The Black Dragon - Black Dragon R3 - The Harom Shuffle

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Description: After escaping from Kira's clutches, Alba wanders off and stumbles upon a household near the refugee camp, loaded with Raven Guards. When they move to capture him, Zach intervenes, and a peculiar opportunity arises for all of them.

Alba scratches his now-free neck, as the collar that was once wrapped around it has finally been removed. The process was a painful one- the collar apparently releases a painful debilitating shock when it's touched roughly. They weren't able to disarm the electronics, so Alba had to brace through repeatedly being shocked, as the collar was cut loose. His body still feels itchy from the experience.

Since then, Alba had been hanging around Zach's assembly of refugees- The gym. It was the safest place to be, and the young gangster figured that least he could do is help out the civillians by scavenging for food with his gang- and fending off any potential attacks with Zach's help.

Though, this is dreadfully boring, and Alba feels as if he's wasting his time.

Alba's free time is mostly taken up by thinking, and sulking around the neighbouring streets. And right now, that's what he's doing. Not much of anything. He randomly wanders into one of the many, many vacant homes. Entering through the busted-up front door and into a hallway, adorned with a dull red carpet. The walls lined with photos of the owners. A happy family and their kids.

Looks like something straight out of some crappy American sitcom.

Alba might hear some brief, alien chatter, before it steps out.

It's only about 5 feet tall, and clad in a shimmering, red-and-teal scale armored bodysuit. It's probably female, judging by the hip bust waist ratios. There are talons on her gauntleted finger-tips, as she steps out. Her expression is a mystery; her features are concealed by a gasmask modeled in the shape and style of a raven beak. It stares at him, pausing in midstep. "Oh!" She says, with a thick accent. "Hello!"

She turns her head back the way she came. She suddenly chatters in a foreign, alien tongue, chirping in an uneasy sardonic air. Before turning back to Alba, hips swaying as she walks towards him. Her head tilts down, and up. "You just stay over right here." She sing songs, tapping a claw on her mask.

"Are you the owner?"

Alba doesn't stay there, no. He instinctively takes a step backwards.

The strange woman approaches him, is she one of Kira's? She might feel his instant defensive posture, he is already building up Chi in his limbs, ready to defend at a moments notice in the case he's attacked. "No, I'm not. Who are you? Another step back. Taking in the plague doctor-esque attire of her mask.

The girl is behind Alba now, cutting off his exit.

How she got there might be the real concern. She moved fast, leaping over Alba, bounding over him, off the ceiling, back to the doorway. She leans against it, hip to doorway. "Where are you going, handsome?" Behind her, outside, another figure drops down, dressed in the same uniform. There is an angry chatter, as two more pull out in the hallway. A third crawls across the ceiling, as the feminine giggling continues. This would probably be the weirdest encounter with women Alba had dealt with-

Okay, after Lyraelle, the second weirdest.

Five of the body-suited ladies were now encircling in the hallway, some crouched low on the ground, one clinging to the ceiling, looking down like a spider about to pounce. The girl leaning at the doorway fans herself. "My name's Teca, handsome. We're the Raven Guards, and you're poking around our station for Taiyo High. What about you? Are you that mail order stripper I asked for-" One of the girls on the ground barks nastily at Teca. She looks back at Alba. She speaks with a terse, flat tone.

"Please state your name and business."

'Damn' Alba thinks to himself as he's suddenly surrounded by a fivefold of these freaky girls- Crawling over the walls, the ceiling. He stops his slow retreat, and takes a more neutral position. With how outnumbered he is, he is not interested in starting a fight with them.

"What? No! I'm absolutely not a.. not a.. whatever." He raises his voice towards Teca, after her outlandish statement. A second one talks. This one seems more sensible then the other weirdo. "I'm Alba Meira. I have no business here. I simply wandered in here at random during one of my.. walks." The young gangster sighs as he looks at the second Raven. Trying to explain himself "I'm well aware that that statement sounds like a pathetic excuse, but you'll just have to take it as the truth."

"I don't have any business with you 'Raven Guards' and you wouldn't have use for me. Therefore, how about you just let me leave through the way I came? Nice and simple." He speaks calmly, but with a tense undertone.


She repeats back, before adding. "I don't find your story very likely." Teca scoffs. "Don't mind, Luiza, Ali Baba." She states sarcastically. "She's a little uptight. Oh, if there was only a way to loosen her up-" Luiza doesn't let Teca finish, as two guards push past Luiza and Teca, each apiece. The one on the ceiling continues to stare, silently. "We don't have to accept any truth from you." Luiza states gruffly, with an commanding air. The one on Alba's right leans over at him. "What do you think that means, Zsuzi?" The right one asks in a high-pitched, teasing tone. The one on the left leans in, bending over to mirror the opposite. "I think it means what I think it means, Jazmin!" The one who must be Zsuzi responds, her movements copying the other. Zsuzi mock gasps. "You don't mean...?" And they speak in unison.

"An interrogation!?~"

There is a squee across the two girls, like this was some kind of hellish sorority Alba stumbled into. Teca cackles, as Alba suddenly finds the two twinned guardsmen on each side of him, pawing to grab him by the upper arm. "Come on! It'll be fun! I bet you haven't been interrogated by girls before! Should we do it in the kitchen?" Teca pipes up. "How about the bedroom! Oh, we can make it a game!" But Luiza growls, as if she was about to bring sanity to this. There is a pause, as the one on the ceiling just keeps quiet, staring. And finally, Luiza responds, pointing to the stairs.


