Description: When Ace Detective turned Monster Daniel Jack follows the trail of his beloved Fio Tessitore, tensions build as he is forced to enlist the help of the trecheous Zach Glenn. The unstable ex-marine soon proves himself to be more trouble than he's worth, as the corruption from the seductive femme fatale Honoka has begun to work its magic. Can our trusty detective keep the deranged Zach Glenn focused on saving his love? Or will the lustful obsessions of a cruel mistress drive him to murder in... The Grottos of the Damned?! (The cover shows the shadowy form of Daniel Jack holding a torch in the depths of a corpse filled catacombs. He is gritting his teeth as he heroically puffs out his chest at a gaggle of moldy skeletons, who reach their bony fingers at him menancingly. Behind him is the wild-eyed Zach Glenn, whose visage is taking on a beastial, maniacal glare, as he raises a dagger over back, ready to stab the distracted Daniel. All over him are a number of strings, leading to a board where Honoka, garbed in a strapless red dress, stares with a seductive smile as she uses Zach like a puppet.) (45 cents)
Daniel and Zach were tenatively allies.
They had met at University of Genoa; they were both on the trail of Dr. Tessitore's mischief. At least, her past. Daniel felt he had the clues he needed to find out what happened to her. They found an address, a clue: Gameragna, north of Celle Ligure. That would be the place they would find it. That was the place where Daniel would find a clue on saving Dr. Tessitore. And Daniel.. would keep his comments to Dr. Tessitore. Because other questions would involve being shot at by Zach. ANd when they finally reached there, they found...
Nothing in Gameragna. Nothing in Celle LIgure. Nothing in Rome, or Naples, or Venice. All over Italy, endless nothing. Daniel was grasping at further and further straws, dragging Zach along with promises and fast talking clues. Of course we would find something in Rome, from a paper she gave there. Of course she left something in Naples, when she went there as a girl. They would absolutely find their clues in Venice, where a sighting of Darkstalkers were associated with Dr. Tessitore of course. Further and further.
And they were no where closer to her.
"Illyria." Daniel rambles, placing a finger on the map in the candlelight. The grottos of the catacombs were not -ideal- per say. But Daniel's lodging expenses were getting high, and frankly, he had no income. Zach's been funding this expedition the entire time, with charges to Torchlight Securities. ANd Daniel? Daniel has no job, not income. And as a horrible shadow monster, he was never lacking for lodging. And after the incident in Rome... they needed to stay away from public places now. Now they were in Bosnia, deep in the Catacombs of Jajce. Another lead from the detective. Another dead end. The detective was dressed in his purple zoot suit, his features blended in with the darkness as it ebbs and flows in the lantern light. The catacomb reeked of death and dust. But it was harmless. And this map... this map was all he found. It showed Illyria. And Daniel repeats. "Illyria, you heard about it, right? That's where all those Darkstalkers and the Sacred ORder went. They have to have clues on what happened to Dr. Tessitore. Someone there must know, don't you see Zach?" Daniel speaks faster and faster, falling into a bigger manic rise.
"It's all connected!"
Zach had humored Daniel Jack for the time. He knew, from experience, that closure was not something attained quickly or easily. Or without cost. He was not really worried about the money aspect of it; the accounts he was drawing from had way too many zeros for that. But this *was* eating up a lot of time. Time he could be spending...
...doing what, exactly? Pounding metal into shapes while he tried to drown his misery, trying desperately to forget what had been done to him? What he had done to other people while under Vega's sway?
If Zach were being honest, both men probably needed this trip for different reasons. Yeah. Zach could let Daniel chase some shadows a bit longer to try to get what he needed. Illyria, though? Seems like asking for trouble.
"I'd rather not get back onto the Librarium's radar by going there," Zach says carefully. "Since I am pretty sure they are keeping a close eye on who is coming and going." Zach takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "She's gone, Daniel, and I don't think she's coming back."
"Man, screw the Librarium."
Daniel's been humored. He's been humored over and over, through every failure on this investigation. Once Zach left, though, he would have no more money, no more support, no more... no more focus. Being around people, it made it easier to focus. People had day and night schedules, patterns, conversations. By himself, time seemed to just... happen. He would lose days, weeks at a time, just being distracted. But when he spits out the words, he taps the map again, stepping back. He knew he had a direction, and as long as Zach was on it, he would have a direction too.
And yet, there was nothing.
