Honoka - Starts With "I"

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Description: A number of Akatsuki's front companies remain ever-vigilant for choice real estate. One such find was a sixth-story studio apartment located above the Shinsaibashi shopping arcade in Osaka. It's close enough for people-watching, and yet elevated far enough above the streets to allow solace and privacy. It's got all the creature comforts a crime lord on the run could ask for -- kitchenette, a luxuriant bed, a private entranceway. And, of course, a window, in case a time-skipping Red Witch decides to make a surprise appearance.

It's eleven p.m. and the pulse of Osaka, Japan is beating in full weekend mode. Throngs of people line the streets of Dotonbori: couples on dates, students hitting the clubs, office workers burning a few cigs before heading back to the ol balls-and-chains, well-dressed men and underdressed ladies hooking in crowds for the singles bars.

Scarlet Dahlia looks down upon them from a sixth-story window, a languid smirk on her scarred face. If there's one thing she loves about Osaka, it's that the Dotonbori canal never changes. Humanity will always flock to riverside restaurants and night clubs, to the pretty lights and the vibrant sound of nightlife. And for a psychic such as herself -- someone who resonates with the positive emotions of a crowd -- Dotonbori may as well be heaven. Here, Dahlia can live vicariously through the city nightlife as it succumbs to aimless, formless bliss.

Whitney's advice was so simple -- 'Kill yourself' -- and so open-ended. It could mean anything -- but after thought, the Akatsuki leader chose to interpret it as a warning. A sign to bail out -- to cut her losses, and disappear. To give Duke the impression that he's been successful in excising Dahlia from his world. Here, she can observe her empire as it reshapes itself around the Syndicate's home -- individual amoebas, merging to form a larger organism, to surround and consume all around it.

No -- if she had died, it would be too easy. She could never abandon her agenda, to reunite the Ainu, to raise them back to their former parity with the fledgling Wajin nation. Not with such powerful allies at her side -- with Lee Chaolan's prodigious talents, with Nakoruru's determined steel, with Vega's magnificent chin and shoulder pads.

At long last, the crime lord sighs, peeling away from the cracked-open window and its faint breeze. Though she enjoys the view, the incandescent lighting adjacent to her window can only be endured for so long. Two buttons are undone -- and a blazer is tossed onto the back of a high-backed chair. Three more buttons, and her white blouse hangs open. Dahlia glances at a mirror as she walks past, smirking once more as she catches sight of black lace. It's nice, here -- not having to keep up a professional look 24/7. For this weekend getaway, no one will be knocking on her door, demanding this or that. Her retinue of guards are only a mere thought away -- two on the sixth floor, two on the seventh, and two on the fifth. She idly picks up a tablet computer, carrying it with her on the way to the sofa.

There are two 'whump' sounds immediately after. The first -- Dahlia practically falling into the cushions of the sofa, propping her legs up on the arm in one swoop. And the second -- a discarded skirt, landing on top of the blazer, all but forgotten as the tablet lights up with a light-filled video feed.

An aerial view of the Osaka metropolis, taken from 10,000 feet up. The live video feed from a missile-equipped long-endurance drone flying a lazy circle overhead.

Dahlia raises a hand to her temple, sweeping shoulder-length tresses of wavy hair out of her face. The Ainu woman briefly entertains the thought of passing out right here on the comfy sofa, without a care in the world -- the steady tumult of crowds below singing her a sweet, poignant lullaby.

It's been about two months since that peculiar run-in with I-No. The mystery witch didn't leave with much in the way of contact information or instructions to follow up, but that kind of behavior seems appropriate for someone like her. She has a way of turning up. She turned up in that alley, didn't she?

But it was a long time between the alley and the last time, during the tournament in a literal otherworld. Maybe this would be a long time also. It would be consistent for what little data is available. Some people move on timescales beyond the mundanities of everyday life.

Some people. Some people who, it could be argued, are not people. Prying might find a NOL bounty with a familiar description. Prying doesn't find anything else.
Honoka's cellular device of choice receives a text, which activates the relevant notification method of Honoka's choice. The contents of the message itself remain out of her control.

<i.no> a historical red light district eh
<i.no> someone's looking to set the mood
<i.no> how good were you in doing what i asked?

It can be tough for an average person to reach Dahlia. People screen her calls -- and even if a call is made to the phone she carries, it won't ring or disturb her. Only -trusted- people get the privilege of disturbing the crimelord's obsessive planning sessions.

I-No has made that prestigious list. A small notification window pops up on her tablet, earning a dull glare at first glance. But as the reality of the message sets in, a light dash of color splashes across her cheeks. For she realizes, in that moment, that I-No isn't just cold calling -- the Red Witch knows -exactly- where she is.

