Description: Months ago, in the graveyard of Shang Tsung's island, the Scarlet Dahlia was loaned the spirit sword Sento with one objective in mind -- Stop Outworld from claiming Earthrealm for good. Ever since then, the Dahlia has been carrying the sword with her wherever she goes. And now, the time has come for Kenshi to reclaim his property.
While Southtown is where all the new, up-and-coming executives may want to live, but when they are ready to return to their roots and a slower pace of life, they might set up in a small-town rural city like Kushiro City. The buildings are nowhere near as tall, the citizens in nowhere near as much of a rush.
today, the city is deluged by sheets of rain, Nature raining down its insistent reminder that humanity has not banished it to the nether reaches of the world -- only hidden themselves from it in fortresses of concrete and steel. On the third-story of an office building, Scarlet Dahlia places her hand to the window, staring southward to the ocean, the pale, occluded sun but a vague suggestion behind the blanket of cloud cover. She exhales lightly, her breath fogging the interior of the window as rainwater splashes across the exterior. There is much on the young yakuza advisor's mind -- for while she has chosen to enclose herself in familiar trappings of her youth, her aspirations are of a much grander scale.
She draws in her breath once more, closing her eyes and allowing her other senses to wander for a moment. At a low volume in the background, electric chords dance chaotically across a background of steadily thrumming bass and insistent snare drums; a soundtrack of twenty years prior. The fragrance of incense cedar smouldering silently in a corner. And, as Dahlia stands beside a cushioned chair, her fingers trace delicately along the natural grain of her hardwood desk.
Her eyes open once again. For a moment, their gaze falls upon the series of three tablet computers, flickering with occasional reports and assorted email conversations.
But then her gaze is caught by the cardboard cylinder propped in the corner. Most visitors to the rented office had naturally assumed the woman had never finished moving in entirely -- it looked just like a typical shipping container. And yet, wherever she went, one of her attendants would be sure to carry the tube along with her. Precious cargo -- carried in a simple box marked with shipping stickers.
They wouldn't be able to sense the dramatic import carried within.
But she does. The keen blade stored within speaks to her, heedless of the trappings necessary to protect it from damage.
She walks to the box. Places her fingers upon it. And stares, with furrowed brow.
Something feels... different. Somehow.
The cardboard beneath the Dahlia's fingers is cool and dry, safe from the cleansing rain that scours the city beyond her window. The sword hidden within, however, is restless. When first gifted to the Ainu woman, Sento's many souls had been perfectly willing to follow orders. Some were grim, some cheerful. Some boastful and proud, others humble. But one thing all of the many ancestors residing within the sword shared was a strong since of duty, and morality. So it is that, as the months have stretched on, and the sword's master has failed to fetch it, the contained souls have grown subdued, withdrawing into the blade to hold council only with themselves.
But now, they are shifting. Made restless by something only they can sense. And the Dahlia, in turn, can sense them.
The phone connecting Dahlia to her receptionist chimes quietly, before their voice speaks into the room, calm and competent, "Mam. Kenshi is here to see you."
Even as the words are spoken, the door into her office is swung open, and a familiar figure steps inside. he is fairly tall at an inch or two over six feet, and dressed in his usual suit of armor, black leather reinforced with dull silver plates of metal, the whole lot battered and gouged from countless combats. Around his eyes is tied a tattered red blindfold, while from his shoulders hangs a badly shredded crimson coat, sans sleeves.
Soaked through from the rain, Kenshi's greying hair is plastered to his head, falling nearly to his shoulders. His long, ragged beard drips onto his chest, significantly longer than the last time they spoke. he clearly hasn't seen a barber in many months. But, more telling than his appearance is the way he moves. His steps are slow and deliberate, following the guiding sweeps of a long staff that he holds tucked behind his right arm, hand choked up along the shaft to use it as a modified cane. The length of wood is scarred and pitted, clearly a veteran of many battles. It matches well the man who wields it.
Halting just inside the doorway, Kenshi braces one end of his staff against the ground and leans his weight heavily against it. His lips droop down at the corners, though whether he is frowning, or simply exhausted is difficult to say. Water patters to the floor, gathering about his boots in an ever expanding puddle as he just, stands there, head bowed forward slightly and saying nothing. Perhaps he's trying to be dramatic. Or, perhaps he feels they are beyond words. If the Dahlia wishes to know, she will have to feel him out the old fashioned way, for his mind is closed to her.
