The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 2 - Casual Conversations

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Description: In a cozy Hokkaido tea house, Illuminati agent Whitney Saulder has a meeting with the Scarlet Dahlia herself about an attack on an Akatsuki-gumi property. A curious Dahlia is suspicious about the agent's offer of help and a simple, peaceful discussion over tea is had by all.

Destruction at a warehouse. An attempt on a life. So many questions to ask, so many variables to look into. And in the depths of confusion and concern following the assassination attempt on the Dahlia's life a simple answer presented itself in the form of a letter slipped to one of the Akatsuki underlings remaining at the site of the attack.

'I believe it is time for us to talk. Join me for some tea in Hokkaido?' A not without a signature. But written on a page torn from a Bible. A copy of a passage left behind on the body of a certain no longer living member of the Diet. Little said outright, but the message should be clear. Threads left dangling for the criminal advisor to piece together of her own accord.

Follow up information is more clear. Tea, with a garden preferably. But the final choice in locale is left up to Honoka to decide. The writer of the note is more than willing to capitulate to such low securities as venue. Were he looking for a fight, perhaps the battlefield would be more important. However, Whitney Saulder intends to do a great deal more damage to his targets than lifting a finger of his own could possibly do.

And for Whitney Saulder to accomplish his task requires much more than conflict. It involves creating ties.

The member of the Illuminati is a sore thumb in the natural beauty of Hokkaido. Dressed like he came from a plane he just slept on, the tall, blonde American meanders in a semi-lost, semi-amused state of tired eyed curiosity. He looks at the small cup of tea he's ordered, and he looks around as if he simply must be finding the sugar and the cream and all the other things that make the drink palatable. Truth being, he cannot care less, but he plays up the traveling Yankee bumpkin out of a tired attempt to amuse himself with passive deceptions.

And 'searching for sugar' is always a fine reason to excuse looking around and gawking as a means of casing and securing a visual on his surroundings. The Dahlia was allowed to choose the stage setting, but Whitney wasn't about to keep blind to the situation.

Whitney's scans would likely find a small self-service station positioned off to the side, with napkin dispensers, straws and stirring sticks. Cream and sugar sweeteners are available, sealed with foil in disposable plastic cups. If he's interested in milk, or regular old sugar, he'd need to ask the nice lady who brings a serving tray to his table. As a nation, Japan prides itself on hospitality, and making special visits to save Westerners from their own ignorance tends to garner rave reviews on social media websites.

Even if the hospitality were crap though, it's a fair bet that tourism review sites would have captured the heart and soul of this place in some other fashion. As with many such teahouses spread throughout Japan, entering this location in Hakodate is like stepping back into time. The wooden decor looks as if it had been here for centuries, with regular maintenance ensuring that the locale retains its timeless allure. The teahouse itself is fairly small by modern standards, with seating for perhaps one or two dozen. The construction is undeniably Japanese, with walls meeting at perfect right angles and not a nail in sight, with the only anachronisms being the digital conveniences necessary to run a business in the modern day.

The teahouse is surrounded by a grove, filtering the harsh sunlight down into stenciled patterns on weathered stonework. A bamboo deer scare bobs off to the side, as water trickles into a small pond, surrounded by a dazzling array of peaceful flora. Even in midday, the grove provides an idyllic, relaxing shelter from the hot asphalt sprawling across Hakodate proper -- itself the southern travel terminus for the rural island of Hokkaido.

In contrast to many other facilities, this teahouse is wheelchair-accessible. Which is noteworthy as the well-dressed leader of the Akatsuki rolls up from the parking lot, rubber wheels rolling gently across the smoothed-down bumps in the stone path. Ruddy discoloration stains the lower third of her face, while a lock of raven-black hair is draped across the right side. Her lightly painted eyes scan purposefully across the teahouse's visitors -- for she, like Whitney, has an eye for detail. And yet, her sweep seems to completely miss Whitney on the first pass, whether by intention or by design.

She will not miss him a second time though, for the half-smile of recognition that spreads across her face is quite obvious. As are her slender fingers easing the joystick forward, attended by the whine of electric motors.

The wheelchair-bound Dahlia stops at a conversational distance from Whitney, as she looks up to the tall American. "Oh good, you found the place alright. Without street names to speak of, directions can be so notoriously circumspect in this country, I'm afraid." Hands fold in a relaxed state upon her lap.

It wouldn't be hard to see that there are three other gentlemen behind the woman at a conspicuous but comfortable distance; these men are dressed in red shirts and black suits, and are also very good at pretending to not have anything to do with the wheelchair-bound crimelord. They lack any kind of headset or earpieces, and yet, their distinctly Western-style clothing sets them apart from the five less-formally attired patrons of the teahouse, and from the kimono-clad attendants.

"I had hoped to meet you again, but surely under better conditions than this," she admits. "How's the tea?"

Quaint, small, something to click an arbitrary number amount to denote positive in a service designed not to serve to inform a consumer but to pad their ego to the harsh reality of the meaninglessness of their opinions. Whitney already has a concocted and canned response to the style of the tea shop. To their helpfulness toward Westerners. To their efforts to give him traditional flavors of the exotic, but not so much to turn off tourists.

So many lies in so many directions it even turns Whitney to faint amusement at how absurd he finds everything about the location.

Much in the same way that guards and servants amuse him. As does the show of not noticing him as he sits and fidgets among kimono clad and grouped tourists. His own fingers fiddling at the rim of his teacup.

