Description: 'Juri and Vega didn't part on the best of terms' -- that's putting it lightly. Shadaloo, not wanting want to lose one of their best assets, has sent out a tracking team led by Scarlet Dahlia to track down Juri...
It has been weeks since Juri wound up in this hole. Aside from the awkward, stilted conversations with Rock - who continues to bring her meals - she has barely had any interaction with another human being. For the first time that she can remember, Juri Han has nothing in her life to distract herself from her own thoughts. People said that hell was other people, but they were wronng. Hell was being trapped with yourself and no distractions. Sometimes she remembered the luxury she had extorted from Shadaloo and that just made things worse. It shouldn't be any surprise that the interior of the safehouse, at this point, is more or less a ruin. Whilst it hasn't helped her recovery in any way, destroying much of the furniture has at least helped vent some of her frustration. She's going to have to stop that, though. If she keeps it up much longer, she's going to bring the whole damned building down on top of herself. So even that outlet is denied to her.
Her wounds are healing at least. The prototype Feng Shui Engine is nowhere near the state-of-the-art device she was used to, but its power still gave her something to draw on and hasten the repair of a body that should have simply given up after the beating she took. The pain is still a constant nuisance, but it was no longer as all-consuming as it had been. She's well enough to plot and scheme... though her thoughts keep turning back to what she had. Survival was one thing, but it wouldn't be enough. She didn't just need to survive, she needed revenge.
She's also painfully aware that this 'safehouse' is under surveillance. Rock had told her outright that Geese's thugs kept an eye on him, and now she was sure they were the ones keeping an eye on her. They keep their distance and they think themselves very clever, but her predator's instincts know another hunter when she sees one drive by the house for the third time that day in their oh-so-stylish suits.
One of these days, she's going to make good on her promise to pluck out the eyes of the people who think they can watch her and her new 'friend'. Maybe that will be today, if they're stupid enough to follow her.
Because she simply can't stand staying indoors another moment longer. The door opens, and she steps out into the sunlight for the first time in weeks. It hurts her one good eye. The other remains hidden beneath a featureless black patch. Her hair is down, not the characteristic horns that she was usually so proud of. Rather than her more stylish outfit, she's wearing an oversized black hoodie and black dobok pants; the kind of outfit that looks pretty nondescript by Southtown standards. She's even wearing sneakers.
But she can't hide the sneer from her face as she looks around the street, trying to spy any of those worms who might be taking an undue interest in her. And then she's closing the door behind her and trying to hide her limp. This sucks. Every second step is a reminder of her weakness. But she's damned if she's going to sit around another second. She needs to start getting back on her feet. And that means a trip into town for supplies she wouldn't trust Rock to procure for her, even if she wanted to ask him for another thing. Being in the Boy Scout's debt was already disgusting enough without digging deeper.
For her part, Scarlet Dahlia has not had to forego the creature comforts of Shadaloo HQ -- she's been able to call the shots as she sees fit, delegating important tasks to the best of her junior officers' capabilities, only stepping into the battlefield as operationally necessary.
Casting a wide net for the capture of Juri Han is one of those. Satellite coverage managed to narrow the focus to Japan. Overhead UAV coverage brought her closer. But, while Shadaloo's technological capabilities may be considerable, some tasks require that extra personal touch.
Ten minutes ago, amber eyes stare at an LCD screen. A purple line sweeps radially across a map of the area, etching a renewed matrix of dots with each pass. "She'd just have to hide in Southtown, wouldn't she..." mutters Dahlia to no one in particular, tugging on the hem of her leather glove. "Sensors have gone blind with all the potentials."
With a huff, she turns to slide out of her seat. "Keep scanning. I'm goin' on a field trip."
Bottom-rimmed glasses temper the tusukur's gaze as she walks through the familiar city. A silver pen flies about in her left hand -- it seems in perpetual unbalance, as if it would fall free of her hand at any moment, and yet the subtle machinations of her finger muscles keep the object reined in. If it weren't for the ruddy scars covering the lower third of her face, Dahlia might look like a random redheaded twenty-something walking about the street; a short-sleeved blouse, loose-fitting slacks, a silver bracelet on her right arm, and a small messenger bag strapped around her shoulder. Like Juri, a pair of sneakers. She seems comfortably aloof on a midday stroll, humming softly to herself, ambling at a lackadaisical pace.
Until the target just so happens to limp into her field of view.
Thumb and forefinger clamp down upon the pen, halting its motion. Her lips curl into an asymmetric smile.
"Eyes on target," she murmurs, into a small microphone cleverly tucked away in her collar. Her pace remains just as calm and measured as before -- with only her focus changing, now being singularly focused on the eyepatch-wearing Juri.
Closer, still. "Well, hey -- is that who I /think/ it is?" she calls out with an added helping of saccharine.
Of COURSE Juri had to hide in Southtown. Juri is many things - she's lazy, violent, traitorous - but she's not an idiot. No matter what Seth and some of the more judgemental dolls thought of her, Juri knows what she's doing. More to the point, she knows how Shadaloo works, which makes her very good at staying beneath those particular radars. Southtown is the best place in the world for her to hide; a melting-pot of fighters to cloak her stolen Feng Shui Engine's signature, and so thoroughly contested that Shadaloo couldn't dedicate masses of resources to rooting her out without becoming embroiled in the kind of war that would sap an unacceptable amount of resources. So long as she didn't give the other powers in the shadows a reason to work with them, that is. The trade-off is that it's so perfect a hiding place that it's one of the most obvious for her to scurry to; but that doesn't outweigh the advantages.
But she's getting sloppy.
If she had her proper Feng Shui Engine, if she were on top form, if all the different data streams of the world were being filtered for her in her vision, she'd never have allowed Dahlia to sneak up on her. But until the woman addresses her, she is completely ignorant of her existence. She stiffens. Turns. And that one good eye narrows.
