Description: The Scarlet Guard has been eliminated. Shang Tsung's Palace is no longer safe for anyone, with blood running freely in the halls. And Zach Glenn finds himself on the bridge leading away from the Palace. Only thing missing is some dramatic explosions. (Takes place prior to 'MK: Queenmaker')
Zach had not planned for things to work out like this. Then again, he had not planned to wake up with someone standing over him with a knife and murderous intent. The sleep had been deep; if Glen had not been shouting in his metaphorical ear the assassin might have succeeded.
Zach's eyes snap open, taking in the scene before lashing out with his right hand. The backhanded strike catches the would-be killer in the chin. He has a Colt in his hand and trained on the attacker's torso in an instant, the trigger being pulled even as the sound of the snapped neck registers in his ears. The attack goes down, dead even as the pair of .45 caliber rounds slam just left of the center-line. The monster hunter rolls out of bed even before the body hits the floor.
A second man is already coming at him with a spear even as Zach is yanking a cutlass free of its sheath. It's then that Zach recognizes the fighter as one of the Dahlia's "Scarlet Guard." Before anything can be said, the man charges. Zach slaps the spear aside with the cutlass. Two shots to the head drop this attacker, but not before Zach whirls and aims the pistol at a third man who had somehow ended up in a low crouch on his freaking bed.
"The hell are you guys doing," he demands before the Guardsman charges, a pair of wicked curved knives at the ready. The fight lasts only a moment, the knives (along with the hands that held them) on the fold. "Now," Zach asks as he gently places the barrel of the pistol ini the center of the man's forehead. "Start talking."
Five minutes later, Zach storms out of his room, dressed and loaded for bear. His eyes and ears are on his surroundings. His mind, however, is casting out for the Scarlet Dahlia.
Zach needs to have words with her.
The Scarlet Dahlia had trained her Guardsmen to obey her orders instantly, and without question. All components of the guard were to act as efficiently as a well-oiled machine, the muscles obeying the Dahlia's orders at the speed of thought itself.
A perfect weapon, safeguarded by the Dahlia's own psychic signature. The tournament's host, however, had the ability to forge that signature.
And in a span of minutes, the traitorous plan was pushed into execution, logic tossed aside. The Scarlet Guard's orders were to exterminate the impostors.
The orders were obeyed without question.
And, almost as quickly as it begun, the fight was over. And one guardsman was left about to bleed out, clinging to the fleeting remnants of life life with the cold steel of a pistol barrel pressed against his forehead.
The answer given was panicked, barely audible. But the gist would have been obvious to the psion -- the Guard was ordered, by someone they clearly felt to be the Dahlia, to kill him and the impostor sleeping nearby.
If the Guard's numbers had not dwindled, Zach's escape would be considerably more fraught with peril than it was. Even still -- the signs of death paint the corridors of Shang Tsung's palace. The marble walls are no longer clean or pristine -- crimson fingerprints smear along their lengths, and screams can be heard echoing in the distance. The bloodshed was clearly not restricted to Zach Glenn alone -- the servants of Shang Tsung, hooded monks and tribal-garbed guards alike, have been given orders to cull the numbers of Earthrealm. To let the blood flow freely.
The Dahlia is not where she should have been. Her room, too, shows the signs of death -- the fleeting remnants of the rest of the Scarlet Guard.
But she is on the move. Traces of her passing can be found leading towards the Living Forest, across the stone bridge that passes over the spiked Pit.
Zach takes two seconds to get a feel for the place, and knows that this place is no longer as safe as it might have been. A quick check of his mental map, and the former Marine is heading out for the forest. Those who get in his way receive a single .45 round to the chest as he passes, as Zach is unwilling to allow himself to be bogged down here.
He does nothing at all to conceal his presence, mentally nor physically. Bodies, shell casings, and the occassional spent magazine mark his trail. It does not take very long for Zach to get free of the keep, and heading for the bridge leading into the forest.
