The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 0 - Viral Sensations

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Description: Returning from his imprisonment by the NOL, Duke makes a hasty meeting with Nagase to discuss current events... and why he can no longer access the Syndicate accounts. Tech Support Ninjas are superior to Accounting Ninjas.

When your team wins a multi-million-dollar tournament purse, you can park your keister wherever the hell you want it. And in the wake of a rather tumultuous exchange between Duke and the Syndicate's top brass, Anywhere But Geese Tower was an increasingly attractive place to be.

The Delphic Sky Tower is really nothing like its namesake; there's no great Oracle of Wisdom, and the tower itself blends in with literally hundreds of others in the Southtown skyline. But here, in the midst of the bustling metropolis of Southtown, one would sincerely never think to look for Duke Burkoff, connoisseur of fine art and super-friendly dogs. It's a nice 'get away from it all' place, providing an unparalleled view of the carmine-hued lights of Chinatown and the surrounding cityscape, conveniently pointed -away- from Geese Tower and other opulent signs of the Syndicate's presence. The Sky Tower itself is kept nice, on the order of a three- or four-star hotel, but the dated, turn-of-the-century fashion keeps it from feeling as fresh and invigorating as a high-class office complex could. The elevator cars each bear the scent of bleach intermixed with commercial air freshener. -Small- things, really.

And Nagase has arranged for office space on the sixth floor -- one third of the floor designated with a few private offices for the Syndicate executives who might need a place to escape from tyrannical rule -- executives loyal to Duke above all, naturally. And Nagase herself is seated in the office space's glass-walled, fishbowl-style conference room. Two crushed water bottles are situated in front of her, with a third clutched within her pale white hands, as she leans her elbows on the conference table. She's not wearing her trademark glasses -- and that just makes the bags under her eyes all the more apparent. The sleeves of her white button-down blouse are rolled up to her elbows, with the top two buttons left undone. An oversized cellphone, at least two models behind, sits in front of her on the table, with a small briefcase situated just beside her. And a garbage can has been placed right beside her chair.

In short, she looks like shit. Or, at the very least, as if she hasn't slept soundly in over a week. But wasn't it -she- who sent the text message arranging this meeting? Shouldn't she be... more prepared?

Whatever Nagase looked like?

It was better than Duke right now.

The crime boss, known for his inexhaustible endurance, was fatigued. Being reborn again from a separate time line was uncomfortable. Being destroyed from existence was worse. And fighting a god on a good day? Not worth it. Add in a long fall into a short stop off Geese Tower, of all places, and he just wanted... wanted to check up on the status of his war. He would check his emails, ready to coordinate and communicate the updates within the secure Syndicate network.

And that was a problem.

Duke actually responds curtly with Nagase. He would arrive briskly, despite just wanting to spend a week or two recovering. He would ring it up; Chinatown was a nice change of pace. And his arrival would come with heavy steps, even without it. Duke was dressed in one of the cotton 'fight' suits, right off the rack. It was zebra striped, and cut above the ankles. It also smelled like sulfur BEFORE the fire started. It was one of the bulk ones that didn't show up at World Warrior. The crime boss kept his normal glower, as he arrives into the office space. He doesn't comment on the mess, but he looks at it with a disgusted scowl. That wasn't the real danger, as he clears his throat. Nagase would see it, as she likely had seen it a thousand times before with her own clan. What's worse?

He brought a computer bag, with his laptop.

Nagase looks up at the sound of the crime boss's arrival, at him striding through the hall. It seems that, at least for a moment, a glimmer of panic flickers across her expression as she sits bolt upright, sweeping the two crushed plastic bottles off to her side and setting them down next to the trash can. It's practically a crime to -not- keep recyclables separate in Japan, and... well, she normally pays better mind of that.

Downing a quick swig of water, she caps the bottle and sets it on the table as she rises to her feet, snapping a quick salute to Duke. She strives to put on the best face for Duke that she can -- even forging a shaky smile.

"... You look... you look great!" she chirps out, eking out the best thing she can think to say at the moment. "... And as you probably figured out, the, er... Network is down." Deliberate pause, as her face falls into an exhausted frown. "... All of it. No ETA on restoration."

