Description: Scarlet Dahlia finds her business interrupted with more business. Of course, the kinds of meetings conducted by I-No take place in less hospitable environments, though the terms of her proposal are hard to argue with.
Shunji Serizawa sits bolt upright from his desk with such force that the wind stirs the pull-chain on his green banker's lamp into motion. "Aaah! I- I seem to have fallen asleep, Ms Shiro...!" He humbly bows his head, nearly slamming his forehead into his desk calendar in the process. "P-please forgive this humiliating offense...!"
Seated across from the banker is a woman of roughly average height and slender build, wearing a black sport coat, over top of a beige blouse, and long black skirt. Rimless spectacles frame a pair of insightful amber eyes, which track upward from the cellphone in her curled hands. Black hair is tied back into a formal bun, with only one stray forelock dangling across the right side of her face. Ms. Shiro smiles, gracefully providing him an out, as dictated by proper Japanese politeness. "It's quite all right, Mr Serizawa. It gave me the opportunity to catch up on a few emails." She smiles sweetly back at the banker, eager to return to their prior discussion.
Really, it was no surprise that Shunji Serizawa had fallen asleep. 'Ayase Shiro' -planned- it that way, of course. It certainly wasn't an -accident- that a dog in Shunji's apartment complex would have kept him up all night with its incessant barking. Excess fatigue, then, set the stage for the banker to fall asleep at his desk in the middle of a conference with Ms Shiro. And a sleeping banker is a ripe target for infiltration through dreams -- a vector which Ayase -- or rather, Scarlet Dahlia -- is quite adept at leveraging.
The hour is late -- and her meeting with Serizawa is finally over. Manipulated by the dive into his subconscious, Serizawa will soon share company with the higher-ups in the Akatsuki yakuza clan, compelled by an inexplicable feeling of deja vu. Within the next week, Dahlia will find out whether the banker will be capable of handling the books left by her former lieutenant, Daisuke Oda.
The light from cigarette vending machines and street signs shimmer in her eyeglass lenses as she walks down the street, cellphone held to her ear. The streets of Southtown are dangerous on a -good- night, and yet the twentysomething woman seems wholly unconcerned about the possibility of violence as she speaks terse syllables into her cell.
"Ready for my pickup. 27th and Park. Don't take the van."
'Ayase' stashes the the phone within her pocket. And she takes a deep breath, smiling inwardly as she withdraws a small pen from her pocket. She hums lightly to herself, as she begins twirling and twisting the pen about her slender fingers. She's pleased: it's nice to finally start building up momentum again.
The terrible thing about dangerous city streets is that even if one doesn't encounter actual physical danger, all that violence comes with the attendant possibilities of being waylaid by lesser problems: panhandlers, the more verbal kind of maniacs, and the like. These occurrences are dreadful primarily for the kind of people who cannot navigate them well.
A cigarette with a cherry-red tip comes flipping end-over-end out from the shadowy awning of an entranceway, landing in the street with a little puff of disturbed embers. Proper Japanese politeness has been given warning shot.
"'Don't take the van.' Doesn't this spy jackassery get you a little hot sometimes?"
Heeled boots on pavement. It's a woman who steps out from the shadows, taking a few unhurried steps into the street. Statistically less likely to end in criminal activity, but statistics aren't here right now.
The woman isn't physically imposing. She's about the same height as Honoka, actually, minus the chunky four-inch heels on her glossy black knee-high boots. The rest of her manner of dress isn't particularly practical for fighting, either: scandalously-cut denim shorts, a leather belt with a huge brass buckle that says ID in a nice serif font, a red halter top trimmed with black lace, and a beat-up leather bomber jacket with a white-furred collar. Most peculiar are the large, rectangular orange lenses of her sunglasses at this hour. They're not opaque, at least, offering a look at the half-lidded eyes behind them. They do serve as a slight bafflement to identifying her in that it's impossible to tell what color irises are behind them, unless they really are that particular shade of orange.
