Zero - Just My Twilight Life - Internet At Home!

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Description: With her new Laptop, Honoka goes to build a website for her Twilight Star Circus friends. When Honoka finds herself a victim of cyberbullying on the internet, she calls her friend Marz to help teach her some valuable netiquette when exploring the world of cyberspace. Join Honoka, Marz, and Sudo in learning how to seperate the zeros from the heroes in the World Wide Web! (The cover shows Honoka dressed in a schoolgirl uniform. Next to her is a smiling, warm Sudo dressed as a chef. Both are hovered over a smiling Marz in sunglasses, a baggy hoodie, and jorts. Her skateboard is right at her feet. All are looking at a big CRT computer, as it shows an instant messaging program through AOL. 'SpangleBratJerk' is sending a message to them saying 'You are bad and you should feel bad'. On the far corner of the screen, a leering mustached Zero and grinning Yoshiaki are on another computer, looking like they are in delight at their internet messages) (50 Yen)

The drive up to the bunker was quiet.

Cruising out of Southtown, the van was loaded. NESTS had been harvesting the destitute and homeless from the streets, an extension of a long dead agenda from Violet Industries. Come and volunteer for V-Tech, and get a free hot meal. WEll, they got all the hot meals they wanted. And nobody worried, and nobody missed anybody important. It was routine work. The van had gotten its catch for the day. And it was returning, staffed with a cadre of 12 escorts. Each one was dressed in the full-body suit of NESTS uniformed, the gas-masked soldiers alongside the sterilized-mask medical technicians in the back of the van. It pulls up to the abandoned bunker, well, officially abandoned. Ever since the Gears War, the demand for these Tekken Force bunkers dropped awfully fast. The white van comes to a stop. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a guard steps forward from a guard post.

"Hey, you are late."

The driver steps out, and brings out his ID. He was gas masked, like the guards. "We had some traffic issues; one of the homeless folks got a little ornery, and it escalated." The checkpoint security officer sniffs. "Well you know I got to do the inspection then. It's a security risk." The guard comes to attention. "Understood." "And you got a cold? You sound stuffy." The checkpoint guard moves around the van, taking notes, inspecting it. He taps the dent right by the front wheel. "Yeah, traffic issues. Looks like a hobo-sized traffic issue for sure. No witnesses, I hope." "Well, eventually there weren't." Was the response. And the guard opens up the back of the van. Looking in, he actually shakes his head in disgust.

"Jeeze, two more girls?"

As the door to the back of the van opens, one of the "girls" is leaned back in a restraining chair, her eyes pale and glassy, as if caught in the throes of psychedelic delusion. The other girl, seated right beside her, eyes rimmed with spectacles and wide awake. But, apart from the shock of seeing the prisoners without any sort of restraints, the guard would likely take notice that the other personnel assigned to the van -- the gas-masked soldiers and the sterile-masked med techs -- appear to be sleeping on the job, slumped to either side of the van.

Then the glassy-eyed "girl" blinks.
And when her eyes open?
They flare with golden light.

Just outside the van, the van's driver's eyes roll back in his head. He drops limply to the ground with a 'whump!'

But the seated woman has the lion's share of the guard's attention, crossing one pinstripe-slacked leg over the other. "Aww, don't worry..." she coos, tenting her fingertips over one knee. She grins, broadly, eyes alight with golden radiance.

"... We brought friends."

The dull roar of a half-dozen jet turbines can be heard in the distance, intermixed with the distant sounds of diesel engines and heavy iron on wheels. But the impact that slams into the guard's back will probably be the most noticeable arrival: a cyborg, hurtling bodily into the unsuspecting guard with a reinforced iron shoulder. Kinda hard to miss that.

The guard's crumpled body hits the open van door hard enough to knock it clear off its hinges. Scarlet Dahlia shuts one eye, wincing mildly at the shock as the van rocks turbulently from side to side, as cyborg and guard disappear from her immediate field of view.

"... Brain-dead, but effective friends," concludes Dahlia with a wry smirk. She promptly rises to her feet, brushing her fingers through tresses of shoulder-length black hair. Turns to her bespectacled companion, she arches an eyebrow.

"... was that Coffee Maker?"

Chess was always an apt metaphor in Marz's mind when it came to these conflicts. Play and counter-play as two opponent's jockeyed for the best position and to close out your opponent's ability to control their board state. Of course, it was only a metaphor; in chess both opponent's tools are equal and only skill separates them. In the case of reality, the tools at one's disposal could vary greatly. Some had great skill, carefully trained caution, a web of fronts and carefully constructed plans and clever backdoors to operate clandestinely.

Others had cyborgs and Psycho Power.

It was never going to be graceful, but the plan was an effective one. And behind the overly large nebbish glasses one of the girls in the van wore, she was quietly counting down the time. Counting down until the turbines. Right on cue. The heavy crunch as the door is rent from its hinges.

Marz looks out of the door. She adjusts her glasses and nods. "Ja. A useful tool both inside and out of the office." She folds her hands in her lap and inclines her head. "The oafs at contact point A should be knocking shortly. We should not be missing our moment."

She gives a little gesture to the exit of the van. "You are the superior battering ram. After you."

It was too late, by the time he reaches for his gun.

When he sees the sleeping, the unrestrained, the gears turn. When the girl comes up, and the sound of the turbines begins, he connects what's happening fast enough. By the time his hand is on the handle of the pistol, he gives a groan as the cyborg unleashes the full might of Shadaloo into his back. He slams through the door, and is out like a light from the sneak attack. If not outright dead. There isn't an alarm; at least not an audible one.

But already, the hum was heard.

