Mortal Kombat - When Needed

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Description: Bereft of a voice, and without many allies who can 'hear' him on Shang Tsung's island, Zach Glenn has been given a quest of sorts by the Ainu guardian Nakoruru. If he can find her missing mystical cloth, then she can help him restore his voice. Zach finds help in a somewhat expected way, encounters some unexpected resistance, and while he's able to secure his prize, things do not go 100% as planned for everyone involved...

It's been an oddly busy, oddly quiet time for Zach Glenn. After the goose chase Glen had sent him on, with the leads fairly cold to the touch at this point, there was not much for him to do. It's not like he could find someone to talk to, not with his voice still not working. Noone really to train with; the stable of kombatants was starting to thin and with the stakes being what they were, noone wanted a sparring accident to make matters worse.

So Zach had taken to wandering in relative silence after telling Glen to 'find someone else's life to meddle in for a change.' He had found himself back at the Warrior Shrine. He had enjoyed talking to Frei, and was hoping to do so again. He looked around the Warrior Shrine, his hand in his pockets. No new statues so far, no new piles of rubble either.

*Mister Frei, are you there,* he asks the ether while looking over the Atavist again. If Frei is here, that would be where he'd be sitting, Zach figures.

'Destiny' is a weird thing.

Frei doesn't actually believe in things like destiny or fate, the idea that the outcome of everything that is has been decided in advance, even partially. To him it flies in the face of the thing he values more than anything else in the world: the power of people to make their own decisions and chose their own paths. To his view, 'destiny' is a word people like to deploy after the fact, to say 'well, I knew this was how it was going to end up.' It's a surprisingly smug word, 'destiny.'

That being said: after his encounter with both Zach-s, Frei finally got the energy to try and leave the Warrior Shrine... which, of course, he could without any sort of problem. If he knew more of the lore of Mortal Kombat, he could easily have known that of all places, Shang Tsung's Island is a place where spirits move freely. As it is, stepping outside the shrine made that abundantly clear anyway. So he simply... walked. A lot. With no need for rest, or food, and able to stay hidden from those he didn't want to reveal himself to, it was easy to go basically everywhere. To look and see what was happening.

What was happening, mostly, was death.

But it was in the middle of one of those walkabouts that he felt... something. An instinctive urge? A whim? An inspiration? Regardless of what it actually *was*, Frei found himself walking back to the Warrior shrine, which was -- when he arrived -- as empty as he'd left it. So he turned to leave with a shrug.

And got as far as the door, and felt unease swirl through his stomach like a bad premonition.

Which is why, when Zach arrives and asks that question, he will have to look up for his answer: the redheaded spirit is sitting on the middle point of the statue, atop the base but below the actual statue of the person. "Against all logic," he says, blinking in surprise, "yes I am."

Zach turns, and looks at Frei. Since that little revelation Glen had made during the last conversation, Zach had been trying to stretch his muscles. Metaphorically speaking. He tilts his head to one side curiously. Something about Frei... leads Zach to think that the man is feeling a bit uneasy. His eyes narrow in concern.

*I thought I'd swing by to talk to you,* he admits. *Maybe bounce an idea or two off of you if I could.* He looks around as if checking for something before regarding the shackle that he wears. The gem gives off no odd glow. Glen's still on his own walkabout, apparently.

*Are you okay?* the psion asks.

Frei's head tilts to the side slightly. "Hm? Oh, fine. Confused, admittedly, but fine." He doesn't believe in destiny or fate but he also isn't sure he believes in coincidences, either. Not of this kind, anyway. Something drew him back here for whatever reason. Not forcefully, like the chess player-like hand people imagine fate to be. Just a suggestion, a nod, a hint. One he was free to disobey if he was so inclined.

(He didn't, however)

The status of Frei's incorporeal body seems complicated indeed; he doesn't seem to have a physical presence, yet the rock crunches under his feet when he slides off the statue to hop onto the ground below, and when he speaks, it's perfectly audible without any sort of spiritual power involved. "Bounce an idea...? Well, I mean. For someone who doesn't know all that much about what's going on, I'm happy to listen if you think it'll help."

There's a pause, and then his eye drifts toward the gem embedded in the shackle on the blond's wrist. He clears his throat. "I see you've got your Millennium Puzzle, but your Nameless Pharaoh is conspicuously absent."

Frei might be the only person in all of existence who, while on a death-filled island where a tournament for the fate of the world is taking place, might make a Yugioh reference without thinking.

Zach blinks at the reference. He... never really got into shonen anything. But the gist is easy enough to pick up on. *I told him to take a hike for a bit,* Zach responds after a moment. *Prachett was an author here,* Zach says after a moment. *It took me a while to place the name, but my cousin was a fan of his. He died. Alzheimer's, apparently.* Zach frowns a bit, then continues.

*So Glen talked to Nakoruru about the problem that I am having with my voice. She, apparently, agreed to help me if he helped her recover an item that was stolen from her. Some kind of cloth that was stolen from her, supposed to have healing properties.* He shrugs at this, not sure if he buys into that at all.

*We tracked down the thief, found out she was dead. Tracked down the person who... I'm not sure if he killed her, or helped her pass, or what, but he was the last one to see her alive. He had no knowledge of the item.* Zach shrugs, feeling a bit lost. Usually, he has has had people who do the legwork for him. His job was to show up and kick down doors. He's not used to investigating things on his own. *So now I don't know where to start looking.*

There's a pause, a brief blink, at the news about Pratchett. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, huh..." he says, stumbling a bit over the fineries of French pronunciation, but getting the gist across anyway. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In his world, Pratchett had been suffering with the disease for some time. Makes one wonder.

Zach's offhand comment about the author aside, however, there are apparently issues of greater import going on here. The redhead listens carefully, getting a somewhat faraway expression at the mention of Nakoruru. Apparently he and the Ainu guardian's paths are intended to cross multiple times, or so it seems. He vaguely recalls her using healing powers on a battered and injured Aya when they first met, but he has no particular memory of a cloak with healing powers, and it seems like that's something he'd have remembered. An Ainu artifact, maybe? Or...

Well, she did like to use the words 'the kamui' a lot.

"This is getting really complicated," he says to Zach, with a sheepish smile. "The Ainu girl lost her magic cloak to someone who then died, and your spirit from another world talked to her to get her to help you, but she asked for the cloak, but because the person who stole it d--" He pauses, then closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and starts over. "Okay you know what, forget I asked any of that."

He closes his eyes again, and presses the tips of his fingers together. He's silent for a moment, but then he opens his eyes and adopts a thoughtful mien. "Okay. I think I can help you find it. Probably. Almost certainly."

Zach's shoulders heave a bit in time with a grin in a sort of silent chuckle. *Admittedly, I don't know that Nakoruru knew the thief was dead when she gave him the quest,* he says as he gestures toward the doorway as if to indicate a readiness to depart.

*Though it's kind of got me wondering. I've got this sword. It's tied in to what I do, when I am not fighting in a pre-apocalyptic tournament I mean.* His right hand flexes, and a flare of what appears to be sunlight erupts in Zach's hand before resolving into a sheathed claymore with a white hilt. *I mean, I can call it up,* the hand opens and the sword scatters into a billion motes of sunshine across the floor, *And dismiss it more or less at will. And I'm a mortal. She's this... being out of legend, sent by the kamui, according to Honoka. Seems to me like she'd have certain items tied to her... story, I guess? Like King Arthur's sword or Paul Bunyan's axe, right?*

That's a sensible argument. He's got a sword -- Frei is reminded that the person Zach knows as 'Glen' had a sword, thanks to Seishirou Ryouhara -- and he can summon it, so why can't Nakoruru? He doesn't even think about the implications of Excalibur being a chi-powered artifact. The Brits would flip their shit over that, for sure. That being said...

Frei looks up at the ceiling. "Your power is slightly different, so maybe you can't feel this yourself, but..." He pauses, taking a breath. "This island is all... twisted up. The rules work differently here than they do everywhere else, I think, because it's like... it's like a splinter," he finishes, looking down and turning to Zach. "Have you ever had one? A cut or a scrape where there was something stuck in the wound? Takes longer to heal, hurts like hell, because there's this foreign object in a place where it's not supposed to be. It's like that. And I think the result is that all the rules of how things are SUPPOSED to go get out of whack. So it might be that even if Nakoruru COULD normally do what you're suggesting, right now, it might not be possible."

It's largely a theory, but it's as good a theory as any. 'Half the time it's angry, like it wants all of us to leave. And then I'll feel like it's a lost child, that it wants someone to help it.' That was how Aya has described Shang Tsung's island to Nakoruru. It fits the available information.

"But you're thinking right," Frei adds, raising a finger with a faint smile. "You just need to... well. Just watch."

There's a crunching of stone as Frei takes a few steps forward, trying to stand in a more clear space... and actually, if Zach bothers to look, also standing so that he's in what would conceivably be called the room's center. Inhaling a long, slow breath, Frei closes his eyes, brings his hands together, and then pushes outwards into the air, exhaling as he does so.

"Differences stand out. Powerful differences stand out more. You don't have to search everywhere, under every rock. You just let your awareness become part of... well. It's more complicated than I'm making it sound, but."

The island is hurting. And Nakoruru -- as well as her cloth -- have the power to mend the natural world.

For a brief, glorious second, Frei's awareness extends to every root, every stone, every breath of air.

There's a long pause where he doesn't breathe at all, and then opens his eyes.

"Found it," he says.

A pause.

"Probably. 90% sure."

*This place feels... off,* he agrees. *It still feels off, actually. Like things aren't... /quite/ right, you know? It's been bothering me since I got here. That, and all the souls that just won't shut up.* Then Frei theoryboxes with him. He nods as he listens. It actually makes a lot of sense.

*I can find Honoka pretty much anywhere, as long as she's on the island. There's... an awareness, I guess. I could probably find you with a little work, now that I am getting to know you. I could probably find my sword if it got seperated from me and it stayed on the island, because there is a lot of my energy bound up in it. I'd look for that bit of me that wasn't, well, me.*

Then he shuts up while Frei goes into seek mode. He waits. Then Frei announces that he thinks he has it located.

*I'll take 90% any day of the week,* he decides with a firm nod. *Lead on?*

It's rather a long walk to their destination; in fact, it is almost as far as they could possibly be from where Frei senses what he was looking for, compared to where they started. The psychic and the spirit have plenty of time, while wandering the harrowing path of the Kombat venue, to talk about various things, but as their destination gets closer -- and Frei's concentration is needed more -- the redhead becomes increasingly quieter. As they pass through the Wastes, his eyes stray toward the ruined house where he (and Aya) met Nakoruru for the first time.

Fancy that.

As they pass said ruin, he speaks for the first time since a long silence past. "Not much farther now." And then they approach the tower and the resting place of so many forgotten bodies, the souls that once occupied them being... well, who knows where, at this point.

When they crest a small hill overlooking the expanse of graves, Frei comes to a stop and looks out among them, closing his eyes. He inhales and then exhales, a long meditative breath, and then nods. "Here. Somewhere. Sorry, that's as precise as you're going to get fr--"

Something else. He can sense something else, something surprising enough to make him stop abruptly mid-sentence.