The sneer of frustration on her lips twists further, becoming a truly hateful snarl. Juri usually masked her worst impulses in an insouciant air of superiority; as though she were so far above Dahlia - and everyone else who worked for Shadaloo - that she simply could not deign to care about them in the least. There's none of that in her now. Perhaps there's that unwanted thought - the threat assessment that remains forever at the top of Shadaloo's file on their wayward project.
... ~an untamed animal that seeks to destroy and consume all that enters her sight~ ...
She doesn't try to deny it. She doesn't try to run, either. Instead the Korean woman raises her head, cracking her neck. This neighbourhood is comparatively quiet; it's one of the reasons she's bolted here to recuperate. Nevertheless, it isn't totally empty. A pair of young boys had been playing with a ball in the road; now one just stares at the pair of young women as the ball rolls past him and into his goal. A car with blacked-out windows conspicuously picks up the pace to get out of here at speed.
"Well, look who it is." She sneers, "The circus has sent the clown to come put down its lion, eh? Hah. I guess he didn't see you as enough of a threat to do away with just yet. Congratulations."
And yet. She doesn't attack. Her posture is all wrong for that. It might be the first time anyone in Shadaloo has witnessed Juri in a *defensive* posture. Her injured leg back, her shoulder turned subtly towards the woman. She knows this woman. If Dahlia really were here to kill her, she wouldn't have said hello. She doubts the kids in the street are secret thugs about to spring to assault her, either. And whilst her senses are nowhere near the preturnatural sharpness that they used to be... she doesn't feel any other immediate threat. Which doesn't make sense. Why announce herself and give up the element of surprise?
It's worth noting that the ball never actually made it into the net.
Dahlia's pinched fingers, lifted slightly to her right, made sure of that.
Not that the kids were paying attention.
Dahlia stares mutely back at Juri for a couple seconds. The very notion of Juri plucking that -particular- insult out of cold storage is enough to draw a more symmetrical smile upon her scarred face. "Clever. And it really is a shame you got on his bad side, we're hitting it off so nicely now."
She makes hardly a sound as she walks. And yet each step brings with it a growing kind of -pressure- in the air -- not something that would register on mundane instruments, but something that humans and fauna and alike would register on a subconscious level. Tension, for no apparent reason, as the 165-cm tall woman's physicality would scarcely move the needle on a terror scale.
Lazily, Dahlia sweeps her hand across her body. The ball rolls forward again, as if it had bounced from the net on a several-second delay: bumping up against one kid's ankle, it then rebounds into the other kid's instep. Small, tangible reinforcements to the clearly-heard reminders that their presence is far from unnoticed. If they continue to resist... she has tools to deal with that.
But none of the street's residents will succeed in stopping her walk. For Juri is someone she's been seeking for a while. The time to strike is now. She might not even -need- her guards. Her smile ticks back into one of arrogant swagger, as she reaches up -- and quietly pulls the microphone out of her collar, deactivating it.
And, a moment later.
Her smile fades into neutrality.
"He couldn't kill you himself. It's me who should be congratulating -you-."
A small chuckle follows, as she continues the slow, deliberate approach. The taekwondoka has time to flee. The acrobat would need time to hit full speed, after all.
"I suppose I should have prepared something dramatic to say, hm? Missed opportunity, I suppose. Kind of like you choosing to stand and ... not-cower..."
Was that true?
It's a subject Juri has worried about since she managed to collapse somewhere safe and catch her breath. Had he not been able to kill her, or had he let her get away? In the moment, it had felt like the former. The loss had been devastating but she'd pulled herself up from it and gotten out of there before he or his minions could finish the job. But in the cold light of day, does it feel likely? He'd taken the Feng Shui Engine from her. If she couldn't stop that, could she have stopped him killing her if he had wanted to? It's the kind of question that will drive her mad if she lets it. The sort of gnawing doubt that can eat away at a woman's confidence. She can't let it take root. If she does, it'll become a crack that will eventually widen and shatter her completely.
And she's the one who breaks. Not the one who is broken.
She doesn't run. Instead, her tongue slides out over her lips and she stares Honoka down. That one good eye focuses across the slowly diminshing distance with more calculation behind it. She COULD flee. But she's never been good at running away. Besides, her leg still hurts. Honoka might even be able to catch her. And knowing the woman as much as she does, most likely, she'd herd her into some kind of damned trap. No, if she doesn't have to run, she'll stand her ground. The best defense she has right now - she knows - is that she's still Juri Han. Her reputation is probably the most potent tool in her whole arsenal.
"That's close enough." She says, holding up her hand. "Let's not waste each other's time... *Dahlia*." The name is spoken with a certain force behind it. Underscoring it, even. There's a lot of ways things could play out from here, after all. If she chose the wrong words, it'd spiral into violence - into a fight that she wasn't sure she could win. That wasn't acceptable. But if she showed weakness, too much eagerness to back down... well. That'd equally signal the start to violence. There wasn't a soul in Shadaloo who wouldn't pounce on easy prey when the opportunity presented itself. It's about the only thing they all agreed on.
"We can go through the motions if you really want, but I think you're smart enough to know how that will end. Instead, how about a trade. I'll ask you a question, and in exchange, I'll answer one of yours. Anything you like." Her smile returns, showing far too many teeth. "I know how you like your secrets. You MUST realise that I turned over every dirty little rock in the place before we had our little... disagreement, about the terms of my employment."
Scarlet Dahlia is an acrobat, a juggler, a master of manipulation. She can stop whenever she wants to.
She stops three steps after the request; the jaunty bob of red hair swings forward from the suddenness. One thumb hooks into her waistband, as she settles her weight on her right foot.
For while Dahlia is -thoroughly- enjoying the shoe being on the other foot, she nonetheless knows that Juri's assessment is correct. And that while she -could- press the advantage now and visit any amount of pain upon the taekwondoka... the potential for retribution in some -later- form is worth consideration.
One hand raises, sweeping locks away from her ear. "Go on, then."
Birds caw in the distance, scattering. The revving of distant car engines can barely be heard.
Dahlia listens intently. She can be polite when she expects to benefit from such, after all. And when Juri posits that it might -not- end well...