And right on cue, the interior guards were opening the exterior bunker doors, failing to recognize what the magnitude of the breach meant. A deep hiss comes out as the hydraulic security locks unhinge. The circular bunker entrance begins to opens wide, and the cyborg and vans are met with a barrage of caseless rifle fire from about twelve guards from the now revealed opening. Almost according to plan...

Except there were fewer guards than there should be.

"Take your time," comments the 'battering ram' as she hops down from the van. "It's been a while since I've stretched my legs."

Her eyes grow glassy again as she looks down to unbutton her cuff. It's not just a moment of aloofness, or ignorance of the impending danger she's in -- but rather, the psychic merely getting a read of the battlefield: hearing the bunker doors roll open, sensing the movement of armed figures within. The first shot cracks through the brisk air -- a tenseness acute enough to snap the attentiveness back into her eyes.

Scarlet Dahlia may have never been more alert to the sounds of battle than this. A hailstorm of bullets pounds into the van, the resultant shudders testing the limits of its springy suspension. Flashes of ignited gunpowder streak past as she drops her left arm -- and three links of a rattan sansetsukon slide into her awaiting palm.

Never one to shy away from a dramatic entrance, she takes a long step sideways, coming out from beyond the van's shielding into the direct line of fire. Her long, unbuttoned jacket flaps loosely in the wind like a matador's flag. She grins -- even as bullets whizz past her, shots aimed before it was even known she was present.

Not to be outdone, the windshield shatters explosively into a shower of glass kibble, tinkling onto the dash of the beleaguered van.

Now fully exposed to the gunfire, Dahlia continues her march forward. Rifle barrels pivot towards her. But with each successive stride -- she turns. Pivots. And -flaunts- her apparent precognizance of the trajectory of each bullet, swinging her staff around in flashy, showy arcs. For, when a bullet should have slammed into her forehead, a half-pirouette is enough to cause it to miss. And when a round should have slammed into her hip, a micro-burst of air from the swung staves sweeps it away.

But then, all of a sudden, there is contact, a loud crack, sounding at first like bullet piercing bone. The truth makes itself known a mere moment later -- a splash of crimson from the body of the fallen guard. A bullet deflected by the whirling staff. Dahlia clucks her tongue, shaking her head with no small degree of contempt as she continues her twirling advance. "Sloppy...!"

And not far from the fallen guard, the cyborg stirs back into motion, recovering from its shoulder-tackle of doom. Servos whirr as the six-foot-six automaton vaults back to its feet. Bullets ping harmlessly against its titanium skin as it rears its head high.

And for a moment, Dahlia pauses in her delighted approach, flicking her index forward. She offers the android a simple suggestion: "Go!"

Dutifully, the cyborg charges forward into the fray, undeterred by the number of bullets slamming into it.

But as the cyborg thunders past her, Dahlia's pace slows to a stop. She twirls her sansetsukon laterally beside her -- dozens of glistening lights swirling within, trapped like insects in its figure-eight wake.

And then Dahlia snaps her wrist forward, long fingers curling around all three sections of staff as a wave of forgotten bullets is hurled back towards the battery of riflemen. Bullets effectively marked 'return to sender.'

The first wave of counterattack slams into the bunker defenses as a firestorm of explosions. In the ensuing chaos, three of the soldiers catch the redirected bullets in their respective faces, reeling backwards in surprise and agony.

The second wave is the cyborg's unmitigated heft cratering its way into the entry door.

And as Dahlia resumes her slow strides towards the bunker entrance, she grins widely, for, unlike the momentarily shocked-and-awed soldiers, she now has a front-row seat for the chaos her -partner- is about to unveil.

Why was group A not knocking already? Bullets thud against the side of the van, rocking it side to side with each absorbed roll of thunder. Marz grits her teeth and pulls out her ever present laptop. She flips the computer open and taps quickly. She turns on her earpiece, sighing as she feels she shouldn't have to pull the pieces together so directly. She had given clear instructions, after all. Clear by her perspective.

Marz drops out of the back of the van, following after Scarlet Dahlia's steady juggernaut approach. Her laptop held up by straps so she can contact and control from her position. "I still need that to make coffee!" she calls out to Dahlia. "I would like to not need him to be rebuilt!"

She taps. Stops in the middle of the conflict. A bullet catches the top of her laptop. Despite that, the reinforced case seems to care little and Marz herself jerks back with a scowl. "That one, that one in particular, end him, would you?"

"No. No. Nein!" she shouts suddenly, hand going to her ear. "There are bullets, it's bad for reception. Speak clearly." She sidesteps, putting herself just behind Dahlia in the event of more bullet arrival. "Now." A pause. "That wasn't a verbal tick. I mean go now!"

Away from the van, two women, and a coffee maker, on the far side of the building a separate van rumbles at breakneck speed. The bullbar smashes aside smaller obstacles to get close in. A shield of a van striking obliquely. And from within, a squad of Shadaloo operatives pour out from the vehicle. Guns of their own at the ready, they swarm in with the kind of force intending to strike fear for the great Lord Vega.

Marz, for her role in all this, just would prefer the pawns draw appropriate fire from the Queen and Rook.

It actually was a good start.

A coordinated barrage of fire, cover fire as they reloaded between the 50 internal magazines. Turning the van into a colliander was a morale booster at the very least. And the endless waves of optimized custom ammunition of NESTS turned the air into a muggy blend of lead and smoke. If this was the extent of the assault, it would be the end of it. The attackers would be routed, and they would regroup. But the reinforcements came to support the attackers.

And then you started losing men.

The comparison was made to chess, but it can apply to larger war games. Shadaloo and the girls gained reinforcements. And the NESTS guards did not. And when you start losing men, you start losing firepower. You start losing cover fire. And eventually, the gunfire stops, in order to reload those clunky, heavy rifles. Where girls can run for the perimeter. The exterior was lost. And they were desperately clinging to turtle longer.

