The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 0 - Calms Before Storms

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Description: Zach and Honoka do a little catching up now that Honoka is out of the hospital.


Zach Glenn's life has been oddly peaceful since the Dahlia's injuries at the hands of Duke Burkoff. He had laid low to stay off various social radars, and his work load was actually pretty slack compared to the events after the last King of Fighters tournament. So he had spent his time and energy between training and quiet work with various local charities, mostly to remind himself that he could do good without wielding a sword or getting involved in fights between large organizations.

Currently, he was in the dojo out back, going to work on a training dummy. His ComBot, Alfred, had laid out cool drinks and fruits for light snacking. It was not a hard workout day, and the pace of strikes and kicks reflected that.

It's an open secret that Honoka Kawamoto and Zach Glenn are an "item." It might not be front page news, but one need browse the tournament fighting blogs to find out about the star-crossed pair. One would need to dig back in the archives a while to find any news about Honoka though; her last on-stage appearance was her successful challenge for the Red Master Belt.

Tonight, though, only the most skilled of paparazzi would be able to catch sight of the Twilight Star Circus' juggling superstar; she's traveling incognito, riding in the back seat of a compact SUV. The vehicle pulls to a stop outside the feudal-style mansion of Zach Glenn. The door pops open.

And out steps Honoka Kawamoto, dressed in a pair of baggy sweatpants and a loose hooded sweatshirt. She wears a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses; her trademark pink-highlighted hair is tied back into twin ponytails.

The young woman tests her foot on the ground -- one might just assume she's testing out the brand-new pair of cross-trainers on her feet. But, after that tentative test, she strides over to the gate to the back yard. There's a trick to opening said door, and she knows it well -- letting herself inside.

And as soon as she is out of view of the street, with the gate shut, she leans upon the wall, shutting her eyes and wincing considerably.

Drawing in her breath, she listens for the sound of impacts hitting a training dummy. Allowing her expression to relax, she pushes away from the wall and approaches. With each step of her left foot, the grass surrounding each stepping-stone depresses downward in near-silence, as if hit with a burst of air.

It won't be long before she lays claim on a piece of honeydew, stopping just short of popping the morsel into her mouth.

"Hi, Zach," she announces with a faint, alluring smile.

She pretty much ignores the ComBot completely.

That's okay. The ComBot ignores Honoka as well; Zach has not had a chance to get the thing to recognize her. Zach, though, stops completely when he sees Honoka on her feet; most people don't know that she's the Scarlet Dahlia. They don't know that the woman's thigh was basically pulverized at the hands of Duke Burkoff. His eyes go wide, and he immediately casts around for a chair.

There is, after all, a difference between pushing yourself for theraputic purposes and being stupid about that same thing. There is a brief surge of joy that she's up and about more or less on her own, then.

He pulls a seat next to the refreshment table, offering it to her to sit in before grabbing a glass of water for each of them.

"Hey," he says, a slightly goofy grin on his face as he says it. He likes it when she smiles at him like that.

Honoka bows her head in a grateful smile as Zach pulls out the chair for her. Leaning heavily upon her arm, she slips into the seat, breathing a quiet sigh of relief as she takes the load off her overstressed leg. As experiments go, perhaps that was a bit risky.

The mirrored glasses are shed, folded up and hung along her t-shirt collar. "Sudo says I'm 'cheating' by using my powers as a crutch. Way I see it, it's less of a PR gaffe than walking around with an actual crutch."

She flashes a warm smile -- leaving the statement open to interpretation and possible rebuttal.

Honoka reaches for the glass of water. "So... you fought -Sergei-, hmm? Wonder who in the hell brought -him- back."

Zach makes a bobbling motion with both hands about the cheating comment, as if he could go either way on that. "Maintaining stories matters," he finally says. "So long as you don't over do it." Then she mentions Sergei.