She cracks a short, abbreviated laugh. "Between you and him, I'm not sure who's 'turned over' more computer hardware. I'll have to ask Marz sometime."
Settling herself into a look of more casual amusement, she shifts her weight to the other foot. She nods -- almost imperceptibly -- and then offers a tempered grin.
"Let's say I need some more time to think about my question. What's yours?"
Three steps beyond the point where she told the woman to stop. It's a testing of the boundaries that Juri notes, and she hates that she is having to make these concessions. A few short weeks ago she would have beaten her to within an inch of her life for testing her patience like that. But as she's noted, the shoe is very much on the other foot. And for now, it'll stay there. As frustrated as that makes her. It's as though the universe has decided to twist all the karma she has built up over the years back on her at once. It's not like Juri could ask what she had done to deserve all this; she's done enough to deserve far worse. But that doesn't make it any easier to endure these constant, niggling pinpricks of disrespect.
Tension is written over every inch of her. But she spares a moment to look to the kids. "Get out of here." She spits, and - barring any intervention from Dahlia - they will no doubt do just that. There's enough menace between the two fighters that it's likely only fear that has kept them here that long. But if she's going to keep talking, she knows that it's best to keep the number of witnesses to a minimum. The things they've been aluding to thus far can be ignored, more or less. Nothing that might bring the paranoid wrath of Shadaloo down on the heads of children.
That's not going to stay the case, though.
And when Dahlia has her undivided attention again, Juri cracks her knuckles, stretching them before her in a gesture of exaggerated calm. Before she hits her with the tidbit of the moment.
"What do you know about the Neo Doll Project?"
There's a good chance that Scarlet Dahlia would not be precisely where she is today if it were not for the microaggressions she's inflicted upon others in the past. She knows how human psychology works. And she's definitely tested the limits of how far patience can be stretched. Which is the number one reason she is keeping her distance right now.
A close second is that dealing with an enraged Juri just isn't as much fun as dealing with an inconvenienced one.
That the children were still present was not a fact lost upon her. She'd tested their determination, their fear -- and they showed just how terrified they really -were-. But now, if it weren't Juri barking at them to leave, it'd be her literally marching their feet for them.
Because, as shown with Dahlia clasping one hand in the other, drawing in her breath and dropping her chin, it's time for the grownups to speak.
"Hm, hmm." Her smile flares for a moment, as she completes gathering her thoughts. "I know some. Even I'm not allowed in the room where it happens. But... it's not hard to draw inferences."
She is, for the record, keeping her voice down. And while she is moving her mouth, and while the words are reaching Juri's ears -- the words don't match her lip motions, and the voice is not reaching Juri directly.
A psychic form of ventrioloquism, throwing her voice exactly to one target alone. Just in case someone -were- still listening.
Dahlia continues, "The Doll Project was an initiative to select the perfect subject from twelve target demographies, molding the subjects into perfect specimens, talented in all manners of martial and technical prowess. So any so-called 'Neo Doll Project' must continue along that trajectory."
Dahlia rubs her thumbs together. "But you can't just make a sequel with the same content as the first. You have to go larger. And that's why the collection of fighter DNA is crucial to the project."
Dahlia shrugs, spreading her hands to either side. "/I'm/ not going to be the one to tell him NESTS has beat him to the punch, but it's not like claiming 'first' counts for anything if you don't have product."
Hands clasp together once more, as an eyebrow arches. "Was that your question? Or was that just part one?"
Juri's concern for eavesdroppers only goes so far. Dahlia's voice-throwing trick is certainly useful; but it's not as though she cares a jot for the secrets of Shadaloo. Not any more. It's amazing how having a building dropped on top of you can change your priorities. Once, she would have at least bothered to keep her voice down, but now? Frankly, anyone still listening to this conversation has it on their head if they hear more than they were bargaining for. Far be it from her to stop them getting what they are asking for.
"Not bad. Let me fill in some of the blanks for you." Juri says, raising her hand to rest on her chest. "I, was the illustrious prototype. The first time our ~beloved~ Lord and Master tried to use his strength to empower someone else." That sneer of hers. Well. It says a lot about how she feels that particular effort went, even if she is, undeniably, far stronger than she ever would have been without his influence. Much as she might hate to admit it.
"There was just one flaw." She continues, holding up her finger. "I have free will. Something that the Doll Project took ~great~ strides to rectify. Not perfect, I don't think, but... if you've ever tried to hold a social conversation with the little brats you KNOW what I'm talking about. They're hollow. But the process still isn't perfect, is it? There's little... remnants, of the people they used to be in there. The FUNNY part, is that they can't handle the power like I can. Because I am still a person."
Juri's expression falls. And she's moving beyond what she knows, now, to what she's been able to glean, guess and infer. She believes it, but she knows that Dahlia is much better at this manipulative game than she is. She just likes hurting people, and lying is sometimes a part of that. Dahlia makes moving from one life to another look as easy as changing her clothes. She lives and breathes deception. So Juri doesn't try to deceive her. Not exactly.
"You know the phrase 'third time pays for all?'" Juri asks, rhetorically. "Well. Dear Leader's little project isn't about making clones like NESTs. It's about building something from the ground up. Something that can handle his power like me, but without that pesky ... individuality."
Juri lets that hang in the air for a heartbeat before she concludes her pitch. "So. Since you've offered. One extra question. Knowing that? What the HELL use do you think he'll have for any of the rest of you when he's done?"
Dahlia stands and listens with rapt intensity.
She could be dismissive. She could feign disinterest, roll her eyes, shrug and laugh -- and it'd all be one-hundred percent earned from all the petulance and impatience Juri has hurled about in the past.
But Dahlia does not; she stands and listens. For she's receiving a rare and invaluable glimpse into what makes the taekwondoka tick. And more importantly than that, she has something that Juri has been very reluctant to provide in any other circumstance: her attention.
She senses the lull, beyond which Juri ventures into the realm of conjecture. She demonstrates her attentiveness, nodding with a somber frown. "Some express more of that fire than others. But ultimately, without their will, they are capped."