Nagase nudges her aging cellphone back to wakefulness. It takes a shameful amount of time to show anything on the screen, but when it does -- it's the Nikkei stock figures. And the market has dropped several hundred points, forcing her to frown. "... The banks got hit with some kinda virus. I don't have the first -clue- on how it hit us."

She looks hopeful, for a moment, as she attempts to smooth out the wrinkles in her collar. "So, er... yeah? You look great."

Duke does not look great.

There is a kind of look in his eyes, a presence around him. Hot anger, suppressed. Duke was angry about something. But not at NAgase it seemed. It was like the meeting before, but less... joyful. Every step comes with a rumble. As Nagase forces the smile at him? He doesn't grin back. Instead, he rumbles a bit, coming to a stop at the desk. He places the computer bag on the table, where it lands with a surprisingly heavy thump, as she relays the details... in person, rather digitally. She describes the banks. Duke takes in a deep breath. And exhales. If it was anything else, technical support or networks, he would just have a meeting. He had the authority, he had the time. But this was pressing, and very personal. He says the words with no emotion behind them.

"There is no money in our accounts, Nagase."

Duke's words are even, cold. If the weight of that isn't carried, he explains further. "Understand that is a royal... 'our.'" Duke's words are very, very stilted, very very steady. "The Syndicate bank accounts are showing a negative balance from a recent office rental overdraft." Duke shuts his eyes a moment, rubbing his neck. His eyes were burning, trails of flames boiling from the corner of them. There was a lot of rage contained. "There is no record of it being withdrawn on that scale. It just... disappeared. I am having my lawyers speak with the banks, but with the recent market... there is a greater concern going bigger than you, and I. There is just one concern I have, a very pressing one. Our account was placed in a series of smaller banks across the world; some in America, some in Europe, some in Asia, some in... Japan." Duke opens his eyes, narrowed at Nagase.

"Only you and I have access to our personal account, Nagase."

Was Duke about to murder Nagase? There was a very tense silence, for only a moment. "Has the overseas markets opened up? I haven't had any news... since my imprisonment." That had it's own weight and details. But money was first, business was first. "Have you... have you accessed the accounts recently? I checked on them before I had my meeting with Dahlia." For a moment, Duke didn't seem to be accusing Nagase of anything specific. But he was pulling the laptop from the bag. With it, all the plugged in wires; a usb mouse, the power cord, and the USB interface for one of the exoskeleton still plugged in, with the wire network dangling from it. Something was being suggested.

Something that he thought only Nagase could resolve.

Yeah, yeah -- he did not look great. Not even one iota of great. But she can't say that, so she says he looks great, because she -wants- him to look great and -feel- great.

And that's the hill she's gonna die on.

The bottle shudders as the laptop bag is set upon the table -- and in almost perfect sync, Nagase shudders as well. But Duke still looks great -- right? She starts to answer the frustration with another reminder that he looks great.

And then the words are dictated, unemotionally.

Nagase's eyes go wide. This is -news,- and news she had certainly not expected to hear. "W-wait, what?" And each sentence after it is just adding more gasoline to a pile of soggy newspapers, pooling it around. The uncertainty shows on Nagase's face, as the groggy kunoichi shakes her head side-to-side. She stammers, even daring to interrupt but not so loud that Duke can't just talk over her: "Yeah, we... we distributed..."

But then he opens his eyes. And Nagase takes a step back.

Silence becomes a giant stone lodged in her throat, which she struggles to swallow down as she stands, once more, in front of the smoldering fire of Duke's anger, risking every iota of his unquenchable rage.

"... I hadn't even touched the accounts. I gave the account to the Sky Tower owners... And then..."

Nagase gulps, lowering her eyes to look at the laptop seated in front of Duke. And its.. crudely extracted interface box.

She extends her index finger, tapping her temple -- the place her glasses -ought- to be. "... About two days after your fight, um... that's when it hit the fan. My BDS got compromised. We lost access to the networks. Everything's stuck in some damn loop, probably mining bitcoins or something -- I've had to scrub most of the data myself, but..."

She looks up at Duke, lower lip curled in distress. "I don't even have a -guess- on what this virus's done, but I swear to you I didn't... I didn't touch any of the money." Her shoulders quake with each syllable of the admission.