But his demeanor changes when the Dahlia arrives to speak to him. Extraneous movement ceases, his hands pinch the sides of his tea cup, and takes a long and slow sniff of the scents of the tea.

"The fires of conflict galvanize those that can handle it, and reduce to ash those that cannot," he says, "Despite appearances, there is a thrill to the state of the world and the state of things that benefits us. And the need for conflict proves my opinions on humanity as an animal. I don't find the conditions too discomforting."

He sips the tea. And he shrugs. "Leaves in water, surrounded by pomp and circumstance. It is what it is and no more or no less. It doesn't offend."

Scarlet Dahlia can read most people like a book -- and not even a megalith like War and Peace, but a comic book, or dimestore novel. To a psychic like her, their hopes and dreams are perfectly transparent. It's no wonder that souls kindred to hers would use such knowledge to lead men and women astray. But Whitney, though, keeps his aspirations concealed within labyrinthine passages, cloaked behind false tells and guarded by inscurtable word choice. Not unlike a Bible itself, to the Ainu heathen.

Wordlessly, a server removes a chair to accomodate the woman's wheelchair. Her mouth moves, but while she keeps her eyes on Whitney, no words will be voiced. The server seems to hear the silent order just fine, and trots off.

He seems like a completely different man, now, as he turns to speak. "High praise, indeed..." she comments with a wry smile, at the comment. "I find the ambience to be much more relaxing than the tea itself, of course. Quiet, out of the way -- with fewer ears."

Dahlia leans back in her chair with relaxed ease. "You claim to find the animal charms of humanity so distasteful, and yet you dance so well with the constructs of chaos. Is there anything that -does- make you happy, my friend?"

Before long, the server from before returns with a cup of cold oolong tea; a antidote for the balmy temperatures. She bows her head in thanks to the server, before raising the cup to her lips.

"You managed to send your message just as I was looking for the means to contact you. And yes, I agree... there -is- much to talk about. I've found a number of stray threads. And I need to find the means to weave them all together. Can you help me, friend?"

Concealed. Inscrutable. Certainly words that can describe Whitney Saulder. But the reality of the man is an utter void. A dense, endless, inky blackness that roils where aspirations should be. Where ideals should be. Where some form of feeling should be. There are many people like Whitney Saulder in the world, but not nearly as many have taken Whitney's approach to their shared condition.

He sips the tea while the woman is adjusted and fit. It's a filler motion. He doesn't much care for it but he doesn't dislike it enough to stop. He keeps his opinions on ears quiet. He mostly doesn't care about people listening, though his preference is either far away from anyone, or hidden in the noise of the crowd.

Whitney finds the animal drives of humanity, searches for power and pleasure and satiety, to be understandable. His frustrations lay in so many other aspects around them. But he isn't going to delve into discourse. As the phrasing of some church's go, milk before meat. But Whitney Saulder considers the truth a powerful tool. And so he gives the truth to the psychic. Unbridled and direct. A leaden weight of who Whitney Saulder is.


He is quiet a long moment, watching and waiting for the tea. He doesn't fidget, or play with his lapel or cuff. His tired, dull eyes simply watch Honoka. "I can help many people," he admits, turning his hands up toward Honoka, "If they just allow me to."


Dahlia arches an eyebrow. There's a certain class of people who pride themselves on rejecting the principled notions of 'authority' in any of its manifold forms. And that response would certainly fit within their worldview. But to hear it from a man who she's already spoken at some length with...?

"You certainly are a conundrum to me," she admits. "But I needn't understand your motivations, in order to accept your help."

She pauses to sip at her tea, and pauses again to clear her throat. When she speaks again, her tone is plain, unadorned with the verbal niceties that accompany someone of a higher echelon of society. "But I'm sure you've been wondering when I'd ditch the high-and-mighty act, so let's just move on. You want to help me, then? What're you offering -- and what's it gonna cost me?"

That Whitney Saulder's deficiency of emotion is seen as some as enlightened angst by poets and dreamers is not something lost on the killer. There are many that would find his answer insightful, meaningful or considered. Just as many may find it a shallow attempt at depth and mystique. For Whitney it is simple truth. He does not feel joy in the way other humans do. But he acknowledges the subtle raise of a brow from the Dhalia.

"It's funny you should say that," Whitney tells Honoka with a pointing pair of fingers around his teacup. "Because knowing what fire drives you is exactly what I need to help you."

The cup goes down. "And we all must play the roles we need to satisfy the story," he tells Honoka. "Affectations aren't in only one direction. Do as you need, don't go out of your way to lie for me."

"However, I must be selfish first. The pair of infiltrators in Utsonomiya." Pause for effect. Smile coldly. "How would you rate them? Scales are acceptable with appropriate gauging."

Dahlia draws in her breath at the suggestion that she should spill her deepest, darkest motivations -- perhaps the first sign of reluctance in an otherwise open-bounded conversation. But she'd known that the course of conversation would likely veer towards honesty sooner rather than later, considering her last meeting with the American.

She looks down at her laced-together fingertips, reminding herself that she's already run through the list of possibilities for this conversation.

And yet, Whitney's 'selfish' question causes her gaze to lift upwards. And even manages to draw a relieved smile.

"Those two, hmm?" Dahlia's elbows press into their armrests as she lifts her back away from the seat. "The Triad is hopelessly lost in his own ego. He's... good at fighting, and his cover story was credible, but he bends under pressure. Top marks for the shapeshifter though. She -almost- fooled me."

