Description: Some secrets are okay to keep between two people in love. Others must be given voice as soon as convenient.
"The Scarlet Guard." It started off as a joke -- a riff on the name of the group's leader. It was hard for some of the more battle-hardened veterans to take the woman's name seriously. Either they called her Black Dahlia by accident, or they laughed at the Japanese-born woman's eccentric use of English words. Eventually, though, the unofficial name stuck.
The Scarlet Guard, then, is who runs this block of five suites within Shang Tsung's Palace. The walls and floors are polished marble, and the ceilings are high -- a testament to extravagance. And more than any other place on the island, these rooms are quiet -- and more importantly, safe. Members of the Scarlet Guard stand outside the door of each suite: preventative measures that thankfully have not needed to be employed.
Zach Glenn will have a suite to himself. It might seem wasteful, and indeed -- it could even be seen as a prison, if not for the constant visits from attendants and the Scarlet Dahlia herself. He will never get the chance to go hungry; bread, fruits, and vegetables are always available, and meat will never take longer than a few minutes to get brought out. He will never get the chance to go thirsty, either -- unless he tires of distilled water.
The door opens, after a light knock, as per usual. This time, it will be the Scarlet Dahlia herself who opens the door, garbed in her red cheongsam, with a white jacket. She brings a small pitcher of tea, and wears a hopeful expression on her face.
// Zach, it's me. How... are you feeling? //
Zach had been asleep for almost a day since emerging from the statue at the end of that impromptu ceremony Honoka had performed. When he awoke, it was with a soundless start. The psion looked around wildly before his stomach loudly protested the fact that it was empty. When the Scarlet Dahlia entered the room, Zach was stuffing his face. The attendants are moving in a steady stream, removing empty plates and glasses and replacing them with full plates and glasses.
One has to wonder where Zach is putting it all. The other thing one has to wonder would be why he has not even made a grunt of approval as he filled that black hole that is apparently his stomach. For that matter, no thanks has been uttered, no complaints. Absolutely nothing at all.
Zach leans back, his hands resting on his stomach. The satisfaction of the young man is obvious to all.
//Full, finally.// Zach looks up to regard Honoka with a content face. //Are you okay??//
The Akatsuki Advisor had never wondered -much- where Zach had put all the food -- she'd seen how much he used his powers. She had a reasonable guess. At the moment, she's more concerned about his tacit behavior. His... if not inability to speak, then definitely his reluctance to do so.
She walks over to him with a warm and concerned expression on her face. She nods to those in attendance, taking a seat beside him and folding her arms upon her lap.
// Good. You needed your strength. //
She smiles. Silence isn't that bad of a solution as long as she can speak with him in this fashion.
// I am fine. I guess when I stopped moving to actually -rest-, my knees decided they could finish the healing process. //
She flashes a skeptical look. Perhaps she's being pithy. Perhaps not.
// It's better to talk this way, I suppose. I can be more honest without fear of who might be listening. //
Zach frowns a bit, looking down at his lap. He looks over at the Dahlia, then back at his knees. His mouth opens, his lips move, but again, no sound. That draws a deeper frown.
//Perhaps. Thank you. For doing what you did. I know it cost you. You didn't have to do it.// The strange thing? If Honoka can read lips, those are the words Zach's lips would have formed.
// ... Maybe I did, Zach. Maybe I did. There's... //
She trails off, as pain -- emotional pain -- forces her to turn her gaze downward.
After a moment, she continues.
// It cost me quite a bit, yeah. I... really hope that no one decides to pick a fight with me now. It was... at first, no different than having people shadow behind me. But instead of people, they were... shades. Spirits. But now... they're missing. And I feel empty. //
She looks downward again, biting her lip.
// It was a sacrifice. And I want to... I want to... well. First, what's wrong with your voice? //
Zach's frown is still there as Honoka relates to Zach the sensations. Then she asks the question. His right hand goes up to his throat, the link attached to the manacle that bears his soul shard klinking softly from the movement. He looks down, concerned and confused. His mouth opens, his lips move. He looks flat-out worried when there is, again, no sound. He wants to speak. His thoughts and actions are neatly in line with that desire. But nothing happens.