Oh, he didn't. He couldn't have. But a moment's focus proves that hope wrong. He DID.

Zach stops short when Frei does. He looks over the field of graves with a sharp breath. He regards the shade with concern. *Are you okay, Frei?* he asks tentatively. His hand tenses, as if trying to grasp something. This place is full of that foreboding feeling, and without more information to go on, it puts the former Marine into something closer to a readiness to fight.

Their journey takes them from the massive palace lording over the rocky crags of the Western half of the island all the way to the Eastern peninsula jutting out from the scarred wasteland. At the foot of the monolithic tower, at times obscured by its dread shadow, a tortured cemetery has existed for the millennia that Mortal Kombat has been fought upon the island of the damned. Unlike most hallowed grounds where the dead are laid to rest, this place is twisted, battle torn, and never at rest. Grave stones are shattered, mausoleums leaning at impossible angles as if they are slowly sinking into the dark soil that surrounds them, and in every direction, craters and debris of countless battles fought over literal graves mark the earth.

On the side the two seekers approach, a particularly massive radius of black scorched earth can be seen. Flat and featureless, as if an all consuming fire had obliterated not just wooden markers, but even the granite and marble ones as well, leaving it clear of any signs of where the buried dead lie within its circumference. The grounds are still - even the restless souls that haunt the site avoid the tormented epicenter of what must have been one hell of a blast wave. A faint, smoldering haze lingers over the flat section of ground and in a few spots, fissures continue to emit tendrils of smoke that clings to the surface rather than rising upward. The still air is doing little to help clear away the fumes.

It would be easy to miss the figure in the mist at first and not just because of the obscuring cloud. There is a certain ephemeral nature about the individual, as if exercising some deliberate technique to render them somehow indistinct from the area around them. But as the two arrive, the slightest hint of movement would likely catch their eye as a young looking woman stands up from a crouch after having been investigating something in the dirt.

Her curvaceous figure is draped with airy, emerald cloth sashes wrapped over smooth, dark olive skin. Black hair long as she is tall is tied into a high pony tail before cascading down her back to dangle just above the ground. Thigh high boots with viridian plating protect her muscular legs while a green mask worn over the lower half of her face covers mouth and nose, no doubt helping filter out some of the unpleasant vapor permeating the area. Beneath the gossamer green sashes that hang down the front and back of her waist is worn a form fitting body suit of emerald and black, golden chains dangling around her hips and torso, seemingly ornamental in nature.

Whatever has her attention is in the dirt and it is with a sweep of her right hand that a shaft of hard still seems to expand out of no where, one end of it jabbing into the ground. With a hooking heft, a large section of cloth is hoisted up, dangling from the end of the staff like the most vile flag ever imagined.

While Frei's sense of direction has lead them to this place, the fabric dangling from the head of the staff looks to be the last thing one would associate with the white clad Nakoruru. Rather than white, the cloth is a splash of the ugliest rainbow ever, coated in what looks to be yellow-green mucus, grey ash, dark brown dirt, the dark red of dried blood, and black scorch marks. Green slime drips from it in places to fall to the earth as it sways on the end of the staff.

Shaking her head, the young looking woman in green releases a soft sigh. Though most of the features of her dark skinned face are hidden by the mask she wears, it is sharply focused eyes of jade that glare at the discovered fabric, looking none too thrilled at having to deal with it.

Are you okay? Well. One revelation at a time, right? Frei expected to find traces of Nakoruru's sacred cloth because it was what he was looking for; what he didn't also expect to find traces of was a soul shard, under the earth in a shallow(-ish) grave. Which was surprising enough. But then, well... if this were an anime, he'd probably look up from his console on the bridge of the Starship What The Hell Is Going On and shout 'Another ship warping in!'

As it is, he just turns toward the mist and stares.

That is... well.

"Gratifying to know I haven't lost my touch," he murmurs, trying to keep good humor despite this new, ahaha, wrinkle. As it stands, however, this situation is now a lot more complicated.

He turns and looks at Zach for a moment. Unlike the Zach he knew -- well, 'Glen' -- this one does not seem ready to punch a hole in anyone who even seems to cause a problem, which is probably a good sign; maybe this can be solved with diplomacy after all. But if it comes to fisticuffs, well... Frei can only hope that this world's Zach has at least some of the power at his command that 'Glen' does. He's probably going to need it, especially since the sagacious spirit isn't going to be able to do much more than cheer him on.

"I really hope ancient Ainu healing powers aren't dependent on cleanliness, because you are DEFINITELY going to have to put that thing through the rinse cycle MULTIPLE times."

Zach watches the woman go about her work for a moment with a frown. *Yeah,* he finally agrees after a second or two of thought. *Maybe she couldn't call it back because of the... all the mess I guess? I mean, this place is all kinds of messed up, and that looks like it's /caked/ in this place.*

Zach takes a deep breath, and then lets it out as he tugs on his longcoat. He uses the gesture to check over his gear. Getting replacement weapons proved... surprisingly easy upon his return. He did not bring the cutlass; he wanted to pass for non-aggressive. Or maybe less aggressive. He still had the pistols hanging just off the hips and hidden by the coat, and Drynwyn was barely a though away where it always seemed to be. Zach is much less... punch-happy than his predecessor, to be honest. But that does not mean he plans to rule it out from the word 'go'.

On the other hand, diplomacy might be tricky when you cannot speak. *I know you are limited in how you can help,* Zach says to Frei, *But I'll be grateful for what I can get.*

And with that, Zach walks toward the woman openly with his hands in plain view. *Hello,* he tries to send to the woman. If establishing communications proves impossible, it might come to a fight anyway.

10,000 years of servitude to the Deathless Emperor and his adopted daughter are bound to have days like this. Fetching discarded relics might be beneath the Princess of Outworld, but such busy work is not considered inappropriate for the woman who had been her retainer for several millennia. The cloth draped over the end of her staff hardly looks the artifact it supposedly is, but Shang Tsung's clairvoyance over matters taking place within his domain are not to be so easily doubted. While it was wrapped over the shoulders of the four armed chaos mutant from Earthrealm, it could not be retrieved - assaulting a tournament chosen was a line the Spell Master knew he could not get away with as long as there were still those alive that knew the edicts well enough to call him out for trespasses against them.

But now that the poor disfigured chaos mage was nothing more than ash in the wind, the abandoned sacred cloth was up for grabs. The timeless servant in green releases a soft 'tch' between her teeth, resolving to carry it back at the end of her weapon rather than coming into direct contact with it herself. Most Outworld denizens would not think twice about being covered in the murk that drips from the defiled fabric, but most Outworld trash doesn't spend the days in the lavish Imperial Palaces of the Great Emperor himself. Her fetch quest completed, she turns toward the tower proper. The portal chamber within will take her wherever she needs to go on the island - a perk of fighting for the side that will inevitably win this lopsided farce of a contest. Any day now and this konquest will be over at long last. What then will Shao Kahn do, when all realms that defied him have been reduced to the desolate wastes of her own homeland? That, the dark skinned beauty muses as she rests her staff against her shoulder, the retrieved item dangling from the high end of it, is someone else's problem to contemplate.

It is the sound of another's approach that gives her pause, glancing over her shoulder, those sharp green eyes narrowing as they come to rest on the man who boldly approaches her. "Do not take another step forward, Earther." While not in the tournament herself, she has been watching from the shadows, keeping an eye on her Princess's deadly matches, and observing silently as one by one those representing Earth fall by the wayside. Just... like the nine tournaments before this one.

"Eliminated, killed, and raised again, you are not protected by the Edicts of Kombat. I will kill you where you stand if you come any closer." Diplomacy looks like it's going to be a rough route to take. She continues, her tone imperious. She may not be royalty herself, but she all but lives the life of one except when dispatched by Shao Kahn or his dubiously trustworthy minions. "Your doomed world will fall soon enough, but it is not my intent to spare you the chance to witness it for yourself. Be gone."

Her warning given, her head turns away, her steps continuing toward the monolithic tower looming ahead.

Zach's eyes narrow at the threat delivered. She's right in that he is not protected by these Edicts (or should it be Edikts) she speaks of. He takes that step forward. She's not bluffing, and honestly, he does not care. He gestures at the cloth with an empty hand.

*I would,* he tries to say, *But I kind of need that cloth. Plus, it was stolen and does not belong to you or yours.* He takes another step. *Its owner sent me to find it,* he says as his right hand drops to one side, poised as if gripping something. *I'll have it back.*

So before you die the first time, you're out of bounds, huh? Despite himself, Frei can't help but file that piece of information away for future use... even if it doesn't seem to bode well for Zach. But it also means that whoever this person is, she knows about what's happened to Zach. She's either involved in the tournament, or she has senses that extend beyond the normal.

But Zach steps forward without hesitation to address her, and while he doesn't know if this woman can *hear* the psion properly, Frei can tell that whether she can or not is kind of irrelevant. She's clearly fighting for 'the other side' so the idea that she would have some vested interest in obtaining Nakoruru's sacred cloth isn't too far off.

He doesn't speak; he stands back and watches. Part of him is upset that he *can't* get involved... but part of Frei understands that, with 'Glen' not here, this is... well. It's a growing opportunity for Zach. Maybe Frei's interference wouldn't be a good thing even if he could.

He takes a step forward, his foot crunching against the baked ground beneath his feet, and the staff wielder comes to a stop, once again glancing over her shoulder at the insistent mute. Her eyes are on him as she bounces the weapon against her shoulder a few times, shaking loose more of the grim that it has picked up in whatever filthy places it's been since leaving its owner's possession some time ago.

Slowly, she turns around to face him, narrowed eyes implying a look of mild consternation that this unpleasant errand runs the risk of getting even more annoying. "It seems we are at odds." She lifts her staff, planting it into the ground like a flag pole, the object of Zach's interest resting atop it. Her free hand gestures at it with an idle sweep, "Whatever your concerns about this unsightly thing may be, it is Shang Tsung's now." A narrow, black eyebrow arcs slightly, punctuating the point.

Lifting her free hand up in front of her, she idly rubs the ends of black painted fingernails with her thumb, eyes lowered, no longer focused on Zach. "I already made clear the price your impertinence. If you are so eager to join the lonely dead here..." A slow roll of her eyes, "Well. You've already been sent down this path once by Her Ladyship. I suppose if executing you was not beneath her, it can't be beneath me either."

Pulling the staff from the ground, she holds it horizontally for a moment, fingers tracing over the center of it as it suddenly collapses in on itself with a soft, metallic grind, leaving the draped cloth to fall onto the ground. It's not like it could possibly get any dirtier anyway.

Twirling the collapsed staff between dexterous fingers, the masked woman's green eyes fall back to Zach. "Make your choice then - but to attack me is to chose an early return to the grave." She shakes her head, her voice taking on a tone of soft, false concern, "Too bad... I have to imagine you barely got used to the idea of being alive again, too."

