The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 0 - Aut Vincere Aut Mori

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Description: 'The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.' - Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus

It's often been said that Japanese bathhouses are off-limits to people bearing tattoos.
Perhaps it is more accurate to say that -most- Japanese bathhouses are off-limits.
For here, tucked away in the mountainous heart of Hokkaido, is one that has been owned and operated by the yakuza for decades. Seated in a valley between two towering mountain peaks, the bathhouse adjoins a rather large and welcoming inn, and is a popular stopping-off point for travelers.

A number of black vehicles are parked out in the lot beside the bathhouse facility. And if one knows where to look, almost all of the vehicles bear the red moon crest of the Akatsuki. Despite the presence of nearly a dozen such cars, the public side of the bathhouse is empty aside from a pair of geriatric war veterans. If the Akatsuki executives are indeed here, the only rational conclusion is that they'd be present in the members-only VIP area.

The building is made of typical Japanese wood, built upon a solid foundation of rough-hewn stone. A grand entrance welcomes visitors, most of whom will naturally be directed towards the public area. But those with access will be able to walk the long planked hallway, lined with ancient war memorabilia and a number of vintage photographs, all the way back to the VIP area.

There, one will find that the decor is significantly more dated than up front. Rather than wood, almost all of the features are polished stone and marble -- this part of the facility predates the others by centuries, and has seen more than its fair share of private discussions. Stone walls and heavy ceilings block out nearly all sound from this veritable fortress, and in the center, past the locker room and the showering facilities, awaits a natural hot spring, with a gently bubbling waterfall for ambience. Sure enough, yakuza conversations are taking place here -- a half-dozen middle-aged men sit around on the rock outcroppings, sipping on shochu, with uniformed attendants rushing around on the rocky floor to refill the drinks and refresh the snacks. A peaceful scene -- and not one to be interrupted lightly.

Certainly, light interruptions were not his forte.

His arrival was actually relatively low key. A mere luxury sedan, not even an import (a mere Infiniti), black as it cruises up. It almost fits in with the counterparts; perhaps a late arrival of a lieutenant or just a young upstart. The only thing it would be lacking is that red crest. It certainly was another gangster, and it would almost be easy to miss amongst it.

Except it was Duke Burkoff.

Alone. The staff might not even register what was happening, other than a tourist coming in at the worst possible time. As they plead to the man with a small basket for toiletries, the towering, dark skinned Russian only responds with a piercing yellow stare. He pays his dues. And the protests fall into whimpers, as the tourist seems to... seems to insist. It wouldn't take long before a member of the staff rushes to a manager, as the murmurs come through the grapevine.

Someone was here who should not be here.

The mutterings and rumors would begin by the time Duke enters the changing room. By the time he leaves for the showers to rinse off, bringing a small basket with him, it was becoming explicit words. A tourist was here, some kind of foreigner. It might become a joke to the yakuza members; some idiot foreigner was about to get the surprise of his life. No tattoos on him. There might even be talk of 'invitation' for the bold sucker. It's all fun and games.

And Duke's reputation is not unknown.

Duke is dressed for the bathhouse, in a manner of speaking. The crime boss is holding a small basket in one hand, which bears the small towel. He does not have any tattoo, only the countless scars. his neck, his arms, his legs, his body. The freshest being only barely healed, stretched from the top of his chest all the way down to just above the belly button. His yellow eyes burn as he glares out, as suddenly, the very nature and presence of the 'foreigner' is apparently. He strides out to the edge of the pool, and begins to ease in the steamy waters.

"Gentlemen." Duke rumbles with contempt in his tone, as he dips the towel into the water before placing it on his head.

The staff are powerless to stop Duke Burkoff. They're unarmed -- how would they even begin? Security for the VIP section is based entirely on its obscurity, and the simple fact that Japanese culture is based around -not- disobeying obvious social cues, such as a downturned head, words of apology, closed body language -- all the cues which the gaikokujin brazenly disregards. To say nothing of his imposing stature.

It is not as if one of the male staff members doesn't try at all.
He certainly does.
He ends up with a broken nose and a one-way trip to Unconsciousville for the trouble.

Another staffer makes an attempt, earning himself a broken arm.

Duke's actions register him as a Very Important Person.

The yakuza executives stare mutely at the heavily-scarred gaijin as he enters. Some are alarmed, incredulous. Others bear looks of indifference, wanting to see where this goes. He is unarmed -- and yet, he has shown himself to be fully capable. And, as opposed to more ignorant gaijin, he is going the full monty towards observing the local customs.

One of the younger executives turns away with a sound of spitting in disgust.
Almost immediately, he is given a stern verbal rebuke by his closest companion.

A pregnant pause elapses.
One of the quiet, seemingly indifferent men is the one to break the silence.
"You are a long way from home, Mister Burkoff."
The voice is even, steady, and carefully controlled.
"We would have planned a more suitable welcome, had you given us advance notice."

The dread is palpable. And as the name is stated -- ringing clearly across the surface of the water, the other executives begin to realize just -why- this powerful force of nature was unquestioned. The staff -- other than the two -- have largely scattered, aside for one server who reluctantly decides to kneel beside Duke and take a drink order.

"So what brings you here today, Mr Burkoff?"
There will be time for an answer.
But then there will be the sound of a dozen shoes echoing through the locker room, through the shower room, and finally on the polished stonework of the hot spring floor.

"Sorry I'm -late-, gentlemen! Would've been even -later-, but I didn't want to leave our -guest- waiting!"

Scarlet Dahlia has arrived, showing complee disregard for the standards set aside for such a place -- as has her entourage of a half-dozen Akatsuki yakuza enforcers still garbed in their black sportcoats and slacks. And she is dressed in an ornate white-and-black ensemble, consisting of a dark vest and a white jacket, on top of a fairly elegant white dress. Not... typical bathhouse fare, to say the least.

One of the men has a gun in his hand -- the threat, of course, is enough to speak for each of the gentlemen.

"Maybe you didn't get the memo, Duke -- when they call it a private club, they ain't talkin' about the dress code. You can just keep your Loch Ness Monster hidden away beneath the surface, thank you very much."

Dahlia crosses one arm across her chest, propping her other elbow upon it as she cradles her chin. "So tell me then. What's so goddamn important it couldn't wait till these fine associates of mine put some clothes on?"

There was no fear.

Duke eases in, and actually holds off responding to the men. But he doesn't ignore them. He just holds up a finger towards them. "A moment." He says. "I would like some of your premium chilled sake. And please, charge me for it." Duke's tone is firm, but not hostile. At least, far from the hostility he brought into the place. Soaking in the pool, with his order made, he turns back to the gangsters, looking over them. "There needs to be a change of pace on suitable surprises." There is a restrained tranquility in Duke's tone. For the crime boss's legendary temper, this was either a good sign. Or a very, very bad sign. But after an evasive opening, he gives a direct answer.

"I need to discuss some business with her."

The arrival of Dahlia comes with a wave of emotional pressure. Not rage, no, not the wall of heat and anger, the wild firestorm of volcanic temper that the crime boss was so proficient at. No, this was a different kind of pressure. It was dead focused on her, completely focused on her. Duke was completely relaxed at every single other person here. A relaxing Duke.

Like before, this was either a good sign, or a catastrophically bad sign.

"I was actually expecting an audience with you." Duke rumbles, passing his hand towards the other gangsters. "You think your men would cause any trouble with me, without talking with you first. Oh, what would it be normally. I find a regional office, and I start tearing your men apart, piece by piece." The crime boss mimes out the action lazily, making a vague gesture to the men. "Snapping limbs, crushing heads under my feet, and then just leveling the building so bad, that it would have to be a gas leak to make sense. And when you come to oversee the destruction, the aftermath, we could have our audience. It's very dramatic; it would probably end up in the newspapers."

"Why stop there."

"Perhaps an accident happens with the Diet in Sapporo. Nothing obvious, nothing explicit, but a tragic accident to some Mr. Aoki or Mr. Matsushita. Elections will come, tears will be dabbed. And that only indirectly affects your political presence. Again, enough to have you come to me, or perhaps me come to you. That's how this business is. But..." Duke splashes the water a bit. "I am just enjoying myself on your turf."

"And you've come here faster than any act of violence and terror would have ever done."

Duke leans back, elbows now resting on the edge of the pool. "And at a very reasonable price too." He is silent for a moment. That pressure has never stopped, despite his calm exterior at this time. If anything, it has only grown more strong and probing, precise and focused at Dahlia. "Two things, Dahlia." Duke rumbles, holding up two fingers in his hand. "There are two things that is so important. The first and foremost is my enjoyment of a fine, Hokkaido bathhouse." Duke takes in a deep breath of the moist hot spring vapors, and exhales. "I have had a very difficult pair of tournaments. And I think the medicinal waters would do my body good. It may be a very long time before I can enjoy a good Hokkaido soak in the mountains. And as for the second?" Duke looks up finally, rolling his eyes back towards Dahlia.

"Ryuichi Fujimoto." Duke rumbles.

He doesn't add anything more, shutting his golden eyes again.

Sure enough, the server takes down the crime boss's order, and dashes away to go fill it.

The eldest (and so far wisest) of the Akatsuki keeps his steely gaze focused entirely on Duke, showing only the vaguest signs of catching Duke's meaning. Like the Syndicate man, he bears a number of scars, though none as deep or as life-threatening. And he bears a series of tattoos across his upper arms and forearms, all of which in the form coiled serpents or hydras.

"Indeed..." he agrees, after a moment of thought -- acknowledging the notable calm that has come over the man made legendary by a ferocious temper.

Perhaps for the better, the rest of the men follow the elder's lead in staying quiet, and allowing the foreigner to set the pace. The water is a comfortable temperature as it is, and they'd like it to stay that way.

The tip of Dahlia's chin rests pensively upon her upraised thumb, an index finger resting just below her lips as she peers across her glass lenses at the interloper. Her crafty half-smile betrays no change as he delivers a calm, rational explanation of her men being picked apart like cows to the slaughter. Not that she surmises he -wouldn't- be capable of such atrocious acts, but more that he -hasn't-, and that in itself means something.