The voice-throwing trick is over, at this point -- for there is no further point to it.
It seems to spark a tangent. Or maybe not. Dahlia's eyebrows lower. And while she has thoughts to offer, she waits until Juri leaves her another gap in which to do so. But before then, the bonus question.
Dahlia flashes a feral smile.
"Well, he can't kill /me/, for one. Not for another ninety-odd years."
Champions of Kombat claim that privilege.
Dahlia turns a palm skyward. "So he claims to gain mastery over all life, and seeks to use it to exterminate others...." The redhead offers a dismissive cluck of her tongue. "The problem with a lack of individuality is a lack of -creativeness-. If he truly plans to create what you believe, he locks the wonders of the human brain within a drab gray prison of uninspirational mush. Armies chanting the mantra of 'If I fall, another will replace me' are only good as cannon fodder -- never will they be any more than that. You push feeling people to the edge, force them to face their own -extinction?-"
Dahlia clenches her palm into a fist, shaking her head with a bob of her forelocks. "This is how you unleash their true power. This is how you forge Champions."
She shakes her head once more. "He will gain a number of successes. But he will not beat us. Don't kid yourself into thinking you're the only one who knows how to kick a few dirty stones over. There are -hundreds- of questions you've yet to ask me."
Once more, Dahlia settles a hand upon her waist, while raising her other hand as if offering a goblet for a toast. An instant later -- she drops the 'goblet', an illusive bolt of lightning crashing to the ground like a three-meter-long spear. The searing light remains visible for just a few seconds.
"Failing that... may the Gods instead sort things out." Her confident grin lasts almost as long as the lightning bolt.
"So you, now. You almost seemed concerned for -me-. And you've turned your belly to me for..." The goblet hand raises again. "... /what/, exactly?" Another grin -- as she holds position exactly three steps ahead of where she was asked to remain.
"My question for you, Juri: When did -you- grow a heart?"
Juri might not have the constant stream of interpreted data to confirm for her that Dahlia is buying what she's selling, but she doesn't... need it. It's interesting. It annoys her to be 'blind', but at the same time she is slowly becoming aware of how reliant she had become upon the device. It's easy to grow complacent, overly reliant on such tools. Having her crutch kicked out from underneath her isn't something she's ready to consider a good thing, but she can at least appreciate that she's holding her own in this without needing the cheat codes on. It's... good. To know that she's not completely useless without it, even if she still feels miserably weak.
Juri shakes her head just a little bit as Dahlia continues to speak, though. There are things she's not sure she really believes at all - 90 years of immortality? She's pretty sure that anything that lives can be killed. But she's not going to let herself be sidetracked by that. There's more important things to focus on here. "I don't think he's creating robots." She says, "They need to have will. Otherwise he'll just be repeating the Doll Project over again. I think..."
She gropes for the right words, and then the lightning bolt strikes the ground, dazzling her and making her curse briefly. Her hand clutches at her eyepatch as the Prototype Engine hidden behind it whirls madly into life at the sudden burst of energy, sending sparking pain shocking through her socket. She stumbles back a pace, "DAMNIT!" She spits, and when she wrenches her hand back away from her patch, her expression has lost much of its affected cool. Just like that, the focus is gone.
"Don't kid yourself!" She snarls, and that HATE is back on her face. Deep and vicious and oh-so-genuine as she stares Dahlia down. "His power doesn't WORK like that. You want to know why I'm telling you this? It's simple!"
Whatever she was going to conjecture about what she expects from this Neo Doll Project is momentarily forgotten. Erratically, she stalks forwards until she's just a single pace away from Dahlia. The woman's movements show that the wounds still linger; she's not bothering to even try and hide it. She favours her left leg, the ribs on her right side are still cracked, her shoulder is tender where it had been wrenched out of the socket. The Prototype Engine is helping; but if she hadn't had that stolen power to stitch her together... they probably wouldn't be having this conversation at all.
"HE. RIPPED. OUT. MY. EYE."
So much for secrecy. Juri screams those words, one after the other and -- well. There's two meanings there, aren't there? Because yes. Vega took back the Feng Shui Engine and has caused her all this frustration. But she didn't choose to have the Feng Shui Engine implanted in the first place. When that scared Tae-Kwon Do prodigy had been pulled from the wreckage of her lawyer father's car all those years ago, the decision had been made for her.
"Don't make any mistake here! I don't care if he murders every last one of you! I don't care if he burns down this whole world! What *I* want, is to watch him SUFFER. I want to make him HURT. I'll tear out his eyes and eat them in front of him! I'll hear him choke on his own blood and beg for mercy before I snuff out his life! I want my REVENGE. Do you understand?! I'll break him and have him MEWLING at my feet before I let, him, die!"
The increasingly frenzied exortations have her waving her hands violently by the end, as though she could throttle some imaginary Vega with her bare hands. Spit flecks her lips. This is not the oh-so-cool, self-assured, arrogant Juri that Dahlia has seen in Shadaloo's bases for so long.
Vega has wounded the beast. But he hasn't killed her. And whatever loathing she might have had in her heart before then has truly magnified in the aftermath of that decision.
The illusive lightning was a test. Scarlet Dahlia is a psion, not a stormcaller. The lightning would only be as potent as Juri would have wanted it to be. And Dahlia may have underestimated just how close Juri was to coming unhinged yet again.
Dahlia sets her jaw as Juri begins stalking towards her. The distance between compresses from the length of a sansetsukon, to the reach of a tonfa, to the span of a single breath. And never once does Dahlia break eye contact, or that ever-present hint of smugness in her smile. The strategist doesn't need to see the broken body to understand the effects on her motion.
What concerns her is that -other- eye. The one she can -feel-. Normally mechanical devices are just a buzzy annoyance to her. But the prototype Feng Shui Engine... that one's always fascinated her. The peals of energy rippling off of it tremble with a power that is -not- so unattainable, -not- so foreign. A terrible gift with a tragic cost.
