Description: The time of judgement has come. Duke, after his humiliation in both the KOF and before Hein, now has only one more loose end to deal with. Nagase has failed, and left them a second place finish in the King of Fighters. It is time for the ninja to come, and face her judgement from the crime boss... before he ruthlessly throws her to the dogs.
Duke, needless to say, has had a stressful few days.
The King of Fighters Finals came, and went. Duke failed to destroy a teenage girl, and when he left the rest to Nagase... they did not win the tournament. Second place. A silver medal. And worst of all, his peers and superiors in the Syndicate had taken it as a sign of weaknesses. Like fresh chum in the water, and the sharks were closing in. And yet, he endured. He survived. And he claimed an invitation to the World Warrior. Out with the old business. In with the new business.
There was still a matter of one last order of business for the Syndicate Team.
Nagase's invitation would be as discreet and professional as the rest. The instruction was specific. 'After-Actions Report on Syndicate Team and the Outcome of the King of Fighters.' It would not be in Southtown. It would be at the Il Paradiso Opera House, in Metro City; a suspected front of the Syndicate that was.... well outside the territory of the Syndicate. Duke used the opera House as a front, a source of legitimate income... and a home. Nagase would remember it well, having last come after the Metro City Incident. Nagase would be escorted to where she can meet Duke, through the secret staircase, down into the hidden cloister.
And she would see the inner sanctum of her employer
Renovations had continued and finished. Cleaned, polished, and the furnishings were replaced. No more blood stains, no more... empty. It is composed of a series of marble statues and high-rising, black columns, developed with the same rose-vine designs as those in the atrium. The main room is large and circular, leading in from a long hall decorated with a series of lavish pieces of artwork. The flooring here is made of black marble, and deep red carpet leads a path towards the study itself, giving this chamber a far more darker quality than the rest of the opera house.
Towards the end of the chamber is a large fireplace, with several large chairs surrounding it. There are speakers arranged here with a seemingly obscure purpose; however, these speakers are connected to the upper rooms of the opera house, allowing whatever opera being conducted to be played out in sound here within the study. Towards the opposite end of the study is a single door, leading into a simple office -- a dark mahogany desk is set here, along with several chairs just before a large, lavish black chair, composed like some sort of modernized throne. The office is not nearly as grandiose as the study itself, composed of only that desk and several book shelves filled to the brim with various works of literature.
And behind that desk, sat Duke, deep in study.
Normally, he would be waiting. Glowering. Fingers steepled, or maybe smoking a cigar. But right now, he was pouring over files, folders... as five briefcases sit scattered across the desk. His attention was on a tablet computer right now, as he tries to tap through it. He scowls hard at it. This was, after all, business.
Not the 'business' that Nagase may expect.
From the finale of the King of Fighters tournament, Nagase brought with her not only defeat, but an overabundance of deep thoughts.
She has shared them with no one.
Not the medical techs.
Not the fans rushing to get her autograph.
And least of all the fans retweeting images of her defeat on the with the #HatsuneMiku tag.
No, the Iga-ryuu ninja had only herself to blame for that loss. It wasn't Duke's fault -- and she's convinced it was not Kasumi's. She had -everything- pushing in her favor.
She waits for a response, before opening the double doors.
And then the flame-haired kunoichi walks in, garbed in a silky, white button-down shirt. The top button is undone, the shirtsleeves are rolled back to her elbows, and the untucked tails of the shirt hang loosely over a pair of nicely-tailored pleated slacks, barely hiding the upper hem of a pair of fashionable leather boots beneath.
She pauses to make sure the doors can shut themselves before ambling over to the desk. Amber lenses glimmer with reflected firelight as she makes her way forward.
Nagase's expression is absolutely, 100% neutral as she pulls to a stop. Her hands fold in front of her, as her shoulders pitch forward lightly -- bowing, the Japanese custom she might never forget.
"You wanted to see me."
Stating the obvious is not meant as an insult -- but a gentle prompt to conversation.
The knock comes.
Duke is roused from his studies. Looking to the door, he draws in a deep breath, and exhales. "Come on in." Was the low, grim rumble. Not angry, not furious, not contempous... just...
Neutrality endures as Nagase comes to the desk. Duke doesn't even look up from his work at first, until she finishes her bow. There is a brief, agonizing silence. "I did." Duke looks from his tablet, across at Nagase. "We need to talk about the King Of Fighters. Where you and I stand. What was successful, and what wasn't. And above everything else?"
"what to do next."