//I... I don't *know*.// He looks away from Honoka as his mind races, trying to figure out just what the hell is going on. //I mean, it looks like everything Kitana did to me was... it's like it never happened, but...// Zach looks at the floor again. //Something's wrong with me.//
That last statement is fainter than the others, almost as if it were muttered, or whispered.
The Dahlia listens to Zach's words, watches his motions. // It's okay. We'll figure it out. // She, too, is concerned by this -- but uses the time of Zach's struggle to help her sort out her own.
She gets up out of her seat, and rests her palms upon his collarbone, pressing her fingertips gently against his throat. Not uncommonly, her fingertips are a bit cold to the touch -- a comforting touch, at that.
// Help me find out, if you can. //
A placid smile takes control of her facial expression as the psion's energies begin massaging gently at the American's throat. She is still learning techniques from Zach -- but she is not trying to heal. She is trying to sense what is going on, trying to sense the nature of the disturbance.
Zach tenses for a moment as the hands go to his throat, before he relaxes a bit. Part of it is the cold hands, part of it might be something else entirely. It's hard to say, but it /would/ be fair to guess that as calm as Zach /seems/ right now? It's largely a front. He has been across the border of life and death and back again. That's Significant. The Bible records ten times that someone had made that trip. One of them is Jesus, and three others that the Christ had ressurected. Zach's return, he is certain, had little to do with the Son of God.
Zach tries to speak. Everything that is /supposed/ to move and articulate, for lack of a better word, does so. But still no sound. Mechanically, everything seems normal. Zach's eyes are wide; somehow, he had not really noticed the problem until the Dahlia had brought attention to it.
The Ainu woman can sense the frustration present. She knows that Zach is really and truly stressing out. And with the realization that he seems much more panicked now than before she'd asked the question suggests he never really needed to -speak- when he was being waited on hand and foot. Or perhaps... he hadn't tried to.
But she cannot sense a source for the problem. It is more as if the man has simply... forgotten -how- to speak, for some reason.
Her fingertips drift upwards, combing through the locks of blonde. It is not, strictly, a healing gesture -- more of a soothing one.
// Shh. Don't worry about it. We can talk just fine like this. //
She continues to brush. Her fingertips warm, very slowly, from their proximity to Zach. Honoka's emotions are warm enough to cover for it -- a soothing aura that mirrors the feel of her voice.
// Here, tell me what happened with Kitana. From the beginning, if it makes sense to. Maybe there will be clues? //
The figure before him may seem different -- more mature, more assertive. But there is no mistaking, from the woman's presence, that she is indeed the one that Zach came to meet in Shitennoji Temple that one fateful day.
Or perhaps it was a little of both. He had not needed to, and he had not tried to. He leans into the touch slightly, taking comfort from it. //We can, sure. What if I need to talk to someone else? I mean, a pad andd pencil might work but...//
Then she asks for the story. He goes pale, swallows, then takes a deep breath.
//We... fought. She honestly believes that we deserve to be conquered. She only sees the bad parts of humanity. Can't accept that there is good with the bad.// Zach looks away from Honoka, a frown on his face, concern for the woman that killed him. //Aside from that, it seems like she's... She's not like the Sorceror. She knows what it is to lead. She's some kind of royalty, apparently.//
Zach recognizes that he is trying to sidestep. To avoid what the Dahlia was looking for. The former Marine shudders at the memory. //We fought with everything that we were. At the end, she... she cut off my hands at the wrists. Then those fans of hers coming for my face.// He slumps forward, tears starting to well up in his eyes. He's clearly shaken by what he recalls. //The next thing I remember was you, at the Warrior Shrine.//
Honoka's words do not address what would happen if he needs to talk with anyone else. After all... isn't this what she wanted? Him to -only- speak to her using his mind? So that he can't... accidentally reveal any of her plans?
Her fingers continue to comb through the man's hair, a soothing touch that encourages him to continue speaking. She did not bring him back from the dead so that he could remain silent and eat up all of the Scarlet Guard's hard-earned foodstores, after all... The notation that Kitana is indeed of the Outworld royalty is enough to raise both of her slender eyebrows.