Twirling the short metal length in her right hand, her left hand lifts to flick her lengthy ebony pony tail back over her shoulder where it swings back and forth almost down to her ankles, swaying alongside the gossamer sashes of fine green silk that hang from her attire while she slips into a ready stance.

"How was it that she ended you again?" Eyes close briefly, perhaps calling to mind the fierce, deadly battle in which he fell. "Ah... right." The smirk beneath her mask is easy to read in her eyes. "We'll see if you lose your head again."

COMBATSYS: Jade has started a fight here.

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Jade             0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn has joined the fight here.

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Zach Glenn       0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Jade

Zach rolls his eyes and lets out a long, silent sigh. These people and their gloating and seeming superiority. Zach's pretty much done with it. Clearly, punching is on the menu, and he does not plan to die. Again. Communication is clearly out, and it is becoming increasingly clear that Frei will be... well... less than useless. It's not his fault of course, but this is obviously a mortal matter.

He rolls his shoulders, then pulls out the Colt 1911 out of the waiting holster with his left hand. No point in being coy about things now, as he lets the power within him flow freely. Zach starts his charge as that sword, shining and terrible, rips into existence again in his right hand even as golden light screams down the blade. A half second later, Glenn is leaping towards the woman in green, bringing that bright blade down at her leading shoulder!

COMBATSYS: Jade blocks Zach Glenn's Medium Strike.

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Zach Glenn       0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0             Jade

Perhaps their superiority complex is born of one thousand years of consecutive victories against the best Earth has had to offer. The lives of humans are the passing of gnats for one who has lived to see ten thousand sunrises - after a point, success becomes the presumptive outcome of any konflict when examined across a lifespan that rivals mankind's entire civilized history. A shorter lived individual might relish the challenge, the chance to hone her staff skills further against the bones of the enemy. But he will find no such zeal in her distinctively green eyes as she watches him decide his fate.

There doesn't appear to be a flicker of surprise as his sword is drawn into being, answering his will with a golden flash. She has already seen his fights in action. Breathing in, she closes her eyes briefly. A ring of amber stone is centered in her attire, located below her navel, forming the anchor point of the silk finery that swirls about her figure as she moves. As her eyes snap open, it flashes a vibrant orange, the staff wielder taking advantage of the self-same tools imparted to mankind to have a fighting chance against Shang Tsung's monsters.

Her right hand swings up, the collapsed staff gripped tightly as she slams it into the path of his blade, lean muscle in her arm tensing as she braces against it, elbow bending slightly but otherwise she manages to deflect the blow meant for her bare shoulder. "Very well." she murmurs, retaliating even in the same instant he might hope to find his feet on the soil. A boot-clad slender leg snaps forward, aiming to drive her foot into his stomach before her whole body spins, staff surging out to its full six foot long length, its metallic surface wreathed in violet energy as she aims low, attempting to sweep Zach's feet clean out from under him.

If successful, she'll finish by sweeping upward, aiming to drive it into his jaw as he falls - every blow meant to be injurious and decisive. "It is age or two of experience you face, boy. Time you learn your place!" The staff would collapse back to its shorter length in an instant, the purple glow fading with it.

COMBATSYS: Jade equips a warm Flaming Yellow Soul Shard.

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Zach Glenn       0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0         [E] Jade

COMBATSYS: Jade successfully hits Zach Glenn with Betrayal.

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Zach Glenn       0/-------/--=====|=------\-------\0         [E] Jade

Zach lets out a silent exhalation as the kick strikes home, leaving him open for the follow-up strikes that send him staggering. Extendable and energy imbued staff plus the super smug attitude? This is a LOT like those memories of fighting Ayame Ichijo. He shakes that thought loose as power starts flowing through his body, all but screaming to be used and used violently. He knows, almost instinctively, that he could use the shard embedded in the manacle at his wrist. Glen would come back and help him out in a hot minute. It'd be easy, and it might help even the odds.

This is NOT another of Glen's fights. This one is /his/, and his alone. He'll win this, or lose this, without that meddling bastard's help.

He smirks shaking his head as if refusing the woman's order to learn his place as he steps in quickly, whipping the blade of his claymore in a wide arc aimed catching his opponent in the sweep of the weapon!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Jade with Sweeping Strike.

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Zach Glenn       0/-------/=======|====---\-------\0         [E] Jade

She doesn't follow up after her swift, three strike combination. Perhaps she doesn't see the need to, confident the will of the psion will be shattered easily once he realizes what he's up against. Again the collapsed weapon is spun in her fingers, Jade tossing it up lightly and catching it on hits way down to twirl it again. She isn't taking him seriously. A swift shake of her head sends her lengthy pony tail snaking around behind her back, "As I understand it..." Eyes flick to the discarded cloth in the dirt, "It isn't yours either. You shouldn't be so quick to throw your life away over a trinket."

But immediately, he proves his will not so easily broken, charging back in with an expression of defiant confidence. "Mn." she considers, drawing back, guarded. Having already tasted of his strength with his first attack, perhaps she takes his next sweeping strike too lightly, anticipating its arc and sweeping her right hand out to deflect it again with her collapsed weapon. There is a clash as the weapons impact, but her own defense does little to deter the swing, the blade carving a line of red across her torso, severing one of the golden looped chains, its dozens of tiny links scattered into the dirt as the woman is sent spinning to the side.

A soft gasp of surprise is uttered behind her mask now that she has felt the nature of his energy in person. Emerald eyes narrow, glaring back at him, a rising temper building in the aloof retainer. Her left hand lowers, brushing against the gash suffered at his strike, before lifting in front of her eyes so that she can see the shed Edenian blood.

"Tsk." Lowering her hand, she wipes her fingers against her own clothing to remove some of the slickness from them. "Now that you have drawn blood, there is only one way this ends." With a flurry of cloth and metal, she bolts forward, "First you will kneel-" She swings her right hand out, aiming to clobber Zach against the side of the head with the weight of her collapsed weapon. "Then you die!"

Her momentum would take her into a spin kick, her leg snapping high, attempting to drive a heel into his chest and stagger his guard. Coming out of the spin, she slams both hands forward, now gripping her staff, as it expands out with a *shink!*, aiming to drive an energy charged blunt end of the weapon into his gut in an attempt to crumple the audacious human to the ground.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Jade's Bad Girl.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Zach Glenn       1/------=/=======|====---\-------\0         [E] Jade

The white hilt of Drywyn snaps high, catching the incoming heel as Zach shoves the woman away, making parrying the incoming thrust a bit easier as he pushes against Jade's assault. He whirls the blade around once to clear the space around him. There is a gentle grin on his face, then his lips move. If Jade is any kind of sensitive to psychic phenomenon, she might hear the words.

~As I said,~ he not-whispers, ~I was asked to bring it to its true owner. I was willing to try this without a fight.~

Zach clears his mind as he focuses on Jade's movement.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn Zach focuses on the situation at hand!

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Zach Glenn       1/-----==/=======|====---\-------\0         [E] Jade

His defenses prove tight enough to ward off the aggressive combination. It looks there will be no kneeling for now. Pulling her weapon back, she collapses it back to its more portable size, gripping it lightly in her right hand, already stepping into a follow up attack when Zach's spin of the lengthy weapon forces her to retreat or risk being slashed again. Hanging back, getting a better measure of the swordsman she faces, his faint grin of serenity only seems to provoke the exotic woman's vexation with his interference further. "So sanguine a look in spite the hopelessness of your situation..." She shakes her head again, flicking her pony tail about her legs as she closes her eyes briefly in consideration. "I suppose... given what you've been through, the threat of death has lost its sting."

She slides one foot forward, preparing to attack again, her voice cooling, her temper seeming to fade only to be replaced with a certain malice provoked almost entirely by his mute grin.

"Then consider this, warrior. When I take your head this time, I will wait in the shadows of the shrine of fallen fools... and when that woman comes to draw you back from the beyond a second time, I will usher her into the afterlife to join you."

Is she trying to scare him, to distract him from his moment of calm composure? Or is it a fierce retaliation she seeks, vigor and violent resolve on display? Either way, the woman in green charges, sliding in close rather than jousting him from afar. Both arms would seek his shoulders as she'd pull him forward off balance, trying to stagger him and leave him open to the sideways bash from her right hand, aiming to clobber his temple with her collapsed staff a second time all in a bid to build momentum to leap past him, entering a swift, full bodied spin, her staff slamming out to its full length as she aims to crack it against his back and drive him to the ground, its humming vibrant energy threatening to detonate against his spine while the staff wielder attempts to slide away again!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn dodges Jade's Pole Vault.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Zach Glenn       1/-----==/=======|====---\-------\0         [E] Jade

Zach's eyes narrow at the threat delivered at Honoka, his lips pressing into a firm line. His stance becomes slightly more aggressive in it's tilt as he mentally thanks Jade for upping the stakes on this one. He reminds himself that she is, for now, protected by the Edicts that no longer protect him.

Then he has no time to consider as the woman in green charges in. Zach steps forward and to his right, allowing his opponent to go right by him. He spins once, power swarming to his left hand. It twists and then flattens even as he pivots off of his leading leg to spin once as that blade of pure psychic force is raked against her exposed flank!

COMBATSYS: Jade blocks Zach Glenn's Swift Blade.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Zach Glenn       1/----===/=======|=====--\-------\0         [E] Jade

Moving swiftly pass Zach, unable to secure the initial hold intended to force her way through his guard, there is a brief window for him to strike out and catch her. And given a faster, smaller weapon, he might have made it in time, delivering a potentially fight ending slash against her back. But once again, a devastating strike is stopped by that durable, energy wreathed staff, Jade's right arm over her head, her left arm down near her waist, gripping the thrumming weapon with both hands at an angle that defends her against the ruthless force of the swing.

It still sends her sliding through the dirt, spinning on her right foot in the process without need to catch her balance, so certain is her poise. "Mn." Her staff collapses again as she brings her arms forward, preparing for another potential strike to be wary of. A sheen of perspiration glistens along her hairline, the ageless fighter pressed more by Zach's resilience than she's let on.

A soft exhale of breath and close of her eyes, a shimmer of light from the golden ring, the price of renewed vigor is a handful of souls surrendered to her to use as she sees fit, just like every other kombatant on the island. "Such stubborn resolve," she muses from behind her mask, "One might almost confuse your for an Edenian." There is a hint of a softer tone to her voice that passes the instant she continues, her sneer visible in her narrowed eyes. "If one was a fool, anyway."

Drawing her right hand back, the spinning collapsed staff shimmers with a flash of violet, the weapon becoming a tri-bladed throwing star, its sharp tips bleeding more of that violent chi so prevalent in her attacks. A step forward, a swing of her arm, and the boomeranging blade hurtles out for Zach. Its course is not meant to embed itself in his chest, but rather graze across his right arm, potentially wounding his bicep and diminishing his ability to swing the mighty blade he has mastered.

He would need to be wary as the weapon's path curves out in the open space behind him before whipping right back at him from behind, potentially delivering a similar wound on his left arm!

COMBATSYS: Jade channels the beat of the tireless heart.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Zach Glenn       1/----===/=======|=====--\-------\0         [E] Jade

This is awful.

