Description: The Scarlet Dahlia explores the grounds of the Castle Alucard. A wyrd place that straddles the line between worlds. While exploring the grand, twisting halls and architecture, the Scarlet Dahlia chances upon another invitee the Castle; a former partner of exploration, Clio St. Jeanne. Much has changed in both women's lives to lead them to the same place, but while one can understand the tectonic differences, the other remains unaware of the realities of the situation.
Scarlet Dahlia looks down at the screen of her smartphone. Not because she expects cell service to be available in the heart of Makai, of course; she just wants to know how long she's been in this abominable castle.
Dahlia stows the phone in a pocket, continuing her way along the corridor. Sconces line the walls, their orange candlelight dancing in contrast to the monochromatic wallpaper patterning. The hallways, though mostly straight, twist and turn throughout the depths of the castle in a labyrinthine maze, intersecting seemingly at random. And yet, Dahlia's stride is purposeful, as if she knows exactly where she's going, and she may just be running late.
And in a way, she very well may be; ahead of her is the sound of convivial conversation, laughter, and the occasional clink of glass or silverware. Molars grind against one another in irritation. She'd consult that blasted invitation again, but there's no need, as she's already committed it to memory. All it said was that there would -be- a challenge. Not that she'd have to go -hunting- for one, like a menial servant on some fetch errand.
An end to her hunt seems to be in sight, as the right wall ends in a decorative column -- the start of a balustrade that overlooks a grand banquet hall. The hallway itself curves slightly to the left, a graceful transition that runs parallel to the hall. The sounds, the 'party' as it were, is already in progress.
Dahlia rests her elbows upon the balustrade, lacing her gloved fingers together. She stares back at the source of the cacophony -- denizens of any number of demon kingdoms and enclaves, dressed up in appropriately formal attire. Firelight dances off the decorative lenses of her glasses. She makes an attempt to figure out who is who, in this veritable hobnob center for the demonic well-to-do.
The Champion of Mortal Kombat is already irritable at the wait. She'd be quite willing to jump over the ledge -- a three-story drop to the banquet hall floor -- if her loosening her necktie is any indication. But before she does so -- she casts a quick glance around to the four stories' worth of hallways surrounding the banquet hall -- just in case anyone, or anything, proves to be more interesting there.
Immense, intricate, impossible. The liminal locus that is Castle Alucard is a fascinating. The kind of gloomy and glorious in equal measure. The kind of place that, in other times, Clio St. Jeanne would have found to be nearly a dream. The soaring spires, the vaulted ceilings, the gardens and balconies all stand out as vantages, sights and passageways for her to poke and explore through. It would be a place she could spend days alone inside to uncover what she could.
But this is not one of those times.
She had an invitation. It was for her, to her, even if she had doubts of the thing from the get go. It must have been Jubei, and her connection to him, that was why she was important enough to be called in. Or, she hasn't denied the thought occurred to her, some lingering acknowledgment of her NOL history. Either way, she knew coming in that there was something dangerous. Though the letter said as much itself.
Perhaps it would be time to prove herself, at least since the debacles of the King of Fighters.
Clio doesn't have good clothing. She doesn't have much on her other than her usual. And as such, she's still decked out in the same way as she usually is. The Kaka Clan outfit is still how she is going. It might not be the most fancy of clothing, but it may cover the definition of a masquerade. That sort of thing is accepted at fancy soirees and all. Right? She could only hope.
Her boots are heavy on the fine hard floors of the castle. And the heavy chain that crosses her, hanging about her neck, echoes in the wide halls. She has made it a point to keep quiet, to skulk, but she can't shake that she's more awake in this place than she has been in most daytimes. There's a comfort to it all. She can feel the closeness of the magic she often pulls from the Boundary. And so she walks out onto the high vantages of the banquet halls. Awash in a morass of comfort, confidence, and an anxiety over both of those feelings being so prevalent.
Nearly everyone has something they're afraid of. For some people, it's loneliness. For others, it might be fire, enclosed spaces, heights. The true mark of a person's character is how they react when confronted with such fears -- for the strong will find a way to surmount them.
