Description: Not long after her deadly encounter with Sergei Dragunov, the Scarlet Dahlia makes use of her prior arrangements in Shang Tsung's Palace. As doctors work to restore the use of her legs, Zach Glenn arrives. Differentiating the Dahlia from her circus alter-ego, though, might prove to be a challenge...
Not all rooms in Shang Tsung's Palace are created equal. Some are packed chock-full of bunk beds, cramming as many inhabitants as possible into a confined space. Some are more spacious, the bunks spread out and allowing a modicum of comfort. Some are even suites for individuals, affording the maximum privacy for a person brought here for the sole purpose of wagering their life for the fate of a world.
And then there are the rooms large enough to accomodate six, but housing only one.
This one was a 'donation' to the Scarlet Dahlia. A reward, for having the foresight to sweet-talk a bunch of willing accomplices into trading their comforting confines to a more worthy cause -- preferential treatment, high-risk opportunities, and... home cooking.
Pots of a delicious beef stew simmer away in one corner of the room, kept hot by a gently burning torchiere. The aroma is unmistakably pungent, filtering throughout the expansive hallway for quite a ways, though the former six-occupant room is still quite a distance from the mass barracks. Within the open door of the room is a heavy black curtain; within it, it appears that two people are in the midst of providing medical assistance to a condescending primadonna.
"Listen up. I've done this before. If you don't set it right now, I'll be limping the rest of my life."
There is a sudden buildup of psychic pressure, to those who can sense such things. And the woman's next words sound almost trancelike in comparison.
"Fine. I'll do it my damn self." A loud crack is heard afterwards, along with an obvious gasp of pain, followed by a much more pleasurable sigh of relief.
The pressure releases, and footfalls can be heard as the figure steps backwards.
"See? Now you've learned something."
Zach had been looking for Honoka since he had heard she was lined up for a fight against Sergei Dragunov. He had asked around, talked to some of the people she had been... pep-talking earlier, to find her new arrangements. The scent of the stew, though, was as much of an indicator for Zach as Honoka's mental presence. He stops in the doorway when the pair of guards move to block him. Honoka will likely hear metal striking lightly against metal as Zach's right hand lowers to one side. Glenn fixes one man with a steady gaze, no emotion readily visible on his face. As if the guard in front of him were not a person, but a thing barely worth noticing.
"I'm here to see the lady," he says in a flat tone that promises nothing at all.
The guards, predictably, fall silent as the Demon Slayer approaches. They carry bladed weapons at their hips, but they have the good sense to keep them holstered, recognizing the hunter for his kombat potential if not by reputation alone.
When metal clanks, the sound of motion within the confines of the curtain stops completely. The moods of the people within the curtain shift, but not in any unified sort of fashion.
The guards, however, begin to shake their heads in a negative fashion. The lack of signaled emotion is reflected in the fortitude of the men with weapons at their sides. It's clear that Zach knows what he's doing. But it's equally clear that -any- person on this Island of Kombat could pose a similar threat -- and a more forceful one at that.
Everyone's got to earn a paycheck.
The pause lasts one second. Two. Three. And then in the midst of the fourth, the voice calls out from behind the curtain.
"Let him in."
But first, the guards outside shut the mahogany doors closed behind Zach. The procedure is scant hours old, but has been thoroughly drilled into the Dahlia's latest employees.
The curtain is parted -- two doctors in pale beige robes stand within, simple cloths covering their faces. Blood is flecked all upon the beige robes -- the best approximation of surgical scrubs that could be managed with the ancient acoutrements of the Island.
Zach's attention will likely be centered upon the figure in repose upon the raised cot, however. Raven black hair has been tied into a high ponytail, draped over the edge of the bed. Only three scraps of cloth prevent the woman from being completely indecent: wide bandages wrapped firmly about her upper torso, a decorative golden sash and silken white lingerie about her lower - all that remained intact of the Akatsuki Advisor's formal attire. Upon the golden sash is a honeyed yellow gemstone, glistening in the light.
The reason, though, is the number of severe wounds carved into her body. Scar tissue abounds upon her knees. A number of large incisions have been made upon her left shoulder, her midriff, her legs, and her arms -- these have been sutured and bandaged where allowable. The work is mostly complete, and as professional as possible given the substandard medical tooling.
