Description: The Scarlet Dahlia. She's been the focus of so many different forces and individuals, of late... seemingly all of which have some expectation, some agenda, they want to involve her in. I-No seems, at first, to be just another one of those individuals. But as with all things involving the scarlet-clad songstress, the conversation that results between the Dahlia and herself has some unorthodox methods... and equally unconventional results.
"I understand. Thank you for providing the honor of your service. May the kamui bring us together again soon."
The words are spoken quietly to three spirit warriors, fading away into the eternal ether as they head to their eternal resting-place. They wear the armor marking them as Ainu villagers from hundreds of years prior -- former Kombatants in past tournaments. As they walk away, thin strands of golden fiber are caught by the breeze, falling silently upon the pulverized stones of the wasteland.
Tresses of ravenblack hair ruffle freely in the breeze as the Scarlet Dahlia's blue-tinted eyes stare at the thre soldiers' fading forms. Behind her are arrayed six more soldiers with similar armor. Similar features. And a similarly remorseful expression.
There is more to the conversation, of course -- though much of it was handled on a more intimate level, from one mind to another.
The Dahlia closes her eyes for a moment, exhaling the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. The past few days have been a bit of a blur, and only now, with the resolution to the rift that had formed among her soldiers, is she able to fully appreciate the moment of quiet upon the strife-ridden island.
Opening her eyes slowly, she lifts her left hand. She curls her fingers slightly, rocking her palm backwards.
The satisfying sensation of fur meets her hand, the raised bristles of hair ruffling against her fingertips. Slowly, but surely, the form beneath her gradually manifests in the form of a bear cub, standing four feet at the shoulder, which nuzzles appreciatingly against the Dahlia's hand. About the shadow predator's neck is a collar of gold-colored thorns.
"It's for the best this way..." she muses quietly to no one in particular, as she begins to walk away from the graveyard. Shadowing along beside her is the bear, its fur tinged a deep crimson; following behind her are the half-dozen Ainu warriors, silently casting their hollow gaze upon the surrounding environs.
Even for someone with no intimate knowledge of what's going on here -- of the struggle that the Dahlia has been fighting both in a physical and spiritual sense -- a casual observer can still tell that this ceremonial farewell is a matter of import. Gravitas. Perhaps the Ainu woman is projecting into the world around her, though this seems unlikely given her focus on tight self-control. Perhaps it is simply a matter of some things being obviously weighty, emotional, somber.
"Please, PLEASE tell me you're not a furry."
You probably don't want I-No to show up in this sort of situation.
The voice comes from behind the Dahlia, back away toward the graveyard proper, and her presence was literally not there one second, and there the next. If the target of her little joke turns to see her, the Dahlia will find the scarlet-clad strumpet sitting on a nearby chunk of masonry, probably the remains of a destroyed house. Leaning against it is her guitar, Marlene, the sky blue hue of her custom Strat standing out amongst the bleached and dusky tones of the wastes. One hip-length booted leg is crossed over the other, and the brim of her crimson witch hat is low, obscuring her eyes. Her eyes... but not her mouth, the carmined lips curling into a wicked smile.
She brings her head up, tipping up her hat brim, and waits for the Dahlia to turn, meeting her gaze unflinchingly if and when that happens. "I mean that'd be a disaster. Pretty girl like you, all dolled up to meet some internet fuckstick who thinks they're actually an otter or some shit?"
Yeah. Definitely don't invite this woman to your state dinner. Hell, you probably shouldn't invite her to In-n-Out Burger if you ever want to be let in the door again.
Leaning forward a bit, I-No puts an elbow on her crossed leg, and props her chin up on her open palm, giving the traditionally-clad Ainu woman an appraising once over. If she's concerned that any of what she just said is out of place or out of line, it doesn't show; she's just as blithe and carefree as someone who's NOT currently on some fuckoff island in the middle of nowhere stuck between dimensions. "Maybe I shouldn't piss you off, though. You've gone straight Lestat with this soul-eating shit, maybe you're a bonafide fucking badass now. And I did go through all that trouble trying to find a time to see you where Everybody Wang Chung Tonight wouldn't have a shit ton of ninja pretending they know what the fuck they're doing."
MEANWHILE, AT THE PALACE:
One such ninja currently struggles against the two candlesticks that have been embedded in the wall around his wrists, keeping him suspended and struggling until someone comes to free him.
Taped to the front of his gi is a piece of note paper with "GO AWAY <3" written on it in red lipstick.
HERE AND NOW:
I-No brings her hand up and inspects her nails, idly. "You'd think such a stereotyped asshole would be a little more subtle about this shit."
The Dahlia wrinkles her nose at that. Why wouldn't her bear be furry?
The Dahlia realizes that the voice wasn't one of the many holding conference with her at the moment, but instead, an actual voice by an actual person who actually seems to have winked into existence off her starboard bow. The Ainu woman turns to the newcomer with all the grace of someone included into a second conversation before having a chance to hang up the first.
Which is to say, her mouth hangs partially agape, and her eyes are wide with incredulity, for that one moment spent piecing together what was last said to her.
The Scarlet Dahlia smooths her robes down across her form, perhaps a bit self-consciously as she catches sight of the witch's gaudy attire. Once she hears more of the words, the earlier term begins to make a bit more sense.
The Akatsuki Advisor flashes a measured smile, beginning to nod -- though that happens before she's referred to as a Lestat. And...