Not that Honoka will have a problem realizing who she is, if her memory is still intact.
I-No leans up against a cigarette machine, the dim-warm glow of the lights casting itself on her eigengrau-black hair. Her lips, painted a familiar red matched by her top, spread in a smile that is not necessarily kind but also lacks obvious cruelty. Call it a performance smile.
"Rough night to be out all alone. Some freak might hassle you. Southtown really fucks with Japan's public safety metrics." I-No glances away from Honoka, looking at apparently nothing across the street.
"Not that Japan ever had those, right?"
As people go, the Japanese tend to be embarassingly easy to read. Shame is embedded so far into the psyche that it's practically a guarantee. Practically the only Japanese people that Scarlet Dahlia has been unable to read have been either psychologically unstable, or professional martial artists in their own right.
It's made the Ainu tusukur more than a little conceited, as a result. She tends to overlook the 0.5% of the people who -don't- fit the pattern -- at least, until they're making the effort to walk out into the street after her.
And at that point, well, said person is literally in front of her, sassing the words she'd believed were mumbled to an audience of none. It's enough to cause the confident Dahlia to stop dead in her tracks, gripping the pen tightly between thumb and forefinger as her eyes pan to follow the lady with the ID belt buckle. A response is dying to be spoken, but it never works its way to her parted lips -- for the psion is rendered oddly speechless, with an expression of incredulity frozen upon her face. And not -just- because the woman crossing her path happens to be a feast for Dahlia's eyes.
How long ago was it, now? The tournament, right? The red witch who lovingly nudged her off the cliff of infinity -- only to snap her back to a healthy dose of reality.
It's only when I-No glances away that the lump in Dahlia's throat works its way up to her lips. "Statistics are just bullshit that agencies make up to keep the masses fat and complacent, anyway."
The pen whips into motion, pivoting around a lightly oscillating index finger. And with each revolution, her expression brightens that much more, as if the idle gesture itself were the source of her confidence.
She settles into a half-sardonic grin.
"Besides. Maybe I -want- to be hassled, hmm?"
Is I-No Japanese? No. Maybe. Partially? She seems like she could be from many places. As for where she falls on the psychologically unstable <---> professional martial artist continuum... well, that slider is more of a circle than a line, isn't it?
The red witch doesn't immediately answer save for a small, amused noise like a brief exhale between her teeth. Instead, she reaches up raps her knuckles against the glass of the cigarette machine behind her. The machine obliges her little inquiry by spitting up a package that falls into the dispenser area. I-No pushes off her resting place and turns to face it.
"Talk like that's just gonna encourage me. I bet it's easier when I'm coming at you."
The witch bends over at the hip to reach down into the dispenser. That she is not a modest person should come as no surprise to someone with a previous meeting under their belt, but it has been awhile. Her hand snakes into the metal flap, and then she stands up with her new prize claimed.
"Congrats on walking, by the way. Real hard to do that femme fatale shit in a wheelchair. Did Duke kick your ass all the way back home, or did you pull out a partial?"
I-No raises the cigarette pack toward the night sky as if it would help her see something about it. She purses her lips outward, momentarily lost in thought, and then shifts her grip so that she can slide her thumb along the front. Despite her closely-trimmed fingernails, the top of the packaging pops open as if strategically sliced with a hobby knife.
Dahlia -- or Ayase, whatever -- brandishes an unflappable smile in the face of I-No's chiding and the immodest gesture that follows. "I like to think of myself as a confidence builder. A professional cheerleader of sorts." She doesn't look away, for the record; her pen continues to spin about, balanced precariously on the peak of one manicured fingernail.
Still -- the confidence can only last so long in the face of several layers of interlocking metaphor. Congrats, yes, walking, yes, femme fatale -- she gets all that. And she bows her head in tacit thanks of all three. But the double question gives her pause -- a challenge to Dahlia being able to hit every one of the marks on the dance flowchart.