And then he mentions names. Political pawns of hers, with views that firmly orient themselves away from the old guard, away from traditionally favored organizations such as Mishima, G Corporation, and the Syndicate.

Enjoying himself on her turf. The half-smile becomes more of a smirk, at that note. A show of force -- a subtle technique. And one that underscores the raw power he wields at his fingertips.

The pressure is noted -- surely. And yet, Dahlia hardly seems cowed. The man relaxing in the pool before her is unarmed, bearing none of his customary trappings, and he's willingly surrounded himself by men who would be more than happy to engage in violence on Dahlia's order.

And yet his threats are very, very real. The words of a confident leader.

"And all it cost you was your own dignity -- what a steal!"
Dahlia flashes a wry smile, followed by a wrinkled nose.
"That timing sure was opportune! How considerate, for you to time your intrusion in concert with my meticulously planned schedule..."

The bespectacled Akatsuki advisor's smile falls, a glare leveled towards one of the two youngest men in the spring. And then to a second -- with both young men withering under the pressure.

The gaze snaps back to Duke, her look switching back to 'vaguely amused.'
"You have my attention, then..."

She listens very, very carefully to the words that follow.
And the name... rings a bell.

"... Oh, that one's had -quite- the tragic story, yes... Such a reckless, callous life -- and yet, he just couldn't handle the pressure any more. I am pleased that he found relief in the Holy Scripture in his last moments -- that we should all be so lucky, hmmm?"

An eyebrow arches.
"He must have been a close friend of yours for you to come all this way in his memory, Duke... My -deepest- condolences..."
The saccharine is thick in her voice. And yet, the unasked question remains, perched precariously upon barely-parted lips.

And again, the silence is shattered -- irritation getting the better of Dahlia's mood, her eyebrows lowering.

"... What about him, Duke? I'm not seein' how this man affects our friendly little working arrangement."

"It is a tragedy."

Duke's tone is a growl, as he keeps his eyes shut. Is that it? Or was he doing this slowly to irritate Dahlia. "He is just one of the favored politicians within our organization. Was." The pressure builds, as Duke's temper rises. The water begins to heat up, as his chi begins to flood into the water. "And it isn't only him. In the wake of the disastrous Heihachi campaign, many embarrassed civil officials have been choosing the honorable way out. Tragic suicides, but completely understandable. No dirty business." Duke scratches his face, the stubble on it.

"These tragic suicides are serving to benefit you."

A statement of fact. But the weight of Duke's tone softens, as the water temperature holds. "This post-war environment in Japan has become unfavorable to me. At this time, one of my superiors is currently away from business. He will be returning, and he will soon find the operations have become unfavorable to him." Was this praise? Duke exposing weakness? Something was wrong here. Duke opens his eyes. The water swirls around, as he turns around, looking away from Honoka.

"I have something to show you."

Duke ideally reaches into the basket. There is a folded towel in there, much larger than the others. There is a moment of apprehension, as it may seem that Duke might stand up to use the towel. He unfolds it, turning his back to some of the gunman while remaining fully submerged in the water. And from it, he brings what seems to be his own weapon to the bathhouse. In a wooden sheath is a blade. Drawing it out, he reveals a katana of tempered steel, with unusual geometric symbols upon the blade. Well, unusual to the general eye. It would not be unusual to Dahlia at all. Duke places the blade on his hand, raising it up to give her a closer look. And his words come with a heavy weight.

"Do you know what this is?"

The Dahlia's saccharine-laced frown remains. Her eyebrows return to neutral as Duke provides a more elaborate answer to her query. So Ryuichi Fujimoto was a darling of the Syndicate? The de facto boss of the Akatsuki grinds her jaw in contemplation. There's no doubt that the normally bombastic Burkoff is spending more more effort painting a picture than in delivering a threat -- and that leads Dahlia to question why this might be.

She nods tacitly at the idea that these suicides benefit her -- both her organization and her in particular. But as she waits, her eyes flicker to her subordinates -- the men trapped in the hot spring with Duke, antsy about the possibility of being boiled alive. Eyes close, and her chin lifts in an approving gesture to her men -- giving them tacit permission to exit the warming waters.

As the bathing yakuza, both young and old, bow and excuse themselves from the awkward situation, Dahlia unfurls her palm in rhetorical fashion. "Japanese society is in the midst of one of its rare periods of upheaval and change. No organization is immune to the change -- not yours, not mine, Mr Burkoff. The imperative is the same as given to any creature walking this earth: adapt or die."

Her eyes cast over to Duke's basket -- something that escaped notice at first, as Dahlia hadn't watched him -enter- with said items. Her jaw grinds again, as the sword is brought to bear -- the prized weapon of the Ainu chieftain Shakushain, lost to history 350 years ago, and only recently surfacing again in the possession of the Syndicate. Her last attempt to secure the sword ended in defeat -- and now...

A flicker of recognition crosses her narrowed eyes, as she squints through the glass lenses. Her nose wrinkles, as an index finger is raised to mirror the curve of her cheek.

"It's a katana," she claims in an underwhelmed tone. "I presume there's something special about it...?"

The silence is punctuated by the server, returning with a tray containing a bottle and a glass of chilled sake. Dahlia makes no other words as the server crosses to Duke, kneeling to place the tray within Duke's reach.

And yet, as the server stands, Dahlia's pantomimed expressions fade, replaced with an amused smile, as she rests her hands upon her hips, her silken dress taking a few moments to resettle with her new posture.

"The waters certainly are working their magic on you today."

The suited men at her back drop their hands to their side, attentive gazes locked onto the crime lord.
The undressed men have, by this point, returned to the sanctity of the shower rooms.

To be fair, getting boiled by Duke was far less bad than other outcomes.

The reason for the relaxing in the pool might not only be for Duke's sake though. Keeping low in the water put him in a less hostile position. Duke had a kind of fire and brimstone presence to him that made most encounters with him a smoking crater. He doesn't even react as they file out of the pool. Though does as his sake comes. He holds off it for a moment. If he wasn't in the pool? He would have already started fighting. Duke's action was calculated for himself as well as his audience. As for why, well.

Business would be very serious indeed.

Duke sees the reaction, but misinterprets Dahlia's focus, however. The crime boss gives an arrogant 'hm'. "This is a very important blade." Duke begins to lecture, turning it over. "This is the katana with which Yasuo Ishida committed suicide on, in order to bring honor back to the Yamaguchi-gumi. Our dominance is due to this blade, Dahlia." Duke explains to her. "That is the result of the very order that old Japan has been built upon. Every action shifts the entire order. There will be more suicides. And there will be many who were simply given the means to carry out their honor."

"You know this well."

Duke turns back around, holding the blade over the water now by the handle. "In Japan, the very order and structure they build themselves upon is their very downfall. You've exploited this. So have I. The system that is built to protect is merely positioned to fall at any moment. And in this chaos..." Duke begins to shave his face with the blade of the katana, turning the tip along his face. Reaching for the glass, he takes a sip. "Every suicide has a purpose, every upheaval has a benefactor. And this chaos has favored you too much. So I must... adapt."

"Do you understand, do I need to explain further?"

Dahlia is in a position of looking -down- upon Duke. It's unmistakable positioning -- Duke, advertising himself as naked and defenseless in order to test the Akatsuki leader's ruthlessness. -Daring- her to show her true colors, while luring her off-guard all the same.

She remains still, as Duke speaks -- listening and nodding in response to each and every point. She listens with rapt intent on the more recent provenance of the katana -- and finds her knuckles turning white as Duke dares to dull the sacred blade against his own face. One press -- one subtle shift one millimeter further would be enough to break skin. A gesture serving no purpose for this negotiation, sadly...

Every suicide has a purpose.
The soles of her boots squeak upon the damp stone, as she begins to walk in an arc -- more or less keeping her distance from Duke. She is, quite simply, pacing, with a goal of exercising the favorable power dynamic.

A smile pulls her face taut.
"Why, you make it sound like you haven't gained from this at -all-, Duke..."

She raises an open hand, folding her thumb inward.
"One -- Each tragic suicide victim bore an inordinate hatred of non-Wajin Japanese. So yes -- I benefit."

She folds her index finger inward.
"Two -- Each one bore an inordinate hatred of -foreigners-. So this is -both- of us, Duke. The idea of helping foreigners having any significant say in how their country was run was a complete anathema."

She folds her middle finger in.
"Three - each one would want nothing to do with -new- money, only the -old- money. Why... you'd have to bribe them for them to think any di--"

Her eyes open wide.
She gasps in melodramatic surprise.
And the hand lowers.
"These were -honest- politicians, Duke, they wouldn't take -bribes- in order to change their minds, would they?"

Dahlia composes her expression back into a wry smirk, as she stops pacing in one direction, reversing to walk back the way she came.
"So yes, Duke -- I get your meaning. You lost your investment. Price of business. But these guys weren't just sucking you off, they were sucking off Heihachi, and Kazuya, and Lee Chaolan, promoting -military- infrastructure and -military- production." She clenches her hand into a fist, buying completely into the rhetoric she's spinning. "-Big- money, not just tournament bullshit! Whip people into a war frenzy and you can build whatever you want. Rape the fuckin' planet and enslave the babies that pop out, who cares as long as you have power no one else does, right?"

She reverses direction again, silken dress flaring with the sudden motion.
"... But you're not like them. You've proven to me that you were a reasonable man."
She flicks her fingers towards Duke's lower half -- thankful that the refracting surface of the water is there to spare her from the sight of anything more.
"Aside from, y'know, this..."

Collecting herself, she folds both hands behind her back as she strides across the stonework. "Some people never change, Duke. They made up their minds in their youth, and they'll never change their stripes. Those people are gone now -- all we have left in the Diet now are people with something worth more than -money- to lose. So you really think you're -worse- off now?"