So many references, at a dizzyingly fast pace. She spends the next few moments just raising an eyebrow at I-No as she uses her mood as a barometer for exactly what the heck she's talking about.
"... See, that's the beauty of it. If he'd done something different, then people would expect the unexpected. Here... by having their meager expectations catered to, his guests are lured into a sense of uneasy complacency."
The eyebrow arches once more. She doesn't feel she needs to draw any more -direct- parallels to I-no's attire.
The bear begins to snarl, as it walks in a narrow arc around the Dahlia, keeping its body close to her protectively. The Ainu tusukur soothes it with a few gentle strokes of her palm.
"That said, I am not a 'furry,' no."
The soldiers fan out into a wider pattern, keeping their hands low to their sides in a non-threatening posture -- though it is clear that they stand prepared to aid their general if needed.
"I am sorry for you to have spent so much time to find me by myself. I would have been happy to make an appointment for you."
Now that I-No is in her direct focus, the tusukur seems much more in command, practically effervescing with confidence. The soul energy is unmistakable -- a faint aura that suffuses around herself, and the bear, and her warriors. If I-No looks closely she might even be able to see the thin golden filaments binding each of the guardians to their general.
She offers an amiable smile.
"But now that you have found me...?"
She is, for all intents and purposes, open to conversation. But she is prepared, should that not be the case.
The woman in red listens to the Dahlia's measured, polite responses with a sort of... distracted interest. It's not necessarily impolite, by appearances, though she's unable to suppress a bit of a snort at the idea that Shang Tsung's seemingly incompetent minion army is to put his guests off-guard. In the rock witch's estimation, it's more likely a result of the sorcerer's insufferably inflated ego, but that's a discussion for another time. Yet all the same, once the Dahlia pivots cleanly into the smooth, glossy 'how many I help you?', I-No cannot help but grin very widely... and she seems genuinely amused, but it's not a pleasant grin at all.
"Holy shit, girl. When whatever the fuck happens here is done you might want to consider opening an academy for used car salesmen," she says, stretching her arms over her head, a gesture usually confined to the bored or sleepy. "I mean, if someone's gonna lay it on, I like it to be thick, but this is something else entirely."
There's a faint scraping sound as the red-clad woman slides off her stone perch, leaning down to brush off her boots and then standing up straight, tilting her head a little at the Dahlia curiously. "You seriously don't need to do this 'thank you for calling customer service' shit with me. Whatever you're selling I doubt I need or care about." In fact, the continued blitheness of her tone suggests it's not entirely clear WHAT I-No cares about, if anything.
Stepping forward, keeping a respectful distance from the Dahlia's spirit-formed entourage, the Red Witch walks slowly around the Ainu woman in a lazy circular pattern. "I honestly expected it was going to be Bubbles," she says, grinning a little to herself. "I hear Scarf Mom found him and unfucked whatever was going on in that head of his, after all. But no, here you are. The dark horse that barely anyone had heard of before you got here. Now you're all fat and happy and full of souls, talking like you're gonna sell me life insurance."
I-No comes to a stop, crossing her arms over her ample chest. She's still smiling, looking... as amiable as is possible, given her mien. "Me, I tapped out against the Hairspray Harridan and have been enjoying my vacation on Fuckoff Death Island ever since. I mean, it's looking like our side's gonna win anyway?"
She pauses, then shrugs. "I say 'my side' but I honestly don't give a fuck who wins, but uh... not looking good for Team Earth right now, is it? Frankly I assume Legends of the Hidden Temple's boss is gonna bulldoze the planet and put up a Wal-Mart or some shit. I'm just here for the hell of it." The implication is clear: the person in front of the Dahlia is working for the Outworlders, though she hardly seems all that... loyal.
The Scarlet Dahlia has had many, -many- people talk similar amounts of smack to her face before. Usually she compels them to take a subway car out for a night on the town. Or was the subway car doing the taking out? Whatever. The point is -- she's not particularly shaken by the blistering fusillade of attitude flung in her specific direction. Far from it: her faint smile only grows in confidence.
After all, she prefers it when people just spit out the thoughts as they occur. Saves the hassle of -needing- to think up fancy words.
... That said, she kind of... isn't digging the code names. 'Bubbles' is devoid of meaning to the Dahlia. 'Scarf Mom' makes a bit more sense -- and from that, it ought to be clear from the Ainu woman's fading smugness that she's drawing lines together.
No -- she's content to assemble the puzzle pieces laid before her. Scarf Mom, Hairspray Harridan, Fuckoff Death Island...
The bear at her side snarls once more; the tusukur gives another placating stroke on the back.
If indirect pleasantries are frowned upon, she opts for the more direct. "... I can only imagine the epithets I'm called behind my back. But I doubt you were brought here as color commentator, though I must say you certainly match what I've seen of Outworld couture. Why -are- you here, then?"
"Ha! Yeah, I do at that. Princess Fan Dance's booty shorts royalty look is like, pure TMZ material, isn't it?" It's probably a good thing Kitana isn't here for THAT particularly nickname. I-No herself doesn't seem particularly put off at the implication that she dresses like a whore, mostly because *she does it on purpose*. If people are poking fun at you having your tits out, then that's how you know it's working. Besides, they're amazing tits.