At the very least, Zach appears to be holding his own against this mysterious woman, so that's a relief, but for Frei it's hard not to watch this battle and feel nervous about it. If Zach falls, he isn't going to be able to do anything about it... though, at the very least, he's confident that the green-clad warrior won't be able to stop Frei himself from doing whatever he wishes after the fact, up to and including telling Nakoruru where to find her cloth. But he's also learned some useful facts just from observing, not the least of which is -- based on a seemingly throw-away comment from Jade -- that she's connected to whoever it was that killed Zach the 'first time'.

And yet, here they are. This was apparently a really bad day to stick to your guns on not believing in fate or destiny.

But at the same time, Jade doesn't present herself as a... malicious person, in Frei's estimation. Her body language, picking up the cloth with her staff, seemed almost... resentful, moreso than the simple disgusting state of the cloth would indicate. Her tone is haughty, but not particularly murderous, even given the almost-certainly-bluster threat she just leveled at Zach. 'Her Ladyship' suggests that this woman is a loyal retainer. Is it her master that wants Nakoruru's cloth?

So many questions, so few answers. And all the red-haired shade can do is observe, and wait.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn fails to slow Edenian Tag from Jade with Caladbolg EX.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Zach Glenn       1/--=====/=======|======-\-------\0         [E] Jade

Zach has no pithy words; he has no voice with which to give them. He aims the tip of his claymore at the woman's face even as he aims the pistol for the center of her torso. The boomerangs come screaming in, and the monster hunter spins once, sweeping the blade with apparently enough speed to sheer the energy clinging to it free. The crescent of energy rotates slightly along the x-axis...

...and pass between the two incoming projectiles.

The boomerangs tear a pair of wounds across his flanks, drawing what would have been a scream from the man, but drawing no sound. The hunter staggers as the blood starts to flow. He needs to get ahead of this, and quickly.

The bladed projectile spins back to the waiting hand of the Emerald Servitor, spinning and shimmering back into the collapsed staff it started as. A successful attack, by any measure, though rather than follow it up with another assault, she pauses, lowering her right arm, clutching her weapon tightly. Standing up straight, her gloved left hand goes to her hip, head canting to the side slightly.

"And yet, you still utter not a sound." Not a cry of pain, not a grunt of protest, not a word of explanation. Perhaps she interpreted his rather overly laconic nature as a choice when he first approached, his psychic projections falling on a mind deaf to such things. But now she realizes he makes no sound because he can't.

Eyes flash to the discarded cloth then back to the swordsman. "I think I understand better now. You weren't so silent when you fought Princess Kitana. You don't speak because you cannot." A slow roll of her eyes toward the torn, violet sky above has her sighing softly. "If only all your kind could be so blessed." Eyes close, head lowering to face Zach once more.

Exhaling, her eyes open, tossing her collapsed weapon up and catching it again against her palm, her left hand still at her hip. "You almost defeated her, you know. Your loss came at the narrowest of margins, and yet that fine line of difference separated life from death. I could do nothing but watch." A slow blink of her eyes, "You humans think you understand the depths of emotions relationships can foster, yet for you the experience comes and goes in the relative blink of an eye."

She slides her right foot forward, her voice having lost a touch of its haughty edge. "The bonds of friendship and loyalty I hold were forged over millennia, yet I could do nothing but stare from the shadows as you came so close to..." Eyes close again, head bowed. "Nevermind. I'm sure you consider your cause worthwhile, but to us, all your protests are little more than last yelp of a dying spinetharg, hardly worth giving pause over."

She bolts forward, staff extending mid-stride back to its full length. "Your loss here will just be one more ant crushed beneath the heel of the Eternal Emperor. It is not so important as you would hope!"

A leap is taken to the air, the weapon whipped up over her head, gripped in both hands, before she brings it slamming down, attempting to crack it against Zach's skull with cratering force. "I've delayed enough with you!"

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn interrupts Power Strike from Jade with Flashing Blade.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Zach Glenn       0/-------/=======|=======\===----\1         [E] Jade

Zach's eyes narrow, and give a slight nod to acknowledge that the woman finally gets why he is being silent. Then she is airborne. Excellent. It's /really/ hard to dodge things in midair. He takes a half step to his left, causing the strike to slam into his shoulder as he sweeps the left arm at a sharp diagonal again.

This time, the lash of psychic force is far more palpable as it slams into the woman's right side and back. Zach staggers away from his opponent, his right arm dangling oddly, despite the iron grip on the sword in his hand. The sheath of brilliant energy flickers and fades as he turns to regard the woman.

He looks as if he understands exactly where the woman is coming from in this, even as he aims the pistol at her once more.

Descending, staff dropping with the kind of force that can crack men's skulls, Zach proves his resolve in the face of adversity, fighting through his injuries to stay one step ahead of the woman's assault. As he calculated, her defensive options are nonexistent as she drops into the blow, finding herself landing directly into the psychic slash that sends the Jade Guardian falling to the earth, rolling through the baked soil before coming to rest on hands and knees, her collapsed staff still in her grip.

Hissing, she spins up to her feet, landing in a low crouch, left hand pressed against her side, head bowed for a dangerous, brief moment as she fights off the inflicted lingering pain of not just the slash but the powerful psychic touch as well.

Rising up to her full height, she whips her right hand out to her side, extending the staff back to its weaponized length, its vibrant violet glow cast over the featureless ground. Injured now, perhaps there are thoughts of retreat, of withdrawing. The object in question is no particular importance to her... but what tolerance could the leadership of Outworld possibly have for failure to succeed? Is it worth the risk of incurring Shang Tsung's displeasure to return empty handed?

Breaths come in and out as her sharp eyes stay focused on Zach, fighting through the pain she feels simply by way of her own timeless will. "Very well, you at least deserve to see why I am worthy of protecting the Princess." Bringing her hands together in front of her, right still palming her staff, she bows her head, concentrating for an instant, and a violet energy similar to the color of her charged staff, shimmers over her, glowing like a beacon of unnatural light before fading.

It fades, but something still feels off as Jade bolts forward, a certain unseen crackling of energy around her just as she dashes into a spinning staff slam for Zach's upper arm, twisting into a second staggering blow from the other side, and finishing by pouring all of her momentum into a shoulder slam against his chest to knock him away. If successful, she would already be striding forward, her confidence easily read as she approaches to finish the job.

COMBATSYS: Jade successfully hits Zach Glenn with Edenian Rush.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Zach Glenn       0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0         [E] Jade

Zach braces up under the assault, flares of golden energy meeting each strike. They do not blunt the strikes completely, but just enough to all him to stay standing as he is sent flying from the shoulder block. He bounces once, and then rolls to his feet.

His eyes narrow as Jade starts to approach, and Zach opts to press some offense. He charges charges in, throwing his own shoulder block to hopefully drop the woman long enough for him to put a .45 ACP round into her liver. A couple of weeks ago, Zach might have quailed at putting this woman down hard. He might still; the fight's not over. But here and now? With things as they are?

He's going at it full bore. Her survival is down to her own tenacity and a bit of luck.

COMBATSYS: Jade fails to interrupt Armed Combo from Zach Glenn with Jade Charge.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Zach Glenn       0/-------/--=====|=------\-------\0         [E] Jade

With the speed of her charge, did he even have a chance to defend himself against the three swift, yet crushing blows? Yet while she may have expected the close quarters brawl to come to an end then and there, the determined hunter manages to end up on his feet after it all the same - a fact that draws a less than pleased look from the staff wielder as she advances on him quickly, showing no intention of allowing him to delay her any longer than he already has.

"Your tenacity..." He rushes forward to meet her but she is prepared for such. For in this moment, she need not fear anything he can possibly bring to bear against her. The Art of the Jade Serpent affords her a few reckless moments of careless disregard for her opponent's capabilities - or so she thinks as she aims to meet him directly in battle once more. "Is rather vexing!!"

He lunges with his shoulder as she stabs her staff out, trying to catch him in the throat with a potential fight ending, maybe even crippling blow, but in her haste, he slips past her, his body slamming into her chest with enough force to drive her back by sheer force of momentum, though she doesn't seem staggered in the slightest by the collision, drawing her weapon back, collapsing it as she prepares to bash it into his face. Without his sword, what hope does he have? The device in his hand is not an alien concept to her - the high speed projectile weapons popular on Earth are a known curiosity, a compensation for the lack of innate brute strength compared to the average Outworld denizen. But when he pulls the trigger and the shockwave of supersonic force hits her ears, she realizes for the first time just how loud the things can be.

The bullet impacts her ebony skin yet where it should have passed with ease, instead it sinks in deeply against her flesh before popping back out onto the dirt without drawing a drop of blood. The impact still seemed to have done a number though, Jade nearly crumpling over, her left hand pressing against her side as she staggers back another step, eyes pinched closed in a moment of unanticipated pain. "Gah!" she sputters, planting her feet in the dirt, slamming her staff in the ground at full length for a brief moment of support.

The pin-point piercing strike inflicted more internal harm than anticipated in spite the bullet's failure to blast its way through and for the first time, she is slowed due to circumstances rather than by her own choice. "Resourcefulness has only bought you a few more seconds to live..." Whether she's really feeling that to be the case this instant is another matter entirely - to an observer not locked in the heat of battle, the two fighters probably look equally likely to keel over at any moment.

Zach watches with a sort of dispassionate interest as the bullet fails to punch through Jade's skin. She regains her feet, needing the staff to support her. If she is paying attention, the wounds she carved with the boomerangs are slowly starting to seal in front of her eyes.

*Now,* he thinks to himself as he charges forward. *While she's staggered and mentally on her heels.* Frei might hear the thought, might not. Zach's too busy to care one way or the other. The hunter throws his hands behind him, both the pistol and the sword falling from his grip. The pistol hits the dirt in a cloud of dust while the sword seems to evaporate in front of everyone. The hands come up again into a ready stance as Zach skids to a halt in front of Jade, his feet just a bit wider than shoulder length apart as his torso starts to twist.

Psychic energy swirls around the former Marine's left fist, spinning into the shape of a heavy metallic-appearing cestus that sails in motion somewhere between a left hook and an uppercut that slams towards Jade's jaw. The detonation of force should be enough to send her flying!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Jade with Explosive Strike EX.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Zach Glenn       1/-------/=======|=------\-------\0         [E] Jade

As he closes in to combat range again, she stands up, pulling her staff up from the dirt, no longer relying on it for support. Her emerald eyes give him almost a weary look. How many times as she been in this situation before, pushed hard until she executed her secret art that allows her to weather the blows of her foes for at least long enough to deliver a fatal counter strike? This one will play out like all the others before. There is no thrill in battle, no energy for the pointless exercise. She is being annoyed by a pest, and she will put the pest down.