Dahlia chuckles softly. "Listen. I'm glad you made it out this way, Mr Burkoff. But really, we're going to need to communicate more, you and I. I'd hate to send our friends in the Diet any... mixed messages. Why, what do you -expect- from our dear politicians?"

There is a single, penetrating thrust of rage, stronger than ever before.

Duke locks his eyes with Dahlia at her theater. The water heats up higher, even Duke is starting to cook now. But his fury is restrained, even as plumes of chi burst up. Each reason of how Dahlia has been acting in both of their interest is presented with precision, as the temper begins to fade. It seemed that Dahlia touched on the heart of Duke's complaint. Duke could not hide his emotions; and while it was very powerful, it was hardly unsubtle. It never fades by the time she reaches the end, about sending the Diet mixed messages. A very firm warning, for the crime boss. A battlefield he did not think about.

The battlefield of public opinion.

"I am a very reasonable man, Dahlia." Duke rumbles slowly. "You do make some very good points." He mulls, scratching his back with the sword. "And it would be very disruptive if there is any misunderstandings. And I have noticed that the Syndicate's voice has become more and more muted with new words in their ears. It would be very foolish to upset the progress that has been made." Duke pauses, and then exhales hard. The emotions build up again."

"But I have made up my mind when I came here."

Duke brings the blade before him, looking at the geometric patterns. "Tomorrow, I am going to begin purging the Akatsuki from Honshu island. You have the option of withdrawing you officers as you see fit, and defending the rest." Duke declares war, with the ease of a sigh. "Your men certainly have enough free time to manage a retreat, or staging a fortification. You can leave your other investments in my territory, either they will be brought into the new way, or they will be left behind. But if I see a crimson moon anywhere on Honshu starting tomorrow, in Niigata, Sendai, anything north of Southtown, anything on my island, Dahlia?" Duke gives a small splash on the surface of the water. "Then they will be gone, and either made to join the Syndicate, or their ashes will be sent to you in a cedar box. I will not make any attempt to secure territory in Hokkaido, you can keep your island" Duke cannot draw the line from Dahlia. He would never be able to. But he turns around to the girl, looking at him, with the blade in his hand. "I told you if I catch wind that our arrangement is a trick serving to benefit you, that the Shadow Council be damned. It has benefitted you a little too much, Dahlia, and you need to be reigned in. You will learn your place, as I define it. And next time, you'll learn to keep your ambitions in check next time you allow the wrong man to die in my territory." Duke takes another sip, and places the bare blade of the sword on the edge of the poolside. Pouring some more sake into his cup, he makes a gesture at his face. "By the way, the shave. Is it symmetrical?"

"Or did I miss a spot?"

Dahlia drinks in every bit of Duke's rage, as if it were the finest ambrosia the man could see fit to produce. Each tongue of fiery chi that wafts upwards is a sign that her men did the right thing in leaving the pool -- and that she did right by not even trying to suppress their own keen survival instincts.

But when he starts to -scratch his back- with the sword...
Her eyebrow starts to twitch.

And then the terms of his reckoning are laid upon her.
And the smile falls completely off her face. A bold, sweeping strategy, bearing the beast's true colors as clearly as the hot spring water.

Her jaw set in a rictus of increasing anger, she continues to pace -- at the exact same stride, the exact same meter, the exact same timing as before, her dress swishing about with each step in an identical pattern as moments prior. Her blue-tinted eyes remain locked upon his as she paces, seething.

And then, with the question, she tilts her head, an eyebrow arching. Did he miss a spot...?

Dahlia's pacing ends abruptly.
She snaps her hand sharply to the side, as if she could reach out across the meters separating the two and slap him for his insolence.
The thing is -- telekinesis -gives- her the reach to do so.

But rather than slap -Duke-, she instead uses her power to knock the sword away, clattering it across the stone work as surely as if it were tied to a string looped around her finger. It looks like a cheap special effect -- until the psychic mob leader raises her hand and clenches it into a fist. The hilt of the sword flares with a faint purple glow, and a small flurry of fuschia-colored dahlia petals. With a gentle, deliberate motion, it behaves as if it were lifted from the stone floor by a ghost mimicking each and every one of Dahlia's actions.

And in one dreadfully drawn-out motion, the Dahlia's hand sweeps to point directly at Duke's scarred neck -- a motion mirrored by the glistening tip of the sword.

"As well as can be expected," she states with clinical precision, her lips pressing into a neutral line.

Dahlia's eyebrows lower, as she takes another stride closer to Duke. The sword inches closer at well -- though never closer than three meters.

"This sword has a more... interesting history, you know. You see -- it belonged to Shakushain, high chieftain of a clan of Ainu on this island. Finding himself on the losing side of the battle, he agreed to a ceasefire -- and at the conclusion of the affair, the Japanese chose to let bygones be bygones, celebrating with ample offerings of the most favored vice of the Ainu -- liberal helpings of sake."

Her expression darkens somewhat -- "Falling into a drunken stupor, the Ainu leaders were assassinated, and the Japanese went on to continue their centuries-long plunder of the Ainu people, to such degree that the rich and vibrant land of Ezo was branded with the name 'Northern Territory,' no less bland than you call your metropolis 'South Town...'"

Dahlia lifts a hand, twisting her wrist and the glowing sword telekinetically tethered to it. "So, thanks for bringing this to me! Sentimental value. I'll add it to the trophy room -- right next to the head of the Outworld Champion. But... yes. Your shave should be more than sufficient for booking into the Novus Orbis Librarium's detention center. I understand there is -quite- the bounty out for your arrest!"

What was this.

Duke instincts remain still, as Dahlia's snaps a hand towards the sword. Another theatrical? But know. The moment he sees it float, Duke's mind shifts gear without a clutch. New information that transforms the very plan before him. She was psychic. That changed and explained everything. The influence, the control. It was practically magic. For a moment, Duke feels the weight of the history and Dahlia's talent. But when it ends with a sword pointed at his neck? the wide-eyed crime boss frozen in shocked surprise? When it ends with a piercing threat, and just what she might do? His body relaxes.

With A sneer at the corner of his lips.

He makes another sip of the sake. He doesn't put up his guard. Looking at the blade, he shakes his head. "Is that the best you can do, Dahlia?" There is a surge of energy around him, a hiss of steam boiling off the surface of the pool. Clouds of mist boil all around, as Duke rumbles again. "Pathetic. Still. A psychic. I should have suspected your entire rise to power was simply a parlour trick."

There is a splash.

The steam clears a bit, as Duke stands high on the pool's edge, facing the other crime boss. If the blade drove into him, it would drive in. If it flew at him, he would allow it. There was no guard now, no defense now. No fear. His yellows eyes lock down at Dahlia, as the pressure builds around him. "Trophies, men at your beck and call, and theater. I run an opera house, Dahlia. I know what show you are putting on, and I know what you are."

The naked Duke takes a step towards Honoka.

"You are a very small woman, in a world of very big men. You know how to act like a big man, you know how to make yourself look much, much bigger than you are. But the end, you're just a woman that's been tolerated up to this point. Nattering with endless noise, hiding behind your wiles and those men that you've wrapped around your finger. You think this will change anything? I have fought psychics before, Dahlia. I have crushed them in my grips in the King of Fighters. Zach Glenn. Honoka Kawamoto. You might be strong enough. But do you think you are strong enough to fight me alone?"

Duke takes another dangerous step towards Honoka.

"You can call them back. You might have already." Duke taps the side of his head once. "Maybe all together, you can overpower me. And you can hand me over for a bounty from NOL, or whoever has put a claim on my head. I'm not afraid of anything you can come up with, Dahlia now. The war isn't going to wait for me. Because you are in my way. And I will not stop until I get what I want. I don't care if you want to cling to history, or vengeance, or whatever bullshit you use to justify yourself. That sword is nothing more than what it means to me. And all it is a means for leaders to save their honor, before they give me everything the once held dear." Duke pulls away the little towel from his head. He throws it at Dahlia's feet. "You can keep the sword, Dahlia. That was going to be a gift for you."

"You will need to salvage the last remains of respect when your empire crumbles at your feet."

If this little meeting of the Akatsuki minds had gone according to Dahlia's initial plans, her men would have been able to finish with their relaxation without any untoward embarassment. As it is, though... changes were necessary. Dahlia knew the sausage party she was going to be walking into, and the fact remains that she's still expecting to walk out of it with all -her- dignity intact. For Dahlia does not walk alone.

The shadow manipulator actually breaks into laughter as Duke emerges from the water, covering her mouth with her free hand. "Oh, not embarassed at -all-... I love it!" Her fingers tickle at the hilt of the blade, drawing it back to herself at a rate that matches Duke's rate of pursuit -- not wanting to get his hands back upon the blade -or- the hilt, and yet keeping it fixed solidly between herself and the Syndicate boss. Her eyes widen with crazed alarm, a dark purple aura erupting around her, stained with the shadows of jet-black flower petals. "It's no show, it's a fucking -promise-, Duke! You think you can walk into here, put your assets on full display while you're threatening -part- of mine... and think you'll walk out of here with everything you got? Or better yet, you think you're gonna bring a -trophy- home to your fuckin' blowhard boss?"

Dahlia jerks her hand up sharply -- and the sword pitches high into the air. With an equally sharp jerk of her fingertips towards the floor, the sword slams downward into the wooden doorframe of the building behind her, mere centimeters from one of her prized support staff's head.

She pauses in her rage long enough to listen to the man boast, and shakes her head with an insane cackle. "Ha! You're leaving out the -really- fun matches, like the one where a struggling tryhard from the Kyokugen Dojo took you down -- no, no, wait, how about the one where you had to step back and let your J-Pop fangirl step in to cover for you?"

Dahlia licks her lips, lacing her fingers together -- and then stretching them over her head, cracking the knuckles with a series of audible pops.