The woman's piercing gaze, filtered through blue contacts, meets Zach's green eyes. Though her eyes meet his, her next words are directed to her medical attendants.
"Fifteen minute break, gentlemen."
A terse half-smile is the only explanation offered to Zach, as the hired help dutifully vacates the curtained-off area. Two of the dismissed pause to ladle bowls of stew for themselves.
Zach stops short when he sees the extent of the injuries as his nostrils flare wide as he takes a deep breath to steady himself, the only outward reaction he has given to anything since arriving at this room. Zach's clothes are clean and serviceable. It's not hard to deduce that the black military-style outfit and gear are something like a work uniform. The cutlass, similar to the one he used for King of Fighters, rests at his left hip. The odd accessory, the source of that odd klinking and clattering, is a metal shackle on his right wrist. There is a single chain link dangling from the band, and a single yellow sapphire set into the outside of the metal band. It also pulses with the faint stirring of power.
He doesn't say anything at first, taking a pair of brisk steps towards Honoka before reaching for her head with his left hand. Cupping the back of Honoka's head he pulls her in before firmly, passionately, kisses her on the lips. It's not gentle; the emotions behind it are too fierce, too ardent for that. After a long moment, he pulls away.
"Thank God you're okay," he breathes, even as he looks the love of his life over and noting that she's not really okay so much as she is alive. In this place, at this time, one moight resemble the other. He doesn't ask after Dragunov; if she wants to volunteer anything on the final fate of the "White Angel of Death," that would be up to her.
As Zach gets closer, he might be able to tell that the woman's face did not escape a beating either. Bruises, cuts -- aggravated blemishes that have been expertly smoothed over with makeup. Recovery time would be longer, undoubtedly, but keeping up appearances was judged much more important to the Yakuza Advisor.
Such it is that when Zach draws close, a glimmer of uncertainty flickers across the artificially blue eyes. Her lips press together tightly for a moment, as she loses herself in thought.
Part of her doesn't want the attention.
That part is vetoed wholeheartedly as soon as the familiar scent crosses her nostrils. Even with the copious amounts of drugs coursing through her system, she still finds it difficult to resist the American's charms.
That said -- this was not the shining example of passion that Zach may have expected it to be. Each motion hurts, even despite the painkillers. Each forceful touch is... willingly accepted in the name of the release she'd been longing for.
She stares up at Zach as he pulls away. He will note a set of conflicting emotions within the young woman -- the urge to slap him, tempered with... respect, and gratefulness.
The overly-exposed Dahlia seethes. Her voice -- no longer the authoritative barking of before -- bears a slight rasp to it.
Every single thing she does hurts. The fact that she's still in one piece, though...
When she speaks again, it is forced -- a need to say -something-, anything to distract her from the pain.
"... Have you entered Kombat yet?"
Zach takes another deep breath, perhaps a little shaken by what he just /did/. He saw, he /knew/, that his actions would cause at least as much discomfort as it would pleasure. So... why had she allowed him to do that? For that matter, why did he /do/ that in the first place? The second question weighs on him heavily before she speaks.
"In this place," he says softly, as he pulls a stool over, "I'll take it." He sits down, considering his actions for a moment before lifting his right arm up to show Honoka the shackle.
"Yeah," he says. He's not about to be coy; he very nearly killed Aranha by accident in that sewer complex. He flicks a glance at Honoka's own gem by her side. "It's where I got this thing. Came literally out of nowhere. It..." Zach takes a shuddering breath as he remembers the thrill that ran through him when it was first used, "There's power there."
The person before Zach is unmistakably Honoka Kawamoto, star juggler for the Twilight Star Circus. The hair is different, the eyes are different, the scar tissue definitely wasn't present on their last rendezvous, but every other landmark upon her body is exactly, 100% identical to that of the engram residing within Zach's memory.
The personality he is currently talking to, though? It's not a perfect match. The underlying rhythms are there, the cadences similar, but there is a bass dirge overlapping behind all of them, a droning that is easy to ignore when the Ainu woman smiles.
It's just that she's not, well, smiling. Not anywhere near as much. Some of that could be attributed to the drugs, but not all.
It's like trying to have a conversation with someone while a riveting action scene is playing at max volume in the next room.
And yet, this is not the case in the room with the Ainu woman now. All other conversations in this room are calm and subdued. There is no aural dissonance -- just the psychic kind.