"Someone brought back Lita Luwanda, too," he says, referring to older news. The actual fight, such as it was, is behind him now. "Never bothered to look into it too deeply." Then he frowns, thinking that through. "Still kinda hoping that it doesn't apply to everyone. Though Daniel's apparently back as well. Might have been... sponsors we weren't aware of."

"Not that I am not happy to see you," Zach says with an earnest grin; he *is* happy to see Honoka, "But what brings you out this way so soon?" He'd expected a bit more of a delay, or a 'Can't make it out, sorry' reply.

After taking a sip from her water glass, she brushes her fingers through her hair. With a sunny smile, she answers, "Yeah, that's mainly it. I don't want anyone to think I'm doing anything more than enjoying a well-deserved vacation from the spotlight. ... And I really just get tired of doing the exercises. Without the usual crew around, it isn't quite as, er... fun."

Honoka's mood darkens with the glimmer of a memory starts to resurface -- only for the psion to quickly shove it back out of her mind.

"... I had heard that, yeah. But it's unlikely that Lita Luwanda has as much of a vested interest in killing me." Again, she sips at her water, this time looking over to the ComBot.

"... Putting that guy to use, hm? Surprised you're not fighting it." With a non-committal shrug, she answers the question: "What, can't I come visit my boyfriend whenever the mood strikes me?" The hint of a smile returns to her face -- as does the note of teasing return to her aura. "You didn't look to be all that busy."

"Might as well put Alfred to use," Zach says with a shrug. "We won him, but I don't have the extras to make him more fight capable. Plus it seems like tech support's going to be tricky to get these days, what with Violet Systems having their problems. Might as well not abuse the thing if I don't need to."

He grins a bit at the comment about workloads. "Things... have been mostly quiet of late. Aside from the brawls between the Syndicate and the Akatsuki-gumi, anyway. They show up in the news a lot. I'm staying out of that, but I'm also paying attention to it." He frowns a bit. "I'm guessing Duke's... message was more of a declaraion of war than a conflict of personalities."

Honoka's response is almost instant: "What's the good in having a combat robot that you never fight?" She favors 'Alfred' with another glance, offering a look of mock apology. "I mean, aside from an expert culinary touch and the occasional martini." Lips curling into a teasing grin, she turns back to Zach, offering another shrug. "As long as you're getting -some- use, I guess."

As Zach addresses the topic of the Akatsuki though, the juggler's eyebrows lower considerably. "I had a feeling you'd be bringing that up." She's... not happy about the topic, but it's doubtful she would have made it out this way if she had planned on simply dancing around it.

Her hand snakes into the pocket of her sweatshirt, retrieving a purple yo-yo. The round toy flicks out in a wide arc, yoked in by an interposed finger for one of the simplest tricks in the book: a cradle. "Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. His ego's wounded, he's ... attacking every target that gets put in front of him. The losses aren't anything Akatsuki can't handle -- if anything, it's proving to my men that every warning that gets drilled into them has some tangible -meaning- now."

The yo-yo is broken free of its cradle, twirling around Honoka's left wrist before shuttling back in the opposite direction, sailing high into the air and spinning freely. "You been reading the news? He's even having his guys tear the clothes off of other people's backs now in search of Akatsuki tattoos. Man has absolutely no grasp of the optics of the situation -- but I guess he has the media on his side for now..."

"The guy's been making china shop bulls look like ninjas," he says with a grimace and a nod to answer the question. "Something's going to break, and soon," Zach says as he glances towards the front door, as if trying to get a sense for something. "I don't think that the media is going to be favorable for long if he keeps up like this. There... have been phone calls to the office."

He looks back to Honoka. "Some people asking for security consultation," which is another way of saying for bodyguards, "We haven't been taking any offers just yet, but the money is going to become hard to ignore before too long." There is a pensive tone in Zach's voice as he says this; he's not too keen to get involved in such a fight even tangentally. There'd be more than just business concerns at this point.

