Honoka - Flowers of Harmony

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Description: Lee Chaolan brought flowers for only one woman in Hokkaido University Hospital -- though he clearly understands that he's dealing with the emotional baggage of at least three. Is he here for personal pleasure, or... just business? Will the silver-tongued manipulator escape Dahlia's minefield with his Excellents intact?

It was a peaceful, pleasant life for Lee Chaolan.

I mean, sure, he had nothing. And he was living at the Kyokugen Dojo after his loss at the World Warrior. And yes, he had a deplorably colored orange gi he was forced to wear every day. The color was -hideous-. And yet, it was better than growing a beard, living in a box, and... begging. Lee Chaolan could actually handle the begging a bit, maybe even working as an escort for lonely old ladies. The sky was the limit. But there were perks for living at the dojo.

Well, for starters, people could still find him.When the tattooed men came, there was an apprehension at the Kyokugen Dojo. When they asked for Lee Chaolan, the apprehension grew. Lee Chaolan approached them, and for all the concern of the dojo... Lee Chaolan was not worried at all. In fact, he seemed overjoyed. Some brief customary greetings come, and he is brought into a waiting car so willingly. He gets the phone call... and he grows very serious. He would need to go to Hokkaido very quickly.

And they would even pay for the transport.

Lee Chaolan was waiting patiently in the waiting room, holding his somewhat worn-looking basket of hibiscus. It was framed in green paper, carefully, and small cutouts in a butterfly pattern adorn it. It was... not a very impressive display. But the paper was very inexpensive, and the flowers also may have been stolen. A card was placed in it, also handmade. Lee Chaolan was not smiling as he normally does, giving a very focused, if tired look in his eye. He fortunately wasn't still wearing his hideous orange gi; one of the senior gangsters generously allowed him to borrow one of his old suits.

The Yakuza were well renowned for their generosity to those in need.

After a moment, he is giving the heads up. Standing up, the slightly ill-fitting suit creases a bit as he strides stiffly through the halls, holding his basket. Approaching the VIP wing, the smile finally spreads across his face as the guards come. He lets them search the baskets, giving another round of familiar greetings, before finally, he reaches the room. He almost creeps in gingerly, on tippy toes, as he gives a greeting nod to the guards. Approaching the bed, he spies the clipboard, holding the basket. "Hello Miko..." He says softly.

"I hope I'm not disrupting your rest!"

It wasn't long ago that volatile conditions in Japan could have rained down destruction onto the entire world. And before the house of cards even began to tumble, one man had advance knowledge of what was about to hit the fan.

Dahlia had wanted to keep an Akatsuki-gumi eye on that man at all times.
And now, there was reason to make contact.

She didn't skimp on the expense, either. The suit wasn't just for his own benefit -- it was more or less -essential- for discreet travel on the fastest bullet train line to Hakodate. A luxury car ride would convey him the rest of the way to Hokkaido University Hospital.

She may have forgotten to specify the name she was checked in under.
But, irrespective of her helpful assistants, Lee Chaolan is as resourceful as ever.

Lee's offering of flowers is certainly not the first; two tables house many offerings from the crime boss's visitors, with the overflow seated upon chairs. And as Lee enters the room, two guards bow to greet him.

Their welcome is nowhere near as gracious as the smile on Dahlia's face, though. Suffice to say, her network of guards was more than sufficient to alert her of the incoming guest's arrival. "Not at all! I'm so glad you came to visit me. Come on in...!"

The lower portion of Dahlia's face is considerably more crimson than the rest, demarcated by a ruddy fault line traced across of her cheeks. A pick lines impales her arm, while various other tubes thread along her hospital gown. And most notably, of course, is the rather large cast upon her leg. Despite her obvious condition, she's in a considerably good mood.

"Especially with such a lovely bouquet..." It's not clear from her cheerful disposition if she's making fun of him; she could just as easily be making a statement to be taken at face value.

"Can I get you something to drink?" she offers, reaching lazily for the pitcher on the rolling table to her left. "We have water... and water. Though there's coffee, juice, and tea, I suppose."

"So, it -has- been a while, has it not? So much to talk about... where should we even begin...?" She makes a sweeping gesture to her guards, motioning them to leave the room, or fill drink orders as needed.

And once they are clear, her fingertips lace together as well as the electronic heart monitor will allow.

"... The last time we met, we spoke of... Justice, hmm..?"

"Well, it's the thought that counts!"

Lee Chaolan places the basket with the other, superior baskets. He sighs a bit. If he was at his peak, he would have a floral display that would make even Zach's look quaint. If one of these were Zach's. Probably. He -hoped- it was the nicest looking one. Lee Chaolan's exterior tries to keep jovial, but there is a serious air around him. There was time for teasing.

And frankly, the circumstances now did not seem funny.

"Yes, well, Justice is dead, as you are well aware." A euphemism, a truth? Or perhaps a lie? "The situation in the world is... better now. Well." Lee Chaolan shakes his head side to side. "We are not under a tyrannical Neo-Japanese Empire, nor are we in a smoking crater, NOR are we drowned under an endless sea, restarting outsides from a Feudal post-apocalypse era." Lee Chaolan considers each of those as positives. However, he is very firm to mention on it. "But I have lost my entire business, and have descended into poverty. Still, there are worse things. Speaking of."

Lee Chaolan's smile fades.

"I have not heard anything on the news about this." He casts a glance at the leg. "And you are... Miko. That is concerning to me. Was this a supernatural incident? Or... an other thing." Lee Chaolan gives a faint smile at the corner of his lips, a very soft and gentle smirk that is only half-hearted. It fades after a moment. His tone comes bluntly, as he simply abandons the presence of toying evasiveness, looking back at the medical clipboard as he pulls it up.

"What is the damage, and who did it to you?"

"Lee, you've given me the most valuable gift one can offer: your time."

Dahlia may be an incorrigible liar, but in this case, there is no need for anything other than honesty, gussied up with cordial appreciation. Despite his circumstance, Chaolan is a perfect gentleman, and he deserves to be treated as one.