Real eloquent stuff, there.
Though really, her confusion was also triggered by the idea that I-No -knew- she'd been in a wheelchair.
Her eyebrows lower, as her ribcage swells from a sharp intake of breath. "I got better," is her opaque response, as she finds herself glancing aside. Aww, is she self-conscious about her loss to Duke? "Had to fill the void while -you- were out, clearly. Hope you didn't lose your guitar or anythin'..."
I-No lowers the cigarettes to about chest-height so that she can look down into the package and -- why does she look? Is there a 'best one' to select? After a moment, she lays fingers on one of the cigarettes and begins to pull it out, but then the Woman of Several Names takes a sharp intake of breath and the red witch glances back to her.
A moment passes. I-No taps the cigarette back into the pack and shoves the entire thing into one of her jacket pockets.
"My big blue member is doing just fine. Maybe if you provoke me enough I'll let you see her again.'
Boots on the pavement again. Even if Dahlia doesn't catch I-No out of her peripheral vision, the sound is enough to know that she's closing the distance between the two.
"I meant your crew, by the way, not you. Did you sign them all up for Uncle Igniz's Bondage Emporium or Madam Vega's Mind Control Hut? You've never been a Rugal type, but you do some stupid shit when you're on the ropes."
I-No doesn't stop walking. That might be the surprising part -- sure, there's room for her to get closer and come within conversational range, but she doesn't stop there. She gets right into Dahlia's personal space, coming face to face with her if the other woman doesn't move. I-No has the height to look down slightly on the other woman. It might come off as an intimidation tactic if the witch wasn't so... okay, yes, it's probably an intimidation tactic.
She smells like cinnamon, for the record.
"Do you need a void filled?" she asks, her tone abruptly different. Her odd, informal accent is replaced by full enunciation in a pretty contralto.
Dahlia's been in the company of people who smoke. It's never really bothered her so long as the offending parties either (a) aren't the type to blow smoke in her face or (b) aren't so important they need both wrists to be functional in the morning. Really, she might have -expected- I-No to try that sort of stunt, but she breathes a sigh of relief when the cigarettes get stashed aside. Good, she won't have to put up with offending odors...
Dahlia -does- find her lips curling downward at the way I-No's derisive terms just start dripping innuendo all over the sidewalk -- an expression buoyed only by the way the earlier metaphors are given a more decisive explanation. That, at least, makes sense. Dahlia turns back to the Red Witch, one eyebrow arched at the way the woman makes a show of striding over to her. She's even about to answer, when the triple threat of accusations hits her.
There goes -some- of her good cheer. Neither of the three organizations is one she -wants- to answer, particularly with the idea that anyone with a working ear could eavesdrop on the two at the moment -- and it's enough for both eyebrows to droop low in the approximation of anger.
The pen twirls around the back of her hand, before she shuttles it back and forth between her two hands. Juggling it, at a frenetic pace. "Well, since you seem to know so much -- you tell me?" Having met I-No comes with -some- benefits at least -- Dahlia knows better than anyone else that the Red Witch can just turn to the end of the book whenever it suits her.
Besides -- the truth is that she hasn't sold out anyone but one man... But how much does I-No -really- know about that arrangement?
... And then, as I-No refuses to stop at the boundary of personal space, 'Ayase' takes one hesitant step back, before grinding the heels of her pumps into the pavement, standing her ground. Sure, that puts her nose scant centimeters in front of the halter top -- damn those four-inch heels -- and her nose within range of the clashing aromas of cinnamon and lavender. But she can't help but meet I-No's crude question with a partial grimace.
"-Please-. I'm just window shopping, here."
The Ainu woman has at least -some- self-control.
The tension doesn't last long though -- as she finally seems ready to answer the question. Dahlia looks up through the Witch's tinted lenses. In a voice barely above a whisper, she intones evenly, "... I did what I had to. And I'd do it again, without regrets."