Honoka's yo-yo whirls through a series of motions as she considers Zach's words. She agrees with the assertion that the media won't be on Duke's side for long -- and from the look of her tight-lipped smile and nod, she appears to be counting on that outcome.

But when Zach mentions that people are asking for security consultation, she arches an eyebrow.

"Are you -that- hard up for money, Zach? Do you need a contract or something?"

Part of her expression suggests she's joking. Part of her though... is just confused as to why she's being presented with this information.

"Not really," Zach says, honestly, "But the consultant and investigation jobs are how we pay for the jobs I tend to get called in for. The odds are always good that if I get called in, there's not going to be a bill. Actually, we don't charge for that kind of work. But things need fixing and replacing, people need paychecks and medical bills covered, that kind of thing. So while we might not /need/ the money, it's getting to hard to /ignore/ as well."

He thinks for a moment. "But there are other firms in the country for that kind of thing," he says after a moment. "More... /locally staffed/ firms." There is an obvious meaning to this: the fact that people are willing to offer money to foreigners... to /gaijin/ for such things speaks to a certain level of anxiety.

He looks at Honoka, "This... this is something /new/. Then you add to that insanity going on with Mexico." Zach actually shudders at that, memories bubbling to the surface. "Something's going to break, and soon."

The juggler's slender hands remain cupped around the yo-yo. Her eyes narrow as she reads between the lines, settles the pieces into place. Private firms want help -- and they don't want either SouthSynd -or- Akatsuki to be involved in that. It speaks to a real and present fear in the parties unaffiliated with either side of the fence.

The yo-yo snaps out for one quick orbit -- nothing fancy, just enough to fulfill the need of having something move under her direct command. As the toy comes slapping back into her palm, she asks one simple question.

"Tell me why you think Mexico has something to do with the little turf war here, Zach."

Honoka has her own ideas, judging from the solemn look on her face. But she's not letting those peek out from the veil surrounding her mind.

Zach is silent for a moment. Then he grabs a chair of his own, and a slice of watermelon. He nibbles at it for a bit. Then another nibble. He's considering the question carefully, that much is certain.

"Just..." He says after a moment. He's not certain that there /is/ a connection, but there is something that won't let him say that these things are unconnected either. "Just a gut feeling," he finally says. "And not one that I'm able to ignore, either." He thinks for a moment, then seems to have an idea. "If Shadaloo hadn't been all but off the radar since Mortal Kombat... Maybe the people he had in place are too busy trying to carve up chunks of the organization for themselves, or something."

"There were memories of Vega operating like this. Making a plan look like something else entirely, using and disrupting existing power structures to further his plans," he says. "But... he's still dead, as far as I've heard."

The Twilight Star Circus juggler takes the hint -- and partakes of a few bites of fresh fruit, as well.

She remains pensive as Zach explains his rationale. She's still nibbling at her fruit when he finishes, and there will be a few more moments of that before she breaks the silence.

Her head tilts to the side, an inscrutable glint in her eye. "... Do you really think that if Sergei and Lita came back, that Vega would be left for dead?"

Zach's eyes swivel from the melon slice to meet Honoka's. The look there, that almost dead look of fear in them, gives Honoka all the answer she needs.

"And that's why I've been staying out of this," he says tiredly. He looks back to the watermelon in his hands. "Because I don't think I'm wrong about this."

Fear. Perhaps the most difficult of all emotions to hide.

Without breaking her gaze with Zach, Honoka shuttles the yo-yo out to the side. One, two, three lashes -- and then back to her palm.

"I think you're wrong about his forces divvying up their assets. I -don't- think you're wrong about Shadaloo surging back into the forefront. Because all of the shipping traffic is fitting that pattern."

And then Dahlia looks away, towards the ComBot.

"So yeah. There's gonna be a storm. And people are going to be picking sides."

The yo-yo snaps out again. And Honoka turns her eyes, but not her chin, towards Zach.