There was once a time in which Dahlia was scared of heights. A happier time, when she had no need to worry about the fate of the world, secure in the knowledge that the two adults urging her to climb up the mast and secure the rigging had her best interests in mind. It was all simpler then, when there were people available to answer every question she might have, to assuage any doubts that might arise. When she wouldn't -have- to be taking the initiative on her own, and she might have been a regular highschooler just like all of her peers.
Dahlia tilts her head at the sound of a chain dragging along the floor. Her eyes half-lid, as she recalls the memory of someone with such a chain. At the memory of who -she- was at the time: a highschool girl -- or, rather, pretending to be one.
Dahlia strokes a gloved finger across her scarred chin. The high school guise will be of no use here. Today, she will not be the person hiding herself.
The person clothed like a Kaka Clan member is one floor up from her.
And Dahlia feels like stretching her legs.
The toe of her boot is placed gently on the balustrade railing. Hands snap out to either side, and the Akatsuki leader lifts herself atop the railing without any appreciable effort.
She places one hand along the column beside her, steadying herself. After a moment of consideration, she leaps upward, using the column as support as she climbs her way up the railing.
The tails of her long coat describe a circle as she nimbly whips her way up and over the railing. Boots step down onto the floor, and Dahlia re-tightens her necktie, all in the same graceful motion.
From here, the redhead has but a short walk to reach Clio. Who may have seen her, or heard her, alighting upon the floor, or might not -- it makes no difference.
"You're the first human I've run into here." Her voice rings out, with crystal- clarity. "I've seen you before." The fingers of her right hand splay out, bobbing along in conversationally appropriate gestures. "It was King of Fighters, wasn't it. You and the Cat..." She smiles faintly, out of formality. "I take it we haven't been called for dinner yet."
She looks back at the mask, expectantly. "Scarlet Dahlia. A pleasure to meet a brave fighter such as yourself."
One time, Clio St. Jeanne was a loyal Lieutenant of the NOL. One time, she was a rebel alongside her friends. Many times, she did not even exist. As the wheel of fate turns and realities live and die hinging on the serendipity of moments, reality asserts itself for this cycle. And in this moment, Clio St. Jeanne is a woman faked a death, unknowing her place, lost in a drifting period of her life where she has no answers and few to turn to.
Uncertain or not, Clio has been clawing her way forward. She was always supposed to be a light, a knight of the azure flame, but she supposed that in the end it means she has to light her own way. And if that lead to a dark and foreboding otherworldly castle, then all the more fun.
She leans, resting her forearms on the railing to look down. It's a dizzying height, but the kind of things Clio has grown used to. Comfortable in that way.
But then there's someone coming. Someone from below. A nimble approach of a woman in a suit. Clio looks her over, considers, she doesn't remember this figure as the 'high school girl' that she had run into on the pier.
King of Fighters, a hell of a memory. But more interesting is being addressed as a human. That alone was information to keep in mind. The mask, coaxed by arcane illusion, shifts from the grin to a thin lined quizzical frown.
"You have? Oh, yes," she answers, the expression flickering to the plain sharp-toothed grin. "It was more I was with the cat," she corrects. "And no. no dinner bell. No banquet. Just good views."
She tilts her head, the questioning expression flickers back. "I guess you caught me at a loss. I don't think I've seen you before." She runs her fingers along the collection of chain hugging her hips. "Wouldn't call myself brave, though, would be rude to come when invited."
Knowledge of the King of Fighters is probably the clearest indicator of the redhead's field of expertise. Though, even an encyclopedia of tournament competitors would fail to list anyone matching the profile of the lady in pinstripes standing before Clio now -- a passionate observer of the occasional fight, and nothing more.
Unless one happens to have stepped into the arcane and supernatural, of course. And even then, her hair was jet black then, her fine clothes scuffed and worn from the rituals of kombat.
"Let us walk, then, and enjoy the views." Dahlia's scarred face tilts towards the vaulted ceilings, relieving some of the implied pressure to continue looking at one another. And if Clio walks a path, Dahlia will gladly match her pace.
"And that is why I introduced myself," she comments, a wry smile upon her face. "Not every test of skill takes place under the spotlights, on live camera feeds for the world to enjoy at their leisure."