Unaware of what was coming at the far side of the building.

The van's fuel tank is shredded in half by the violent bursts of gunfire, igniting a conflagration so bright it casts Dahlia and Marz into silhouette, casting ephemeral shadows through the lead-filled haze.

But the defending guards' will get a fright from two amber lights piercing through the gaze, cast into even starker contrast against Scarlet Dahlia's soot-covered face.

That's all the warning the guard nearest her will get. For the next instant, the sanjiegun in her hand whistles forward, the chain of the weapon wrapping behind his neck. Another instant, and Dahlia tugs backward sharply. The hapless guard is jerked clear off his feet, flung mercilessly over the psycho-powered dynamo's shoulder with almost casual indifference.

It's enough to cause the other guards to choke for breath, doubling back as they struggle to reload. All the time Dahlia needs to whip her free hand forward, and...

A coordinated assault, from the -other- side of the structure.

Dahlia grins from ear to ear. And unleashes a concussive wave of psycho-powered force, enough to blast the fissure made by her partner's ambulatory coffeemaker, expanding it from a crater into an aperture long enough for her to stride through. And what's more -- enough to concuss the guards -behind- said door back another two meters.

"Marz, you can't tell me you didn't back up the program. How hard can it be to make -another- one?" Dahlia smirks as she turns to Marz -- confidently turning away from the dazed resistance in the process. Fingers dance across a small pendant hanging around her lapel -- and then she tears it away, flinging the object to her partner. "Why don't -you- take the leash for a bit, then?"

And with that, Dahlia steps over the rubble of the ruined barrier. Her sansetsukon rolls about in lazy circles as she strides into the facility.

A guard just inside the threshold raises his rifle.
A swift roundhouse knocks the rifle right out of his hand.

And in the very next breath, Dahlia lashes forward, planting her hand upon the bullet-proof vest of the unsuspecting soldier. She pulls him up off his feet -- with strength far beyond what her slim frame might suggest, her hand pulsing in purple.

Long blades of psychic energy whip out from her forearm, their points piercing easily through the kevlar. Cries of agony roll out from the terrified soldier. Other soldiers begin to open fire -- but that's when the five-foot-five crime boss lets the bulky soldier act as a human shield.

"I've got my own toys to play with for the moment..."

An thus the battering ram batters. Marz smiles to herself, looking down at the pendant that Dahlia tossed at her. With the laptop open at her belly, she observes the feed from both sides of the building, and reads the diagnostics coming in that tell her every bit of how her precious Coffee Maker is holding up. It's all falling according to plan, with allowances for the delays of the idiots on the other side.

"Everything is backed up. Have you seen what Lord Vega's power does to valuable equipment?" she asks with an all too rictus smirk. So many things that needed to be replaced. Still, she adjusts her glasses and marches on after the flashy Dahlia.

"You seem to enjoy this," Marz notes, keeping her distance as Dahlia does her work. "You should be glad that Lord Vega's benevolence allows you to fight this way, instead of trying to control the pawns." She looks on, amused, shielded from the front by the cyborg that has shifted from forward assault to being a protective bulwark for the tactician and her strap held control panel.

Let them all deal with their toys, Marz thinks, as she starts searching for signals. She expects whatever database is here will not be foolishly left exposed to wireless signals, but she can still look.


When the breach takes place, the front line finds itself split. The wall comes down, and in the debris, a handful of guards are seen in the wake. The remaining? Eviserated by Honoka's precise technical work, with the Coffee Maker for additional support. There is a responsive fire towards Marz, but it strays away in order to maintain their position against the Shadaloo counter-attack. That too, ceases. There was now a lack of gunfire building. The interior of the bunker now was exposing the walkways down, thanks to Honoka's explosive entrance; no elevators here. Here, everything was beginning to look sterile, clean. Smooth. That familiar hospital green paintwork, one that Honoka had in a way experienced herself. They were approaching the labs now. Everything was going according to plan.

Though, at least, there seemed to be some matters for security.

It stands out, though, when Marz picks up the first of the wireless signals. It's noise. Jammers. It's one thing to have an exposed database network. But the noise was actively disrupting any wireless communication. Of course, that would explain why the response was coming so slow from the counter-attacks. Digital security can sometimes stifle their analog counterparts. But unless this was a flat encryption... that would imply that there was no remote contact either away from the bunker. Marz would need to be finding an console or a similar counterpart to get in, or at least hard wire in. Once there was no more resistance, she would have all the time in the world. There is the sound of a door sliding open. The tap tap of boots.

And the first of the next wave comes out.

She has strawberry blonde hair, reaching to the hem of her too short black and red pleated skirt. The hem of the skirt carrying alternating cross embosses on it. She has studded leather bracelets and gloves, and her left arm has a disconnected black sleeve that goes just up over her elbow. Her black top is somewhere between a bustier and a blouse, with sheer butterfly patterns on the blouse parts. She wears a disconnected black collar, barely attached on by straps, with a red tie dangling from her neck. A black headdress sits on her head, and studded belts dangle from her hips. Chains wrap around her arms, as she arms herself with a long bo staff. She moves with a jerking, faint movement, though emphasis is made with every step to swing her hips. And she levels the staff out, before swinging it hard towards Honoka, attempting to beat her solidly in the chest. Her words come out stilted, her gaze distant, as she gives a sound that's sour, but sweet.

"I must... protect... sempai..."

"I suppose that's why he always has the newest tech..."

While Marz coordinates the invading Shadaloo forces from her laptop, Scarlet Dahlia is a veritable angel of death, cutting a swath through the defending forces with a maniacal grin on her face.