Zach bolts in close, discarding his armaments in favor of a more traditional, raw approach to konflict resolution, and the woman he swings for makes no attempt to defend herself. The power behind his fist is truly remarkable, easily able of rendering some men unconscious in a single hit and more than capable of sending the lighter opponent airborne. But when his crackling, psychically imbued haymaker of a blow connects with the Royal Retainer's jaw, she isn't dislodged in the slightest. There is no neck wrenching recoil, no jaw breaking collapse, not even a flinch of registered impact as if his fist glanced off a statue of pure adamantium for all the good it seemed to do. Only her mask seems to suffer the impact, the cloth fabric blasted to fine green confetti that scatters in the air behind the immovable woman. As common to high ranking Edenian bloodlines, the revealed face of the Jade Warrior is lovely, unmarred by Zach's powerful fist like it should have been.

Her left arm lifts, wiping across her mouth, taking the opportunity to sweep away the spittle produced by the earlier liver shot. A soft sigh escapes her lips as she turns her right side toward him, lifting her leg, her amber ring flashing brightly as she pulls from it again. "I'm sorry," she murmurs, not sounding particularly apologetic, just overcome by a certain wave of ennui. "Unfortunately... it always ends like this."

A flash of bright green chi erupts from around her form as the woman surges forward, propelled by power other than muscular force, her leg snapping out, aiming to drive a crushing heel into the center of Zach's sternum and knock him away once again.

In the same gesture, the presence invoked earlier seems to fade, and though nothing seems immediately obvious, it seems the Outworld Defender staggers slightly. Is there a price to the Art of the Jade Serpent not obvious to the eye?

COMBATSYS: Jade channels the beat of the tireless heart.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Zach Glenn       1/-------/=======|=------\-------\0         [E] Jade

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Jade's Likewise.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Zach Glenn       0/-------/-----==|==-----\-------\0         [E] Jade

Zach's... oddly not surprised by the seeming non-reaction from Jade. Things were never what they appeared to be. He kind of did not but kind of did expect her to take that punch like a champ. His eyes narrow, though, unable to keep the surprise completely off of his face.

He reacts quickly, though, lowering his hands to catch the incoming foot neatly, a faint glow of psychic powered armor forming around his arms again. It's enough to shove him back, but he's not dropping just yet. He sees the wobble, though. She may not have felt the strike at first, but she /will/. Zach needs to stay in this fight. However, he has too much respect for her capabilities to simply wait things out. There's no bell here, no time limit. This fight ends when one of them falls. Zach steps forward again, his hands up as if swinging something over his head.

Drywyn makes its second appearance of the fight, shimmering into existence in time to strike at Jade's shoulder!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Jade with Crushing Strike.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /                             ]
Zach Glenn       0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0         [E] Jade

He wasn't supposed to have anything left after all that. His own attacks were slowing down while she sustained her vigor with the help of the amber ringlet. But when her foot smashes out, he weathers the assault far better than anticipated. Her reckless disregard for his tenacity is already catching up - there is a price to be paid, after all, when potentially bone breaking or organ piercing blows are weathered without so much as a bruise. Pulling her leg back to brace herself, she coughs once, blood spat to the side now that her mask is removed, internal damage mounting quickly from the weathered storm of attacks.

That he has enough fight in him to stay standing let alone charge back and take to the air in much the same reckless way she had earlier more than defies her expectations of the human fighter. Still, she doesn't need to be TOO worried, no one has broken through her stalling art before, allowing her to suffer all manner of attacks without apparent injury long enough to beat her opponents down with her own relentless strikes. A slower, almost lazy step backward is attempted, before the realization hits that it is his weapon he will be drawing and moving backward out of range is simply not an option considering its tremendous reach. A split second decision to escape to the side comes too late, the swing of the psychic blade catching her in the shoulder as intended.

A cry of pain after weathering so many attacks makes it clear that THIS one, at least, has carved through any projected defense she was using to withstand his last few attempts to take her down. Even if her shoulder proves resistant to being shorn by the weapon of legend, the damage, diverted as it seems to be, is still entirely overwhelming - beyond her capacity to endure quite so indifferently as internal damage rages beyond her ability to ignore. A fall to one knee, her staff extending to give her critical support against the ground, has the warrior woman kneeling before the man she was determined to force to do likewise. "/You/." she growls, the one word carrying with it a lifetime of vehemence for everything he seems to represent in her mind. She can say nothing more.

Another pained cough, this one rattling, wet, and another spit of blood against the ground. Breathing in, it is by sheer will power that she surges upward, aiming to execute one final violent upswing of her staff, aiming for his jaw. The upward momentum would be temporary as she'd be unable to keep on her feet, falling right back down to a one knee kneel, her extended staff gripped tightly as it pierces the ground to give her necessary support to keep from falling out right.

COMBATSYS: Jade can no longer fight.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  <
Zach Glenn       0/-------/-----==|

COMBATSYS: Jade successfully hits Zach Glenn with Distrust.

[                        \\\\\\  <
Zach Glenn       0/-------/--=====|

In Jade's defense, Zach's reaching the bottom of his metaphorical barrel as well. He wobbles after the follow through on the swing of the sword, and it leaves him open enough to make avoiding the final resistance of Jade impossible. He takes the strike on his chin, and proves that the hardest part of any jarhead is in fact his head. He shakes it once, driving the point of th claymore into the dirt to hold himself upright for a moment as he regards Jade.

Finally, he straightens up and pulls the sword free. Zach reaches for the second pistol, holding it in his left hand, and at his hip. The finger is resting on the trigger guard, as Zach taps the barrel against his thigh. By all rights, he /should/ kill her. She was more than willing to do the same to him, and then use the death as bait for the Dahlia. That was unacceptable. He takes a step towards the woman, putting the barrel about half an inch from her forehead.

He thumbs the trigger back, the sound loud and imposing, unmistakable for anything else.

"That's enough."

And then Frei is beside him, looking at Jade for a moment before turning to Zach, his face as impassive as it will ever get. He wondered if it would come to this; after all, Shang Tsung's island seems to *invite* these thoughts in the fighters who battle there, even among people who might not be inclined... and it occurs to Frei that while the 'old' Zach might have struggled to control his power, he never hurt anyone more than was necessary, if he could avoid it. Of course, that Zach hadn't suffered at the hands of Jade or her apparent master, either. He might not know how it feels. He might not have a frame of reference.


It's an empty gesture, considering the situation, but Frei still lays his hand atop Zach's, the one on the trigger. It doesn't feel like a solid object at all; it's more like... that tingling of the skin that comes from the change of air pressure during a storm. But it's mostly for show, anyway.

The green eyes look at Zach full-on. "She hurt you. Her master hurt you. So you want to hurt her back. I get it. But none of that is a reason to do this." He tilts his head somewhat at Jade but doesn't tear his gaze from Zach's face. "You kill her, then someone brings her back. She seeks you out. Maybe she tries to hurt Honoka instead of you. All of this violence, for what? A couple seconds of gratification? Is that the kind of person you want to be?"

He pauses, and only now does he turn to look at Jade. "We're taking the cloth, which never belonged to you in the first place. And then you're going to leave. Understand?"

Nothing Frei says to Zach is wrong. These thoughts were, in fact, already going through his mind. His hand does not move. Not from any presence of Frei's, nor from any indecision.

*Letting her just walk away is a terrible idea, Frei. You know that, right?* Zach's eyes are only for Jade at the moment. *And while this may be shaped like a tournament, we are at /war/.* Then Zach takes a deep breath, lets the adrenaline dump, lets the wounds close a little more. The gun, however, does not waver.

*I need you to translate for me. She cannot hear me,* he says to Frei. *She gives me every last shred of power in her soul shard, and I take the cloth back to its rightful owner. In exchange, she gets to continue to serve her mistress,* he says. *None of this was personal for me, but she insisted on making it so. This is her only chance. Otherwise, I put two in her skull, and take what I can get."


COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn has ended the fight here.

'Letting her walk away is a terrible idea.' Well... he's not wrong.

"I know it is. But that's what the moral high ground is like. You constantly make trouble for yourself. You put your life in danger. You do really, REALLY stupid things on a pretty regular basis." He shrugs. "The idea is that sometimes people learn by example."

And here, he turns to Jade, his expression distant but pleasant enough. "Speaking of which. My friend here would like all the power stored in that... thing," he says, gesturing with one hand toward Jade's own soul shard. "In addition to the cloth. Now, that's basically a game he's playing with your life, and I'll be honest with you, I don't like it. I think it's wrong. But I also want you to know that he absolutely will go through with killing you if you don't agree and you know? Death doesn't seem terribly permanent here but I think you should REALLY spend a minute considering: are the people I work for going to go to the trouble after I failed them?"

It's a shot in the dark, but to follow that analogy to its natural conclusion, Frei's got pretty good eyesight in the dark.

The last defiant bash of her staff connects cleanly but still isn't enough to drop the veteran fighter to the ground. One is forced to wonder at the storm of blows he has weathered in his own fighting career to be able to keep standing after all that. Silent but for the panting of breath, the ebony-haired woman looks up at Zach, her sharp green eyes as focused as at first, her mind still acutely aware of her circumstances even if her her body has suffered too much trauma to continue to put up a fight.

Another cough punctuates her breathing, the truth of her supernatural durability betrayed by the unseen suffering that goes way below skin deep. He draws the lethal weapon - a tool of the trade so many are engaged in on this broken island - and she simply stares at him. To fight to the death is the Outworld way when engaged in anything outside of a practice spar, and for defeat to end this way is to be expected.

Whatever wrestle takes place in his heart seems to pass quickly enough, the weapon leveled, hammer pulled back with his thumb - an unnecessary step with the firearm, but a foreboding, telling one all the same. So this is where she dies, it seems. There are no words, no pleading, no final quote to try and be remembered by, just seething silence when a third voice is suddenly heard, another figure at Zach's side. The look of surprise in her eyes is readily transparent. As part of the inner circle of Outworlders, she had tabs on everyone wandering the island. So who the hell is /this/ that pleads for her life now?

The thought of imminent demise is shelved for a moment of confounded contemplation at the mysterious presence that was never aboard any of the boats, never pulled by the summoners... He says they're taking the cloth and that she leaves and her answer comes forced through a jaw tightened by pain and frustration. "As is his right in victory." There would be no protest there.

But whatever influence the interloper has on the swordsman, Zach doesn't seem so inclined to listen, his gun still held level, a black hole pointed at her head, ready to finish the job. There was no thought of what would come later - ten thousand years of existence can be ended as abruptly as the fleeting lives of Earthrealmers in the end.

Frei speaks again after a window of silence, clearly indicating some kind of inaudible communication between them - a barter for her life taking place outside of earshot. An interesting talent, to be certain. And then she's addressed again, the terms laid out. The energy in her shard, and the cloth he fought so valiantly for. Her eyes close briefly, his case made. He has noticed the somewhat transient nature of death within this realm, but the price for failure in the brutal organization to which she belongs is perhaps not so forgiving.

"You don't belong here." is the answer Frei gets, eyes opening again. "Too soft." Well, maybe that's why he's not exactly alive. Someone that forgiving, so willing to extend mercy where it wouldn't be reciprocated... this is no place for him. She coughs again, the ramifications of her options made plain, her left hand lifting to rest against her side where a bullet was impossibly bounced.