The suggestion about code names, though, makes I-No give a little snort of laughter. "Oh, that's just it, kiddo: they're not. Nobody's talking about you, which I think is a fucking miracle and a half since you're sitting on the spiritual equivalent of a nuclear arsenal. If I were leading the charge and had even a fractional amount of sense I'da sent someone out here to kick your ass a long fucking time ago. But they haven't. You don't have a nickname. They've basically left you alone."
A hand goes to the woman's red-clad hip, which she tilts vaguely in one direction, a sexy pose for what feels like nobody's benefit except the Dahlia's. Despite the two women being similar in height, I-No's high platforms do add a little bit... but she also has a sort of aura about her, too. To some, she SEEMS taller than she really is.
"Now that could be for a lot of reasons. I suspect you like it that way. Frankly I don't give a fuck, but if you're wondering if you've got a hashtag, you're out of luck. Your SEO is shit."
With a shrug, I-No relaxes her posture again, raising her head somewhat, making the iridescent, shifting color of her eyes that much more visible. "But you know, I can respect someone who can play the game. I'd say 'you got moxie, kid' if that wasn't some like, straight up noir fuckery. No... I'm here to show you something. And that's not code for 'try to fuck you up while you're not looking.' I genuinely think I've got something you'll be interested in seeing. The tradeoff is, you gotta trust me for that to happen."
A hand comes up to the brim of her hat. "Now, I'm not stupid. You've got exactly 0 reasons to do that. I have no plans to try and convice you to say yes. I'll tell you this, though: you have my word that you will be safe, sound, and unaccosted the entire time. So..."
She grins, firing off a finger gun at the Dahlia; one can almost SEE the "<3" that would fly off the end of it, in an anime. But there's something else: I-No's 'sense' changes. Up to now she hasn't felt any different than your average person, but now that she's made her pitch, she lets that proverbial freak flag fly. This is a woman with power, power that -- unfettered by niceties -- flows around her like a shroud.
Is that... supposed to make her trustworthy?
"The Sorceror's plans are inscrutable, to say the least." Which is to say -- she's well aware that the man has a plan, and isn't quite privy to it yet. But the information broker who has established a miniature empire even in the midst of Shang Tsung's own palace -- with his unspoken blessing, it would seem -- is testament to the two serpents' complicity in keeping each other within view at all times.
As to staying under the radar and having no presence... well, that's all according to plan, right? The less jeering and the less madness that goes on, the better. She -wants- respect, and in all of her efforts, she believes she has earned it -- at least, among those who would fall under her boot. The gods and goddesses, now, and the holier-than-thou among her so-called friends, now, -those- people have been judging her.
Which brings us back to I-No, whose posturing is taking her along a new path -- one that intrigues the Ainu tusukur, now. The bear begins to snarl at the mere suggestion that I-No could be taking advantage -- and she does not attempt to salve its mood, this time.
As I-No unleashes the seals on her massive power reserves, the Dahlia's skin prickles with an unusually potent sense of awareness. She even takes a half-step back, while the bear snarls and regains the lost ground on her behalf.
She recovers quickly, a wry smile etching its way across her face.
"You're right. I have no reason to trust you whatsoever."
But then the honey yellow soul gem at her hip begins to glow. The threads connecting her to the spirits behind her glisten and glimmer.
"But I also have little reason not to. You've been so warm and outgoing so far."
"I'm a fuckin' charmer," I-No purrs, entirely unabashed, "that's for sure."
But in truth, there is a little meat on that bone. Compared to the other people of significant ability that are on the island, I-No has always opted for what she considers to be refreshing honesty. If people knew that it comes from a place of her not giving a rat's ass about anyone or anything, they probably wouldn't take it so well. As it is, though, she is that rarest of commodities: a genuinely abrasive person whose honesty makes her, nonetheless, somewhat more approachable.
The killer rack doesn't always hurt either.
But the Dahlia seems amenable, which is largely all she really was hoping for. The bear gets a sidelong glance; the Dahila herself might be one story, but I-No has no intentions of being cowed by a bear, spiritual or otherwise. The expression on her face is clearly one of distaste, but it doesn't last. Instead, she turns to the bear's owner with a wild grin. "Brassy. Alright then, Goldilocks. Prepare to have your mind blown."
With a gesture, the sky blue guitar is suddenly in I-No's hands. Her left hand grips the fretboard, letting the weight of the body settle low via the strap. Her right hand comes up, brandishing a guitar pick of a bright electric blue... and the Dahlia can notice, in an instant, that the pick is this woman's soul shard.
"Brace yourself, princess. This flight may involve some turbulence."
She takes a deep breath, right arm raised. The air goes still, far more still than even just the moment of breathy anticipation should provide; it's as if all sound in the world were holding its breath for the sake of this one moment.
I-No brings down the pick across the strings. A chord -- a perfect, resonant chord -- rings out into the waiting silence.
The second it sounds, the world goes white. Literally. In every direction around both the Dahlia and I-No, what's visible is whiteness: a misty, cottony, indistinct whiteness. In the distance, as if it were an echo bouncing off a million cave walls, the chord she played continues to be dimly audible.
And the Red Witch herself? Hat brim down over her eyes, teeth clenched, she appears to be exerting considerable effort at *something*, though just what is up for debate. But she still has the wherewithal to add: "Keep your arms and legs inside the cart at all times, kiddo. Trust me on this."