Bullets tear through her human shield, lodging firmly into the guard's kevlar vest, but piercing clear through his arms and legs with blossoms of crimson. Dahlia grins madly as her human shield grunts and wails out with each successive strike, drinking in the ambrosia of his discontent. She can practically -taste- the guard's disgust for her selfish actions, doubled by his frustration at being unable to do anything about it.

She confirms, "I'm -ecstatic!-" Her knuckles are white from hoisting the guard's collar up to protect her head. Bullets whizz by, with the occasional close ricochet glancing off his flak helmet, as she walks down the long incline.

But eventually the gunfire tapers off -- stifling. Dahlia looks to her human shield, but finds no guidance in hi now-pallid face.

Dahlia glances sideways, into the adjoining rooms. Sterile, clean ... like a hospital. Her nose wrinkles in disgust. "Well, I -was- having fun..." Her voice echoes in the cavernous corridor's eerie silence. And then there is an echoed thud as she flings her shock-afflicted guard to the floor, his limp limbs flopping about like a rag doll's.

"This puts us in Phase Two, then, mm? Hack in, find out what you can. Bonus points for the name of the asshole who picked split-pea green as the color here."

She glances ahead to the cyborg affectionately named "Coffee Maker." To the battlefield commander, the 'noise' is something she's tuned out -- but is it something that can affect the android? Reminding herself that it's not -really- a problem -- voice controls for recognized commanders are just as effective -- she turns her attention further down the hall.

And then a shadow spills out of an opening door. Boots tap. And Dahlia pulls her sanjiegun close to her.

"Okay, who the hell is -this- supposed to be?" An eyebrow is raised -- and soon after, the sanjiegun. The battle stance seems familiar, but nothing else does. Strawberry blonde hair? An unfamiliar battle outfit? Dahlia rolls her eyes. "Couldn't even bring out an A-class..." she teases, letting the sanjiegun fall loose.

But then the unfamiliar figure takes on a recognizable stance. A bo staff is unleashed. Muscle memory kicks in -- and Dahlia reacts in kind, pressing her palm perpendicular to the protruding partisan, pushing it away as she steps sideways.

The clothing may be unrecognizable, but the movements are unmistakable: hips never lie. Dahlia grins with the realization that she's fought this person before -- or at the very least, an earlier version of her AI.

"Oh, isn't that just precious!" she chirps out, whipping her three-sectioned staff out in a flashy display. "We just want to -chat- with your dear sempai, nothing more!" She nods her head -- and tests her knowledge, stepping in a pattern intended to provoke the AI to strike in a familiar pattern. And when the bo staff snaps out again, Dahlia would seek to ensnare it in the grip of her sanjiegun, wrenching it aside and delivering a heavy concussive kick to the breastbone of her opponent, backed by a psycho-infused explosion powerful enough to knock her down. The goal is to blast her opponents backwards, allowing the Shadaloo ladies to continue their march to discover the bunker's secrets.

"There's -so- much to discuss!"

Terribly noisome, but not something unaccounted for. Marz strides along at more of an amble than the situation seems to call for. 'Coffee Maker' dutifully stalks in front of her, wide and tall enough for the diminutive tactician to remain behind and relatively safe. Compared to the existence of the zealous soldiers throwing themselves into the grinder, the cyborg is a preferred asset. Even if it is currently being used as a bullet deflecting mobile wall.

Marz taps into the Coffee Maker's optics, so she can bring up yet another window on her crowded screen to see without risking her neck. "Just keep drawing fire and enjoying yourself," Marz says, not really trying to be heard by Honoka. Though she is wondering why this clear brute bothers with trying to lead or coordinate when she's clearly happier just ploughing forward at behest.

But the thought of a hench-Dahlia passes when a new arrival stumbles on into the sterile halls. Marz looks at the staff wielding puppet and snorts with derision. Adjusting her glasses, the jumpsuited Shadaloo Doll comments, "She looks ridiculous", with no sign of self-aware irony. "Can you just make light of this schoolgirl? I will need to find a hardline connection to the networks here. They are not entirely clueless."

It clear, that this was no Combot.

The counter-attack is executed flawlessly by Dahlia, her instincts were correct in what style this was. But unlike a Combot, human flesh makes a poor compensation for rote technique. The kick comes, and the blast sends her hurtling down the hallway. She comes to a rest, body spasming. The door beside her slide open, as other slide open. Marz had a lion's share of consoles, as she finds a room full of them as a diagnostics chamber. It wasn't a data center, but it was close enough to one.

Dahlia, unfortunately, finds that more arrive.

Red hair, with a magenta body suit, cape, and yellow top, a hand burning with fire chi. Coffee brown eyes, jet black bangs, with pink highlights, dressed as a circus acrobat, armed with a pair of diablos. And a third, dressed in a white haori and red hakama, a red ribbon in her black hair, armed with a katana. Familiar shapes, unfamiliar faces; the forms staggers out in the same daze as the counterpart.The trio drone, "Must... protect... sempai!" As they stagger out, the injured school girl rising up staggeredly, her body bruised. As the last one emerges, however, a telltale wheeze comes, and someone staggers out from the same room. He doesn't even waste time staring down the hall, running down it to another sliding panel doorway only a few feet away. The coke-bottle glasses, the buck-toothed sneer, the uncurable acne. That was a familiar face, dressed in a familiar lab coat, as his face was twisted in sheer terror.

Except, well, Yoshiaki never had wires coming out of his head.