"I'm not afraid of them, and I was captured and tortured by them, you dig?" The detective fumes. "If they want to bring trouble down, let them. But don't you start wimping out on me, Zach. Nothing is lost, you understand that? I've been to the afterlife and back. I've died, and come back, and died, and come back. At least once by -your- ex-girlfriend's hand, I might add." Daniel grits his razor sharp teeth in the shadows, flashing the whites fiercely in contention. "Nothing's stopping us from sneaking in. We'll get in, and we'll- and we'll talk to the King if we have to. Kings. They'll let us do what we need. If I can survive everything and anything, Dr. Tessitore can too. I can fix this, Zach." Daniel looks away from Zach, away from the light. "I can fix all of this. I have hope still, Zach."
"You need to have hope too, Zach."
Zach's left hand twitches; he's thinking about going for his gun when Daniel even brushes against the mention of Honoka. He had become better about not just shooting Daniel repeatedly anytime she had come up, but only barely. "Been there too," says evenly. "Not at all eager to repeat the process. Don't exactly have that kind of..." Zach's face twists as if he bit down on a dozen lemons all at once, "...benefactor anymore."
He regards the map carefully, the scowl still clear on his face. "I highly doubt that they will. I've met Whitefang, and I don't think he'll help you with what you are looking for," Zach straightens up and walks away, heading toward the rental car. "I don't need this."
"Let her stay dead," Zach calls over his shoulder before turning to open the front door of the car. "You're probably better off that way," he mutters.
The response started behind Zach, over his shoulder. It quickly moved ahead of him, the shadow form of the detective slipping like a ghost around the walls of the catacomb. He was fast, and while he had been bristling with Zach... he wasn't going to let Zach just abandon him like that. No, he was done with people doing that. Daniel cuts Zach's exit off. He wasn't going to let him leave the catacombs.
Not like this.
"You want me to go back what I was before? Stalking people, killing animals, slowly letting myself rot away my humanity into a beast you can just shoot and kill? If I bring her back, she can fix all of this. She can fix me, she can fix Aranha, she can fix all of this! Then we can go to Honoka, and all teach her a lesson on, on, whatever she did to you. Don't you see, Zach?" Daniels yellow eyes were burning, wide. "I can't let her stay dead. I- I don't want to end up like I was before. I don't want to lose my humanity pretending she isn't part of my life. I don't want to lose that part. So I'm going to get it back. You're gonna stay here and help me, Zach. I need your help, I always needed your help. ANd you- You've already met the Whitefang guy! You can make this work Zach!" Daniel smiles, spreading his stance out to keep the bodyblock up.
"Come on, Zach, don't let your personal problems ruin this."
Zach takes a half-step back, pure reflex to someone showing up in his path suddenly. The next thing that happens is almost as fast as that: Zach's right hand is raised, and out of nowhere is that broken claymore in its grip. The jagged edges of the shattered blade are less than a centimeter from Daniel's throat. The gun won't do much to Daniel. It's the rumble of thunder, and about as dangerous in the end.
The sword, though? It would take less than a twitch for Zach to manifest the blade of pure willpower from the white-hilted artifact. That'd be the lightning. It'd most certainly cause Daniel some trouble. Both men know it, too.
"Do not tell me what I will or won't do," Zach says, his hair ruffling under a phantom wind. A faint glimmer of purple slides up and out of the psion's hair, fading into the ether as it escapes. "You won't like what happens."
Daniel knew he was about to lose Zach.
Come whatever happens next, Zach wsa going to bolt if he was able to. Daniel knew this wasn't going to end well. BUt as that light builds up, and the energy blade is drawn out, Daniel doesn't back down, even as the light begins to dissolve the edge of his shadowy form.
INstead, orange energy cascades over his zoot suit.
"What are you going to do out there? Take a rental, and what? Sob yourself into the bottom of a whiskey glass? I've lived that life, and now I don't even have the luxury of drinking myself to death anymore. I'm telling you what to do, and I know what's going to happen. You think I'm -scared- by you, Zach?" Daniel Jack begins to fall into the stance of Todoh-Ryuu Kobojutsu. One palm forward, one palm back, and a steady, broad-legged stance. His yellow eyes transfixed. He could have left it there.
But Daniel kept talking.
"What do I need to do? Do I need to pretend I need some white knight to come and rescue me from my stupid mistakes? From what I can tell, if some plain-looking lady bosses you around, you're practically pawing at her feet."
"Face it, Zach, you -like- it when people boss you around."