Not far away, a pair of patrons are discussing some sort of new pop phenomenon; notable, because they keep rising in volume by the moment. Dahlia casts her eyes towards them in an almost lazy roll -- and nearly instantly, one of the pair begins to cough, violently.

Her forelock sways as she turns back towards Whitney. "... They're good. Decent fighters, both assets to their organization -- the guy's a seven of ten, girl's a six . But they were slow. Sloppy."

Dahlia's eyes narrow again, as she raises a hand to brush her forelock away from her face. "I question their motives almost as much as their employer's." She inclines her head -- not ignoring the implication of a 'selfish' request when she doesn't yet know the identity of Whitney's elusive employer. "If their objective was to cripple me... let's just say the warehouse was a calculated risk. All hands escaped with their lives, so... I'll give them a four on mission completion."

Letting the thought hang in the air for a moment, her hand idly brushes across the scarred flesh of her chin.

"... As for what -drives- me...?" Disgust slowly begins to creep across her face. "I'm -sickened- by the state of this country. Stuffed suits, furthering their own diseased agenda to ensure that the Japanese patriarchy never has to come face-to-face with its own shadows." Her hands rest on the edges of her armrests, fingers curling around. "They silence women and they castrate those unlike themselves... but it doesn't stop there. Systematic hatred -- like cornered beasts, fighting for scraps, just dressed up in fine suits and shallow lies."

She closes her eyes for a moment, drawing in her breath. Releasing, a moment later, she continues in a calmer breath. "The Syndicate empowers them to live in the past. Enables them to ignore the future. The world deserves better than that."

Dahlia's eyes open, turning expectantly towards Whitney. "There is no growth in a still pond -- only stagnation and decay."

Willingness to be open about needs. Willingness to be truthful to ideals. Or, at the very least, being honest about the primal drives that need sating. Such things are necessary for Whitney to truly assist someone with ways and means beyond simple brute-minded murder. That such things also play toward Whitney's ultimate interest in understanding the curious drives and lies the rest of humanity tells itself is simply mutually assured exploitation.

But the Dahlia's pause is short lived, she is forthcoming in describing her opinions on her attackers. And doing so with the kind of acceptance and judgment of talent that can come from only being tangentially involved with the physicality of the conflict. The whole time, Whitney nods, and plays with the rim of his tea cup.

"Thank you," Whitney tells the Dahlia with a simple nod. "Your opinioned holds more value than most. As for their objective, well, I find that any plan that is reliant on singular outcomes to come to fruition is a plan not worth undertaking. And any objective that exists to only serve a single purpose is limited in its utility."

But then comes forth a deluge. A run of information and emotion. Forthcoming in a way that Whitney reads as completely and totally insincere when it pours out from Dahlia and toward him. But he listens. Whitney Saulder has always been a terribly attentive listener. He leans closer to her, to show her he listens. His eyes focus, cold and blue and bright as arctic ice.

"An idealist," he says, fingertips run over his tea cup. "In word, and partially in deed. It aligns with your actions. The lack of concern, the particular choices in dead politicians. Political philosophy like yours fits well with the empty spaces of the puzzle. But there's something unsatisfying."

He leans back, takes up the tea cup and considers it. The cup is put down. "You are familiar with Kintsugi," he says, pinching either side of a fragile cup in a showing of Whitney's large, strong hands set against the fragile porcelain. He expects the woman to hold familiarity with the art form and the philosophy. He is treating her with what he considers respect in his pontification. "It makes claims to show the scars of reality as something to consider beautiful. To consider unique. But I have questions. They wish to show the scars of breaking, the results of shattering, and yet they do so by piecing it back together so that it can continue to serve it's original purpose. What then, is the point? It was shattered, that is the effect of time and force. Returning it to one piece again is denying that change. It isn't showing that scars and breaking happens. It shows that with enough gold, you may pretend it never was broken in the first place and call it pretty."

His knuckles whiten as he grips the frail cup. But he doesn't quite break it. "Criminal enterprises are very much like tea cups in that regard."

Dahlia knows that Whitney is very different from most of her other business associates. He doesn't operate on the same wavelengths. Her attempts at diplomacy have been seen through, and ultimately discarded. And while he seems to take her frank analysis of 'Setsuna' and 'Lo Wang' at face value, his response illustrates a judgment contrary to the Akatsuki leader's assessment -- a polite one, but a contrasting view all the same.

Scarlet Dahlia has sunk tendrils of corruptive influence into the very heart of Japan. Her sphere of influence spans across northeastern Japan, albeit with considerably weaker defenses than before. And Whitney's challenges -- however objectively and softly voiced -- seem to be intended to position him as an equal to her. The word 'idealist' is the key offender -- the term that has so often come up in an attempt to belittle Dahlia's sweeping vision for Japan, and the new world order that would follow thereafter. By itself, the word holds no particular connotation. But as a chorus that has found itself mentioned in so many similar conversations...

That -- and the vague suspicion of doubt from Whitney, is enough to rattle the calm from her. Enough to grind molars against one another. Enough to cause her to look down, to withdraw a slender pen from a pocket on her wheelchair. And enough to cause her to spin said pen around her index finger as she listens to the description of the art of kintsugi -- one she knows well.

She listens, her eyes focused on Whitney's white-knuckled grasp around the cup. Amber-flecked irises look up, meeting the American's once more.