Dahlia lowers her foot to the floor, snapping her sanjiegun taut between both hands as she recenters herself, taking stock of the situation. The 'schoolgirl' slams into the wall as expected -- an efficient use of the limited time provided. An extended sparring match to test the advances in AI is not in her best interest, and neither is Scarlet Dahlia's typical MO of slowly insinuating herself into an enemy presence and sabotaging it from within. Both would take time, and considering the secret "treasures" sought by Dahlia, time is a luxury the Shadaloo team does not have.

"Gladly," acknowledges Dahlia with a crack of her neck. The criminal mastermind is fine with playing roles, clearly -- it communicates the idea clearly and gets the grunts scurrying out of her path. And it allows her to cut straight to the chase, as she begins long, purposeful strides down the inclined path.

Three doors slide open, and then a fourth. Well-attuned to the guiding stars of the fighting world -- can recognize the hallmark features of the popular fighters that each of the B-grade copies before her have been manipulated into replicating. Having seen the mad scientist's creations from a psychological perspective, she can only shake her head -- for these, unlike Lucille Belle -- are far from fully-formed. The love in them, not as -strong-.

Dahlia plays a role -- an oppressor. A brute. And she stalks forward, she lashes her sanjiegun downwards at diagonals. Psycho-inflamed sparks fly as the sectioned stave collides with antiseptic floor -- shows of force meant to intimidate, to dazzle. Chi, after all, is -nothing- to her without confidence.

Her voice resonates through the corridor -- though she's not speaking to the three would-be fighting stars standing before her. "Marz-chan, could you sic Coffee Maker on the other four-eyes? My next ten seconds are booked solid."

Command-as-friendly-suggestion given, Dahlia suddenly leaps into a forward tumble, lashing her sanjiegun at the katana-armed fighter after one full revolution. Fighting aficionados might recognize that she's using an Ainu-inspired technique against the most heavily armed of the trio -- using a weapon that has practically double the katana's reach. Her goal is a surprise attack -- to disarm and disable the lady in white before the 'fight' has even truly begun.

The second fighter to appear, though, will find that her own talents are woefully underappreciated. For as Dahlia kicks back to her feet, her free hand snaps out in a snakehand, pinching at the one of the two diabolos that is in free flight. The airborne diabolo is wreathed in purple flames -- and as Dahlia jerks her hand sharply upwards -- the diabolo violently wrenches itself out of orbit, slamming itself into the acrobatic fighter's face. The hand motion -- and the diabolo motion -- are repeated three times.

The white-garbed fighter is not to be forgotten though -- as Dahlia pistons her foot into her abdomen, aiming to buckle the clone to her knees with the strike.

Three and a half seconds in -- and Dahlia, ever mindful of the battlefield's multiple moving pieces, turns her focus to the figure in magenta.

More of them. These knock off people. "These things are moving so poorly. These are terribly made. Who is making these things?" Marz complains as she watches the fakes get more and more battered about by the sheer force that Dahlia is bringing to the table.

She knows how much better Shadaloo and Lord Vega is at making puppets. Whether that means cyborgs like Coffee Maker, or the control chips, Shadaloo's done much better work in her opinion. She remains, of course, entirely unaware of what's happened to her in her short life.

But it's the final figure that Dahlia calls out. The nerd. Tiresome. Marz adjusts her glasses and gives a half-hearted wave. "That one? I am presuming that he has some hand in this?" Her lips quirk downward while she keys in a direct command to the Coffee Maker. "Go on, then, go and show them what superior technology is capable of."

A click of an enter key and Coffee Maker lights to renewed life. His burly molding of machine and man twists and turns toward the acne-ridden antagonist. Red eyes glow and the first slow stalks are heavy and thudding. But the pace around the steps grows faster and faster as the metal man surges to a full tilt, barreling run. Nothing to stop him, the cyborg charges toward the terror struck nerd with the full force of a semi-truck. Marz has no plan on being subtle here, just batter the man into a fine paste with a large mechanical force.

One, two, three.

The harem finds itself neatly overwhelmed, in the mere 3 seconds it takes. The woman in white is the first focus, as she gasp as Honoka's aggressive opening comes up. The katana comes around, but it's expecting -something else-, as she is staggered by the clean opening. The same occurs as the diablos comes around; a very old technique, very dated. And one that has nearly perfect counter-attack with. As the finishing kick comes, the woman in white drops her sword, slamming into the wall. The chi-infused fighter, remaining, seems to be finishing a chant, with her hands above her head. Leveling them out prematurely, she holds her burning hands in a strange shape. "D-d-dragon Slave!" She cries out, as she brings her hands before her, attempting to unleash a blast of energy right at Honoka... unconcerned of the school girl who was trying to get behind the Ainu fighter, staff held up high.

Meanwhile, It doesn't take long before the figure reveals himself as very clearly Yoshiaki.

There is only one high-pitched noise that could come from the man, and that noise slices through the air when that Cyborg starts pursuing him. He dashes into the room, but it's too late. As Coffee Maker enters, it seemed to be some kind of cafeteria slash break room. A kitchen was just out of sight, with a range of lockers by the tables. Coffee Maker doesn't need long to find him, with the sound of the locker being slammed. When the cyborg reaches the locker, ripping it free, another high-pitched shriek, like a rabbit's death rattle, is released from the wimpering man, before he begins to pee himself. It would be a swift execution.

It's only a miracle, when a familiar strongman intercepts the cyborg.

The bodyguard surges in from the kitchen, his plate clattering to the ground. Seizing the Coffee Maker from behind, he doesn't waste time as he goes for the judo throw, tumbling backwards to send him away from his ward. He wasn't in the black suit, black sunglasses, and red shirt anymore. He was dressed in an apron; a humilation perhaps, and armed with a long breadknife, wet with mayonaise. The difference now, of course, is that he had grizzled five-a-clock shadow, and a red bandana. "Sudo!" Yoshiaki cries out, as the man finishes his throw.