Daniel shakes his head, a half-grin, half-grimace on his toothy maw. "Your a dog, Zach. As long as your 'master' doesn't jerk you around on your leash, you will come along with anything! Honoka knew that, and I sure as hell figured it out too. I'm just being honest with you now. And I bet Honoka decided she was gonna be real honest with you too. Hell, maybe I got it all wrong. I bet she didn't break up with you. I bet -you- broke up with her because she finally decided to be real to you, and it just hurt your precious feelings. Yeah, I bet that makes you -real- mad to hear out loud, huh? Well bring it. You don't think I won't fight you?"
"I'll bring you to Illyria, even if I have to drag you there by your boots!"
Zach's face goes pale. The broken blade twitches ever-so-slightly as Zach tightens his grip on the weapon. There is a long second where nothing is certain.
Then the weapon drops. It doesn't vanish; Zach has not sent the blade back to wherever he calls it from, but it is no longer aimed at Daniel's throat. Seems like he thought his way through it. For once.
"Tessitore took you, *BROKE YOU,* and then had you nosing around begging for more!" Zach yells, "And here you are, AGAIN, trying to find your way back to her! For what? So that she can finish what she started when she made you into... into *THAT?*" Zach gestures widely at the shadows around them. "Something that has to consume the spirits of other people just to live? You want more of that?"
Zach lets out a bitter, mocking laugh. "The fuck do you even know?"
Oh, that riles Daniel up.
"She saved my -life- Zach." Daniel snarls, his facial features collapsing under his shadowy visage. "I- I forgive her for what she turned me into, because it was the best she could do. She saved my life from The Butcher! She saved my life again and again, because I- Because I loved her! Love her! I owe her! ANd if I could control my facilities, I- I wouldn't have let her get killed. I'm trying to fix my mistakes! That's nothing compared to the criminal trash you were lying around with!
"WHat's Honoka done for you?"
"An easy lay? Freaky... freaky psychic sex? Face it, Honoka gave you something you were looking for. When you were chasing me down in the UNiversity, why the hell were you there? WHat were you doing with your life? What are you afraid of admitting? That I'll be smug that you made a stupid mistake? News flash, Zach, I was trying to tell you because I was trying to help you! BEcause someone like you -doesn't- deserve to be hurt by a sociopath like Honoka! God." Daniel doesn't drop his stance, but his whole body... loosens a bit. "I hope you broke up with her."
"You deserve better than her breaking up with you."
"And what about after all of that? The moment you were back from that island, what did you do? Did you try and find someone to undo what she had turned you into? No! You went RIGHT BACK TO WORK for the monster that took her! You think I didn't hear about what happened at the Jinja?" Zach snorts derisively. "And you call me a dog."
Zach is clearly not about to go into what happened between him and Honoka. He's not even rising to the muck Daniel is slinging. It's not classic Zach stonewalling per se, but he's clearly trying to avoid the topic. Daniel is one of the last people on Earth he wants that conversation with.
"I'm trying to fix that, Zach!"
Zach wasn't wrong. Daniel did all that, and more. He made... so many mistakes. But this was how he could fix it. He would just undo everything he did, and everything would go back to normal. He would be an INterpol agent, and none of his mistakes would be weighing him down anymore. "Ayame fixed that; I was at a crossroads and she fixed that! I still think it's sad that a girl her age will never really appreciate being, well, a girl. And- and that's deflection!"
Daniel's guard begins to drop.
"Seriously, scuzzy. Dead serious. What happened. Was she pregnant, and she got an abortion? Was there another man? Another... girl? And she expected you were going to be okay to share? You know the bitch has a PR campaign that's out of this world. There are like, I guess 4 people who personally hate her while knowing her true nature? Me, Ayame, and I'm gonna guess Honoka herself. And you're one of them now too. That's not a very long list of people you can talk to about how awful of a person she is. You wanna talk to -AYame- about this?"
Daniel shakes his head.
"Look, this is probably part of her game. You turn against her, and you're suddenly alone. Ayame doesn't give a damn about Honoka's personal life. You know you are basically the only other person I know of that actually is -pissed- at the dame? It's been really damn lonely being angry at the sociopath, and nobody -agreeing- with you. I was being treated as a monster -before- I became a monster on this. I've -been- alone on this before. And- and I can't understand, for every single detective and investigative instinct, -why- you wanna remain alone on this." Daniel Jack looks away; more holes in his guard. WEakness, exposed. He draw in a deep sniff with his nose.
