Description: Zach Glen, with a little help and a lot of luck, escapes the Living Forest more or less with his life. There are, of course, complications.
It is hard to say how long Zach was out after the absolute mauling he had received at the hands of the Butcher Daniel Little. He would, later, have a hard time telling you what actually caused him to awaken. It was either the gentle drops of rain striking his cheek, or the voice that kept calling to him.
"...-ach... ...zach...," the voice was familiar, but it was hard to make out who it was. "...up and at 'em, Marine... ...grab your gear..." Zach rolls over onto his, gasping for air. The sensation of one of his pistols digging into his flank pushed him close enough to consciousness to allow him crack one eye open. A familiar visage loomed over him.
"Come on, Captain," Glen was saying, "Get your ass up." Zach blinked once, then twice, before groaning as the light of day stabbed into his eyes.
"Glen?" Zach rasped in a low whisper, "...what?"
"We don't have /time/ for this, Zach," Glen says hurriedly. "You have to get out of here now."
Zach sits up, apparently not slowly enough, as everything starts to spin. He leans to one side and vomits. There's blood there. He feels sick. /Wrong/. "Come on, Zach," Glen says again as he casts worried looks around the forest. "Get /up/." The soul shard at Zach's right wrist shimmers slightly as something like strength starts to flow into Zach's body. The former Marine lurches to his feet, before dropping back to his hands and knees to retch again.
"What happened," Zach says between spits and heaves. "How am I..."
"Daniel left you," Glen says. "You have to get up. Get out of here."
"Right," Zach wheezes. "...Hono-... Honoka can..." He coughs, then vomits again.
"No," Glen says intensely. "Not back to her. Anywhere else."
"Fuck off," Zach snarls as he gets one leg up to him. "Stop trying to..." Another series of coughing racks the psion.
"Set that whole argument aside," Glen says, getting carefully up in Zach's face, locking eyes. "You are not listening to me. You can /not/ go back to her. Little wants to use you to get to her. It's the only thing that makes sense. He wanted to kill you. Could have done it easily after what you pulled. But he /didn't/. You didn't give him everything he wanted during the fight. Don't do it now."
Zach stops as Glen delivers that message. He closes his eyes, and focuses for a moment before pushing himself to his feet. "Have to..." Zach wheezes, "...have to warn..."
"No," Glen says hotly. "I'll do that. You have to find some place to lay low and recover. What you did... It was impressive. And stupid. You need more time to recover."
Zach looks at Glen, then at the absolute wreckage around him. It looks like, at first glance, like some kind of giant went berzerk with a blade in the fifty feet around him. There is a /lot/ of blood on the ground. Not all of it is his. Zach looks back at Glen, and for once, the shade does not look pissed off about something. Concern, worry, and sympathy are all Zach sees in that face.
"I promise," Glen says. "I'll do my best to make her listen."
Zach nods once by way of thanks, and pulls himself into a standing position. He wobbles almost drunkenly from the pain and blood loss. The shard glows a little more intensely as Glen and the spirits residing there lend the monster hunter some strength.
"Good," Glen says with a firm nod. "Time to step off. One foot after another."
Zach does as coaxed, weaving a little from side to side. Glen follows his charge slowly, his head on a swivel as he keeps an eye out for trouble.
- - -
The Scarlet Guard's numbers were dwindling. With each passing day, more and more of the hired mercenaries had fallen -- some in the ritual of Mortal Kombat, others in the midst of accomplishing their security duties. As expected, those that had remained standing were stronger than those who had fallen.
It is of ill ease to the Scarlet Guard's matriarch though. The raven-haired woman has demanded solitude for the time being -- alone in a private suite tucked away within the depths of Shang Tsung's palatial estate. She has seated herself cross-legged in the center of the room, six arrays of sticks and twigs providing a hexagonal boundary around her. Her eyes are closed, and her hands are folded together in her lap.
One who sees only with eyes might think she was asleep.
She is, in fact, lost in deep concentration.
Those with deeper sight would see seven spirits hovering around her at equal distances. Their spectral selves are a faint blue, thin veins of yellow winding and weaving their way throughout their forms. And in the center of the circle, hovering a fair distance over the Scarlet Dahlia, is the appearance of the young woman bedecked in an Ainu attush.
The tusukur is stepping about to the rhythm of an intricate dance. Her voice is rough -- hoarse from exertion -- as she vocalizes the tones of an ancient Ainu yukar.
The spirits surrounding her are moving to the rhythm, keeping pace. The eight spectral figures all appear to be moving in perfect unison.
