Description: The Scarlet Dahlia, flush with power in the aftermath of her deadly encounter, seeks out the one who was watching her from a distance. But just as she and Zach Glenn begin to discuss their plans, Aranha approaches with news of his own. And the three learn together that the situation on Shang Tsung's island may be dialed up even further than previously thought.
The Scarlet Dahlia is recognizable at a distance, despite the numerous forced changes to her apearance. Her ravenblack hair flutters loose in the stiff mountain breeze, acting as if it has life of its own. The red jacket she'd worn has been removed, turned inside-out, and wrapped about her left arm. The silken red cheongsam is torn, tattered -- about a foot shorter in length. A number of burns have been registered across both the silken garment and its wearer: blisters intersperse with blotches of crimson along the exposed side of her left arm and wrist.
And hanging from her worn yellow sash, alongside her soul gem pulsing with soft yellow light, is a spare sleeve of the red jacket. It has been tied at both ends, repurposed into a makeshift pouch for something about a foot in length and half as wide.
As she gets closer, it will be easier to see the giddy, confident smile on her face. The look of someone who fears nothing -- and finds everything amusing.
( You killed a man. )
( You say you're saving Earthrealm...)
( ... but you killed two defenders! )
( What do you have to say for yourself? )
( And not just anyone -- someone who looked after you! )
( Someone who cared about you. )
( Someone who was trying to help. )
"You mean a pawn."
To someone who can't hear thoughts, the whisper from the Dahlia's lips might come as a jarring non-sequitur. But she's not trying to make conversation with anyone.
No one living, that is.
( No, we mean PERSON! )
( He was bringing back Team Interpol! )
( He wanted to help you! )
( All you had to do was feed him... )
The Dahlia's smile grows, as she reaches down to pat at the silken pouch, fingers pressing reassuredly across the surface. The fabric dimples in suhc a way to suggest a striated trophy of some sort.
Five presences -- not unlike those which had accompanied Daniel Jack. Five presences, constantly whispering bitter thoughts and doubts into her ear.
Dissuaded, but not demoralized, they adopt a different tack against the Dahlia.
( You can't beat Shang Tsung like that. )
( You think you're -better- than he was? )
( You're nothing! He has champions! )
( Powerful champions! )
( They'll grind you up into paste, just like Dragunov would've! )
The Ainu woman continues making her way down the winding path to the shoreside. The five presences behind her are invisible -- no sign at all. But as she rounds the mountain, nine ghostly shapes can probably be seen behind her -- faint blue shades, translucent. In life, they would have been dressed in simple armor. Some are dressed in armor crafted by the Japanese, others dressed in Ainu armor. But all of them share the same neutral, passive looks on their faces -- quiet, patient tolerance for the louder shades making their presences known to those receptive to such wavelengths.
"Fear is the enemy. Confidence lights the path to victory."
Despite her shoddy state of dress, and the obvious fatigue in her expression, the Dahlia looks positively radiant. Unafraid. And ready to take on the world.
Zach Glenn was in a hurry. The Butcher had successfully tracked down the woman known as the Scarlet Dahlia, with intent to do... well... best not to think on it. He was gettign close now; he could sense her presence just out of his sight. He breaks into a clearing with Drywyn in one hand and a Colt 1911 in the other when he finally spots her. He slides to a stop, blinking once in suprise at seeing her not only alive but mobile and then a second surprised blink as he hears the whole of the conversation.
She... She /won/.
He's not surprised because he was worried about here competence; he had not doubts on that matter. But he had considered himself to be fairly formidable, and Daniel had all but destroyed him.
The Dahlia will see as much as feel the relief he is experiencing at the moment. He looks a lot like how she would recall... aside from the ash white hair, at any rate.
"...you're alive," he says, his breathing a bit ragged from the running, "Thank god."
Most people would be terrified when a man jumps into a clearing brandishing a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other. And even those who wouldn't be terrified would surely -react-.
The Dahlia, though, simply flashes a warm, knowing smile at the familiar presence before her. She'd been walking towards him ever since her climactic battle -- the one she was warned against.
The voices change tack yet again. No longer antagonizing -- now, egging her on.
( It's him! )
( The weakling, back for a second try! )
( He doesn't suspect a thing. )
( Kill him now! )
( Steal his souls! )
The Dahlia turns to her left. The smiling face, ever so briefly, turns to an irritated, scolding expression.
And the voices stop entirely.
And just as deliberately, she looks forward again, raising her right hand to sweep it through her raven locks.
Alive. Yes. She doesn't answer that -- not directly.
"And you promised me you wouldn't do anything unnecessary."
She pulls a lock of hair up, suggesting a pivot in conversation. "... like... dye your hair."
She stares in confusion at Zach, correcitng herself. "Th-that's not dye, is it...? ... Looks good on you, though."
The sword disappears completely as Zach takes a less physically active posture, straightening himself up to holster the pistol. He looks a bit surprised at the question, tugging a lock of his own hair down so that he can get a look at it. He goes somewhat pale when he sees the white strands in front of his eyes, before releasing them.
"I... that's... new," he says with a bit of confusion. So definitely not a dye job. "I thought I was going to help a victim when I ran into him," he says, chaging the subject back long enough to apologize. He frowns slightly, pointing at the pouch at her hip.
"Why is that thing telling you to kill me?" he asks quietly.
The Ainu woman's expression and posture ease up as Zach takes the moment to examine his own hair. There aren't many mirrors on the island, it's a forgivable oversight. Not that she can even talk, with her hair frizzing out like crazy.
"Yeah, it looks like you aged twenty years in a day."
She releases her lock of hair, taking a few steps to close the formidable distance between herself and Zach -- mindful of the fact that he probably just -heard- the souls whispering to kill him.
"... Your other half told me what happened, about your run-in. Told me to stay away. And... Kenshi Takahashi talked to me too. I'm glad you're okay now."
She holds both hands up, showing she has nothing in them -- no ill intent.
As for what's in the pouch? She demurs, glancing down. The soulstone glistens with light, as the Dahlia presses her lips together.
"You're gonna get mad if I tell you."
The nine spectral soldiers keep a respectable distance behind their general.
"He's /not/ my other half," he says, a bit of snap in his voice. "He is his own person, and I am mine," he says a bit more gently. He parses the rest of it for a moment. "I... didn't really get a chance to talk to the guy," he says, a bit of anger creeping into his voice. The man had apparently pulled information from his mind, then. "According to Glen, I was pretty out of it when he showed up." Zach runs a hand through his hair as he exhales to center himself again.
"Maybe?" he says in response to his possible, predicted anger. "Hard to know unless you actually tell me." He takes a step or two of his own to close the distance, looking her over as he does so in a manner that suggests he is cataloging her injuries. "But maybe not right now," he says. "We should get you some place you can rest up." Ever the caretaker, this one.
The Dahlia bristles at the snap response from Zach. She doesn't even wait for him to finish talking before interjecting her mumble: "... Look, you're snapping at me anyway."
But she listens, biding her time. She allows Zach to glance her wounds over, appreciative of any help which he might be able to offer. But if he tries to steal another glance at the sleeve-pouch tied from her sash, she will deftly move to keep -that- safe from inspection.