Resisting a personality as forcefully outgoing as I-No's isn't in anyone's best interest, really. What would be gained from fighting her? More injuries? More gashes across her last remaining outfit from the mainland? No -- I-No is apparently well-versed in the bevy of tricks at the Ainu woman's disposal. Belaboring the point would be an abuse of both ladies' time.
No -- the Dahlia nods briefly in simple acknowledgement of I-No's self-assessment, doing nothing to disabuse her of the notion. As... assertive as the woman has been, there's been no real cause for alarm. Yet.
Though, the notion that she could be considered 'Goldilocks' merits a brief snort of air, more out of genuine amusement than any sort of risk. The Dahlia takes the cue well, as she gives the beast at her side a stiff pat. Strands of fur ripple in the aftershock of the gesture, but the net effect is that the bear loses a measure of its intensity, stepping back and away from the Dahlia.
Ah yes... the electric guitar. While some guards had described her physical attributes in great length, others focused almost exclusively on the use of the musical instruments; this probably reveals more about her guards' personalities and temperaments than the elusive witch standing before her. But, she's able to corroborate the disparate stories now, and combine them with an element that was left out by the non-psychics: the curious confluence of souls within the guitar pick. "A live show...?" she asks mirthfully.
In an instant, the details of the world around her resolve into nothingness. Her heart thumps in her chest, but her lips remain frozen in that same look of mirth -- only her eyebrows betray the mild panic that begins to set in.
The first thing the juggler does is tap her foot onto the ground, testing it. Is it a cloud, or have things actually changed at all? Satisfied, she drags her heel backwards -- and then shifts her weight onto her toes. It is a small gesture, but a necessary one -- a self-assurance that the world she now finds herself within obeys at least -some- of the rules of the reality she knows and cherishes.
While the Dahlia is testing her environment, the thin golden strands radiating outward from her soul stone are pushed into motion. One end of each strand is connected to the soul stone, while the other end fades into hazy white nothingness. But, nonetheless, the tethers are still attached to their charges, as made clear by the tension which animates each thread into discordant motion. After a few moments of allowing her eyes to adjust to the changed light, the Dahlia's smile fades to a neutral expression as she clasps her hands together lightly. Her eyes growing glassy, she sends a light ripple of kinetic energy through the golden threads. When the threads bounce backwards, the amplitude is lessened -- their targets calmed.
"... I have always heard that music can take you where words cannot. I had not given it much thought until now."
There are probably more direct ways of asking where the two are now. What fun are those?
Where are we? Well, let's say for the sake of argument that life force -- what humans typically call 'chi' -- is as quantifiable as any other fundamental scientific force. And as long as we're being hypothetical, let's say that there's a dimensional space in which that energy is the dominant force, where all of that energy is connected, in the same way that quantum entanglement bridges two particles regardless of spatial distance. Since life force permeates the entire living universe this means that there is a virtual, unlimited spatial domain which connects all other points across space-time in which there is another equal amount of life force. Thus you create a physically *accessible* space which nonetheless displays none of the qualities of 4D space-time that the typical range of fundamental forces affects but which NONETHELESS is a real existence.
How would you describe that to a layperson, exactly.
"I suppose there's no harm in telling you," I-No says, voice careful and modulated. If her mind were more accessible -- the woman's got a will of iron for a non-psychic -- the Dahlia might pick up that the playing the chord was psychosomatic, a gesture to induce a concentration state by which their current location could be accessed. As it is, instead she just seems really focused right now.
The Red Witch looks off into what could charitably be called 'the distance' if there were anything here that could reliably be defined as 'a horizon' or 'the ground.' "It's called the Backyard. I don't have time to explain and even if I did you wouldn't understand a fucking word of it, but for our purposes, the Backyard is 'between'." She glances at the Dahlia with an almost feral grin. "I can see 'between what?' in that pretty little head of yours, and the answer is 'yes'. And I hope you're enjoying the trip, because good fucking luck getting back here without my help." Or the help of a tiny handful of others... not that she plans on sharing that information to anyone, even under torture.
Another chord rings out, and then the scarlet-clad songstress looks up and around, almost like she's tasting the air like a snake. "Well, I hope you've enjoyed the scenery, Princess. This is our stop." She snaps her fingers, and there's a sudden feeling of... not deceleration, since there was no speed to begin with, but rather as if someone had jabbed a hook into the Ainu woman's stomach and *yanked*, firmly; it's enough to perhaps make her stumble a step, but hardly enough force to pull her off her feet.
The white fades away like so many speed lines, but the result that replaces it might make the featureless whiteness seem comforting by comparison. Where the Dahlia and I-No stand now is clearly not some quasi-mystical alternate dimensional space; it's a city, with solid ground, cold dry air, and a cloudy sky overhead. In fact, much like the clouds, the dominant color here is grey: grey skies, grey streets, grey buildings. What colors do exist feel muted, like they're in hiding, repressed by the overwhelming greyness. The setting is clearly urban, a street lined with numerous tall buildings. Some seem intact, if empty; others are in states of clear trouble, ranging from 'simple disrepair' to 'crumbling ruin'. And nowhere, NOWHERE, is the sense or sound of people.
I-No turns and looks up the street; if the Dahlia follows her gaze, she can see the unmistakable shape of Geese Tower in the distance, too far away to see what shape it's in.
This is Southtown, and some time and examination reveals it to be the Financial District.