Drawing in a sigh, she purses her lips. The tablet is drawn close, and thumbs fly across it.

<dahlia> Thought you forgot about me.
<dahlia> It's ready.
<dahlia> You got the proof you mentioned?

Idly, she glances to the mirror. And then to the window. Because there's really no telling if text messages are even -necessary- at this point.

<i.no> doesn't it make you warm enough to draw my eye?
<i.no> don't worry. i got something that'll make you purr
<i.no> provided you get me going first

Honoka is looking at the window. This means that she is audience to the unusual sight of the latch coming undone and the movable pane sliding gently and silently open -- even if it's not usually silent. If there's a digital monitor attached, it's tripped just fine. The real question is if someone thinks a sixth story window opening facing the waterfront is worth an active alarm.

A moment later, a shape drops into the gap, backlit by the illumination of the nighttime city. The outer edges glow on pale skin and cherry-metallic latex.

The backlighting isn't so intense and the context isn't so mysterious that it's hard to tell who it is. Crouching with her feet together, knees spread, hands on either side of the threshold for balance is I-No the Red Witch. She grins broadly, her irises glowing orange-gold and blue-teal.

"Shit, I was joking about the mood but look at you."

I-No leans forward and hops down from the window, smoothly standing to her feet. She pulls the bottom of her dress back down from where it bunched around her waist, because acrobatics and skintight fabric don't mix great. I-No must not have drawn too many eyes (other than for the usual reasons) outside, if she was outside at all: the sparkly, wine-red metallic is stretched across a minidress with a halter keyhole neckline. Some mismatched chunky golden bracelets adorn her wrists, but she strangely lacks footwear.

Her bracelets feature some strange runic work that doesn't seem to be from a particular culture, but I-No herself doesn't seem to be from a particular culture either. With her features and accent, she could plausibly be from a wide variety of places. Very frustrating.

"Matchy matchy," she says, putting her hands on her hips and shifting her weight to one leg to thrust it out. "Ready for this or are you gonna keep getting undressed?"

A window opening by itself is atypical enough to draw the eye of the Ainu schemer. Sure -- she -could- call for guards, but if someone was looking to sneak up on her, they damn sure wouldn't catch her attention by texting first. And even if I-No -weren't- the same as the mystery visitor, well, that just means backup is likely on the way.

What, me, worry? Dahlia rights herself on the sofa, crossing one bared leg over the other as she bemusedly watches the arrival of the Red Witch. The tablet rests on her lap, such as it is. her eyes paying much closer attention to the chromatic anomalies of I-No's irises than anything else that could be framed for her perusal.

The smile fades as I-No brings some levity to the otherwise silent room. "Yeah, well. I don't kid around..." deadpans the crime lord with an arched eyebrow. "Ever."

Her white lie is given away by the smirk that follows, of course. And, naturally, she avails herself of the opportunity to notice the rest of the outfit, once it's less starkly backlit. "... -You're- the one who promised to dress slutty. Me? I'm just chillin'.

Fingertips dance across the tablet, and in a few deft swipes, a diagram of Japan is shown on the screen. Several splotches of color are pictured -- purple, red, green, blue. But there is one noticeable aberration -- there are no colors at all on the island of Hokkaido, and only sparse colors at all throughout the Kansai region. Particularly Osaka.

She could play into the teasing -- but now that they're off the street, as it were, Dahlia can afford to show her shrewd self a bit more openly. It's not as if she's -not- interested in the guitarist... but she has to play her hand properly.

A warm smile spreads across her face. "It's 'I-No', right? Have you ever read the NOL's bounty entry on you? It's borderline -insulting- how little they have on you."

I-No keeps her gaze steady on Honoka while the other woman speaks. The window shuts behind her, the latch working back into place. The witch finally tilts her head for an almost-fangy smile. Her irises filter through, blues moving to the eye vacated by gold, the other replaced by shades of pink and purple.

"The book cops fuckin' suck at their jobs. If they cared about anything other than jerking themselves off in their own conspiracy maybe they'd be more than a loot pinata."

I-No takes a leisurely path toward the couch, cutting an arc that first takes her slightly away from Honoka rather than moving in a straight line. She walks with elegance her voice does not (always) match, delicately placing one foot ahead of the other with what would be perfect balance on a more treacherous platform.

"I'm glad you're google stalking me, though. It means you're ready to get serious. You got a projector or something? Feels a little quaint to talk about your big bad criminal empire on a mom tablet."