I-No must have been up to something earlier today for the smells to clash. Or maybe she only did it to throw people off. Or... well, perhaps it's best to not guess too deeply at the confusing life of time-traveling metal witches.
It's not like I-No seems to be in the mood to share, either. She says nothing to the Dahlia's request for her to elucidate on the nature of the story, however sarcastically intended or not it may have been. The red witch merely completes her plan to get uncomfortable close to the other woman, perhaps leaving one to wonder how things may have ended if 'Ayase' had started with her back to a wall, unable to retreat that single, hesitant step.
Window shopping. I-No looks down, eyebrows mildly raised. "Is it?" she replies, suggesting in only those two syllables like she's dispensed with the 'nice' voice like a glove.
But then Dahlia meets I-No's gaze with her own and says something that seems real and more than a little raw. For a moment, the witch studies Honoka's face. Then, she narrows her eyes and widens her bloody-lipsticked lips in a smile both serene and sharp.
I-No reaches up to touch the glasses perched on her face. She tilts her head down to facilitate sliding them off, which means that briefly they are held a mere inch or so from Dahlia's own face. I-No folds the arms together with dexterous use of her thumb, and then reaches inside her jacket to slide them into an interior pocket. Her forearm may brush against Dahlia at some point, depending on how she's positioned. It certainly brushes against herself.
"That's what I like about you, /darling,/" she says, the refined quality of her words returning as she drops her volume to a purr. "You are capable of such exquisite cruelties when you can see the kindness hidden in them."
Her eyes very nearly glow in the dim light. Her irises are split between neon pink and steely white and velvety red and shimmering blue. The colors filter through in uneven patterns as she tilts her head ever so slightly.
"Wouldn't you say that's one of your best traits? It comes from you cantabile."
The witch makes an amused noise. Then, turning away, she takes a few unhurried steps down the street and spreads her arms wide.
"That and I've seen some of the freaky shit you get up to -- not even in your spare time! During working hours! Hahaha!"
Well, the purr lasted a little bit.
For a moment, Dahlia seems perfectly willing to stand up to the intimidation. That's what she sees the posturing as, anyway -- it's what -she- would do in such a superior position, if the tables had been turned as such. She recognized the tactic for what it is -- an attempt to get under her skin.
That doesn't stop the pink tinge from crossing her cheeks, though -- an unintended side effect of I-No's wrist brushing past en route to stowing those glasses. Dahlia's eyebrows lower as she, yet again, draws in a sharp breath, meeting I-No's scintillating irises with a defiant, amber-flecked gaze.
'Exquisite cruelty' is a phrase she... doesn't remember hearing before, and certainly not in reference to herself. Same with 'kindness'. Or 'best traits.' Compounded together, she....
Well, she feels complimented, actually. And her tight-lipped expression loosens up just a smidge, eyebrows returning to a more typical height.
But just as she's about to respond, I-No turns away -- spreading her arms wide. Begging the -chase-.
And, however reluctantly, Dahlia begins to ambulate after her. Knowing full well that her interest has been piqued, and that the easiest way to figure out what the witch wants is to just... play along.
"I have -no- idea what you're referring to..." Her intonation is a bit deeper than usual. Her hands tuck into the pockets of her sport coat. Like I-No, her pace is unhurried. But unlike I-No, there's a falter to her pace after the third step. One of the new banes of her existence is a new sensitivity to cold weather in her left leg -- one that garners a disapproving wince.
"Besides..." she follows up. "-Every- hour is a working hour."
After all -- a teenage Dahlia lacked the parents to enforce a strict bedtime.
Still. As she walks, she glances around with some modicum of wariness. "... So, as amusing as me wriggling on a hook must be..." With that said, 'Ayase' lets the thought trail off into the night. There's more to be said, for sure -- but she's just going to let I-No complete her unspoken predicate. Japanese politeness and all.