To the assertion that Clio makes, Dahlia offers a faint grin. "Naturally: bravery is more often a title bestowed upon you by others, after seeing the challenges you've stood tall against." Her amber-eyed gaze pivots back to the masked fighter once more, her shoulders lifting in a mild shrug. "There are some who would seek to profit from such fame and fortune. And others -- to challenge themselves, to grow from the experience. Or... would you say you'd entered for the fun of it?"
Dahlia chuckles, once more finding her attention drifting to the magnificent vista before her. "Events like this are rare opportunities to exceed your limits. To take a small glimpse at the worlds beyond. I'm sure you feel it, right? The connection to... another -space-." Again, she glances to the mask -- peering into the eyes as if there were no such mask in the way. "How does this place -feel- to you?"
Knowing fighters isn't always the sign of an expert. Fighting is such a well established facet of the world that it's expected that people might know a thing or two. But it's still something of a signifier. At the least, it's something that tells Clio not to make assumptions. Concern that comes from the part of her in the NOL that Clio doesn't particularly like.
She closes her eyes behind the mask. She sighs and inhales. All the same time, the mask smiles with a sharp toothed grin. Introductions also only help if the names matter. It may or may not matter later, but Clio can't live with too much focus on the future. "Thanks for letting me know," she responds to the wry lecture. She's more than familiar with tests of skill outside of view. That was her job. Up until it seemed to stop being that with the Golden Angel and the King of Fighters.
She starts to walk, at the backhanded insistence. There's nothing gained from obstinance in the moment. And she hasn't found much fun in mucking about with people. Part of her missed Abigail's company for that. But while she walks, she doesn't have a lot to say to challenge this Dahlia's assertions. Just wide red eye masks that stare without clear thought, and that don't always match the look of the woman wearing them.
A question on space. A question that seems a lot more talking shop than anything else. Clio looks back at Dahlia. A flattened eye and frowning expression comes across the mask. "I think you just described it," she says. "Liminal. We're close to the Boundary here." She runs her fingers along the chain that crosses her chest. When she draws her fingers back, there's a violet roiling energy that clings to her fingertips before it burns away.
"There are energies here. They don't flow so much as surround you. It feels like," she pauses in her talking, and the replicant face looks woefully puzzled in a way that Clio has copied from Taokaka's more confused moments during their teamwork stint. "Have you ever had a lucid dream?"
Dahlia would much rather listen than lecture. But in some cases, she's concerned that silence is anathema -- perhaps even worse than loneliness. The inability to sense others around her.
In this case -- she can tell that her attempts to bolster Clio's pride are not achieving the desired effect. Her emotional read, the tone of her voice, make for a jarring disparity with the sharp-toothed grin of the mask. And it's enough to cause her to reconsider the approach.
Luckily, the frowning mask begins to catch up with her read of the ex-lieutenant's mood, and Dahlia breathes a mild sigh of relief. Not to say that the ... terminology is familiar, though.
Dahlia hears a less familiar sound beside her; her eyes, wide with alarm, shoot over to what is little more than Clio's seemingly casual gesture. Her breath draws in as she sees the amethyst flames -- a rare look of surprise.
"Mm," she acknowledges. "... The 'Boundary?'"
Satisfied that Clio won't be trying to -attack- her with those flames, Dahlia turns her eyes back towards the 'view'. "It feels like the Backyard to me. But I must admit some gaps in my knowledge." She raises her left hand, as if holding a goblet -- and wavers, unsteadily. "To me, the energy feels... foreign, but not unknowable."
As for Clio's question, Dahlia offers an enigmatic smile with her answer. "Yes, I have."
Pride isn't something Clio has felt much. As a knight, as a soldier, NOL or student or Sacred Order. The timelines that were and are all show that to Clio St. Jeanne, her pride is in her actions, and that those actions are her nature. They are not things to brag about, just things that she has to do. And it fights viciously with the pangs of loyalty to the friends that helped her keep her morality. The ones she's had to leave behind.
The curiosity. The spark of digging through the arcane. The one that lead her to work on replacing her chain. The spark that drives her to learn about the plague of Metro Park. The ember that kindles the fire that allowed her to follow through to this Soiree in a castle that sits just on the spooky side of the reality street. That is what holds her now. And the surprise pulls at that.