Dahlia's forehead creases with dismay. She may not always understand the reasons for these sensations, but she knows better than to ignore them. Wary, she raises her defenses, a hand reaching for the gemstone she keeps on her person, concealed just beneath the layer of her white overcoat.
She turns towards the receptionist just a scant moment before the call rings out -- sensing the emotions of her workers, but not those of her visitor.
The words reach her ears.
And she allows herself a brief moment to smile as the door opens to reveal one of the three visitors given priority by her receptionist.
She pivots to face Kenshi more directly, keeping two fingers upon the cardboard enclosure as a demonstration. "Of all the people I expected to walk through that door just now, I am pleased it was you. I am glad that the heavens have seen fit to carry you away from that island."
Eyes glance up and down his form appraisingly, taking quiet note of his attire. He looks like he's been through hell -- and she? She looks like she had when she first set foot on the island, for good reason.
"... Can I offer you a drink? Something to eat?" A pleasant smile is offered to him -- a far cry from the obvious wariness she had exhibited mere moments before his arrival. Even though he's dripping all over the rented office carpet, she's willing to withhold alarm.
She's been waiting for this meeting for quite some time, after all.
She wraps an arm around the box, freeing it from its place along the wall. She could drag conversation on further, but she knows what he's here for. And any attempt at small talk might be seen as a stall tactic. She lifts the box, places it upon the desk.
Dahlia looks back at the dripping-wet swordsman. A hand goes to her belt - and a small box cutter is retrieved from it with a quick and efficient gesture. She places it openly on top of the box -- a suggestion that either Kenshi or she would be perfectly willing to open the box. And yet...
She steps back and away from it. He may do the honors if he chooses.
"You may be happy to know that Sento dealt the final blows to the Shokan Champion. Severing his head from his body. The perfect vehicle of justice. Your faith in me was well-placed."
Kenshi would know that the smile may only be skin deep.
But her relief at seeing him is a hundred percent honest -- months of trepidation at -how- he chooses to return have come to an end.
Out of the two warriors that tor their way through the mortal Kombat tournament, Kenshi is clearly the less presentable. It is more than the gouges in his armor, or the ragged length of his hair. He seems, older somehow. Less at peace. Where once his focus was sharp, an iron will focused to a sword's edge, now it is dull. Enduring but heavy, like the brutish head of a warhammer. He is tired. So very tired.
The Dahlia's smiling words drift passed Kenshi, breaking upon him like waves on the shore. She is happy he survived. Is he hungry? His faith in her was justified.
"I had no faith in you." Kenshi replies, the words coming calm and a bit rough, but not boorish. His tone is not that of a man attempting to grind a point home, but to explain. To draw a clear line in the sand between them. "My faith was in Nakoruru, and the wisdom of the elder gods."
Stepping forward, the battered ronin pushes off from his staff and treads slowly closer to the desk, following the sound of the Dahlia's voice, the thud that still lingers in his ears from the placement of the box. His staff clonks against the side of her desk and he follows it forward, finding the edge with the back of one gloved hand. From there his hand creeps up, fingertips drifting over the edge of the box, then on, eventually brushing over the bladed opener.
"After our meeting, I traveled into the wasteland. I needed time to think on the message granted me by the Elder Gods. It was clear that I was not to be the champion of Mortal Kombat. But I had found none other than Nakoruru with the purity of a true defender of Earth." Kenshi explains, face tilted down toward the package between them. Propping his staff against the desk, he takes up the letter opener and slides it into one seam of the box, moving with the slow assurance of one deft in the use of their hands.
"Upon a mountain peak I approached her," the aging warrior continues quietly, "as she was praying to the gods for guidance. She refused to be champion herself. Instead, she convinced me to place my hopes for Earth on you. That is why you were given Sento, and that is why you were granted the souls I had taken."
There is much left unsaid. Why he did not return sooner, where they stand now, and how he feels about his sword being used to decapitate Goro all remain unmentioned. His hand does not stop moving, however, slitting the box open from end to end and peeling the top layer back.
He had no faith in her.
Dahlia's eyebrow twitches, her ribcage halts in mid-aspiration.
The line is drawn.
She withers beneath the intense gaze of the blinded swordsman.