"Why are you telling me this," monotones Dahlia in reply, playing along with the rhetorical shout. Though Earthrealm's champion holds her ground, she is still playing her part as a listener well, nodding with each permutation of meaning, reacting in subtle fashion to the ebbs and tides of Juri's frenzied speech. For she /does/ emphathize with Juri's position -- perhaps all too much.
Her answer is calm and measured, even as the winds of fury thrash around her.
"I get your meaning." Pause. "And you're not alone in that."
She waits a moment more, rigidly ensuring she still has the podium before continuing. One finger taps into her palm. "But don't think you have the monopoly on vengeance." Two fingers tap. Three, then four. "There are several others who would aid you. Possibly even clear the path."
Dahlia grins, drawing in her breath. Standing next to Juri's incandescent passion -- to bask -next- to it -- is intoxicating. And yet Dahlia's years of control allow her to do just that -- stand there, with only a slight redness beginning to surface beneath her scarred facade.
/ We need Rose. /
The three words are heard, but not spoken. But then she resumes speaking.
"So let's work on that first. Because I'm sure you don't want me to put the truth to the lie that you could stand a chance against me right now." She keeps her cooled grin, letting her thought hang in the air for a moment.
Her eyebrows lower. And the thoughts come directly again.
/ Ninety seconds from now, you'll be my captive. You'll need to play your part to avoid that. So when the time comes -- you'll need to sucker punch me as hard as you can. And run. /
Dahlia's lips cant to one side, as she makes an addendum.
/ A one-time service. Just for you. /
It is the telepathic message which, probably, stops this escalating into a full-on brawl.
The intrusion makes Juri recoil. For once, she is exposed. Like blowing across a raw nerve the whispers over her thoughts is a sharp reminder of her position. It isn't the content itself which brings her up short; Rose was a name she is... aware of, in a vague kind of way. The fact is, though, that if she were this furious a few weeks ago? If she were at her A-game, it would simply be impossible to reach her. Because she doesn't WANT to listen to Dahlia right now; she wants to be heard. Touching Juri's mind in the middle of her fury, when she was backed with the power of the fully operational Feng Shui Engine, would be like trying to open a barricaded vault with one's bare fingers. Now, though, Dahlia does it without any appreciable effort. And just like that, Juri is made conscious of how very much her injuries are pulling at her. She's overexerted herself, she's hurting, and ... she's weak. The realisation brings her snapping back to reality, back into control of herself which was threatening to slip all the way.
"I didn't come here because I love sushi." Juri says, acidly, as she draws herself back. The energy goes out of her motion like a candleflame blown suddenly out, and the depth of her misery is written over her face. She doesn't have the energy to keep hiding the drain that this has taken on her. Which only makes her feel worse. She despises that this woman is seeing her in such a state. She hates that she can't even maintain a solid front. She *needs* this to be over. If she doesn't stop being this pathetic wretch sooner rather than later, she's going to lose her mind completely.
"There's the Old Man, the Police Girl, even the Boy Scout. Not to mention all the greater powers that sniff around this place like dogs, and all of them would love to tear a strip out of him. I'm not an idiot. If I could do it on my own... I would have done it when I had the chance."
Her voice is, at least, back to being calm and level. That one good eye of hers stares Dahlia down evenly. She understands the message here, and that the woman at least wants her to *think* that she has another ally here...
... but that's the other side of the coin, isn't it? Because Juri might have her tragedy in her past, but no matter whether she would have chosen the path she walked at the beginning, she revelled in it throughout the journey. She still does. Inflicting pain and suffering is one of the few things that brings her genuine joy. She's a monster. She knows it, and she doesn't see the point in trying to pretend otherwise. So whilst she might have come to this place to find allies, and she might accept that she's going to need them to get what she wants...
Are there really that many people so desperate they would accept ~Juri Han~ as an ally just because the devil they are arrayed against is ~marginally~ worse?
Juri may feel that presence in her mind to be an intrusion. To Scarlet Dahlia, it's more of a penance -- like trying to hold a conversation with three different punk bands playing three different songs with three different tempos simultaneously. Selecting the right volume to be heard over the grinding howls of the prototype Feng Shui Prototype's feedback, without being -incredibly- rude, was... something of a challenge.
And that challenge takes every single -bit- of the red-tressed psion's concerted efforts; if Juri looked down to the Ainu's right hand, she'd see a thumb pressed white against her two fingertips.
Thankfully -- the message is short. And as Juri calms, Dahlia takes a half shuffle-step backward, drawing in her breath. "He's difficult to pin down. Perhaps his focus on this... /Project/ you spoke of will provide an opportunity for an ambush."
... Meanwhile, two blocks away, the rest of Dahlia's recon team is starting to close in. Six Shadaloo grunts, each carrying a psycho-powered stun rifle. Underpowered -- but their objective was not -capture- so much as establishing a surveillance network that would detect the taekwondoka's movements. They had started off with Dahlia -- and have redistributed into a rapidly-closing circle centered on the pair's current position. What they lack in brawn, they more than make up for in stealth...
Dahlia, for her part, clucks her tongue. "Well, this has been fun, but our time is drawing short." Her eyes begin to glow with a golden radiance, as a 3cm-wide 'ribbon' of psychic energy begins to unspool from her wrist, wrapping its way around her arm like an Asclepian snake. Small tendrils of violet lightning begin to ripple and undulate their way across her form. Benign for the most part. Once a performer, always a performer.
Her voice grows louder. Her tone borders on imperious; her smirk growing larger in size. "... Was there anything else I can help you with...? Before the hammer of our Leader's might comes crashing down upon you?"
Perhaps Juri isn't quite as useless as she has felt she is recently. As the grunts begin to close in her eye darts in one direction, and then another. Dahlia had been able to get the drop on her, but these fools? She can taste their fear and excitement on the air. Half of them are eager to prove that they have what it takes to take her out. The other half know exactly what she will do to them if they fail. Her tongue slides out over her lips, moistening them, and her fingers flex at her sides. What she wouldn't give to properly vent her frustration right now. But can she take the risk? It might sour things with Dahlia. Or perhaps the idea that there was something to sour in the first place was the deception. Perhaps all that talk was just buying time for the pieces to be lined up all in a row so that the game is tilted very much in her favour. One way or another, she's going to find out in the next few moments. Exciting.