She knows the term. She's heard both. And it allows her to nod. "It should," she says, "If you're familiar with chi." She presumes as much, given this Dahlia's previously showcased fighting knowledge. "They aren't so different, just, refinements."
Clio holds up a hand as though she's got a platter balanced on it. A few turns, a few mental notes, a working and complex sigils make an iridescent equation that appears as a disc over her hand. The small casting of a shield spell that she has modified to her needs in fights. It glows, shimmering with various colors. "It can be shaped, like chi, but it needs a little more guidance. It needs a formulae."
With her other hand, she draws more of that deep violet light and lets it drop out from her fingertips to the arcane 'plate'. It writhes like shadows cast by flames before it settles to burn in a ring on the inside of the arcane circle. "Potential, until it's given form, is entropy. It can be nearly anything if you can guide it."
She waves the free hand around a bit. "This place isn't just full of it. It's like it's made of it. Like a lucid dream. But it's not yours. I think at any moment it could be any shape. Any time. It's, kinda cool."
Once, long ago, Dahlia was taken on a guided tour of the Backyard. It was terrifying, yet educational -- and a formative step in her current Machiavellan worldview. For in her case, the Backyard presented to her a view of the future in which mankind was left to their own devices. And it was not good.
The aura here is the same -- omnipresent, but intangible, ineffable. Like a mild tickle at the back of her neck, but all over. The main difference is that, unlike the Backyard, this castle feels -real- with weight and volume, rather than a monochromatic caricature of Southtown.
"Vaguely," she clarifies, as to her understanding of chi. Dahlia is well-versed in psychic energies. These 'arcane' energies are very different to her -- similar to chi, but bearing enough differences that she'd be keen to learn more.
It is fortunate that Clio has volunteered to teach her. Dahlia pauses to study the 'platter,' inclining her head one degree. The reflection of the energetic glow dances in her eyes.
Cool. The word used was 'cool.' That brings a more honest smile to the manipulator's lips. "So would you say you're in someone else's lucid dream? Or do you feel that you have some capacity to alter the dream, to rewrite the terms of existence here?"
Dahlia draws in her breath, amber eyes following Clio's waving hands on a tempered delay. "I'm curious, though. Do you feel like you're in any sort of -danger-, being in a place of such fearsome potential?"
Clio's study is based in her lessons from the Military Academy. Moreover, she has realized many of those fairy tales her mother had read to her were based on such things. The heroes, the beast, the past that had and hadn't been. It was past and potential future. Because potential means any number of things. A chaos until it finds reality in the calcifying moment. As formulae focus primary entropy into arcane effect, so to does actions collapse mad creation to the beauty and horror of the world.
Clio's writhing violet flame atop her iridescent disc shifts to a vibrant blue. It glimmers the color of lapis lazuli with the flickering force of the containment spell. It is a familiar color and one the red eyed mask focuses on. The false mouth making a curious little circle. "This is someone else's dream, definitely," she says. "You might be able to wreck up the furniture, but this is someone else's house."
She dispels the flame and the circle. "Besides, if you have an invitation here, you're a guest. Things like this have rules. And I know how I look, but there are some rules you shouldn't break." She lowers her hand and the long sleeves fall again, the chain leash attached to that oversized collar clinks and hangs loose. "So of course this place is dangerous. You'd be stupid to not know that. But a lot of things are dangerous."
Dahlia listens, quietly. She can sense through tone that Clio might perceive her to be a threat -- small mannerisms, likely to be neutral in tone, but nothing in the form of an overt rejection of her lines of inquiry. It's something for the manipulator to watch out for, but nothing that merits a direct query -- at the moment.
Interrupting the learning process is just not something the Ainu woman wants to do right now. Clio St. Jeanne -- whether she wants to be called that or not -- holds a wealth of knowledge to her and the eagerness to share, and the Akatsuki leader is content to play along. She tilts her head towards the banquet hall below: "There's enough party guests on the floor below to distance the thought of disrespecting the venue. To say the least."