"You think you can just sulk yourself through this?"
Zach is up in Daniel's face in a about half a second. The sword is gone, and if the detective had managed to spare the attention, he might spot the last few motes of light falling to the ground telling the tale of the sword's disappearnce. Zach's nose is inches from Daniel's, emerald eyes locked on gold.
"You want to know what she did?" he asks in a quiet, *dangerous* voice. Zach is not above using volume to convey a warning, but this might be more worrying. There is the hint of the *promise* of violence in this tone of voice. Violence barely kept in check. But only just barely. "*Fine.*"
"For a while, she was basically a crime boss. Like the Southtown Syndicate, but not quite as big. She had a disagreement with their Mad Dog, left her thigh turned into powder. Then she started working for Shadaloo. And one of the first things she did?" Zach leans in closer.
"She sold me to Vega... no. She *gave* me to him," Zach pauses and lets that sink in a bit. "All the things I can do? He can do all of that and more. All the things *she* can do? He can do all of that and then some, too. Even on my best day, I would not stand a chance against him."
"For *weeks,*" he snarls, "He used me to deliver *hundreds* of innocent people into the same kind of slavery I was given over to. I had no choice. I was aware of every second of it, and I was not *allowed* to choose. I could not even choose to *not* choose. I just *did,* exactly as ordered. My last victim? Xiang Chun-Li."
Zach stays in that hideously personal space of Daniel's, not flinching, not backing down. Just waiting. Watching.
Daniel holds steady.
He was exposed. Zach might be getting his sucker punch. But he shuts up, and he listens. He nods along on the crime boss. He knew it. That's the Dragon Lady. He always knew that. Well, not always. He was good, but not that good. But that part he was ready for.
He wasn't ready for the part after.
Daniel's smile fades. Grimace? His expression fades, as Zach paints the description of the absolute betrayal. How she sold him to Vega. Gave him away, like property. How she let Vega enslave him. How he used him to traffic people into slavery. How he did that to Chun-Li, an Interpol legend. And Honoka did that. That's what was the break up. It wasn't a childish argument. It wasn't something small, no. Daniel stares a thousand miles away. There is silence, dead silence. No breath. No sound in the catacombs. And finally, he responds.
Daniel's words are distant, soft. "I-" Daniel shakes his head again, slipping backwards, almost trying to bury himself into the wall of the catacombs. He wasn't blocking Zach's path anymore. He wouldn't anymore. "I can't believe I was going to fight with you over that. She -sold- you into slavery to Shadaloo? And- they -used- you to b-" There is a ripple over the shade. A flare of orange.
A surge of rage.
"Why? What kind of -excuse- is there? Is she just moving up? Did she really just- did she really just ditch you for -power?-" The detective cannot even connect the dots before him, his yellow eyes staring into oblivion. "I'm sorry Zach. I- yeah, no -shit- you didn't want to share that. I- she abandoned you to one of the world's most sinister dictator, no, not abandon. She -gave- you up like a piece of meat. Like property, like she had every right to. Why? Why would- why would anybody do that? And Chun-Li-" He had almost asked her out at Interpol. Never had the guts, or the schedules lined up. "I-" Another shudder over the shade's form. Energy surges over, as he shifts into a full feral visage, his features an abyss with snarling teeth and burning yellow eyes.
"How -dare- she!?"
Zach lets out a long breath, and seems to simply deflate from the action as he turns away and pulls in on himself. He shrugs, weakly, "I don't know," he finally says quietly. "I can't seperate the truth from the lies where she is concerned."
Daniel might know where to look now that he has details. Zach is in shape, somewhat, but not like he was when he was fighting regularly. He still carries some muscle on his upper body, so he's still doing *some* kind of physical labor. But he isn't training. Not fighting. Perhaps not even eating properly. Signs are there, if you know to look, and where.
Well, at least he had the meat on his body.
Daniel's shape was awfully static, though consuming souls helped. But he had taken in the intimidate details of Zach all too well on their adventures in Italy. Daniel was not leaving the wall; he was just a shadow now. He refused to come out into the light. "I- I" He sputters. His mind was swirling, reeling. Betrayal. Absolute betrayal. He didn't realize that someone who was so close to you, so intimidate, could pretend so much, and then just throw you away like that.
Could have Dr. Tessitore been lying to him all this time too?