One hand falls to her side; the other reaches to her collar, pulling on a small golden chain. As she tugs on the chain, it becomes clear that it's attached to a small circular medallion -- and that that medallion is glowing a brilliant honey yellow. "Do you -honestly- think I'll just sit up and beg for your mercy, after you've already shown your own neck -- not just to me, but the whole fuckin' -world?-" Madness splits her face as she takes a few threatening steps of her own towards Duke -- the golden radiance spreading outward across her body like creeping vines, etching a series of nearly rectilinear circuit traces upon her. Expanding organically, and yet following a rectilinear pattern akin to that of the work on the sword's hilt...

"The worst part is, it's not even about the -money-, Duke -- just the -embarassment- of watching you squirm under the knife of the NOL. And then the thought of you -grovelling- when -- or -if- -- they toss you back on the steps of Geese Tower... Embarassment you can save yourself, by walkin' out that door right now and dropping -every- one of the threats you just made!"

Dahlia stops in her tracks, flicking both of her hands downward. Golden radiance explodes from her fingertips in a pyrokinetic fury, viscous energy splashing across the stonework as if it were maple syrup.

Her three armed guards shudder from the psychic impact wave, listing forward dizzily before catching themselves with outstretched arms and fingers.

If Duke is sensitive to such matters -- he'd likely see that -images- of the three men have stepped forward, translucent yellow and free of their mortal selves. And each of them stands at the ready -- each wielding a spirit weapon of some kind. A sword, to match the one impaled into the building. A spear, matching Duke's own height. A bow, equally imposing.

The handful of yakuza officers from earlier have, by this point, dressed themselves. And one of them bears a long staff -- not unlike the one wielded by Billy Kane, just lacquered in black instead of red.

Her expression is overwhelmingly smug and condescending.
"Or I can beat you like the dog you are...!"
Perhaps it -is- pure theatrics -- but from the outpouring of psychic energy, the chances of that are slim.

A hand extends towards the door -- one flanked by a two rows of stood-down forces at parade rest.

Her voice falls into a solemn tone, brooking none of the overblown emotion from just a moment prior.

"Your choice."

COMBATSYS: Honoka has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Honoka           0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Honoka equips a supreme Honey Yellow Soul Shard.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-======|

Duke does not respond to the laughter.

This was a man who's body was boiled and scarred. Dahlia was not a woman to impress. It was a woman to crush. And he gave his last attempt at indimidatation. His instincts were correct though. She had reached out to others. Duke had only the broadest intuitions on what a psychic opponent meant. Was she already in his head? It could be. But the crime boss wouldn't dwell on such matters. When Dahlia only builds into a more aggressive stride, he almost was capable of standing down. But she wanted to draw out the rage of the crime boss.

And she decides to tear at the newest scars.

The humilation. She might be looking to play it offensively, but if it wasn't for the humiliation, he wouldn't even be here. Geese would be returning, and he would see just how successful Duke was in it, or rather, the lack thereof. A dwindling ground presence. A humiliating defeat. And a depressing tournament standing. Losing and losing and losing. Duke had no face. And there was no easy way out for him, no honorable path. There was only one path forward.

And Dahlia was once again standing between him and it.
The presence of the shapes, the strange energy, the patterns.... all this could sense in the broadest strokes, and yet, he could not truly understand. For the crime boss, they were just images without meaning. More obstructions in his path. The depth of her power was all too familiar to him, and yet, he did not recognize it. But the crime boss crosses his arms in the face of the force. It was intimidation now against him. Duke had made his threats. She dared him to carry them out. The insult was boiling in his heart, his soul. And there was a subtle difference from before.

He had finished his bath.

"Hmph." Duke rumbles firmly, cracking his neck to one side, and then the other. He draws in a heavy breath. "Such a little woman." He uncrosses his arms, and takes a step towards Honoka. A second step. There is a flicker of chi over his naked form, as he brings up his third step.

And he drives his foot down into the ground.

The entire weight of the rage pours deep into the ground, as the entire area around the pool craters. And around the point of contact, pure chi flames explode around, the cataclysmic eruption rumbling deep in the earth. The very building rattles on it's foundation, as the full weight of the impact hammers down, ready to consume up Dahlia, the images, the officers, everything. The crime boss came here with no dignity, without only one intention: War. If it had to begin here, instead of the streets of Southtown?

So be it.

COMBATSYS: Duke has joined the fight here.

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Duke             0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Duke successfully hits Honoka with Seismic Impact ES.

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Duke             0/-------/=======|======-\-------\0       [E] Honoka

In Dahlia's mind, there is only one chance to make this alpha strike -- one chance to prove that Duke's impression of her was so very, very wrong. Her words slash across him like blades, breaking loose the metaphoric scabs. She could have done without the provocation, certainly -- perhaps even let Duke walk free as she so asks. But seeing him, nigh defenseless, without the backing of his men... it's impossible to resist twisting the knife, drinking in every morsel of the volcanic crimelord's rage. The nectar of his ire empowers her every bit as much as it drives wedges of fear into her subordinates -- and it shows in her ever-widening smile.

Dahlia clucks her tongue, her fingers glimmering with golden light.
"Disappointing. Your ninja had much better insults."
And she narrows her eyes at the rising levels of chi, impossible to ignore.

As Duke brings up his foot, Dahlia grimaces and throws her palms into the ground. Tendrils of honeyed radiance sprout from her ankles, driving into the ground. And yet, an instant before they can manage to root her into place, concentric rings of concussive force ripple through the stone, bending time and space -- and throwing her backwards into her surprised enforcers. Nigh-invisible shockwaves pummel into Dahlia, transforming that cocky smirk into a pained gasp. The bathhouse shudders on its foundations, as small tempests of dust and dirt erupt all around the perimeter. Birds take flight. The sky looks on mutely from above.

The radiance suffusing her form fluctuates, in perfect coordination with the three flickering spirits of her men. The shockwaves die off -- and Dahlia falls forward, catching herself on the extended fingers of her left hand.

She pushes herself back up, panting heavily -- and glaring at Duke.
Those lips curl, once again, into a smile.
"Don't... say I didn't warn you."
Her hands clench.
And suddenly, there are not only -three- spirits hovering nearby, but -nine-, as the spirit forms of the six yakuza from the bathing room are plucked out, drawn to Dahlia's unholy command. Wavering and fluctuating, the yakuza's visages seem only half-formed, wispy and diaphanous. And yet, their faces are showing confusion -- as if they themselves don't realize what's going on.

Dahlia raises both hands over her head, as if she were able to reach the sword impaled into the building above her. But that's not her goal...
"The legendary... soul-devouring sword... hungers...!!!"

The spirits howl in agony, as all nine smear into hazy lines, streaking towards her grasping hands. At first, the light is too bright to see -- a second Sun, in the middle of the hazy Hokkaido daylight?! But then, as she swings her hands downward, the golden radiance form resolves into a more recognizable form...

A sword, slightly curved.
Forged from pure golden light.
Its form etched with black rectilinear runes in Ainu patterns.
Each soulblack line pulses with a faint purple glow.
A weapon borne from rage.
Spirits folded time and time again into an infinitely sharp blade.

It will feel like liquid napalm, seeping into every pore of Duke's being.
He will hear the voices of ten people screaming with a mixture of agony and rage.
Dahlia will drink in every bit of his torment, for as long as those screams linger in his mind.

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the veins of the burning blood.

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Duke             0/-------/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Duke Toughs Out Honoka's #Yukara Ipetam#!!

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Duke             1/----===/=======|-------\-------\0       [E] Honoka

The rage was building to a rolling boil.

Every strike, every word, every blow was unlocking the silenced anger. Peeling away the layers, breaking the chains. As the impact blows around, Duke's yellow eyes transfix furiously upon Dahlia, his lips curled in a sneer, his stare penetrating through the dust and the smoke.

But her hunger for sadistic pleasure was insatiable.

The naked Duke was at his weakest. Even with the stomp, even with the tremble. If Honoka was decisive now, there would be no Syndicate in her path. No war. Maybe Duke wanted this fight. Maybe he never wanted this fight. Maybe he never expected that Dahlia's wildest ambitions would take her to this point. But as he strides towards her, ready to crush her, the woman unleashes a new surprise. She suddenly gasps in pain, as the golden light comes.

Duke couldn't understand it.

His perception struggles with what he sees, and the crime boss stops. His sneer falls away, as the golden light flows and pulls the souls out of those men's bodies. Duke did not believe in fear. You never showed fear. But as he sees them go limp... his stride drops, the step coming short. His eyes dance from officer to officer to ghost to ghost. The spiritual force was clear now. And for a moment, Duke hesitates. His energy surges back within, his guard coming up in apprehension. Bringing his arms up, his eyes cast on Honoka finally, focusing on her last. If she wanted to see Duke quail, she might finally see the closest moment of it.

And then it comes.

When he fought Zach Glenn, when he fought Alma, when he fought Honoka, the presence of psychic assault was a direct assault on his perception, his mind, his nervous system. As that sun glows through him, in the shape of the burning sword, he could feel his world melting around him. Only the light, the spirits, and Dahlia existed. And her leering grin, as it pierces his very soul. He feels himself frozen, as they all pour into him, his spirit feeling like merely a shadow behind him.

And they come to feed.

Liquid napalm triggers a pain, as he feels his spirit torn at, pulled at, devoured at. Duke feels it all, the rage around him, the howl, the screams. For a moment, Duke is locked in that trance, his eyes staring far away as the pain pours in. But as the rage rises... Duke agony suddenly rumbles. A ripple in the sea of mind. A 11th voice joins them, as Duke suddenly reveals the depth of the torment with his own scream. For a moment, it may seem like a feast.

And Duke's rage drowns all of them.

Duke's body -erupts- in volcanic anger, exploding around into a howl. A psychic defense was not accurate; Duke's defense rarely was. It was what was is a pure psychic offense. No skill, no talent, no natural ability. Simply the raw emotional fury forcing against the spiritual essence. And in the midsts, in the white noise, in the flood, the cataclysmic psychic assault, Duke suddenly rises up. He picks up speed, blind speed, his anger boiling over in tendrils of crimson flame. The anger was unleashed, fully unleashed, no longer suppressed.