Dahlia offers a slow nod. Lacking a true highschool education, her language is imprecise; where she'd meant to ask about 'threat', she had instead asked about 'danger.' Whereas a pile of loose rubble threatens to collapse at any moment, a mountain is considerably more stable, having stood for millennia without incident. And yet, either bears rocks easily capable of crushing one's head.
To split hairs over such a matter, though, would further expose Dahlia's general ignorance in the arcane arts. Whereas she can sense emotions -- Clio does not express concern for anything else except Dahlia herself.
Dahlia assents with a simple affirmation.
"So everything is, for the moment, 'cool.'"
Dahlia falls quiet for a moment, looking over the balustrade at the other levels. She's content to -stay- quiet for a little, really -- to give Clio a chance to catch her breath.
"I'm sorry if I alarmed you, earlier. The method of transport here was... a little unsettling for me." She glances once more towards the conversing guests. "It still is, to some degree. I'm just glad to have found you."
She hums, softly. "And, I apologize for the bluntness, but... what name can I call you by?" She knows her -former- name. But she was never particularly clear on what the masked identity would be.
Identities are important, for Scarlet Dahlia.
Clio St. Jeanne is, at heart, a protector. She knows things, just enough to be aware of potential dangers that others might not be aware of. She cannot afford to play at chessmaster, to play at silly games of information control and study. To her, it's a waste of time and effort. She knows that this Dahlia knows of the Backyard. That she must be powerful enough to warrant an invitation. But St. Jeanne had faced down faeries before, and magic power doesn't always mean arcane understanding.
If this was redundant to the Dahlia, then so be it.
Clio's fine to join in the relative silence and to wander. The edge of the overlook is one thing, but Clio is also counting doorways, and looking for subtle shifts in perceptive symbols. It's while she's thinking on that that she's caught by the question. It's enough to make her laugh.
"You know who I am," she says, "Clio is fine." A wave of her hand in dismissal. It's an amusing prospect to keep a different name. She knows that her face and identity is out there. She knows the danger in the revelations. She has accepted that. She also knows that attempting to hide anything in a place like this would only lead to monstrous outcomes.
But still. . . doubts remain.
"Can I ask you where you got that suit?"
Dahlia's smile returns upon her hearing Clio's laughter. "Clio, then. It's such a simple question, I know. But there was a... certain amount of drama in that one fight, and I suppose I never got a clear answer." Beat. "Until now." She chuckles mildly, at that.
The Ainu woman, though, does not expect the question that comes next. A laugh escapes her, before a hand raises to stifle the expression.
Relaxing somewhat, she pulls at the sides of the coat, allowing it to billow out with pleasing effect. "Thank you for asking. The jacket is a custom design from an employee of mine. We have a production agreement with a tailor's shop down in Chichibu." Her mouth remains parted, as if she might be about to launch into much greater detail -- but decides against it, arching an eyebrow. "The vest, blouse, and slacks, though? Kanaoka Designs. Last I checked, they still have a studio in Southtown Village."
Dahlia glances over at Clio's mask. "Thinking of a new look?"
Drama. That's one way to put it. Clio shakes her head. The Kaka Clan mask has returned to its broad grin. "Drama, yeah, but that's mine." She tucks her hands into the front pocket of her hoodie. She's looking over the cut of Dahlia's suit. And moreover, taking in the information offered forth.
She may go on about her shop, but she can learn more about someone by needling and finding those things that other people stand out with. In this case the suit. Though Clio genuinely does want to know about the suit. In any case, it tells Clio that this woman has employees and a tailor. Her eyes narrow when she smells a secret in the source of the outfit.
"Maybe I am," Clio says. "Sometimes, with the way I live, it feels like I've been wearing this for years. And I'm thinking I could pull off a suit. Even if I am a bit short." She says this, being eye to eye with the woman across from her.
"The Librarium is a persistent bunch. I've had my run-ins with them in the past." Dahlia brushes off the front of her jacket, idly.
She considers briefly whether to mention that she doesn't plan to collect on bounties while here in the Rosalia. However, saying that so overtly would likely have the opposite effect. So she remains silent on that count.
The Ainu sees no strategic value in hiding the fact that she runs a successful business. It's... the -reason- for the tailored design, after all. Those who dress like professionals, you're more likely to be treated professionally. Manners and mannerisms are important in her line of work -- a point she considers as she passes a sidelong glance at the party guests below.