I-No places her hand on the back of the couch at the furthest end of the furniture from where Honoka sits. She leans in, irises filtering through several more colors.

"I could put my head in your lap. It'd be like storytime."

The shift in colors does not escape Dahlia's notice. Nor do the exquisite sense of balance in the confident witch's stride -- the juggling star wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see her walk a tightrope in the Twilight Star Circus, if she had put her mind to such a thing. Which she doubts, of course.

"I like to know who I'm dealing with." Flecks of amber glimmer in the seated woman's gaze, twinkling as she offers a content half-smile in return. "Eyes can be... pleasantly deceived."

The mention of a projector is raised -- and the Ainu is quick to give a small nod of her head. "Of course. It's in the satchel though..." And just as I-No rests her hand on the couch, the Ainu woman cranes her hand back, flicking her wrist in the direction of the given satchel. Against people with only minimal knowledge of her telekinesis, such a move would be taboo, but she's got nothing to hide from the Red Witch -- the satchel is opened as easily as if it were sitting right next to her. And a moment later, the pico projector sails across the room to her awaiting hand.

"Business before pleasure, though, hmm?" She settles the projector comfortbaly on the back of the couch, patting it with a palm. "You mentioned proof -- and I'm not showing me mine until you show me yours." All punctuated with a sweet, saccharine smile.

Nothing to hide indeed. I-No doesn't spare so much as a look toward Honoka's gesturing hand, nor the telekinetic trickery. Considering the supernatural nonsense that the witch has pulled in front of Honoka -- not to mention what the NOL has accused her of -- there's probably a different level of expectations at play here.

Our Lady Dahlia puts on a sweet saccharine smile. I-No hasn't dropped her same sharp smile. A moment of silence passes between the two as Honoka's expectation spreads across the conversation.

There is something dead and inhuman in I-No's eyes. The unnatural colors and weird glow-but-not aren't so strange once the novelty wears off. All the movements of her face are pleasantly human and very knowable. But, for that breath, the intangible touch of emotion melts away, leaving only the bright, glowing color, and behind it a mask: a still thing like a doll or a shark.

The muscles in her bare arms subtly tense. The material of the couch makes a faint groaning noise as her fingers tighten. A car horn blares outside with a doppler effect as it goes down the crowded street. A moment later, the exact same horn.

And then it's gone. I-No's eyes narrow in genuine, personable humor as her smile deepens.

"You're always like this. Alright, I'll give you the first half and then you can clench and wait for the release."

I-No pushes off the couch and resumes her walk. This one takes her around the back of the couch, where she stares off into the distance ahead of her rather than look down at Honoka and her projector.

"Does the Gear Project mean anything to you? Did you do your homework on THAT?"

The mark of true showmanship is how well a performer can connect to their audience. The more one knows about their target, the easier it is to play to their interests -- and avoid their dislikes.

And as much as Dahlia may enjoy unabashed flirting on a public street, there are far fewer people to witness the pair here in this isolated, sixth-story studio. It looks lived-in -- but only just barely. A map of Osaka is posted on the wall, with some crude handwriting upon it. A Twilight Star Circus calendar, showing the tour dates, along with dark black marks crossed through the dates which have already passed. A few half-consumed boxes of granola bars and trail mix. A bowl of apples on the kitchenette counter. She likes to eat healthy?

But there will be no greater comfort, and no less comfort, in Dahlia's amber-flecked eyes as that saccharine smile takes in the tenseness in I-No's stance. A pledge was made, and Dahlia -- ever the consummate negotiator -- will not yield. Sensitive data could be provided that could -harm- her wounded Yakuza network -- and she isn't about to give it up for free. Yes, she -is- always like this.

"Yes." The Gear Project means a lot to her -- and it shows, as her smile fades, in acknowledgment. "Kamui Kanna laid waste to hundreds of my people in the pursuit of a single Command Gear." Her ego stroked by the temptation of a topic she knows much about, she seems eager to spill out more -- but remembers her place, holding her tongue. Nostrils flare with an intake of breath. She resolves to keep her expression neutral, her delicate hands folding upon her knees. "I've read about them. I know they are not natural, but the word 'Project' says that much." But so far, I've been unable to pin down the -source- of the Gears. Are you involved with the Project?"

I-No passes enough of the couch that it's now possible for Honoka to turn her head and see her walking away. The witch continues her casually precise tightrope act as she makes a line for the lonely Osaka map upon the wall.

She raises her arms and makes fey wavy gestures with her wrists and fingers as she proceeds further off.

"Ooo, Kamui Kanna. So goddamn sparkly. You ever watch that one anime? I'm more into that kind of kamui."