It seems that the Twilight Star members have been uncovered.

Outside, about a half a kilometer from the bunker site, an sedan car comes to a stop. I would say its model, but there is no model to the car. It simply is, hewn from plastic shell. "Sir?" Was the question from the driver. "I will get out here, and walk." The mustached man in the black suit states calmly, as he exits the vehicle. Straightening himself up, his cloak emerges behind him, the brown-haired figure looking around. The pop and battering of gunfire in the distance. He nods, with understanding. Steadily, he drifts forward past the tree, his posture flawless, his skirt trailing behind him. Heading straight for the continuing firefight into the bunker. It wouldn't be long before he'd fall into the perimeter of the engagement. With his feet just an inch or so off the ground, he'd stand out like a sore thumb. A wind drifts past him, as he just edges past a tree.

You might notice the leaf falling from the branch, trisected in three fractal shapes of equal area.

"Oh, they're -trying-, Marz! Points for effort, maybe?" Dahlia whirls about, sidestepping twice for stability as she gets a better look at the magenta-clad fighter. Something about her is odd -- not really matching the profile of the fighter she had expected. For whatever reason, Dahlia holds her position long enough to hear that curious phrase.

%At which point her eyebrow arches. What nonsense is she spouting -now?- But just as the fiery chi begins blazing towards her, the crime lord pivots sharply to the side, twisting into a limber cartwheel. The conflagration roars past -- and if she correctly identified the sensation behind her, that would mean the 'schoolgirl' is the one who gets enveloped in the 'Dragu Slave' flame.

Which, itself, brings Dahlia no small measure of satisfaction.

"Yeah, that guy's the engineer I mentioned..." Not one to waste time, Dahlia answers while in the midst of her cartwheel, her sanjiegun carving a semicircular arc overhead. And when she plants her feet on the ground again, she whip-cracks the sanjiegun in the direction of her ninjutsu-slash-dragonslayer. A purple orb of energy whips out from the center of the spinning staves, rocketing forward and slamming into the abdomen of the anxious antagonist. "... If it's actually him and not one of these hollow copies."

Dahlia pivots on her heel, tracking towards the lady in white and the lady in Twilight Star colors. Her nose wrinkles, as a familiar 'scent' comes to mind. But as her eyes grow glassy, the psychic realizes that the aura signature isn't coming from the -clone-, but from the direction Coffee Maker had headed...

The sardonic smile falls into a contemplative frown. She echoes the name under her breath: "... Sudo."

A circular pattern begins to swirl around Dahlia -- starting small and subtle at first, but soon raging into a cyclone of psychic force. The martial arts maneuvers still as the tusukur clenches her fists at both her sides, the sanjiegun falling limp in her hand.

"Marz. Standby."

For she's fighting a war on another front now -- a battle of wills.

She will try to reach her former chief of security.
In a familiar tone of thought.

** Sudo. Bring him to me. **

The pale dopplegangers are no longer considered a threat. And the mustached man approaching is still a distant threat. For now -- it's just a question of whether her bond -- of friendship, of loyalty, of complete and unwavering trust -- has any more pull over the man in the apron.

"He is so pathetic. . .," Marz mutters to herself, watching her Coffee Maker batter his way through to the terrified engineer. She pushes her glasses up her nose and sneers down while the world just keeps exploding around her, a steady and solid rock amid the madness.

And then a big man slams Marz's toy to the ground. He crashes, cracking and sparking against a soon to be splintered countertop. It twitches, almost as much as Marz's eyelid does upon seeing her Coffee Maker be upended. "That is a very important tool," she says, looking at the lethal chef that's entered the fray. "Do you even begin to comprehend what you have done? This is not like one of his," she points to the engineer, "trinkets. Very well, it is not like it will be too damaged. I'm certain someone can fix it."

She looks aside to see how Dahlia is doing. And sees that things are going very, well, brightly. "Stand-by? Why? It is the chef. Why are we standing by for a chef?" she asks, then just shakes her head with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Bah! Nevermind. I will be connecting to their system now, ja? I will presume all this has to do with your equal vendettas. It does not involve me."

She doesn't care to intercede on behalf of anyone but herself as she puts to ignoring the conflict with all intents on simply finding the right tower for her to connect into.


The blast comes forward from the red head, as it completely consumes her staff-wielding counterpart. She gives a look of confusion for but a moment; but the staff-fighter was not getting up anymore. Honoka's quick counter-attack comes, and blasts her back; she's not getting up from that one other. The other two, however, were easing up. While Honoka speaks silently, the diablos fighter swings the diablos around; attempting to hook a string around Dahlia's arm, and use it as leverage to swing her towards the lady in white. The lady in white? Scrambles to get her sword, and may not have enough time to actually -slice- at Honoka before she comes.

Meanwhile, in the cafeteria.

Chef Sudo stands fast over the broken table, staring down at the sparking attacker. He keeps switching the knife from hand to hand, waiting for the next move from the Cyborg. He seemed ready to filet Coffee Maker, as the wimpering Yoshiaki stands up, bravado filling his heart. "That's right! You better be scared! That is the power of Yoshiaki! And his incredible V-Tech Hyponisis powers! All shall fall within the great empire of NESTS, with King Yoshiaki leading all the beautiful, young women into his Harem Empire-"

Sudo leaves the cafeteria to return to Honoka.

He stops, and returns back to the cafeteria.

Sudo leaves the cafeteria, bridal carrying Yoshiaki to Honoka.

And Yoshiaki's despair is like rich cake, as he gives a feeble whine.