"It sure is tough to appreciate the art of kintsugi in a time of plenty, ain't it? When resources are plentiful, and you can always just make another cup for pennies..."

Dahlia shakes her head to answer her own question. The tension in her expression begins to ebb away. "No... only gods and fools dare to shape a world in mere days. Kintsugi is about making the most of what you have, rather than recreating it whole-cloth. I may... -differ- in the opinions from the Wajin Japanese, but that's not to say I have no respect for the elements of society that work for me. It took millennia for humanity to master the collective knowledge needed to provide running water and indoor plumbing."

She lifts her own cup from the table, sipping her oolong-cha to demonstrate. With a moment to savor the taste, she raises the cup. "Just in the past year I've spoken with three self-proclaimed gods interested in starting from scratch. What's a fourth, really? Until one of them gets off their ass and starts something... ah, how's that verse go? 'The meek shall inherit the earth,' or something?"

Whitney Saulder has no controlling base. He has no heavy stake in the games of politicians. He holds few cards other than what he may manage at any given time. He has violence, money, and the subtle power of no ties and a flexible mind when it comes to goals and aims. In way, he sees himself as equals to most, simply because he doesn't measure by the metrics of most of humanity.

And at the end of days, they will all be dead.

He has no reason to doubt Dahlia's assessment, and he will make it clear that it was her assessment. If she wishes to back down from it later on, then she can have accomplished lying for little gain and little purpose but pettiness. And should she, Whitney will not care either way.

He watches, he sees she's rattled. His lips twitch to a half frown. He places the teacup down and opens his hands, palms up, resting on the table.

"Who has harmed you?" he asks quietly, shaking his head. "I only ask because I see, no, saw, something so bright, so forward from someone in such an unsuspecting place and now they cleave so tightly to the forces they clearly cannot stomach."

His hands fold in front of him, and he smiles a smile that never reaches his eyes. Dahlia has, in her defense of self, revealed more information than she may have wanted. "Is the existance of indoor plumbing really so conflated with the ill treatment of your people?" he doesn't know which of many ethnic groups are 'her people', so he stays vague, but the mere mention of Japan as something other than mono-ethnic is enough to ring bells.

"And I'm not terribly sorry, but what does your experience with false prophets have to do with society at large? I'm a terrible fool for not making the connection."

The Ainu have been long written off by the Japanese people as backwards, Aboriginal people. Many in Japan wouldn't be terribly upset if the rapidly-vanishing society were to be wiped from the Earth, and consigned to the dustbin of history. Dahlia has, under all of her multitude of personas, worked to restore the image of the Ainu as a proud and noble people, worthy of recognition and mutual respect.

And she is less than surprised that a white American with blonde hair is questioning the veracity of her claims. In contrast to his earlier statement, the shift in his demeanor barely scratches her expression.

"Harm is a funny thing to quantify, isn't it? The Wajin, in their infinite wisdom, brought the Ainu the gift of their culture while simultaneously grinding their own ways of life into the ground. Is that -harm-, to force Ainu to battle the northern climate of Hokkaido to grow rice, while the Wajin plunder the rivers and forests? Why -- it's nothing but enlightenment! First it was indoor plumbing, then electricity, and before anyone could know it: unholy matrimony between flesh and steel."

Dispassionate and dry. Dahlia has delivered these words before, or some variation thereof. She's tired of saying it, to be honest -- and yet, to continue playing the broken record is to do a grand disservice to the notion of conversation, to the wonderful opportunity to speak with someone such as Whitney.

A sigh.
A sip from a teacup.
And then...
She smiles.

"I must sound like a lunatic, hmm? But it's just the way of life. The way I see this world, everything is connected. For the Japanese have their way of life. The Ainu -- however many are left -- have theirs. Wars have been carried out. Not even the Gods can stop humanity from bickering, from wiping themselves out over ideology. The Ainu stand on the precipice of extinction, like countless cultures throughout history. I seek to unite culture -- to reach enlightenment together. To advance civilization to the point where differences of opinion are respected, rather than instigations for war.

Dahlia allows the smile to fade away, as she shrugs her shoulders. "'Who hurt me,' you asked. Why, it was these self-proclaimed Gods who hurt me. Those who question my worldview, and seek to stand in my path. It irritates me -- and I apologize for letting that -show-. But, even without their approval -- or yours -- I -believe- in the change that I seek to bring about."

When the world is ash, all people and ethnic groups are little more than dust. However, Whitney Saulder is accutely aware of the way people treat things he may not see as concerning. He can assign values, he can note tit-for-tat and the direct and clear cycles of oppression and control. He may not feel emotive about things, but he knows others do, and he is a man capable of quantifying a great deal of things.

"If it were hard to put numbers to harm, the legal systems of the world would have long ago folded," Whitney says with a flat dispassion. "Your tone and your actions seem at odds. Again, you revel in the very things you claim to find distaste in," his choice to use the Dahlia's own words against him have purpose. One which he clarifies with a simple, "That is the way of all idealists."

He opens his hands, returns to holding the cup, swirling it with turns of his wrist. "I am a curious man," he says, speaking toward the cup. "Don't think that I ask you to challenge you. I suppose I do, but not for little rhetorical victories over tea. I want to understand. And when I find things that aren't to my expectations, I look to understand them."

His eyes, but not the rest of his posture, twist to look toward the Dahlia. "In what ways are you not just another assimilated Ainu paying lip service to a movement? To cloak yourself in institutions like the Yakuza. For all your power, your connections, your insights, it all goes to powering Wajin men. And I find that contradictory to your state desires. What changes have you brought that are not strengthening the power of the men who hold your leash?"