And there is another squeal from the duo.

Alba looks to be in a bit of a jam. Five against one are pretty much terrible odds. One person versus five psychics was an order of magnitude worse. Zach was out securing supplies when his new partner found himself in his unenviable position. Zach watched most of it through the window and when they looked like the were about to take things upstairs, and thus a somewhat tactically worse situation, Zach decided to intervene.

He set the box down, and concentrates for a moment. There is a *WHUMP* of air rushing to fill the space that Zach once occupied, and another *WHUMP* of air being displaced by Zach as he appears behind the two women moving to apprehend Alba. The former Marine has a hand pointing at the heads of each woman, fingers posed like a child pretending to have a gun. It'd almost be a joke, if it were not for the growing masses of psychic energy building up at his finger tips.

"Hi," Zach says simply, full of bluff cheer. "How about you leave my friend alone, and tell me why y'all are here?" Eyes flick around, taking in details his own senses did not readily supply. "I mean, I'm not afraid to fight women, but I'd prefer things not devolve into violence if they didn't have to."

"Shit." He blurts out audibly, as Zsusi and Jazmin are about to restrain his arms. He decided not to struggle just yet. "Fucks sake, I wouldn't believe my story either, but interrogating me would be a complete waste of time." He Angrily looks at Teca and loudly says "I haven't been, no. And I wasn't planning on having that happen. So stop giggling you little.."

The bathtub. That has sinister implications.

"I can tell you my whole life story if you want, but it won't get you any useful info." He tries to resist, futilely tries to convince them to stop this mess. But then, a certain Zach Glenn comes blinking into the scene. "Wait, how the hell did you.. were you following me?" he says to the white-haired man. "Though, perfect timing. These little freaks were about to attempt who-knows what to me."

Alba remains still, seeing how the situation will develop- and ready to defend himself.

The giggling girls were starting to play around, but when they get their grips on, that sharp, -strong- hold from the girls suddenly puts a much more dangerous light on it. "A waste of your time?" Teca suddenly interjects. "Are you saying that you are ga-"

Teca doesn't finish that statement, because there was now a Zach. And when there is a Zach, the laughter pretty much stops dead. There was a feral, raspy growl from the girl on the ceiling. The twins freeze up, holding on to Alba, unsure whether to release or not. Teca pushes off the door way, claws out, and Luiza? She begins to crouch into a defensive stance, ready to fight. They were chattering with Alba. But when Zach brings the noise? It looks like it had no where else to go but violence.


The word comes with the uniform command, as a sixth begins to descend the stairs. "Girls. At ease." She states with regal air. Teca pulls her arm away, and falls into a parade rest. The twins release Alba, falling into the same position. Luiza falls out of her stance as well. The woman on the ceiling remains, snarling like an animal. The leader steps forward, behind Luiza. She looks up, and barks an order. "Mara, get down from there."

Mara snarls, and drops on the ground like a corpse, rising up with a jerk next to Luiza.

"I am Corporal Erika." The leader states firmly. "Girls, I am disappointed in you. This is Zach Glenn, of Torchlight Security. He's been coordinating with the NOL... like us. We're all on the same side here." She speaks very calmly. "And a friend of his, is a friend of ours." She states, bowing her head slightly. Luiza interjects. "I apologize, Corporal, I was trying to control the situation-"

"Oh my god, are you Zach Glenn?"

Zsuzi speaks up at an octave that would be especially painful to dogs. "Eeeee! Zach Glenn was going to blow our brains out, sister!" Jazmin squeals too, at a much deeper tone. "Was? Is! He knows Soul Forging you know, he's practically mastered it! I heard he's even better than Matthias! That's why he wins so many tournament fights." "I know Zsuzi, and he's right here now! About to kill us!"

The girls squeal in unison.

Erika inhales, and exhales. "Mr. Glenn, could you please stand down."


"I've got skills in that direction," Zach admits to Alba. Fact of the matter is, he had locked on the Alba's psychic signature (such as it was) pretty much from the moment their partnership started. Alba doesn't /seem/ like a bad person, but there was no point in taking chances.

The gun hands leave Zsuzi's and Jazmin's heads, as Zach lowers them to his sides. He does not, however, let go of the energy just yet. The psychic energy trails up his arms, almost gilding them as he turns to face Erika. His left eye twitches as he hears the girls geeking out about him, specifically.

"'Coordinates with' is such a strong phrase," Zach says in a tired almost-sigh. Fact of the matter is he had not picked up on Erika's presence, and he wasn't sure if that was a matter of too many minds in one place or if she had some kind of mental stealth ability. Six against two is not great odds either. "What is it you want?"

"Didn't know you were a celebrity, Glenn. I'm almost jealous of the attention you're getting." Alba says, with a distinctly sarcastic air. "And I really got the impression of being treated like a 'friend' there. Thanks for that." the young gangster shakes his no-longer restrained arms.

He turns his attention towards the newly-arrived Erika. "So, did i just *coincidentally* stumble into all of you, or is more going on here I'm unaware of?" Alba lets the chi in his body fade away, seeing as Zach's reputation seems to have defused the situation.

He turns his head towards the white-haired soldier. "And you seem to have some interesting connections, Zach. Mind filling me in here?"

"Yes," Zach asides to Alba, "I am being cautious about you. Let's just say I think you're worth investing the paranoia on you." Then he glances back up at Erika. "But I think I'm the one they are after. Watch my back for me?" he asks the red-headed man in a volume that everyone can hear before regarding this squad leader.