"You know," Glen says with an almost philosophical calm, "She probably did not send those guys after you. If nothing else, she would not have spent the time and effort to bring you back only to kill you now."
"I still want some answers," Zach snarls back at the shade as he picks up his pace. Not too much longer now...
One guard with an asymmetrical mishmash of armor will attempt to stop Zach on his egress from the palatial estate -- earning himself a .45 in the sternum for his trouble. His face pulls into a rictus of agony as he is slammed backwards, careening across the slick walls before his lifeless body falls into a heap. The bloody arc smeared across the marble wall will serve as the only explanation to those who walk these halls next.
Not far down the hallway, a monk garbed in earth-toned robes seemed to harbor similar intentions, but upon the gunfire report, backed away into a side hallway so as not to halt Zach's progress through the halls. Discretion is the better part of valor.
A tempest rages outside the halls of the palace: a dry wind, bereft of the moisture which might normally accompany such bluster. It will make for a perilous journey across the narrow stone bridge, but there is a light at the other end of the bridge -- or, rather, a figure.
An unmistakable figure, clad in earthy colors similar to those of the monk. Shoulder-length, raven-black hair is tossed out to the side -- uncombed, unbound, and unkempt in the riotous wind. The sleeves of the Ainu tribal garment have been torn off, her bare shoulders glistening in the moonlight. Her arms are bound in bandages, flecked by small smears of crimson. A sanjiegun is affixed to the sash about her waist, tripled up and swaying from each purposeful step taken.
For a moment, the figure's gait hesitates -- a sign that she is not only aware that she's being followed, but might even want a conversation. But that moment is fleeting -- she continues on the path towards the forest.
Zach spots the lone figure, recognizes her by a million different points of data. She won't stop, and catching up is going to be difficult. All but impossible if she makes the woods before he catches her.
*Let me help,* Glen offers, and gives Zach an added perspective on an memory the hunter had long since suppressed. That fight was... well... terrible does not do it justice. But the shade had figured out one really neat trick in that last battle.
Zach skids to a halt, and then leans forward a little bit. A pair of popping sounds, of air displacing in a hurry, herald Zach's sudden appearance in front of the Dahlia. His bearing is flat-out confrontational. Head lowered slightly, shoulders tight. His right hand still grips the cutlass, now caked in blood. Zach holds his Colt in his left hand, finger on the trigger guard as the barrel of the weapon taps against his thigh in a slow rhythym.
For all of that, however, he seems willing to allow the Dahlia to have the first word in this conversation.
It is worth mentioning that the pace of the Dahlia's long strides does not falter until a physical collision is nearly imminent. The betrayal is still fresh on her mind. Traces of barely-dried blood are still flecked in her hair, barely visible as the tempest keeps her raven locks in perpetual motion.
Only when another step would have sent the Ainu woman crashing into Zach does she lift her bleary, insomniac eyes up to Zach. She sensed him -- she has a general idea who the man is, after all. Even if she doesn't exactly -trust- her senses right now.
"... do I look like I want to talk right now?" She makes no attempt to mask the venom in her tone, the utter disgust.
Her fingers twitch, golden light visible through translucent skin as surely as if she'd placed her hand on a hot iron.
"I really don't," comes the answer to her rhetorical question. "So if you're going to use that on me, let's get it over with."
Her eyeballs tremble with manic desperation. She was on edge before, but the massive accumulation of psychic power rushing into her body from the honey-hued soulstone at her hip makes one thing absolutely clear: the razor-thin line between decision and action has never been narrower. And the Ainu tusukur is not even willing to give -Zach- of all people the benefit of the doubt -- should he take one step over that line.
If she wanted him dead, she could have left him dead. Or killed him in a number of different ways on many different occasions. The fact that she is not remedying the situation should be enough. He decides, if for his own sake and noone else's, that it has to be enough. Trust needs to start somewhere.
Zach is silent for a long moment. He doesn't say anything for a long moment. There is a ratcheting sound, as Zach eases the hammer on the Colt forward into a somewhat less ready state. He waits for another moment to holster the sidearm. His eyes flick to the blade. No /way/ is he going to sheathe it while all of that blood is on it.