Eyes flick to Frei, her expression softening, the strength to sustain the stronger emotions of rage, fury, or indignation slowly leaving her. To have her life negotiated for by the enemy. Could anything be worse?

Well, yes, there is the cold aftermath of death, the fate of countless souls that saturated this isle of the dead. If she was not brought back, if no price was paid, this would be her permanent resting place for eternity, no longer able to look out for her lifelong friend's protection. Such failure would be far worse than any shame in being unable to return with the requested artifact.

"Very well, I understand the terms." she murmurs, left hand moving from her side to rest against the now dimmed ringlet of amber at her waist, fingers tracing over it, drawing circles along its loop. The transfer is plainly visible to the mortal eye, swirling wisps of various shades of green, red, yellow, and blue swirling up from her token, circling around Zach's before suddenly surging into it, causing it to glow brightly for seconds before returning to its previous state.

Eyes shift back and forth between Zach and Frei. The red head seems trustworthy, but with the way she stays put, it's clear she still half expects Zach to finish the job all the same.

The soul shard at Zach's wrist shudders with newfound power, as he lets out a steady breath. He's half-tempted to pull the trigger anyway. Jade represents a threat. His word, however, is his bond. His pride is still a thing that matters to him.

Zach thumbs the hammer back forward, and shoves the pistol back into the rig. He starts to walk towards where the shroud lay in the dirt. *Tell her to get out of here,* Zach says to Frei. *Before I change my mind.*

Along the way, Zach scoops up the pistol he had discarded earlier before before arriving at the large section of cloth. He picks it up carefully between thumb and forefinger, trying to get a read on the thing as he considers how to clean it up. It surely is a mess.

For someone who isn't really physically there, Frei certainly does have a lot of distinctly physical reactions to stuff; when Zach puts the gun away and releases the threat on Jade's life, he lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding. The green-clad ninja calls him 'soft' and, despite the tension of the situation, he gives Kitana's handmaiden the faintest of smiles. "You're right about that. Well, somewhat. I like to think of myself more like the bamboo reed: bends, but never breaks. When something's TOO hard, it can get brittle and shatter. Sometimes being soft is how you survive."

She's unlikely to be convinced by this argument, he knows, but if he didn't make it, he wouldn't be who he is.

"He said to get out before he changes his mind," Frei adds, almost offhandedly, tone conversational. "Between you and me, it's the kind of throwaway action movie line you deliver in this sort of situation, but I'd be really sure of myself before I tried anything stupid, you know?"

And then he turns his back on her. What's she gonna do, ineffectually swing a staff through his non-corporeal body? Instead he walks over to Zach, tilting his head at Nakoruru's gross and stained cloth in the psion's hands. "Well... you did it. Hopefully she'll be happy enough to see it that she won't mind the..." He pauses, then shrugs. What else is there to say at this phase? What's he going to do?

"How do you feel?" he asks, curious, though his eyes are not on Zach; they're on one of the nearby graves, staring at it intently.

Seconds tick by, Jade waiting to see what the outcome of Zach's internal decision making process finally judges the best course of action to be. But finally, the weapon is stowed, the Earth warrior turning to collect his weapons and the... unsightly trophy of his victory. The woman stays put, weathering Frei's words with silence, eyes down cast, head seemingly heavy as she stays upright though trembling at times to do so.

She glances up when he adds that she's been told to be gone, brow furrowing as he confides that the threat strays a bit too close to action movie lines for his liking. "It's no wonder you haven't survived your time here." she states, her voice having lots its bitter edge, replaced with exhaustion yet also a hint of wonder at the man that seems woefully out of place in this harsh world. He turns his back to join the soldier and the Royal Retainer escapes in the moments their attentions have both fallen briefly to the poor, abused cape Zach now holds.

Other than looking like something that was once white several lifetimes ago and is now every color of filth and grime, there doesn't appear to be anything special about it. It doesn't glow, it doesn't sparkle, it doesn't radiate energies, fel or otherwise. It simply hangs between Zach's fingers, looking like a large square section of cloth someone dragged through every compost pile, every slime filled cesspool, and every pile of charcoal that could possibly exist on the island.

*Tired,* Zach admits as he shakes some of the nastier stuff off of it, before folding it until he can drape it over one forearm. *I'm sorry, by the way,* he says when he was done with this task. *It was wrong of me to force that on you like that.* Something about the tone suggests that Zach would have done so again if he had to, but he regrets the necessity of the whole thing and what it might have cost Frei to deal with that.

It's only /after/ that is done that Zach notices Frei's intent stare. *What it is,* he asks, openly curious.

"Yeah," Frei admits. "It was." Surprisingly blunt, but the redhead doesn't sound particularly upset about it, all things considered. "But circumstances were what they were, and now it's in the past, and everyone's learned a valuable lesson, or something like that." He sounds pretty cavalier about the entire thing, but if Zach shares any of 'Glen's other memories about this man, that's entirely consistent with those memories. Perhaps a studied response to tragedy. Or maybe he's an idiot.

Nobody was ever really sure.

But then he's asked what's wrong, and the placid expression becomes troubled. "It's, ah..." How can he possibly describe exactly what's going on right now? Stepping away from Zach, turning briefly to look and notice that Jade is now gone, he walks over to a group of irregular gravestones. They look like a jagged set of clownish teeth rising from the ground; some with a cathedral's peak shape, others rounded. Hilariously, all of them have the same date of death: April 14th, 2015. For all intents and purposes, Frei seems to pick one at random, because the theme of the evening is the spiritual remnant enjoying his new career as a dowsing rod.

Abruptly, he laughs, then turns to Zach. "You know, I suppose it's typical of a Rust. I can't tell if this genius, stupidity, or a little of both."

Serious matters treated lightly and small matters taken seriously. It fits Frei pretty well, actually. He looks at where Frei is standing, and reaches for it, mentally speaking. *Definitely that last one,* Zach agrees, a soft smile on his face. *I know that this one isn't the one Glen remembers,* he says after a moment, *But I think I would have liked to have met the one you guys knew. Glen felt he owed the man a lot.*

For a brief moment, Frei gets a wistful expression, looking between the graves he's standing next to. "He was... one of a kind. Never believed in himself, not really; had really just terrible self-esteem, you know?" Taking a few steps over, he kneels down near one grave in particular, bouncing on his heels a bit, running a finger over the chipped headstone as he talks. "But he always did the right thing. He always put others first. Not because it helped him, but because he genuinely believed in people. It was a rare trait. The type of person you encounter maybe once in a lifetime."

And now you've met one twice in a lifetime. Or have you? After all, the Zach standing next to him isn't the Zach he remembers and the Rust of this world is plenty different.

Lots of things are different.

The redhead is silent for a long while, until he finally speaks up. "She's here," he says, voice quiet, hand now palm down on the gravestone. "Aya, I mean. This must be where Rust took her body. I can feel her soul shard from here."

Zach stares at the spot for a moment, thinking. He somehow knew that he did not have sufficient power to bring Aya back right this instant. He looks around, getting a feel for the place, noting how it feels like there is a little more "Frei" in the spot where he was standing. He nods once, confident he could find the place again if needed.

He shoves one hand in his pocket, the cloth drape over one arm like a massive nasty towel. *So how do you want to do this?* Zach asks. *Or do you even want to do anything right now? I feel like none of the decisions in this situation are really mine to make, but I'd like to help you out all the same.*

A long pause. Frei is still down on his heels, hand on the grave, seemingly lost in thought, long after Zach asks that question. Almost uncomfortably long, before he finally pulls himself standing and shrugs his shoulders, looking up at the unnervingly purple sky. Usually when the sky's purple it's during twilight, a restful time, the day coming to an end. Here, it's more like a dark omen than anything else. It is occuring to the redhead that he really, REALLY hates this place.

"Do what? You got the cloth. Go give it to Nakoruru though if I were you, I'd put it somewhere safe until you do. I don't suspect our jolly green friend was here to get that thing because she likes how she looks in red and white." It's a perfectly functional answer, and it's good advice, and it's one thousand percent not an answer to the question Zach actually ASKED, which is what Frei plans to do about the Aya situation, especially given that the soul shard which links them is buried with the body.

They both know this. It doesn't need saying.

After a moment or two, he shrugs. "You don't owe me anything, Zach. I helped you because I wanted to, and because I could, and because it was probably the right thing to do. That's just how I operate."

The still air of the desecrated graveyard is perpetually heavy with the burden of one thousand years of neglect, sacrilege, and suffering. Here lie the many who died elsewhere on the island, their bodies eventually finding their way to the unrestful repose afforded by the expansive cemetery. Others fought and died upon these grounds, their blood salting the earth all around.

A shift in that stale air weighed down by the ever present stench of death is the two are joined by a third standing a meter and a half behind them. It stands to reason that she travels island like any other, yet her comings and goings are abrupt, the warrior in white never seen wandering from place to place alone.

"I see you have something of mine," Nakoruru speaks up, her voice carrying neither accusation nor levity. The Ainu battle maiden stands, her companion a large Siberian grey wolf, his face and body marked with battle scars of countless challenges. Steel blue eyes linger on Zach, a dip of her head offered in greeting, "Zach." before flicking to the slightly less corporeal presence, hesitating for a moment as she looks him over from toe to head, attention lingering on his hair. "...Frei." She adds with a nod, looking distracted by a moment's thought, perhaps processing the implications of finding him here.

That she happens to be here at this specific location at this exact moment lends some credence to Zach's theory that she could have recovered the item she sent Glen off to retrieve in the first place, having a sense of where it could be found all along.

"I had hoped..." She glances around, keenly aware that only the two figures before her seem to be in the vicinity - if one ignores the thousands of lost souls always lingering just beyond peripheral vision, that is. "That the matter could have been resolved amicably with Sorcha, but I trust you did what was necessary."

She manages a faint, tired smile, eyes slowly shifting to the thing draped over Zach's arm before freezing, eyes blinking twice.

Zach offers the cloth to Nakoruru. He opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes out. He stops, winces, and then closes it again. He scratches the back of his neck uncomfortably. *It's a little messy. I couldn't find anything to clean it off with. Sorcha was dead before I got on the trail. I think the Sorcerer had an interest in the cloth; someone else beat us to it.* He shrugs. *I took it back.* And then some.

Zach glances at Frei. *I want to help you because I want to, and maybe it's the right thing to do. And maybe because I can, though I'm not sure on that last part.* he sends, a faint grin on his face.

*Though I have to ask,* Zach looks back at Nakoruru, *You probably could have gotten this back on your own. Why the need for proxies?*

Standing here, now, and seeing her through what can charitably be called 'his own eyes', Frei is suddenly struck by how diminuitive Nakoruru truly is. Frei is short but she's shorter still, not particularly 'built'. And when Zach asks her point-blank why she couldn't get the cloak back on her own, both he and Nakoruru may notice that the redhead's eyes open wide in realization for a moment. Yeah... she probably COULD have, couldn't she? So one wonders indeed why she needed to send someone like Zach traipsing across the island fighting randos with quarterstaves and chips on their shoulder instead of getting it herself.