Dahlia reaches for her water, taking a sip as Chaolan provides a brief summation of recent events. Tyranny is acknowledged with a bittersweet smile. Mention of a crater receives a warmer half-smile. The acknowledgement of an even more grim future presses her lips into a thin line. And the downfall of Lee's business empire causes her to close her eyelids in silent commisseration.

But as Lee draws the focus to the Akatsuki leader's leg, her eyes open again.
"Discretion is key, of course. Certain names draw more... attention than others." She nods her head toward the clipbook, eyebrows wincing sharply at the unexpected pain such a common motion could induce. "The... X-Rays there should show my leg, before and after."

Dahlia draws in her breath, gathering her thoughts for a moment. "Duke. You remember dear Duke, yes?" The cup of water is replaced, as she laces her fingers together, more tightly than before.

"He has broken ranks from the Council. The claim is that I've benefitted too greatly."
She purses her lips, malice on her mind.
"As if that's my fault, and not his own."

Dahlia shrugs dismissively. "He interrupted my men while they were relaxing in a hotspring. Dropped trou, proceeded to join them in the hotspring. And since I was in the area, I decided to drop in early."

Her knuckles begin to turn a ghostly white.

"Duke stated his intent of killing every one of my men on Honshu. And then... naked, and defenseless, he had the unmitigated gall of brandishing a sword at me. In -my- territory."

She closes her eyes, and draws in another breath.

"I underestimated him. And now, I'm told I might never walk again, while these fools pat themselves on the back over inserting primitive pipes into my leg. I would not be surprised if the next treatment involved leeches."

Her eyes open again. Her momentary irritation bleeds off quickly, as she looks at her silver-haired guest. "I take comfort in knowing your current host was able to beat some humility into him, all the same."

Lee Chaolan grimaces at her confession.

Looking over the charts, the X-Rays, his expression does not change. The lack of drink was a bit forthcoming, but, this was very dire. A very serious look. Even when the opportunity comes, his jests even feel restrained. "Yes well, I hope Duke's shortcomings weren't too distracting." He muses idly. "But it seems that Duke has done to your leg what a military grade ordinance would do, point blank. Well, I suppose we must get to business."

"We must talk council."

Lee Chaolan hangs the chart up, taking on an executive air. "Which is unfortunately difficult, as our main councilman is being somewhat... dead. Vega has been missing, you know. He went into Shang Tsung's Island, and did not return. The power vacuum was there, and it sounds like Duke has finally tested the restraints. And broke them." Lee Chaolan widens his eyes. "Ah, my apologies, wrong choice of words~ But that leaves us Kira, who is more than happy to do nothing and brag about the small fish she catches in Africa, and Mr. Burr, who might be able to get your some stronger drugs than whatever you are on, and that's about it. And there is me, who has nothing but some moral support, and perhaps enough bus fare. Hrgh." Lee Chaolan groans, finally going for some cold water. Pouring himself a cup, he holds it up, in feigned salute to Miko. "It sounds like that you might be the strongest member of the council right now... who is not Duke and the Syndicate."

He gives a pained sip.

"Yes, well. I haven't heard much from Duke so far either. And while there are people who can clearly beat him... I will say, Ryo Sakazaki has been a boon. They say I might even get an extra portion of rice if I can make a Ko'oh Ken." Lee Chaolan mimes the gesture, spreading his arms apart. "For the extra calories. But I think there is only so much an old dog like me can learn...~" Lee Chaolan's mind becomes distracted again, his thoughts trying to piece together the sheer shock of this. He looks at Miko. And there, defiantly, he focuses.

"You know you will walk again." Lee Chaolan says matter of factually.

Smiling, he gently touches the cast. "'When' might be the question here, but I have very good authority that the technology is there." He gives a sip. "Where the technology is may be tricky, but I will do whatever clout and knowledge I have, to get your life back together again. Get you walking again, get Duke punished for his arrogance, and make this council actually mean something." He gives a thumbs up to Miko. "After all..."

"What are friends for?"~

If Dahlia were a smaller person, she'd feel it necessary to say something in regard to the shortcomings. But as the situation stands -- perhaps it was too distracting. She lowers her eyes, shaking her head dismissively to clear the thought from her mind.

Enter an even worse thought, forcing her eyes shut.

The mention of military grade ordnance triggers another flashback to her painful experience at ground zero, for the detonation that would lead to the catastrophic destruction of her femur. The fragments of one bone, becoming little more than shrapnel to ravage the surrounding tissue. How many times can she relive that one excruciating moment? Hundreds? Thousands? Her teeth grit at the contemplation.

It's a few moments into Lee's recounting of the other major Council players that she opens her eyes again. An apology is made, one she is quick to accept: "It's okay." Having enumerated that list in her head many times herself, she seems prepared to say something in response to the name of the Black Dragon, but... Lee's conclusion seems to sate her.

At least, until she sees him drinking water like some plebian.
She raises her glass back to him, wordlessly.
And then she looks to the door.
The door opens an instant later, courtesy of a man wearing practically the same thing as Lee.
He walks over to a small counter by the wall, unlocking a small case.

As the clink of stemmed glassware is heard, Dahlia returns her gaze to Lee, pleased at the track his train of thought is following.

"I know I will walk again," she echoes, only to fall silent as Lee continues to explain. Her smile increases by degrees, culminating in a broad grin as Lee calls her a friend. It may be a hollow and empty gesture. But in all honesty, Dahlia considers it a nice touch.

Ice can be heard, clinking within two glasses.
"Thank you, Akio."
The black bottle's label -- reading KI NO BI / Kyoto Dry Gin -- can now be seen.
Dahlia raises her hand, grasping the stemmed glass between two fingers. Japanese formality insists on Lee's acceptance of the other glass.

"To friendship," she smiles, raising the glass in a more crdible toast.

"And in kind -- I will do what I can to get you back on -your- feet as well. Figuratively of course." She smirks faintly. "You'll have access to the funds for securing the technology and the talent. Plus -- as we're attempting to divest our Honshu assets as fast as possible, I wonder if you'd be interested in housesitting...?"

Dahlia doesn't seem terribly concerned, as she takes a sip of the G&T. The contraband will be her first drink in a very long time.