// Interesting. //
She does not force him to switch gears, or change topics -- though she can tell that he recognizes the shift. It's... acceptable in either way.
Cutting hands off at the wrists, he says. She looks down at them -- it's human nature to, after all. And yes -- they're fine, mended anew, his body rewound back to the pristine state she remembered it being. His face, obviously... once she looks back upon it, is fine, not split into three.
// Oh, Zach... //
Her fingertips brush along the side of his face, his strong chinline. She does not brush his tears away -- she wants to give him the opportunity to control them first.
But then he 'speaks' again. He was... silent, all along. Ever since then, it would seem.
// Ah. You didn't see him, then. //
The Dahlia bites her lower lip, again.
// The other you was by your side. Protecting you -- as, I would guess, he always has. //
She looks downward, drawing her hands away, finally.
// Is he here? Do you feel his memories around, still? //
Zach looks at Dahlia searchingly. Then she asks after Glen. He looks down at the shackle around his wrist. The soul shard embedded in it shimmers slightly. //I... think so.// He frowns at it. //It's hard to call to him, though. He doesn't always answer.// He frowns. //I think... 'watching over' me is not the only thing he is doing here. Like he has a job to do, maybe?//
The whole time, Zach is trying to give actual words to the thoughts. Instead he gives only silence.
// Ah. ... Don't force it, just stay with me. //
The Dahlia's soothing touch sweeps around his chinline.
// I'd upset you, Zach. I'm... I'm sorry. Maybe it was something I did, something I said to you... something that just unwired you. I don't like living two lives. I especially didn't like... keeping it from you. This... Dahlia thing. //
She smiles, bitterly. It is not out of amusement, or laughter -- but self-scorn.
// I was afraid you'd leave me if I told you, run far far away and never come back. That maybe you'd give up hope. That maybe I was living a life too similar to the other's. That maybe you might even... //
She trails off, clasping her hand close to Zach's shoulder.
// I-I'm doing it again, I'm dumping my problems on you again. //
//Kitana and I talked. It's how I learned what I did of her. This... silence thing is new.// Zach reaches up, taking the Dahlia's hands in his. He turns to look at her, his expression a little hurt and a little serious. //Well, you are sort of right. It... *is* too similar. And it did scare me. *Does* scare me.// He leans in, placing his forehead lightly on hers. //But you can always dump on me if you need to. I told you. *Always.*//
He is still trying to talk. He is still silent. But he is still communicating.
The Dahlia looks down to see her hands clasped. The attendants haven't needed to come in that frequently, now that Zach has been fed, but the ones that do pause at the door, take sight of the Scarlet Dahlia's proximity, and quickly about-face. It's understood what's taking place.
Her forehead is bumped, forcing a small chuckle from the Ainu.
// I'm better than her, Zach. I'm smarter. I'm not doing this alone like she did. I'm not pushing too fast, like she did. And if I fade away, my people will continue on as they always have. //
She believes this, with all her heart.
// Do you remember that time we were eating in Yokohama, when the gangsters were rolling out? // She smiles faintly. // And you tried to stop them. Even when I was urging you to step back and let it happen... //
Zach lets out a long breath as his eyes close. //I was worried about random shots hitting innocent bystanders.// This time, his mouth is not moving with the words. //But you're overlooking an important detail. That if you 'fade away'? If you are gone? Forgive me for being a little selfish here, but I do not think that I could handle that...//
//...I don't think I would /want/ to.//
// I know. You're a protector. A... Paladin, as your memorial plaque read. //
The Akatsuki Advisor starts to give a more extensive reply, but Zach continues to contest her on the point of her untimely demise.
// That's fair. But it... I'd like to say it won't happen, but there are plans in place. I will not pass into the night without clearing my table of regrets. I cannot lay idle while my people let the Ainu way of life -die-, Zach. That's just who I am. //
The Dahlia's hands squeeze back, even as Honoka's thoughts continue to filter into his mind unabated.
// Zach... the Akatsuki-gumi, the new yakuza who were fighting the corrupt, the lazy, the complacent, the bigoted... They are my people. They are winning the war -- triumphing against the Syndicate. We are holding steady, Zach. We can win this. It is only a matter of time, now, Zach, before Japan will be remade. The right way. //
She smiles. She is proud of her life's work.