When she speaks again, she is calm -- controlled. Rational. "I wasn't exactly happy to talk to him either. He's the same as that Nightwolf jerk, only with less of an idea about manners. Didn't think that was even a thing."
Offered the invitation for a place to rest, she glances off into the distance. Expanding her sensory awareness.
And then shakes her head.
She starts walking towards the sheer rock face, leaning against it. A few clipped words are delivered, and a sweeping hand gesture. Wordlessly, the cerulean Ainu spirits vanish from sight. And moments later, they appear in a semicircle, protecting the perimeter around both the general and Zach. All points covered.
"This is a good place," she offers with a faint smile. And she looks down at her arm, starting to unwind the blood-soaked fabric wrapped about it. "You seemed surprised I was alive. Was someone after me?"
Zach would know that she's playing coy, flitting between secrets and shared knowledge. There -is- a goal, but she feels the need to build up to it, rather than cutting straight to the chase. After all -- the guards are there to ensure a respite from the insanity.
Zach frowns a bit. "Sorry," he says softly. "The whole relationship between Glen and me is... a touchy subject," he admits. The frown deepens. On that note... "I think Glen was keeping an eye on you while I was recovering. He found a bodyguard for me, someone Takahashi recommended. Once that was handled, he didn't have much to do, I guess. He... told me you ran into Little." He glances around, rubbing his palms together, his thoughts walking down familiar pathways. "I couldn't sense him, though, so I'm guessing you killed him."
It might surprise the Dahlia to notice a lack of anger, or pity, or anything that could be considered a 'soft' feeling regarding the matter. "Given what I was reading off of him during our fight, I can't say I'm not glad about that."
Honoka -- the real "her" beginning to peek out under the Scarlet Dahlia's guise -- offers a sympathetic smile regarding a bodyguard of sorts.
The smile is short-lived, as she casts her eyes downward.
A dull nod is offered. Remorse is plainly obvious. She does not make an attempt to disturb the silence that ensues, until Zach makes clear his own opinions on the unsavory deed.
Only then does she draw in a heavy breath, nodding her head once more.
"... Thank you for being the one to say it. I knew I could count on you being here for me. It was... not easy."
She reaches down to the pouch on her sash, starting to unfasten it as she speaks.
"He had two marks against him. One -- the Butcher, of course. My fear and uncertainty made him stronger. My anguish and pain made him full, sated his hunger. So..."
She undoes the knot on the sleeve-pouch, then pulls the mouth of the pouch down to expose the bleached bones. And within them, the glow of a blood-red gem.
The voices return -- barely audible, like whispers on the wind.
And with them, three of the soldiers turn their spears towards Honoka, and Zach -- but more appropriately, towards the faint shadows of spirits ranting and raving just moments away.
( What you were -reading?- )
( You couldn't sense =us?!= )
( Ha ha ha ha ha! )
( He told the truth, Honoka! )
( The nurse in the hospital! )
( The Dragon Lady in the warehouse! )
( He knows all of your games! )
( He wanted to help you! )
( And you killed him for it! )
( You enjoyed it! )
She insists, in opposition to the silent voices: "I did =not= enjoy it! It was... it had to be done. No matter how much I tried to separate him from the Butcher... from these =voices=... there was always something left."
The item in the pouch is revealed to be a skeletal hand, still intact -- worn smooth, as if left exposed to the elements.
"And now, just this. No longer a tool, to be used by the Butcher, or Shang Tsung, or... =you= assholes."
The voices murmur unintelligbly, beginning to gripe at one another. Their anger is clear, but unfocused -- undirected.
"I tried, Zach..."
Sadness and remorse are plainly evident on her face, as she presses her lips together.
"Yeah," he admits, "I was pretty messed up, and apparently Takahashi had more important things to do than to babysit me. So apparently, when you are channeling spiritual energies that are not your own, you need to start smaller than 'every errant soul within a couple hundred meters of you', because you can't get rid of /all/ of them when you do so. The remnants act like... some kind of parasite that burrows into your soul."
Then she brings out the hand, with the shard in it. He winces. The concept that she kept this as some kind of trophy is beyond uncomfortable to the psion. He glances at her. Concern for the implications of her actions, what they could mean to her on multiple levels, both evident in that expression and his thoughts. And if that were not distrubing enough? The shard is speaking to her. Honoka, the Dahlia, cows them for a moment. But Zach has the intuition that it won't last.
"May I see it," he asks tentatively, holding one hand out.
Honoka stares back at Zach, trying to make sense of what he's talking about. Takahashi... channeling spirit energies... Ah. After a moment of thought she realizes Zach is talking about a mistake of his. And... she remembers the warning she was given from Glen.
"I am sorry I wasn't there to help," she states quietly. Zach might be able to sense that she wishes he hadn't -needed- the help, but she's already taken a dig at him for that as it is.
When she presents the skeletal hand to view, though, it's her turn to feel the glance of judgment -- one which she is very familiar with.
( She couldn't leave well enough alone! )
( She had to take home the trophy! )
( Just something to put up on the mantel! )
( Gahahahaha! )
Honoka lowers her eyes. "Listen. I know what you're thinking. But this game is bigger, Zach. Bigger than anything else we've ever faced. Nakoruru the Stormbringer believes in me -- the Kamui believe in me. And we are all in agreement that those who would work against us -- or who could =turn= against us -- must be stopped. This isn't a time for half-measures."
( You mean death, right?! )
( Murder! Death! Killing! )
Honoka bites back her thoughts, shaking her head as she pulls the hand free from the sleeve. The crimson gem pulses with an unholy glow, glowing brightest when the 'words' are most empassioned. "Do... do you hear them? They're bound to the stone. That's what was driving Daniel crazy. They..."
She holds the hand up to Zach.
"Be careful. I can handle them."
( Can you really?! )
( Gyahahaha! )
( HAND-le?! Hahahaha! )
Honoka stares back at Zach, her mouth set into a line.
And her hands light up a shade of fuschia. It starts as a simple glow -- but then the psychic energies take on a more fiery semblance.
The presences yelp, as if they are the ones being singed by fire.
"The choices get tougher from here on, Zach."
"I didn't =want= you there to help," he says softly. There's no recrimination there. "I didn't want him to use me to get to you." He lets out a snort of derision. "For all the good that did." He stares at the hand for a moment.
"You =think= you know what I am thinking," he says with a faint grin. "I certainly hear them," he says. "And yeah, you and I dodged some bullets with these gems. The spirits aiding you are your ancestors. They're already inclined to help you. I've only got the one spirit, and his express purpose is to help me. Plus, we both have training in dealing with this kind of communication. Can you imagine what it has to be like for someone with no mental or spiritual defenses whatsoever? With spirits that really don't care about the well being of whoever is carrying them?" He reaches carefully for the offered hand. "I'm surprised there are any champions left who aren't psychic, and still sane." The monster hunter takes the hand from her gently.
"On the other hand, these guys are getting annoying, and they will be more helpful to you if they aren't wasting your energy playing Statler and Waldorf," he says as he places a hand over the gemm which takes on a glow very much like sunlight.