"But I have no idea who y'all are," Zach says confidently, "And that makes me a bit jumpy, so I'll ask you again. What is it you want?"

In fact, the other girls were beginning to drop in signature as well.

The effect was hard to state; it wasn't exactly invisibility, but it could be best described as a diffusement. Now that Erika was here, and there was a clear line, her presence picked up again. Even now, with all the girls alert to Zach, their psionic signature was flickering, rising and falling. And more strangely... it was a shared signature. Each one was distinct, but every one seemed like the same signature. All together, it was stronger, but it was closer to... well. Zach might have seem a similar effect when he was with Honoka.

In any case, it wasn't any stranger than anything else from these six.

Erika nods firmly. "We are Harom Squard of the Raven Guard." Teca whispers under her breath, to Zach and Alba. "The Witches and Bitches." She barely conceals her snicker, as does the twins. "We've been tasked with securing the villages to support the NOL and Southtown Police Department. We have other motives as well, you've... approached us before we were ready!"

"We've been hoping to reach out to Torchlight Security."

Erika states firmly, as Jazmin and Zsuzi continue to wiggle dance in squee. "We have reason to believe that Jedah Dohma is pulling the strings with these Darkstalker attacks." Erika stares daggers at the duo, who fall silent as they enter their parade rest. "We are beginning an investigation of something called a Shadow Council, there is evidence that it has ties to Jedah. The Patriarch stated that you may be able to provide unique support in its investigations, as you've recently acquired an individual that was working with a known member and clear suspect: Kira Volkov." Erika looks back at Alba.

"Is... this the individual?"

Without directly being asked, Alba begins to explain. "Well luckily, I am indeed 'that' individual. And from my knowledge, Jedah is not directly involved. I've spoken to Kira and she did the whole villain-monologue schtick, and claims that she alone released the darkstalkers to increase fear and suspicion towards Jedah. Intending to break his claims of darkstalker equality"

Alba takes a few steps, before leaning against the wall with his back. "She despises Jedah, and believes he is planning on taking over the World with his own darkstalker army. Hence she is trying to give everyone a common reason to fight him by playing the villain herself."

Alba again scratches his neck. "In other words, she's insane and thinks that plan will actually work. Or She was feeding bullshit to me and her actual motives are different."

Zach nods a bit as Alba steps forward. He was not about to out the younger man, personally. Something about this whole situation has his teeth on edge. "Approached is such a strong word," he mutters before something slams home to him. People might notice the iron bar of tension that slams into his neck and shoulders.

They definitely would notice that Zach is no longer standing where he was. A pair of *WHUMPS,* so close to one another that they are nearly a single sound, and Zach is now /behind/ Erika. And there is a sword in his hands. Or something very /like/ a sword at any rate.

The weapon looks like it might have been a claymore, or some similarly outsized sword, if the blade had not been broken eight inches from the guard. The hilt is pure white. The remains of that blade are a bright shining metal, and the jagged ends of the break are in gentle contact with Erika's back. It would not take much to drive that weapon into her back. It would take less than a thought for Zach to ignite the blade clean through the woman. The weapon is held in two hands in a very ready grip, and the posture of the stance brings Zach's mouth near Erika's ear.

He whispers something into her ear and is barely audible to its intended recipient, nevermind anyone else in the room.

So he was the one.

"Hah, there might be an interogation yet!" Erika states to Alba's response. The giggling from the girls... might... mean it's a joke? "But if what you say is true... No. We believe that Jedah supplied Kira with the Darkstalkers. If she's trying to stoke fear, then why is he not retaliating? There's a conspiracy afoot, and we suspect its tied to the Shadow Council." Erika probably had more to add on the subject.

But Zach was at her back.

Luiza gasps, turning as Zach is on her corporal. She hesitates, unsure what to do as Erika doesn't give the order. The twins squeal again. "He's so -cool!-" Pipes up Jazmin. "Did you see his sword? He's even better than the Patriarch!" Adds in Zsuzi, grabbing Alba again. Was it from the awe? Or the fact that a melee was about to begin. Teca, for her purposes, shoved off the door, and looked ready to fight.

Erika, for her purposes, was keeping calm, though much more terse than before.

"I... I don't know what you are talking about. Don't, Mara." The guardslady is snarling, claws out, ready to pounce on Zach. Erika's eyes were locked over her shoulder, trying very, very hard not to start a melee. "The Patriarch mentioned... you may be... sensitive on the subject of the Shadow Council. We have a list of participants. Kira Volkov. Scarlet Dahlia. Lee Chaolan. Duke Burkoff." She rattles the names off. "We have preliminary evidence that all of them have associations with Darkstalkers to various degrees. We- he shows what we mean. He's indirectly involved, somehow!"

"Please, we're trying to stop another Metro City incident."

Did Alba judge too prematurely? It looks like Zach has his suspicions about them. And if anything, Alba had gotten the impression that he is very trustworthy, so if he's doubting them, so should Alba. The tension between the two parties is heavy, and the situation feels like it can explode with one wrong decision.

Like a western showdown.

"Hold on. It's obvious I'm lacking some sort of context here, regarding why Zach is being hostile." Alba pans his eyes around the hallway, looking over Zach, Erika, and attached to his arm- Zsuzi. "I'm not one for risking a seemingly pointless- and dangerous brawl."