"You're not going to be able to stay out of it forever, Zach."

Zach closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. When he opens them, there is some of that fear there still, but there is also resolve there.

"Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks so, then," Zach says quietly. "If Chins McDictatorpants makes good on his threat, are your people going to be able to protect themselves?"

Honoka snaps the yo-yo out for a brief foray, before reaching over to snare another morsel of honeydew.

"Well, let me put it this way. If Southtown Syndicate wants to wipe us from existence, we're not gonna go down without a fight. But Shadaloo's on an entirely different level. If he wants us gone...?"

With a wry smirk, she collects both her hands together, and then rapidly splays them outward like an explosion. "Then it'll happen so fast we probably won't even feel it."

The yo-yo is allowed to roll out along the table. "We'll see, Zach. We've done all the preparing we can reasonably do right now. All that's left is actually riding out the storm. But I... "

She scratches her nose.

"I'd be careful about who you share your knowledge about Vega with. For your sake -- and mine."

Zach finishes up his slice of melon, and casually tosses the rind into a waiting trashcan without even looking. He licks his fingers clean as he stands up, before scratching at the scar over his left eye.

"I'm not sure who else I'd share it with, at this point," he admits. "It's..." He frowns, searching for the right way to put it. "The knowledge isn't as accessable these days, if that makes sense. Like I can't remember where I put down the book it was all in."

"Well... just be careful," repeats Honoka, turning her attention to the glass of water. She doesn't say anything for a while, letting the sound of her gulping serve as her input to the topic.

Which is to say, she's keeping any cards she might have on the matter close to her chest; her guarded state of mind isn't revealing any secrets.

She doesn't stay silent for long though. Her expression lightens, as she asks, "So what have you been up to, other than worrying about the storm on the horizon?"

"You know me," Zach says, a lopsided grin that is as much bluff as it is confidence to answer Honoka's warning. "Just a couple of fights," he finally says. "One against Sergei, the other against some kind of ninja psychic cyborg in the Neo League." He looks a little confused, as if he's STILL not sure what to make of Yoshimitsu.

"Mostly just... keeping myself as ready as I can be, really," he finally says. "You never really know where the first lightning bolt is going to strike."

Honoka's deadpan is enough sign to show her hesitation. "Yeah. /I know you./"

Of course, from the way she smirks afterwards, it's clearly meant in jest. ... At least part of it.

"Yeah, sounds like you're keepin' busy. Plenty of fights goin' on... but with Chaolan out on the streets, I guess the chances of seein' another King of Fighters this year are just about shot, huh?"

The juggler rests her yo-yo on the table for a moment, leaning against her seatback. One hand goes towards her thigh, absently rubbing her thigh. From the look and sound of it, there appears to be a cast lurking beneath those baggy sweatpants of hers. "Psychic ninja cyborgs sounds like -really- good practice. What was that guy's name anyway, Yoshimura or somethin'? He's been fightin' so much he's practically burning a hole in the league."

"Yoshimitsu," he corrects on reflex, "Of the Manji Clan of Ninjas," he says in an jokingly ostentatious tone of voice. "It'll be interesting to see how that plays out. Seemed like he was trying to burn a hole in /himself/ during the fight." Zach's eyes narrow in concern. "Didn't seem like a bad guy, though. Just a bit.... overzealous, I guess?"

"So how's the leg," Zach finally asks, "Really?"

"Sounds like a real charmer," deadpans Honoka with a hint of playfulness in her eyes. "He sounds like he might be pretty tough though. We'll have to keep an eye on him, I guess..."

She responds to the question with a smile at first -- a thin veneer for being taken a bit aback by the direct query. "... It's fine," she starts, her left foot rocking back and forth from the chair. "It hurts every now and then, sure... but... I don't have a lot of strength. If I don't boost my stride I get a serious case of zombie limp, but... it's better every week." There is a light 'thunk' as she flicks her finger against the cast, for demonstration. "At least I'm not stuck in..."