He simply lets it fall out of his hands. Both people at the bridge know that this does not exactly lower the threat Zach represents, but the man does not know what else to do.
He slowly reaches into a pocket, pulling out a handkerchief. He takes a slow, somewhat tentative step towards the Dahlia before moistening the cloth with some of his spit. It's not sanitary at all, but there is not exactly a wealth of options here.
"I just..." he says slowly, and in a low voice, "I just killed my way out of that castle. I..." Zach takes a deep breath as he moves to clean some of the blood off of the Dahlia. "I'm not exactly in a mood to argue either."
The Dahlia had become accustomed to a few elements of normalcy in the highly aberrant world of Shang Tsung's Palace. She had earned respect -- and she had earned a few hours of sleep each night to settle things into perspective. Sleep is the time in which the mind files recent experiences into permanent memories -- a time which the Dahlia found necessary with all of the tumultuous changes taking place upon the island.
Precious time interrupted by an attempted murder. The files were scattered about the floor, so to speak -- never put into their proper places. Soldiers had turned blades upon her -- trusted subordinates had nearly used the very luxury items provided by their Dahlia to snuff her light out permanently.
And now, one of those she trusts mosts is toting a bloody cutlass and a pistol. The razor's edge -- a prelude to combat.
She can tell his intentions. But the threat of an impostor is real -- a thought left scattered in the room amidst the unfiled folders.
Her heartbeat accelerates, a hammer slammed against her chest a quickening cadence. She can sense his intentions -- a sense borne of familiarity and comfort.
And yet, her senses betray her. The firearm may not make a particularly loud sound, in reality, but within the distorted prison that holds the Dahlia's mind hostage -- it is as if the gun had fired.
Her body tenses, fingers close into fists. The golden energy flares.
And ... nothing else. She stares back at him, her pale skin clammy and cold -- her eyes continuing to twitch nervously. It was just the gun slipping, she reassures herself.
She takes a hesitant step backwards as he reaches for his hankerchief. She was recently the victim of an attempted death-by-suffocation. That could easily be chloroform on the cloth. The man is good -- but if this were the Tyrant Sorceror, would even =she= know the difference between doting assistance and well-masked premeditation?
Trust. Her jaw tenses, but the shudder in her gaze stills.
"... Preaching to the choir -- I did the same." The agitation remains evident. "This makes it okay to wipe me down with a spitrag...? Whatever."
Her nostrils flare. The barest sign of the Dahlia letting down her guard -- her skin is still glowing with the hues of gold and honey.
"It's..." she begins tentatively, her muscles still taut even as Zach treats her. "... It's not going to stop until I actually win. And even then -- there's nothing stopping them from killing you all. You need to use your feather. Get off this island -- and find what's happened to Raiden. We're sailing into uncharted territory here."
Panicked, disjointed -- a trainwreck of multiple trains of thought.
Zach's smile is faint, Honoka would have to check his eyes to really spot it, as he wipes anyway. "It's what I have," he says completely without rancor, "Sorry it's not a loofah." He continues to clean as he listens to Honoka get slightly rambly. He takes a deep breath, lining up his thoughts.
"I'm stopping them from killing me," he murmurs, his ministrations gentle and continuous. "But you're not entirely wrong, either. This whole thing has stunk from the word go." He considers that. "Any word from Nakoruru?"
"It's fine, I never much cared for those." Had she been born two hundred years prior, she might appreciate them more, but there are all sorts of synthetic Japanese products that do the job better, in her opinion.
But even then -- even =with= her words slackening, there is a pressure within her that is difficult to ignore. No doubt his quiet words are meant to soothe her fears, to back her down -- and yet, on a psychic level, the Ainu woman is only using the defense mechanisms she picked up from months prior.
Self-defense mechanisms taught from Zach Glenn himself.