Duke puts down his tablet, and turns towards Nagase. His yellow eyes burn, but... the look is of a stern father, than a man about to break his chain. In some ways, it was worse than his usual loose cannon temper. This was calculated. Controlled. Focused. Something very important was going to happen. And it was going to be aimed squarely at Nagase. "First things first." Duke growls, as he steeples his hands. "Help me understand something."
"What happened, Nagase."
If Nagase is overly passionate, she gets shut down.
And if she's overly critical, she gets shut down.
She'll be neutral for now.
And she's more than happy that her crime lord employer is neutral as well.
Because she's seen angry -- and she'd rather not.
She doesn't mind the silence. At best, it means he's thinking, and at worst, it means he's trying to intimidate the slip of a girl, and she's already given herself hell over the fight. So deal your worst.
Never do her eyes stray from Duke. If he looks away, she'll be right there looking at him when he looks back, her face frozen in a doll-like expression.
If it weren't for the alert manner in which she nods in reply, perhaps she would be mistaken for a doll. The kunoichi offers nothing to work with -- no emotional vulnerability, no scaffolding for a structured demolition. Just one hand folded over its partner's wrist as she listens.
Her nostrils flare, with the question. She considers her thoughts for two seconds -- a brief summary of every thought going through her head since that fateful battle.
"She was ticked off. She had something to fight for, and she fought with every inch of her life."
One hand lifts from the other, flattening to an open palm. "Tried to tick her off -- and she blocked it out. Tried to outpace her -- and she kept up anyway. Tried to get in her head, and she got right back into mine."
She considers her words for a moment, drawing in her breath...
And then she exhales, in a sigh.
"I got nothin' for you, boss. I overclocked myself as fast as I could go."
Her fingertips lace together, and she lowers the cradle in front of her.
Her expression remains as detached, dispassionate as she can manage.
"She out-ninja'd me. I have no other explanation."
Duke exhales at the answer again.
Deeps breathes in, deep breathes out. A measured, careful balance. His instincts were to intimidate. To smash the girl into his cloister. No one would hear her screams, as every flicker of failure was wrung out of her. It would be so easy to break her. She might not even resist. But Duke breathes in, and breathes out. Every action restrained. Empathy was not what this man had. But for the moment, he was not pouring out the whole of the failure into her.
"Do not blame yourself, Nagase."
"She was... ticked off, as you said," Duke begins, "Because I did not stop attacking her ally. If I hesitated, if I held back, to give the judges time... time to make their judgement, it would not have incited the girl. She would not have been given that free shot against me. I would have been more precise, more steady with my offense. More careful, like I had with Noboru and Maki." Duke gives a hmph of laughter.
"More careful, by my standards."
Duke shakes his head, in exhausted disbelief. "I have been told what my failure means to my superior, and my peers. I am already doing damage control on this. Apparently, we- I greatly disappointed my organization." Duke halts a moment, growling uncomfortably. "I put on a great deal of expectations on you, Nagase. But I put the most expectations on myself. You did not fail me. I failed you." Duke reaches for a small intercom by his desk. No context, no sense. Only the four words.
"Bring them to me."
Duke looks back towards Nagase, his expression neutral again. He pauses again, opening his mouth, before shutting it. Hesitation? He rubs his neck, touching the scar uncomfortably. "Do you wonder why I am like that, Nagase? In my fights, where I take blow after fatal blow. It's unnatural. Do you wonder why I cannot die, why I unleash the fires? Why someone with so little finesse has so much power, so much endurance." Duke sighs.
"Do you wonder why I am an abomination, Nagase?"
Nagase knows Duke pretty well.
And she is standing there in front of him, in the lion's den.
Without her armor, without any of her advanced electronics.
Maybe she will want to throw herself at his feet.
Or maybe she won't.
The shinobi won't know until the silent lion lunges out, clamping his powerful paws on her shoulders, and plunges his teeth straight into her jugular vein.
And that is why every nerve is on edge. Waiting.
Do not blame yourself, he says.
He should have been more careful, he says.
You did not fail me -- I failed you, he says.
Each apology, each admission, stabs into her spine like an acupuncture needle.
And yet, she stands there, taking it, her shoulders shuddering from each calmly delivered phrase -- as if the energy he is -repressing- is still managing to brush against her, despite his iron will.
But she does not answer, or encourage him. It's... he's saying things she doesn't fully agree with. Things that should calm her down -- and have the reverse effect. The words chill her -- the exact opposite of the raging inferno.
And then, four words.
That gets an eyebrow to lift.
But only for one confused moment in silence.
He's tired, she realizes -- somehow without the need of her surveillance suite.