Her sentence trails off as her eyes fall upon the ComBot servant. For a moment, she squints at it, as if she can see herself reflected back in the automaton's glassy red lamps. Discomfort begins to set in -- an emotion that escapes beyond the veil of secrecy.

"... Not stuck in a hospital bed."

Pulling her eyes away for a moment, she glances at the assorted refreshments. Satisfied, she turns back to the automaton.

"Alfred, right? Can you fix me a strawberry daiquiri?"

There's no rum on the table. And preparing a daiquiri would mean going back into the house. Zach would be able to sense her palpable discomfort giving way to a series of words, distant at first, resolving into clear thoughts after a moment.

-- Zach... I... have something to show you. But I don't want that robot watching. --

As she watches Alfred expectantly, her thumb and forefinger knead at her cheek and chin. She seems to be lost in thought, musing about something or other. But finally, she 'speaks' to Zach's mind.

-- I've got good news and I've got bad news. Which do you want first? --

Zach glances back and forth between Honoka and the robot for a moment, a mix of confusion and curiousity clear in his expression. The decision is quickly made, though. "Make that two," he tells the robot, which promptly replies to the affirmative in a British accent before turning and walking away.

"I was going to scrub the memory of your visit from its logs," he says, still not sure where this is going. "I made it a point to have Takehiro show me how after he went picked Alfred apart." He frowns a bit. "Might as well start with the bad news," he decides. "Get the band-aid ripped off and all that."

An apt metaphor.

Honoka's gaze follows the robotic butler as it strides off, her lips pursing in consternation. It isn't until the robot is fully out of sight -- and she's out of -its- vision -- that she starts prodding at her cheek. Not just poking it, but really digging her fingernails into the flesh.

-- The bad news is... I haven't healed fully. This'll be a bit gross. Sorry. --

The flesh of her cheek stretches like taffy as she claws at it. Once she has a sufficient hold, she drags three of her fingers across her face, carving three caverns of dark crimson across her face.

It becomes obvious that the flesh is not real skin, but rather a kind of latex-like polymer with the consistency of flesh. As it is pulled free, it begins to sag -- dripping, but never becoming fully liquid at any point.

And the crimson is not fresh blood, but the fire-engine red skin Zach would have seen from his hospital room visit. Burned, charred flesh, corrugated with evidence of her battle with Duke Burkoff.

-- The good news is, you didn't seem to notice till now. --

She offers a faint smile, though it might be hard to see with the peeled latex-like flesh dangling from her fingers.

-- Any plastic surgery I undergo will interfere with my leg healing up, so for now, it's just this 'Golden Angel' crap that keeps me from looking like a human freakshow. It's great stuff, if you know how to use it, but... it dissolves with water, so that makes it a bit hard to do some things. --

Honoka pulls her right hand away, retrieving a pocket mirror with her left. And as she looks at the mirror, one thing would become clear to the white-haired psion standing before her -- she's thinking -really happy thoughts-.

The Golden Angel compound slowly begins to retract back into its former shape, as the well-known visage of Honoka Kawamoto.

-- ... ComBots have been compromised in the past. Clearing their memory is one thing, but they still provide live data feeds. --

Zach winces, not in revulsion but in sympathy pain as Honoka all but claws at what appears to be part of her face. He is actually reaching for Honoka's hand to stop her when his mind catches up with his reflexes. He just stares for a moment. Then there is a spike of rage and sadness, and a renewed desire to transform Duke's innards into outtards. Then he collects himself.

"In my defense," he murmurs, "I was just happy to see you at all." He takes another breath. He'd be lying if he said the display did not squick him out just a little. He *is* intrepid, but he's not completely unflappable, and that Golden Angel stuff is just /weird/. He seems to understand, however, what it cost her to show him this. He nods once.