Marz can easily bypass the first layer of security; it's not that it's a particularly bad security, it's just there are only so many alphanumeric combinations of the password TomoeLewdStuff out there. The wallpaper is not safe for work, even when you work at Shadaloo. Judging by the content, especially if you work at Shadaloo. No emails; it's like the stone ages or trying to hack the Dragoons, probably some sneaker security here. Plenty of files, encrypted of course. And of course, a calender popup comes up; it looks like the only reason the email system wakes up is for the calender alerts.

*Senior Leadeship Inspection - 5 Minutes*

*Note: Prepare Sandwiches and Snacks This Time*

Zero emerges to the clearing where the bunker; idly looking at the armory deployed against the fortification. He shakes his head, disappointedly. Casting a gaze towards the smashed in exterior, he considers a moment, before drifting towards the backdoor that Marz and Company ripped open. He seemed uninterested, or even unaware of the full military deployment. Or of the alarm being raised at his arrival. Or of the gunfire that seemed to be just barely missing him.

As the remains of bullets dribble on the ground around him, divided into 3 fractral shapes of equal mass.

If Scarlet Dahlia had been in constant contact with Sudo and the others, delivering psychic commands would have been almost effortless. But with the time since their last communication being so long, the connection was spotty. Ephemeral. And as Sudo's initial error becomes obvious, Dahlia finds herself rooted in place just a few moments longer than she'd have liked.

It seems like a rare opportunity, with Dahlia's gaze still glassy and distant. The diaboloist is able to ensnare Dahlia's sleeve with the cord. And she's even able to apply a torque to her, whipping her around so that the dazed tusukur finds herself running, against her own will, towards the white-garbed fighter.

But as soon as Sudo clears the bend with Yoshiaki in tow, Dahlia snaps out of her reverie. Teardrops of golden radiance swim about in wells of amber. Her mouth erupts into a feral grin. And, just before the white-garbed fighter can take full advantage, Dahlia dashes into a running leap, slamming into her feet-first with the force of a sport motorcycle at full tilt. Two psychic lances sprout from her heels, jolting raw psychic feedback into the hypnotically-controlled fighter for the moment before said fighter is bowled over backwards.

But Dahlia's not done yet. One tentative tug on the cord is all she needs to confirm that the diaboloist has a firm grip. With that knowledge, Dahlia springs backwards from the katana-wielder, baring her teeth as she thunders through the air, eyes blazing with golden rage. With the diabolo cord acting as a zipline, she clears the distance in a single heartbeat, one hand stretching out for the novice diaboloist's face.

Contact is made. And Dahlia aims to continue moving, even as the diabolist is knocked down -- and even as the diabolist is jolted with a bolt of lightning, thundering down from the ceiling of the enclosed chamber. Dahlia leaps into a tumble, landing in a low, three-point stance.

And then she turns her radiant eyes towards the Sudo, and his 'bride,' Yoshiaki. Her grin... fades.

"No... 'pathetic' does not begin to describe this one," she comments, rising to her feet. "But yes, Marz... -do- proceed. These two will not be a threat." Even as Yoshiaki struggles to escape, Sudo continues marching towards her at a steady pace. And Dahlia strides close to meet him.

"Your -sense of design- is trash. Your -combat routines- are trash. Even your -fetishes- are trash. But what's worst of all...?"

Dahlia grasps hold of Yoshiaki's face, thumbs pressing into his temples while fingernails prod into the base of his skull. And then her palms begin to crackle with electricity.

"Your. Waifus. Are. TRASH."

The electricity is just a taste of Dahlia's gifts, which she clearly has -no- hesitation against using. And yet, as her scarred face looms ever closer to Yoshiaki's... she holds off, for a moment. Craning her neck close, she narrows her eyes, glaring right into the depths of the perverted engineer's soul.

"Time is short. You will tell me where the rest of the circus members are hiding." A tongue darts across her lips, moistening them. Her fingertips, still hot from the lightning charge, press firmly into Yoshiaki's face.

The words purr forth from the back of her throat. "Or... else."

Tickatack. Tackatick. The findings on the systems are nothing more than the standard issue disgusting of a person like Yoshiaki. Marz spends enough time in the world of the internet for her to be thoroughly inured to what she's seen. "This is of negligible importance. But information is information."

But there is, among everything else, something important information among the noise. Marz hums and adjusts her glasses. She looks back to the interrogative assault on the engineer. "He is less important than what is coming. The one you want to question is coming. So long as his scheduling is accurate."

Marz plugs an external drive into the server. Starting a download of information. "This will take some time, will you be able to slow down this Leader of theirs?" she asks Honoka, looking over with an uncertain, critical quick of her lips.

And then there was none.

The false Dahlia attempts to catch Honoka, and is almost successful. But as she whips the woman along into the lady in white, her counterpart is what is taken down, the last blow finishing her off into a hard slam into the wall. Her expression is twisted in horror as Dahlia pulls along up the wire, and the last thing she sees is a hand on her face, clinging tight before she is blasted back into a useless heap.

Diablos spinning themselves into a tumble, before going still.

Yoshiaki was terrified. Every word was like a hammer into him. He felt his insides being ripped open by Dahlia's piercing words. His life's work, his genius, all being completely ripped to shreds at every word. Until the coup de grace comes. Not the shock, but the reference to his Waifus. Everything Yoshiaki had done, was now destroyed. The data transfer begins. And Yoshiaki howls in pain, sheer pain, as the shocks come right into his neutral network. "No, no, please, please!" Was his pathetic whine. "I'll tell you! Please don't kill me! I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself, I'm so sorry! I'll tell you, they are... they are."

Yoshiaki falls silent, as a wind passes through the tunnel.