And just like that, he's reset to neutral. Just like always. But this time -- he asks the question. One she'd asked before -- only to receive a heavy dosage of slag and lava.
She wants to say 'no,' to shove it right back in his face.
She blurts out her answer, defying her self-preservation instinct.
Her fingertips press against one another, locked in a cradle embrace, suspended just below her waist. The flame-haired shinobi may actually have an answer to that question from so long ago.
Duke takes a moment to get his composure.
He stands up with a great rock, rising from his chair. He walks to Nagase- no, he walks past her. And he stares ahead, his neutral focus continuing. "It was when I was a young hellion in the syndicate. I was stupid, brash, and I thought I was much tougher than I actually was. I liked pushing people around, I liked getting what I wanted. I was a punk. But I had a reason to do it, outside of being good at it." Duke strides to the fireplace.
"I had to take care of my younger sister, Nagase."
Her name was Marian. She was sick with a kind of cancer in her marrow; it infected her blood. When our parents died, I was the only one left for her. I earned money the easy way. Hours were flexible. And I could make sure she could get by. But you don't get by when you are like that. You just slowly waste away. I needed more money. I needed an opportunity."
'The Syndicate had one."
Duke stares into the fire, silent a moment. He clears his throat. "They had stolen some technology, and they wanted to test it out. There were others who were tested on. Volunteers. They died horribly, and nothing the Syndicate could do would hide the rumors. They offered me a deal: they would make me a made man if I volunteered. Same deal they offered every single one. I refused. And then they changed it. They told me that they knew my sister was sick. And that Geese Howard himself would pay for a full cancer treatment, the best that money would buy, if I volunteered. I asked if they would do it even if I died. They said they would if I would consent to the full experiment."
"So I took the offer."
Duke grips his throat, touching the scar. "This scar was from the experiments. They poured so much... so much energy into me, that it killed me. I woke up, and it killed me again. They figured out, you see, that if you started with the regeneration portion, it was the most successful. The only thing that would kill you is when your nervous system failed, or when you suffered a brain-killing stroke when the pain became too much. Because it turns out, most of the test subjects the Syndicate worked on? They didn't die. They were put out of their misery, their vegetable state. But I kept through the pain for her, Nagase. Because I imagined myself taking her out to see Lightning Spangles afterwards. She was supposed to be doing a live show right here in Southtown, a few months out. Eventually, I stopped dying. Eventually, I grew stable. And eventually.... eventually they could stop. It was done. And you know what the first thing they did to test it?"
Duke makes a chopping gesture at his neck.
"I survived. I had to spend weeks in the hospital, in a coma. But I survived. And when I woke up..." Duke gripped the mantle around the fireplace. The presence was building, the crushing rage. The smothering, deathly waves of pure hate. "When I woke up, I found out that she passed away. I was too late, it was explained to me. If I only agreed to it sooner. And I knew it was a lie. I knew that they murdered her, so I would stay with the Syndicate. I knew they wanted to make me a made man, because if they didn't? I wouldn't stay their pet. I could have walked away, Nagase. I could have killed them all, and walked away. What they took from me was inexcusable."
"But in the end, what was the point anymore?"
Duke turns from the fireplace, his eyes transfixed on Nagase. The neutral face was gone. His face was twisted in... pain. He was showing pain. He was showing his soft underbelly, he was showing his secrets. "That's why I am a monster, an abomination. And why did I stay? Because what happened made me strong. ANd all I had left was strength." What this was... this was the most private information. The kind that would torment a man, at his lowest point.
The kind of information that would get people killed.
Every weakness that Duke exposed, was like whispering into a bottle, before throwing it away. How many times has Duke done this? How many underlings? How many were destroyed as their reward. And then, it comes. A knock on the door. Duke looks towards it. And his expression grows neutral again "They are here. Perfect timing." And he points to it.
"Please get the door, Nagase."
Nagase is as still as a statue when Duke rises, and walks to her, past her. Only a pair of hazel eyes tracks to follow the man, until he steps past her peripheral vision. The defeated prodigy closes her eyes, focusing on the walking wellspring of chi as it passes beyond her, a geyser simmering beneath an iron exterior.
She senses him walk further.
She exhales the breath she'd been holding without realizing it.
She nods dully, not fully comprehending.
But a listener's job is to listen.
She presses her thumbs together, walling off the cradle of digits suspended just below her waist. The knuckles grow pale, but not white, as she concentrates on the story. Sifts the memories away. Wishing, -wishing- she had brought the BDS, rather than make a bold show of fealty and obeisance by leaving such things behind, tossing herself at his mercy. But now -- there will be no recording.