The young gangster spreads remaining free arm, a open gesture. "So, how about we just waltz right on out of here?"

"You have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about," Zach murmurs to Erika as he applies a a minute amount of pressure on his sword, causing the leather under it to start to give, "And it has nothing to do with some Evil League of Evil you're trying to sell me on. The Dahlia would *never* work with Burkoff. Way too much bad blood between them. And Jedah Domah seems like the type who doesn't work with anyone but himself. Way too much ego."

Zach spares Alba a quick glance. "I think I have accidentally dragged you into something," he admits. Then he gives Mara a stare, almost /inviting/ an attack. While Glenn has no intention of outright murdering Erika, if Mara starts the music? "But I don't think I am leaving until your leader starts giving me some straight answers."

Zach is more than ready to dance.

Erika refuses to lose her composure.

The rest of the squad jerks, as Jazmin grabs Alba's other arm. Mara shudders, her mask almost slipping, as she sways, waiting for a moment of weakness that never comes. But Erika takes in a deep breath, even as the pressure builds. "I am speaking the truth. The Empress, an alias of the Scarlet Dahlia, was at a summit known as the Shadow Council. There, we know that Lee Chaolan, Kira Volkov, Duke Burkoff, and herself attended. We do not know the host, and we do not know the purpose of the meeting. But we do know that all four of those individuals have some connections to Darkstalker-related activities."

"Kira Volkov, obviously, has been employing Darkstalkers at her Casino, and has been engaged in the hunting of them as part of her membership in the Hunters Guild. And yet, now she is unleashing them out upon the streets?"

"Duke Burkoff was linked in possible Darkstalker shipments into Southtown, through the guise of his art trade. And even now, gangsters are crawling the streets, exploiting the weakness of the NOL and police forces in order to cause more mayhem!"

"Lee Chaolan was engaged in the use of his V-Gage and HitBit technology to enslave Darkstalkers as part of the Gears Project. His organization has been liquidated across multiple organizations... but we have concern that the same technology is being used by the Mishima Zaibatsu."

"And the Scarlet Dahlia may have connections to spiritual entities tied to the Ainu; we have reason to believe she has aliases that is concealing supernatural entities and associations in the aftermath of the Mortal Kombat tournament."

"We are lacking details, we have to investigate! That's why we wanted to reach out to you! You are already doing the investigations yourself! You didn't know it yet! Alba!" She nods at the gangster. "You said it yourself. You have spoken to Kira! She has explained her plan to you! She despises Jedah, and her intention that she claims is to humiliate him. But at the same time, all she is humiliating is the NOL! Which in turn, serves Jedah! The Scarlet Dahlia and Duke Burkoff loath each other. And yet, they both attended this council! Why? And how does Lee Chaolan and the Mishima Zaibatsu link to this? ANd who hosted it? None of these things make sense, something is missing! There are so many unanswered questions..." And her voice drops, as she looks down to the ground.

"And even you know more than you let on, Mr. Glenn."

"Oh yeah," Zach admits. (Why do you think I have this sword at your back?) "I know plenty." Which is true, to an extent. The pressure on the blade neither abates nor increases. "But I'm not about to share *any* of it until you get out of the heads of your squadmates."

"It's not something I can ignore," he growls. Not any more, not now that he knows what it means.

"Duke." Alba says with a ice-cold tone.

"That piece shit might be involved in this, huh?" Alba suddenly looks deathly serious, and tilts his head to look down at the dusty red carpet. He doesn't seem to respond- or even register Jazmin, as she holds down his second arm. "How convenient. You seem to have dragged me into something I'm interested in, Glenn."

He looks back up, and if it weren't for the red-tinted sunglasses, he'd be staring Zach directly in his green eyes "And since this is something I'm now interested in, it'd be a /real/ shame if you complicated the situation for us all by instigating a fight." His cold voice has a distinctly threathening tone to it.

"That, would be something *I* couldn't ignore."

"Get out of the heads of..."

And then, Erika jolts.

And she laughs. And then, the girls all start to laugh. A halting, giggling laughter. This is exactly what makes people feel comfortable, athletic females in bodysuits and plague doctor masks laughing. But finally, Erika explains. "Oh, no no no! I am- I am not in their head! You are- you are sensitive to it, aren't you? Yes, you would be, being so talented." Jazmin and Zsuzi bounce eagerly, shaking Alba as they laugh. Erika looks to the others, and finally, they stop their laughing. "This is very serious, Mr. Glenn could have killed us!"

"Allow me to explain."

"The House of Podiebrad are spiritually connected to one another; we all share the same blood, and all are part of the same family. What you are sensing, is the power of the Patriarch. His spirit, his blood is in every one of us. It allows us to become empowered with the soul energy of the Podiebrad, and in turn, allow us to empower him with our soul energy. Mara's brother, he described it as what, like the internet?" Mara actually clears her throat, growling a bit. "Like a neutral network." She states. Erika continues. "Yes, like that. So it's not mind control, per say, but it allows us to keep connected, and a bunch of little benefits; it's a family perk!"

The duo of Jazmin and Zsuzi bow their heads, looking at Alba.