The black-haired woman stops in front of the map. The silence stretches behind her, enough for Honoka to possibly insert a response, but this is a natural enough pause so I-No can take a moment to read. Whatever the case, her next act is to reach up to her chest -- her hand hidden by her back being turned -- and then produce a series of retro-chic polaroids. She holds them up, fanning the three out like cards.

"Haven't you caught on, darling? I'm involved in anything I fuckin' wanna be."

I-No flicks her wrist. The polaroids go whirling through the air to arc toward the couch and land near Honoka, all of them landing near each other and picture-side down.

Not that they have to stay that way. If turned over, the contents may be familiar: a pink-haired lady in a white dress, looking vaguely dressed for a wedding and vaguely lost. A frowning young woman with white hair and an all-encompassing cloak. A woman with two-toned white and red hair and a smirk on an illuminated face. All of them seem to be in various casual settings. The shots seem candid, but not ambushes.

"Dizzy's fucked off to a forest somewhere to have womanly feelings, and I'm saving her for my encore anyway. Those other cute little things, though... don't you wonder what kind of trouble a few Command Gears might get up to with the right guidance? Never mind all those stupid, suggestible beast strays hiding out in the dark corners."

I-No looks over her shoulder, her smile sly and pleasant. It's a glamorous, magazine-worthy pose. Nothing like that tense moment earlier.

"Interested enough to continue?"

Not that I-No is necessarily looking Dahlia's way, but her eyes adopt a blank, clueless expression. And judging from the quiet, introspective silence, it would seem that 'that one anime' failed to ring a bell for the woman who traded adolescence for literally running off to join the circus.

"I only know the one with the Ainu girl and the immortal soldier guy." A brief pause. "I'd be a horrible contestant on an anime game show."

Dahlia takes in the various gestures I-No steps through, nodding slowly. Asking 'are you involved' was a politeness impressed upon her by years of Japanese upbringing -- the prompt for further conversation, more than the literal question to which she probably already surmised the answer. That much can be presumed from the way Dahlia snorts lightly in response.

But then there are three polaroids flung her way. How quaint. Dahlia reaches for the pictures, turning them over one-by-one as if she were reading her tarot -- something an associate of hers would help with often.

The pink-haired lady. The frowning woman. The smirking girl. She has names to place to the faces -- but it would take a few moments of research.

Smart-ass comments, though, are nigh instantaneous. "What is this, low-tech Tinder?"

She sweeps the pictures together, associating their faces with the 'command gears' mentioned previously. Yes, -that's- where she'd recognize them. "One, I remember from that ill-advised 'Golden Angel' shitshow. The other... made quite the showing in World Warrior. Quite powerful..." She pauses, taking note of the environment and conditions of the photos.

Interested? That was the question, yes... "I'm -interested-, sure. But presuming you didn't just seduce the photographer..."

Dahlia's faint smirk falls, as she catches up with the pace of the conversation. And the intimate suggestions of... just -what- I-No intends to do with the trio.

"Mmm. Allegiances can be so -fragile- though. You haven't grown -attached- to these darlings, have you?"

By the time Dahlia is catching up to the conversation, I-No has finally returned from her self-imposed exile by turning around to show her face fully again. Her expression has faded to a more subdued smugness, with the only hint of smile around her eyes.

"Allegiances CAN be fragile, Ms. Shadaloo Subsidiary. If you think I can't do the things I say then I'll take my pretty ass across town to someone who has a little more respect for my power to destroy anything that fuckin' displeases me."

I-No slips her foot to the side, shifting her weight again to strike another insouciantly dramatic pose. The showwomanship doesn't seem to stop. She half-lids her eyes, tilting her head up slightly to look imperiously down at the couch.

"I got a lot of expensive toys. If you wanna talk about exactly what they can do for your precarious position, you can stop playing clever interrogator and tell me what YOU'RE working with."

With I-No's clear shift of demeanor, Dahlia blinks in a laboriously slow manner. Each nuance of the telegraphed shift is taken in, and appreciated on its own merit. From one showwoman to another.

She can also appreciate that her paranoia -- her need to get -every- bit of information about her partners -- can also be a quite irksome thing to deal with in such a negotiation as this. She holds up her hands by way of apology, lowering her gaze in an insufferably Japanese expression of deference.

"That's fair. Please... If I might offer another suggestion for your pretty ass..." She pats the space on the couch next to her. One foot bobs lightly, rested as it is upon her knee -- the one that has a pretty nasty scar running diagonally across it -- as she reaches back for the pico-projector, turning it on. Light belches outward, projecting a company logo on the far wall for a moment, before resolving into the map of Japan seen earlier on her tablet.