"You're a lot more clever than I gave you credit for." Juri says, and whilst that's a bit of a back-handed compliment... it's still a compliment. Not something that the taekwonda was known to hand out.
"One of these days, when we're both on the top of our game, we'll have to ~play~ for real. I bet you make some wonderful noises when you're properly surprised." That smile of hers becomes truly laviscious at the thought, and then she's reaching up to grip her eyepatch. "But you're right. Time IS short. And I suppose I ought to send a message of my own. Just to make this look good, you understand."
It's a stupid thing to do, really. This prototype is as much a curse as it is a blessing. She hadn't exactly had time to make sure it was properly calibrated when she'd slammed it into her socket, and the damned thing is so oversensitive to any and all power at the moment that it practically buzzes through her neurons just being this close to the theatrical woman's little show.
But when she pulls the patch upwards, it's immediately obvious what she's talking about - and what she means. She can't turn the damned thing off. No longer obscured, the power source within the whirling engine is a spinning purple light, dazzlingly bright in her skull. The psycho power within it BURNS, responding to the promise of violence on the air - the approach of desperate soldiers and the Champion of Earthrealm flexing her muscles so close at hand.
If Dahlia had felt a shiver of excitement at Juri's frenzied passion before, well, this is the power that had dragged the woman back from the brink of death; the sadistic spite that sits at the core of everything she is. No longer refined, filtered and sharpened like a scalpel blade for her use at will - it is untamed, unfocused and unchained.
The beast is free from her cage.
Grunts are already closing in. Some reach the street corridor before others, dropping into low stances by parked cars or streetlamps. Others are still in transit. Not a one of them is what one could consider a "heavy" -- these are technicians, the type that would set up a forward listening post. Lord Vega demands a minimum of combat-worthiness from his minions, and these guys scraped by with passing grades in marksmanship and not much else. If Juri were at her peak she'd be unhittable, but perhaps there's more of a chance now...
One backhanded compliment deserves another: "And you've shown me more control than I expected to find." She's still wearing the same smug smile she usually does -- but it's tempered. Just that little bit.
Truth be told though -- Dahlia -wouldn't- mind a 'friendly' fight with Juri. Or even an unfriendly one, were things to come to that. The conflict between someone like Juri, taking an extant art to its theoretical maximum, and someone like Honoka who honed her own style, could result in a spectacular fireworks show for all involved.
"Naturally. Just try not to enjoy it /too/ much."
The lifting of the patch is like night and day. And even though Juri may not have immediately started in -- the response in Dahlia is incredibly potent. Her heart begins to race, as the urge to initiate thrums loudly in her ears. Fight or flight is the question. And -action- is the answer.
"You've already made your choice!"
She squeezes her hand into a fist. In an instant, her psychic potential flares up. The ribbon spills out with reckless abandon, spiralling out and then corkscrewing around her hand. "Rrrrghhhh....!" Her hand draws back -- and like a serpent's jaws, she snaps forward, aiming the terrifying point of her spinning auger at Juri's center mass! "Gggyaaaa!" The ribbon will rip and tear if it hits -- a shallow bite, but sharp nonetheless -- but in the event Juri avoids it, Dahlia will lash her hand outward, unfurling the ribbon a wide, electrifying arc!
There's a secondary consideration with the technicians, of course. Whilst Juri has little but contempt for the 'eggheads' that kept the more technical aspects of Shadaloo up and running she's more aware than most of the area they tend to really specialise in. These people will be collecting data as much as they will be trying to back up their boss. Whether or not they have the advanced tech trained on her position to do it in the best possible manner, or whether they are just going to be relying on their inherent knowledge of fighting... Shadaloo's technicians were the support staff who kept her Feng Shui Engine operating at maximum capacity for so many years. They know their business. And she doesn't want to give away more than she absolutely has to here.
The trouble is, she also wants to break Dahlia's jaw. What can she say? The woman's absolute certainty that she would be captured inside just 90 seconds is a bruise to Juri's pride, and she's taken a lot of damage there recently. Proving that she's still formidable beyond a shadow of a doubt would help her from going completely insane whilst she's stuck indoors.
The trouble is that Juri is NOT one of those fighters who gets stronger the more the chips are down. She's a sadist, not a masochist. The constant tug-tug-tug of her bruises niggles at the back of her mind and does nothing but infuriate her. Nothing works as smoothly as it should. Nothing feels as EASY as it should. So when she brings her leg snapping up to kick the ribbon away, she's not totally successful. The glancing blow sets it up for the counter, and the material slashes in a buzzing burn across her leg, making her hiss and recoil, more snake than spider.
Nevertheless, she's more resourceful than many in the organisation might have given her credit for. Most see her as a blunt instrument; but denuded of the easy power she has had access to for so long, she demonstrates a startling situational awareness all her own. She can't face Dahlia in a fair fight... so it's time to make the fight as unfair as possible.
Though it makes her grit her teeth against the protest of her injured leg, the woman cartwheels backwards and away from the lashing ribbon - behind a startled egghead who had thought himself closing at a safe distance. She's still so *fast*. And in an instant she has her arm wrapped tight around his throat, spinning him to act the part of the human shield against the first volley of fire from his desperate comrades.
"Thanks for the help. I owe you one~."
And she reaches around to pull the trigger of his weapon - the spray of stun-rifle fire she directs in Dahlia's direction is hardly something she expects to be a real threat to the woman, no more than she'd expect such weapons to be effective about her, but it might just keep her at range as she takes her hostage.
Dahlia spends a fair amount of time thinking about her phrasing in advance. But even then, there can be imperfect, unintended shades of meaning; a double-barbed word might accidentally grow a third barb, or a forgotten word could completely transform the meaning. Such are the perils that might occur when divine purpose is foisted upon a twentysomething highschool dropout.