Could she have known that Daniel was weak, vulnerable? Was she waiting for him to be in a moment of weakness, to transform him? Was this all part of her plan to turn him into a minion of Lord Dohma? Honoka was a monster, she was different. But was she? Daniel felt that the two figures were blurring together; the same actor behind two different persons. Everything he did could be the manipulations of another. What- what happens when the way to save Dr. Tessitore is to launch another Metro City incident? WHat happens when there is a demand for sacrifice? Daniel's stubborn will would carry it to the end, but for what? What if everything now was a lie, just like the lie that Zach was meant to endure.
Everything was a swirling hellscape of madness now.
Daniel clings to the reality, clings to his sanity. The feral, enraged surges are control, they are under his control. No. Not Tessitore, not Honoka. They would be dealt later. No, the most important person now wasn't any of them, or Daniel, or his stupid quests. It was Zach. "Zach..." Daniel begins, his tone soft. "What was done to you... was the inhuman treatment of a man, that I have ever heard of. You didn't... you didn't do this to yourself. There is no 'told you so' on this. Because I never ever considered that someone would be so evil, so vile, that they would betray someone they lead to believe that they were loved... into slavery with another. If AYame heard this, in her own... sarcastic, immature way, she would agree. You are the victim here, and you do not deserve any of this. But. But... you need to do something now, Zach."
"Let it go."
A bitter silence. "She doesn't deserve forgiveness from you. The only thing she deserves is like for like, her own humiliation. But like, forgiveness isn't about her. IT's about you. You are falling apart. You are dying, faster than slowly. You're not just mad at her, you're mad at yourself. That's whats forgiveness is for. Let it go. Leave her behind. Let the healing begin. Because when- when you see her again, she will look at you with the total horror as she would have, having utterly destroyed and betrayed your life together. But when you see her again, you should treat her like a stranger you used to know. You are going to get old, and die, and passing away with such nasty bitterness in your heart is wrong. You need to let it go. It'll take months, years, it won't be fast. But you need to let go. I'm never going to die, I'm always going to be a plague." Daniel presses out from the wall; his face in the abyssal visage, the wraith of wrath boiling out from the depths, as he places a hand on Zach's shoulders.
"Let -me- hate her, so you don't have to."
Zach does not say anything. There's too much... too much everything. He tenses up when Daniel's hand lands on his shoulder. He stares at it for a second, his eyes seemingly dead for all of the emotion that they show.
It's almost as if Zach has shut himself down, walled himself off just so that he could function. His eyes stay on that hand for a moment. Then they turn to Daniel. There might as well be a subtitle for that look, the message is that clear.
Keeping that hand on Zach would be an excellent way to lose that hand, even if it is only for a moment.
Daniel doesn't release the hand.
He doesn't back down. He makes this clear. But gradually, his monstrous visage fades into a more human one, his features returning. The face appears. "You're not alone on this, Zach. You're never alone. And if you keep this to yourself? Then monsters like Honoka win. You need to tell people about this. Doesn't... doesn't have to be Ayame yet. But what about Aranha. What about your friends at work. What about people in the fighting world. You are not alone, unless you make yourself alone. Don't do this to yourself. And... and I won't do this to you either."
And Daniel releases Zach.
"Get on out. You got a rental waiting for you, you dig? You get away from my stupid stuff, and you focus on yourself. Train. Fight. Tell people about what happened. You are not alone, scuzzy." Daniel backs away from Zach.
"Never forget that."
Zach nods once, sharply. His face is blank as he reaches for his car door. He pauses, and glances over his shoulder.
"I'll let Whitefang know you're coming," he says softly. "He might help you as a favor to me."
With that, he climbs into the car, and drives off. The exit is a slow and careful one, not the rubber-peeling exit one might have expected given the situation to this point.
Daniel just keeps up the warmth as Zach leaves.
There would be no Illyria now. No point, no direction. Daniel wouldn't tell Zach, but that's what he gave up for his sake. Daniel's darkness was surging over him. The focus was gone now. The only thing left was the darkness of the catacombs, the shadows, the rot and decay. He turns his yellow eyes on the map, seizing it. Maybe some day he would chase it. But everything was no longer on human timelines. He was a monster, she was dead, and he had his vengeance to boil within his abomination of a soul. He didn't know if he was going to linger in the grottos for days or weeks or months or years. But as the car lights fade away, so does Daniel. He would lurk, and feed.
He just hoped someone young, female, and lonely had died here, at least.
Log created on 13:38:33 01/17/2020 by Daniel, and last modified on 23:18:59 01/19/2020.