"Because Duke must -not- be allowed to grow complacent. He may think the penance was paid with a trip to NOL bounty hell." She smiles -- something she didn't exactly mention before. "Hell hath no fury, Mr. Chaolan."

"To friendship~"

Lee Chaolan is pleasantly surprised at the fine liquor, and takes the toast well. It was Lee's first drink in a while as well. And as Dahlia takes the offer of employment to the table? "Ah, ah, ah." Lee Chaolan can't hide his delight at the job offer. "Well, I am always good at administration, despite what my reputation shows. I would love to take advantage of that deal, and I will! But... I... do need to keep some correspondence with the Kyokugen Dojo. Especially with your war; I am certain I can arrange more allies to fight against gangsters~" Lee Chaolan chuckles a bit. "Besides, if Ryo beat Duke once, then him and Robert are certainly more than enough to drive fear in the heart of the Syndicate. We always can look for more allies." There is a gleam in his eyes, but as Miko's warning takes effect... his warmth fades a bit. The fact the NOL was involved.

Hell hath no fury.

"I'm not... criticizing." Lee Chaolan touches delicately. "And believe me, I understand how angry you must feel right now. But if the NOL has him now... he is going to be very likely to be very angry. I can handle a gang war, I suppose, it's just a business. But that creature... I don't trust the NOL." Lee chaolan's tone is very uncertain. "When I was busy selling off my assets to make the King Of Fighters payments, they approached me, asking about the V-Gage tech. Well, asking after I caught them sifting through my computers, trespassing. I explained that the UN had all the technology. I left out your involvement, of course, but... when I told them I had nothing, and they believed me? They left. I... don't know what will happen to Duke. But the NOL aren't a team of crime fighting do-gooders. They are just another business. But that's not the point." He looks at Honoka with a building intensity.

"Don't retaliate in anger."

Lee Chaolan's expression is firm as he takes a seat. "I remember when I was a hot-blooded teenager, and I decided to challenge my father. He broke my leg. Not nearly as bad as yours, but... he would not let me get medical treatment. So I had to let it recover, slowly, painfully, training as I was always made to, to be Kazuya's rival brother. And when Heihachi noticed I healed wrong, and I was limping my way through training?"

"He broke it again."

Lee Chaolan clasps his hands before him, his eyes twinkling in a hot fury, only just rivaling Duke's. "I... hated him so much. I still do, you know. To have so much potential and strength... and to be forced into a role. I was just a thing he bought, not even bought, but stole off the streets. I could have killed him, I fantasized about it all the way growing up, all the way through college. How I would kill my father. How would I have my revenge. And as I graduated, as I got my first position in the Zaibatsu being Kuma's personal assistant, I realized how -sick- I was making myself. How useless I was being, planning how to kill him. So I took my anger out in a different way."

"I started up Violet Systems."

He brings his hands together. "I still have that spark of vengeance, you never really lose it. But I have my own success, my own fortune. Certainly, I dally with him. That's why I let myself lose it all so easily, Miko. It was never about the wealth, about the power. It was about proving that I could create these things without him. But, it's not about me, Miko." Despite the evidence to the contrary, taking advantage of a woman who couldn't escape. Lee doesn't mince words. "Heihachi let me live because, in his own twisted mind, I am his property, and he's so miserly that he didn't want to waste it. You... aren't family, Miko. If Duke wanted you dead, it would have been your head, not your leg."

"Duke spared you."

Lee Chaolan frowns firmly, as he leans towards Miko, edging the chair closer. "This was his form of mercy, of humiliation. Don't... don't make this a personal thing. Don't lower your head, of course, don't submit yourself. But if Duke was exposing his minuscule penis in my hot springs, and dared me to? I wouldn't. I mean..." Lee Chaolan averts his eyes a moment. "... Now don't take this personally, I mean this sincerely, but..." Lee Chaolan looks to the door, making sure that they are alone.

"Did you get too much into the role?"

The line is almost detached from the reality, as he lowers his voice into a very hushed whisper, leaning in. "Your genius is only challenged by your self-control, Miko." What. "I saw your fight with Duke on the television, I saw how he couldn't even -touch- under your skin. You stood strong against his words, and I saw it. A small shift, a small change, and you could have beaten him. That's the self-controlled, the disciplined mind. But I can't imagine that brutish buffoon could have insulted you so drastically that you lashed out like this. But... I could imagine Dahlia being insulted. I could imagine Dahlia being made to make a stand. But Miko? Honoka?"

And he touches the cast lightly.

"This is real though. I'm very worried, Miko. I'm very worried that you are going to escalate this, and you are going to get yourself killed." Lee Chaolan presence, his mind, his emotion... was like when Zach feels when he thinks Honoka is in danger. "I'm eager to support you in this, but... don't make this about the leg, about the sword, about his countless insults. Make this about business. If you make this into a revenge story? You will not survive at the end of it." Lee Chaolan focuses on Honoka, looking into her eyes, moving around if he has to. "You don't need to tell me why, but..."

"You need to tell me you are going to keep this war professional, not personal."

"Sure." Dahlia flashes a warm smile at the need to clarify the 'position' she offers. "It's not -actually- house sitting. But if you find you need a retreat from the testosterone and splintering wood, there are a few defensible options available. I may disagree with the Yamaguchi-gumi on some points, but their architects were quite innovative."

And yet, while she may have communicated imprecisely there -- she soon finds that Lee pays attention to much, -much- more than simple words. Her expression grows more solemn as he touches on a number of points -- particularly the involvement of the NOL. "... I don't trust them either. But 9 million yen to the Akatsuki coffers for a job well done seemed like a head start on payback." Payback. Retaliation. In Dahlia's mind, the act of initiating the war -demanded- an instant response. She took advantage of an opportunity that was placed in front of her -- like the opportunist she is.

But then Lee goes off on a tangent.
And that tangent has biting, -personal- connection.
Dahlia shudders, at the very -mention- of a leg being broken.
The very thought of not getting treatment horrifies her.
And then, to hear that the leg is broken -again- brings her to white-knuckled anger, curling her mouth into a sneer.