"I admit, that's a good question," he says, in agreement, before adding: "You're welcome, by the way."

Not for the first time since they were... separated... Frei finds himself wondering, and not without some surprise, what Aya would do in this situation. His instinct is to trust someone like Nakoruru; she helped of her own accord when Aya was injured, after all. So why put...

He blinks again, then smiles ruefully.

"It was a test, wasn't it?" he says to the Ainu girl, tilting his head somewhat. "I know you could have 'tracked' that cloth as well as I did."

*Better, probably,* Zach says, shooting another soft grin at Frei, *Since it's her's and all.*

That the wolf at her side stands higher than her waist probably only serves to emphasize that the white robed warrior's diminutive stature compared to most of the powerful kombatants that wander the island. She smiles faintly, a sympathetic look in her eyes, as Zach opens his mouth to speak only to close it upon failing to utter a sound as to be expected. Her focus returns to the cloth he holds out, the grunge-covered fabric looking utterly beyond salvation. A soft inhale then exhale as she reaches out to close her hand over the middle of it and pull it and pull it away, holding it out in front of her to look it over. If only the cloth itself could speak and explain the nightmarish tale of horrific adventures it had been on during its time in Sorcha's keeping. But it can't. And that's for the best.

She glances up at Zach after scrunching her nose just a little, catching the meaningful glances back and forth between the other two. The realization seems to set in that /they/ can communicate somehow. The shade that petitioned her had mentioned an ability to speak telepathically with the Scarlet Dahlia, perhaps... So her focus falls to Frei instead. "Thank you."

He mentions a question, one presumably voiced by the mute at his side, and she waits quietly, watching the different thoughts play out via the expressions on his face - wonder, consideration, realization. He speaks of a test and she averts her eyes, quietly piecing together the parcels of the conversation she is at least privy to, before shifting her attention back to the red head that is one part stranger, one part quite familiar.

"In the stale, putrid waters of the world lives Pauchi Kamui, bringer of disease and poison. Once he plagued the water supply of an Ainu village favored by his gentle sister, Waka-ush Kamui, the life bringer, goddess of fresh water. She knew that left unchecked, her brother would eventually consume the village for himself, and she was not deaf to the prayers of the afflicted. But she could also not bring herself to usher in the cleansing storm that would purge her brother from the land. In desperation, she turned to Okkirmui, the hero, and..." Her voice fades, her free hand waving slightly, "A story for another time. While I did not share kinship with the devil child, I also found myself..." She frowns, eyes averted, shoulders falling slightly, "Sympathetic to her circumstances. I also knew her to be dangerous and unpredictable. I feared I would not be able to do what needed to be done."

At her side, the large wolf growls, his head lowered, not focusing on the two figures before her. There is an impression of fierce disapproval from Shikuru, the admission of weakness, a reluctance to use force when necessary not sitting well with the clawed avenger. The tension between the two is palpable but fades quickly.

Looking up from her companion, Nakoruru sighs softly, "I'm sorry that you got dragged into this..." She looks from Frei to Zach, her mouth becoming a thin line as she considers him. There is clearly more she is not giving voice to - was this only to send someone out to do something she wasn't comfortable doing, or was Zach also being evaluated by his success in the request?

"But you kept your part of the agreement." she states to Zach, her attention turning back to the dripping cloth. "I will keep mine." With a look of mild disgust, the girl suddenly whips the cloak out to her left, away from Frei, Zach, and opposite of Shikuru. The fabric cracks like thunder as a cloud of black flakes scatter into the air. Another whip, a second cloud of ashen black, the particles falling to the ground quickly in the still air as the cloak itself begins to reveal its white. A third and final crack and Nakoruru draws it back, folding it over her right arm, a pristine white fabric with a crimson geometric pattern for its border.

"This is Kamui Rimse, The Purifier, a gift from the gods." Fingers gripping two corners, she holds it open to show its surface is as pristine as when she first lent it to the chaos sorcerer weeks ago. Stepping forward, she approaches Zach, "If you will allow me..." she'd request softly, moving to drape it over his back and draw it forward like a cloak. "I believe it will help with your problem. Its potential to mend wounds of the mind, soul, and body have seen me through... many desperate situations."

If asked, Zach would suspect that it was a little of both.

At the cleaning process draws the first sound anyone has heard from Zach since his return to the lands of the living. He lets out a low whistle of appreciation as she presents the cloth to the man and the shade. He glances at Frei. *Way easier than finding water,* he thinks, then looks back to Nakoruru.

He drops to one knee to allow Nakoruru to place the cloth on his back, given the height disparity between the two.

With Zach's kneel making the task at hand a lot easier, Nakoruru drapes the white cloth over his back. At her height, the length of fabric is enough to completely enshroud her as a hooded cloak when she so desires. It wouldn't quite be so encompassing of the taller, more muscular recipient of its touch, but concealment is not exactly the concern here either.

Tugging it forward, she steps back around in front of him, drawing it closed over the man before retreating a few steps to look the figure cloaked in white over. "Its effects, and their timeliness, are difficult to predict. I hope it helps reunite you with your voice." It seems to be a matter of waiting and seeing at this point, though one would assume she isn't about to let the cloak out of her sight again anytime soon.

Well... it *doesn't* turn out to have been some sort of elaborate 'now you are ready' testing situation, so that's a good thing. As Frei suspected, it wasn't that Nakoruru didn't know where the cloth was; in all honesty, it didn't even seem possible that a chosen divine warrior wouldn't know the same trick Frei used, though admittedly, not many people other than him could have actually DONE it. There was something else in the way. And as he might expect, given what happened the last time they met, Nakoruru has an Ainu folk tale that helps to... explain...

She gets most of the way through the story of Pauchi Kamui and Waka-ush Kamui, and a gear slides into place in Frei's thoughts, the wheels turning. From the look on his face, you can almost HEAR the *click!* sound of it all coming together, like the clockwork puzzle of this situation was a literal object behind his eyes that really did just slide into place.

The rain goddess could have saved many lives, but resisted doing so because it meant destroying a family member. That makes sense. But then Nakoruru cuts off before mentioning the actions of a hero, and since these are folk tales, Armchair Anthropologist Frei has a pretty good idea of how it works out: Okkirumi probably drives out Pauchi Kamui in her stead. The Ainu guardian keeps using the phrase 'do what needed to be done': her doubts that she could, her hope that Zach could.

The psion's gun, inches from Jade's face, and Frei's symbolically restraining hand on it. An exhortation not to give in to the killing urge when it wasn't needed.

He actually *mouths the words* 'wasn't needed' for a moment, as he watches Nakoruru sweep the suddenly-cleansed cloth of purification over Zach's body, rewarding him for his service.

It's not until everything is said and done that he turns his emerald gaze to Nakoruru, face contorted in something between betrayal, disbelief, and genuine anger. "I can't BELIEVE you!" he snaps, staring at the diminutive avatar. "THAT'S what all this was about? You weren't sure you could kill the girl who had your cloth so you SENT SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT FOR YOU?!"

For someone without a physical body, he can get pretty freakin' loud.

The redhead actually advances a step or two toward Nakoruru, and again, the note that despite his incorporeality, the man is very much prone to having physical responses to things, one hand clenching into a fist at his side. "That is UNREAL. What is wrong with you?! It's one thing to not want to do it. I get that. I honest and truly do. But you didn't explain a damn thing to him, did you?" Frei's free hand snaps out toward Zach, pointing at the newly-purified (hopefully) young man. "You just said 'well I can help you if you get it back.' And that's it. You 'hoped the matter could be resolved amicably'. Okay. Did you TRY that before sending a stranger off to maybe kill someone -- who, since her name was clearly NOT Sorcha, was NOT here, by the way -- because you... UGH!"

He stops talking, bringing his pointing hand up to his face, palm down, 'breathing' into his hand and not talking. Apparently, whatever the hell it is that just happened really touched a nerve.

Zach winces, Frei's anger is palpable. Like a wave of heat pouring out of a stove that has just been opened. He's not sure who can do what to whom, but odds are good that someone COULD get hurt in this confrontation. He lurches to his feet, his mouth opening to speak.

"...rei..." Zach winces. "...frei." It seems that for now, that is as good as it is going to get. It stands to reason; he hasn't really used his voice in weeks now. The rest of him has gotten... some kind of workout in the meantime, but it's like working a muscle that has been resting too long. It's difficult.

"...'t kind of worked out," he actually /says/. "...sorcha died in another fight," he says with a shuddering breath. He gasps for a moment, before coughing. He walks over to stand by Frei, the only way he can think of to calm the spirit down a bit. "...The woman I fought isn't dead either," he continues. "...and she's alive because of you. If you hadn't talked me down, I would have pulled the trigger. Wouldn't have thought twice about it." The turth and finality of that statement cannot be denied.

He stops to breath, pulling the cloak off of his shoulders to hand back to Nakoruru. "Glen... the spirit I resemble, said he talked to you," he asks, only a slight rasp in his voice. "What did he say to you?"

The outburst draws immediate attention - not just from the target of his anger, who turns to face him, eyes widened briefly in surprise, clearly feeling a bit blindsided by the fury evident in the spirit, demonstrated by voice and posture unmistakable. But also from the wolf at her side, the beast of countless battles snarling back in an instant, teeth bared as Frei draws closer. It stands to reason he can't touch her let alone inflict physical harm on the raven-haired quest giver, but the fierce creature at her side seems disinclined to take any chances, his hair brushing up, adding to his already considerable size.

Nakoruru's surprise fades quickly as he continues, her expression becoming tight lipped, maintaining eye contact with Frei as she weathers his outrage in quiet. But while she remains calm, ignoring for the moment the menacing growl at her side, she looks far from indifferent to the words he's saying, her eyes searching his face intently, her mouth twisted, torn between protesting , defending herself, or saying nothing, as if she's all together unsure of how to deal with the outrage expressed.

"I-" she opens her mouth only to shut it again as Zach's strained utterance draws attention to the cloaked man. His own words add further context she was missing - he didn't kill Sorcha, she was already dead by another's hands. But he did fight someone else... someone who survived the encounter? This other element is unimportant, she supposes, an unexpected wrinkle in already imperfect plans.

Closing her eyes, Nakoruru releases a soft exhale of pent up breath before glancing back and forth between Frei and Zach, one furious and dead, the other slowly recovering from the lingering ordeal of death trying to defend the situation to some degree.

She tears her gaze from Zach back to Frei, "Truth be told, I never spoke with Zach, only his echo." What had she told him? Probably very little. She can't remember; the discussion was only one of many she's been a part of since her last battle against Baiken in the arena. What she had actually hoped the outcome would be seems unclear as she seems to make little effort to refute the strong words.