The trance is broken.

"IS THAT ALL?" Duke rumbles, as his charge stops, his yellow eyes locking upon Dahlia once more, staring down her. The crime boss pivoting hard. Turning back, he unleashes a mulekick out of the haze to try and -stop- the assault into Honoka, to lash out, to fight the voice, -everything-. The blow was not even precise, aiming squarely for Honoka's center. He couldn't see, he couldn't -feel-. A second kick comes, nowhere near Honoka, nowhere near anything as the voices pour back. But his screams pour over the mountainside, as finally, the full font of his rage is unleashed. She wanted to draw out his rage. And she succeeded.


COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the fortress of the steel will.

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Duke             1/---====/=======|-------\-------\0       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Duke's Medium Kick.

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Duke             1/---====/=======|-------\-------\0       [E] Honoka

Not all legends are passed to the next generation.

When Dahlia had first met Duke, it was only Vega's wrath that stayed Duke's hand from crushing her. If the Southtown Syndicate were to bring its full fury upon her then, the Akatsuki would likely have crumbled in moments. And if Duke himself were to have followed through on his volcanic rage, it would have been the rest of the Shadow Council laughing for her own impertinence.

But times changed. Dahlia had carried out the Shadow Council's mission statement, pooling her strength with those of her 'peers' into the defeat of their common enemy, Shang Tsung and the armies of Outworld. Dahlia had rescued not just one from Death's Door, but -nine-. Her might was unquestioned; her defeat of Goro put an end to nine hundred years of Earthrealm failure, and delayed Outworld's plan for the subjugation of Earth for at least a hundred more.

And yet, in the Dahlia's hubris, she failed to anticipate that Duke would have learned from his trials in similar fashion. That he would have hardened himself against the psychic onslaughts of Zach Glenn, of Honoka Kawamoto, of Alma Towazu. That he would have been conserving his true rage, walling it up in anticipation for the very moment before her.

Dahlia's eyes widen, as every muscle in her body constricts.
She is -determined- to overpower him.
To crush him under the might of ten souls' most powerful, crushing strike.
And as her onslaught of psychic rage crashes into him... Duke stands, resolute.
His fury rises in volume over the shrieking rage of her banshees.

A furious Dahlia doubles back, her hands pulled taut into claws as the wave of golden energy diverts around him, searing shadowy scars across the stone floor. The thought of the crimelord simply -weathering- an attack she's spent months preparing for is absolutely infuriating -- and yet, there is no time for introspection. The Syndicate crimelord is still there, demanding every iota of her attention. She draws her hands back, allowing the wave to ebb back like whitewater reclaimed by the sea. The borrowed spirits return to their owners in depleted, hazy forms.

Is. That. All?!
Gritting her teeth, Dahlia presses her palms into Duke's mule kick -- and the golden surf rises up in front of her to intercept the blow. Spectral energy splashes outward from the confluence. Her arms shudder from absorbing the blow. A secondary wave splashes up from her ankles, still caught within the residual flow from her attack.

She chokes out a laugh, as the built-up rage seethes around her. Rage begat more rage -- and as she adapts to the crimelord's signature, this too can be useful.

Her hand holds firm against that bare foot -- and she surges forward to take advantage of the overcommitted kick. She'll seek to shove that foot hard to the right, answering him not with words, but with her own fury. With a splash of golden energy, she will leap forward to close the gap towards Duke's enraged face. Her right hand, wreathed in that honey glow, lashes out with an attempt to dig her fingernails into his flesh -- as if she plans to wrench right into his cold heart and take grip of the man's sternum bone by itself.

If she grabs hold -- in any fashion -- she will suddenly and abruptly thrust her heel up into his abdomen. The blow will be punctuated by a spike of violent violet energy -- the anger reforged into a blade all its own. She would then fall backwards onto her own back -- her own style of a tomoe nage throw -- as she sends her opponent flying forward in the direction of her men -- men who are too exhausted to scatter right away, and would likely fall over like bowling pins!

No -- she is -not- done yet. This is -not- all she can do!

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

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Duke             1/---====/=======|-------\-------\0       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Duke endures Honoka's Wakka Pururuse.

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Duke             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|==-----\-------\0       [E] Honoka

It was all a lucky accident, ultimately.

Duke restrained his rage not for fighting a psionic; it was because he did not want to fight Dahlia over the first or third or twelth insult. He wanted to keep his cool. But Dahlia had successfully goaded him into a fight. And as the kick comes rioting in, he lashes out like a dazed bull. He wouldn't realize fully how much he escaped by his pure anger. But as his senses begin to stablize, he already feels the nails of the woman dig into him.

And he already begins to build his attack.

He doesn't lash out instantly, no. Up close, Dahlia could feel the surge of energy building within him. The golden energy was augmenting her, empowering her. And Duke could not understand. All he understood was the basic animal instincts, of a woman in his path. Not even a woman, but a human obstacle. And all he had to do was smash through it. As the surge of Dahlia's energy penetrates his gut, he lets out a pained moan, blood coming out in tandem with the assault on his nervous system. Keeping his focus locked on the woman, the crime boss is hurled into the exhausted gangsters. Digging his bare feet against the ground leave long, bloody streaks on the broken ground, as he is able to keep on his feet through pure strength, will, and resolve. Yellow eyes burning, he snarls at Dahlia.


Raising his palm up, the fiery chi surges over him. Without any clothing covering his form, it's clear now how the crime boss's energy flows through him. Duke's skin around his thighs, his torso, his body boils and twists and leaks jets of flame, his very flesh shifting to allow the flow of energy up. Holding it high level, he begins to stride back at Dahlia, accelerating as his palm holds high. "You will not win this, Dahlia!" He bellows. "You think I am some weak politician you can push around? You will -die- for your arrogance!"

And the gravitional pull begins.

Push hard around, the orb of dense energy starts crushing all around, cratering the ground beneath, crushing everything before Duke in a catalcysm crush. Eyes burning, boiling and hissing with the same flames, the blinded Duke strides forward at Dahlia, bringing his crushing wave of energy before him, daring to pin and crush the woman underneath it.

Before his wrist snaps, the energy overwhelming even the crime boss.

COMBATSYS: Duke successfully hits Honoka with Gravitational Wave.

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Duke             0/-------/<<<<<<<|==-----\-------\0       [E] Honoka

Every action the Dahlia takes is a step forward on her path to uplift the Ainu people back into the spotlight -- to undo centuries of ill will and antipathy from the Wajin. This... foreigner conflates her culture with those of her mortal enemy: the Japanese who hold honor as an ideal above all else. The very same culture she seeks to subvert from the inside out. Seppuku is a tool for preserving their honor in the face of certain defeat -- and quite possibly for preserving the honor of the yakuza gangsters who absorb the brunt of Duke's fall. But the glaring Dahlia will not be shackled by such foolish, self-defeating ideals -- and as she peels herself back up from the shadowed stone, her face splits into a manic grin, lit by the flickering flames of her Shadow Council rival. She does not need to know the gory details of -how- the crimelord is bathed in flame -- only that he -is-, and that the chaotic energy won't stop coursing out of him until that pulse of life is placed on a tenuous pause.

"Politician?! Ahahahaha!" Dahlia breaks into laughter, even as all hell breaks loose around her. Her dress and jacket flap about from the unholy wind kicked up around the gravitational vortex's event horizon -- and still she shakes her head, denying the obvious. "Don't flatter yourself -- you're just a limp-dicked thug with a chip on his shoulder!"

And then, just as her knees fold, her feet beginning to flare with an upswell of golden light, she is pulled in. Without committing to a full-on escape, she cannot break the gravitational pull -- and the honeyed glow smears about as she is drawn in. The two pins in her hair are pulled away, black locks tumbling free as she's is pulled into the center of the cataclysm.

Her feet are pulled under the orb first, and then the rest of her -- pressed downward with such force that long cracks begin to radiate outward from the Akatsuki leader! Her arms are drawn in close, useless as anything more than vehicles by which to crush against her ribcage, evacuating the air from her lungs and choking out the laugh in mid-cackle. Her lifeforce ebbs for one moment -- and screwed-shut eyes tense with the realization...

But then she explodes upward with a fresh burst of golden light. Her eyes open -- shining beacons of light. Her body flies free from the ground, arms and legs trailing behind her as if they had no part in the catapulting ascension of her body.

At the apex of her flight, her head, fringed in an unruly mass of raven-black hair, lurches forward, her features pulled taut in a murderous rage.

And in that very next moment -- as her eyes glow with that golden radiance -- the entire -world- begins to melt into pure, liquid intensity.

And then, even as she flies forward, the world will resolve into an icy cavern. Gone is the hot spring -- and in its place, the pair appears to have been teleported into an icy cavern, buried within the heart of a mighty mountain. Every breath crystallizes instantly. Mist cloaks the surface of concentric arcs of stone, bridging a tenuous path across circles of ice. Rocky walls are sprung up around the pair -- there will be no escape on foot And hovering above, a perfect, flawless crystal spins, watching and observing with a halo of icy frost.

Dahlia's palm slams forward as if in slow motion -- seeking to make contact with Duke's abdomen, the same place she impaled him earlier. And if it makes contact...

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

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Duke             0/-------/<<<<<<<|==-----\-------\0       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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Duke             0/-------/<<<<<<<|==-----\-------\0       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Duke blocks Honoka's Pon-itak Ki.

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Duke             1/------</<<<<<<<|====---\-------\0       [E] Honoka

Dahlia's right palm glows with brilliant radiance.
It slams forward into Duke with enough force to shatter bone... threatening to break every bone in the crimelord's body.

But that is -nothing- compared to the chill sweeping through every bit of Duke's body. Fires all around would be snuffed out. His arteries and veins would grow turgid, fighting against the temptation to yield against the bone-concussive force of her palm. And the very bioengineered mechanic which would allow Duke to jumpstart himself back to life -- stilted, put on hold by simple physics: No biological process can take place at the state of absolute zero.