The dirge subsides, slightly. Weighted down by the force of Honoka's presence.
"... Mine appeared on one of my voyages through the castle." Her voice is calm, tentative, but unmistakably familiar to Zach. "It's... yeah. Power. Good word." She flashes a brief smile -- that somehow manages to come across as curt.
Her mouth opens, then closes slowly, as she shakes her head. She closes her eyes -- it's too painful to keep them open with the thoughts she's about to entertain.
<< You didn't give up on me. >>
Zach leans back slightly, eyes and mind questing for something... it's familiar, but hard to place. He doesn't even really know what he is looking for, just that it is there and that he would recognize it if he saw it. He looks a little tired, a bit hurt at the differences he is experiencing combined with the thought Honoka entertains. He settles his elbows on his knees.
<<Why would I? I thought I told you that I had made a choice.>>
Honoka sinks into the shallow of her bed, grateful for having a moment of actual repose after a relentless series of medical operations. Casts may be required for long-term healing, but she was insistent on delaying those options as long as possible. Her less-abused hand rests upon her stomach, narrowly avoiding the numerous bandages and sutures in said territory.
<< Everyone here is scared, Zach. If they work with me... there is hope. They wouldn't listen to me if I didn't... if I didn't make my point clearly enough. >>
The dirge had subsided. But now it grows even more discordant, a bit disruptive. Honoka's face betrays some signs of the emotion -- a slight tic in the cheek, a twitch of the eyebrow. The hand upon her tummy clasps tightly as she draws in her breath.
<< I have to be strong in front of them. The weak me... the indecisive me... will die otherwise. >>
<<Everyone here should be /terrified/,>> Zach replies without rancor. He's got experience, both personal and second-hand, of dealing with world-ending threats. And Mortal Kombat terrifies /him/. He starts to reach out with his right hand, hears the jangle of metal against metal, then thinks better of it.
He reaches out with his left hand, gently covering the one on her stomach, grasping her hand lightly. <<It will help,>> Zach decides, <<If you are on your feet sooner rather than later.>>
His eyes go to hers. <<Will you allow me to help you?>>
Honoka does not fight the motion -- she can sense his intent, even with her eyes closed. Two strangers just left the room -- strangers with the signature of her psychic persuasiveness. Surely, Zach has garnered more trust in the woman than either of those two.
Her communication is plain -- and the discord diminishes. The offer of healing is not one that she is in a position to refuse.
<< Of course. >>
The manacle was not missed -- indeed, the scintillating gemstone on her hip seems to respond with a brief uptick in light whenever it comes close, bringing about a faint positive shift in the emotional state of its wearer. But rather -- she does not feel the need to say what bothers her about such things.
Both of them -know- what such trinkets can do, after all.
<< ... The Russian. >> The bass frequency flutters. << From Daniel's team. You... know of him? >>
Honoka is /always/ allowed to refuse. If she had turned the offer down, for /any/ reason, Zach would have left it at that. In all honesty, though, it bothers Zach to see her like this. It does not matter that she has entered, apparently willingly, a tournament where more than life or death are on the line. Maybe it makes him something of a pig, that he does not like to see the woman he loves injured to this extent.
<<Only his reputation,>> Zach considers. <<It would not surprise me to learn that he is a psychopath.>> Zach goes completely silent for a moment as he starts to align his thoughts and energies with his intent. It is then that Zach hears that voice again.
*I can help you with this,* it says to him, on a level that even Honoka would be hard pressed to hear. *Hell. You learned the basics of it from me.* Zach's hand tightens ever so slightly on Honoka's, the only outward sign of his surprise. *We don't have time for this,* Zach sends back. *Stop distracting me. I almost killed Aranha because of your 'help.*
The voice goes silent after that and Zach goes to work, sending a gentle wash of his own energy into Honoka to help her smooth out the injuries and pains inflicted upon her by the Russian.
Honoka has seen what dated medical science was able to mend in her body, and without gaining access to some higher-technology equipment, she's not optimistic about the chances of her walking again. Zach, though... he's able to make everything better with a touch.
At first, her skin is warm to his touch, though the situation reverses almost immediately once he begins flooding her with his own psychic energy, assisting her in a now-familiar fashion. The reassuring, rejuvenating energy ripples through her, putting the pain at ease first, and accelerating the body's natural healing processes.