"Yes! We are all family!" Says one. "You might not know it, but we are twins!" Teca rolls her eyes. "Sisters, cousins, inlaws, and Mara's a bastard." Mara turns back towards Teca, growling. Teca raises her clawed palms up. "Whatever, but Corporal's right, Mister Glenn. This isn't something we just can turn off either. There's a whole, uh, ritual involved." Erika doesn't turn, but she just lower her head a bit. "We actually aren't that proficient in psionics, like uh, like you would think! Since the requirement is being recipients of psionic energy, we mostly get only the basics. We can sense people, we can manifest the energy if we try really hard, but we aren't even powerful enough for telepathy. Well, most of us." Erika looks back over at Alba. "You- you don't have to hurt Mr. Glenn. He's experienced in this sort of thing; he probably was worried that we were all mind controlled, and some monster was upstairs controlling us. Once he releases me, I can explain, well, maybe we can talk about what we need..."

"And maybe you can share what you know, Mr. Glenn?"

"Hey you- Little- stop shaking me around!" Alba blurts out towards the twins. From there, he listens intently to Erika, trying to piece together what she's saying.
Soul energy?
Mind control?

"I only understood about half of all that.." Alba admits "..But I do so hope her explanation puts your worries at ease, Zach."

"You're putting words in my mouth," Zach says as he straightens up a bit. "I'm not worried about some monster upstairs controlling them. I'm worried about *you* controlling them, since they all feel like you."

"I don't know about this Shadow Counsel crap you're talking about," he says, "But I do know that the Dahlia is working for a group known as Shadaloo these days, and that the relationship between her and Burkoff has taken a pretty serious turn since he pounded her femur into jelly a while back over a territory dispute." Zach considers for a moment. "After which she took him down, cased him in concrete, and handed him over to the Librarium for the bounty on him."

He shrugs, that broken blade still in his right hand. "If he's out and about again, I don't know about it or how he managed it.



The name comes out of Erika, almost shocked. "How many outlaw groups were there... I guess we have to look at Shadaloo too..." The Corporal sighs, but nods. She was getting more free with her movement now. The twins themselves giggled at Alba complaining. "But... we have good reason to believe Duke is operating in the area. He was... released from the NOL, from what we understand internally. Without much in the way of answers. The NOL won't deal with him directly at the moment. But Szabolc and his men have been... well... they were investigating them. And they are alive." There is a moment of silence; The girls were lowering their heads. Even the twins were loosening up, a collective sadness washing over them.

"We think he's been captured by the Syndicate, along with the Egy Squad."

Zach frowns at that. The fact that Erika knows her people are alive is some consoliation, and could be considered a perk of this ritual that was mentioned but... yeah... no. Way to close to some lines for his own comfort.

"I'll keep an ear out," Zach finally says. "Though I don't know how much more help I can be besides that." He considers something for a moment. "The Dahlia's got a lot of masks, and her ties to the Ainu are blood-related." He's not sure how much more to share; siccing them on Honoka aka the Scarlet Dahlia has some appeal to him on a very base level.

But the circus she surrounds herself is full of innocents along with the outright conspirators and he has no clue how the Podiebrads would handle such a situation. It's not something he wants to chance.

"But what about the Darkstalkers, and Lord Dohma."

Erika's tone suddenly hastens; there is an anxiety now building around her that was spreading to the others. Even the twins looked less bouncy, as Zach says 'keep an ear out.' "I mean, the Syndicate, Scarlet Dahlia, Shadaloo, Mishima Zaibatsu, the Dragoons! How many people are part of this conspiracy, Zach?" Looks like Mr. Glenn was a distant memory. "There are enemies to humanity all over this city! And Lord Dohma is the greatest enemy!" Erika actually turns now... much faster than she should be able to move. All of them move a bit, Mara instinctively slipping between Erika and Zach briefly, just long enough for the gap to come. The Corporal looked at Zach, reaching for her face. She lifts the mask, revealing... a ruddy-cheeked, brown-eyed girl with a pronounced overbite, and a good number of freckles around her nose. "Look at me, Zach. I'm human. I'm not a monster, like those things. You want to help? Tell us who the enemies are, and who aren't. And if you don't know... find out! Szabolc- Szabolc was following the trail of a... of a Syndicate asset. He was trying to find how deep the corruption runs in the Syndicate." She shifts her gaze from Zach, to look back at Alba. "You're a gangster. You think Duke Burkoff is capable of selling his soul to the devil? What happens when someone gets caught by the Southtown Syndicate. Do we get them back?"

"Or do we get them back in pieces?"

Alba has been listening to the two exchange information, remembering- considering. Turns out this might be a whole lot bigger then just Kira.

"Shadaloo, the Dahlia, the Syndicate, Jedah, the Zaibatsu, *Kira*" he pauses for a second, looking into the brown eyes of the unmasked Erika. "In short, there are potentially a lot of factions involved in this mess. And seeing how the NOL got stomped by just Kira, well.."

"..The situation seems quite hopeless if those stuck-ups couldn't even stop her. Let alone the other organisations." Alba gives a frustrated sigh. "And don't compare me to the Syndicate, and especially not to that monster Duke."

"To answer you questions however, that piece of shit would do anything to climb higher. Including..." Alba doesn't not finish that sentence and continues "And your man, Szabolc, was it? Depends on what they have to gain. I'm guessing he's still alive as of now, so they have a bargaining chip against you.. Podiebrands. That would also allow them to interrogate him. Though it would also depend on who would've captured him, some might be more inclined to simply brutalize and kill him, as a way to send a message"

Looking back at the twins, Alba puts on a sarcastically sweet tone. "And would you two *lovely* ladies mind letting go of my arms? I'm not gonna attack. Pinky promise."

"Oh, we're not holding you because you're going to attack!" Says Jazmin, giggling.