She'll have to commit this to memory the hard way.
She pivots -- just enough to watch Duke without budging from her spot on the floor. She watches Duke -- the man who had exploded so violently so many times, so many dozens of times in the past. She perceives his aura... and she actually has to question herself: it the heat rising because of the volcano himself, or merely because of the fire?
Lightning Spangles, he says. The name of the child star that has woven its way throughout her life in the past few months. Nagase never had the so-called "benefit" of watching Lighting Spangles as a child -- she fights back bile in her throat at the memory of "studying" the program as an adult for infiltration purposes. And the boss...
The doll face cracks.
Her eyebrows lower, eyelids turn to mere slits.
It's -really- hot in here.
But that's not sweat in her eyes.
She pieces together the meaning of the story as soon as the knife is mimed slitting his throat.
That's when her knuckles turn white, when her jaw tenses.
When anxiety turns to anger.
When Duke looks back at her -- with a tremble, she lowers her gaze. Caught up in the moment -- and embarassed for it.
And yet, after closing her eyes for a moment, she draws in her breath.
Her spine straightens.
And she gives a nod, of attentiveness, because that's what you do when you're listening.
They are here? Who is here? Perfect timing? Perfect timing for...
Nagase blinks, snapping out of her trance. No longer the listener -- and now the butler.
"Y-yes, sir," she stammers, her hands slipping apart as if nothing had happened. And yet something -did- happen, for she finds that her skin is now clammy cold as she turns away from the fire. She dabs her damp eyes dry with a finger -- glad she didn't wear an overabundance of makeup for this rendezvous.
By the time she shuffle-walks to the double doors, the mask is back in place. And with her jaw set in plaster, she reaches out with her senses -- breathing a silent prayer -- and unlatches a door, pushing it open.
They come so fast.
There is only a moment Nagase could see him. The green suit, the giant nose, the pompador. The chains were released, unhooked. And he was running, fleeing. The beasts were released. And almost immediately, they charge Nagase. Five of them, each nearly as big as the ninja. Jaws apart, eyes bloodshot. They rush.
"BOO WOO WOO" Comes the great heaving barks, as the St. Benards scramble around Nagase. The dogs are relentless, the massive mastiffs swarming her with great snuffling noses, and drippy drooling doggy kisses. They were underfoot, trying to sniff her, to meet the new person. Relentless. Unceasing.
Until Duke comes down to one knee.
Almost instantly, they rush across, charging across the floor to the crime boss. Swarming him, the crime boss carefully keeps his balance, as he spreads his arms around. The dogs whine and huff, as he begins to pet them. "Daw ha ha." Duke says, as he... smiles? It's a wicked smile, to be sure, but how could he have anything other than a wicked smile.
"St. Benards were her favorite animals, her favorite dogs. When you were here last time..." He trails off. "I normally leave them here, when I am on business." He says flatly. "They do not live long anyways, but, the Metro City Incident was a grave loss." The air was changing, the presence was shifting. The neutral was.... becoming released. In in it's place?
"These were just pups when I got them; and now they have gotten almost full sized. I hope you like dogs." He says, giving them a pat. Standing up, the beasts turn their attention away from Duke back at Nagase, rushing her for a second attempt for attention and affection. Duke strides back to the desk. "There are certain things I require on a long-term partnership. That you do not only share in success."
"We must share in failure as well."
Long term partnership. Wasn't this supposed to be a one time deal? Duke reaches over the desk. "I was told by my superiors, that there would be nothing in our loss. And for all the miserable worth that Lee Chaolan was, it seems that he at least makes good on his promises." He pops open one of the briefcases, revealing the money within. Cash. Cold hard cash, in unmarked bills. Duke looks across to Nagase. "The King of Fighters is over. The mission is over, and I know who my enemies are in the Syndicate. It's time to move on, Nagase." He looks back to the money.
"And to the losers, the spoils."
Nagase knows Hyena was here earlier. It wasn't hard to pick him out -- she could practically hear his sniveling through the door.
She also knew that dogs -- or something the size of them -- were on the other side of that door. Were they Gears, who would eviscerate her to shreds? Were they attack dogs of some kind? She can sense the dogs' presence, but not their intent...
The door opens. And she sees Hyena bolt. The flame-haired kunoichi's shoulders drop, her hands curling to protect her center, as her eyes go wide.