The Red Witch turns to her passenger-companion with a wolfish grin. "Ride's over, sweetness."
The Dahlia can certainly appreciate the use of the guitar string's resonation as a focus -- indeed, the juggler has always found respite in the simple manipulation of physical objects to keep her grounded in reality. If it weren't an obvious show of impatience -- or perhaps belligerent arrogance -- she would likely have whipped out the sanjiegun to soothe her mild agitation. But, in lieu of that physical reassurance, her fingers play out a silent rhythm at her side, replaying their muscle memory of spinning an invisible baton.
It is out of respect for the Red Witch's concentration that she refrains from making any move more obvious than that.
One could question the term 'Backyard' in any number of ways. -Who- called it the Backyard? Why not the front yard, or the Snowyard? Would it kill anyone to be more evocative of the utter -absence- of... anything? She could question, of course, but the Dahlia does not -- for I-No is leading the discussion, anticipating one of many questions she might have asked.
A tight smile is offered as acknowledgement, lest the latest guest to the Backyard seem as mute as a doll.
"It is rather... zen. Quieting." Ever the need to look on the bright side of things.
Undoubtedly, more will be revealed in due time.
One moment, she was standing in the wastes of Shang Tsung's island.
The next, in a white purgatory, devoid of detail.
And the next moment after that, she is jerked forward. The acrobat does not get seasick or nauseated from movement often, and yet, this sudden lurch forward is dizzyingly fast. Her heart races, her mind swimming as consciousness begins to ebb away, only to be snapped back forward almost as soon as the disorientation began.
The leather soles of her moccasins press down onto the grains and pebbles of cracked asphalt. The stale odor of fog infiltrates her nostrils and cloud her vision -- unpleasant odors that she comes to appreciate once she realizes she no longer has to endure the stench of rotting corpses. Her lips turn down into a frown at the growing sense of familiarity at the disused buildings, and she finds herself looking up. Long black tresses fall free from the sudden motion. Thin golden strands wave about, any grounding they may have had severed.
Here she is. Back in the city she had walked away from so long ago. How long has it been since she walked the streets of Southtown? Weeks? Months? And it looks now as if decades, perhaps centuries have passed.
She begins to take a few steps forward, narrowing her eyes at the towering monolith.
"... And let me guess. This is where you tell me you are the Ghost of Christmas Future, showing what happens if Outworld succeeds in this battle."
While the Scarlet Dahlia has been acting with conviction, her words are halfhearted at best.
That gets a snort out of I-No, who's still looking around. She seems remarkably composed, all things considered, but it should also be apparent that she's been here before, knew what to expect. Still, there is... something. A little extra tension involved. Barely perceptible, but perceptible nonetheless. Despite it, she's as sassy and seemingly unconcerned as ever. "The fuck makes you think this is about you, Princess?" the red-clad woman asks, arching an eyebrow. "Jesus christ, you think I went through all this just to say 'if you don't beat the Outworld fucks shit's gonna get real'? I coulda written it on a notecard and handed it to you for *that*."
Abrasive though the statement is, it's undeniable that I-No's got a point. If she knows anything about the Dahlia's travails during Mortal Kombat -- and it's clear that she does -- then the Red Witch must understand that the Dahlia, perhaps better than most, understands the stakes involved. All this pageantry doesn't seem particularly *necessary* to drive that point home.
And yet, here they are. The question might be: why?
Crossing her arms over her chest, I-No leans back against a nearby street light, tipping the brim of her witchly hat. "In any event I bet if I were Scarf Mom or whatserface with the bird and dog -- THAT one might be a furry -- I'd have some sort of long explanation as to what I wanted you to see and how important you are and all that shit. But bitch that I am, that is not included in the service here today. You gotta figure this shit out on your own."
The Dahlia's elmbark-covered shoulders shrug lightly as she steps through the bleak desert that bears an uncanny resemblance to Southtown. A disarmingly faint smile punctuates her simple reply.
"Indeed, who said anything about me? Transporting me to a post-apocalyptic Southtown does seem like a great deal of trouble for such a simple statement."
Even as she is continuing to dole out lightly barbed statements, the Akatsuki advisor is continuing to step through the city, searching for the mysteries that the Red Witch may have hoped for her to find. Particularly, she reaches out with her senses -- wondering if perhaps the mistress of chi has -actually- transported the pair to another place and/or time, or if this is another fantastical world existing as a strand of some ethereal leyline. There may not be anyone -living- around, but no development can take place without leaving its scars upon the earth, no bloody battle can take place without imprinting its victims' anguish upon the rocks and trees.
"While I might prefer a longwinded explanation from a more kindred spirit to my people, beggars cannot be choosers. Which is to say, Scarf Mom and the Stormbringer are not here. Your characteristic wit is all I have to go on here, which is quite an ordeal in itself."
A hand is traced along the edifice of a building, her fingers pressing into the brickwork as she draws in breath through her nostrils. "... So does your contract allow me to know -when- this is? Or -what- may have led us here?"
"Yeah," I-No says, her wolfish grin returning. "It's almost like if you wanna play the hero, you actually gotta overcome some ordeals or whatever the fuck. Some serious Vladimir Propp shit." Does it even seem REASONABLE that someone like I-No would know about obscure Russian folklorists? The Red Witch certainly is full of surprises. "Who knew?"