"We're holding on to you because you have such big strong arms, and you're so cute!" Says Zsuzi, squeezing Alba's muscle.

Erika, however, gestures her hand. The twins release Alba, giggling as they fall into parade rest. "The Patriarch hasn't told us that we've received any ransom notice yet. He's... he's alive, but... He's more than our man. He's our commander, he's second only to Bela- the Patriarch himself! It- it feels like hopelessness. But it isn't, because the Patriarch knows we will succeed!" She looks to Zach, and to Alba. "I can't ask you to rescue him. But wherever they are holding him, it must have some answers on how deep the Magijen have their clutches in the Southtown Syndicate. It's a place to start, if you want to investigate. I can't force your hands. But I can plead. Whatever you do to help, the House of Podiebrad will support you as allies in this investigation." She looks back over to Zach.

"Please, Mr. Glenn."

Zach's free hand reaches up to rub his face. He is exhausted, on so many levels. He's carried the weight of responsibilities, both accepted and thrust upon him, all of his life. The one time he thought he had a place he could set those burdens down for any amount of time turned out to be the worst betrayal he had ever suffered. His shoulders sag a bit, the former hunter at a loss at how to respond to this. But the sword, broken by his rage at that betrayal, is still in his hand.

He looks down and away from Erika, his hand falling to his side. "I won't promise you anything," he says in a low tone. "I won't be that cruel to you. I don't know why you think I can help you in this in any way."

He starts down the stairs, brushing past the woman. "I've got enough in front of me right now."

"Don't be foolish." Alba responds to the twins, shaking his freshly released arms loose. After Erika's words, and Zach's refusal to her proposal, Alba stays silent for a few seconds, considering the situation. Eventually, he looks back at Erika, and speaks up.

"As you might have noticed, I hold a grudge against the Syndicate. And while I try to not let this grudge steer my actions, this.. is a good opportunity." Alba steps closer to Erika, walking past the leaving Zach. "A opportunity to gather intel about Duke, and a opportunity to satiate my grudge." He looks around at each of the raven-masked girls. "So yes, I /am/ interested in getting involved with the Podiebrad's, as allies. Though, if I'm going to focus on investigating after- and perhaps even rescuing Szabolc, I would ask your family for support. Mainly, compensation, protection, and reinforcements."

Alba elaborates his points "Because I'm not going to let my men work for free. I'm also still at the risk of being attacked by one of Kira's, and I don't want to get stabbed in the back while busy with your errands. Furthermore, a large part of my group decided to stick with Kira. So I'm low on forces, and I doubt we could take on a Syndicate outpost all by ourselfs. A few capable fighters would help out in that regard, I'd like to minimize the risks put upon my crew."

He turns himself around, and looks back at Glenn "And, Zach. If you decide to help after all, I'm sure we could relief some of your burdens- Like looking after the refugees. Having your help in this situation would be extremely useful. And I'm certain you could have something to gain from the situation."

There was a great swell of disappointment, amongst the Raven Guards.

Alba's rise manages to keep it together, as the twins titter. But Erika wouldn't press it. Shaking her head, she puts her mask back on. "We of the Raven Guard know well of a grude. Thank you, then, Alba Meira. I can- I can give you a lead, but you will need to do the investigation on your own. But we will cover you, and if Kira tries to punish you, she will have to answer to use, the Harom Squard! Please save Szabolc; If you save him, we will eternally be grateful." She pulls out a knife, and brings it to her palm. "I swear, on the honor of the Podieb-"
"You're a coward."

Teca spits the words out, as she leans at Zach. Erika stops her oath, as all eyes are on Teca. "What's in front of you. Aimless heroism? An errant knight, wandering to save damsels in distress? Well we need a knight, and you're running away, scared. I saw you with Honoka at the King of Fighters, I saw you with Twilight Star. You were a man then!" "Teca, at ease!" Erika orders. "You of all people should have sympathy for good men getting captured by bad people!" "Teca-" And the Podiebrad woman touches a single clawed finger at Zach's chest, glancing down, then up to his eyes. Teca gives a haughty huff, shaking her head

"Did Shadaloo take your balls when they kidnapped you?"

"Good." Alba says, in response to Erika. But before he can continue, and observe the creepy blood oath Erika was about to do, Teca's loud voice catches everyone's attention.

Before the situation escelates, Alba interjects and approaches Teca, putting a hand on the smaller girl's leather-clad shoulder. "Teca, right? Stop being an idiot and listen to your commander. Let's not have this break into a fight after all this trouble."

Zach looks down at Teca as she gets into his personal space, his eyes narrowed. Alba's... a bit late on the peacemaking. Good effort, though! There is a fire in those emerald eyes as a few possible responses war for supremacy. He holds up a hand to ward off both Alba and Erika. The sword is still in his right hand, and a slight creaking sound can be heard from the hilt.

"No," he says, a bit of granite in his voice. "Let's have it break into a fight." Zach leans down a litte bit, his nose nearing the beak of Teca's plague mask. Zach sounds more *ready* to fight than he ever did in facing down Alba, none of that bluff confidence and willingness to find a middle ground as that odd golden energy chased by wisps of purple slides around his body.

The energy ruffles his hair, gilding it slightly before the wisps of violet add additional temporary streaks of color. Zach's stance doesn't change much, a slight centering of the weight maybe, but the hands aren't up, the profile doesn't change. Alba may not know about the power Zach and these women have access to. "You think you know so fucking much," he growls, his anger at this whole stupid situation reaching a boiling point.