Duke mulls carefully.

He could see the fear. And frankly, he wasn't going to try and suppress it. He does take a moment to rumble. "Relax." Duke snarls. "I am not going to kill you. You wouldn't dare- You wouldn't do that." A hasty correction. Duke wasn't trying to terrorize the girl. He was trying to make sense. "So lets assume we both are honest players here, Nagase." Duke speaks with a slow, steady process, trying hard to stall the emotions storming in him. "One of us has very likely done something that has harmed our accounts. And what it sounds like, is the Syndicate accounts as well. Either we got it from the Syndicate, from a bad agent, or we are the first infectee. You said a virus, and you had to scrub data." Duke states firmly. "You state with a lot of certainty with the virus." Duke looks at the laptop, and presses the button.

Duke turns on the computer.

He waits a moment, as it loads up. Very slowly. "If you got your BDS got compromised, then you should be able to figure out if my laptop caught anything." Is Duke blaming himself? Or just covering his bases before he crushes Nagase? Eventually, the Window 7 finishes booting up. Duke inputs the password to the computer. It is 'DukeBurkoff19##'. Duke waits solemnly, turning his computer around to Nagase. "Here. Can you look at my laptop?" It was a sincere question. In the lower corner, there is a mccaffe shield with an x, indicating it is expired. The outlook pops open, along with an internet search toolbar up at the top of the desktop. There are a lot of folders, labeled 'new folder' on the desktop, as well as loose documents. Duke rumbles.

"Did I open any suspicious emails on my computer?"

'Relax' is one of those words that, when delivered as a command, often has the opposite effect. And normally, Nagase would be able to deal with this just fine.

As it is, she stares back at Duke. And shudders. For about three seconds.

'I am not going to kill you' is another phrase that, when heard, often suggests the opposite.

She shuts her eyes, jaw tensing as she forces herself to think in rational terms. And only after another five seconds of listening does she open her eyes again, nostrils flaring as she forces herself to stand up straight like a good girl.

... Thankfully, the fact that Duke chose to boot -this- computer gives her a moment of breathing room. She... stifles a laugh. Which is no small feat, considering her state of unease. But as she waits for the computer to boot up, she nods quietly, hand darting into her slacks pocket to retrieve a pill bottle. She shakes out three pills, and swallows them along with a gulp from her water bottle -- and still has plenty of time to nod in response to Duke.

"... The thing is... this is the bog -stupid- stuff I usually let the BDS AI handle. It's..." She slips the bottle back into her pocket. "This is -stone age- to me. But yeah."

The kunoichi squints at the Windows 7 login screen. "... Yeah, I..."

Nagase looks over at the wifi indicator on the laptop, scratching her temple. "... Well, it'll take a few minutes for me to figure out if -you- did anything..."

She makes a few clicks, through Outlook, through the system folder, through the system registry. She hits ctrl-escape and pages through some of the things she sees there. And then, with a scratch of her chin, she reaches over to her phone. And frowns at the display she sees there -- a screen slowly filling with alert lines adorned with red stop-sign icons.

A few more moments pass, waiting and paging through system dialogs that take way too long to display.

"Yeah, this thing's hosed. I can't -see- anything that -you- had received or sent that would cause a problem, but it's definitely infected. And it's talking to a command-and-control server -- so if it sent anything out at all, it wouldn't have been through your email."

Nagase's eyes are a bit clearer, and she looks a bit more sober as she gives a simple statement. "I don't know, Duke -- this is the laptop we got for winning KOF, right?"

Duke was dead serious, in spite of his anger.

Nagase knew computers. And Duke.... Duke did not. He didn't mean to scare her, but as she takes command of the computer, he just watches intently, as she gets to work. He is quiet, watching her work, leaning over. And then finally.... she gives the bad news. Hosed. "Yes, it came with the prizes." Duke says firmly. "It lets you directly tune and sync with the exoskeletons we got. That's why I have the USB in there. And it was convenient to use for the network, it had all the email stuff ready to be set up automatically when I synced to the Syndicate network. " Duke motions at the USB attachment. "As long as I keep it in, the laptop works. Did I lose any data? Can't you ask Combzi Buddy to run the virus scan?" Combzi Buddy? And as if the laptop was listening, suddenly, a little grey combot with a chibi, CGI design drops in to the lower corner of the desktop. "Oh, that's the Combzi Buddy." Duke states helpfully, as the little dancing figure waves a claw at them.