Dahlia listens carefully; as Whitney looks down at his teacup, so too does she look down at her own. Her glance would rise a moment after his -- a poignant look spreading across her features as she turns over his phrases in her mind.

Whitney challenged her. And then he not only acknowledged the challenge -- but stated the purpose for same, reframing the issue for the Akatsuki leader. For all of her machinations, all of her political connections, all of her complex webs of control... the leader is still capricious at heart, ruled by her emotions.

And Whitney is not.

His mind might be largely opaque to her, but his words, and his -message- are clear. The challenge is dispassionate, a vehicle for sharing insight.

Dahlia swirls the tea about in its cup, bubbles orbiting about the center. Her lips part, and a breath is drawn in.

"Your assumptions are based on sound principles, friend. But you are overlooking a piece of the puzzle -- that the root of the Akatsuki grows from discontent, from dissatisfaction with the Wajin hate machine."

Dahlia sates her dry mouth with a sip of tea before continuing. "I apologize for the history lesson, but I will keep it brief. Japan's caste system has led a portion of society to be 'marked' as unsavory, unspeakable. The Yakuza, as a whole, was formed out of a sense of camaraderie, to allow these marginalized groups to join together, to win back influence against the higher castes. Now, the caste system has largely dissolved, but still the Yakuza membership consists of those who've been left out of society's advances. Those with less 'pure' blood -- the rough Ryukyuans from Okinawa and Kyushu, the Ainu from Hokkaido... and the Zainichi Koreans, largely cast off as bastard offsprings from the War."

The pen spins about her fingers as she continues -- a mild affectation, an aid to her thought processes. "Tensions... rose. And before long, the Yamaguchi-gumi had a crisis of identity."

Dahlia pauses, her cheeks staining with a mild tone of pink. And she allows herself a moment to smile.
"So, with a little elbow to the ribs... they split. The old nationalists stood alongside Duke Burkoff's side. The young, eager to change the world? They joined me."

The pen flips about, dancing about between her fingers as if it had a mind all its own. "So no. I don't empower those who follow the Wajin script. I empower allies -- those who fight for the ideals we should all believe in. The power the Wajin hold is illusive, predicated on a false and outdated understanding of how the world operates. You ask what changes I have brought -- I have cut apart the festering tissue, allowing the organism to prosper once more."

Dahlia sets the pen down, reaching once more for her teacup, as her eyes examine Whitney for his response. "Tell me, though. Who do you believe is holding my leash?"

Motions meant to draw time. To fill a gap. To keep from speaking too quickly and most of all, time to allow a conversation partner to fill in the empty spaces in the air when they have so much to say.

It's far, far easier for Whitney Saulder to learn of a person's situation by seeing all they say in the heat of a silence. His challenge isn't raging, it isn't disconnected, it's simply dispassionate and concerned. Two things, Whitney has found, that does make it easier to talk with certain types of people.

He places the cup down, he draws around the rim as he takes in a history lesson. "But you haven't," he states after everything, the total of Dahlia's tale. He states, flatly, directly, "You have not."

He turns his eyes toward Dahlia, sad, bagged and tired eyes, and cold ones. "In what possible way is a group of people society deems unsavory and cruel and wicked acting in manners that society also deems unsavory and cruel and wicked is any sort of subversion? If anything, you have reenforced their script. Profited, certainly, but the Wajin never said anything about your people being unprofitable."

His head shakes, short and quick. His hands work over his own knuckles. "I understand that it's easy for most people to see truth in a negative light. It's unpleasant. But it is freeing in its own way. I am a murderer. I have and will continue to murder. There are people in my profession that will couch it in terms and definitions to distance the bloody reality of our work."

"Your work, your ambition, is the same. You can profit. You can succeed. You can do very, very well by being everything you can be in the society laid out by the Wajin, but you aren't tearing it down. There is no shame in taking advantage of a situation."

"As to your leash. Look at the world. Look at the power that you propogate. Look at who benefits as you do. Then you will have an inkling."

Dahlia listens. And in many ways -- she is learning from Whitney. She understands that his questions are meant to provoke thought, and that in doing so, they could uncover hidden secrets. The Ainu-Japanese woman makes a silent resolution to allow the former -- and to prevent the latter.

And the best way of doing so is to remain just as cold and dispassionate as he. Slender, alabaster hands rest upon the table, one folded over the other as Whitney calmly picks apart her breathless history lesson. He places her thoughts into a context... And she realizes, it is not the context in which she -understands- them.

"I'm no saint myself, friend." Her voice is calm and level, her amber eyes half-lidded. "It's not -profit- that drives me, it's the urge and desire to see my people in a better place. The world deserves to know more about the people that saved them from a more dramatic upheaval."

Dahlia's lips purse for a moment, as she looks down at the table. The suggestion that she empowers those -other- than her chosen few is... troubling enough that she spends a moment turning it over in her mind.

"Others may benefit from my plan. I'm not denying that."

She looks up, once again. Her features harden with resolve. "If anything, my leash is to my people, and their history. History has shown me that outright revolution does not work well for us -- so I am aiming for more of an -evolution-. A transformation over decades, rather than a simple thrust of a knife."