I-No will get to the end of the street. Eventually. Her pace is one of leisurely conversation, not getting to a place on time. Speaking of on time -- didn't Dahlia call a car? It's unusual to not have seen /any/ car pass the intersection down the way. That's a busier road. At least there'd be foot traffic. But, no, it all seems...
I-No looks sidelong at Dahlia, flashing teeth in her smile. Her irises shine brassy gold and fathomless black.
"So...? What, you don't enjoy wiggling for me? I know I like it."
But the witch relents. She faces forward again, shoving her hands into her jacket pockets along with her glasses and cigarettes.
"I'm willing to funnel you support from my evil conspiracy group to supplement your take from Shadaloo. Strictly off the records. If you get Captain Chin on my case I'll shove Rose so far up your ass you'll be puking scarves for the rest of your life. In return, after your little club of merry men is built up enough so that you're feeling cute and cozy again, you will make yourself available to help me with a few projects. You commit shooters to shoot some people I don't like, I hang around your office and drop off secrets and tech while seeing how much I can get you to stare at my tits. Or are you more of an ass kinda gal?"
Another third step. I-No's gaze shifts slightly, hinted at only by the subtle turn of her face.
"You need me to carry you, princess?"
There is a time and a place for the sort of 'freaky shit' I-No had alluded to earlier, and in Dahlia's mind, it's not now, and it's certainly not -here-. So no -- 'Ayase' responds to the question of 'wiggling' with an impassive lack of expression -- a dearth of emotion that shows she's only willing to play along but so far -- at this time, and in this sort of place.
And yet, she puts aside the mild pain, jogging to catch up with her evasive tormentor. Like hell is she going to let such a rare and tantalizing opportunity go unanswered! Especially when the offer comes giftwrapped within a string of such colorful metaphors. Enough to draw a smile.
An 'evil conspiracy group.' Shadaloo. Another irresistable deal, to stretch her even thinner than before. Ages ago, she'd have sought to -avoid- so many conflicting offers and tendencies. But now... the shadow manipulator understands that each new bargain acts as an insurance policy against another. And -- as she well knows -- Shadaloo can only support her but so much from the other side of the Atlantic.
"I'm fine," she snaps, her gait slowing so as to not overtake I-No's. She's mildly upset that her newfound sensitivity chose -right then- to make itself obvious, but as she draws her breath in, it becomes clear she wished she -hadn't- snapped. "... Sorry. Still getting used to this."
As she catches up, she recalls that -- yes, she -had- called a car. She glances down the street in the direction of the summoned vehicle -- only to realize the uncanny -stillness- she finds there. Nothing... nothing at all. Not even the faint murmur of a transient's heartbeat, or the shuffle of a sloshed salaryman's gait. Swallowing her trepidation, she looks back to I-No with wary uncertainty.
Amber eyes glisten, as her gaze once more finds I-No's. "I'm not choosy," comes her belated answer. "... but how 'evil' are we talking here? I'm a -hero-, or so I'm told." A mirthless half-smile flickers across her face for a moment. One hand slips out of her pocket, as she reaches up to loosen the sticks pinning her hair into such a high bun.
"Eh, on second thought," she continues, as her ravenblack hair tumbles freely to her shoulders. Index and middle finger crest through the cascading tendrils, as she tucks the hair around her chilled ears. "As long as you don't have plans to put me between you and said Captain?"
She shrugs amiably. And despite the height differential, she looks up at the Red Witch's eyes. "Could be fun, sure."
I-No stops her pace as Dahlia snaps. She remains standing there, a striking figure silhouetted against the moody nighttime lighting of this midnight street. Her interest is only tipped by the slight sliver of her face visible where she has turned enough to suggest her attention is cast over her shoulder. How she knew of the leg trouble without actually seeing it... well, she's a witch, right?
No response when the other woman belatedly softens her response. With I-No stopped, Dahlia has an easier time catching up and coming into view. However, when she does, she finds a chill in the face of the red witch. It is easy to forget, with all her crude words, that this is a dangerous woman. Her irises burn red with gray edges.