An eye opens, though, at the private conversation which she is -not- privy to. She can't tell that one is taking place, of course -- but she can sense the disturbance such as it was.
<< If this man was in league with Daniel, is it really any mystery how much I distrust him? >>
Honoka closes her eyes, diverting a bit more of her attention to guiding the waves of healing about her. The surface wounds begin to seal closed, the fresh sutures start to work their way upwards.
Her last thought comes after a moment of silence. And then, suddenly, it is blurted out.
<< He shot himself. In the head. >>
There is... definitely the sensation that she is hiding something, as the bass dirge becomes a bit stronger. Perhaps... drawn out by the proximity of the cold manacle to her side.
<<Daniel may not have had a choice in the matter,>> he replies. <<And you don't need /me/ to tell /you/ about how vile Russian policy can be.>> Zach works a bit more, taking a long breath as Honoka tells him what happened to Sergei.
The gentle flow of power does not abate, does not skip when he realizes that she's not being completely honest. He simply looks at her, a bit sorrowfully, without withdrawing his current. <<I do not think he would have taken his defeat lightly,>> he thinks after a moment. <<And looking at, feeling, your wounds, I doubt you would have been in a position to argue the point.>> He looks a Honoka, his eyes welling up slightly. The Empress may have wanted the man dead. Honoka might have wanted the man dead. Somewhere in there, however, there are regrets. Or some other thing Honoka does not want him to see.
<<You did what you felt you had to do,>> he decides, <<And you did it with the tools you could use. I'm just sorry that you felt pushed to it.>>
<< Russians aren't monsters any more than Japanese are monsters. Race is not so color-by-numbers. >>
The response is offered quickly, with no wiggle room to budge. Honoka is a product of the Ainu way of life, but any comparison with the -other- Ainu woman upon the island would show how fallacious a character study based solely upon race or creed would be.
She does not, however, aim to contest the point any longer. Zach surely already knows how much stock Honoka places in judging someone on the conditions of their birth.
Zach's eyes well up. Honoka senses the sentiment -- and indeed, on any island but this one, she might find her eyes welling up as well. If the wounds were not so fresh, perhaps.
<< I'd do it again. >>
Her expression hardens, her eyebrows knit close. The minor chords grow louder, more malevolent.
<< He jeopardized our chances of success. If he lived, Zach... I saw the look in his eye. He'd kill someone else, someone we -need-. Then again, and again, till none are left. >>
Honoka opens her eyes, sensation flooding through her other hand. She lifts it up, places it atop Zach's.
<< A psychopath. A remorseless killer. He could have been an ally... >> The discordance asserts itself. A cruel smirk flits across Honoka's face, the cold blue eyes looking back at Zach. << But the Sorceror holds more pull. He would need but to steer the killer in the right direction, and the clueless pawn would do his bidding. It's better off this way. >>
Historically speaking, the Russians (much like the Japanese) have collectively been less than nice to their neighbors. It's from that perspective that Zach spoke from when he made his case. He takes another deep breath as Honoka says she'd do it again.
Zach's been /there/ a couple of times. <<Then it was a necessary thing,>> he finally agrees. Zach's energy is starting to flag a bit. He carefully pulls his hand away. "Let me get some food," he says. "That smell of that stew is making me hungry."
When someone concedes your points the first time, it's an admission. The second time, it's a sign of surrender. The third time -- well, perhaps that's enough already.
The dark presence underlying Honoka's gentler self, though, is not cowed. << You have your doubts. That's fair, Zach -- I understand completely. But I did tell you... >>
The notion of food is one that gets Honoka's circus persona to surface yet again. She made it -- not just for him, but for everyone. Her voice rasps out, "Well, I should -hope- so, that's why I made it." Her face bears a smile as the psychic dirge subsides yet again.
The Ainu woman sinks into her bed, eyes crossing as she stares down at her toes. Her toes are motionless, save for the mild frustration as she lifts her heels, just to drop them back against the bed.
Zach returns with two bowls and two spoons. The first, he sets down where Honoka can get at it easily. "You should eat something if you can. Food will help," he says, a second before he digs in. He makes a few sounds that Honoka recognizes as Zach's more emphatic enjoyment of whatever it is he is eating. "If not, though, I'm sure I can do for it."