And like a bowling pin, the slim shinobi is battered backwards by the onslaught of five overly eager suitors. The expert balance of a ninja does little for the unexpected assault; Nagase falls onto her duff, arms and legs flailing as she's utterly overwhelmed by the canine lovefest.
And all her tension just -vaporizes- in a cloud of musical giggles and totally-not-ferocious barking.
And just like that, the dogs leave her alone, her heels and one bare palm pressed to the floor, while the other re-sets her amber lenses, then tries to wipe the saliva off her nose and mouth. A warm smile is turned towards Duke...
And that smile gets even warmer as she sees -Duke- smiling.
When the dogs circle around again, she's ready for them -- hopping back up to a crouch, and making sure to give each dog a hearty round of scratchies so that they don't get too jealous. Not that stops her face from receiving a steady coat of doggy saliva.
"It's been a while since I've gotten to play with any, honestly -- too long!"
The little ninjette is so occupied with the dogs, she barely even notices that Duke has moved back to his desk -- only the pop-pop of briefcase latches is enough to get the normally-attentive shinobi to look up.
And her eyes go wide for an entirely different reason.
She's headbutted by a St. Bernard right afterwards.
Breaking into another round of laughter, she picks herself up after a moment, adding, "... That's... that's awesome! I... Man. I'm happy to be by your side in this!"
"I... appreciate it as well."
Compliments -sound- difficult from Duke. And yet, he makes it clear. He pats one of the closed briefcases. "The prize for only second best is $10,000,000 dollars. Lee Chaolan has forwarded half of it; he promises the other half will come pending some... business liquidations." Duke gives a huff. "It seems our tournament organizer has bankrupted himself with his little war. Good, as long as he coughs up the rest of the money." While the distribution of the prize. "I intend to split it 50-50 with you. You may choose to distribute to your Iga clan, or to your own personal measures. Well, not quite 50-50." Duke's tone deepens into a growl for a moment.
"It seems a painting walked off the last time you were here."
The crime boss walks around the desk, and pulls a drawer down low. Within, a fridge, filled with... strips of chuck beef? Duke pulls out a cold slab from the pull-out fridge. Duke holds it high, as his beasts swarm around him, abandoning Nagase to her fate, giving WOO WOO WOOs as they slobber at the food they want. "There is also a... strange piece of armor as well? He gave me a tablet too for it, and I can't make heads and tails of what it does. Do you want to feed them?" Duke says, in reference to the hungry boys. "They are quite friendly, but you need to assert yourself around them. OFF!" Duke surges with chi, as he bellows. The dogs back off, whimpering. Duke stares with piercing yellow eyes, glowering. He gives the command with his hand, lifting it straight towards himself. "SIT." He snarls, as the dogs immediately obey. "STAY." Comes the final command, as he walks towards Nagase. He hands the piece of meat to her, as the dog's mouth water. "If we are working together, it is my expectation that you can handle my pets. Do not let yourself be walked over as my partner." Duke pauses.
"And that includes from me."
"That's a pretty substantial consolation prize," comments Nagase with a hearty grin, in between getting shoved around playfully by the squad of St. Bernards. "I'm sure he'll make his vast fortune up one way or another, but he can't make more money unless he honors the contracts he's already made, I guess."
Nagase's mood has improved considerably, and for once it -wasn't- just the talk of a seven figure payday that did it. Settling for only 70k was... worth it in the end.
Though a wide-eyed Nagase does swallow a gulp of air when the painting is mentioned. "Y-yeah...?" is her stammered response -- enough to show interest, but not enough to outright -admit- culpability. Though he's already figured it out anyway, otherwise why would he have even brought it up? If it weren't for him lavishing such attention upon the dogs, she... might have had a more extreme reaction than that. Besides -- it's settled... ? Right?
"Oh," answers Nagase, eager to move to an entirely new topic. "Those are probably ComBots. I'm more than happy to take a look at it, but I'm pretty sure I can have it singing and dancing in a matter of minutes."
The young kunoichi laughs and assents -- of course she'd like to feed them! And once he silences the dogs, she reaches for the steak -- and realizes it's much too big for any one dog to get.
"I'll keep that in mind," she notes with a grin. One hand snakes back, lifting up the tail of her shirt. A moment later, the gleam of a kunai is revealed -- though she keeps most of it hidden by her long fingers.
A thin strip of the meat is sheared off in an expert slice, and then dangled over the nose of one dog.
Just one dog.
The others start to move, and she makes a sharp grunt, silencing them.
Only when everyone behaves does she let the strip fall into the waiting maw of the first dog.
With a smile, she starts to shear off a second slice.