It's clear, though, that the meaning was communicated, however inexpertly; Scarlet Dahlia can indeed lead a dance of deception. And if it happened to stoke Juri's anger a bit more than intended, well, that's just a more convincing act for her six underlings.
One of whom has just become a target. A moment later, five wavering dots are painted across Juri and the technician -- though -none- of them remains painted in place long enough for the shots that follow to hit their respective marks.
Dahlia sets her jaw, staring balefully back at the struggling technician. The psychic ribbon draws back into her arm, gently dissipating into motes of red and purple light as she watches on. For a moment, she briefly contemplates animating the technician's arms and legs with a functional combat vocabulary. Against a lesser martial artist, the surprise technique might work. Against Juri, the technician stands a nonzero chance of retaliatory decapitation.
But just as the seasoned tactician is about to follow up with a volley of her -own- projectiles, Dahlia finds herself confronted with a semi-automatic spray. Squinting her eyes mostly shut, she throws her arms before herself, gritting her teeth as aluminum slivers slice a hatchwork of red lines across the bare skin of her arms. It stings -- and against someone with less adrenaline, and less attentuation, it'd be enough to end the fight.
As the technician struggles to win himself some breathing room, Dahlia rises back to her feet. With an overacted scowl, she takes two quick strides forward before stopping to lash her right hand forward. Her hand glows: a roiling furnace of soul energy --
But the true effect comes from -behind- Juri, as a recycling canister is brutally wrenched from its moorings, exploding with a chaotic assemblage of aluminum cans. Some would hit the ground -- proving to be navigational hazards for Juri's escape -- but the real threat would be a large -clump- of the cans that hurtles for the center of her back!
It might not weigh much, being aluminum.
But it's the size that counts in this case: nice and showy.
And further proof positive that Dahlia is making at least a -token- effort to stop Vega's (decidedly not) number one fan!
It's an interesting tactic to take against Juri. In the past, the Feng Shui Engine made such attempts at deception more or less pointless. The constant stream of data, interpretation and prediction it provided to her was a large part of her approach to combat. The fact that the large mass of cans strikes her clean in the back with no indication that she was even aware of it is a pretty big clue about how DISTRACTING the damn thing has now become. The prototype, roughly implanted, with no technicians to balance and refine it, actively makes her senses worse compared to when she kept the eyepatch down. On the other hand, letting the power flow out and respond unhindered is the only thing allowing her to keep moving anywhere near as proficiently as she is in her current state, so it's definitely a tradeoff.
Jerking with the impact, Juri's teeth grind together and she spins a quick kick into the back of the unfortunate man she had been using as cover, sending him stumbling forwards as she backs off, keeping as many of them in her field of vision as she can. This sucks. This *really* sucks. Not just the fresh, throbbing pain in her lower back from the impact of the trash, but the knowledge deep in her heart that Dahlia is still taking it easy on her. None of this is the kind of combat she enjoys. Sure, she could brutalise the technicians on her way out, but even the thought of putting them in traction is cold comfort.
The Prototype Engine is really starting to burn, too. She can feel it starting to dig as it whirs madly in her socket. The migraine she can feel building from her skull literally vibrating is going to be something special when she is holed back up somewhere safe. But she can't stop yet. Not yet. She needs to pull a little deeper, go a little further, send a message.
Breaking into a run, she tries to ignore the lopsided nature of it thanks to the weakened leg; charging right towards Dahlia, it's a bold strategy. The technicians are forced to hesitate; the approach she's taking puts their boss right into the line of their fire, and who amongst them has the guts to risk a shot when it might hit the person they'll be sharing a ride home back to base with?
Of course, the fact that she stomps down HARD on the body of the sprawled former hostage as she rushes in goes without saying. What's stranger is that as she comes within the final foot of the other fighter, she suddenly swings her leg out and there's a flare of power --
But not a single thing happens.
Dahlia doesn't -have- to take it easy on Juri. She's just doing so because of the possibility of preferential treatment from Juri later. Naive? Perhaps. But if there is one thing she has learned to value in her time in the underworld, it's having a multitude of options.
But... still. The schemer hinted at the necessity of a knockout blow -- and her own personal preference to remain at range is getting in the way of that objective.
Dahlia reaches into the satchel on her back, a languid smirk across her face at the notion of actually pulling out her treasured sansetsukon. The three-sectioned hasn't seen much use lately; its polished metal chains gleam as it is brought into the light. Weapons shouldn't be show pieces -- and as Dahlia drags the chains between forked fingers, she has little intent to keep it as such.
It is ready, when Juri closes the distance, bringing her leg in for a swing. Lacking precise familiarity with the specifics of the terrifying taekwondoka's techniques, she snaps the sansetsukon taut, raising it to her side as if to snare the kick -- the explosive power of which is never actually -tested- against the strain of the sectioned staff.
There is only a moment of hesitation -- an abrupt frown on Scarlet Dahlia's scarred face to signal her confusion -- before the Ainu herself moves into the next step of the dance. "Awkward problem to run into..." she comments, assuming the -lack- of action was unintentional. But even as she speaks, she's whirling forward; with one end of the staff in each hand, she lurches in to take advantage of the close proximity. The tips of the staff are wielded like small clubs, rapid-firing out a one-two-three strike, then stepping forward to deliver a fourth and more powerful staff strike!
The blows strike true, and that sucks even more. Juri isn't even sure if Honoka is trying to pull her punches. She hates that she can't even gauge whether that is the case right now, but from a data perspective the Prototype Engine is useless. Three blows scatter across her upper body, and she tastes blood all over again when the powerful strike lifts her from her feet. It goes without saying, but Juri is NOT the sort of person who takes punches just because they sell a story. Those hits were won honestly, and they definitely hurt. She's going to be paying for that in the morning.
But she's not done, either. She controls the crouch in which she lands, and then there's the surprise. Because whilst it had looked like Juri had failed to summon that energy, in reality she's calling up the only thing the Prototype Engine is undeniably good for; power. But rather than channelling it outwards, she's gathered it deep into the core of her being, letting all that Psycho Power mingle with the rising fury in her gut. Dahlia had seen a glimpse of that before, when the talk had pushed Juri to her limit, but let's be honest... between psychics, its never talk which demonstrates anything to its fullest.