The Dahlia may or may not be surprised to see a ninth spirit simply appear, unmoving. The man appears to be slightly shorter than she is, and appears utterly unphased by the display in front of him. He lets out a breath, obviously an affectation; what does he need /air/ for? He looks at the woman not with any smugness or hostility, but more than a little concern.
"Excuse me," he says in a perfectly polite tone. "I need a moment of your time."
As polite tone as one can use for delivering an unwelcome interruption.
For a few moments, the dance continues, unabated. It is not that the words had gone unheard so much as that they were unacknowledged -- one spirit turns its head, but little more.
The newcomer may notice that each of the spirits is wearing not a kimono, but an Ainu attush similar to that of the central spirit. The dance would be familiar to anyone from eastern Hokkaido, even if the words might be vague and indistinct. Some carry instruments in their hands -- hand-held drums, offerings made of reeds -- though their purpose is not entirely clear. The dance continues...
Until, moving as one, the eight figures turn towards the newcomer.
It is not a subtle gesture -- anything but.
All eight spirits are now armed with spears -- the points gleaming in the unseen light of the spectral strata, extended outwards at Glen. The eight spear-holders have made their presence terribly obvious -- and all of their eyes are open, directed straight at the newcomer.
The eyes of the solitary human figure below are open as well, coffee-brown eyes fixated upon the spirit.
"I need to prepare for my fight. You have one moment."
The mouths of the central spirit and the Scarlet Dahlia move in perfect unison.
Glen's hands are open, empty, and showing palms to the host of obviously hostile spirits before him. He is making no move towards anything, no indication of fight or flight. He only has eyes for the Dahlia. It might strike one who knew Glen as odd; the man was /never/ devoid of emotion and he rarely cared who knew what was on his mind.
"If you are not aware," he says, with nothing approaching emotion in his voice, "The being you know as the Butcher is on this island, and that it is Daniel Little." He waits for a moment before continuing. "Zach faced him in the forest a few hours ago. He is alive. Barely. He needs help. His body is trying to tear itself apart, and he is holding it together through sheer force of will. I tell you this so that you know what is going on."
Now he frowns. This is the ticklish part; he's made no secret of the fact that he does not really approve of the relationship between the Dahlia and his charge. "It is also important that you understand that you cannot be the one that furnishes his help or his shelter. Little is using Zach to find you. The creature has marked you for things that you might consider worse than death, and while the Edicts that govern Mortal Kombat still protect you, that may not be sufficient to stop him from trying."
In a sense, Glen has passed the test. True character is revealed through adversity, and having nine spectral spears pointed in one's direction ought to qualify: he does not waver or fluctuate.
An eyebrow is arched in his direction -- in fact, the eyebrows of both representations of the Ainu tusukur arch in unison.
She has a question, but the sudden frown on Glen's face gives her pause. That is to say -- his continued words answer the unspoken query.
"You give me cause for concern, and then you stress that I should not take any action. That he, in your words, -cannot- find shelter in the one area on this island which I have warded and fortified for such a purpose."
The tusukur and her spirits retract their weapons, which dissipate into clouds of mist for a moment before reconstituting the forms of the musical instruments. The faces continue to direct themselves at Glen -- their features taking on the configuration of concerned Ainu from centuries past.
"The Butcher seeks souls. He seeks to crush hopes and dreams, fomenting fear and unease in their place. No wonder his resurgence has been linked to such a place as this."
Hands rest on hips, as the facial expression on both the Dahlia and her Ainu spirit-self soften. "You're good at meddling with the life of your counterpart -- is there some specific course of action you'd like to recommend for me as well?"
Glen shoves his hands in the pockets of the jeans he seems to be wearing. He glances without concern at the spirits around him before looking back to Honoka. "Honestly," he says with a plaintive shrug, "I don't. My ability to influence things are limited at this point to what I am doing right now. I can keep watch over him, and go for help if he needs it, but that's the limit of my abilities." He considers for a moment.
"I've already made the suggestion, to both of you, to avoid one another's company right now. If he had opted to ignore that advice, I would have helped him to get here." There is a ring of honesty to that statement. Its truth seems undeniable. "If you opt to ignore it, I literally /cannot/ prevent you from doing so. His actions show that he'd rather you stay away. He does not want to bring the Butcher down on you if he can help it, but he is in no position to argue about it." He looks away, his expression torn, concerned, for his charge. "He's... insane. And strong. And insanely strong. Zach tore a fifty foot circle of the forest to splinters in his attempt to put the Butcher down. He channelled as many souls from there as he could to do it."