But there is no way Harom Squad does not sense the threat of imminent violence, along with the knowlegde that such power does not react to anything less than a strong will to use it.

The whole squad hangs, as Teca lobs the hand grenade out.

If a fight broke out, they would have to join in, and fight Zach and Alba. It would undo all their plans, the Patriarch's goals. And Teca knew it. Even as Alba holds her shoulder, she puffs out her chest, Zach drawing in that energy. All eyes are on her, as she cocks her head, claws splayed out. She looks ready to pounce. And she says something viciously caustic in that alien tongue.

It's probably not very nice.

Turning around, she rips herself out of Alba's grip, sending a harsh squawk at him for a parting shot. And then, she bounds out the door, running off in a huff. "Get back here!" Barks Luiza. But it's Erika that makes it official. "Go and bring her back. I won't let her hide from her discipline." Mara and Luiza pursue, the first bounding on all fours, the second flipping over Alba out the door. Erika shakes her head. "I am sorry, Mr. Glenn. Your path is your own path. We will not stop you from it." Jazmin and Zsuzi lower their heads, arms behind their back as they kick. The corporal looks to Alba. "If Mr. Glenn allows it, we can brief you on what we know... And coordinate a plan."

"And what payment is to be expected"

Zach watches the exchange, eyes narrowed. He's angry, but not so much so that he isn't paying attention. Then he looks back at Erika. "Meira's a free man," Zach says evenly. It's apparent from his posture and the energy flowing around him that he is still very much upset. But apparently this was as far as he was willing to allow it to dictate his actions.

"He can do what he wants," he says. "I've got supplies to get back to the safehouse," he says. "If you want to share what she has, I'll hear it there." There were too many variables here, given that this whole thing was a set-up on some level. Better to have the information to process in a more controlled setting. He turns and walks out the door.

Thankfully, Zach cooled off enough to avoid the fight.

He nods towards the white-haired man as he leaves the building, and says "Sure thing. I'll share any information that might be of use to you." He would wait a few until Zach would've been out of side, and turns to Erika. "Perfect. Now, since we averted that situation, let's talk. What leads and information can you share with me? the gangster walks again closer to Erika, putting him within a comfortable speaking distance. "Because as you say, I'd like to consider my best way of approach."
Alba takes off his shades, folds them up, and puts them in his pocket. Revealing his thin, silver eyes.

Erika watches Zach steam out, shaking her head.

But Alba remains. She gestures, and the twins giggle, as the trio come into the kitchen. It was serving as an operational room, as well as, uh, a kitchen: the smell of paprika was very strong in there as ceramic pots sit on the stove and in the oven. Erika comes over to a map of Southtown on the table, as Zsuzi goes over to check the pots. "As we said before, Duke Burkoff is our key suspect in associating with Jedah Dohma, alongside Scarlet Dahlia, and now Shadaloo." She shakes her head in disbelief. "And Kira Volkov, and Lee Chaolan and his father Heihachi Mishima. That's a lot of people, and a lot of targets. There could be even more, when a conspiracy is involved. Duke Burkoff is a member of the Southtown Syndicate, an organization you probably are more familiar with than we are. We were beginning to cast a wide net on the Syndicate, identifying if other leadership suspects are potentially in the conspiracy with him." Jazmin is at Alba's side with a few manila folders. She spreads them out, revealing their contents.

The first is Geese Howard; identified as a possible low-level contact providing financial support to the Syndicate through his numerous legal ventures.

The second is a picture of a man entertaining two ladies, the well renowned Mr. Big. A crime boss through and through, with countless hostess bars, night clubs, and more personal services in his grasp.

The third is a blonde-haired man with a wine glass; a Kain Heinlein, identified with question marks around his role in the organization.

"Szabolc and Egy Squad were investigating Kain Heinlein's holdings; we are not clear on his role in the criminal organization. He seems to have a similar role as Geese, as one of the moneybags, but he doesn't have the money. His ventures are similar to Duke, but he doesn't seem to be active like he is. We suspected he might be working in the shadows. So the commander and his team investigated. A cargo ship had come in under one of his corporation, and they successfully identified it. The last report we got was that the ship was evacuating, and that there was a trap being laid. Whatever that trap was, it caught them. Because of our unique connection with one another, we can tell he's alive, that he's hurt but stable, and they are cooperating with interrogations in a manner appropriate to Podiebrad expectations. And we have a... general area pinpointed." Erika points on the map.

"They are still in the Harbor area"

She looks back over to Alba, as Zsuzi plops a bowl of goulash in front of Alba, spoon and all. "Do you have any questions so far?"

Alba looks at the map, and the documents on the various crime lords. Listening to Erika with his chin resting in the palm of his hand. He nods a quick "Thanks" to Zsuzi in response to the impromptu Goulash.

"I am well familiar with Duke, Geese, and Big. But I share your little knowledge of Kain. Chances are I'll be dealing with him- or his men." Looking at Erika, he continues. "I trust you in that he's still alive. I have no clue how you are 'connected' to him, but having reassurance that I won't be going in there to rescue a corpse is refreshing."

He speaks, further judging the likely situation. "It's safe to assume they're expecting someone to come after your commander, be it for rescue or ransom. So I'm going to have to be extra careful not to fall into the same trap they did." looking over the remaining ravens- Jazmin, Zsuzi and Erika, he asks "About this connection, if Szabolc where to be further injured, or on Death's Door, would you be able to tell? Having that information in the moment would be most useful to me. It would allow me to better Judge how much time I have to deal with the situation.