And yet, she listens to how Lee enacts his revenge. She's quite clearly resonating with the story, savoring the tale as she swishes the gin and tonic around in her glass with a tinkle of ice cubes. She nods quietly as Lee's story grows more nuanced, less of a hero's tale and more of a cautionary one. She samples the liquid ambrosia from her stemmed glass.

And her cheeks grow red.
Not from the alcohol.
But from the notion that Duke -spared- her.

Sure, it was a thought that occured to her before -- a thought she didn't want to admit. He... humiliated her. Defeating not just the cards in her hand, but the trump cards she'd hoped would finish him off. And rather than -eliminate- her...

She starts to retort. Why -shouldn't she make it personal? He started it -- by humiliating her. She begins to blurt out: "Is that not--"

But Lee's words stay her own. Why... wouldn't -Lee- have taken advantage of the opportunity?

Lee's next line drives a stake into the heart of the matter. -Why- she felt the need to strike. To unleash Hell's fury. More points that bothered her, about her own performance.

She falls silent, seething in rage. Not... necessarily at Lee, but at the salient points he's brought up. What -would- Honoka have done? Played it calm and controlled? What would -Miko- have done? Would she have simply fled, bowed her head, lived another day? But, most of all -- why wasn't Dahlia the one taking charge of the situation, mastering her emotions?

The glass trembles in her hand.
And she sets it down upon the tray, the crimson rage slipping back beneath the fault line across her face.

Dahlia bites back a cry of pain at Lee's simple touch upon her cast. The nerves are still raw, recovering -- and nothing works like it ought to. Closing her eyes, she nods back in reply.

She is silent, for a good long while. Not inattentively, though; the turning of the gears is obvious in her mind. She has a lot to think about.

"You're exactly right, on every count, Chaolan."
It's hard for her -not- to take this personally.
It seemed like such a... directed slight.
But the cautionary tale from a mind much like her own tips the scales.
Not even death will end an all-consuming grudge.

"There is a pesky... detective, I've had run-ins with, in the past. And on the island of Shang Tsung, he gave me the reason I needed to indulge my... passion for hurting him. For wrenching him free of his mortal coil."

She reaches for the glass -- calm sweeping over her once again.
She takes another sip of her gin and tonic.
"I killed him -- and before I knew it, he came back. Gloating, taunting me. And he could well strike back at me, at any time, as I understand." She swishes the spirits around in their glass. "I could kill him a thousand times, and he'd keep coming back."

She sets the glass back down. "But I won't get that opportunity with Duke. It's obvious I can't kill him. So..."

She arches an eyebrow, finally purging the most recent wave of anger from her expression.

"It was personal, Lee. But I see now that it can't be. He has to be made to understand that this -is- business, mm?"
Dahlia's tone may suggest that she doesn't fully agree -- but that it's not off the table yet.

"How... would -you- have proceeded to deal with Duke, had he declared his intent so brazenly, and expected to walk off scot-free?"

Lee's expression softens.

The point did seem to come across. Describing the detective, he even tut-tuts. "I hope it isn't that obnoxious Daniel Little. I honestly can't respect anybody who wears that disgusting suit in public." For that, it is almost enough for him to let it by. Miko agrees with every point. But even the former executive can't ignore that glimmer of rage, of bottle vengeance. He didn't want to lecture his better (and Miko was his better, especially in these dire straits), but the question is given.

"If Duke walked into my bathhouse, and used my water?"

Lee Chaolan considers. "Well, without having a lot of thought, I would serve him like a king. Give him some fine liquor, perhaps invite some caretakers to give him a massage. I'm sure I could order some food. Some girls too, if that would tickle his fancy~" Lee Chaolan winks at the ainu compatriot. "He is an enemy, more so now than before, but he should be treated as a prince! He expects it, after all, his ego demands that the sniveling opposition try and trick him into an assassination, or even more so, pleading for their lives. He would be half right. Once he is good and buttered up?"


"I would just plead with him. Beg him, starting naming various holdings I have across Honshu. 'Not Niigata, we have so much invested there. We absolutely need to keep Niigata going to sustain our legal operations.' Even bargain some holdings in Hokkaido. He would turn them down, of course, and may even insult me for my mewling cowardice, in front of my own men. And then, after all that? When he finally ready to leave? I would make sure he is escorted with some of my weakest, least reliable men, with orders to make sure he is escorted from the premise, all with deep, respectful bows and apologies. And then, after all that?

Lee Chaolan pours himself more gin.

"I would start dissecting his responses to my pleading 'defenses,' especially the ones that do not exist. I've already overplayed my less important holdings, and I just know I need to commit sandbagging defenses there. I'm already angling my PR front, making sure that there are plenty of baby food factories and similar civilian victims in the warpath. Give away some token early victories so he can feel overconfident, and then start sandbagging him, slowly letting him drain out his resources. He starts acting more reckless, more violent. And then you let him win more ground. And once the PR campaign takes hold of the public's heart?"

"Let the heroes suddenly intervene, to battle the greater of the two evils."

"Suddenly, in the third act, the master plan takes place! He's dealing with enraged do-gooders like Ayame, Ryo, Zach, and so and sos, who are busy getting their revenge against the Syndicate! And then, our counter attack comes. Backed by our allies in the council, we move to act on Ante Bellum, to bring back our territory where it was before, and then, a little more as the Syndicate finds itself caught between two fronts! Duke is humilated, and as a final coup de grace, we give him a sword, symbolically turning his own insult against him! He is enraged and disgraced, and we come out a little better than we come in." Lee Chaolan sips the gin. "Not bad off my feet, and certainly there are logistical questions, but I think that's how I would do it.

"And all it would have cost is a little personal dignity."

"You used to be good at sacrificing a little personal dignity." Lee Chaolan states with almost a scolding tone. "Until you went and saved the world. Then you suddenly had your ego grow ten-fold! Suddenly any action against you is an act against the hero of the Earthrealm, or so much. I expect a hero of the Earthrealm, the slayer of Goro, wouldn't tolerate some mere human pushing her around. Arrogant, proud, and all too aware of just how powerful you are, when you truly cut loose, when you truly tap into your unlimited power, when life and death is on the line!" Lee Chaolan shakes his head.