She pushes off the lamppost, standing up, watching the Dahlia carefully examine the surroundings. Certainly, it's true that the site of a disaster leaves an emotional imprint for those sensitive enough to find it. But this place really does seem DEVOID of life, in any meaningful way, even such traces. This is, perhaps, telling in and of itself. The only emotion that might be too brief to register, too fragmented to be present before whatever happened to interrupt it played out in full?
Hands on her hips, I-No looks out over the shockingly peaceful desolation, drinking it in. Now... now the effort she's expending to maintain her appearance of cool detachment shows a little more, and in fact it shows more the longer the pair are in this space. Perhaps that enough is proof that whatever hellscape the Dahlia's been brought to, it's no illusion, no carefully-constructed fantasy. "I don't have a contract, kiddo. You know why I talked to you? Why I fuckin' bothered setting this shit up?" She tilts her head at the Ainu woman, one plucked eyebrow delicately raised. "Because you're missing something. I don't give a shit about those Outworld fucks, but between you and me? I think you kicking the shit out of them would be a good lesson in humility. Plus seeing the smugness smacked out Shang Tsung's stupid mustached face would give me a little thrill."
She gestures absently with one hand to the desolation around the pair, and it IS desolation in the most critical sense of the word: 'desolate.' Empty. Without looking back at the Dahlia, the scarlet songstress shrugs, answering the rest of her questions. "As for 'when'? Sooner than you think. Trust me on this."
Vladimir Propp. The name flies past the Dahlia much like the myriad of nicknames she didn't recognize; Russian folklore isn't even on her radar. Still, she flashes a brief grin; she doesn't deem any more of a response to be necessary. In contrast to the numerous "civil" conversations she's had lately with those in support of Earthrealm, she's downright appreciative of the lightly barbed tete-a-tete that seems to be taking place.
She moistens her lips as her fingertips are withdrawn. If this was the site of a battle, it must have taken place a long time ago, she concludes... she can't even make out the barest sense of the scavengers which would be feasting upon the decay, if there -had- been a battle...
Even though I-No's thoughts may be masked by a not-insignificant amount of mental discipline, it's not hard for the tusukur to intuit some sense of her mood. The Red Witch's detachment fades, and while the Dahlia is perfectly content to write it off as a continuance of the mood, she knows just as good as the next person that the sharpest barb still contains a grain of truth. Frustration with the Dahlia could just mean something... more.
Even if the notion of rubbing Shang Tsung's face into a humble pie does bring a slight smile to her face, she can't help but feel... lost.
As if this hellscape is even more terrifying and empty than the shapeless void. At least -that- place didn't have a mask.
"... Well, aren't you a sackful of sunshine and rainbows." Her smile grows a bit wider, at that -- it's definitely not delivered with a caustic tone.
"So, I'm going to take this as one of those 'one of many possibilities' things. And it is... not bleak. But from what I know of Shang Tsung -- yes. This is a thing he is capable of doing. But this feels like it's the middle of a story, rather than the end. Which, forgive me if I'm reading too -much- into your words, could explain the 'sooner than I think' caution."
The Dahlia may have been flippant before, but she is not willing to totally write this off. As I-No had told her -- she didn't =have= to present this future to her.
"... I'm missing a lot, here. Like, the existence of this place is an affront to my existence. I will do everything in my power to make sure this.." She gestures her hands, with a measure of futility. "... doesn't come to pass."
She steps forward, into I-No's viewing arc.
"Is showing me this future the limit of what you're able to do to prevent it?"
"Yeah, I'm a fucking Disney Princess with this shit. The musical number starts any second now." She's asked -- well, 'told' but asked -- if this is one of many possibilities. Science fiction sure loves that concept, but at the mention of it, I-No looks... dismissive? In a distracted sort of way; she even waves her hand idly, in the international symbol for 'that's not a thing'. Her head tilted upward slightly, she regardes the Dahlia with a curious expression. "But think, and I mean REALLY think, about Shang Tsung. Does this seem like his end game? He's like a supernatural Kim Jong-il. Shouldn't we be seeing at least ONE promotional poster of him holding a baby while women look on or some shit?"
In fact, there is no iconography of ANY kind, here: no flyers, no posters, not even someone with their phone number on tear-off sheets, asking if you've found their cat or need someone to wash your windows.
The red-clad woman lets out a long breath, then locks eyes with the Dahlia. Her tone is conversational; the look in those color-shifting eyes definitely is not. "I already told you, Princess: this shit here? It ain't about you. It's about someone else. But that doesn't mean this fucked up situation--" and here, she waves an arm to encompass the seemingly post-apocalyptic stillness, "--isn't part of the process. I said I wanted to show you something, and I do. But this place ain't it. It's just... useful."
And then, out of nowhere, the wolfish grin comes back. "'Affront to my existence,' huh. That how you normally talk, Scarlet Dahlia? Is that car salesman I met back in the graveyard the real you? Let's say you hate this shit." She turns and kicks over a nearby cafe chair, on the veranda of some forgotten probably-Starbucks; it topples over onto the ground with a *CRUNCH* that resounds in the silence.
"I buy that you hate it. So you wanna stop it. Okay, fine. Why the fuck do you want to stop it? Answer that question for me seriously. Don't give me any bullshit, because I am a champion at bullshit. I can see it a mile off."