"And wether that is possible or not, I'd want to have a way to safely contact, and be contacted by you at a moment's notice." He gives them a chance to respond, and grabs a spoonful of the steaming Goulash, briefly blowing to cool it off- before sticking it in his mouth"

The goulash is sweet, but spicy. Very nice.

"He is absolutely alive. And stable; he is being reasonable well taken care of based on his vitals and emotions." Very abstract. "He was badly beaten; but he was treated. We can assume that they aren't punishing him, which is... interesting. The fact we don't have a ransom yet may be administrative even. As for contacting us..."

"Safely contact is... hard?"

Erika says, sincerely. "Other organizations have advanced communication, and even managed to use telepathy; we've been unable to train it well. Not even the twins can do it properly." Zsuzi objects. "Jazmin and I can totally read our minds!" She declares. The duo begin to focus in silence. Erika ignores them, as she goes back to Alba. "We have, uh, we have a walkie talkie. And we would be within the area close to listen on it. It's not very secure; and it's old." The twins continue to stare at each other in silence. Erika holds up the brick of an old radio. "We'll be following you, our commander is out so we're independent, and I'm making a call to withdraw from here to support you. If you need an emergency, we'll come and help you. How is the goulash." Erika quickly adds. "Mara used to work in the house, so she's an excellent chef;"

"She would greatly appreciate your feedback."

Alba chews on the food slowly as he listens, a burst of heat catches him by surprise- he hastily swallows, but gets a piece of food stuck in his throat, he loudly coughs a few times- after he takes a few second to recover, he answers, "It's very good. I like the sweetness, and the meat is very tender. Though I could do with just a tad less spice."

He takes a quick look at Jazmin and Zsuzi. The gangster slightly smirks as he sees them intensely concentrating. He then turns again to Erika, and says "Though, back to the matter at hand. A slightly primitive method, but it will suffice." He places the metal spoon back into the bowl. "Then, is there anything else you know about Kain? Fighting style, manpower, way he likes to operate, even a rumor. Did Szabolc report anything regarding this before he got captured?"

He falls silent again, and eats some more goulash. Much faster this time, enjoying the taste. The spiciness becomes strangely delicious as he gets used to it.

"Nothing, I'm afraid."

Erika honesty is blunt. "We have no record of any fighting career. He may have a henchman or something to do his dirty work. He's quiet, keeps to himself, and is rich. Szabolc reported nothing else. From what he said, there was a full crew at least; and if he was able to capture Szabolc and Egy Squad... they are strong." She trails off. "And if they do have Darkstalkers, well. Prepare for the same chaos as you faced on the street." Erika nods firmly, as the twins hum.

"I am glad you like the goulash!"

Erika traces a claw on the map. "As for your sake, Kira will almost certainly be retaliating against you. We can do what we can to keep you covered; we will report to you if we are seeing Darkstalkers or Dragoons in the area. We will also try and leverage other mercenaries operating in the area we can find. When you are done with your goulash, we can get you down to the harbor asap." Suddenly, there is a squeak from both of the twins.

"Seventy Two!" They say in unison.

And they start to giggle.

"Understandable, I suspected that. Then I hope I won't run in to him, as I wouldn't know what he could do. We should be able to take a group of regular syndicate thugs, but if Darkstalkers get involved, chances are I'll call for a retreat. We weren't able to stop them then, so I doubt we'll be able to stop them now."

Alba hunches over on his seat. "And with Kira, I don't doubt it. So I thank you for watching my back. Now, when it comes to the specifics of my approach, I'll need to know more about the situation and location, so I believe we can let that rest for now."

Alba's eyes dart towards the twins as they finally speak up again- seemingly having completed their mind-reading escapades. Alba does a slight chuckle, and sarcastically says "Congratulations. It only took over a minute. I'm sure that will come in *very* handy in a dire situation."

"Then, I'll just.." Alba quickly shovels in the remainder of the Goulash. "..finish this. I'll have to make a brief stop at the refugee gathering place. Both to rally up my group, and briefly inform Zach. I won't be long."

He stands up, preparing to leave, but still giving the girls a opportunity to say something.

The twins look back over, and cross their arms.

"Do you have to go?" Says Jazmin, sounding like she's pouting quite a bit.

"Yes, you are so cute and interesting." States Zsuzi, firmly.

"Girls, please." Erika interjects. "Mr. Meira is not here for your entertainment. He's helping us. You can, erm, socialize with him later." Erika comes over to the stove, and grabs a ceramic pot. "Now you help Alba, with me." She states, looking at the other pots. "There are plenty of refugees to feed, right Alba? You can go on ahead."

"We'll be coming over with more goulash soon!"

Alba shakes his head at the twins, choosing not to respond to their advances. "Then we might as well travel together." He follows suit, and walks towards the kitchen counter to grab a pot of his own. "That is a lot of Goulash. Seems like you were prepared."

"Now, do we wait for the other three to return, or shall we get going?"

Erika shakes her head, as the twins start on together.

"Teca, she has strong emotions. They will find us when they find us. We had hoped we would have come with food, and Zach would appreciate us... it did not work though." It was impossible to hide her own disappointment.

But they all got going, heading back to the refugee camp, Goulash in tow.

Log created on 18:47:15 05/11/2020 by Kim, and last modified on 17:26:04 05/18/2020.