"In other words, you've gotten too cocky."

"If you are a hero, then you should behave as a hero; if you are not, then you should not. The world isn't as simple as a play with good and bad actors, I am well aware of. But you've changed since the tournament; even during the Gear war, you had a kind of... messiah presence to you. You're efforts against the status quo are admirable, but... you've unleashed yourself, finally revealed how dangerous you are. How much of a -killer- you can be. You've traded away your subtle edge for a little more power, presence and fear. Now all of us in the Shadow Council will know just how dangerous and dedicated your ambitions are. You've traded away the most important person in your organization for all that." Lee Chaolan gestures around the room.

"And here we are now."

"Tell me." He says calmly, a kind of teasing look in his eye. Playful, maybe. But with the dangerous precision and sharp cunning that he is well renowned for. almost aggressively so. "Who killed Goro? Who is the hero of the Earthrealm? Is it Dahlia, the notorious crime boss, coiling her grasp around all of Japan? Honoka, the joyful entertainer who delights the hearts of children everywhere? Miko, the broken third-year student in the hospital now?" And he narrows his eyes a bit, every essence piercing to the core.

"Or is it you?"

Lee hopes that it -isn't- Daniel?
Dahlia's answer is a simple, saccharine smile.
He clearly hit the nail right on the head, there.

But then she asks her question -- and seems positively enthralled by the responses. Such a devious plan -- and, she believes, it falls perfectly in line with one she -would- have cooked up had she allowed herself more time to think about it, more time to quell the vengeance built up from their closely-matched King of Fighters encounter. She'd only held onto that anger -- had only let it -fester-, until the vines coiled themselves around her spine, choking the rational, analytical mind right out of her.

Lee reminds her of what it was like... to be her.
Is it the gin that's intoxicating -- or is it Lee's devious words?

"I knew there was a reason I liked you, Lee."
Admitting further weakness... No. As long as Lee can continue talking with her, indirectly goading her -own- ego... No. This is fine.

And then, the tide shifts.
And he is -mocking- her ego.
Dahlia's body feels heavy, pressed into the flimsy cushioning of the bed. The alcohol is as liquid fire, roiling through her veins. Her lips press into a thin line, eyebrows lowering in frustration.

Lee Chaolan is no less correct than before, ad she knows it. She'd bet everything she had on red -- and ended up with black.

It might be easy to think she's fully consumed with rage.
And yet, her response is as quick as a whip's lash.
"And here we are," she responds, her voice like cold steel.

She arches an eyebrow in response to the teasing look. And her lips part, teeth pressed tightly as if to answer immediately with a 'Dahlia.' And yet, the breath never gives life to the syllables, as her lips curl instead into a frown.

A tough question. For, when allowed to be, Dahlia is a ruthless murderer, scheming the best way to move forward with as little risk to herself as possible. Miko is brutally efficient -- striking with overwhelming force, holding nothing back in reserve. In contrast, Honoka, the consummate performer, falls back on muscle memory, allowing her to avoid damage in as flashy and as flowery an approach as possible, while constantly outmaneuvering her opponent at every turn.

Either all of those answers are correct, or none of them. But because this is Lee Chaolan, it must, clearly, be a trick question.

Her lips curl into a smirk.
"I always wondered who my biggest fan would turn out to be."
She reaches for the glass, and takes a sip.
"The answer's clear, now."

Placing the glass back on her tray, she closes her eyes for a moment, holding up her finger to show that she is, in fact, still thinking.

A glimmer of honeyed gold flickers within her eyes as they flutter open. "Goro was slain by a team effort. Cooperation -- and steadfast resolve. The -heroes- were too nice, too pure to dirty their hands with what needed to be done -- but they were more than happy to lend their strength to someone who -could-. So -- by that logic -- the sweet, lovable girl from the sticks had no place in that fight."

Her fingers lace together, palms resting comfortably upon her stomach. "The best me -- the -truest- me -- has no name at all, staying constantly on the move, making the best of a rapidly changing landscape. It was I who killed Goro, slicing off his head with the steel of Humanity."

She sighs, shrugging her shoulders into her pillow, attempting to prop herself up further upon the bed. Her smile glistens with interest, for even she agrees that she'd needed this sort of counseling.

I threw bad after bad, and allowed a graceless -thug- to outmaneuver me in my own territory. And what's more -- I turned my hand. And..." She draws in her breath.

"I'll admit it -- I needed to be taken down a peg. So now, here we are, staring at an empty Pandora's Box, with the benefit of a cooler head. That said..."

She curls her palm upward, a faint violet flame springing from her fingertips.

"Elements of your plan can still be brought to bear. We're still dealing with a limp-dicked oaf, after all. And, what's more... Shadaloo may not be as far out to pasture as one might think. Did you happen to catch the fights in that tragic Golden Angel Tournament?"

"Never forget yourself."

Lee Chaolan smiles at Miko. "Nobody is better than you; not Miko, not Honoka, not Dahlia. You always listen to your heart, and never lose sight of who you really are." Lee Chaolan didn't consider him to be Honoka's biggest fan, mind you. But when it comes to cohorts and allies, he always made sure to give the support he needed. Besides, there would always be people to fawn at her and do exactly what they believe in. Who would call her out for betraying herself? And yet, when she suggests another resource... he frowns at the words. Oh, he saw that tournament. And his opinion?

"The Golden Angel Tournament was a great big disappointment to me."

The confession comes hard and fast. "Oh, I enjoyed the potential and the concept; you have beautiful men and women fighting each other in swimsuits that melt away when touched with fresh water! The erotic tension of at any moment, the teases of some of the swimsuits getting loosened by fresh water, the form-fitting shapes. It is a genius concept! I almost was disappointed I couldn't be a part of it, with my financial situation. The first few rounds were good, with some duds, but..." Lee Chaolan suddenly splashes some of his gin out, the shock boiling out from him.

"And then they let -children- in it?"