"There's already so much pain and terror on this island," he says. "This place feeds on it, runs on it. Your method of controlling them is just more of the same." Zach focuses on the souls in the gem, sending a sense of unyielding peace. It's not as violent as Honoka's spiritual flames, but its presence is just as present.
When Aranha had returned from his own personal mission, he had to wash up and grab a change of clothes. He didn't want to look like a walking crimes scene when he called upon the Scarlet Dahlia.
When he arrived, he was informed by the Scarlet Guard that she wasn't around. The Dancing Spider wasn't without his own information network and so he sought her out. The two versions of Aranha agreed that finding her was of the utmost importance and so they agreed to temporarily split up and when one found her they send a beacon to the other via connection they would have in the soul shard.
The Aranha of the other world found her first and gives a signal to the Aranha of this world. Eventually the two stand side by side before the presence of the other realm Aranha gets reassorbed into the spider carved soul shard.
"Good. I found you."
He takes a moment to catch his breath. While he had time wash up and change clothes, his body hadn't quite recovered from his fight with Dr. Tessitore and he just was in a mad dash to get here once his alternate self had found her.
Honoka stares levelly at Zach as he talks about the spirits under his command -- and how only one of them -expressly- acts under his command. While nine stand at her back, and five unruly presences have yet to become anything more than a toxic peanut gallery.
She narrows her eyes downward, as the spirit energy from Zach is channeled into the soul gem. The one which, not long ago, had belonged to Daniel Little.
( I like him. )
( You should be more like him, you evil hag! )
( Yeah-he-heaaah! That's the stuff right there...)
( Fill us up, chump, then we'll go kill some more...)
"... Zach... please listen to yourself. You just told me that only one of your souls works on your behalf, whereas I have an army. Five souls joined my company out of a need for companionship -- a need to =belong= -- and you're over there countermanding my words. Casting aspersions on my judgment."
( We don't need her anyway. )
( Dunno if you've noticed, but she's fucking crazy! )
( Set us on fire and everything every time we do something wrong...)
( A homicidal maniac! )
She looks back at Zach, frowning -- even as the voices continue.
"And you would take the cries of strangers at face value. To give the homeless the shirt off your back, that they might have an easier time strangling you."
She then looks down at the skeletal hand.
Stark in its bleach white bones.
And the gem has disappeared -- along with the Bickering Five.
"... It's gone."
The Dahlia's eyes grow narrow, as she glares back at Zach in irritation. What did he =do?=
But then, after a moment of rationalization, her anger turns to panic.
"It's bound to its owner. It can't..."
Just when she is about to talk herself through, another person arrives. The spectral guards notice before she does -- two point their swords at him in warning.
"... Aranha, the Dancing Spider," she intones, panic shoved aside as she attempts to don the mask of the Dahlia once again. "I... trust your mission went well...?"
"I think I was not clear. I've only ever HAD the one soul. Glen. He... There's not a good word for it. But every soul that comes through my gem becomes a part of him. Makes him stronger," Zach says after a moment. Then the souls go silent. He frowns, lifting his hand. The scarlet gem is no longer there. He reaches the same conclusion Honoka does, perhaps a second after she does. He is on his feet, the skeletal hand dropping to the ground from loose fingers.
"Well shit," he says after an empty second. "Any bets he comes after you a second time," he asks Honoka quietly. His concern is palpable.
/Then/ Aranha shows up. Zach looks at the Dancing Spider, and looks /ashamed/, looks away from the tracuer.
"She's dead, yes."
He then looks back and forth between the spectral guards pointing their weapons at him, Zach, the man that came within a fraction of killing him, and the Scarlet Dahlia. The spectral guards, he barely acknowledges because he has no plans at this moment to move within attacking range for anything except maybe his Web Shot.
He then turns to Zach and he lets his distrust of Zach seep into his voice as he vocally acknowledges him, "Zach..."
He then turns towards Honoka. He doesn't say anything as he watches the skeletal hand drop to the ground. He's too far away to do anything about it.
// Zach, just... //
The Dahlia =had= been confident. Now -- Zach may be able to sense her anxiety, as she began to make her mental plea. Perhaps that is why he dropped the 'trophy'.
Despite glancing over to the arriving traceur, she was keeping an eye on those skeletal digits. And when they fall, the ace juggler snatches the skeletal hand out of midair, sweeping it close to her. Curling her arm about the prize, she tries (and likely fails) to look nonchalant about it as she turns back to Aranha. Luckily, by this point, the cerulean soldiers have lowered their guard, stepping aside to provide entry into the protected space.
"Dr. Tessitore, then," she starts, in an attempt to regain control of the situation. "And Daniel. The double agents who could have inadvertently decimated Earthrealm's chance to survive -- cut off at the knees."
The Dahlia slowly begins to wrap the hand back up within its pouch -- little purpose, now that the soul shards have departed. "I had intended to keep hold of Daniel Little's soul shard, to keep it out of the hands of any of Shang Tsung's minions. But it seems that plan has... gone awry."
She nods towards Zach. "I suspect he will attempt to build power, first. But the real question remains: who on this Island was left to bring him back to life...?"
The Dahlia understands that Aranha shares trepidation about Zach. And as she finishes securing the pouch with Daniel's disembodied hand bones, she offers a faint smile. "... I know you have doubts. But please, both of you understand -- your contributions have helped me reach the kombatants from previous tournaments. The positioning of this tournament here may have been simple convenience for Shang Tsung -- but it will be the Sorceror's undoing, in the hands of someone who can not only speak with the departed, but call upon their aid."
The Ainu general draws in her breath -- as the soldiers click their heels together in a semblance of a salute.
"I really cannot thank you enough. Both of you. All of you. To have you at my side has been a blessing from the Kamui themselves."
Zach ponders for a moment, thinking about... something. He looks over to Aranha after the deservedly surly greeting. "I'm... sorry," he says firmly. "About before. It was an accident." He holds up the wrist bearing the slave manacle with the mounted soul shard. "The soul that lives here... I was not prepared for it." That seems to be the only apology Zach is likely to give.
He listens to Honoka for a moment, then looks back at Aranha, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "So Glen and Frei weren't the only ones from that world who made the trip over," he says after another long moment. "Interesting."
Aranha can only marvel at the agility required to catch that skeleton hand. Even he would be hard pressed to make that catch. It would be possible but it would've been a tough feat for him.
Aranha says nothing when the Dahlia reasserts control. After all, he's getting information out of this. "I can't speak to Daniel's motivations. I don't even know the guy. But there's nothing double about creepy spider chick Barbie. She was whole hog against Earthrealm with no attempt to hide it."
He glances back and forth between Zach and the Dahlia "Before I slapped the taste out her mouth and her head from her shoulders, she was talking about how the tournament was prophesized by Jedah. She also was pretty contemptuous about Daniel's inability to kill. I had no such compunction."
Then he receives Zach's apology and nods but as he does so things are falling into place for him, dreams of another version of this world... Things that he only thought were of a fevered imagination. But between this tournament where he met his alternate self and Zach actually confirming it, things were making a lot more sense.
The Dahlia nods quietly to Zach as he attempts to clear the air. She is... concerned about the relationship between the two, but as long as they are actually -speaking- to one another, that is a good thing. She could easily -force- an opinion upon the two of them, but she doubts it would stick for very long.