The psychic's compulsory reality is dense, convoluted -- and startlingly life-like.
But while her power is, indeed, enough to shatter bone, the trauma is largely psychosomatic.
For many people, the body is gullible enough to make the dream into a reality.
But the dream -- such as it is -- is imperfect. Bits of reality shine through -- the cracks in the concentric arcs, the semi-transparency of the cavern walls. The teleportation, such as it is, is incomplete.

Duke snarls, staring at his wrecked hand.

The crime boss's relentless offense wasn't truly slowing down. Already, the hand was reforming, pulling itself back together. Already, his bleeding abdomen was closing. Already, his unnaturally powerful endurance and spirit was reversing everything she could throw at him. But even the crime boss had his limit; the psychic assaults were cutting deeper and deeper. It wouldn't take much for Duke to be pushed into a living nightmare... R
And never waking up again.

The assault of the pure supernatural weight bears down on Duke heavily. As the golden light surges through Dahlia again, he strides forward, keeping his moment. The driving hand comes from the woman, and he brings his good hand around. Surging with power, he snatches it at the wrist, catching it with a vice like grip. The shotgun blast of energy runs through him, stealing his breath as his eyes go wide.

But where was he?

In the cavern of cataclysmic cold. His body locks in place. Paralyzed. Numb. Trapped. He could feel himself fading away into a hole. But how could this be? Heat. Where was his fire? Duke tries to cast his eyes around the cave, but cannot move. The only constant was his thoughts. And a rage, a madness surges up from within. He should be dead. He could be dead.

There is only the iron will of the crime boss sustaining him at this point.

The need for life, the need for existence, the need to cling on and drive. And yet, everything was unmoving. Impossible will struggles. He was going mad, mad in the isolation, the cold, the helplessness. But he could not believe he was helpless. He could -never- be helpless, even when Hein strapped him in the gurney. His body pulses, his life energy flooding out. He could not move, as he wills, he wills his flames to come out and break this cold. And it wouldn't be enough, it couldn't be enough.

Until the cracks come.

Every snap is a vent of warmth, a rush of thawing strength. He moves his eyes around, seeing the reflection around. And as the heat floods his body, he finally has the most important piece: his grip. He feels something his hand. He looks down.

And he releases Honoka's wrist.

And Duke finds himself standing fast, shivering in the cold, as the last of the shadows peel away. Brute force was not the most reliable defense against these endless psychic attacks. But it is a strong one. "I've been called a thug so many times, Dahlia." He growls, teeth shattering, as he numbly touches on his gut. "Tell me. Do you know how many ambitions I've snuffed out? How many ideals I've quashed? How many empires have fallen apart from one man simply having the audicity to punch someone in the face? You think your gang will survive without you? Your empire? You should have lowered your head when you had the chance."

"What makes you think you are anything special?"

Duke -slams- his leg with bone shattering force straight at Dahlia's center now; the surge of fire boiling his blood back to life with the straight kick. Whether it connected or not did not matter; he would swing his leg up and around into an axle kick, slamming it down into a second seismic shockwave straight upon Dahlia with crushing force. To smash her. Break her.

To kill her.

COMBATSYS: Honoka dodges Duke's Hellfire Hammer.

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Duke             0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0       [E] Honoka

When Duke first lays his hand upon Dahlia's arm, he will be able to feel the warmth of the staggered geometric patterns of light, the stiff bones beneath, the heated blood pumping throughout her veins. But then he would have felt the cold slamming into him, like a bracing wave of winter -- transforming the entire world around him into that wintry cavern. Dahlia's skin would grow cold and blue, the pulsating light radiating a cold chill instead of enveloping warmth. And her face, contorted with rage at the surprising hold, would be partially obscured by a petulant gust of crystallized breath.

The winds would slam into him, penetrating through every pore.
And then, in a moment, the wind stops.
The cracks show, the illusion shatters.

But the blue, wintry palette remains, darkening Dahlia's skin beneath that golden radiance, a pale cerulean tint upon the Hokkaido hot spring that refuses to dissipate. Far overhead, the perfectly geometric crystal twirls in its blissful ballet, spewing out crystallized motes at regular intervals.

Dahlia wrests her hand free, rubbing at the indentations of buttons now pressed into the flesh of her forearm. Scowling, she draws back, skirting sideways for a moment.
A kick is unleashed -- and Dahlia leaps backwards, allowing the kick to whistle harmlessly past, contacting only the pillow of air left in the wake of her sudden departure. When the followup kick comes, she's already anticipating the move with a sideways cartwheel, leaving him nothing to contact except the flapping silk of her skirt.

The soles of her boots touch down lightly upon the fractured stone as she backpedals towards the exit of the bathing area, putting a few more meters' distance between herself and the naked and explosive Syndicate man. Her right hand is reached out -- and an instant later, the segmented sansetsukon is hurled into her awaiting grasp.

She seems... amused at the continued insistence that capitulation was the right course of action. "What, do you keep a list by your bedside or something? It doesn't change who you are -- just another self-important, run-of-the-mill windbag, cowering in the shadow of change!"

The disc suspended from her neck flares brightly, a burst of light out along her left arm within an instant. Her left hand is snapped upward -- and the light courses out of her hands in a high arc.

The very next instant, the crystalline guardian suspended overhead will springback to life, as the golden radiance slams into it.
The shining guardian will come crashing down on Duke, its icy wreaths seeking to quell the fires of the volcanic crime boss yet again. For if the crystal slams into Duke, it will shatter -- and each of the craggy, scintillating shards will impale his flesh, quenching every spark of heat into their cold, wintry essences. And if Duke is not careful, he may find that Dahlia has taken full advantage of the cratered floor in aiming her shot.

The staff swooshes through the air, as Dahlia swings it around before her, building up a slow, methodical rhythm. Her confidence is far from shaken: she bears the half-smile of a mastermind knowing full well what she plans to do next.

"What makes me special? That you have /completely misread me/...!"

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Duke             0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Duke barely endures Honoka's Ishirishina.

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Duke             1/-------/=======|=======\-------\0       [E] Honoka

Duke doesn't slow down yet.

Even as each blow is evaded, the full impact runs deep into the building. The crime boss was already pivoting, already leaning in hard to ready the next attack. And yet, as the disc comes, the crystal guardian of incredible golden light in place. When confronted with the unknown, Duke only presses forward. Roaring out, he struggles to force through the crashing guardian... which naturally serves the guardian well, as his fires quench around him. As the shards dig deep into his naked flesh, blood pouring out alone, the next shot comes, blasting him backwards. Duke falls backwards, finally overwhelmed.

And Duke slows down.

Blow after blow after blow after blow, Duke has forced his way through. He was physically falling apart, every assault pulling him apart more and more. He doesn't fall off his feet, but stumbling backwards, he actually has to take a moment to pause as he instinctively makes his steps back towards Dahlia. The momentum had finally shifted to Dahlia's favor. But as the blood flows down his body, he roars out, yellow eyes locked on his opponent. The full weight of his serious pressure boils out, as he -glares- with harrowing rage.

"Misread you?"

"Oh, that you are a clever schemer, who manipulated the criminal underworld to your will, ready for your idealistic changes? Don't make me laugh."Duke eases himself forward, adjusting his balance again. "You are just another gangster wannabe who says anything and does anything to get what you want. Don't act you are anything better. You're just like those haughty pretenders in the Syndicate! They have no idea of the grit and blood it takes to hold up their empires, and neither do -you!- Past the culture, your psychic powers, your arrogance and cute threats, and you just are a little person who just wants to have power and respect. There is only one way to hold it, Dahlia."

And he lunges in.

Duke gives a staggering right, body burning with fire as he forces his momentum back. A staggering left comes around, followed by a third swing of his right, all aimed right for Honoka's center. "You have to fight for it." The combination breaks into a full uppercut, attempting to send Honoka up into the air. And whether or not she goes up or down? He would finish with a leap into the air, landing with a steady stomp shockwave right centered on Honoka's head. "Tricks can take you to the top. Once you are there?"

"Only your strength will let you remain!"

COMBATSYS: Duke knocks away Honoka with Hell Bomber EX.
- Power hit! -

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Duke             0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0       [E] Honoka

Duke slows down.
Dahlia twirls her staff, flashing an overconfident grin in reply.
"You're slipping, Burkoff..." she notes with manic glee.

Dahlia strides closer, passing the twirling sectional staves from one hand to the other. Her dexterity in managing the sansetsukon's weight and heft is clear: comfort being a necessary requisite for handling a weapon just as lethal to an amateur wielder as to its intended victim. And she has every intent of putting the weapon to good use against Duke.

But Duke's chosen to back up his considerable heft with words of his own. And of his many words, the one that hits her with the most impact is one of his first: "Idealistic." With that word, the glower returns - eyebrows low, and teeth grit.

She resists every one of his claims. Every single one. If it wasn't for her own grit, her own intent to draw blood, to -kill-, Duke would be finding out first-hand just how tightly Earth could be wedged into a handbasket to hell. The -little person- saved this world, and her outrage is made patently obvious -- as she spits onto the ground.

Duke lunges forward.
And in an instant, the staff stops its spin, its component chains groaning with the stress. The three staves parallel her forearm as she pivots to her side, presenting a minimized profile.

And she underestimates how committed Duke is to the attack. The first punch is more than enough to knock the arm aside. The second punch hits her clear in the sternum, forcing the acrobat to stagger backwards. And the third punch is enough to cancel out a beat of the Akatsuki leader's heart.

Loosed raven-black hair flaps about with each successive blow. Her jacket and skirt billow out from the performer's utter lack of balance. Stymied by the previous attacks, she's left completely incapable of defending against the bone-cracking blow which follows, catapulting an unconscious Dahlia into the air.

It's not until the unsettling sensation of her body coming to a halt, at the apex of her flight, that Dahlia is snapped awake again. Her hands rise -- steadying herself in midair.
But then her wide eyes realize Duke is slamming his boots right into her.