He looks back at the Dahlia. "It survived. You know exactly how well and how much power Zach can cast at a person when he sets himself to it. In that moment, he exceeded those capabilities by a significant margin. There's... there is /nothing/ I can directly do to help him. He needs help. I can't give it to him, and you giving it would bring about the thing he is trying to prevent."
The Dahlia closes her eyes, standing. Silk tumbles to the floor in stiff waves -- the ao dai is certainly a more humble look for the criminal mastermind than the ostentatious silk finery of her cheongsam outfit. In one sense, it resembles the humble, understated attush of her heritage. As she rises, the spirit forms shimmer slightly, as if sinking beneath the surface of the water. With a ripple, the spirits fade away, leaving behind only the golden wisps of energy, which spiral away and into the charm upon her sash.
Seemingly diffident to the retraction of the spirits into her soul shard, the Dahlia shrugs her shoulders mildly.
She asks this, evidently surprised at the notion that Glen would not interfere with either Zach or Honoka's attempts to seek each other out.
"You're telling me that he -agrees- with you?"
A smile tugs at her lips, only to be twisted into a faint smirk. "It's -surely- not your massaging of the truth to suit your purposes, then? Surprise twist -- could it be that the truly devious one here is actually -you-?"
The Dahlia laughs faintly, holding her hands out. No weapons to be seen -- no trickery to be had. The shadow of her sanjiegun bobs lightly at her left hip.
"Perhaps I should send someone else then. Someone strong enough to put the Butcher out of his misery. It is a pity, then -- as I did not do so well against him last time, and I just can't muster the resources to do it with my own dwindling staff. Didn't you have a good working relationship with that other flower woman? ... Rose, was it?"
"I was never really known to be devious in life, ma'am," Glen says. "I always did, and still do, prefer to be direct when and where I can. It's hard for me to keep the misdirections and mistruths straight, so I tend not to bother," he continues in the face of Dahlia's accusations of deviousness. He listens. Then he laughs, but there is a fair amount of frustration in it.
"That would be an excellent idea," he agrees, "Both in the what and the who. But Rose has /always/ been the illusive woman of mystery. I never found her by anything outside of chance on my part or design on her's. You can't really call that a relationship," he says, looking away. The frustation in that laugh is clear on his face. "And that seems to be another one of those 'the more things change the more they stay the same' things here."
The Dahlia has an exceptional memory, which she often wields as a weapon just as surely as the sanjiegun at her hip, or her diabolos and their accessories. But when it comes to the otherworldly counterpart of her dear Zach Glenn... she has much less to work with. Unless, of course, it was shared with her in some capacity.
He was never really known to be devious, he says. And yet... he admits to a certain directness.
No -- it would seem that there is no special arrangement to be brokered with Rose, more than one the Dahlia could achieve directly by herself.
"Direct, then." The Dahlia's smile falls, as concern creeps its way into her expression. "Tell me directly, then, instead of intimating. Why did he fight Daniel Little? Is it something you -suggested- he do, or something you -told- him to do, or something he just did out of misguided concern for his friend? Or is Daniel Little even -his- friend at all?"
And in one subtle turn of phrase, the conversation pivots into a dissection of Glen's relationship to his taller counterpart.
Glen turns to face Dahlia. She wants answers. Truth. Fine.
"It was not my idea. He was meditating, trying to learn some things about how his abilities actually worked instead of borrowing from my memories. He sensed something going on in the forest and went to investigate. Daniel Little showed up and challenged him to Mortal Kombat. Zach refused, and Daniel attacked him anyway." Glen's body language is open. He is facing the Dahlia squarely, his eyes and face fixed on hers. "Daniel Little was /my/ friend. Zach's attempts at befriending the Daniel Little you know may very well have been influenced by those memories. He tried to talk Daniel down, even during the fight." Glen considers for a moment. "I have a theory on this one. Daniel Little wasn't the Butcher at first. Apparently someone named Doctor Tessitore had intervened to save his life after his Mortal Kombat match, and she went all Mengele on him. Zach defended himself as best he could, but you know as well as I do how he is. He was putting himself in harm's way to protect others. That's more him than it is me, by the way. I was never a fan of fighting. I was simply good at it. If he did not have my... combat data for lack of a better term, he would have found some other way to put himself out there."
It was not my idea, he says -- that thought draws a pair of narrowed eyes from the Dahlia. She would be irritated at Glen's avoidance of culpability, but then she reminds herself that there's not a whole lot he can do...
But then she listens, as Zach continues to try and be the passive personality she's seen from time to time. Even without the mention of the Butcher, as is clearly said -- Glen tells her that Zach had insisted on trying to talk him down.