As she listens, she closes her eyes, pressing her lips together.
The soldiers encircling them seem to look outward -- and then they focus their gaze on a certain point: the castle.
( Yeah, seriously, -fuck- that guy... )
( We got better chances here... )
( Yeah, whatever... )
The Dahlia opens her eyes, and reaches a hand out to the presences as they return.
This time -- they become a bit more visible, their shadows carved in relief against the backdrop of the sky, their highlights glowing in faint crimson.
"Perhaps I was in... error, Zach. Forgive me. Our... 'guests' appear to have returned. In a better mood, thanks to you."
( The fuck is -she- talking about? )
( I know, right?! )
The Dahlia cracks a faint smile, folding her hands before her (now that she no longer has a fragile disembodied hand to attend to). "... I do know the guy. And he was repentant -- and insisted that he could not be stopped. He asked of me to stop him -- to free his spirit. So my only hope is that, freed of the confines of his accursed body, that he may be able to work for Earthrealm in earnest. But Tessitore -- perhaps you are right. Perhaps she was working for Outworld all along -- and perhaps her benefactor will not raise her. But even if we have, know that Outworld is wasting resources. This... gives me hope."
She glances to Zach -- "But now. The next round of kombat may be... difficult. But I feel that, as with Nakoruru the Stormbringer, that I may be able to reach an accord with my next opponent. Before then, though, I have to ask -- is Glen willing to help me? Have I proven myself to him yet?"
She turns to Aranha. "And you -- have I proven worthy of your trust as well? The margin of victory against Daniel and the Devourer was... much narrower than I would have liked."
Forcing an opinion on either of the Zach's not only would be short lived, but would likely blow up in the Dahlia's face. He looks down at the braclet with a frown. "Maybe? He's kind of reaching a 'solutions where you can find them, not where they are convenient' point," he says. "You'll have to talk that out with him, though." He focuses on the shard. "Glen, get your ass out here and talk with her."
The shard shimmers, and there is a shorter version of Zach standing before the trio. He appears a bit translucent, and more casually dressed that either Zach or the Dahlia (if her clothes were intact). He looks around, glances at Aranha. He gives the Dancing Spider a terse nod. "What happened during your fight with Zach was my fault," he admits. "I woke up swinging."
Then he looks at Honoka. "If you manage to get past Athena," he says slowly, "You're fighting Rose. Or whoever beat her." He frowns, looks away. After a moment, he looks back at Honoka. "Honestly, I don't like your chances of talking either of them down. Especially Rose. She'll see you for exactly what you are. You're going to have to sell me on it. Here. Now."
And forcing one on Aranha may work in the short term but it would probably make him an enemy for life. He values his personal freedom a little too much and that includes freedom of thought. He doesn't trust him but ultimately he has to keep the eye the prize because if Outworld wins, there's no place for his sister.
Aranha seems as though he's in deliberation with his other world counterpart. In those few moments the otherworld Aranha explains through images about the other world of how he knew and even was once a team mate with Glen in a tournament. How the alt Aranha once influenced him by showing him an image of when the beating of his older sister would take place so that he could intervene and possibly prevent that suicide from happening. And then he gives an image of the otherworld's fight with Honoka at the circus.
It's at this point primary Aranha understands because after the attempt to prevent the suicide led to that same older sister getting a music career and then overdosing on drugs, he understood that it was fate and while Aranha could protect her from others he could never protect her from herself.
When Glen comes out, a dusty yellow, translucent version of himself, same height, same build takes a step towards Honoka and pauses when Glen speaks. Alt Aranha decides to see how this plays out before he commits to joining with Honoka.
The Scarlet Dahlia frowns as Glenn chooses to call Glen rather than making an executive decision. But... if that's what it takes...
She looks back to Aranha, and... Aranha, and suddenly she feels outnumbered, despite her numerical advantage. Four of them -- two from another time, who most likely knew her -better- than she knows herself.
And then Glen wants to be the one putting her on the spot. If there was an aura of cooperation emanating from the Dahlia before, it has weakened considerably with her being placed on the defensive.
"Athena is the first challenge. And she has been... tempted. To hear from my sources, she has been steered along a dark path."
( Tempted by death. )
( Tempted by lust. )
( Tempted by POWER. )
"She has had to face the Raging Demon -- " The Dahlia turns to face Aranha at this point, the one she's -been- talking to. "The same who killed your acquaintance who seems to no longer be dead now."
She turns back to Glen. "The one who killed -Vega-."
And to Glenn: "And you are in the -best- position of any of us to tell me exactly how this Athena responds when cornered. But that aside..."
She closes her eyes for a moment, and draws in her breath, considering everything she knows about Rose.
"... I know almost nothing about Rose. How I hope to -defeat- her? I know so little about -her-, save for her own kombat record. Which is to say -- she is a competent fighter."
She turns back to Glen. "In lieu of you folks telling me everything you know about her, I can only say that there is no purpose in hiding what I am from someone who can see all. I have told you countless times that I fight to save Earthrealm. Do you believe me to be lying?"
She looks to each Zach and each Aranha, with ironclad conviction.
Zach is, perhaps predictably, the first to answer. "From what I have heard, she's..." He frowns. "She suffered some kind of injury during her fight against the Demon. Any information I have might not be useful, if she's gone through the mental changes you seem to imply." He turns to face Glen squarely. "Seriously?" he demands, "You're holding out /now/? What the actual /fuck/, you midget bastard?"
Glen braces up and faces Zach, craning his head back to lock eyes with the taller Zach. "Yes, now," Glen answers. "I'd rather track down Rose to-"
"Yeah," Zach snorts, "Remind me again how easy she is to find? Honoka's here. Now. And we've /both/ been working with her to some end or another on this island. Why now?"
Glen looks... pensive in response to this point. He frowns and looks away from Zach, which establishes things neatly. "You know why," he growls. "If she /wins/, she's going to have a very =long= time to do whatever it is she is going to do."
While the primary Aranha is confused but willing to let them work it out, the alt version feels ill at ease because while they bicker, there's still those webbed up test subjects in Tessitore's lab and the reason the two Aranha's were seeking Honoka in the first place was because Honoka(As well as Zach) was best suited for for determining whether they could be trusted or too dangerous to be freed. And as long as Glen was arguing about holding out on Honoka, the conversation would be tabled.
The alt self glances at the primary and he understands immediately what he's trying to say.
"The other part of that killing the Prada headcase in her lab was the fact that she had a whole bunch of test subjects in there. You are more suited to figuring out if they're allies or way too unstable to free... So... Can we have this conversation while we head that way?"
And so instead of walking toward the Scarlet Dahlia as he planned both Dancing Spiders take their first steps back from where they came, indicating the rest should probably follow.
The Dahlia watches Glen and Glenn sling words at each other, smoothing the front of her ravaged cheongsam out -- for all the good that will do. She seems pleased, at first, that she's not the only one in the dark about Rose.
But then Glen trips over the foot of the elephant in the room -- what will the Dahlia do if she -wins?-
The Ainu woman's face turns almost as red as her assumed namesake.
"If /she/ wins?! Excuse me -- /she/ is right here!"