When I-No mentions a musical number, the Dahlia has but to look pointedly down at the woman's guitar. #nuffsaid
Still... as much as she'd like to have this conversation remain friendly, she has to bristle at being told that it's not about her -- again. "Why do you keep telling me it's =not about me?= It's never been about me. Do you think I do this for -me- to get stronger?"
If you repeat something often enough...
"Does 'Scarlet Dahlia' sound like a name I put on a business card? Look, sometimes I just have to say what's on my mind, and sometimes it's big dictionary words. I suppose if I bothered going to school or something it might be consistent-like." There's no real fire in those words -- just a gentle, dispassionate riposte to keep the conversation going as she leans against a nearby wall.
"I want to stop it because... it's not right. I can't really put things into words as well as I'd like, it's just not the way things are meant to be. I want the old Ainu ways back, but that doesn't mean blasting us back to the stone age with axes and wood-carved bows or anything." She thumbs behind her -- though that could just as easily be interpreted to mean 'Outworld' than anything else.
"I have a lot of cards on the table, that's all. I want to see this through, it's kind of a priority for me."
The Dahlia gets heated, despite the fact that she herself would protest that she is not... and as she does, I-No's smile gets wider, which is probably not the expected reaction in this situation. She bristles. She's annoyed. And frankly, that outcome seems entirely to the Red Witch's liking. 'Do you think I do this for -me- to get stronger?', she asks.
"Oh, you're gettin' closer, Princess. So close," I-No says, half taunt, half genuine encouragement.
"I think 'the Scarlet Dahlia' sounds like a fuckin' gentrified New Age crystal emporium, is what I think it sounds like," the woman in red fires back, with a snort of dismissal. "Though I think it's hilarious you're telling me I'm riding you hard over e-lo-cu-tion. Because *I* speak so fuckin' proper." I-No's speeches are not going to be winning any Pulizters anytime soon, that's for sure, unless Chuck Pahlaniuk happens to be the only person on the selection committee.
"If you're not doing it for you to get stronger, then what the fuck are you doing it for? You got a lot of cards on the table. Okay, fine, I buy that. What's the reason you're afraid to admit, though? What's the reason you opened up Scarlet Dahlia's Beatdown and Used Soul Emporium instead of any of the OTHER fucking people you COULDA been doing this shit?"
She actually sounds heated herself, now, but not out of control. She's provoking, deliberately pushing, but the look on I-No's face, the cruel smile her rouged lips are curled into, says that she KNOWS that the Dahlia knows she's pushing her. The question might be: will she get the answer she wants before questions are over? What even IS the answer she 'wants'?
"If you're gonna sell me... if you're gonna put a pretty face on it... then tell me right now, that you think this is all about humanity, and the Ainu way of life, and defending Mother Earth. You either got to sell me -- REALLY sell me -- on it... or you have to admit that's not the reason."
If 'New Age crystal emporium' was meant at a threat, the Dahlia's smile actually seems to suggest it as a compliment. That -would- be a good front organization, she considers.
The Scarlet Dahlia thought she was past this sequence of questioning. One person after another seems to be placing demands on her -- asking her to answer questions over and over again, when she never really feels the answer -matters- all that much. And yet -- here she is again. Why is she here? Why is she doing it?
"-- If you don't want to listen to any bullshit answers, I guess I'm out of bullshit answers to give."
She's definitely heated, but it's not... -necessarily- directed at I-No. It's a lash out at pretty much -everything- on the island thus far.
"Really, though, do you even -care- about why I want to do it? Maybe I'm not selling anything at all. Maybe I'm done trying to justify myself to random people I've never met before and likely won't ever meet again. Compared to you, I'm some kid. Am I =supposed= to have the answers to these bullshit no-win answers? God..."
The Dahlia turns sharply. And with a flick of her wrist, she whips the sanjiegun out from its spot on her hip. She smashes it forcefully into the wall, sending up an array of powder.
... It's not just -irritation-. It's -rage-.
"What do I want?!" she demands of the wall. "I want to be home, okay? I want to be back where people do what I tell them to instead of me having to fill out forms in triplicate with a happy-happy goddamn smile on my face."
Red-faced, she turns back towards I-No. "Maybe that's too much e-lo-cu-tion for you, but that's probably the twentieth person that question's been asked, and I'm past the point of buying a lifeline."
Ah, yes. Violence. Actual anger.
"Took you fuckin' long enough," I-No says, somewhere between pleased an exasperated. The show of force with the Dahlia's weapon doesn't feem to faze her overmuch. If anything, it's a sign of exactly what she was trying for. What she was trying for with Ryu -- "Bubbles" -- too: provocation. Nine times out of ten, she does it to throw people off their game. Distract, taunt. She's the type of person who taunts after a kill in Smash Brothers. You know, a real piece of shit. It's worked for her so far in life. But there's that one time in ten, that exception, when rage strips away everybody's illusions, for a second. When they do what SHE does all the time, without the need for anger.
They speak simple truths.
"You figure out what was missing, yet? I'm hoping so. This is the first time since I ran into you that you've said something about what YOU fuckin' want. For YOU. Not for... Stormgirl von Birdsalot, not for this car salesman face you've been wearing this whole time, none of that shit and I'm sure, I'm SURE, there's more of it. You actually fucking told me what YOU want. You wanna go home. You want this all to be over. You don't want to put up with, heh, bitches like me gettin' in your grill about shit. Congratulations. You fuckin' did it."