The little robot buddy says in a text to speech action, the voices coming out the speakers. "I SEE YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCESS SYSTEM FILES. DO NOT WORRY. I GOT THIS ALL TAKEN CARE OF. I WILL RUN THE ANTI-VIRUS SOON. WHY NOT BROWSE HIGH QUALITY OPERAS PIECES I CAREFULLY SELECTED FOR YOU WHILE YOU WAIT." A popup comes up through an alpha version of Chrome browser, with a URL of '' at the top. Duke grumbles. "Oh, here, you can log in real quick and it will make it go away." Duke says firmly. "The login is the same as the password, DukeBurkoff19##. It's easier to use one password for everything I find."

There is no hint of regret in Duke's voice.

Nagase looks at the screen, scratching at the bridge of her nose. Normally there are glasses in the way; today there are not. She stares back at the screen, nodding dully as Duke explains the things she -should- already know about the laptop, but... being that this may be the first time she'd ever actually -seen- it, does not.

And then, as Duke says the words 'convenient to use for the network,' the horror begins to dawn on her.

She tightens her jaw. She reminds herself that she is very tired and Duke is very angry.

She -glares daggers- at the screen as the Combzi Buddy pops up.

Her nostrils flare, as fidgety fingers joust against one another, clumsily lacing themselves together as her wrists hit the table with a loud 'thump.' Her knuckles begin to turn white.

Duke divulges his password, and his laissez-faire attitude towards protecting it. And somewhere... somehow...

Nagase takes a breath.

Nagase unlaces her fingers.

Nagase holds the power button on the laptop for five seconds, ensuring the whole kit and kaboodle shuts down.

Nagase shuts the lid of the laptop.

With her head bowed down, and eyes closed, the kunoichi keeps her palm rested on the lid of the laptop for a good... five seconds, maybe.

And then she turns to Duke with the sweetest, prettiest smile she can manage with her right eye twitching.

"I think I know what the problem is now, Duke."

She thumps the laptop once more, before pulling the USB drive out entirely.

"Combzi Buddy is -not- your friend, Duke. He shared your password with -his- friends. So every one of -his- friends now knows that DukeBurkoff19## is the password to your email, your bank accounts, -and- whichever operas you like listening to the most."

Nagase wags the USB drive around as if it were a pencil. "And by 'friends,' I don't mean sing-songy Combots, I mean -real people- who wanted to hurt our reputation and our wallets.'"

Nagase draws in her breath, closing her eyes again. And she reaches up to pat Duke on the shoulder, lightly, as she offers a smile which is much, much, -much- too broad. "I'm gonna be a moment."

And then her hands clap together, sliding towards the open conference room door. An instant later, she disappears, only to reappear a good forty feet down the hall.

It is then, and only then, that she unleashes a -hellacious- shrieking roar, doubling forward and unleashing a palm-strike into the floor. With her back to Duke, she'll continue panting heavily in place for a few seconds afterward. ... At least she'll only be a moment, right?

... right?

"... Hrm."

That is all Duke can muster against Nagase's... it was difficult to define. Duke had been and seen what Nagase is right now. Except he wasn't fake polite. He knew fake polite. He knew this emotion. And yet, as Duke's defenses rise up, he forces them down. Nagase's false presence was at least reassuring in it's honesty. "But it was given to us... by Lee Chaolan..." Duke mutters back. But it wasn't his fault, really. Whose fault was it? The question casts a heavy shadow on the crime boss. A dangerous mistake, a very dangerous mistake on his reptuation.

That Duke had made an irreversable mistake?

Nagase pats Duke on the shoulder, as he frowns intensely. She was smiling exactly like that Lightning Spangles girl, before her show was canceled. It was a creepy, pasted on smile. Duke knew he messed up something. And when he hears the screaming? He starts hastily trying to figure out how to... how to fix this. When Nagase finally arrives, Duke was -choking- on frustration, on anger. He looks at the laptop, and then back at Nagase. And there, narrowing his yellow eyes warily at his personal computer expert, he asks his question with the innocence of a child.