The Dahlia remains where she stands, hands on hips. She is almost, but not quite, glaring at Glen. She's trying to avoid the kill-the-messenger syndrome, but the troublesome subject matter is complicating that.
She blinks, slowly, as she recalls a memory from several months prior. "Tessitore was a Darkstalker he had almost killed. This is not the first... modification. Stuck her right in the head with that sword of his. But to know that Tessitore and the Butcher are..."
As she trails off in thought, her hand flicks out from her hip. It is empty -- but the fingers curl about, as if around a round object the size of a baseball.
"So Zach held back, you said... and then he unleashed capabilities he had never unleashed before."
Her curled hand flicks. Glen would likely recognize the gesture, even without the yo-yo.
"You say there is nothing you can directly do to help him..."
She inclines her head at an angle.
"And yet, you've helped him fend off the world of the undead -- fought off impossible odds in the excavation where I first found you. Do you only help him when it furthers your goals?"
Irritation knits her brow, as she casts her eyes upwards. A moment passes --
"Forgive me. I fought the Butcher. He =promised= me he wouldn't fight him alone, and theeeere he went."
The hand curls into a fist.
"I can't keep putting Earthrealm in peril to save him when he keeps planting his hand on every hot stove he comes across. Anyone -else- I can send immediately is just going to get eaten."
Her eyes narrow, as she draws her feet back, rising to her full height. "Tough news: you're gonna have to decide if you want to help him reach his -full- potential. He relies on your always being by his side. So you either stick by his side, and =take orders= from the Marine Captain -- or you just get the hell out of his way and make him learn on his own. You can't =both= be in command, here."
She glances away for a moment, seething. The Dahlia is irritated, alright. But these are things Honoka has been wanting to say for a while.
"Dammit. He was enraged when he thought =I= was controlling him."
She turns back to Glen, folding her arms over her chest, leveling her eyes upon him in mild rebuke.
"=I= never sought to. But =you=...? Tell me you never took his body out for a spin, just for ol' time's sake? Tell me you never yearned to see things through -his- eyes."
Tell me, Glen, that you've never been =jealous= of your second incarnation.
"That fight, in the excavation," Glen says firmly, "Was and was not there. It was in-between. Not here, and not what comes next. Of course I was able to help him there, that is where I /exist/." He takes a deep breath, and pulls his empty hands out of his pockets. "I'll leave it to you to decide whether he was holding back or not."
An image spins into existance, is a sort of three dimensional green scale image. Zach, standing and waiting for whatever it was that he had 'scented,' whatever it was that had scented him. Little comes out from the brush. There is an exchange, no sound. And then the fight is joined. Zach wounding Little in the shoulder, and then striking at the wound again with the sword. Daniel Little utterly outclassing him.
"By the time Zach had realized what he had stumbled into, retreat was not really an option. From what I can tell, a lot of his monster hunting work is like that," Glen murmurs. His left hand ripples slightly, and underneath the shade's arm, Dahlia might occassionally make out the outline of a stump where the lower arm and hand should be. "And then this happened."
Zach reaching out for and taking control of the souls wandering the forest, forging them into a seemingly infinite number of swords that proceeds to destroy the forest around him. The psion collapsing to the ground afterward. The image fades into the ether, and the shade's arm is restored.
"I think you are confused about the... nature of the relationship between Zach and me. I'm not always at his side, aside from on this island. He doesn't have /me/, he has my /memories/. I was allowed to watch him, occassionally. But direct interaction?" Glen scowls, and looks away. He is frustrated at the whole situation. The Dahlia is making assumptions that are incorrect. Zach is the closest thing Glen would ever have to a son, or a brother. "If I could teach him, I would try to," he admits. "But the things he needs to learn, the nature of his talents, are not even a little bit in the direction of what I know how to do."
Then Honoka accuses Glen of using Zach as a puppet. That draws a look from the shade that could peel paint off a wall. "Once," he admits. "And not in the way you are trying to imply. It was during his fight with Aranha. I had just been... inserted is the only word I can think to use... into that soul shard he has. The experience was intense. Have you ever woken up from a fight swinging at whatever was around you? It was a lot like that. Zach was going for his cutlass, and in the confusion, I put a different sword in his hand."
At this, Glen looks honestly ashamed. "I did not choose the form the shard took," he says quietly, "I would have chosen a bracer, or a gauntlet." He reaches up for the left side of his neck with his right hand in an almost unconscious gesture, as if recalling a bad memory of his own. "Something he could have removed."