"Guessing you don't need an -exhaustive- rundown of the Syndicate -- Duke's been wallowing around Southtown in a show of force, claiming our former property as far northwest as Niigata, practically up to Aomori." As she speaks, she waves her finger and a mouse pointer across the map, highlighting the indicated sections. "Illuminati -- I'm hazy on how much they -actually- control, but I have documented a few of their holdings."

Etching a gesture with her finger, the map is dotted with pinpricks of gold, stretching westware from the Nagoya region, and filling to consume the entire island of Hokkaido. "Hokkaido here, to the north, is uncontested Akatsuki territory. Whereas the western side of Honshu..." She shrugs mildly. "Duke would have spread -far- too thin exterminating us here, and besides -- he hardly knew where to -look-. Aside from a few urban outposts -- Osaka, Kobe, Nara -- we've mostly stuck to the countryside where he doesn't give two shits about."

Dahlia drags her fingertips across the right side of the screen -- and a loadout of asset schematics are drawn out. Predator drones. Ground-to-air missiles. Vans, cars. And of course -- several -hundred- icons indicating personnel. And several dozen Combots.

"We have weapons. But my biggest strength is -people-, Miss I-No."

She draws in her breath. "Flirty talk aside, I prefer to -keep- my allegiances, whenever I can, hmm?"

I-No initially begins to roll her eyes with exaggeration enough to roll her head as well, but when Honoka's hands-up apology turns to an innocently salacious invitation, the witch ends up capping off her gesture of exasperation with a canny, narrow-eyed look.

A people person would know the signs of eyes narrowed in anger or eyes narrowed in pleasure. The latter is the case here.

Silently, I-No crosses the room with a needless but artful strut. She turns and falls down into the couch hard enough to bounce on the recoil before settling down. While Honoka turns on the projector, I-No lifts one leg into the air -- she may live hard but at least she keeps up with her stretches -- and crosses it over her other.

The presentation plays out. The theatricality drains from I-No as the mood changes from jousting to exposition. In these little moments, especially now with the dim light of the projector making the angles and curves of her face look just a little unfamiliar, I-No can seem like a different woman. She looks like someone who is remembering something.

"Yeah, the Illuminati is hazy on how much they actually control too. You mind if I smoke?"

The red witch doesn't wait for an answer before, of all things, reaching into the keyhole neckline of her dress. Somehow this results in her pulling out both a gold-plated lighter and what is probably a joint.

"So what's your plan? You gonna lean on big daddy chinstrap and his daughter the red-eyed wonder to get you back up to speed? I can't imagine people are too eager to join up and roll back into the fuckin' meat grinder if you try to get back into the cities, and you're downgrading infrastructure limiting yourself to this rural bullshit."

The circus star would put up a fight about having cigarette smoke blown around her face. And if she were talking to mere underlings, of course she'd tell them to piss off. Among equals, though? Or whatever you can call a time-skipping witch who could just as likely atomize her as offer further innuendous remarks...

Dahlia shakes her head with an amiable grin: smoking is fine. The time for playing hardball with the Red Witch seems to have passed.

As the arsenal is unveiled with the magic of modern computing, Dahlia leans back in her seat. The couch has plenty of springy life left in it, as I-No had amply demonstrated, moments prior. Dahlia rests her arms on the back of said piece of furniture: one arm around the empty side, and one on the seatback behind I-No.

"In a way, it's taking Akatsuki back to their base -- they'd started in Kobe, after all. And with Duke having practically no interest here in the Kansai cities, we'll be able to rouse a great base of interest."

She lets out a sigh, forehead knitting in frustration. "Ton of his fuckers took a stage dive off Geese Tower. But even with that, fact remains that yeah, if I don't make a giant push to reclaim territory in Southtown, he still -beat- me. And Shadaloo's got their ass handed to them in Sunshine City, so I can't even count on them to cripple his overseas ops. They're more interested in concentrating power in -Mexico-, because, heck, isn't -everyone- excited about tacos and indigestion?"

Her free hand sweeps across the tablet, showing an inflated presence around the western cities she'd mentioned earlier. "So yeah. Just bulking up Kansai for now. If we get more -legit- control in the Diet, there won't be as much opposition to ousting him -legally-. Public opinion is where I'm hoping to win out against him, but that shit takes forever."

A finger brushes against her chin, as she shakes her head dismissively. "I'd apologize for boring you, but you -did- insist on a slide deck... Whatever turns you on, and all."