Zach leans back from the Dahlia, processing this new information. His expression is one of hurt, a bit of confusion. //So when you say that you'd clear your table of regrets, what does that mean for me? Or Sudo? Or Reika?// Zach pulls away from the woman in front of him, not out of a need for seperation, but from a need to see this person better.
//I know what it is to put your life on the line for something.// He exhales sharply, not quite a snort. //I think I've proven that amply here. I think though, that's it's better to live for it.//
The attire may be different, the hairstyle, the bearing. But the features Zach knows about Honoka's face -- they're all fully represented in the Dahlia, save for the blue contacts. She does not shy away, having some sense of what it is he's searching for.
But when he asks about him, or Sudo, or Reika...
// What about you, or... them? Would you not feel... happy if I were to pass away doing what I loved to do? //
She blinks for a moment, a frown creeping across her face.
// Don't misunderstand me. I don't have a death wish. But if there's something I can do for the world to make it a better place... //
Her face forms a tight smile.
// I'm gonna take that chance. The Ainu... it's not in their nature. You can't look at the past hundred and fifty years of Ainu history and say 'yes, letting ourselves go extinct was the right way to honor our ancestors.' //
Her smile grows a bit more hopeful.
// I know this now. Because I met someone even older. Someone who thinks... exactly like I do. Nakoruru, heroine of so many of the yukar tales from my childhood. A warrior maiden... and now, an avatar of the Kamui. //
Zach leans forward, not back into the contact, but to express intent. //I would not be happy if you passed away. Period. Even if you had accomplished every single one your goals and died in your sleep.// He means that. He takes a deep breath; he is worked up and knows he is worked up.
//You mean that other Ainu woman who is here?//
// I know. //
Frustration seeps into her tone and her expression.
// I -know-. Zach. Listen to me. You literally just told me it was okay, so let me confess. Let me clear the air. //
She shakes her head slowly.
// You left... because you didn't know. Now you do. Your girlfriend is a yakuza boss. Let's... let that sink in, okay? I know. I'm... I'm not gonna die. //
She smiles in self-deprecating fashion, wrapping her hands around Zach's.
// I'm right here. Ssshhhh. //
She runs her fingers through his hair again. Captive audience, perhaps -- she makes a point of taking it easy now.
// And yes. Nakoruru, that's... that's her. If she... She served the Ainu people so well in her time. And now... death is not a fear. She is the will of the Kamui, personified. I believe that. The Kamui walk. It is as if... It's hard to express. It's not quite like meeting God. But... more like... an angel, I suppose. //
Zach stands up, not roughly, but forcefully enough that the Dahlia would have to work to keep him from doing so. He paces the length of the room. He is, in a way, trying to do exactly what she had asked from him. In some ways, it's a lot to take in and let sink in. Zach is giving off a jumble of emotions. Anger (she is doing some of the things that got that other Honoka killed and there is not much he can do to stop it), confusion (why is she doing this? How can she be so calm about it?), self-derision (with all the time he had spent with her, how did he not see it?), fear (though not for himself in this case).
//I knew she was more than just another fighter.// He's shelving the whole 'I'm dating a yakuza oyabun' thing for a moment, latching on to this other conversational topic to anchor himself for a moment. //But with everything else that went on during that feast, I didn't really have a chance to look into it any further.//
The Scarlet Dahlia takes the moment to lean back into her chair, crossing her arms, and legs. It's... striking how elegant she looks in the Chinese-styled attire, considering how the young woman's normal casual wear tends to simplify her form into boxes and rectangles. The sinuous silk, now, though, looks just as ravishing upon the woman as it had when she was giving the soon-to-be-formed Scarlet Guard their very first pep talk.
She does not pressure him, nor does she attempt to stop him. He is, after all, doing exactly as she asked.
// Your Ainu improved. My word, were you ever carrying on with her. //
She can't help but crack a smile. Even with the serious and weighty subject matter she is discussing, there should be absolutely no doubt in Zach's mind that the advisor to the criminal underworld is the one and the same woman he came to love -- the smile, the light chuckle of laughter are that distinctive.