"Village would keep strays from time to time. They were useful on fishing trips."
She feeds a second dog, grinning at how well-behaved they are.
"... I'm really glad you told me, sir. I'd... I'd always been scared. I -do- worry for you."
She clears her throat.
Her cheeks are a bit red, but that's probably from the laughing earlier.
"On a professional basis, of course. You're my biggest champion in the Syndicate. And you take care of me."
Not as settled as she might hope.
Still, Duke had released his rage already; he has chosen his future. And Nagase was going to be a part of it. "You don't need to waste time worrying about me. I can handle myself." He says gruffly, clearly taking it as a merely professional concern. "It's important that my inner circle understands why I do what I do. I'm not a mindless brute. I'm a master, a boss. The dogs are eager to obey Nagase, especially for delicious meat. They are far more obedient and controlled now, and are already associated Nagase with 'friend of owner' than 'attention.' Duke returns to the desk, looking under it with a frown. "Part of the reason I am looking to make this transition... is that I want you to do less work for the Syndicate, and more work for me. There are... implications with the arrangement, which I need to make sure you stay a part of. I need help with this damned technology first." He lifts two of the armors up.
"I don't think it's Combots."
Duke places each into one of the chairs. They looked like Exoskeletons. The first one was purpleish, built on a thin carbon fiber exoskeleton, providing enhanced protection to the hands, elbows, hips, knees, and feet, while still allowing full mobility to the rest of the body. The other? It looks heavier, while it lacks the powered assistance of the other one, it carries additional full-body kevlar plating to protect the wearer against knife stabs and gunshots. Duke shakes his head at them. "Did we not even get Combots? I was hoping for one to replace Hyena." Duke scowls. Was it a joke?
It was not a joke.
It's not a waste of time.
Well, that's what the rebel in her wants to insist.
Technically, though, if the man is unkillable, then yes, worrrying about that is a waste of time. But she's still gonna grump about that line, even if only in pouting lips.
When he reframes the concern, explaining -why- he explained, though, the pout disappears; and she gives a slow nod.
She can't give him -that- much attention though. Two dogs fed, and she's working on the slice for dog #3 now. They have been so patient. And really, it's hard to keep from smiling with how these good boys are wagging their tails.
"Sure, I mean, no one -else- in the org ever paid me." She chuckles afterward, though whether its because of watching the piece of meat flop into a St. Bernard's mouth or as an expression of her satisfaction with the conversation will be a fun chore to unpack.
As the armor is lifted up, though, it becomes clear Nagase's frown is towards -that-.
"Oh man. Didn't Maki and some other girl wear those during Rumble? Sheesh. At least we got the money." Another slice from her kunai sends small globs of blood and gristle flying. She doesn't bother stopping the dogs from intercepting the separated semi-fluids on their way to the floor.
"If you want ComBots, we can probably knock over some cartels, or make a few strategic trades with the new folks who've set up shop around here. Heck, junior NOL agents would have a heyday with a suit like that."
The two dogs who -don't- have something to chew on are giving her a look.
Nagase raises both of the remaining pieces, "Sit!"
Once they both have their fluffy butts on the ground, she flips the pieces into the dogs' respective mouths. "Bombs away! Hahaha..."
"... It's supposed to be powered armor, though, you know? Maybe he could try it on, and then we could remote control him into not being a total embarassment...?"
Duke considers the offer.
"Hm. It might make him useful... but it still feels like a waste of technology and time on him. Ugh. Rumble." Duke didn't enjoy Rumble. Too many explosions. At least he got to do insurance fraud. Staring at the chairs, he makes more consideration to Nagase's comment. "I suppose we could steal some. Yes, that's a good idea Nagase. We can sort out the details later. Well done." Another forced, stilted compliment. One he was clearly not used to doing. "Lets see, that's the money, the armor, the... new long term relationship... Hrm." Duke furrow his brow.
It would be so much easier to just blow up.
"I have a tournament coming up, in fact. The World Warrior." Duke mulls, as he heads back to the cooler drawer. "There are supposed to be many entrants. I am getting a watch to wear, while I am participating. My superiors are being invited as well. I expect to defeat them. It isn't a team effort, in theory... but I think you can skip any missions at Strolheim at this very moment." Duke rumbles. "There are more pressing matters for you to handle." Duke... throws his arms at the pile of papers, and documents, and technology, and money, gesturing at the size. "I can barely keep track of all this, I am used to having others keep track of it for me. We need to also figure out what kind of statue we want." Duke says with a growl. "They will be putting a statue of you, me, and Hyena in the park in Southtown. Hmph. I didn't imagine there would be statues for us, but I don't even know where to start." Duke looks up and down on Nagase. "You do your own fashion, right?"