"... So if I change my password, will it fix it?"

Duke is angry. And now Nagase is furious -- and not afraid to show it. Well she -is- afraid to show it, but she's certainly not afraid to show it at a forty-foot distance.

Eventually, she rises back to her feet, takes another breath, and shadow-steps herself right back into the room, coughing politely into a balled fist. "... Sorry about that," she apologizes, the saccharine smile restored on her face. It's pretty clear she's putting on airs -- because conversation with the hotheaded crimelord would be -impossible- if she didn't.

Nagase hears the question. And shakes her head slowly from side to side.

"No, Duke. What I'm going to tell you is very, very, -very- bad."

She twirls the USB stick around in her palm as if it were a toy of some sort. "Every secret we have stored on computer -- we have to assume it's not a secret any more. So every nasty email, every password saved, every account number, every person who needs to be shaken down... Everything. It's on the black market now, and can be used against us."

She flips the USB drive around, grasping it tightly between thumb and forefinger. "Every bank account that looks drained? -Has been- drained. If we throw ourselves on the mercy of the FTIJ and -beg-, we might be able to get some of our money back, but that means audits. Lots of audits. And audits mean our dirty laundry would need to get put on -government- records."

Nagase's saccharine smile fades. And she begins to look -exhausted- again, as she claps both her hands together.

"And then, finally... yeah. We're gonna need to rethink that one-password-for-everything policy. When we rebuild the network -- and I mean every computer needs to get restored from backups -- everything gets a brand-new password. Each one -different-."

The doorway is directly behind her as she says this.

"... No..." Duke rumbles, furrowing his brow.

"Because there would have been a record, right?" Duke rumbles severely, almost desperately. "Money just doesn't disappear, it goes some place. And audits? We can handle audits. You are thinking of this as a computer wizard, not a businessman." Or maybe as someone's whose job isn't on the line, and has to blame someone. And Duke -doesn't- put the blame on Nagase... yet. "We got our accountants and lawyers comparing notes, transactions. If there was withdrawals, it was unauthorized. If we don't like the audits? We'll push back. If we need to? We'll wipe it all out. We'll stuff things under the mattress, if we have to. This is not the END of the SYNDICATE!" Duke surges with fire, billowing over him. "If it is on the black market, we will make it gone. If it is bought? I will break legs. But all this doesn't matter. What matters is who did this, Nagase. Lee Chaolan? Is this all his doing, to make a quick buck?" Duke slams a fist on the desk, nearly breaking it in half.

"Dammit, Nagase, why is all this happening?!"

Duke starts talking about business approaches and whatnot -- all means that the executive may have at his disposal that aren't exactly accessible by her. And that's fine -- she was only there to provide the cold, hard facts that Duke needed to decide whose neck to breathe onto. That is, not -hers-.

But even as she nods in encouragement for Duke's planned course of action, folding both arms behind her back, she cannot help but wince at the outburst of flame.

Her arms quickly unfold as soon as the table is smashed, one hand snapping out to rest upon the laptop as an almost reflexive gesture. She may not -like- the laptop, but: "... I'll need to dig into the laptop to gather more clues, but right now, Chaolan sure is looking like the most obvious suspect...!" She slides the laptop closer to her, tucking it and its multitude of interface cables under one arm. "... What I -don't- know is why, if he put his reputation on the line in paying out the prize money when he's freakin' -bankrupt-, why he would somehow think we wouldn't trace -this- back to him..."

The loose interface cables swing back and forth like a metronome from her arms.
And then one hits her.
Her mouth opens up, as if to voice a thought.
And then, with eyes wide, she suddenly clamps that jaw shut.

After a delay to compose herself, she asks in a quiet voice -- "... Boss, I... know somethin' started with Dahlia, but did... you pick a fight with Chaolan too?"

Her half-smile suggests that she's hoping to be right in that assumption.

Duke mulls a minute.

Stunned at Nagase's words, at the scope of this disaster, the... ramifications.... "... I have not done any aggression to Violet Systems. I struck out against Heihachi, but well, he's out of the picture. I haven't done anything to Lee Chaolan. I hardly talked to the man, except..."

Duke's yellow eyes flare wide.