Her attention narrows onto Glen with almost laser precision, hands resting upon her hips. "Unless you mean the =other= me? The /other me/ saw fit to -exile- foreigners. The /other me/ thought obedience was something to be -forced- onto people."
The Dahlia points at the tall tower, far to the east. "Dang, that sounds a lot more like Outworld mentality, doesn't it?"
Closing her eyes, she takes a breath -- and just as she does so, the Dancing Spiders add their contribution to the conversation.
And opens her eyes, staring back at the speaking Aranha with an air of incredulity.
"... Fine, sure. Let's do that, I guess."
And without any further ado, she walks onwards after the Dancing Spiders -- with the blue spectral soldiers floating around the formation in a loose circle, and the five barely-visible shadows floating along in the center.
( Damn, dude. )
( Right?! )
( More souls to munch on! )
( Nah, man, she's not like that... )
( She's totally like that, she's just playin'... )
( MORE SOULS TO DEVOUR )
The Dahlia extends an index finger to one of the spirits in particular -- and then wags it side-to-side.
( ... I was just kidding, gosh. )
( Were not. )
Zach keeps his eyes firmly on Glen when he answers the Dahlia. "He's concerned with what you might do if you have another hundred years to do it," Zach supplies softly. "Because according to Princess Kitana, the winner of the tournament is granted protection and long life, so that they may participate in the next Mortal Kombat." He tilts his head slightly towards Glen. "Which can be a pretty long time to do a lot of things." He's not saying Glen's concerns about the yakuza advisor are not valid, but it would be important to note he's not /not/ saying that either.
He glances towards Aranha when he mentions Tessitore's prisoners. "Let's get moving, then," he says, dropping all of the subjects. People need help, this squabble between the guardian spirit and the Earthrealm's champions can wait for a bit. The shade vanishes, the gem on Zach's wrist shining once as Zach moves to follow the Dancing Spider.
What might she do with another hundred years?
What might she do with -ten- more years?
The Scarlet Dahlia grimaces, choosing not to pursue that particular train of thought out in the open. Though, it would be clear to the fairer-haired psychics that the Ainu woman has a great number of things to say on the matter as she starts walking after Aranha. "I could tell that some of my men had... been detained. With as many people as were present in the castle itself, it was difficult at best to single any one of them apart from the rest." A psychic's greatest advantage within a populous castle to a psychic can also be a significant drawback...
( She probably wanted to munch on them. )
( No way, she was a scientist! She was tearing them to shreds! )
( I wouldn't mind tearing -her- to shreds )
( Make her -suffer- first )
( She's already dead! )
( Yeah, this Dancing Spider stole our spider prize! )
( Spiders first! )
/ You guys chatter too much. /
The last mental voice is louder than the others -- the distinctive tone of the Dahlia herself.
/ Including you, Glen. Are you trying to manipulate me into lashing out at you? /
She continues to walk along after Aranha, with the shadowed spirits nearby and her Ainu defenders hovering at a wider perimeter.
Zach clasps his hands behind his head as he walks. Glen is silent at the accusation. "His words are the tool he has," Zach says. "He's trying to see how you react to them." The former Marine heaves a sigh. "Though lashing out /would/ be one possible reaction, so he might be. He also knows that if you were to do that, I'd take steps to make sure it the situation does not get out of hand. He also knows what /that/ would cost him."
Zach considers for a moment. "When... he and I first talked. After that fight with Aranha," he finally says, "I did not want him working /through/ me, but /with/ me. I had threatened to do everything I could to ditch the shard, up to and including cutting my hand off to get the manacle off of me." He chuckles a bit.
"He said I wouldn't dare. I told him I knew someone who makes /excellent/ prosthetics."
The Dahlia cracks a faint smile at the joke -- as much as she isn't crazy about Glen, she's glad to see his taller counterpart shares her lack of enthusiasm.
"Using words to provoke a reaction is a proven psychological technique, sure."
The Dahlia's voice is level, as she allows her hands to dangle leisurely by her sides. Her left arm is still... pretty messed up, but if ravaged, blistered skin bothers her, she doesn't seem to be making a big deal about it.
"In the DSM-V, the official name for what Glen was doing is 'acting like an asshole.'"
The Scarlet Dahlia understands fully that it could be seen as an aggressive response, but really -- Zach's talking in the air to something she said mentally.
Which jogs her memory a bit, really.
"... Huh. You got your voice back. How?"
"Being mad at him for that is like blaming a scorpion for stinging," Zach says patiently. He does not know what the DSM-V actually /is/, but she gives enough information for him to get the joke. "Shouldn't get mad at something for acting in accordance with its nature. If even half of the stories he's shared about the job are true, he's been at this for a really long time." Then Honoka asks the question.
"Glen went looking for a fix. Found Nakoruru," he says after a moment. "She sent him, and by extension me, looking for her stolen cloak. It has healing properties." He takes a deep breath. "Frei helped me track it down. I fought one of Princess Kitana's handmaidens for it. Almost pulled the trigger on her," he admits, "But Frei interceded on her behalf. Sort of. I took the cloak, and all of the souls in her shard."
Zach glowers a bit, recalling the conversations. "She apparently wasn't sure if she would be able to... do what might have been necessary once she caught up to the thief. So she used me as a potential assassin."
"Who's mad?" asks the clearly agitated Scarlet Dahlia. "I should be used to it by now, being judged on the actions of someone who looks like me and talks like me. No matter how many good things I do, people will always wag the other person's actions in my face."
She continues to stride forward. She -is- agitated, but it won't show in her stride -- just the steady tension in her face and upper torso, and the mild wave of interference that seems to propagate through her emotional aura.
She opts to listen, instead. The story...
Another person, from another time and place -- one she talked to not very long ago.
"Really wish -my- other self would show up so I can slap her for ruining my life. I'm jealous of her, really.
The shadowy spirits look back at one another -- yet again, having nothing in particular to say.
"... Nakoruru has a lot on her mind, Zach. On one hand, the fate of the world. On the other, a shisam she barely knows wanted his voice back. If I were in her sandals, I would find myself in agreement with her assessment."
A glimmer of a smile forces its way across her face. The Ainu who brought Zach back to life insists, "Please do not take it personally."
Zach heaves a sigh, the frown still on his face. There's... something of a storm of emotions running through him about the matter. It was already there, but the shisam comment only intensifies it. He knows the word. He does not like the word at all.
"I wasn't," Zach says after a moment. "She'd have done the same with some other 'foreigner' if it had not been me." He looks thoughtful. "In fact, it would not at all surprise me to learn that I was not the only one she had sent on that quest." He smirks. "Just the one who happened to succeed."
Zach frown deepens. "Frei called her on her concern that she would not be able to kill the thief if that was what was needed. On sending third parties to do so if it was needed. I have a hard time disagreeing with the sentiment."
The Scarlet Dahlia walks in silence for a good few moments, allowing the high emotions a chance to settle back down. Her fingertips glow with a faint pink aura -- a representation of her need to instill calm upon the souls hovering nearby who have been little more but nuisances to the Akatsuki puppetmaster thus far. Nothing so direct and forceful as an order -- just a silent but significant reminder of the threat she -could- bring to bear should they seek to disrupt the silence.
"Then, I am convinced that I have missed something from the conversation."