I-No, after she finishes speaking, places the joint between her lips and flips open the lighter's heavy cap. She pulls at the wheel with her thumb, sparking it twice before it ignites on the third. Her face illuminates in red-orange for a long second and then the flame is extinguished with a clack of the cap against the body.

The witch tosses the lighter over her shoulder. There is no noise of it hitting the floor. Later, Honoka will find no trace of it.

I-No breathes deep. After the exhale, she nuzzles back into the couch. Some of her hair brushes Honoka's arm. It's strange -- up close, it isn't a perfect black. There's a touch of lightness in it. Perhaps now, or perhaps later, when she is closer to sleeping, Honoka may realize that it is the same color one sees when closing their eyes.

"Right fuckin' sentimental, coming home and all that," she murmurs. The rest of her response is hidden behind her paying a little more attention to her smoking.

Afterward: "So you're on your own. Gotta say, for all the shit I've given you about throwing in with Shadow Law --" what "-- I admire that you actually did it. Too bad they've fucked off to leave you hoping for payoff down the line, right?"

I-No turns her head to glance sidelong at Honoka. Her expression is less enthusiastic but also more relaxed.

"To summarize, your safest plays both involve sitting here in motherfuckin' nowhere land trying to get ready for another go. Duke knows this too, and I bet he's wagering on having stomped your ovaries so hard that you won't take any risks. That sound about right to you?"

As I-No settles back into the couch, Dahlia finds a ticklish sensation working its way across the thin fabric of her blouse sleeve. A comforting reminder of what she -could- be doing now -- if she weren't so focused on her work. On maintaining her -integrity-. Incisors scrape across her lower lip as she draws in her breath, momentarily lost in thought.

Cheeks a faint shade of pink, she catches herself drifting. Dahlia coughs lightly into a curled hand. "Yeah. If I had a specific target I'm sure I could twist their arms into helping. As it is..." She glances away, eyes roaming about the ceiling of her sanctum of privacy overlooking the busy Osaka nightlife. "I'm sparring with other psychics. It's not -all- bad."

But when I-No turns to her, the Ainu turns back with a faint half-grin. "... That's pretty much right. I'm in this for the long game -- knowing full well that if I hit Southtown with -too- much, my own base, my own -people- are at considerable risk."

Her amber-flecked eyes stare back into I-No's polychromatic gaze. "... There's also the army of Darkstalkers massing, though. I wonder if Duke knows just what he's getting himself into, there."

"What are they going to do? Grind suggestively against his shoes?"

I-No waves her hand dismissively. With her joint between two of her fingers, it leaves a vague trail of smoke as the air movement faintly cherries the tip.

"The furries are a distraction. Remember that. This vampire king must not be getting enough sleep because he's a mouthbreather, and the amazing bat-tits is probably content on 4koma duty. That tower guy, though..."

I-No pauses to take another drag. She exhales a lungfull with measured slowness.

"Hibernating, who gives a fuck," she breathes the words, the last bit of smoke curling from her lips. I-No glances down and then away.

"Nah. You've got some toys in your chest, but you don't got a soul on your side."

The red witch pushes herself further into the seatback. Her hair rustles against Honoka's arm again, a reminder that the literalism of her position is a contrast to her words.

"Which brings us back to my offer. Firepower, but firepower doesn't win wars. Firepower gets you revenge. And what do you want out of this all, darling?"

Dahlia snorts, at the way in which I-No effectively writes off the major Darkstalkers of note in rapid succession. Perhaps she's right -- if they aren't actually starting trouble, then perhaps they're not worth spending a lot of time worrying about, mm? Her lips purse, as she nods her head in agreement.

She -is- enjoying the chat, now that it's allowing her to air her thoughts with someone else who has as expansive a grasp of the major world powers as herself. ... Or moreso, really. Who knows what Dahlia could do if -she- could skip across time?

"It's a good question. And one I've... considered."

Dahlia thinks for a moment, drumming fingernails on the tablet's glass surface. "... What do -I- want out of this? I want my people to be safe, first and foremost. That's why I won the fuckin' tournament."

She hums softly, glancing across the projected imagery. "... And keeping them safe means wiping out the threats to their existence. Some of my 'family' works to bring -down- Gears. Me... I'm obviously not convinced they're all that bad, hmm? But I'd like to keep them away, all the same."

She dots her finger against the tablet, painting a wide dashed circle around Hokkaido.

"I'd settle for cutting off Duke's grasp. Barricading him up in Southtown -- losing influence in the Diet. And never really knowing -who- is messing with his game."

She lifts the tablet up, dabbing her finger across a red palette, and then swiping across Yokohama, across Chiba -- bloody slash marks drawn across clear Syndicate territory.