-- Yeah, killed that functionality as soon as we found it. I mean, what good's scrubbing stored memory if data's still going out, right? --

Honoka realizes that talking -- even in this telepathic sense -- has its own peculiar side effects upon the Golden Angel formula. In that, as she broadcasts thoughts about ComBots, the shiny compound starts to become faceted and angular. But then she holds up a finger -- signalling pause -- and as she concentrates harder on her own self-image, the compound melts back into a proper approximation of her stage persona.

Only then does she try to smile, both as a means of testing the reconstructed lattice, and as an expression that the process worked to her satisfaction. And after another moment, pores start to form, causing the compound to lose its glossy sheen in favor of a more flesh-like appearance.

Honoka exhales the breath she was holding, shifting the mirror to make sure that her lower face -- the only portion burned in her exchange -- passes muster. And then, finally, she looks back to Zach.

-- Yeah, well. The thing is, the designs to the ComBot architecture were leaked. Or, I guess you could say, stolen. By the Syndicate. I don't want to take any unnecessary chances. --

She shrugs, afterward. And then raises a finger.

-- Also, I don't wanna freak you out even -more-, but... this information was provided to me by Lee Chaolan. Who is now working out of an Akatsuki office. So we do have an ally, now. --

Can a smile be as convincing when you know it's literally plastic? Let's find out!

Zach quirks an eyebrow, and tilts his head to one side in his 'thinking face' as he considers all of this. "Still, you'd think cutting off the client-side link would do the job," he finally says. "But I hear you," he says with a nod.

When Honoka drops the comment about Lee Chaolan, he frowns a bit. "Did I tell you I fought that guy once?" he asks, "I don't think he is nearly as mysterious and sneaky as he likes to think that he is. Just be careful with him, please?"

Honoka stows the mirror again, holding up both hands in an expression of surrender. "Hey, look, paranoia got me where I am in life. I can't afford to -not- be worried about crap like this."

With the work of resolving her facial integrity complete, the juggler reaches for her yo-yo again. For the moment, it stays nestled in her palm as she nods back in reply. "Yeah, I know you fought him for World Warrior. But the fact remains that he's got a lot of know-how, and a ton of connections. And more importantly, he's not signed on with Duke."

The yo-yo snaps out for one quick foray, before slapping back into her palm. "And I'd like to keep it that way."

She glances back, over her shoulder, as if expecting the robotic butler to make his way back. -- I'll be careful. He thinks the same way I do. And -that- is why I'm taking no chances with anything he's designed. --

This time it's Zach's turn to hold up his hands in surrender. "I'll bow to your judgement on this one," he says amicably. At this point, the ComBot does return with a pair of drinks on a tray. Zach glances at it by way of warning to Honoka that it's back.

He takes one of the drinks, and hands it to Honoka before taking the other for himself.

Honoka smiles cheerily back at the robo-butler. She reaches out eagerly for her daiquiri, swishing it around a bit in the glass. "Mmm, looks delicious..."

She takes a sip, savoring the flavor and nodding in approval. "Oh, hey, that's pretty good!" She raises the glass to the robot, smiling in approval. "You make a fine drink, Alfred."

She draws in a deep breath, pleased to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city. She rests against her seatback, with a slight twinge of discomfort as she adjusts her leg. And she shares a big, albeit somewhat goofy grin with Zach.

"Belatedly, I'm happy to see you too, Zach. Been... itching to spend some time together." One more sip of the daiquiri later brings a warm, rosy complexion to her cheeks.

"I gotta wonder though... how have you managed this long without me, hmm?"

Zach takes a sip of his own drink, smiling a bit. Then he glances at Honoka with a raised eyebrow, a slight smirk on his face as he gestures at the training dummy with his glass.

"That's... not my first training dummy," he says, somewhat sheepishly.

Log created on 17:16:33 06/17/2018 by Zach Glenn, and last modified on 12:44:19 07/01/2018.