Her eyes screw shut.
Not like it would matter.

The acrobat is jackhammered right back into the ground -- her back and head hitting the stone so hard that not only does she leave a crater -- she also bounces back up a solid meter.

But not hard -enough- to stop her from delivering one final counterattack.
For though the acrobat is still dizzied...
She still has her muscle memory to fall back on.
Leaning, she stabilizes her momentum, twisting into a backflip. And the sansetsukon whips into motion, its monochrome segments burning with brilliant golden afterimages, carving an unquestionably powerful and decidedly -slow- arc through the air as she flips.

But... Dahlia adds a notable twist to her turn, moving as if to right herself -- aiming to grand-slam Duke across the facade of the bathhouse. And with any luck -- skip him clear over the fence, out of the facility -- with the golden radiance of her soul stone imparting just that much more momentum to her strike.

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Duke             0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0       [E] Honoka

COMBATSYS: Honoka can no longer fight.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Duke             0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Duke fails to interrupt Kamui Atemka from Honoka with Crash Bomber EX.

[                       \\\\\\\  <
Duke             1/------=/=======|

Following her strike, she lacks the strength to even stand on her own two feet, sinking to her knees afterward. The sansetsukon clatters down beside her, no longer a useful weapon when the woman can barely stay upright, let alone stand. One hand snaps to her head -- and her other raises towards the sword, still embedded within the bathhouse wall.
With a single motion of her grasping hand, she pulls downward, telekinetically extracting the sword from the wall, and forcing it to tumble end-over-end, until it clatters helplessly to the cratered stone floor a moment later.

As she collapses, the radiant armor shatters, the golden light smearing back into the depleted soulstone at her chest. Blood begins to spurt from several of her wounds -- a process mitigated by the radiant process. But as she collapses, she mouths one word to the subordinate who rushes to collect the weapon: Run.

Duke senses she is nearly broken.

As the final stomp comes, he begins to stride after, following after Dahlia. His body was still bleeding from the shards, and even his abdomen was still oozing gore lightly. But as the staff whips around, Duke smirks. Winding back a fist, Duke waits in timing. The punch hurls out, aiming to intercept the vaulting leap. The punch passes through.

And too late, Duke realizes he is tracking an after-image.

The blow comes strong enough and hard enough to send him hurtling. Limbs flail like a rag doll as he is knocked cleanly across the facade. For a moment, he seems like he is just about to clear the fence, clear the space. He doesn't quite make it, however. In the worst possible way, in fact. As the golden energy clings to him, there is a snapping sound as he hits a fencepost hard, the wood driving deep into his chest. There is a gurgling sound, as for a moment, he goes limp.

For a moment.

Duke's eyes suddenly focus, as he gives a hard kick. Smashing his elbow, he gets just enough leverage to snap the post in have, splinting it as it sticks into his chest. Rising up into a stand, he leaves in the single fencepost, driven deep enough to pass through. Despite the effort, the fire, Duke seemed to be so slow, so broken. It also seemed, with his slow, stumbling steps, shifting side to side, he was so close to falling. Just one more hit. One more blow. Somebody, anybody. Just one more hit, and he would be done. But the burning resolve pours over his body, as the flames lick him. Already, his gut injury was dried up. Already, the countless piercing crystal wounds were nearly closed up.

It was too late now.

His yellow eyes burn, locked on not the assistant that was fetching the blade. Let him go. He wasn't here for the sword; it was a gift for her. One of several gifts required, it seemed. Besides. There needed to be witnesses. There needed to be survivors. There was a business that required fear. It doesn't take long before Duke is over Dahlia, blood dripping over the fencepost. Standing tall, he draws in a staggering breath, glaring down at her. And it comes swiftly and ruthlessly. Duke kicks Honoka straight in her chest, knocking her along the ground a few feet. He growls out the same words as before.

"Is that all?"

A second kick comes, even harder.


A third kick comes, knocking Dahlia just over the edge into the pool. Duke gives a furious groan as he stomps towards the water, reaching it to seize the woman by the hair. Fishing her out like a dead cat, he hurls her across the floor, slamming her down with a snarl. "You don't have any more fight left in you, do you?" Duke's bare, bloodied feet stomp with every step, approaching Honoka again. "You have no more men here, you have no more allies, and you have no more fight." Duke seems to grow stronger with every step, his strides coming harder and more furious.

"What do you think happens to you now, Dahlia?"

With the protective lattice of her soulstone withdrawn, her wounds break loose. Scuffed clothes begin to stain with crimson. Discolored bruises appear on her cheek, and along her wrist from where Duke had grabbed hold earlier. It's easier now to see the damage to her silken dress, now that the golden radiance has faded; scuff marks here, threadbare wear there. All things considered -- Dahlia could look a lot better than she does now.

She holds her head high, an elusive half-smile on her face as she watches Duke get impaled upon the fence. And yet, with that sight comfortably in mind, her eyes grow glassy -- no doubt the shift in focus that allows her to pass along orders to her men.

Her eyes are still glassy when Duke springs back to life.
Her eyes are still glassy when Duke kicks himself free.
Her eyes are still glassy when the boss man slams his bare foot right into the center of her chest, sending her skidding across the cratered floor.

Is that all?
She doubles over onto her side, coughing up blood.
Is that all?!
Dahlia's body slams into the sharp edges of a raised rock; a fresh wound spouts blood all across it.
Her limp body provides no resistance -- just whimpers of pain.
Duke is happy enough to declare the obvious.

The third kick sends her into the pool -- and Dahlia is completely unwilling or unable to resist. And then she is fished out, gurgling watery blood from her mouth as she is hauled up by her hair. Her body flops around limply as she's sent careening for a fourth trip across the embattled stone floor.

A trail of blood marks her passage from the pool, all along the stone floor. Her jacket has been torn to shreds from the abuse, the sleeves falling apart. Her drenched, tattered dress is practically translucent -- enough to show the telltale traces of kevlar body armor upon her torso. She makes no effort to cower in fear, or expend any energy at all, as she wraps one hand upon her soulstone. She must conserve her energy, if the supernatural artifact is to do its job.

And yet.
Her lips curl into a half-smile.
"Take another look around, Duke."

If Duke looks around as bidden, he will see that there are still eight Akatsuki yakuza present. Some have their phones out -- filming. And others have their pistols drawn.

"I'd be... less concerned with me, and more... with your public image. I gave the..."
Dahlia's body wracks in convulsions, as she deposits a fresh glob of blood onto the stonework.
"I gave... the orders already. A shame..." Weary, she draws back, curling around the rejuvenating soulstone. And now, she makes no attempt to hide her contempt, or deceit. "I really liked working with you."

In the distance, a massive truck can be heard pulling up out front.

Her voice rasps out again. "You're in pretty sorry shape, Burkoff. One... one bullet to center mass. You'll fall. And then you'll rise again -- an 'unstoppable force.'" She has fun saying that phrase, bending the pitch for her own delirious amusement.

The truck gets louder. Beeping is heard -- alternating with the electronic voice of a woman warning of the backing up truck.

"But you can be slowed. Until you become, instead, an immovable object. Long enough for the NOL to question you..."

The soulstone around her neck pulses more slowly, as Dahlia closes her eyes, body wracking with another fit of coughing.
The back of a cement truck plows through what's left of the fence, its red and amber lights flashing, its drum churning the concrete inside.

Her breath grows weaker, scarcely above a whisper. "My men have orders to shoot you if you're not out of here in two minutes. And all of that will come true. Or you... can fetch your clothes -- and leave with dignity... before the press arrive."

One eye creaks open. And her lips curl into that half-smile again.

"Don't show your face here again... Duke."

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team has joined the fight here.

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Duke             1/------=/=======|-------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team focuses on its next action.

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Duke             1/------=/=======|-------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Duke takes pause, as she tells him to look around.

Duke looks up from his leader, Guns and... phones. Dahlia unveils her schemes, her psychic powers, how much she is capable with her wiles, her threats. Already they are mobilizing. And that was fine. That was the purpose of this meeting. As Dahlia seethes out her contempt, her deceit, her smug arrogance, Duke looks out towards the truck outside. A public disaster. This was the true final blow of the woman.

Duke gives a smirk.

"Two minutes is more than enough time, Dahlia." Duke's baritone is a soft growl, just as soft as the moment he came in here. He circles around Dahlia, not leaving her. The emotional pressure was just as powerful as before, but Duke's exterior was... growing focused. Fear? Confusion? Rage? Or passionate joy. Duke looks to the men, and back down at Dahlia.

"There is one more difference between you and I, Dahlia."

Duke reaches to his chest, and with a heave, wrenches out the fencepost. "In a few hours, you'll be in the hospital. In a few days, you'll be taking visitors. In a few weeks, you'll be able to make public appearances. In a few months, you might even be able to begin your long, slow process of physical therapy." Duke drives down the post into Dahlia's thigh, digging deep enough to just crack the bone. Duke looks up at the men, sizing them up. The press. The soldiers. Duke was on the cusp of falling apart. It would be a catastrophic public fiasco for the press to see him like this. "And then, after a few years, you'll be able to walk again. Maybe even fight again. With only the smallest of a limp. And me?" Duke draws back an arm, fires boiling to his fingertips. "In a few hours, I will be ready to fight again."

And he -slams- his arms down.

The fence post would ultimately be obliterated, between the splinters and the fire. But all it needed to be was a stake to hammer in deeper. Smashing straight through the bone, the rest of the full force pours directly into Dahlia, a wave of pure fire. A parting gift from the crime boss; a baptism in flame, and a pulverized leg. Not only upon her, but spreading out into a semi-circle of flame around him. Pouring with pure fire, pure energy, Duke stands fast over the aftermath of his flames, his assault, his victim.

"I'll see myself out."