Dahlia puts on a half-smile. A moment passes. Then, when the other woman reaches up to her hair, I-No finally puts on a half-smile to match.
"A hero, huh?" she says, her tone strangely more subdued but also coiled -- snake-like. "Lady, we /are/ the heroes. Remember that when some jackass with a sword is yelling at you about justice."
At least... that was probably a lowercase justice.
I-No looks away. She withdraws her hands from her pockets, first removing her sunglasses to return them to her face, and then retrieving the packet of cigarettes. She thumbs one halfway out of the box, then brings it to her mouth to finish removing it with her lips.
"I'll text you so you have a number you can send dirty pictures to. I'll drop by sometime with a little proof of sincerity for my offer. You're still living in the usual place, right?"
The cigarettes disappear to her jacket again. I-No brings up her left hand with a flourish and, with no less drama, snaps her fingers. An electric pink heart sparks into existence and floats a short distance off before fading away. Beyond her, the gentle movements and sounds of a street no trapped in time become once more apparent. I-No starts walking again, though this time with an actual speed of purpose. She turns around to walk backward as she begins to gain distance.
"Maybe if you promise to prepare a lil' presentation for me about your club, I'll wear something /real/ slutty. You probably need someone to keep the other side of the bed warm these days anyway, right? Hahaha!"
The witch whirls around again to keep walking, raising her hand to brush her thumb against the tip of her cigarette as she does so. The end cherries red as she breathes in.
"Seeya next time, darling!"
Honoka has moments to get last words in as I-No saunters back off to rejoin the main street, but once the witch says goodbye she seems to really mean goodbye.
One can be passive and let the world go by -- or one can seize opportunity by the throat, move forward, and actually make the world a better place. Those who do so are called 'villains' by those in power -- or 'heroes' by those rallying behind them. It's all a matter of perspective, really.
Words can just be words. Between I-No and Scarlet Dahlia... what -are- words, really? 'Evil' is tossed aside, disregarded. And yet, the word 'hero' takes on new significance, in the blistering wake of judgment. And for one moment, the not-currently-scarlet Dahlia flashes a sincere smile back at the Red Witch.
For, despite the nearly unparsable cypher spoken by the two, I-No understands.
Sunglasses are returned. A cigarette is extracted. These, two, are communicative -- signs that the impromptu conversation is to draw to a close. Disappointment tugs at the corners of 'Ayase's' lips -- not because she didn't get an answer from I-No, but because she didn't get -more- answers. And yet, there's hope for a future conversation to temper that frown into a thin, horizontal line: proof of sincerity.
That line twitches upward into a smirk at the mention of a 'usual place.' "Yeah, sure." Because Dahlia's been on the move pretty much every single night for the past few months -- a necessary tactic to avoid the aggressive pursuit of Duke's accomplices. "I'm sure you'll have no trouble catching up with me."
Dahlia's pace begins to slow, as a tacit acknowledgement of the signals of the waning conversation. But when I-No twirls about again to face her, Dahlia's eyes snap back to her attentively.
It might be hard to hear the grumble from the back of her throat: the proverbial knife wound is still somewhat sharp in her ribcage. Her faint smirk and level tone, though, are probably good indicators of her mood. "Biiiitch. That's a good way to get me to do the exact -opposite- of what you just said." A pause is given, before she follows up with, "I'll see what I can throw together."
And as the pair reaches the street corner and the witch slips away, Dahlia stays in place. "Alright." That smirk takes over for a moment, as her head shakes side-to-side, the two sticks plucked from her coiffure flicking around like drumsticks within her loose grip. "And... thanks."
Moments later, the car she'd summoned minutes earlier pulls into view. She glances towards it, raising her hand in a gentle wave.
But when she glances back, there's no sign at all of I-No, save for the indelible marks left on her memory.
Log created on 13:30:24 11/26/2018 by Honoka, and last modified on 22:57:07 12/01/2018.