"Do you have an artistic idea of what would look good?"
Nagase smiles down at the dogs -- they each have a strip of meat now, and messing with an eating animal is a good way to lose a hand. So she takes a moment to step around the feasting St. Bernards and give more of her attention to her employer.
Duke's manner of speaking is certainly not escaping her notice. In response to his praise, she bows her head in a subtle, silent gesture of thanks that wouldn't necessitate an interruption of his thoughts. Her fingertips lace together again, as she's able to devote the lion's share of her attention back upon him.
She is somewhat interested in this World Warrior tournament, but as she hadn't received an invitation -- no doubt due to her high-profile losses in both this and the previous King of Fighters tournament -- she finds it more of a curiosity that Duke has elected to take part.
But then it seems she's being... reassigned, in some sense.
The question is blurted out before she can filter herself -- but luckily Duke is able to explain more clearly.
"A statue, huh?" She smiles faintly, one finger lifting to scratch at the bridge of her nose. The flame-haired kunoichi is just about to offer a more substantial comment on that, when Duke points out her fashion.
Which is a point of personal pride for the kunoichi.
If her cheeks had started to return to their normal color, they're back to a rosy red now.
"Y-yes! Yes, I do. And... yeah, I could totally... work up some designs! We need to make sure the citizens of Southtown remember who helped them out, right?" Even as the Syndicate proper was seeking to enforce the city's harbor lockdown...
She's practically -giddy- now. "I'll have a few designs for you to look over within the next week or so! It's gonna be sweet!"
She pauses for a moment -- wondering if bringing up fashion was a segue for something else. And then she realizes -- if he's fighting, he's gonna need -several- suits.
"Did... you want to try out some new looks for yourself? You'll be bringing a whole new level of class to Strolheim, it makes sense to bring along a few options, right?"
The dogs snap and snarf, slowly enjoying their meat.
Duke, however, looks at Nagase a bit confused. Was it really that hot in here? The fireplace was roaring. Of course, Nagase's concerns on why she didn't qualify... likely applied to Duke as well. Such a public loss, it was insulting. And yet, Nagase's passion for the art relieved him. He had his own aesthetic, of course.
But maybe he was looking past that.
"New look?" Duke asks. Not out of insult but... curiosity. "I have usually relied on Tatsuhiko Kanaoka for my fashions. He does bold and sleek; simple designs with powerful impact. The trouble is, well, my outfits are destroyed almost constantly. But when you walk in wearing something so sharp and intimidating, and it explodes off you layer by layer, it completely terrifies anybody in your way. It's good for business, but for fighting, it's... expensive." And Duke asks the firm, most serious question.
"What do you see me wearing, Nagase?"
"Well, it's a classic, badass look, don't get me wrong!"
Nagase is quick to defuse even the -thought- of her comment coming across as an insult.
"And, yeah, Kanaoka's a kickass designer, I've gotten some cool stuff from him in the past. But if you're gonna be fighting and burnin' through outfits, you can save money -and- try out new looks at the same time, y'know?"
Without any real hesitation, she unbuttons the top buttons of her blouse -- nothing -too- daring -- gripping both sides of her collar and flaring it out. For demonstration purposes only, of course!
"You can try some different looks. Like, I dig how your shirt bares your chest, but a different look might be..." Here, she lifts her chin, popping the collar out more: "... letting the shirt lead the eye to your neck a bit more. Y'know, because -some- people might not have gotten the memo, right?"
She leaves her top buttons undone -- not like she's showing off anything but collarbone with it as-is, and spares a look at the first dog. Squatting down beside him to give him a hearty neck ruffle, she continues.
"Plus, you can switch to different fabrics. You don't have to worry about board meetings at 5 before a fight at 6, so why go with something so thick? You can go with a lighter, less expensive fabric, or heck, we might be able to find one that gives off a nice sulfurous odor when it burns. You already spook people out with the fire, but when you add the brimstone too?" She makes that gesture chefs make when they want to upsell their unique flavor, kissing her pinched fingers. "Magnifique!"
Nagase grins from her low vantage point, her shoulders shrugging just a smidge. "Aside from that, colors! Stripes! Flip the color scheme around, or switch to dark blue or somethin'. All I know, is if you walk in with twelve copies of the same shirt and same black pants, people'll just think you got 'em all cheap in a warehouse closing. You show off a different outfit for each fight, people are gonna know you mean business!"