'Drilling Windmill'. The move isn't anything new, but what certainly is new is how quickly Juri snaps the pinwheel kick out of nowhere. In one instant she's just got her feet beneath her, and in the next her heel is arcing upwards as she spins vertically to crash her foot into the bottom of Dahlia's chin and send the woman skyward with as much force as she can muster. The other interesting thing to note here is that the power that surges out of her along with the kick isn't the purple that had defined much of the colour palette of her violence before. This energy is a ghostly, pale white and inky black - two colours at polar opposites and streaking alongside each other in this instant.
Because this power might have come from the Feng Shui Engine, but she's drawn it into herself, stolen it, and converted it into her own power. Clarity of purpose. Death. Strength of will. Darkness. And very definitely *Juri Han* using the Psycho Power, rather than the other way around.
Those who know Scarlet Dahlia would know she always layers one obvious deception above two or more others. Even on a good day, it would take something like the true Feng Shui Engine to properly gauge her commitment to a given fight. Moreso now -- for leveraging the baton-like strikes of her sansetsukon allows her to contribute equal portions of apathy and good showmanship: it might look real, and -feel- real, but the inanimate objects are doing all the work.
The schemer's heart is barely in it.
At this moment in time, she -wants- Juri to win.
And she's giving the best show that she can for the clueless techs in her posse.
Will it end up hurting Juri now, or in the morning? Probably. But while the Twilight Star Circus' feature performer may be a good actress, she doubts that Juri is. And that means real injuries are more convincing than fake ones. And if Juri were any -less- of the exceptional fighter Scarlet Dahlia knows her to be, it'd be a gross excess of force. Hitting 'for real' is the only way she can actually do honor to this pantomimed display put on for Shadaloo's benefit. Her psychic perception can tell at least one of those techs is recording.
And with that in mind -- and with the knowledge that true pain will succeed in driving Juri to a truly convincing state of combat readiness -- she knows she can inspire the best in her. The sucker punch that she requested. And when Juri crouches -- Dahlia steps in, raising one section of her three-sectioned staff high.
With Dahlia stationed above her in that one instant, only one eye would have a good vantage point of her face.
And it would see Dahlia wink back at her.
The psycho-boosted kick crashes right into her chin, slamming it upwards. A howl of pain erupts from her throat. It's a good, -solid- hit -- and it's enough to juggle the juggler into the air. The waves of ghostly psycho power that resonate off of Juri continue to batter Dahlia higher and higher. And it becomes clear that the stress is too much for her -- for even as the shockwaves bleed off, the red-tressed tusukur's body is limp as it falls back to the street. She rolls laterally once she hits the ground, tumbling off to the side. Whether by the prototype Feng Shui Engine, Juri's own power, or Dahlia's acting chops -- the threat radiating from the senior Shadaloo official is, for the moment, placed on pause.
Technicians stare at the sight, jaws slack in awe. Juri's talents are infamous back at the Shadaloo headquarters, and no less impressive in person. And if it weren't their -job- to apprehend her, they'd surely be running in terror.
Of note, at least two -do- run in terror, all the same.
But at least two of the technicians still standing are ready and willing to do their job. They take aim with their stun rifles, homing in on the taekwondoka. "Stand down! Come quietly if you know what's good for you!"
The real question is: with Scarlet Dahlia face-down from a Senpusha to the chin, is their marksmanship training sufficient to hold true to that threat?
Juri's body count is definitely up there. She's killed people in Shadaloo for getting on her bad side. She's killed them because she's in a *good* mood. Human life has never seemed to hold much value for her, and the concrete evidence that she's not nearly so helpless as they might have hoped does - understandably - give the remaining goons pause. It's a good thing, too. Because Juri is hurting badly. Channeling that power has reignited old wounds in her that she had thought had healed completely. The injuries that Vega inflicted on her with his psycho power seem only to grow more hungry and intense in her as she calls up her own strength to put Dahlia down. Forget the supplies that had seemed so important when she stepped out her front door, now she just needs to find somewhere she can safely collapse and recuperate. She's not helpless, but she IS injured, and even putting on this show is far more strain than she ought to have put herself through.
She looks, disdainfully, at the woman collapsed at her feet. And maybe, later, she can claim that she was only selling the show that much harder when she steps ON Dahlia rather than over her as she takes a step towards the pair of technicians...
It is a wild sound. Loud enough that it rings off the walls of this quiet suburban paradise in a way even the sounds of battle haven't managed to achieve. Juri's laughter is not a pleasant noise. It is mean, and vicious. It speaks of the deep-seated spite that sits in the heart of the psychotic woman. It's true joy, certainly, but she can only ever find joy when someone else is suffering. It's the kind of laugh that would work so much better if her hair were back in its characteristic style, but even without it, she still looks every part the demon as she pulls the eyepatch back up and silences the insistent raging buzz of the Prototype Engine in her skull.
"You really think you can threaten me?!" She laughs, cracking her neck. "Pathetic. I just downed the only one of you who had even the slightest hope of touching me. So here's what you're going to do. You're going to point those guns at each other, and you're going to shoot your friend."
Another step forward, and her smile broadens, showing far, far too many teeth.
"Because if you do that, I'll just leave. But if you DON'T. I'm going to take my time with the pair of you. We'll ~play~. I'll. Have. Fun."
Her tongue slithers out over her lips, her one good eye staring down the two unfortunate goons. She doesn't even know if she has it in her to deal with them in reality, but she's absolutely confident that she doesn't have the speed to make a clean getaway and be sure nobody tails her. So this is going to have to be the gamble she puts all her chips on. She can, at least, make it sound good as she asks.
"So, boys, what's it going to be? The easy way, or the ~fun~ way?"
Log created on 10:00:09 09/22/2022 by Honoka, and last modified on 16:06:28 10/03/2022.