Lee Chaolan shakes his head. "I remember when the moment Momoko signed up my Sexy Tournament, I made sure to keep the sexy away from her, and already ordered the stuffed animals. When you have children at these things, you 100% make sure that every event they do upsells the kid-appeal stuff. Momoko has a huge fan demographic for young girls, and you wanna make sure parents don't feel -weird- showing it on TV. Golden Angel apparently didn't have that consideration, so I had to see blurred down and edited segments because some person who is literally called -Bang- hosed down Yuri and exposed a sixteen year old girl on camera. I mean my god, what were they -thinking-. I noticed you stayed the -hell- away from that thing, and I think that's pretty telling. I mean you know how bad it was? Two words:"

"Lightning Spangles."

"You know there is a water gun fight between Lightning Spangles and a -14 year old boy- that -still- hasn't been released to the public? Can you just imagine how bad that is? They released the Yuri fight. They released the Whip fight with her where I just saw an woman calmly peel off the face of Jezebel with a whipping frenzy. They even released the fight where she called an autistic boy 'uncomfortably sexy' on camera, and advertised Adelheid's father in public? I mean, my god, I wouldn't be surprised if she had to get some kind of back alley abortion in Thailand so she wouldn't have to deal with the aftermath of a teenage fanboy of a babydaddy." Lee Chaolan wipes his brow, the outrage finally boiling away. He takes in a deep breath, and exhales.

"But yes, what about it?"

The 'biggest fan' comment was made in jest, and yet -- Dahlia truly -does- appreciate the positive affirmations from Lee. Without confidence in herself, her abilities, and her supporting cast, she'd never have been able to strut out onto a stage in front of thousands of adoring fans. And it's plain to see that Lee Chaolan was following her career closely enough that he doesn't even need to be filled in on the details.

But what's more -- Lee Chaolan has as much experience in the limelight as she does. Ego-boosting is an exchange where both parties can benefit. The violet flame in her palm dances about, refracting through the light of the wine glass and casting faint shades upon her half-burned smile.

Those flames flicker a bit more intensely as Lee talks about the tournament, her head tilting slightly to the side in faint amusement. "It seemed like it was right up your alley, at first. Until... "

With a casual clasp of her palm, Dahlia snuffs the purple flames. "Until children were involved, yes." The curve of her lips flattens out considerably as Lee details the more atrocious memories of the tournament -- one fighter after another exposed to the leering masses. She draws in her breath through her teeth, savoring the moment as Lee relives the shock.

Why, it's almost as if she -profits- off of kicking the proverbial hornet's nest, here.

Her vicarious enjoyment of the moment reaches an odd timbre, though, when the name Lightning Spangles is spoken. As Lee would know, she has her -own- involvement with Jezebel Faiblesse; without her, the star of Honoka Kawamoto would hardly have been able to rise as high. An arched eyebrow and the thin line of her lips shows that she's reserving her own thoughts on that matter until Lee can spill them forth.

And then, well. Misogynistic remarks about abortions and baby daddies seem to strike a nerve. And for a moment, the casual, open atmosphere of the room shifts -- as if the air itself grows dense.

It only lasts a moment -- and then, with a shrug from the bedridden psion, the pressure releases. One half of her lips lift back into that self-serving smirk as she asks, "Now, now, Lee... is that any way for a gentleman to speak of a beloved children's idol?" The rebuke could have been stronger, certainly. But the Dahlia sees no need to throw her psychic might around against someone she has such obvious resonance with. Her expression softens: "But, in short... Lightning Spangles and the Oudoukou Chemical Concern are both public relations calamities, with complete disregard for their optics. Not like us, of course -- ever mindful of the public eye. I was wondering if you knew anything about the dark-skinned stranger who fled the scene of the finale -- and whether they might have -anything- incriminating that might possibly be linked to the Syndicate. The very construction of that facility seems like it would leave an enormous paper trail, but with the shell company going bankrupt, there's so little to go on..."

Dahlia shrugs faintly. "Wouldn't it be -grand- if we could get Duke to make a gaffe like that? It'd wipe out their entire goodwill capital in one fell swoop -- and we might just see someone else taking a dive off the Tower..."

"Oh, please, Duke actually has a self-esteem."

Lee Chaolan sighs. "I am sorry I am tearing into Jezebel so much; I know you and her have a working relationship, It's just..." Lee Chaolan is quite harsh on his next critique. "I am just a little sore that my Trouble In Paradise tournament was won by that girl and Johnny Cage, and what does Jezebel do? Squander all the goodwill I've sent her way by self-destructing. She is a champion thanks to my support, and my championship."

"I mean, I don't know why she can't do what you do."

"You keep your lives together. You have your roles, the parts you play. But under that all, there is a confident woman. Her one part she plays in public is Lightning Spangles, and then whatever else, and underneath.... underneath there is a sad, sad woman. I don't know, Miko."

"I was going to make her the face of the next KOF."

"That was her big break! That was her big chance. She had everything to be a Violet Girl mascot. And... she gave it all away through self-destruction. What more could I give her? What more opportunities could be had? She's currently a belt-holding champion, after losing her belt. She has a legitimate tournament win under her belt, and she still is convinced she's a loser. She could win the King Of Fighters, and would spend the end sobbing how she would never know true love." Lee Chaolan actually rolls his eyes. "Anyways, as for Duke and friends, well."

"There is... an opportunity that may be valuable for us."

"I don't think it would just be their goodwill capital. See, I left them a parting gift. Not Duke specifically, but his assistant." "See, I've had a lot of trouble with ninjas meddling with my operations. And I am bankrupted right now. Imagine my surprise when as I was disposing of my technology, and sifting through backups on the V-Tech research, you know, for the Team Balance grand prize, and I noticed that there was some unauthorized tampering in some of my HitBit stuff. Now my computer skills are somewhat lacking, mind you, but I was able to track some of meta-data on it, and wrap it together as a signature. Aaaaaand as it so happens, there is just one.. more... place where I have found that signature."

He hums a few bars, and then, sings a few lines.