"Southtown has deep water ports, but the bulk of his -shipping- goes into those two -- Yokohama and Chiba. Cut him off within spitting distance of his own home... and he'll just double down. And wait for the next charge."

She chuckles, tilting her head askew -- and lifting her fingertips, brushing them across the tips of I-No's hair. "Why should -I- be the only one waiting for the other shoe to drop, hmm?" Though, in this -particular- instance, she's still talking about Duke...

I-No's gaze shifts back to the projector when the Dahlia does the same. She remains with her attention fixed there -- visually, at least -- while she whittles away at the length of her joint. Where is the ash going, come to think of it? There's no tray anywhere, but neither does it seem to be on the couch or on the floor. Of course, these small mysteries are perhaps low in priority with their instigator being an actual witch.

Fingertips against hair. It's an interesting trick: no matter how sleazy and and grungy I-No acts, her physical presentation is highly cultured. Her hair has the light, silken airiness of a recent washing, but lays flat and tamed, suggesting a light oil treatment or the like. Then again, a woman who seems willing to sleep in gutters does not necessarily need to make good on such threats.

"You sure about that?" I-No murmurs. Her voice has descended to a throaty near-purr again, but this seems to be genuine languorousness and not a teasing act. "If I were him and I had the troops, I'd just kick your ass right back out next moment I had free."

A pointed silence. I-No raises both hands, pointing one finger up on one and holding the half-finished joint in the other. She presses the two together. The joint extinguishes with a hiss -- I-No doesn't flinch. When she pulls them apart, her finger is seemingly unharmed. Ash flakes harmlessly from still-pale skin.

"Unless he didn't have a moment, and he didn't have the troops. Say he knew you had Gears waiting. Say the Darkstalkers were dry-humping him. Maybe the book police and the laser crusaders get some tipoffs that get them real riled up."

I-No smiles, thin and wicked.

"Then I'd have other things to do, wouldn't I?"

Dahlia does, in fact, notice that the ash is going nowhere, and I-No's clearly -not- as careless as her motions suggest. And yet, in the grand scheme of things, there are more important topics holding her attention -- plans for the near and far futures, most notably.

"You're right about that..." she comments, as I-No makes a pointed gesture. Though Dahlia does fall silent as the demonstration is carried out. And she finds herself biting her lower lip as the ashes fall away from unmarred flesh. Is I-No immune to pain...? Really good at hiding it? Or just... magicking the embers out of existence?

Intrigued, Dahlia casts her gaze back to I-No with fascination. She nods slowly -- as the Red Witch explains what would happen with a sizable force.

"Good points. He -could- be lured out..." The problem with Dahlia's way of thinking is that it -is- limited to resources she possesses, and is innately familiar with.

But I-No defies most of those definitions.

" ... here's a question for you. Once he's flushed out... would you, or your friends... be able to wipe him out of existence? Cut him off from his 'immortality', and simply -end- him? Because that would solve a -great- number of my problems. And those of the world at large, I feel."

She laughs, admitting afterwards, "Mm, and which ones are the 'laser crusaders?' Kinda lost me on that one."

I-No flicks the rest of the joint over her shoulder to the same place the lighter went. One wouldn't expect this flung object to make a noise, per se, but it stands to reason that there's probably more magic afoot.

(Later, Honoka will find it on the floor.)

"Really?" says I-No. She uncrosses her legs and shifts on the couch to rest on her hip, turning to face Dahlia. This requires curling her knees up more onto the couch instead of stretching out. The poise is incongruously girlish for such a fatale of a woman.

"How many Catholics shitting out their own light shows have you seen on the circuit lately? Especially ones with personal armies. Wait, I got an impression."

I-No raises a hand to cover a part of her face from her hairline, perhaps suggesting some kind of mopey forelock. She intones gravelly: "Be just... or be dead."

Her hand flutters away. With it comes her dismissal of the subject.

"In any case, you're talking about two different things here, darling. You want Duke shut up in his city, that just takes a lil' rearranging of the pieces on the board. You want him fuckin' DEAD... that's another thing entirely."

I-No pauses a moment. Her gaze searches Honoka's face. Her irises shift through sunset orange and neon blue and wine-dark purple.

"I could," she says, taking the words slowly. "But... why would I waste a perfectly good immortal? I may need him later."

One moment, Dahlia's gaze pulls away to watch the snubbed joint as it's tossed over shoulder. But only a glance is spared -- enough to understand that, yes, it -would- have hit the floor, but she didn't hear anything so it obviously didn't. She'll just... find that later, then.