Dahlia purses her lips for one contemplative moment. And then, with a lift of her eyebrow, she notes, "I don't shy away from the truth, friend. Its color changes when viewed in different lights, but it's there, all the same. I hope that -my- truth, -my- beliefs, are more clear to you now."

Her eyebrows lower. "Because I'm rather upset at those who would attempt to outdo me at my own strategy. And I'd like to refrain from losing my patience."

Whitney Saulder listens and watches. He's seen her changing demeanor over the course of their conversation. If she has conceded to acting like he does, he has affected change. If she has genuinely seen things in a different light, he has affected change. Both are desireable. Both lead to positive outcomes. Because Whitney does not enter situations where there are not multiple potential positives to outweight potential negatives.

He smiles, if just slightly, fingertips tenting while Dahlia admits the obvious before once more sliding into what he sees as protective and swaddling lies. But he hopes, he sincerely hopes, that he is mistaken. And it's his intent to see his mistakes bear fruit.

"Perspectives are important," Whitney says, though it is in some respects more to remind himself about other people's feelings than his own judgements. "As I have said. I can only help you if I understand your drives and motivations. If you wish for the profit and power as is the standard for the organizations you belong to, I can do so. But if you wish the dreams you explain to me to come to pass, then my ways and means of helping change drastically."

A hand extends, palm up once more, toward Dahlia. "You've accomplished a great deal through your own ambitions and power, that much is clear. But your fight has been terribly long and in service to those that simply grow their own power. There are other ways."

Dahlia's amber-flecked gaze focuses intently upon Whitney's face. Expressions can be faked -- the Akatsuki manipulator knows enough to keep from putting too much stock into them. But expressions are also key to understanding the subtle nuances of conversation -- the punctuation that gives flavor and character to words that might otherwise be as dry as dictionary entries. The face of a speaker carries as much inflection as the tone of his voice -- all the more crucial for someone who condenses volumes of information into so few words.

Her eyes cast down to the extended hand. A clear and obvious signal, and one that she is happy to play along with while she digests the man's shared thoughts. Her eyes lift back to Whitney with fascination. Her lips purse in thought.

"Profit and power -- I've had these. They're temporary, and they're lost as quickly as gained. I've always been more interested in -your- perspective, and what -you- can suggest. These 'other ways' -- that's as good a start as any, hmm?"

Direct. Excellent. Whitney is a curious sort of person. He wonders things, and he talks, and he watches, and in that he has found many claiming to be kindred spirits. Many seem to wish for truth, but they then rankle and deny as much as any other person that slathers than animal desires with idyllic concepts.

He interlaces his fingers, sets them on the table. He looks distantly at Dahlia and without focus. "I don't know the situation in its entirety," he admits. "I am not one of those people claiming some sort of godhead. I'm of the earth and clay as anyone." He opens his fingers, closes a fist, and holds his hand over the other in a semi prayer posture. "But there is one thing I can tell you."

His eyes focus sharply. "You have to understand just how far you are willing to go for your ideals. Not in who or what you will destroy, but what of yours are you willing to sacrifice."

He looks around at the tea house. He nods in thought.

"Have you considered dying?"

Dahlia likes pretty words as much as the next person, sure. But the fact remains that the Ainu manipulator has missed out on some rather crucial lessons from the Japanese public education system, and not everything really meshes in her head. She's good at pretending to be educated... until she isn't. And in many such cases, the blunt force of a psychic intrusion can salvage the situation.

As that probably won't work with Whitney, directness is a viable tactic. The Dahlia's Ainu heritage is an open secret, passed along via anyone who witnessed the tusukur's accession to Champion of Mortal Kombat. There is no real reason to hide that, any more. And it's clear that -someone- has figured out her plan regarding the shifting allegiances of Diet members. It would take several incredible leaps of logic to incriminate the Dahlia, even with her barefaced admissions -- and she knows it.

So no. The liar lacks motivation to lie at the moment. Has she considered dying?

"Yes. Every day."

She flashes a bittersweet smile.

"My life is not essential, neither to Akatsuki operations, nor to the advancement of Ainu culture. Everyone involved has their marching orders, and the plan will continue unabated -- and in time, they will likely forget that there ever -was- anyone like me calling the shots."

Her eyes narrow, amber shards in her irises glistening in the light. "... Surely, the murderer in you isn't the one asking the question...?" Seemingly unarmed and wheelchair-bound, she might seem like an easy target. Perhaps she is, but especially where the Dahlia is concerned, looks can be deceiving.

A greedy bumpkin with power and ideals is not so dissimilar from a greedy intellectual with power and ideals. Whitney is nothing if not equal in his leveled disdain for humanity, himself included.

Whitney nods. He accepts the words at face value. He has no reason not to. He can convince, he can learn, he already considers the day a positive in that he had the chance for a conversation that hasn't bored him.

"I'm not looking for a fight. I don't see a point in it," Whitney says. "To go through all this trouble, all of this effort and scheduling, to fight is less than efficient." He flicks the edge of the tea cup. "So no, the murderer in me, which is me, is not interested."

He looks up from the wobbling cup to look at Dahlia. "What I am saying is perhaps it is time to consider letting your creations fend for themselves. If you must die for that, I can arrange what could be a better vantage point."

Dahlia's paranoia is strong enough to insist treat any meeting, no matter how trivial or innocuous, as a potential threat. Even when throwaway jokes about her security are crafted with a sliver of truth. Though, it would seem that she lightens up considerably as Whitney explains away the need to actually follow through with murder. It may not be enough to keep the fear at bay forever, but it's enough to garner a faint smirk.