She doesn't, though, see any value in volunteering the nature of her line of work unrequested.
A finger taps against her chin as she considers her words. "While it might be self-serving to say you're not short... shoes can help, if it's a concern." She passes a long look at Clio, assessing her form as best she can considering the bagginess of the garment. She cradles her chin with her forefinger and thumb, nodding appraisingly. "I -can- honestly say you'd look good in a suit. Got the right bearing and demeanor."
She pauses a beat, grinning. "Might clash with the mask though."
Clio knows about her friends. She knows about the organization. Of all the secrets, the fact that in her heart she still holds to the ideals she was taught they had. That part of her has never wavered. She knows they'll be persistent. She trusts them to be. If there is anything that Clio St. Jeanne has had to learn in her time it has been to trust in others.
"I know shoes can help," she answers. "Sometimes I miss the old uniform. They made an awesome sound on floors like this." She chuckles, falling easily to a more casual, off hand demeanor. One that's easily dismissed as sleepy and sardonic. One she used to stare down the barrel of an angry mercenary king. And while her current garb is baggy, there's still clearly a shape underneath them. There are some parts of Clio that make the Kaka disguise more effective than she'd openly admit.
"I haven't had the time to my make up," she admits, the mask shifting to emote a playful cat smile. "With the ambient flow of magic and siethr here, it's a lot easier to just make the mask to the work."
"Yes, I believe that. While the looks of an outfit are certainly important, the sound of a good pair of shoes is so often overlooked."
Dahlia smiles. She has more to say on that, but from the way Clio is shifting towards a more casual demeanor, the mastermind opts not to provoke the dismissiveness that came with her earlier discourse. She instead is treated to the answer to the unasked question of how the mask can reflect her expressions. "Ah, that seems like both more work and less, all at the same time." She offers a small laugh, in punctuation.
Her palm lifts, as if she was about to start on another topic -- but then her eye turns towards the sound of a door hinge creaking open. A gentleman in a tailored suit -- and a ghostly pallor -- steps out of the door. And the way he's staring vacantly at Dahlia suggests he might be trying to interrupt -- without being rude about it.
"Ah, " she notes, glancing back to Clio with raised eyebrows and a faint smile. "Looks like dinner might be ready after all this time."
Dismissive, casual. For a moment, things are different. Clio St. Jeanne stands in a vibrant blue overcoat that conceals her under a cloak and belt and buckle. Her dark eyes and slight smile held firm, and a crisp beret sits on her head. The moment reflective of ways the wheels of fate can turn. And just as soon, it passes and things are as they are.
Clio nods "Glad someone says it," she says with a small laugh of easy, if enforced casualness. And with it comes a languid look to the side at the sound of the creaking, struggling door. One that still opens smoothly, and Clio cannot help but wonder if the sound is more affectation than legitimate. In this place, she expects the former.
"Yeah, looks it," Clio says about dinner. "It's not a good idea to leave the host waiting. Guests, after all. Only way to keep the host bound to their promises."
Dahlia notices a momentary shift in Clio's demeanor -- a pause, as she reflects. She can't tell if it had to do with the uniform, or the dinner guests, or... what, really. But she does take a moment to consider the way Clio has changed since their last meeting. She's still every bit the intrepid explorer who would dive headlong into an abandoned, potentially 'haunted' house, in search of treasure and adventure. Despite her appearance, and the general wear and tear of her Kaka-inspired garment, she's still the same person underneath. A Lieutenant of the NOL, with a full education under her belt, and a robust understanding of magic and seithr -- a valuable experience that Dahlia would never quite have the opportunity to benefit from. And yet, in the time since -- she'd thrown it all away, to become an itinerant. Just as Dahlia once was.
If it weren't for those vaunted 'ideals' gained from her training, she'd hire Clio in a heartbeat.
Here, and now, though, Clio and Dahlia are both hunters, of a sort. Equals.
Dahlia smiles, nodding towards the servant. And holding out her hand. "Yes. Let's see what lies in store for us, Clio."
Log created on 12:51:27 05/31/2021 by Clio, and last modified on 11:46:47 06/01/2021.