Then he grins a bit, bitterly. "I would have /loved/ to be five-foot-ten, though. Five-three is such a stupid height to be stuck at for your adult life."
When he said 'and then this happened,' she saw was Glen's hand disappearing.
A frown tugs at her lips, sympathetic pain.
But the dismemberment was not the explanation itself, but only a segue to a home movie.
The Dahlia watches as the fight is related to her, eyes occasionally flicking away from the scene to look back at the five-foot-three shade.
As for her challenge -- it was just that. Veiled accusations: they cut to the quick, reveal the truth of the matter in ways that simple questions cannot. A trained psion can cloak one's emotional state, but the reactions tell the Dahlia more than any stony face or pretty words could conceal.
The Dahlia is the interrogator -- the Dahlia can mask her state out of sheer agitation. It's just not possible to agitate her a whole lot more than she is now, without actually initiating combat.
"I'm sorry, I'm just trying to make -sense- of all this. You say you can't help him, and yet, you literally just told me you put a sword in his hand."
She waves her hands out to either side, her fingers twitching for a moment to suggest the arsenal at Zach's grasp, before raking them down dramatically.
"You both have a thing for swords."
Irritable though she may be, she can't help but smirk at that.
"Swords are a versatile weapon."
As she speaks, she reaches for the sanjiegun on her left him, but when she draws her hands forward, there is nothing -- no spectral illusion to speak of.
"The hilt can provide blunt force. The blade can pierce the thickest armor. The keen edge can maim, dismember, decapitate. And the mere sight of the naked blade can intimidate opponents into surrender, or retreat."
Each suggestion is matched with an appropriate gesture -- the lethal elegance of her motions more than ample to suggest the unseen blade.
"But you've given him something stronger: memories. Knowledge of things that happened to you. Knowledge of things which might never come to pass, of a Ryouhara mad with power, of an Ayame who turned away from the Light, of a Vega who dominated the globe... a Honoka who failed to."
The Dahlia closes her eyes, a faintly amused smile on her lips as she returns to her former position.
"And a Zach Glen who sacrificed life and limb for his beliefs."
She exhales softly, opening her eyes once more, returning her gaze to Glen.
"My next challenger may not be so willing to walk away. You, older, wiser, with two lifetimes of experience, tell me to avoid him, for my sake and his. Who am I to argue?"
The Dahlia sits, once again, cross-legged.
"Thank you for informing me. If there is nothing else -- I will need some time to sort some things out before proceeding."
Glen bobbles his hands when she tries to call him on the sword thing. "We both kind of came into them by someone else's design. I was using the energy in the shard to make a construct /of/ a sword. It's something he and I both know how to do," he says. He rolls one shoulder, then the other. She'll stay away, and she knows what is going on. Maybe traded one cause of worry for another. But he had carried through on this promise.
"That's probably for the best," Glen agrees. "Meanwhile, waiting was never something I was good at. I'm going to keep looking for some help." He looks off to one side, as if trying to see something in the far distance. "He's still hanging in there, but..." The shade shakes his head fiercely.
"Fight, Kawamoto," he says after a moment. "Fight and /win/. I'll do what I can to make sure Zach is around when you get back."
And then Glen is gone.
The Dahlia had considered taunting the shade for assuming control of Zach in that one moment. It was a delicious opportunity -- but not one that suited her purposes.
She still needs his help, after all. The soul-charged Akatsuki advisor has a lot on her mind.
She had thrown in with the monstrous Vega in hopes that he would save Earthrealm from the Outworld menace.
And if her reconnaissance is to be believed, he has fallen -- leaving her without a plan.
Daniel Jack appears to be merged with the Butcher now, at least in part.
She has no plan to deal with the scourge of her past in such a foul place.
Her next fight in the Mortal Kombat tournament is coming up, which brings its own host of demands.
And the issue which she had solved -- Zach Glenn -- has just come back up.
Glen will have to be the point man here.
As she sits back down, she nods back to the shade. The soul shard at her hip begins to glow once more, casting a honeyed pallor on her rough silk and the floor below her.
"Thank you for helping us," she says to the departing shade.
With a few moments of meditation, one thought comes crawling back to the forefront.
At the moment there are only two things Honoka can do to, as Glen suggests, fight.
One -- to consult further with the spirits of her Ainu ancestors -- whose ghostly forms are emerging once more from the soul shard.
And the other -- is to marshal even more strength through Mortal Kombat.
Log created on 11:55:19 11/10/2016 by Zach Glenn, and last modified on 21:12:16 11/11/2016.