The pink glow around her fingers fades somewhat, but the message had already been delivered to her now-silent companions.
"But what I do know is that Outworld will show us none of the mercy, none of the kindness that we show one another. I am sure that the Stormbringer was testing you, as she has tested me."
The word 'test' comes up again, and the Dahlia's expression darkens, for having invoked the memory of Kenshi Takahashi yet again.
"Earthrealm has failed to meet Outworld's terms in nine of its prior tests. If we do not succeed the tenth, then such qualities as 'sentiment' will cease to have any meaning at all. It is a matter of priorities."
Zach sighs, "Just needed to vent about it, I guess." He considers for a moment. "This whole thing is kind of rigged, when you think about it," he agrees. "Our greatest strengths are not exactly something that can be showcased by an individual. You'd think that as the challenged, we would get to set the terms, right?" He is still walking, his hands are still clasped behind his head.
He's thinking through the matter, as he prefers to do. He knows Glen may not be participating actively in the conversation, but the shade is listening; Zach can sense that he has not left the shard to wander.
"I want it out there," Zach says after a long moment, "I think he /should/ do it. I'm kind of pissed off that he's being pissy about this."
The Dahlia breathes a sigh. This conversation is... wearing upon her, but with the two Aranhas just as eager to remain walking ahead of her, and her two chorus groups just as eager to listen to the civil debate, she feels like she would rather keep her mouth quiet.
But... she supposes that is a valid point.
"... You are likely familiar with the concept of 'black ops' soldiers. The private police forces employed by peaceful, democratic governments in order to do the unsavory things that a peaceful, democratic governments could never directly countenance."
She calmly states, "The group referred to as 'Seal Team Six' is understood to have assassinated a foreign national connected with the 9-11 attacks. All the diplomacy, noble words, and happy thoughts in the world can not make light of the fact that a small squad of highly-effective operatives was employed in the murder of a single individual and his companions. In some reports, the man was shot dead, while cowering -- hardly a threat. And yet, it was claimed that this assassination was not valid, as the murder was committed in self-defense -- the nation, in self-defense of its own sovereign existence."
A hand drifts to the skeleton hand, hanging within the pouch upon her sash.
"It is inarguable that peace has resulted from this agreement. The soldiers who did the job are not questioned. And ten years later, save for the history books which tell their tale, they are all but forgotten, as the Earth moves on to another triumph.
"This is what happens when a culture stands up for its right to exist -- its own sovereign existence. Some men and women do the terrible deed, that their children can move past it towards mutual enlightenment.
"Conversely, the Ainu people are peaceful to the last. Societal rules insist upon a deep and spiritual connection with nature, with the wildlife, with each other. And when forced into a situation between military might and peaceful coexistence, the Ainu laid down their arms and cooperated -- for that is what peaceful people do."
The Ainu woman bites her lip for a moment, lost in thought.
"And when facing a military society, raised for centuries to rally behind the sword of a shogun even in times of peace, the Ainu were out of their element. And now there are so very few of us left."
The Scarlet Dahlia takes a moment to glance at each and every one of her spectral subordinates in turn before continuing.
"It is a matter of priorities. You ask what I will do in a hundred years' time. It is the same thing that drives me now. I will fight to ensure that my people -- whether they be the people of Earth, the people of Japan, the people of Hokkaido, or the people of Akan Kotan -- survive to another generation, and another, and another. I will fight to ensure that people are not -discriminated- against for their cultural differences, but -recognized- and -appreciated- for them."
Her hands clasp before her, as she closes her eyes -- relying entirely upon the souls of those around her for navigation as she continues to place one step in front of the other.
"If you would have me as the marshal of Earthrealm's forces, I will rise to the challenge. But if I am not armed with weapons adequate for the task, I cannot be any more optimistic about our chances for success than I am right now."
Zach's eyes narrow as Honoka lays out the details of Operation Neptune Spear. Strictly speaking, Zach himself participated in a lot of operations similar to it. Her conclusions are... somewhat accurate. But only by manipulating the information involved. "Neptune Spear," he says carefully, "Was an open-ended operation. If they could have captured that man, they would have. He had a lot of information in his head that could have been useful to US Intelligence. Obviously, that was not in the cards." Zach glances at the ground.
"I'm not..." Zach looks away from Honoka for a moment. "I'm not at all certain you realize what you... what /we/ are asking Glen to do in your service."
Manipulating the information involved is exactly what is done by the media -- done by any teller of history. "Certainly, the -truth- of the matter is in dispute. But the -result- is indisputable: Stability. Integrity. And the right for America to continue existing in its then-current form to the best of its natural ability." She does not quail from her imperfect retelling of the story -- indeed, she even left a number of inconsistencies for the listener to make his or her own interpretations equally valid. But the even-keeled Ainu listens to the further resistance to her plan.
Not certain what -we- are asking Glen to do, he says.
"Perhaps I do not."
Her hand gestures to indicate the soul stone at her hip -- glowing a bright honey yellow.
"But I know that the soldiers surrounding me are given form only by the energy from this soul stone -- and that energy can only come from the spirit of the vanquished fighters. I lend my energy to my soldiers as a contract -- that -they- might use my contribution as they see fit. Our success depends on us acting as a team -- unified in purpose, unified in measures. Dissonance is counterproductive. And any attempt to -take- the energy will dilute its effectiveness."
Her bared shoulders shrug, a faint smile on her face as she looks towards Glen.
"Your concern seems mired in what I do -after- the tournament rather than -during- it. In any other time, in any other place, the energy of -life- is only allowed to proceed in one direction. Life -- cannot be restored. But here... any transfer of energy can be reversed."
Her eyes soften, her smile fading into a more neutral -- a more trustworthy smile.
"So the question is now: do you trust me to return the energy when we have accomplished our shared mission?"
"When my shard receives power," Zach explains as he unclasps his hands. "He takes the power into himself. It becomes a part of him. He then lends me that power during fights here. Asking him to take a chunk of that power and give it to someone else..." Zach stops walking as he frowns, staring down at his hands as his left hand opens and closes slowly, as if he is confirming that the hand is stil there. "It's like you asking me to cut off my hand so that you can use it. Metaphorically speaking. The last time I gave you power from my gem, he didn't talk to me for a couple of days. He had needed that time to recover enough to communicate with me." He looks back up to meet Honoka's gaze. "It's apparently painful, nearly fatally so."
Power, drawn into oneself -- cannot be withdrawn?
What a terrible thought.
The Dahlia seems to be in complete contradiction with Zach's manner of talking to souls -- with his manner of utilizing energy. Whereas he builds power from within, the Dahlia utilizes power from without. Perhaps it is a fundamental difference between the two -- but it presents an impasse that she cannot breach.
She does not stop walking when Zach did -- she continues following along at the pace established by the two Dancing Spiders.
"I am not asking anyone to cut off a limb for me. I will continue on with my mission whether I have the best weapons available, or stones and spears."
She could contest further, she knows.
But she will not beg.
Zach lets his left hand drop, before starting to walk again. He steps up his pace enough to catch up to the Dahlia in verbal silence, the chain link on the manacle betraying his movements. "For what little it might be worth," Zach says after a moment, "I am with you." He gives the manacle a glare as he continues to walk. Zach knew what he was asking of Glen. /Knew/ what it would cost. But felt he needed to ask anyway, and was upset with the response.