"Do you like it? It's called A Female Ninja, But I Want To Love. It's kind of light j-pop fluff, and it was part of the take over of the Howard Arena sound systems. I kept the records as part of our archiving arrangement, and it was... about the last of the data I had. Imagine my surprise when the signature matched the tamperer of my archives. And I checked through some of my other archives that were taken with the Atlas Concepts, to compare the stolen infomation, and it's the same signature! So I put two and two together, and realized that that naughty young ninja was not only jerking me around, but nearly won my very tournament!" Lee Chaolan's smirk doesn't fade.

"Imagine that, Miko."

"So I gave her another one of our government projects." Lee Chaolan says lightly. "One of our Stuxnet Projects, you know, military-grade cyberwarfare projects. This was specifically designed for HitBit, V-Tech, and similar frameworks. You know, in case the war didn't go well, we could sabotage a rogue nation. In this case, the United Nations." Lee Chaolan states matter of factly. "What it will do is simply corrupt the data and activate the feedback mechanism Yoshiaki put in place for the Rumble tournament, you know, a kind of users at home giving feedback with their apps? They give inputs, and the fighter gets little feedbacks? It's like that, except without the safety controls. I'm not certain what will happen once it gets into regular networks, but part of the process is destroying all data in it's path, and finish up with a null feedback designed to brain deadify any gears being worked on. The data cleaning starts deep, and works its way up, so it's subtly insidious by the time it consumes. I've included it with their prizes, so in a matter of time, the Syndicate operations will start to realize that it's entire information network will be rotted away to the very core. Financials, data, records.... everything."

Lee Chaolan suddenly snaps his fingers. "Oh! That reminds me!"

"You should probably discreetly move any of your holdings with Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, if you have them."

Duke has self-esteem? Dahlia gives a non-committal shrug in response. Not that she honestly doubts Lee, but considering recent circumstances, she'd rather avoid giving Duke any credit at all.

Dahlia nods slowly as Lee backtracks on precisely -why- he dislikes Jezebel, after all he's done for her -- all of these being points that the Ainu tusukur has no real need to object. Though, she does start to wonder about the motives held dear by the silver-haired, silver-tongued manipulator. Dahlia hardly seems that upset about Lee's diatribe on Jezebel in particular, letting it sweep over her as if he were any other person talking about any other celebrity meltdown. She idly reaches over to her tray, withdrawing a slate tablet. Unfolding the device's kickstand, she props it up on her stomach. As Lee speaks, she nods to show that she's paying full attention to him.

"Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't keep her from drinking from every half-empty bottle that washes ashore." She offers a faint, dismissive shrug with a glimmer of a smile. "Jezebel is... brilliant in her own way. A demanding perfectionist, and an excellent vocal coach. She just needs to point her ship at a guiding star that isn't just some far-off airplane."

And then... -she- is mentioned.
Dahlia frowns, raising an eyebrow.
She knows full well about the ninja girl in question.

"Hatsune Miku song, yeah. Been keeping my eye on that girl." Nodding her head as she listens, she begins to trace a line on the screen with her finger. Her lips pull into an intrigued smile as the mention of cyberwarfare comes up. "... Really, it... could vary. If the ninja girl's half as smart as she thinks she is, she won't be affected at all -- but we'll just have to see how that plays out." A smirk slides upon her face. "That's -insidious-, though. I hope you haven't laced -all- of the KOF winners' prizes with that sort of poison..." She doesn't even try to hide her amusement, adding a sly wink.

As for the mention of a certain financial group, Dahlia responds almost instantly, steering her gaze towards the men in the halls outside. Her eyes glaze over, her lips parting for a moment. And then the phase passes, as she turns back to Lee with a nod. "Mm-hmm. Thank you -so- much for the warning. Done and done." A brief smile follows. "... It'll be, let's say, -troubling- for Duke to have his organization linked with the downfall of a number of -significant- financial organizations. I'm sure we can take advantage of that..."

Dahlia adjusts her position, wincing as a sore muscle group is tweaked. A press on the tablet causes a brilliant light to glow -- a projector, casting the screen's image onto the hospital room's wall.

As she adjusts the focus, a timeline is revealed, annotated with tiny blotches of color. Dahlia traces her fingertips across the screen, zooming into one mass of colors near the right side. The blotches resolve into portraits of the Golden Angel participants, with color-coded lines tracing their involvement in King of Fighters, in World Warrior, and presumably dating back to every previous tournament.

Four individuals have a number of notations around them: Alma Towazu. Sylvie Paula Paula. Angel. And some dark-skinned man with white hair. More subdued notations are drawn around the NOL agents participating in the tournament. But Dahlia ignores those, opting to tap her finger on the portrait of a dark-skinned Indian woman -- the double-amputee with oversized metal gauntlets. A popup window reveals a freeze-frame from her Golden Angel fight -- costumed in a Shadaloo uniform replica -- along with maps of locations in Southtown. Similarly, she taps the portrait of Jezebel; a blurry zoom-in of her cybernetic eye from an earlier fight is shown.

"I fear that Shadaloo's not as dead as we think it is. They're likely sleeping -- and waiting for a bigger opportunity. So whatever happens -- we'll need to be careful."

Dahlia double-taps on the map. And as the map expands to fill the screen, a number of locations are shown with bright red circles, highly dispersed for the most part, but clustered around a trio of buildings. Other locations are highlighted in purple, in grey and black.

"I expect they'll show up once Duke lashes out at us. And he's going to want to lash out soon, considering he's going to be sorely ticked off by his finances going to crap." She traces a cross around her red-tinted locations, turning a neutral look over to Lee. "So what say we spoon-feed him an easy morale win -- and seeing who else turns their head to notice...?"

Lee Chaolan's manipulations are almost exposed, and yet, completely concealed.

It is the danger of someone like Lee Chaolan. His motives were plainly obvious, and yet, not quite what is seen. The scale and power he is capable of demonstrating with -nothing- is enough to give pause. And yet, the effortless exposures... was it all a lie, to let Miko's guard down? Or was it truly sincere? Or was it both? Lee Chaolan has been compared to a mind reader by some, and his manipulative edge seemed almost effortless. So when Miko asks if all the prizes were laced with poison?

Lee Chaolan just chuckles lightly.