She gives a little clap. Even the clap is taunting, but at the core of this provocative nonsense, she genuinely seems pleased at this outcome.
"Believe it or not, Princess, I actually fuckin' like you. The YOU you, not this fancy-ass persona you're wearing, but the one you showed me just now. You know why Earth lost the last nine fuckin' Mortal Kombats? Because it had a buncha fuckin' HEROES out here with this shit. People all wrapped up in principles and 'we must save the Earth' and 'for the sake of the gods' and all that fuckin' crap. You know what? Didn't get 'em shit. They're dead, been dead a long time."
With a lazy hand gesture, she indicates the Dahlia's waist, the golden gem on her sash. "Bet you a million dollars that those assholes you've got on a leash don't give a fuck about 'win it for the Gipper' anymore. They want revenge. Nice fucking honest motive, revenge. No bullshit, no pretense. I can get behind that."
And now... now she steps forward. Now she puts herself on the other side of the Dahlia, who is literally up against the wall. It's a power move, an aggressive move, but she doesn't appear to be doing anything more than being overbearing.
"You're right. I don't fucking care if you win or lose. But you should. So hike up your fuckin' shorts and do it. For YOU, not for any gods or Earth or people or whatever. Pretty sure that ain't you, and pretty sure it ain't gonna fuckin' win 'cause it hasn't to date. If you can't do that, you're properly fucked."
Taunting people until they snap and speak the truth -- it's a tactic the Dahlia has used before, countless times. But to most people, actually speaking the truth -- the -real- truth -- is something that's forbidden. If permitted to hear that truth, certain people stand poised to destroy almost everything the Dahlia has worked for over the past few years.
But one of those people heard the truth.
She killed him for it.
And then, almost as quickly, he came back to life, for reasons she has yet to determine.
So really, is there any more beauty in the lie?
The Dahlia is still upset at the crumbling facade. I-No applauds -- tells her she -likes- the real her. It's mocking, but it's ... not?
"I get to wear the tiara now, huh?" A sardonic smirk, a shrug of the shoulders.
And then I-No is practically on top of her -- scarlet against scarlet. The heat rises -- the cold foggy air practically turning to steam as the Red Witch stares down the Dahlia.
There are any number of answers she can give. But the overbearing presence of I-No is overriding any sense of rationality, of order in her mind. There's just... the words being laid out on the table before her. So clear -- as clear as day.
She's constantly told herself -- if she wins, there's nothing more.
The tournament champion will pass into obscurity, a ruler from the shadows as she has always been.
But why =can't= she be more than that?
The Dahlia's throat is slick with the humidity of the air, as she lowers her chin, keeping her tinted blue eyes focused upon I-No's. Tension rises -- and for a moment, she's not even sure if it's her own heartbeat that's pounding in her ears, or the Red Witch's.
"It's unlikely I've ever been more true to myself than right now," she admits. "You ever consider motivational speaking?"
"Riling people up so they do what I want?"
The Red Witch leans back somewhat, and brings up her right hand, holding the electric blue guitar pick. Marlene is suddenly in her left. As before, it seems like the world is holding its breath... perhaps moreso, here in this ruined possibly future, though that's merely what everyone ASSUMES it is. How do we know this isn't a ruined past?
The hat brim dips down, so that only I-No's carnivorous smile is visible.
"That's already my full time fucking job."
She plays the chord.
There is again, that feeling of being *pulled* somewhere, like a fish hook straight to the stomach for a fraction of a moment. The trip away from Shang Tsung's island took a considerable time through the Backyard, but the return trip is a little more expeditious. There's still the unsettling, free-floating sense of being nowhere, the horizonless expanse of white, but rather than minutes, it's mere moments before the Dahlia and her 'guide' are back on the soil of the Kombat grounds, right where they left... and WHEN they left, if the position of the sun is any indicator.
"Well, wasn't that a fun afternoon? I personally feel like everyone bonded and a fuckin' good time was had by all." As quickly as they appeared, the guitar pick and guitar are gone, leaving only their owner in all her curvaceous glory.
"If this were some fuckin' kids cartoon bullshit I'd be giving you a speech about how love is weakness or what the fuck ever, but this is the real world, so I'm not gonna bother." She shrugs, throws up her hands. "Love, tradition... just as good a reason to do a thing as anything else. But fuckin'... do it for yourself, because that shit makes you feel good. Not because someone thinks you're supposed to. That's how they get you, in the end."
The Dahlia flashes a self-effacing smile.
"Honestly, anything I say at this point will just sound like blowing smoke up your ass, so whatever."
To say the Dahlia is frustrated is... an understatement, to say the least -- but confronting this inherent double-speak nature of her own words at long last seems to have given her some much-needed clarity.
And then -- it all swims out of focus again, with one gut-wrenching tug. Southtown disappears from view, as she finds herself leaning against the wall for support.
The wall, which... isn't there.
Balance is a bitch, but at least the juggler-acrobat -has- the reflexes to place her right foot backwards, saving herself from an uneasy fall.
Again -- she could contest the things I-No is saying, but for once, the perpetual liar feels as if she's been read like a book.
"Yeah, well. For what it's worth, thanks. I know you said you don't give a rat's ass, but I'll be taking your advice."
Log created on 19:31:48 12/15/2016 by I-No, and last modified on 23:14:41 12/17/2016.