The following statement, though... In all actuality, it takes her a few moments to process. She sits up straight in her chair, cradling the teacup in her hands for a good few moments. Amber-flecked eyes greet her, in the reflection of the dark-tinted fluid.

"... Right -now?- The cadence is all wrong."

She raises an eyebrow, squinting at Whitney.

"I'm not following your rationale. My death -- even a staged one -- might grant him the victory he wants, sure. The Akatsuki's losses would be crippling. But the loss of morale would make recovery impossible."

She hesitates for a moment, shoulders shrugging. "Help me out. You're seeing something I'm not...?"

Whitney nods along. Listening, taking in and judging the way the Dahlia comports herself. The mix of lies told to self and to him. The uncertainties and doubts. The troubles inside of this girl's mind as she plumbs terrible depths. A survivor in a monstrous existence.

If Whitney Saulder could feel pity, he would feel it for her.

"I thought you said you weren't essential," he comments, curiosity touching his tone as he returns to his forward posture and laced fingers. "But it appears that you consider yourself a keystone after all."

A distant smile, a shake of his head. "What I see is someone capable of a lot of things. Someone interesting. Someone with a curious complexity."

He looks down at his hands. They unfold and he closes and opens his grip as he considers. "I was in Europe, tending to some laundry, when I met a girl. She was fascinating. At one level a bleating, vapid sheep. Something simple and sweet but of little matter. Yet in the moment, she revealed a wolf inside. Calculated, a weapon. No thought but the moment of the kill. And yet, neither was a lie. Each one was true to her."

He looks toward Honoka. "I have told myself that at some point I will see the last light of her eyes and in that moment I will learn which is real and which is a lie." He leans back, hands flat on the table. "You don't inspire me in the same regard."

He scratches his nose and looks distantly at the plants in the tea house, both foliage and human kinds. "I know faces, because I look through the fabric my own eye weaves, and behold the reality beneath," he says, voice quiet, steady. Still he looks away from Dahlia.

"Your fighting is pointless. Servicing nothing, accomplishing nothing, will gain nothing. What as yet comes you most likely know, but you ignore because of the strings you've wound around yourself. I don't care if you listen, I don't care what you do. You will act as you will act. But if you continue to play Monopoly with syndicates, then you will find that, in the end, you were not even playing the real game at hand."

Dahlia stares at Whitney. At first, she's uncomprehending, lost in the mired depths of her thoughts. But then she realizes the continuity of his questioning -- and realizes the trap she'd inadvertently walked right into.

And she narrows her eyes in response, lowering her eyebrows to match. It's that look that remains on her face, as Whitney continues to regale her with compliments she can only now interpret as backhanded ones. It's a good time, really, for her to take a sip of her tea. And listen.

She doesn't have to take this. She should shut this conversation down immediately. Tell Whitney to take his crap and leave. This is pointless. And who's to say he isn't the one who -directed- 'Setsuna' and 'Lo Wang' to blow up her recently-vacated buildings, to off the figures she'd spent so many resources installing into power?

She clasps both hands around her teacup, holding it close to her as she settles back in her chair. Eyes close, as she practically -seethes- in anger. No sense in hiding herself -- for in many ways, the Dahlia may just be an eggshell around a shallow, bitter little girl.

"Tch. You're really annoying sometimes. -Dammit- you piss me off." Her nostrils flare, as her eyelids fly open once more. Amber-flecked irises fixate on the man before her. "... But you're not wrong. Not entirely."

The teacup is set back onto the table.

"This -is- the crucible for my men. This -is- the time for them to stand up and fight -- and most of all -think- -- for themselves, because I -cannot- be everywhere at once. I have to trust in my lieutenants. And I do."

Scarlet Dahlia draws in another breath -- forcing calm over herself. For anger is not the look she wants to continue with.

"So far, you've... honestly suggested that I kill myself." She can't help but smirk, to that. "When the only real impediment to my plan is three individuals. Two of which occupy the same level of curiosity as your lost sheep. And the third is a goddamn psychic named White. From my side of the table, if anyone needs to die, it's going to be those three."

Treacle for a child, is Whitney's consideration on the subject of his approach toward Honoka. It was a fiery interest for a time, but his interest is not one to be held for a great deal of time without a deeply pulling mystery.

He felt himself sat across from a powerful person, but not one of great interest. A warlord as boilerplate as any other. Needing reassurances and the cloying wrap of an oppression narrative more fitting for far more people than herself. He manages to only give a small look when she starts talking again, already drifting back to people watching. "That is mostly the case," he admits. Her assessment isn't wrong.

"I'm afraid I wasn't very clear," he tells her, drawing the words out slowly, tired. He rubs his fingertips together, reaches into his blazer and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. Not to actually smoke, but to hold one in his lips as he talks. "That is something I will have to accept."

Whitney finally looks toward Dahlia. "I can leave you feeling well, if you'd like. You win. You have been clever. Played well this game. You know exactly who your enemies are and what to do." A single clap of his hands, but a solemn expression on him.

With an exhausted sigh, he takes the cigarette from his lips and hangs it behind his ear. "If you don't want that, I can be direct once more. But I should be leaving, there are things I want to do."

The performer is losing her audience. She's got no thirty-speaker sound system to use as a crutch, no flashy lights, no castmates to lean upon. Just her... and this self-important stranger casually checking out of the conversation.