Her own eyes reflect a deep sadness suppressed by strength of will to display anything but as she looks back toward her accuser. "What you say is not so far from the truth for me to protest your words. This is a time of harsh decisions... and harder sacrifice. My eye is on saving our world. Better for the humanity of a few to be challenged than the whole lost to the oblivion Outworld promises." She looks him up and down once more as if evaluating his not-living status. "But I hope it can be your purpose to challenge that descent into depravity we must all face as we fight for survival here. Few seem capable of standing on the high wall and shouting the warning we all have need to hear." There is a certain look she gives him then - too soft - that's what the Emerald Assassin thought of him? He might see that same sentiment echoed in the way she looks at him now, but rather thinking it a pejorative, she looks almost wistful, a nostalgic shade to her expression, a fleeting memory of better days.

She lowers her head finally, eyes closed briefly before shifting her focus back toward Zach, "So you nearly killed another in order to see this through. I... don't imagine that actually ameliorates the situation in the slightest." she manages with a weak smile for his effort, fully aware of the angle Frei is coming from even if nothing about her reaction to his outburst implies much in the way of agreement with it.

Nakoruru reaches out to retrieve the cloak offered, folding it over her right arm, resting her left hand atop of it as she looks toward the now audible Zach. "We spoke of many things..." There is a catch in her voice, something about the encounter with the shade of Glen bothering her now that it has been brought up again. "But I am afraid those words were for us alone." A feeble attempt at a half smile is offered by way of apology, but she doesn't elaborate any further.

A lot happens all in one go. Frei has his outburst, Nakoruru her response, and Zach gets his voice back, in both literal and metaphorical senses. It's a lot to deal with, and once he's said (more shouted) his peace, it seems like a lot of the anger just... drains out of Frei, along with basically anything else. If it's possible for a ghost or spirit to look exhausted, he really DOES look exhausted, like he spent all the energy he had getting those words out of him at all. But any comment he would make in return is forestalled by by Zach's question, and Nakoruru's answer. And suddenly part of this makes more sense than it did before. It could be that 'Glen' got all the details after all, and didn't think to share them with his counterpart in THIS world. Thinking back to his meeting with both Zach-s, Frei is struck by the memory that 'Glen' sometimes seemed a little... *contemptuous* of his other half. Not in a dismissive way, but in an annoyed older sibling way.

Like being worried he wouldn't 'do what needs to be done'.

Why is (un)life so freakin' complicated.

The redhead looks between Nakoruru and Zach for a moment, before heaving a sigh and running hands through his hair which, you know. Only theoretically exists. "Well, he forgives you. And you didn't do anything to me so what do I have to say about it now? But..." He sighs. He's hearing what she really said: more people will probably die before the end of this, and it may be that for Earth to be saved, even more still will have to die. One hand still in his bangs, Frei looks to the west, up toward Shang Tsung's barely-visible castle. "I don't... ugh. What do I even say right now?" A good question, that, which even Frei seems to recognize as he falls silent again, looking at the ground in frustration before bringing his head up to speak once more. "It's just the sort of decision you need to make understanding the consequences. And I don't want to be anyone's moral compass!" he adds, eyebrows going up. "I'm not anyone's... reminder. And anyhow, a compass is only worthwhile if you use it to go somewhere."

That comes out WAY more bitter than he intended it too.

*Glen /does/ seem like kind of a jerk,* Zach asides to Frei. He takes a deep breath, then regards Nakoruru for a long moment. She's protecting her source, which speaks volumes to Nakoruru's character.

"Ma'am," he says aloud. "Allow me to make some guesses, then. He does not approve of my relationship with the woman you know as the Scarlet Dahlia. I understand /why/ he doesn't, and it is entirely possible that some of his accussations have merit to them. His whole intention was to make me less reliant on her, which he views as a dangerous situation." Zach draws himself up a bit, unintentionally making the height difference between himself and the Ainu woman a bit more pronounced. "It is literally none of his concern. It is not his life to live."

He turns toward Frei, sympathy crossing his features. "You're tired," he says softly, with pure concern in his voice. "You could use some rest." He bows his head to Frei. "Thank you for your help."

The smallest of the three lowers her hand, resting it atop the growling wolf's head, soothing the hyper protective fight instincts swelling up within his vengeful soul. Frei's words were impassioned, sincere, and deserving of no reproach or threat from her or her own. The wolf seems mollified reluctantly, ears slowly working the way upright, his coat flattening out gradually along his back as his growl diminishes.

Nakoruru watches quietly as Frei wrestles with the circumstances, the harsh realities she appears to subscribe to, and the ideals that should not be so idly discarded by the wayside throughout this great an abominable ordeal called Mortal Kombat. He seems to surrender, asking what there is to say and she dips her head slightly as if to acknowledge his frustration yet finding no words to offer in solace. These are not times that allow for such luxuries.

Her own obligations completed, she looks about to back away. There is still so much to do, so many thoughts of her own to sort out - of the dread battle before her, and the version of truth the echo of Zach shared with her at the edge of the abyss. But Frei's exclamation gives her further pause, eyes widening slightly before her wistful smile returns, "No? It's too bad, you seem... particularly well suited to it. Thanks to your pointing the way, another continues to draw breath this day." Would she feel the same if she knew it was an Outworlder that was spared?

There is a soft, almost amused huff at his comment about using the compass to actually go somewhere before blinking slowly and shifting her focus back to Zach, giving him her full attention as he theorizes what she and the shade of another time had to speak about at the start of all this. As he conjectures what might have been expressed, her face remains hard to see, a blend of attentive listening, a touch of concern, a flicker of curiosity at what he might be getting at, but not one iota of confirming his suspicions can be found there.

She lifts her chin to look up at him as he draws closer, the movement on his part drawing an immediate reaction from the wolf at her side, though Shikuru stays put, baring his teeth briefly, glaring at Zach with his lone baleful eye, but otherwise not aggressing.

She's quiet for a moment as he finishes declaring the other him's lack of right to weigh in on his life, eyes studying Zach for a long moment, before she finally speaks. "There once lived a rabbit who thought himself far more clever than he had any right to be. Day after day, he would play with the crossbow traps of hunters, setting them off while avoiding their bolt with his remarkable speed, thus vexing the starving huntsmen while his brother rabbits looked on dismay. Time and time again, they pleaded for him to not tempt the traps so, but he told them it was his life to live, his choice to make." She shakes her head, glancing down at the wolf at her side, "One day he discovered a new form of trap he had not seen before - loop of cord in addition to the usual traps he had tripped so often before. Curious, he ignored his brother rabbits' warnings and touched it, finding himself snared by the leg. Caught, but still alive, the foolish rabbit panicked; he thrashed about and cried out and, one by one, his worried kin flocked to his aid, and one by one, they were caught up by the huntsmen lying in wait."

She gives Zach a pointed look, "And thus too late, his concerns became all their concern." She shrugs slightly, offering nothing else to the tale. Not all folklore has a happy ending.

Lifting her hand from the back of Shikuru's head, she takes hold of the cloth draped over her other arm and, taking hold of two corners, begins to fold it into squares like one would a large sheet. Only, as she folds, the squares keep getting smaller, until at last, the entire cloak is reduced to a small swath of fabric resting in her palm, the same distinctive crimson border present, now just intricately small.

She brushes her hands together and the cloak she sent Zach out on this perilous mission for is gone from sight, the process completed in mere moments. Zach is addressed directly, "You may not be in the tournament, but you can still help those fighting for Earth gain strength, can still protect others from those who would oppress us." Eyes flick to Frei, her head leaning to the side a little, "As for you, I..." She shakes her head finally, looking away, "I cannot begin to imagine what the future holds for one in your circumstances. But thank you," she finishes, bowing her head briefly.

It is hard to stay angry in these situations, for Frei; momentary outrage always seems to lose out to his general ability to read context deeply and empathize with others. When Nakoruru says she doesn't know what the future holds for him, he can only shrug. "That's alright. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but... this situation is a direct result of my own actions. So I don't really have the right to complain. And, well..." How does he explain any of the rest of this to her? Where do you even start? "I think it'll work out in the end. These things usually do."

A lethal tournament for the sake of all living beings will 'work out in the end'? That's a distinctly Frei-like point of view, but... it's got a grain of truth to it, too. He saw one world literally end, but even then, hope remained. Life goes on. And on. And on.

Glancing at Zach, then at Nakoruru, he clears his throat. "I'm going to, uh, go." For starters, he made the situation amazingly awkward, and for two, well... he's starting to feel uneasy being this close to Aya's grave, and by extension her body. "I hope things work out. And I suspect I'm not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, so if you somehow think there's a way I can help, well..."

He trails off. "Yeah."

Zach scowls as Nakoruru goes into parable mode. Part of this is a distinct discomfort; there are not too many people who use that method of teaching in his memory. Jesus springs to mind most prominently, for the Catholic-raised young man. Nice to know he was in the ballpark; she denied nothing, and that is a decent confirmation in his mind. Nevermind. He's tired of being lectured at by people who think they know better.

"That is what I do," is all he says to Nakoruru. For now, his concern is for Frei. "Frei. I'm here for you if and when you need my help," he says honestly, before looking around. "Though I would suggest that this setting is probably worse for your well-being than the shrine was." Maybe he took the 'not going anywhere' bit too literally? Hard to say.

Eyebrows raise at Frei as he expresses that things will work out in the end. It's certainly a long view perspective as, perhaps, and one she wished she could adopt. It would definitely help with all the worrying she's doing. She survived a Mortal Kombat of her own. He saw the end of a time. It was like she told Glen days before - she needed to find the right perspective to see a way through the mounting problems, but as of yet, nothing she could find suggested things were on any kind of course to just work out. The moment of questioning passes, replaced with a faint smile, a quiet acceptance for his ability to weather particularly unusual circumstances.

Zach's response to her story does not go unnoticed, however, and she does give him longer consideration. Glen warned that the Dahlia was manipulative, but she couldn't help but be biased in her favor. Was it just a skewed perspective, memories from whatever existence he claimed to have biasing him just as her own deference to a sister Ainu colored her own? She had resolved to make no decisions until she knew more.

But to see the suddenly strong defensive reaction in the man before her only drives home the warning she was given before. Manipulative. That was the word Glen used. She continues looking at Zach as he turns away, her hand lowering to rest atop Shikuru's head again. She knows what choice the destroyer at her side would make. He was not one for splitting hairs or wavering in indecision. Sucking in a breath is her best attempt at settling the growing unease in her heart about what she might have to do. Nothing she saw here is making it any easier to dismiss.

"Understood," she offers Frei a parting half smile. His circumstances do lend him certain advantages, she realizes, beyond the touch of weapon or hand, he's allowed to observe the going ons of the island in greater safety than most. Maybe that could come in handy.

Zach has turned away already, her attention falling to him again, eyes studying him. How swiftly his tone shifted when the subject of the Dahlia came up. "Then it is appreciated," she finally answers his own remark about what he does. "In the end, every bit of effort could make the difference, to keep things from repeating one final time." A quiet sigh, her hands resting flat against the base of her neck as she lowers her head in contemplation.

"Farewell. May your endeavors be met with success."

Turning, the wolf follows her in stride, sticking to her left as she begins to retreat from the weight of the graveyard, glad to be clear of its oppressive aura.

Log created on 15:02:55 10/29/2016 by Frei, and last modified on 21:25:21 10/30/2016.