He rumbles, striding forward to what's left of the locker room. Yellow eyes now locking on the men, or rather, what was left of their stance. Daring the gangsters to avenge their leader with his chin held high. If they wanted to fight, he would. He might be almost ready to keel over. But despite Dahlia's legitimate threats, the crime boss had his own weaknesses.

His defiant arrogance in the face of pure danger.

COMBATSYS: Duke successfully hits Akatsuki Team with Sledgehammer.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Duke             0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Dahlia refuses to budge -- her eyes are already shut, and her breathing is slowing. The steady tromp of his bare feet is almost enough to lull her to sleep. Almost.

The fencepost is ripped out. And the sound of shredding flesh is enough to bring Dahlia's eyes open with alarm. She presses herself up at that, planting her palms on the floor, wincing somewhat at the sore muscles as she props herself up.

She hears every word of the threat -- her eyes transfixed upon the jagged post.
"... -- the fuck are you on about?"
Even on the cusp of losing consciousness, something doesn't add up. Isn't... isn't the fight -over?- Didn't he prove his point?

And then it hits her -- the fencepost.
Toned flesh gives way to hardened wood. Bone cracks. Dahlia jackknifes around her leg, a raspy and unfiltered scream escaping her. This hurts worse than -anything- she'd felt thus far, and blood just pours out from her wound. And yet -- there is only one scream, as she forces calm over herself.

Still, the phone cameras roll, capturing every moment in glorious HD. The black suits of the Akatsuki are almost pristine. And, they seem to have mostly recovered from whatever nefarious sorcery Dahlia had exercised upon them earlier. They are cold, hardened killers -- ready to shoot whenever the situation demands.

Dahlia can't even see straight -- both from the bone-crushing pain, and from the tears pouring forth.
"FFFFFFFFFUCK! I'll fight you in /hell!/"

Ligaments shear apart. Muscles shred. And the lower half of the long femur bone is ground into meal -- no mere fracture, there is literally nothing repairable left.

The conflagration starts with Dahlia, igniting the crimson-stained fabric with tongues of flame. And the conflagration grows rapidly -- a shockwave rippling into Dahlia, distorting her agonized shriek as it passes over. It crashes into the gathered Akatsuki -- slamming them back against the walls they stand nearest with a tumultuous clamor, igniting the wooden posts of the building in raging flames.

And this time, as the Akatsuki guards buckle forward -- they -are- afraid. Confused. Duke has a good five seconds to stride forward with only the sound of Dahlia's anguished screams and the flickering flames as his soundtrack.

And then, the Dahlia draws in her breath.
And then, she screams out with more clarity -- screaming like a demon from the darkest reaches of hell.

The fire may continue to burn on the black sportcoats of the Akatsuki, but their fear sweeps away for a moment. Phones are dropped, and pistols are raised with calm precision. And the volley of bullets they unleash ought to be enough to pierce even the hide of Duke Burkoff -- stopping him dead in his tracks.

Dahlia conserves her breath, sweating up a storm as she flails her arms against the roiling fires, writhing about in panicked agony.

And after the bullets are fired, the Akatsuki too will lose their iron resolve. Some will flee -- others will try to stem the fires. But the steely coordination is utterly -broken- at this point.

COMBATSYS: Duke blocks Akatsuki Team's Fire! Fire! Fire!.
COMBATSYS: Duke refuses to stay down!

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Duke             0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

The battle should have been over.

But Duke's perception was different. His psychology different. Dahlia had intended to telegraph the crime boss as a monster, as a vile figure to absolutely tarnish his public reputation. Why there may be Interpol inquiries. He could lose millions in the business, his holdings, his homes. He might even have to be disposed of by the Syndicate for the sheer loss of face. Dahlia could lose here, and even in her loss it would be the greatest victory over the crime boss. It was a so clear. But to Duke?

Duke only saw the sheer terror he would inflict upon her ranks from the recordings taken place.

Duke's march comes with the arrogant smirk, as the volley comes. Swinging his limbs, the immortal crime boss actually moves to -block- the bullets with his very arms. Bullets drive into his forearms, as he -smashes- his limbs against the bullets, a suppressive effort that was slowing him down, slowing him so down. But the indomitable resolve of the crime boss, mingled with the unstopping endurance, merely carries himself forward with the unstopping lurch. Arms bloodied and torn apart with ragged flesh, his yellow eyes lock on to the nearest gangster, as the unstoppable juggernaut continues his slow, methodological advance. He chooses one, one who did not flee, who did not retreat.

And he lunges in.

A swinging slam of his right arm, a staggering punch of his left. The one two combination unleashes in the first of the two, two bloodied arms -smashing- high and low with bone crunching force. But the combination is clear to stun: Both limbs wind back, as if another sledgehammer firewave was coming, before -smashing- together with bone-shattering force, attempting to simply crush the man's torso with pure power.

All as he keeps coming towards the locker room.

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team blocks Duke's Hell And Brimstone.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Duke             0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

As Dahlia swats ineffectively at the flames, one of the Akatsuki minions finally gets clued into the idea that maybe, just -maybe-, it'd be better to help the boss lady out before he, too, gets burned to a crisp...

The others, though, are in full-on panic mode. With their bullets sinking into Duke with seemingly -no- ill effect, they're running around even -more- helter-skelter. Only the nearest officer freezes -- the deer-in-the-headlights look of utter fear. Both arms are flung in front of him protectively. His shoulder and upper arm absorb the brunt of the first swing; his opposite forearm takes the second with an audible crack of bone! But, he remains vigilant and undeterred as the firestorm ripples into him -- blasting him against a porcelain sink and shattering it into pieces!

While the gangster is still standing -- it's clear he wouldn't take too much more abuse from that. But luckily for him, the other yakuza are emboldened. It's no longer their fearless leader that's getting hurt, it's their buddy Keiichi -- and that transforms the fear into determination.

All of a sudden, -five- of the Akatsuki rush in unison at Duke. One leads with a rising Muay Thai Knee to the back -- another aims a stomping kick to the back of his knee. And if they should manage to pile on, they aim to pistol-whip the bejeezus out of the man's face and upper body -- seeking to wipe that smug smirk off the naked Russian's face. They don't need the exacting control of their leader to know that this fight just got -personal-.

COMBATSYS: Duke fails to interrupt Hold and Punch from Akatsuki Team with Swivel Gun.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Akatsuki Team    0/-------/---====|

COMBATSYS: Duke can no longer fight.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Akatsuki Team    0/-------/---====|

Duke's ambitions were not stopping.

The thrill of the fight, the thrill of more fighting on drives the naked crime boss further. As the other gangsters start to charge him, he even lets out a booming chuckle. He turns away from the locker room fearlessly, staring down the defiant young men as he opens his arms, encouraging them to come. They coming, surrounding him as the arrogant crime boss unleashes another guffaw.

And he begins to explode with a fountain of energy.

He dips down, the battering upon him only fueling his rage as he draws in a heavy breath. The bloodied form begins to ripple all over. He draws back his leg, fire flooding over him as he begins the sweep. Swinging his leg around hard, there is a pressure that builds to a razor point. The surging pistols hammer him until finally... a single slam comes to the back of the skull.

Duke suddenly slows to a stop.

There is a pained moan, as Duke's flames die down, the crime boss coming to a ceasing halt. The crime boss breathes hard, falling to his knees. The man's flesh was ragged, bruised, torn apart. Duke, for a moment, was incapacitated. The fires were dead, as he slumps forward, head down as the beatings continue. The fight had left him.

But for how long

How were they going to ensure he stays down? How much longer did they have? The crime boss was already beginning to flex his muscles again. Eventually, they would exhaust themselves on the beatings. Would it be hours? Minutes? The clock was on.

How were they going to ensure he wasn't going to rise again, to finish what he started?

Once the men have subdued Duke, their earlier instructions from Dahlia -- delivered in the lingering aftermath of her own battle -- seep back in.

They will pull the incapacitated form of Duke onto a stretcher, and wrap him up like a mummy within sturdy bandages -- with a series of wooden splints placed around his ribcage. This process will take all of... about five minutes, now that the men are reasonably calm and out of harm's way ... perhaps plenty of time for Duke to revive himself.

That's why one of the Akatsuki is standing by with a shovel, remaining completely apart from the mummy-bandaging process. At the slightest motion from Duke -- the shovel will be applied directly to the forehead. And should that be insufficient, each of the men has a pistol, ready to fire another incapacitating shot into his temple. Not that the bullets would stay embedded within him for very long. For when one is besties with the Reaper of Death like Duke is... no amount of insurance is too much.

Meanwhile Dahlia's flames are extinguished -- her skin an angry red color pretty much all over. The leader is laid onto her back, cloth seared into her flesh, and cold rags are brought by her doting guard to bring her out of shock. She will say little -- her lungs ravaged by the extreme exposure.

Duke's stretcher is carried over to the edge of the stone floor, nearest the cement truck -- which backs up even closer. The cement crew and the bathhouse's facility manager joins the fray, helping to slop cement on top of the mummy-wrapped Duke in a rapid, but even fashion. It is not pretty -- it doesn't have to be. And only Duke's head will escape the wrath of the several hundred pounds of cement slathered atop him -- kept free and open just so that the Akatsuki minder is able to El Kabong and/or fire a pistol round into him as necessary.

In a short while, ambulances will arrive to deal with the considerable injuries. The Akatsuki members will be at the bottom of the triage list. Dahlia will be stabilized by medical professionals -- and told that she may never walk again, loaded safely aboard the ambulances.

One of the Akatsuki higher-ups arrives, shortly afterwards: Kyong Su. In his trademark form, he will say little -- deigning to keep watch over the situation and issue orders as needed. He will cycle in other Akatsuki team members to maintain a vigil over Duke, lest the immortal kingpin's attempt to break free of his concrete entombment show any signs of success.

And some hours after this all elapses...
Kyong Su will meet with the Novus Orbis Librarium in order to broker the terms of Duke's nine-million-yen bounty.

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team has ended the fight here.

Log created on 14:28:43 04/11/2018 by Duke, and last modified on 12:43:09 07/01/2018.