"Well, if they won, I would have had the means of infiltrating using the same tool with all of the prizes." Looking up on the projector, he watching the spread of them, the tournament path. "There is going to be a lot of instability in Japan soon, another round. And after the war, it may very well destroy the institutional foundations. To say the least, the global economy. You have those V-Tech educators still, right?" The Pinching his own chin, he cocks his head aside, at the flow. The Shadaloo agents. "Even Jezebel?" He says, surprised. "Well, that's not that surprising, maybe, but..." Lee Chaolan looks concerned for a moment, before brushing it off.

"The plan is in place then."

"I think your actions in the war was wise enough. I think a New Japan is still possible. We'll let the Syndicate make their token victories, as you said, and then, when Shadaloo is riled up?" Lee Chaolan pauses, concerned. "If they retaliate, then it might be... larger than we could control. "Oh, let them take whatever opportunity they wish." Lee Chaolan says lightly. "If they end up becoming too powerful and out of control?"

"Then we can just switch sides, and help the Syndicate take them down."

Lee Chaolan gives a smirk to Miko.

"It's only business, after all."

Likewise... though it seems as if Dahlia may be revealing her entire hand with the piercing insight into her data analysis workflow, the Akatsuki manipulator was careful to sanitize her data before projecting it. It's true that insights could be gathered from the data she chooses to keep annotated, but such uncategorized madness lacks the methodology necessary to parse it.

"The 'professional courtesy' clause then, I see." Dahlia can't help but chuckle in response. Even with fluffing up her ego, there's practically no way Lee would be able to put her paranoid mind at ease. So many possibilities -- and so many interesting ways to get screwed over.

"Somewhere, sure." Dahlia doesn't sweat the details of -how many- or -where- said V-Gage Educators may be, just barely enough to agree that they do exist.

"Mmm, yeah. Just business." Bearing a saccharine smile, she zooms the view of the map out to show the color-coded armies of the NOL and Sacred Order, far away in Europe and Asia. "I... am glad that the issue of the Command Gear is being handled very far from here. All the more reason to seize -this- opportunity now that it exists."

Turning away from the projection, she recenters her gaze upon Lee, lips curled into a slightly lopsided grin. "I have to admit though -- if not for your timely warning, we would have been much worse off. I really don't know what I'd do without you, Lee. Everyone else in the Council just looks out for themselves, but you..."

Her smile grows a bit warmer. And possibly more sincere.

"I think it's safe to say that our business interests align. What's good for you is good for me, and vice-versa. I feel like it's been all about -me- so far -- what about you? Is there anything I can help -you- with, Lee?"

If anything, he was hoping Miko could find out some uncertainty for him as well.

He wasn't certain on the full... effects of the virus. THere were other banks, of course. Japan Post Bank Co. Ltd, Mizuho Financial Group, and even the Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group as well. After all, he made the distributions to Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group alone. If the Syndicate had more financial holdings... the credit crisis could claim many victims before it was contained. But for Lee Chaolan?

Well, he didn't have two cents to rub together.

Lee Chaolan gets a gleam in his eyes, as the manipulated manipulates the manipulators. "I do hope so. I do not like conducting business with those things intervening. Too complicated, and too much heartbreak." He clutches his chest a moment, turning towards Miko. "As for what you can do for me, well..."

"You have already done so much!"

"You have already offered more than enough, for a nice suit and a ride out here, for taking care of your estate. And above all, letting me know what has happened." Lee Chaolan squeezes Miko's hand very gently. "But if there is one more thing... I would like to have some arrangements for the estate, as well as a ticket back to the Kyokugen Dojo." He gives a wink.

"Would that be too much to ask from such a suffering young lady?"

Dahlia isn't terribly concerned about banks. She's got a guy who -is-, though, and she'd be letting him know as soon as she gets the leeway to talk to him. Assuredly, he'd know how to navigate the financial seas well enough to keep Akatsuki afloat -- especially with the advance foreknowledge of the cataclysm that might -- or might not -- take place.

"'Heartbreak?' You don't need to oversell the drama here for lil' ol' me, Lee." She sweeps a hand across her tablet, deactivating the projector and setting it back on the table. "If things had worked out differently you'd have been on top of the world and -none- of this would have happened. As it is..."

Dahlia draws in her breath, settling in against her raised pillows. "Suffice to say, some higher powers never really came to the negotiating table to declare an -end- to any such 'war'. But we'll deal with that -- when and if."

The slender, bedridden woman rests her free hand atop Lee's, squeezing it back in equal measure. She may not be able to move much, but her grip is undoubtedly firm and full of vitality. "It'd be my pleasure, naturally. You're doing me a favor, after all, saving me from the wild ravages of the real estate market. As far as I know some YouTuber like Logan Paul would snatch up the deal and tear it up within weeks. At least with you there I could rest assured it wouldn't -drop- in value." A warm cordial smile, pleasant and quite possibly even sincere. Quite a change from the -last- time they met.

"A car will be waiting to take you back to Hakodate. And I'll make sure the keys will be waiting for you by the time you arrive back in Southtown."

Chaolan would also find, eventually, that in addition to a small array of guards, the guest quarters of the residence would be occupied by a squad of Akatsuki boarders looking to lay low; once he establishes his presence, it wouldn't be any trouble to move about without being terribly disturbed. Just business, of course.

"As always, it's a pleasure to see you, Lee."

Just business, as always.

Of course, Lee Chaolan would make himself at home, as it's caretaker. And the people looking to stay low? They would be his guests as much as Honokas, and would be treated as such. It would be a butler gig, of course. But Lee Chaolan was an expert at it. Small, discreet parties, plenty of corporate charges to keep them entertained, and only the most credential ladies, through all the background checks. Only the best for Lee's guests.

Just business.

Lee Chaolan gives another wink, and releases. Next meeting? Almost certainly different. But that was a situation for another time. Striding towards the door, he pauses. Turning slowly back at Honoka. Miko. Dahlia. So many masks, for the nameless girl underneath. A glint is in his eyes, as that smirk burns on his lips. And then, he raises his hand. A parting thumbs up, right at the door.


Log created on 12:53:52 04/25/2018 by Honoka, and last modified on 13:55:44 05/02/2018.