She grins as the St. Bernard starts to mellow out -- fat and happy. "I can talk with some people, scratch through few designs, send a few your way if you want?"
Duke seemed even more skeptical.
As the dogs huff huff huff, rolling on their sides, Duke strokes his beard, his expression... darkening as Nagase describes it, as she unbuttons her blouse. Duke didn't quite like the idea of exposing his chest immediately. What, like those pretty boys in the vests? Duke was not eager to jump in on the 'hot' and 'sexy' fashions. As she continues him down the path of the fabric, he rumbles. He thinks in his mind, like polyester? The cheap materials? He might end up in a zoot suit of a cowboy outfit if this kept going. Duke looked like Nagase was just about to talk him out of it...
Until she mentions the sulfur.
That gets Duke smirking, a devilish, diabolical smirk. Oh, he wasn't a performer. But he had a presence, an aura to project. He lost that after the KOF, but he had to earn it back. Looking down at Nagase, he focuses a bit on the flared collar, inspecting it. "Nothing synthetic." Duke rumbles. "Plastic sticks to my skin in fights; I learn that the hard way, and it is -very- difficult and -very- painful to clean." Duke brushes off his pants. "But the sulfur idea... I like it." Duke nods. "Alright. I trust you, Nagase. Your orders are to refit my wardrobe with efficient, fashionable fightwear."
"It wouldn't make sense for you to use your money for it..."
"... Maybe I should let you handle the full winnings, while you are sorting the. I am not giving you my share to be yours. You just expense from it as you set up my wardrobe. I think it would be a fun diversion for you. Hmph." Duke scowls a moment at that. "Not too much fun, I hope." Duke claps his hands.
"Do you need my measurements, Nagase?"
Nagase gives those good boys some petting! All their hard work fighting to keep her attention has to be rewarded, or else they'll go back to thinking she's a stranger after this extra-special meeting is over.
"Nothing synthetic, then, gotcha." She had figured he -would- be picky about that -- most people are, after all. And the walking volcano -does- have a damn good reason to avoid the fabrics! She adds this to her mental notes...
She grins widely, though -- the sulfur got a good reaction! It doesn't matter if he rejects -most- of her ideas, the fact that he's not only accepting some but -actively soliciting- her for more is a great sign. "Alright, then -- I'll make that my new mission for the time being!"
Alongside with her personal training. She isn't stressing it, because her boss-man isn't stressing it -- but her lackluster performance is still cause for concern. She needs to stay valuable to Duke -- especially with -that- sort of payoff.
"Not too much fun, sir," she echoes with a wrinkle of her nose and a feline-like smile. "And yes -- that'd probably help. I can take your previous ones. ... I mean, if you want -brand new- measurements I'd have to get -him- in here to help."
Her eyes twinkle with mirth.
Yes, she meant -him-.
The guy who fled the ferocious doggies just moments before.
Duke pauses a moment, at Nagase's mischief.
He reaches the intercom. "Hyena." Comes the bark, as the dogs immediately break their silence. Their eyes tranfix on Duke, the word and tone given. They were focused, their mouths watering. "I need you to come in here, and get my measurements." Duke says with an air of command. And Duke shuts it off, his eyes gazing at the door. ALmost on command, the dogs all move on light feet, coming to the door, and faling into a sit. Duke holds up his hand. Five. Four. Three. Two. One....
And the door swings open again.
The dogs do not hesitate. Hyena shrieks as the dogs immediately charge him, the stampede of their paws nearly shaking the room. Hyena flees, terrified, as the dogs bark and bark and bellow after him. Duke clasps his hands together, as you can hear the man at the far door.. "You can use the old measurements, Nagase. I think that's enough business for one day. Now what comes is..."
Duke walks up to Nagase, looking down at her. "We will celebrate our second place fortune with a dinner out. No business, no King of Fighters. Just you, and me, and a bottle of wine on a quiet dinner at one of the fanciest restaurants in Metro City. And we can talk more about -you-" He looks over Nagase's outfit with one eye, as the sound of screaming is heard. "Well, perhaps somewhere little more causal would be better." Duke extends his elbow.
"Would the lady like an escort?"
As Nagase eagerly twines her half-sleeved arm around Duke's, she isn't sure which of the things Duke did in the past minute had the biggest impact on her smile.
For five million dollars, she would've been fine with him being his usual moody self. But for him to show himself as a man of true class like this...
The kunoichi is on Cloud Nine.
Log created on 11:58:40 01/30/2018 by Duke, and last modified on 19:08:09 02/02/2018.