And then, as that breathless moment ends, the cycle resumes. Her lips part, betraying an ill-advised, if momentary, thought to repudiate the claim, to attempt to steer the conversation back to one that paints her in anything -but- a deceitful light.
It is, however, just a moment, as the Dahlia lowers her gaze, mindful that the warrior is able to detect any number of cues to know his words had elicited a reaction from her, and guarded against giving him any further. Instead... she listens. It is something she is good at, after all.
Only when she is satisfied that the battle-sage is done speaking does she attempt to speak again.
"Only the Kamui know the song that is to be sung. You and I are simply playing roles within it, unsure whether it is to be a comedy, or a tragedy, or something in between."
She steps away from the box, unwilling to stand so close to Kenshi with a live blade in his hand, utility knife or otherwise. Distance would hardly matter, considering the treasure he is about to free from the box, but the gesture seems to provide her with a measure of comfort all the same.
"And it was their will that Earthrealm be saved. I am happy to have played my part." Now breathing normally again, she folds her hands behind her back, rocking back lightly onto her heels. "... You made it off safely. I scoured the entire island searching for you. But the island was consumed by the seas, and we could find no sign of you. And Sento has remained with me ever since."
The paper-thin wadding that kept the sword safe from vibration is parted. The box is opened -- the blade revealed to the air, scrubbed clean after its bloody evisceration of the Shokan. Pristine condition, inasmuch as the sword was offered to the Dahlia.
"The sword called you back..." she states tenatively, with a silent tilt of her head to the side. "And I am more than happy to return it to you. Outworld is one thing, but carrying Sento through the airport has been a trial all its own."
If Kenshi has any inkling of the impact his words have had on the Dahlia, he does not show it. IN fact, now that he stands before the box, top folded back and ancestral sword within touching distance, he hesitates. He could claim the sword now. Take up his birth rite and be away from this room, path forever parted from that of the Dahlia. Instead, he places the box cutter down carefully beside the box, and rests both hands on the open lip. His lips press together in thought, head remaining slightly bowed.
"My roll in their stories has often been one of tragedy." Kenshi replies after a moment, a little of the roughness gone from his tone. "But, it was tragedy of my own making. We have touched mind to mind. I have lowered my defenses, and you have seen the depths of my good, and my evil. I have quite a lot of both, but I am not a complicated person." Curling his fingers around the edge of the box, he grips it, as if needing to physically hold himself back from grasping the sword that lies exposed before him, simple yet elegant. "I will not pry into your secrets, and I will not further disrespect you by pretending that I am your father. But listen to me, just this once."
Earnestly, the ronin lifts his face and turns his hidden gaze in the young woman's direction, hair still plastered across his forehead, little drips of water tap, tap, tapping onto the edge of her desk. Acting as more the sage than the warrior, he lets out a soft breath.
"Do not go down my path. Do not write your own tragedy. Be worthy of the faith Nakoruru put in you." His lips twitch up at the corners then in something that might be a wry smile, or a grimace, "I am not using her as a stick to bludgeon you down the right path. I can sense how much you respect her, but this is not a manipulation. it is advice. The hardest thing I have done in many years was to gift you Sento, and to relinquish my chance at vengeance so that you could win the tournament. If I were a better man, it would not have been so hard. Try to be sure that when the time next comes to do the gods' will, it is not so difficult as it was for me."
Only with this said does Kenshi release the edge of the box and reach inside, face tilting down as if to follow the course of his hand.
Old habits die hard.
As Kenshi closes his fingers around the wire-wrapped hilt, the dark, wave-patterned steel of the blade ignites a bright, burning blue. The presence of his ancestral spirits surge out, their link with him once more unbroken, allowing both master and weapon the full range of their potential. Dahlia can see the link forged, not only through the returning sense of Kenshi's psychic might, or the colorful energy that wreathes Sento's blade, but in the way his shoulders square and his chin lifts. A large part of who the swordsman is lives within his weapon. Without it he was broken, but now he is whole.
"It is good to be back." he breathes.
The careful and considered placement of the swordsman's hands upon the box is duly noted. The ipetam -- the soul-forged sword -- just inches from his grasp, and yet, he declines. He -insists- on speaking before touching the weapon's hilt.
With a prelude like that, she favors him with a half smile, the light exhale of breath signaling her assent to the bracketed, heavily-qualified advice.