The Scarlet Dahlia nods quietly in response, continuing to walk.
She remains silent for a good long while, continuing to step forward, continuing to focus upon the path that the Dancing Spiders lead. The mighty marble edifice of the palace beckons -- once within its confines, the team will need to march down into the very depths of the palace, winding innumerable blind corridors down towards the subterranean caverns.
With the protection of the palace, the entourage no longer needs to be as large as it had been. The Ainu soldiers fade from view, as do the five spirits. The two Zachs will probably notice that their power has been recalled back into the soul stone at her hip -- communication going beyond words, beyond simple thought. A connection closer than even that with the former Marine.
Just when the silence can stand no longer...
"Kenshi Takahashi questioned me in much the same way. I was unable to answer his question to satisfaction. He denied me his support. Denounced my path as incorrect. My explanation of my path, my reason for fighting was, in his words, a failure -- a failure to stand up to your idealized image of me, Zach."
She stares at the marble edifice as she continues to advance towards the entrance.
"It took a long time to rebuild the confidence that I would need to fight the Butcher. For confidence -- is where I draw my strength. Without confidence... I will fall, for here there is no safety net."
Her power draws... inward, closing in.
"I am one person, tasked by the Kamui for protecting humanity, as Nakoruru was before me. And while I appreciate that everyone has their own vision for how I 'should' act, I cannot be all things to all people. If I am to succeed, I must limit my focus."
She exhales softly.
"I promise that I will use my best judgment in fighting Athena, and Rose, if that is where the tournament leads me. But in the heart of battle, I cannot allow myself to be objective, or restrained. If you grant me your power, I will cede their fate to your hands. I have no wish to see them taken from the Earth."
"Oh," Zach says after a moment. "Sorry for... thinking so highly of you?" He scratches one check, looking a little confused. The chain link clatters with the movement. He's not really sure why he is apologizing. Or if he even /should/.
He ponders what the Dahlia is doing, basically holding the potential fates of her opponents as hostages to Zach's will. He considers this. "Then don't," he says after a moment, the irritation at the idea clouding his features. "Don't hold yourself back against them, but every fight I've seen or been a part of since coming here has had some kind of plateau. Where you /have/ a moment to decide what you are going to do. What you do in that moment is your decision."
"Don't let my actions, or the actions of /this/ asshole," Zach shakes his right hand causing more clattering for emphasis, "Dictate what you do or do not do."
The Dahlia has to laugh at that. Perhaps her phrasing could have been... less accusatory, there?
"No, that's fair. Your opinion -should- have remained private."
That condescending prick just had to pull it out of Zach's mind, didn't he?!
As for letting Glenn or Glen dictate what she will or won't do...
"... I haven't yet, have I?"
She looks back to Zach, at that point.
"It didn't sound like -you- were the one offering resistance to my intended course of action."
As the two Dancing Spiders lead the way, they both had been listening to the back and forth between the Dahlia and the Zach. It was an informative experience. From the fact that the Zach's and Aranha's interaction with the power of their shards were similar to how the Dahlia viewed her role in this particular Mortal Kombat. And a lot of his and the Dahlia's views linked up. When fighting for the right to continue existing, or for loved ones to continue existing, there's no such thing as a fair fight.
The two Dancing Spiders as they make their way to palace are quiet and when under the protections of them, the dusty yellow doppleganger gets drawn into his carved spider soul shard necklace.
"I had been thinking about it... I'm a gambling man and I'm gambling on our Earthrealm representative be it you, Athena, Rose, or whoever. I just want to make sure that whoever we send is as best suited for this as possible. You face one of our representatives and propose that winner takes all the energy. And propose that they do the same should they move on. That way, my contribution will make it to the person who will ultimately fight on our behalf. And I plan on contributing."
As he focuses on the movement of energy, the carved spider pendant begins to fade.
Aranha was warned that there was a potential of things about him to be revealed by the transfer of energy and tings are revealed. Images flood the Dahlia's mind for a few moments creating a sort of montage. The first image is of Aranha sleeping in bed with a thought bubble of a girl of African descent being savagely beaten, then another thought bubble is of Aranha looking at pictures of the same girl's corpse after she threw herself off of a roof.
The next image is of that same image of her getting beaten side by side with Aranha getting beaten in a similar fashion with the same girl looking on in horror. There's a sense that part was a divergence point for him, in particular, with him taking on the beating that pushed her towards suicide. Another image goes into view of her on stage singing. It was of Karen Mason, a singer with a sort lived career. The reason becomes obvious in the next image. The singer is laid out on the floor surrounded by drugs while Aranha looks horrified. Another image comes into view. It's of Glen walking towards Robert Garcia who standing over his barely conscious body while an official looks on. Then another image of Aranha at the Circus, offering Honoka a hand up after their fight. The next image was of Aranha on a single knee, unsteady as if he was on the precipice of unconsciousness. Standing above him was Athena in a concert setting with a referee near by. The final image is of Aranha standing above Tessitore's body with her head on the ground, baby powder handprint on her cheek. There are several humanoid beings suspended from the ceiling cocooned in webs.
The transfer is over and while the energy is gone, presence of alt Aranha is still within his soul shard.
Zach glances at Aranha. *That's not a terrible idea,* Zach opines to to Glen. *Fine. =FINE=,* Glen fires back. *I'll talk to you in a day or three. Don't expect anything from me before then.* Zach looks over at the Dahlia.
*Glen's relented,* Zach informs her. Though we should probably wait for the transfer to happen when we are safely behind walls and wards.*
The psion gives a slight nod, and a faint grin of approval and gratitude, to Aranha. Zach knows he would have had a /much/ harder time convincing his "guardian shade" of the merits of such a plan.
The Dancing Spiders' silence has been frustrating, to say the least.
In the earlier conversation, the Aranha of this Earthrealm was not just resistant, but -defiant-, though she had largely thought that to be due to poor wording. A bad negotiation. But now that he begins to speak -- he makes an interesting proposition.
'Alarm' does not begin to describe the magnitude of her expression when he suggests going all-or-nothing on the outcome of a fight. "That's--"
Aranha may be a gambler, but she does not fancy herself as one.
"H-hold on a moment, we don't know if Athena or Rose has been--"
And yet, isn't that exactly she had been proposing? For =these= two men to go all-in?
"Wait -- wait!"
The Dahlia holds up her hands. If a transfer were to have begun, she would put the brakes on it right away with the sudden cylindrical wall of blue light that is erected around her -- its source being the spectral army at her beck and call. With the barrier in place, her demeanor drops back to a state of relative calm -- a bead of sweat still visible on her forehead.
"The conditions have changed. A moment, please."
And then she closes her eyes.
Zach has been around Honoka when she was asleep. Her body slackens -- but she does not fall over, supported as she is by the cylindrical construct. She has -- for this brief period -- fallen completely, utterly, asleep. Her consciousness dives down a deep well -- beyond analysis, beyond comprehension -- as she is lost within meditation.