The calm confidence has disappeared. And the teahouse seems to be responding in kind. Patrons grow frustrated, looking at one another in confusion. And as Whitney continues to deliver his blistering assessments, the patrons decide it's as good a time as any to settle their business, and make their individual ways out of the teahouse. And the staff, similarly confused, make their way into the kitchen.

The teahouse is vacant, save for the woman in the wheelchair and the object of her frustration.

"Oh... good. -There's- the attitude again." One hand sweeps up, raking through her raven forelock. "Condescension gets you a whiny and bitchy Dahlia, friend." She closes her eyes, seething with frustration... and then snaps a finger up. "... Just hear me out for a moment while I burn this off."

Another breath. And then she holds up both hands, flat and 40 cm apart. Amber-flecked eyes open once more. "I. Am under. A lot. Of fuckin' stress right now. I look one way and the batshit crazy gun queen sets up a fuckin' casino right off Southtown's beach. I look another way, and my accountant blows his brains out to keep my secrets safe." Her head tilts one way and then another for demonstration, but her eyes never leave Whitney. "And people that got nothin' to do with Limpdick Burkoff are just... *poof* disappearing. So yeah. You tearing holes in me 'cause I'm not of a mind to chase your little laser pointer around is really not helpin' me stay on topic."

Those two hands press together, and her eyes close once again. The calm... returns.

"I told you my goals. I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm driven by beliefs and hope. I bring my idealism to a country where suicide is a 'reasonable' alternative to following the well-worn paths -- not to get off on the power trip, but to make a difference. That's who I am, warts an' all."

One hand splays out to the side. "I'm listening to everything you say. And your advice is still on the table for when people -are- blowing sunshine in my face. I know you've got a schedule packed full of people who bore you to tears, but..."

Fingers steeple in front of her, upon the table.

"Let's not waste this opportunity any further. I'm listening."

The customers disperse. The protectorate disperses. The operatives and agents and simply the tourists disperse. And in that, Whitney nods with each one that vanishes from the scene. Players in a production that no longer needs him.

And Whitney is left with the star and the director, herself. He knows of danger, he just doesn't feel fear. But the Dahlia's words get Whitney's focus and consideration.

"I need to know what drives you, to determine how I can help you," Whitney repeats himself from earlier. "As the saying goes, talk is cheap. Your talk of dreams and idealism needed more when arrayed against the material and social gain your life gives you. Mankind is prone to cloaking animalistic desires in idyllic lies and pretensions."

He reaches into his blazer and pulls out an American dollar bill. He folds it and puts it on the table, hand cover the bill. "I don't think you're suited for the life you're leading. Not for lack of talent, not for lack of sheer power, but for a difference in personlity. You have seen a path forward created by the very society you loathe that binds you to the very stereotypes they hate you for. That you're a woman is more novelty and a sign of how wasted your capabilities are."

He slides his hand toward Honoka, still covering the bill. "It's time you consider a healthy leave. Should you die, not literally, you will see if your leadership has powered your yakuza enough to stand. You will also determine which of them is truly loyal to you and your cause. As it is, your little tripartite turf war will prove meaningless soon enough. Those disappearances are not for nothing."

Words given, Whitney pulls back from the Dahlia and leaves the dollar bill on the table. The Eye of Providence looks back up at her from the worn, green banknote. "There are better ways of changing society than turf wars."

Dahlia stares back at Whitney as he speaks, granting him her full attention. She sits as still as a statue, the illusion broken only by the minute motions of her alert, amber-flecked eyes.

Whitney's message is... a tough pill to swallow, to say the least. He repeats himself -- and Dahlia wonders why, for she felt she'd answered his question. Talk may be cheap, but that's practically all she has to offer -- and admitted as such. And to be told that her life is wrong, well, that's a bit of a slap to the ego.

The only sign that the barbs are getting through to the stock-still Dahlia is the slow, languorous way in which her eyelids blink back at him. The significance of the dollar bill is lost upon her, as her eyes follow Whitney instead.

She wrestles with the thoughts for a few moments in silence, but ultimately... decides to agree with the notion that talk is cheap. She asked for advice -- and he gave it, however frustratingly presented.

"Thank you for your time. You've given me much to consider." Her voice is cold, precise, and practically robotic. Dahlia remains at the table, unmoving, her fingertips steepled as if she intends to weather the next six typhoons that way. Her black-suited guards will remain at a comfortable distance, providing no impedance to the blond American's departure.

Whitney stands. He adjusts his cuffs in a motion that does nothing to fix his rumpled suit. He's done what he's came for. He's learned more of the nature of the beast. The knowledge alone is worth the time he spent here. It is the sole advantage of having little in the way of immediate goals and objectives. That any grasp forward, no matter how small, leaves you with more ground than you came in with.

"I have, perhaps more than you know," Whitney Saulder says, looking down at the Dahlia, his hands going into his trouser pockets. He turns, and takes a step away.

"Sunshine is about to be blown your way," he adds cryptically, referring to what is no doubt going down in the American city while he's taking in the sights of Hokkaido. The going's on in the Americas will not be content to remain there if not contained. That much Whitney knows.

And if it turns that way, so be it. It would only play into the ultimate goal. Everything always does to Whitney.

He stops at the door, but doesn't look back. "If you feel petty, at least make your killer someone that doesn't bore me," he says, hand pushing on the door, "See you later, Dahlia."

Log created on 09:50:43 08/21/2018 by Whitney, and last modified on 10:27:34 08/25/2018.