He's not telling her of his paths and trials to brag -- though he easily could.
He's not telling her out of condescension -- though he easily could.
He's even... acknowledging that their last conversations did not go smoothly.
No further disrespect. No prying into her secrets. Dahlia finds herself responding before she can stop herself.
"... thank you."
And then her jaw clamps shut with the memory of just that conversation. The one where she felt criticized, lectured at, and practically -scolded- for doing everything she could to save her people. To save -Earth- of all places.
The sharp intake of breath that follows is, likewise, not something she can stop.
And yet, she listens, without further interruption.
It was probably good she -didn't- interrupt -- and when his final syllable drifts into the air between them, she finally releases her breath, barely audible intermixed with the sheets of rain crashing against the window.
She does not answer him, not right away -- for this was an unexpected admission from the wizened warrior. Her feet shift from side to side, as the young Yakuza advisor realizes how much the swordsman's words affected her.
And then the moment passes. She takes a step back, sensitive to the upswell of might, as he wraps his hands around the hilt of the blade. The familiar presence -- the familiar attitude.
"Welcome back," she offers, once her moment of mild anxiety at the roiling tides of might subsides.
"... I will keep your advice in mind. Likewise... I..."
She thinks for a moment. And her stance softens, notably, her feet shifting upon the carpet.
"I appreciate the advice. I can't thank you enough for your sacrifice. But I can try."
She pauses, deliberately.
And when she continues, she speaks clearly and crisply.
"Thank you, Kenshi."
angling his glowing blade across his body, the ragged swordsman listens quietly to the Dahlia's varied responses. Sure there are words. Exchanges of thanks. But more telling are her breaths. The things that she reacts to. Those that she does not. The shifting of her weight, whether calculated or honest in its intention.
There is a lot that the warrior could say. He could extend this conversation on. Unpack what has happened between them. Attempt to step further out upon the branch of peace that links them so tentatively, with nothing but a gaping chasm beneath. But he does not.
"You are welcome." Kenshi responds with simple respect, turning to fully face the Dahlia with shoulders squared. "Thank you for keeping Sento while I was away."
The blade of the sword dips, held parallel to the ground as Kenshi bends forward at the waist, offering the Dahlia a simple, unembellished bow. It is fairly deep, too. Not subservient. Not what a teacher or better might expect, but deep enough to be equals at the least.
Straightening with another wave of pattering drops onto the carpet, the soaked swordsman lifts his chin, glancing up and away with a soft exhale through his nose. What can be read from the gesture is anyone's guess, but soon after he lifts Sento high overhead, focusing the spirits of his ancestors. There is a sudden, powerful surge, a swirl of blue energy, and all that remains of the sword sage is a quickly fading silhouette of a blue man, sword thrust toward the sky.
Scarlet Dahlia is used to being incensed. She had been bracing herself for this conversation ever since Goro's head hit the floor of Shang Tsung's palace. She was completely convinced that the victory, no matter how sweet, would be misjudged, criticized... harangued by the warrior of the sword.
The chance of Kenshi leaving without lecturing her was so improbably low that she had no preparations planned.
It is likely a good thing, then, that the Dahlia has custom to fall back upon. Those same Japanese customs of rigorous formality and politeness -- the imperial traditions that clothed the armies that doomed her ancestors -- provide her with the structure for dealing with this situation now. As Kenshi squares his shoulders with hers, she matches the pose, snapping her hands to her sides. As he bows low, she bows forward at the same angle. Not as an enraged daughter to a father, not as an Empress to a soldier, but as one equal to another.
"It was my pleasure, and an honor."
To say any more would sully the moment.
As she rises, her blue-tinted eyes sparkle, reflecting the swirling energies of the disappearing swordsman. The energies of the sword that could just as easily decapitate her as it had Goro. The sword -- the ipetam -- with a life all its own.
She exhales, once more -- releasing even the reserve of breath she'd been holding fast for the entire conversation.
A hand is placed on the phone, as she eyes the spot where Kenshi stood. And the faint halo of raindrops spattered onto the ceiling from the convected energies there just a few moments prior.
"... Michiko? Do you know anyone in the building with a wet-vac?"
Log created on 13:38:15 08/20/2017 by Honoka, and last modified on 23:03:57 08/20/2017.