"... BASTARDS!!!" Duke roars, tearing into the desk. "THOSE BASTARDS!" "Nagase. The Shadow Council..." Duke rumbles. "Lee Chaolan was at the Shadow Council. He is -working- with the Dahlia in revenge! She's turning the... Shadow Council AGAINST ME!?" Duke roars, as he reaches for the laptop.... and hesitates.

And instead, the attention goes to the table itself.

Duke breathes heavily, body burning, the stench of sulfur growing ever stronger. "Well. She wants to bleed me out in this war, doesn't she. She didn't get the message. I'll kill her. No, I'll give her to Terumi, let HIM bleed her out, let HIM torture her. I'll just kill Lee Chaolan, while I am at it, I'll break every Shadaloo fool in my path that dares. Vega is already gone, so it's just his worthless dolls. I'll crush Kira and her worthless minions, and above all, I will leave Mr. Burr for last, and -crush- his skull in my hands." Duke claps his palms together. "I will kill every single one of them, and bleed them dry, Nagase. I've had it. I've had it with these buffoons conspiring against me. They want to insult me? They want to taunt me? I will destroy them." Duke halts a moment... and rubs his face.

"Oh, please tell me I didn't just break something expensive you owned, Nagase."

Nagase's half-smile remains cemented in place as she takes a half-step back from Duke, bringing the laptop up in front of her in a submissive gesture. Either that, or she wants the laptop to overheat instead of her own body.

And then the desk ends up taking the brunt of Duke's fury, with the kunoichi shielding her eyes with an arm. She shudders with each strike -- not out of -surprise-, but out of the floor itself shaking beneath her feet. Gritting her teeth, she knows at this point that it's better to weather the storm than even -attempt- to placate her boss...

Her eyes start to go wide as Duke reaches for the laptop, but a shake of her head reminds him: no, she -needs- this! But then he lets it all out on the table, practically obliterating the poor table. She attempts a shaky half-smile as Duke rattles off who needs an ass-kicking and how they'll be getting one... vaguely searching through her recollection of the 'Shadow Council' and just what those terms -were-...

She starts to lick her lips. Not because she thinks it's a tasty prospect. But because all the heat kicked up from Duke is drying her out like crazy.

Nagase, still wide-eyed, stares back at Duke's sudden apology, before shaking her head slowly. "... N-nah. -I- don't own anything -this- fancy. All I got was from office surplus..."

She smiles cheerily, remembering an earlier moment in the conversation. "Oh, right. It's the business furniture! So when we get the money back it'll be out of the right place." Simple, right?

After a moment of thought, she narrows her eyes, tapping her cheek with an extended index finger: "Man, that's... -everyone?- Seems like a bit of a clusterfuck considering she offed -our- dudes. Wasn't -that- part of the Shadow Council deal too?"

Duke snarls furiously.

"Why would they do anything?" Duke bellows out, his heat billowing out of him, heavy and thick. Duke almost seemed.... frightened? No, desperate. "Lee Chaolan was broken, and broke! He is busy fooling around with little boys at the Kyokugen Dojo! There was supposed to be NOTHING he could have done. How could he have planned this? It's impossible! And Kira and Burr do nothing! And Shadaloo..." Duke rumbles, deep and low. "Shadaloo hasn't acted yet." Duke pauses moment, and snaps his fingers. "Maybe you are on to something, Nagase, an idea."

"They attacked us, yes?"

"IF I can hold a meeting with Shadaloo, before it is too late, maybe... maybe I can convince them to retaliate against Dahlia, instead of against me. Or to stay out of it. At the very least, convince them to stay out of it. The only other thing I could think of is... is..."

There is a devilish spark in Duke's eyes.

Cunning. Not genius, but cunning. "The purpose of the Shadow Council was to defend this world from Darkstalkers. Like the Metro City incident. It was a kind of... gentleman's agreement." There is a chill in the room now, a stark contrast to the burning hellfire of the crime boss that normally is present. "With Vega gone, the council is... almost all gone. But if Dahlia... Dahlia bragged to me about how she won a Mortal Kombat tournament, defending the world. If the Syndicate is on the back foot on this... introducing an invasion to Southtown would buy us time. They wouldn't dare attack us during then." Ice cold, the room is ice cold. "Our finances get fixed, and then, once we are stable again? Once we drive out the Darkstalkers? Then we can war. And Terumi... the NOL gave me the name. A name." Duke looks at Nagase, with almost... desperate eyes. It might be a little much for the ninja to be looked at so wildly.