"You gave me your strength. And I will still need it -- and I think they all -know- this. I cannot save you again, Zach -- not until this is all over." Her lips press together tightly, even as the cloth is swiped across her forehead, brushed across her fluttering locks of hair. Her body is as still as a statue.
"No word from Nakoruru. I pray she is still safe and whole."
Her gaze flickers away for a moment -- another measure of trust, albeit a small one.
"You cannot trust anyone who merely looks and acts like me, Zach. Shang Tsung, or someone who works for him, was able to convincingly order the Scarlet Guard. So I hope you will forgive me for not relaxing."
Zach stops his cleaning to give the Dahlia a once over, making sure he did not miss anything. "Then don't," he says in response to her concerns regarding his welfare and its effect on her readiness. "You protect me by protecting us all." He dabs at another spot, nods once, and backs away with another smile. He looks at the cloth with a grimace before simply tossing it away. Then he regards her carefully, and she can all but hear the bustle of mental activity behind his own defenses. "I'll track Raiden down," he says after a long moment. "We've met. I... I think I remember what his presence feels like. I might be able to track him down. That's how I'll help you."
He takes several steps back. "I'll need the sword, though," he says almost apologetically. He knows how she feels about the blade in normal times. Bringing it forth now without warning could prove troublesome. "It's where I keep the feather."
As Zach continues, the golden light begins to subside from her pearlescent, alabaster skin. The soulstone hums, barely audible over the rushing wind, as she nods back with a dull, barely perceptible hint of a smile.
"Thank you for reminding me why I do this, Zach." She still bears -some- measures of anxiety over the conversation, but Zach's tender words and actions are nonetheless bringing her back from the brink of insanity.
"... Use what you need to. Keep yourself safe, and we'll get through this. The eyes of the Sorceror will be upon me wherever I go, so I will find ways to keep myself vigilant. You..." Her shoulders sag, somewhat. "You are less encumbered. Just... you know. Keep your ears open. And don't let yourself trust everyone who looks and sounds like me."
And then, the hint of a smile becomes a bit more obvious. "As for me... I have some experience in going without sleep."
Zach brings forth the ancestral weapon, and after a moment of fiddling with it, has the feather in hand. The sword vanishes. "It's going to take me some time to get this nailed down," he says. "Do you have..." Zach frowns, retraces the path that he took to get here. He turns to regard the forest, his face going pale. "You can't be thinking of laying low here," he says hoarsely.
The Dahlia's smile stretches tight, as she shakes her head from side to side. "Nowhere on this island is safe -- I will not be laying -anywhere-. There are three days to go before the tournament, and the circumstances demand three days of training. The Heart of the Forest is more welcome to me than the subtle manipulations of a vengeful sorceror."
Fingers splay outward, and for a brief instant, rays of golden light stretch outward from her soulstone. The radiating lines terminate abruptly in six different points -- moments afterwards, the spectral forms of six armored Ainu warriors can be seen.
"I will be balancing my studies between body and mind -- finding ways to augment one with the other, and vice-versa. I have no way of knowing how the Shokan Champion has used the Kamui's blessings, so I must only expect that he will use every means at his disposal to win. And if I am to be the Champion of Earthrealm -- I must do the same, only better."
Noting quietly that the sword has disappeared, the Dahlia closes the distance between herself and Zach. "But don't worry. I'll be smart about things. There are six companions to confer with -- six voices to maintain vigilance." She steps in close, offering him a tender farewell.
"May the road rise up to meet you," she intones quietly, in a voice meant only for Zach.
And then, with only a moment's hesitation, she would begin making her way into the accursed forest.
Zach tenses at this information. It's obvious what he thinks of the idea. He takes a deep breath as the Dahlia steps in, getting the scent of her, and the scent of blood (which is harder to get out than one would think) deep in his nostrils.
"Wind at your back," he says hoarsely. He will not watch her go into the forest.
He vanishes before he has to do so.
Log created on 22:37:01 02/15/2017 by Honoka, and last modified on 10:24:47 03/06/2017.