// Still, to be fair -- she had her own share of tasks to accomplish. She is... Well, she speaks in Raiden's place. //
This brings her no closer to solving the matter of Zach's missing voice. But that will come, once the man begins to relax, she feels.
//We switched to English fairly quickly,// he admits as he sits down near but not next to the Dahlia. It's clear that he's still processing the information. On the other hand, he's not putting the whole room between the two of them. //I still have a ways to go with my Ainu and her English was better than my Ainu, I think.// His lips are moving with the words again, still silent to anyone but her.
He looks at the woman that he loves, his grin a bit rueful, //I hate to admit it, but I feel I might be in over my head. With all of this.//
Two small knocks on the door -- much like before. A well-muscled attendant begins to walk in, only to note that Zach is standing.
The Dahlia, wearing an amused smile, raises her hand, then drags it across her throat. "Make sure to it that no one comes in here for the next four hours. Private session, matters of dire importance. Be a dear and pass it along to the others, hmm? And lock it, on your way out."
Once her request is carried out, she too stands. And walks over to the troubled man flashing a rueful grin back at her. If he does not flee, she will wrap her arms about his waist -- her embrace anything but cold.
// Zach -- you told me always, hmm? This is part of always. All of it. //
Zach's expression is a curious one, as if he is still processing information when he knowswhat he needs to do. The Dahlia has no doubt seen it before, given Zach's situation. His response is fairly straight forward; he wraps his arms around the small woman in front of him. His embrace is like the campfire in the wilderness; warmth and comfort.
//I did, and I've made my decision long ago.// He squeezes Dahlia tightly. //Always is always.//
He tucks a finger under her chin, raising her line of sight to his. His mouth is not moving, but the words are clear. //I am *not* comfortable with this, you understand. But I can accept it.//
The Dahlia allows her chin to be raised. It is ... especially good that her guards are acknowledging her order to give the two some privacy.
// Good. I'm... not telling you this to cheer you up. //
Her expression may be somewhat grim, but her blue-tinted eyes bear some sign of the tender emotion she's trying to impart.
// I'm... telling you this because I trust you, and you deserve to know the secret I've been keeping all this time. //
Eyebrows droop, to a degree, as she continues staring back into Zach's eyes with an earnest expression.
// But, like it or not, we're in this together. I'm not some porcelain doll you can just keep in a display case when there's a world to be saved. There's real danger, real risks to losing this tournament -- risks beyond the life or death of any one kombatant. And it's going to take every one of us fighting our best to save Sudo, Reika, your mother, your sister... everyone. //
She takes another sigh.
// Sadly... even bringing you back doesn't reset your loss on the tournament ladder. I'm... I beat Aranha. Mostly because he didn't unleash his soul power. So... I'm still in the running. //
Worry streaks onto her face. There is another thought she had thought to voice, and yet there is hesitation.
Zach tilts his head at Dahlia when she warns against 'putting her in a glass case'. //I know that I take the whole protection thing really seriously, but I am pretty sure I've never done that.// He folds his arms across his chest, considering for a moment. //I have some I can give you. One soul, though, I don't think will go along with it. But the other two. They'll go.//
Zach pauses, frowning slightly. //If you'll allow me to help you in that way, I mean.// There is a question there, mixed with a little bit of tease.
// Nah, but sometimes you forget your girl can hold her own in a fight. // The Dahlia couldn't help but smile as she's released, stepping back to appraise Zach. He always -did- look better as a sharp-dressed man -- even amongst the Scarlet Guard, he's far and away the most handsome man around in her opinion.
Doesn't hurt that she likes blondes, of course.
She blinks back as Zach speaks about the souls. She -had- been meaning to ask him -- all the better that he volunteers the offering before she fully gets around to the topic.
There is an emotion welling up inside her that she won't be able to play off that easily. It isn't... concern, or happiness, or elation. It's more of a giddy greed -- a lust for power, evoked when Zach spoke about helping her out with some of his own power.
She is silent for a good moment, her forehead creasing as she looks down. Places a hand on her gemstone.
// Y-yes. I... But you've got to know that puts you at risk. I don't want -you- to be in a glass case, but it is something you need to be aware of. //
After a good long moment, she looks back to Zach, pressing her lips into a thin line. Her eyes widen, with some measure of intensity.