He is halfway through his bowl when he slows, then stops. "This thing," he says gesturing with his right arm to show the shackle again, "It's a little scary. There's... I think there are /people/ in there. I think..." Zach takes a deep breath, like one preparing to plunge into ice cold water, "I think one of them was me."
Honoka shakes her head mildly. "The beef stew is for the others, not for me. I can taste it, but it's..." The acrobat shrugs her shoulders, inadvertently reminding herself why that's a bad idea. Wincing, she explains: "... even if I -was- hungry, and even if I -didn't- get slammed in the stomach way more than I want to think about, it's just... It isn't my thing."
She smiles apologetically, scooting the bowl an iota closer towards Zach. "Eat up, Glenn. You're gonna need it."
Glenn. The way she says that... her voice is more distant. Cold. Impersonal.
She deals with this by closing her eyes again.
<< Yes. It's... hard to explain. But you have to remind them that you are in charge. That they are helping you, not the other way around. >>
She pauses for a moment, before adding: << I can't be close with you here, Zach. I have to remind these people -- =them= -- that I am in charge. If I show weakness... they will tear me -- tear -us- -- apart. >>
She rests one hand upon her gemstone. The Ainu runes and symbols upon her sash begin to glisten with yellow light. << Authority and conviction. You must have both, or they will destroy you. >>
It's not a form of address she has /ever/ used with him. His eyes narrow, but he doesn't wince. And the shock and hurt that he feels at the implications of being called Glenn as opposed to anything else cannot be missed. The spoon clicks against the bowl as Zach's hand lets it slip out of his grip. He sets the bowl down.
<<I would invite anyone foolish enough to try to use me as a weapon against you to do so.>> There is bedrock in that sentiment.
Zach stands, and strikes the moisture collecting at his eyes with the swipe of his sleeve before turning away from the woman in the bed.
<<It would not go well for them.>> Steel and fire in that thought as Zach heads for the door.
In a moment of weakness -- a moment of open honesty -- the master manipulator made a mistake.
She was talking about the stone, and the people around, as if they were the same. To her -- they =are= the same. Spirits within the stone, people milling about -- all of them obey the same rules, the same conditions.
It was a secret she was okay sharing, one of many among a collection of secrets she dare -not- share, not even with the man who just poured out his heart and soul to bring her back towards health.
Honoka opens her eyes, staring up at the room's intricately carved ceiling, high above her. She expels a sigh, even as the gemstone on her hip ebbs with the diminishing proximity of its kindred stone.
<< I'm sorry. I'm trying to be honest, Zach. Trying really hard. >>
Sheets shift beneath her, as the Ainu woman grows uncomfortable once again. She casts her eyes over towards the bowl, angry that the man would leave not one bowl, but -two- so close to her. So close to being knocked from their smug pedestals. Her nostrils flare.
She breathes out yet again. She's -better- than this.
Zach stops. "I did not," he says, "Mean 'me' as in the person talking to you right now. I meant that /other/ me." And with that, the meaning should be clear. Zach has shared more than a little concern about those other memories, those other experiences, that he carries with him. That he learned from. In some ways /relied/ upon to help guide him through his life. He may or may not have mentioned that things like what happened to Metro City, or Darkstalkers, or Mortal Kombat were not at all a part of that recollection. He was looking for help, for support, in the one place he thought he could find it.
Only to find nothing at all, apparently.
Zach leaves, saying nothing further.
Honoka stares up at the ceiling, even as the words come out of Zach's mouth. Surely -- those in the room who might have been listening would have been confused by the apparent non-sequitur. And if not that -- the fact that he's clarifying an idea which makes absolutely no sense without knowing the blonde's history.
Her reply is practically blurted out -- as if the younger, more ebullient aspect of her personality shoved past the grumpy one to pass along a message. And yet, it comes out strained -- held back.
<< Thanks for visiting me. >>
And then, with a slight afterthought, her fading voice manages to eke out one last thought as he walks away.
<< I ... I love you. >>
The Ainu woman closes her eyes again, pressing her lips together in stern concentration. A few moments later, when the medical technicians return, she says but one thing, her condescending tone sounding a mite petulant.
"Do something with these bowls! It's turning my stomach."
Log created on 19:58:17 09/25/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 07:55:45 09/26/2016.