Nagase's head bobs agreeably as she listens. As frightening as it could be, Bellowing Duke is much easier to deal with than Crazy Uncle Duke Who Shares His Password With Sketchy Virtual Assistants. At least this personality is predictable, following a consistent, if slightly warped, set of patterns.

"Shadaloo...? Well, yeah... It's worth a shot, I guess, but it's not gonna be easy. And if Shadaloo goes along with it, maybe they can get Kira and Burr to help out too."

Nagase drums her finger on her temple, listening attentively.
And then, the room starts to grow cold.
A shiver runs down her spine.

"... Duke." Her voice is a commanding statement, a heavy iron door latching shut in an empty room. She looks... more mature than she usually does, really, as she adopts a wider stance, folding her arms before her. "... Darkstalkers? Seriously? We're still finding places in Il Paradiso from their -last- invasion here, and you want to give them an all-access pass to our front door? What's in it for -us- here, and what's in it for -them- to keep from slaughtering us all?"

And yet -- it seems her skin is turning a bit pale. Her show of bravado might only be a desperate cry for her common sense to be heard.

"Can we make sure that's, like, a Plan B instead of a Plan A? As much as I love the idea of talking to psycho-powered lunatics, at least they speak the same language and not like, murder-death-kill-tea party."

Duke pauses, his yellow eyes locked at Nagase.

He could see the nerves, the fear. She was acting more mature, yes. But that was the reaction when there was danger. He saw it before, when she felt like Duke would kill her. And yet, he should be taking this advice. But the image floats in his head. Her image. It would not be easy. But if she did not have the resolve to bring another Metro City event...

"It's more important than the Il Paradiso." Duke says with a chill.

"... I didn't tell you what happened, after my encounter with Dahlia." There was a haunting air to his voice. "I was... buried in concrete. And given to an organization called the Novus Orbis Librarium. They captured me, and wanted to interrogate me. On why I wouldn't die, if I was... well, a demon, or associated with a demon. The Man That Hell Spat Out; I suppose the fire and brimstone gimmick worked a little too well, in that regard. They got nothing from me. Until..."

"There was a green haired man named Hazama, who began to torture me."

He shakes his head, palm on his forehead. "The rest is a haze to me, I can't... I cannot remember! But Terumi revealed himself... a god of some kind, I think? Who was working inside the NOL. And there, he... killed me?" Duke speaks with almost a madness, uncertain how to describe. "I was destroyed, and... I was brought from another reality? He told me I was not the Duke that was brought in. It sounds like madness, Nagase, I know it sounds like insanity. But you must understand." Duke reaches out, to hold Nagase's... hand? To look her in the eyes, with... a gentleness?

"He showed me Marian, Nagase."

Duke shuts his eyes tight. "She could be alive again, Nagase. He is working with Dahlia, and expects me to work with her to bring about this god Taishokan. And in exchange, with a vessel for Marian, and with certain individuals removed... she can be returned to life, Nagase." He releases Nagase's hand, turning away from her, bringing his hands behind his back as he stares out the window at the Chinatown. "I would give up this life, to have my sister back, Nagase. It's worth all the money in the world, it's worth every life in it's path, and above all, it's worth putting Southtown at danger. And if it destroys a rival, if it destroys every rival in my path? Then it is worth it all." Duke raises his shoulders, and drops them with a sigh.

"But I'd rather not burn all my bridges as a Plan A, yes."

"Besides, not all of the Shadaloo types are psycho-impowered zealots. Some of them are just like us." Well, like Duke. The people like Nagase tended to be more like Ibuki. Just a little more filled out. He turns back to her. "Who do we know that are active members of Shadaloo? With Vega destroyed, I would imagine the leadership is... chaotic. Perhaps we can use this to our advantage. I would prefer to explore our alternatives first before..." Duke hesitates.

"Before we explore plan B, Nagase."