// I will accept it, if you promise me you'll... be careful. Promise me you won't do anything unnecessary. //
Zach frowns at this. Dahlia should know full well that Zach will do what he feels he has to do, regardless of what it might cost him. //I'll do what I have to,// he pauses for a moment. //And I'll do what I can to help you.// Zach regards the soul shard and manacle. //What you need... Is people willing to gather souls for you. But that's a bit tricky, hard to know who to trust with something like that.//
His left hand covers the gem, glowing a bright yellow for a moment before pulling the hand away. A mass of light rests in his palm, which he extends toward the Dahlia.
The Dahlia nods quietly -- the idea of having an entire army of mercenaries combing the island to gather souls for her =had= crossed her mind, though unfortunately it didn't... quite work that well in practice. The numbers are thinning more and more every day.
// Okay. //
A tight smile is offered as Zach places his hand on the manacle, and the gem inside. She... can feel the transition, the palpable surge in psychic energy as it is pulled across the barrier, manifesting itself in the mass of light which is now presented to her.
The Dahlia bows her head, appreciation obvious on her face.
"Thank you." The words are both spoken and felt.
Her emotional state, though, feels more like... ravenous thirst as she reaches her hands towards the light.
A shudder wracks her body as she clamps her jaw shut. Observing the phase shift is one thing -- absorbing the soul energy into her own purview is tenfold more powerful. The light may not shift, but the psychically-attuned fighters are more than capable of noting the difference.
The energy solidifes into two globes, not unlike larger versions of the chrome spheres that the juggler might use in a street performance. The Dahlia draws in her breath, allowing her more public persona to shine for a moment as she works the globes about along her fingertips, nodding slowly as their psychic resonance is matched to her own.
Her thirst sated, the Dahlia licks her dry lips, nodding in affirmation as she lowers the globes to her hip. Fingers splay out, and the globes float out of her hands and allow themselves to be drawn into the whirling maelstrom within her own gemstone.
// I will do my best, Zach. I promise you. //
Zach's eyes narrow as the emotions wash over him. He shudders slightly at them. Once the transfer is done, Zach lets out a breath he did not even realize he was holding. He then lowers his head a bit, a faint grin on his features. He's scared, and for a lot of different reasons. He's scared for the Dahlia. As he can attest, this tournament is a matter of life and death.
//*Win.* Win and come back to me.//
The Dahlia understands that... perhaps her thirst for power may have been made a bit too obvious. But she reminds herself of Zach's own pledge -- always. This, and his obvious donation, allow her to set her mind at ease.
"I will." She says the words, wrapping her arms about the back of Zach's neck. Eyes locked with his, there is no confusing her intent when she pulls him down to her for a quick kiss.
It is short -- brief. But there is a thought on her mind that she has to get out of her head first, even as the shared emotion begins to well up within her.
// Thank you. I... I feel like I really hit the rhythm of these souls in my fight with Aranha. It was... it wasn't =easy=, really? Aranha was fast. But I feel like I could just... do things right when I was fighting him. Better. Stronger. It worked out a lot better than in my fight with Sergei, somehow... is that weird? //
Zach does not pull away when she goes in the kiss. Zach's head rocks back and forth as he considers the matter the Dahlia raised. //Yes and no. Yes because you are working with souls, and that's... it goes against certain proprieties. Humans aren't really *supposed* to be able to do that. No because despite all of that, you're learning how to.// He shrugs.
His mouth opens to speak again, his lips move. He frowns. Still nothing. //Just... don't get too attached. You don't know how when these... 'gifts' will be withdrawn. And what it will cost you when that happens.//
// Mmm... I suppose so. But the power is also showing me things that the spirits have learned that I hadn't realized were possible before. I have a feeling that, should the time come, I might actually be able to have a better idea of how to use my own abilities to mimic the efffects. I might be sad, but... noted. I'll try not to get too addicted to it. //
She smiles faintly, stroking her index finger along Zach's chinline. // Unlike how I'm addicted to... certain people. //
Log created on 21:05:54 10/14/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 22:54:37 10/15/2016.