champions might well be as much a threat to victory as the fighters that will be sent against us."
Ingrid pirouettes gracefully about on one foot to face her conversation partner and smiles again. As serious as the situation is, it is not in her nature to be dour for very long. After all, she's supposed to be a symbol of optimism and sunshine! That's half the reason for her presence here, a sort of cheerleader for the home team. There is precious little else she can offer as an observer.
"It is for that reason that I am glad that you are here, Ryu."
She speaks to him as if they are old friends, calling him by his first name with a touch of affection in her tone. The warmth of her spirit renews its presence in the narrow confines of the hallway, her soul shining as brightly as her glittering smile. The warrior before her may be one of the few not in need of her consolations and encouragement but it certainly can't hurt.
"I have not the same powers or experience as Raiden in these matters. My attentions have always been devoted elsewhere. I will need help in ensuring that this tournament does not fall prey to the foul machinations of that sorcerer or his allies, whatever they may be. Can I count on you?"
Far more solemn by nature, and masked to show little more than his eyes, Hayabusa is certainly a far less uplifting figure, as befits a man destined to a life of killing by the very blood in his veins.
"The Hayabusa Clan has fought to protect the Earth from all manner of outside threats for a thousand generations. There is no bribe that could sway me from my duty, and if the time calls for it, I am prepared to bring Shinryuken to bear," Ryu offers in response. In word and aura, the Dragon Ninja seems aged far beyond his short years, faced now with a woman who shows hardly the years her soul claims.
The march of fate draws forth strange companions.
"The world has already seen first hand the threat that even a minor merging of realities would bring after Majigen. Perhaps that could be used as a reminder to the less noble individuals that any temporary boon they are offered may not be worth it's final toll. I believe it would be best if I leave the encouragement to you, my skills are far better put to use in attempting to uncover what deception has been set for us."
Ingrid covers her mouth to stiffle a giggle, once more showing levity in the face of terrifying danger. Is it a benefit of being a goddess, whether by truth or simply by name, to be able to casually shrug off the worst of news? Perhaps no one will ever know.
"Ofcourse, ofcourse. You just leave the pep talks up to me. I'm pretty sure you'd just end up scaring them half out of their wits." Her gaze shifts towards the directions in which Honoka and Zach departed, lips pursing thoughtfully. "Maybe some of them could use a good scare."
Offering a little wave, Ingrid turns to leave. Her work here is done but there are others who she can approach with her message of warning and support, and yet more like the devious psychic whose presence worries her. One warrior in particular is foremost on her list, the mysterious girl who stepped in at the last moment to slay the enchanted statue. It's been quite some time since she last saw that particular soul walk the earth. They have a great deal of catching up to do.
She doesn't make it but a few steps before a thought occurs to her and she can't help but grin, her mind wandering towards strange details as it often does.
"So, a hero dressed in black sneaks about while a villain of many colors openly challenges the world. Hmm, hmm, hmm! What an interesting juxtaposition. I can't wait to see the ending!"
Log created on 15:36:32 09/03/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 01:11:40 09/04/2016.