As for the question, the Hokkaido native just meets the caricature with a faint smirk. Perhaps she gets the reference -- perhaps not. But she smirks all the same, nodding with the recognition that, yes, self-important Catholics figure prominently among the list of People Dahlia Doesn't Really Like.

"Holing him up in the city suits me just fine. He'll be irrelevant before long. But if he breaks the confines of his gilded cage, I'll have to find a way to wipe him off the map. And that..."

She leans back against her armrest, lacing both fingers together as she adopts a more asymmetric pose, akin to how I-No had been seated. "He'd be an albatross around my neck. Never facing death at my hands -- but ever would I circle around him. He's past my level -- I know that now. But perhaps that alone would be enough reason for the All-Seeing Lord of Mexico to get involved."

Dahlia averts her eyes downward for a moment. "... I'm not making things clear. Because I'm not used to having the means to make -definitive- plans." Her eyes lift -- matching I-No's gaze once more. "Up till this point, I've been able to make the most out a set palette of paints. But you come in here showing off a dizzying array of colors, and it seems the canvas stretches on for infinity."

She gives a mirthless chuckle. "In a word: I'm starstruck. Awed, at the opportunities you present me with."

Dahkia sets the tablet aside, as she rests her arm comfortably on the seatback, black lace daring to make another appearance.

"Is this a limited-time offer, or do I have some time to think on it?"

Dahlia retreats by fractions to the armrest. The shift in position means that when I-No tilts her head, it casts a shadow across her face. Her eyes do not literally glow, but the weird, vibrant colors are just bright enough to seem as such.

And, so, it is from the other side of that familiar couch in a familiar office in a familiar land that a strange new woman watches Dahlia's every move. One thing askew can make the everyday seem like something else entirely. All those possibilities--

I-No shifts. She rolls her weight from her hip to her knees, sitting up on the couch and leaning forward with her hand on the seatback. As she glides forward, inch by slow inch, her other hand must inevitably find a place somewhere on the seat cushion. It comes down next to Honoka's own hip. Mirroring poise means mirroring potential.

--like what else this office could be used for.

"Wow, I guess that makes me the older woman. That's a change of pace," she says, her voice flat as if this was a clearly humorous understatement. Whatever context brought her to this joke remains opaque.

Regardless, I-No glances down to pointedly notice the calculated carelessness of the case of the black lace. A moment later, her attention returns to Honoka's face.

"You can think about it, darling," she says. Now, most definitely, that purr is one of intent.

The cushions make a soft noise. I-No leans forward, extending her center of gravity dangerously out. She is almost weightless. Almost. Almost, until her hand lashes out to find the Dahlia's throat.

The squeeze isn't painful. It's present. There's a difference there. A promise. A thumb on a delicate and tense spot, ready. I-No's dress shines like the devil's candy in the light from the window as she slithers close.

"We might have other matters on the agenda, right?"

The witch widens her eyes with near-inhuman intensity. One iris burns a cruel red, the other a psychotic purple.

"After all, that bitch with the eye doesn't know what the fuck she's doing. RIGHT?"

Cat and mouse. For so many months, it's been Duke the Cat, and Dahlia scurrying around in the shadows. The two were so close in power before -- and then, cowed, she faced him in combat and learned how terrifying he truly was, outside the glitz and glamour, away from the floodlights of a Southtown city block. And yet, the mouse -can- cause the cat unending nights of agony and unease. Constantly staying in the feline periphery, coming only as close as one dares.

It is a familiar game. And one that she plays out here, even now as she offers appreciation. Respect, for the power to destroy anything that fuckin' displeases the Red Witch.

"You're only as old as you want to be," counters the Ainu woman, lounging from her spot on the couch.

A question is asked. A reply is agreed to with a faint nod. And the gap is closed, firm hand pressure placed against her throat.

Dahlia's mouth parts, her expression riding the razor-edged line between pleasure and pain. Her eyes find themselves trapped by the gaze of the sadistic red, of the crazed purple. One hand instantly snaps to I-No's clavicle. It would support her weight -- were the Red Witch not so weightless -- but little else. Defensive, perhaps even assertive, but far from the aggression shown by I-No. And her answer comes forth as a slow, raspy whisper.

"Not... a single... fuckin' clue."

I-No's face splits in a smile so naked that it makes everything else before it look insincere. The slight movement of her head causes her irises to burst into a kaleidoscopic array. Can a rainbow be sadistic?

"I knew it."

And then her hands tighten.

Log created on 20:53:56 01/25/2019 by Honoka, and last modified on 21:15:27 03/13/2019.