Nagase is not beyond reasoning with Duke. He's still her boss, and when he wants a thing, he's going to find a way to get it whether she talks him out of it or not. The only point in standing against him was on the off-chance that Duke's sleep deprivation is making him delirious.

But when he says that whatever it is is -more- important than the opera house getting compressed like a pancake, murdering everyone inside only to bounce back to its previous size... well.

Duke has her attention. Her hands press together, folding over one another, as she listens attentively. "... Yeah, the Librarium. They keep -trying- to set up shop here but they keep getting governmental blowback..."

Capture, though? If Nagase had her Battle Disc System on her, it'd be a simple matter to correlate. But then she happens to remember, pounding her fist into an open palm. "Oh right, yeah. The bounty."

The names escape her. Hazama, Terumi... If it barely makes sense to Duke, Nagase has really -no- hope without BDS assistance. "Okay..."

Nagase's cheeks stain red as Duke takes her hand, drawing it close. She can feel his flesh, blood pulsing just against her palm. This is -serious-. And while Duke may have his heart set on this course of action, it kind of falls on Nagase, more than anyone else in this organization, to make sure Duke isn't manipulated right into another heartless trap. So while she is certainly moved by his touching gesture, the kunoichi insists on holding back, judging his words in context.

"Okay. I'm with you on this, Duke. It's worth it, I believe you. Just... let's get a good night's rest before we commit to anything."

Nagase blinks back at Duke's request, wrinkling her nose in confusion. Usually the answers would have popped up on her glasses by now, but of course, she's not wearing them. Accordingly, she crouches down, retrieving her phone from the floor where it had fallen earlier. A few swipes on the glass surface, and...

"Well, there's Jezebel Faiblesse, though, uh, good luck getting any actionable info out of that raging house fire. There's also, er. A hitman/enforcer type named Cracker Jack. "There's also rumors of -another- one-eyed taekwondoka woman who put Geese's son and some private investigator in the hospital. I -really- don't trust Shadaloo's vision plan."

She lowers her phone, with the laptop still tucked under her left arm. With an apologetic smile, she adds, "And... there's been scattered rumors that the Dolls are active in various parts around here, but I can't lock them into a particular area. I'm sure if I did a deep dive on customs traffic I could zero in on them though. Would need time to rebuild our information network first though."

The shinobi's phone starts to vibrate, and she looks down to it with a raised eyebrow. "... Oh, unrelated, but says here, there's been word of an Akatsuki facility just north of city limits that hasn't, er... been vacated yet. Still a ton of Red Moons spotted going in and out." She smirks faintly. "Some of the guys at STPD figured you might have wanted to know."

Duke didn't notice how much Nagase was blushing.

But when she gives her confidence, it manages a smirk from the crime boss. It could be a trap. It could all be a damning trap. But Duke -smashed- through traps now. That is what he was. He smashed through Dahlia's trap. What's one more to smash through? "A good night's rest would be wise-"

And his eyes go wide.

"Jezebel? Lightning Spangles is Shadaloo?" Duke snorts, as Nagase transitions to the phone. "I wouldn't hve thought she'd fall in with those kinds. That's kind of pathetic, really. Whatever. I rather stay away from psychopaths. Cracker Jack and... The Dolls? I think they need to be those..." She gives the news on the war... and the war seemed to have waited for Duke?

How unfortunate for them.

"... I think I can trust you with arrangements then, Nagase." He rumbles, rubbing his neck scar. "It looks like I may need to... pass on a rest, if the Akatsuki aren't taking the hint. It sounds like that my work is never done, Nagase. I entrust you to negotiate terms to meet with the Shadaloo agents. Even the enforcers; if there is no central leadership, we may be able to give them an opportunity to make side income. Even... Jezebel." Duke sighs, shaking his head. "But first the Dolls. They are the inner circle, or at least, the closest to the inner circle. Those are Vega's personal bodyguards." Duke points at the phone. "You tell those boys to meet me there. It looks like I need to communicate a suggestion to Dahlia, that she should not rely too much on her allies to do her dirty work." Duke slams a fist into his palm. "Besides, if our accounts are locked..."

"I will need to take out a loan from our friends at the Akatsuki."

Log created on 12:35:32 05/23/2018 by Duke, and last modified on 12:43:33 07/01/2018.