Ten seconds later, she opens her eyes -- fringed with a slight halo of pink light. Aside from that -- she is fully awake, her eyes bright once more. Her right hand is raised to her left side, and then sweeps a wide arc to her right. As she does so, each of the sections of wall steps backwards, resuming the form of a spectral Ainu warrior, who then returns to a position a dozen steps away.
"Forgive me. You may be of the gambling type, but I take =no= action without heavy contemplation. I am sure you can appreciate that I do not enter into contracts lightly."
She glances towards a few of the militia men, nodding her head. "And these contracts are not binding upon just -me-, much as they are not with simply you, or Zach here. That said -- my men have agreed to support a shisam under the given terms, under the strict provision that the appropriate powers are ceded back to the contributors after Earthrealm's victory. You get your souls back -- and Glen will get his. Gambling, as you so put it, requires a payoff."
"I agree to the conditions set forth, to ensure Earthrealm has the best possibility of success."
The Ainu woman glances over to Zach, nodding quietly. She had missed something during her brief departure of consciousness, but she understands the sentiment well enough. "Please convey my thanks to him. And yes, of course."
Aranha's transfer, though, will not wait, and commences after another moment of readiness -- the palace walls may be powerful enough.
The Scarlet Dahlia extends both hands outward, honey yellow light emanating outward from her soul stone like a beacon. The first pair of images hits her like a slap -- as much as she may have been ready for the transfer, the memories are startlingly crisp -- even moreso than in her previous dream dives.
The visions that follow, though -- the narrative is broken, disjointed. She knows Aranha, but to see him -here-, in vivid detail, forces her to take a step back. Two of the Ainu warriors sweep in from behind, providing arms to lean on as she processes the visions with some difficulty. It's... it's too fast, and yet, she's almost... -almost- able to keep up.
And then -- Aranha, offering his hand up to Honoka. To see herself in the third person -- no. Not -herself-, but another just like her.
Tears had begun to fall -- it is only then that the Ainu tusukur wipes them away with the back of her right hand.
Tearful, the Dahlia rises back to her feet. The soul stone shines brighter than it ever has, lighting her raven locks with strands of honey. "Thank you, Aranha. I... I think I am beginning to understand you more and more now. We will finish this. For you and yours."
( Shit, shit, what'd we miss? )
( Dammit! You told us nothin' was gonna happen! )
( The Scarlet Dahlia, ha! More like The Red-Faced LIAR )
The spirits return -- though they do not make their presence terribly obvious in the torchlit room.
"The cocoons," begins the Dahlia tentatively, as she regains full lockdown on her emotions, "do feel like men from around here. But not all are from Earthrealm. Some are Shang Tsung's personal guards."
"Me having all the power in the world is meaningless if I can't protect my sister with it. I've already lost my older sister in this world and apparently in the other one. I refuse to lose my younger sister."
Meanwhile, the alternate self remains dormant, the transfer leaving him weakened but still able to communicate to him at the very least. As for the one of this reality, his body remains stable though he seems slightly out of breath not privy to the conversation. And then he glances not towards his heart but still chest ward. As he looks at where Tessitore stabbed him with the syringes, he practically radiates uncertainty. He then looks at both Zach and then Honoka and forcefully shoves the uncertainty away. He decides to keep his eyes on the prize and will address results of those injections later.
"Well... We focus on the Earthrealm, non-hostiles and free them."
Zach looks over at the Dahlia, her guardian spirits moving to support and protect her even quicker than he can. He watches and listens to the interactions between her and Aranha, considering things for a moment.
"We should rescue all of them," Zach says, holding up a hand to forestall any arguement from either of his companions. "Mostly because it would be the right thing to do, but also because there is a good chance we might get some good information from them about Shang Tsung, who we know next to nothing about."
He gives the Dahlia a fairly direct glance. "Or do you think a pair of psychics playing 'good cop-bad cop' won't be able to learn anything from them?"
Throughout most of the walk, the Dahlia acted defensively, having believed her choices and way of life were a subject of interrogation. But now, with a resolution in sight, and the power beginning to course through her, she is beginning to feel a bit more like... herself. Relaxed, confident.
And maybe just a little invigorated.
Accordingly, she is more than content to listen to Aranha and Zach talk, as a change of pace. She can earnestly appreciate the Dancing Spider's desire to return home and provide save haven for his sister. She can understand that he would like to resolve the situation with the captives, that he can address his...
"... Are there wounds that need attention, before we proceed into the most unsterile environment in the castle?"
Her thoughtful concern is offered with a sincere, almost motherly smile.
As for rescuing the hostages -- she nods her head slowly. She can sympathize with both suggestions -- and in all actuality, she is leaning more towards Zach's. "Unless we plan to conduct our own macabre experiments, it might be best to refrain from doing further harm to the guards of our gracious host when possible. I do agree with prioritizing our own, though."
( Woman, you are no fun! )
( They're all bound up! Ripe for the picking! )
( Shut -up-, she didn't rule out good cop bad cop! )
( I =love= good cop bad cop! )
The Dahlia kneads her temples gently with her fingertips, entertaining thoughts of finally getting these unruly spirits under control. "... Shall we go, then?"
To be honest, he wasn't thinking of questioning them but it's not a bad idea. He still harbored a bit of concern about the subjects who would potentially come out swinging. It was a legitimate concern that he couldn't, in good conscience, go without voicing.
"Just make sure that aren't the type to go nuts on us once they regain the capability to."
When wounds are mentioned, his body tenses, that uncertainty kicks in full force. It may be confession time here.
Mostly scrapes, but during our fight, Dr. Frankenspider injected me with some weird stuff. I don't know what it'll do to me if anything. It could be killing me slowly, it could turn me into a Darkstalker, it could have no effect other than being pretty damn agonizing. I have no idea."
"I..." Zach says when Aranha mentions the injection. "Unless your body already knows how to fight it off, I don't think I can help you." For his part, Zach looks completely intact. Glen was providing a steady trickle of energy to allow Zach to run for far longer than he normally would be able to.
He glances at Dahlia. "We could take a moment to patch you up, though," Zach says.
"Naturally. It will work best if we only free one victim at a time. Two of us can sense general intentions, so it should not pose too much of a problem."
The Scarlet Dahlia has made extensive surveys of the interior hallways of Shang Tsung's palace. As she stands facing the shortest route, she raises three fingers upward, and then points down the hallway.
The signal was meant for three of the Ainu soldiers at her beck and call, who race down the hallway in advance of the remaining party.
"Addressing the symptoms should help, at the very least. I would definitely defer to Zach's judgment in that regard, though."
The Scarlet Dahlia recently demonstrated a technique for extinguishing traces of darkstalker infestation from a human host.
It is not recommended for Aranha.
"So far, no strange symptoms other than excruciating pain at the moment of injection. But it could be slow acting, whatever it is, or my body could be able to resist it, or there is nothing in it except something that causes pain. Hell... She didn't even know what she injected me with. I'll try to keep you informed."
He's fine with letting the soldiers scout ahead in case there might be a clean up crew or something. It would suck if someone were to show up to screw up his day after he killed the mad scientist.
"Not looking forward to going back... Unless it would be to take a picture of the Headless Horsewoman's head and make it my cellphone's wall paper."
Log created on 14:22:44 12/09/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 22:19:08 12/11/2016.