It was a flow of fresh air, rushing through the passage. The figure stands in a slate sari, his mustache unmoved as he looks at the scene before him. Yoshiaki had nothing left to evacuate. He stares in absolute horror at everything around him. Dahlia. Marz. And now, Zero. One of the most senior of senior leadership within the NESTS organization. And the man was doing... nothing now. How long was he even there? He lands on the ground, at parade rest. Time was up, wasn't it?

"Don't let me interrupt."

The words come with absolute authority, precise and controlled. "It's important for you to continue your day to day activities as if I am not even here." The words are far too warm for piercing sarcasm, but not warm enough to indicate a kindness to the man's plight. Yoshiaki was wordless, terror consuming his mind. "Time is short, Yoshiaki." The figure repeats. "She requested where the rest of the circus members are hiding. You will answer her, or else." Yoshiaki stares at Zero. Dahlia. Zero. Dahlia. Sudo. Waifus. Zero. Dahlia.

And Yoshiaki breaks into a cackle.

A complete a total cackle, as his mind snaps. Madness takes hold, as he goes limp into a giggling, babbling mass. "In the vats! The vats! NYEE HEE HEE! THE LABS DOWN THE HALL! ALL IN THE JARS AND VATS IN THE BACK! NYEE HEE HEE! HEE HEE NYEE!" He kicks and flails uselessly, as he desperately accepts his fate. It was over. It was all over.

Zero just shakes his head.

The NESTS commander turns his head, looking into the room where Marz was busy at work. "Don't rush yourself on my behalf." He states firmly. "It should take exactly 7 minutes, twelve seconds, if our data is correct." What data. "Please tell me if takes longer or shorter, though." He gives a calm smile, before returning his gaze back to Dahlia. "He has told you where they are. Please continue as you need, don't think of me being here." The psychic impression of this man was not blank. It was a fuzzy null, something that was, and was not. Not a glimmer of hostility. Not a glimmer of frustration. Not a glimmer of kindness, not a glimmer of any emotional rise of significance. It had to be the suit, right? NESTS experimentation, technology, anything. And yet, he stands at rest, hands behind his back. Waiting.

As that strange wind continues to blow.

"Leader?" Dahlia stares back at Yoshiaki, even as she directs her question to Marz, positioned roughly behind her in another room. "What -leader- are you even..."

If there's one thing Scarlet Dahlia hates, it's being underinformed. Which is why this mission in particular was such a high priority for her -- it targeted people she'd grown up with, who were on her payroll, took place right in her proverbial backyard, and she'd known next to -nothing- about it. The only clue was the sniveling excuse for a man caught right between her crackling hands.

She starts to get her answer.
And then a singular breeze whips through the tunnel.

If there's another thing Scarlet Dahlia hates, it's being -rushed-. One of Dahlia's hands drops as she turns to the new arrival -- and given her subordinate Sudo's response time, she feels confident enough that the Yoshiaki situation is handled. She stares back at Zero. And squints -- finding it hard to stare -too- close to all that silver hair.

This man looks -oddly- familiar. And the way in which he assumes command with such... flair...

Dahlia grinds her jaw together. An unresolved issue from what feels like the distant past. The self-declared Principal of Gedo High... 'Walter Smith.' A rushed, shoddy plot to cover a brazen attempt to steal the DNA sequences of an entire generation of Southtown's best and brightest. Artless, hamfisted and -clumsy-, in her expert opinion.

But no. That's the past. The -now- is quivering in her grasp as she turns back to him. And what's more, he's newly emboldened in telling her just -how- badly her circus peers are locked up. Her grip on Yoshiaki's face tightens -- and yet, with 'Principal Smith' staring over her, she finds herself filled with impotent rage. Because she can't just -kill- him in cold blood, right in front of someone who would assuredly have the strength to take a pound of flesh in exchange, right...?

Dahlia licks her lips.
And she swallows her pride.
And she looks -- right into Sudo's eyes.

Sudo's been there for her through thick and thin. He's been by her side, ever since she first joined the circus as a teenage runaway. He shaped her into the strong-willed person she is now. And while there are perhaps dozens of layers of half-assed mental conditioning... he's still there. Loyal. Obedient. And eager to help. It's hope -- hope that Yoshiaki wasn't stupid enough to -destroy- the only people she could call a family.

And right now, this smug, condescending, silver-haired asshole is giving her the means to walk right out of here. If only she can play her cards right.

She licks her lips again.
"Sure thing, boss. Awfully gracious of you."

She grips tight, and hauls Yoshiaki right out of Sudo's carrying arms, hurling him right to the floor.

She then slams her boot into his right hand, crushing it against the floor hard enough to hear the satisyfing crunch of bones beneath her heel.

She utters in an ice-cold tone, "Lee Chaolan sends his regards." And then offers a lackadaisical shrug, fully aware of the figure staring back at her under an impassive, electronically shrouded veil.

"Just another day at the office, then, hmm?" chirps out Dahlia, as she nears the room with those marvelously sci-fi-ish vats, filled with viscous green liquid, bubbles showing the flow of oxygen. She takes a look at the first vat -- then the second. It's the -fourth- that she even stops to peruse -- and only then, with a tilt of her head.

Scarlet Dahlia -hates- being rushed.

She turns to look over her shoulder, raising an inquisitive finger.
But she catches herself.
"Ah, right," she claims, in a deep mumble-like voice that just -happens- to project. "Pretend you're not here, right."

Dahlia balls a fist, and -slams- it as hard as she can against the glass of the vat.

A curious prediction of the latest arrival. No doubt, through his demeanor and presentation, that this was the timely arrival of the Senior Leadership. Marz doesn't need to be a tactical genius to guess that this man is most likely a grave threat; not to the level of Lord Vega, but still a threat.

Marz shifts her glasses and looks to the data bar. And like Lord Vega, there's no need to interrupt the technical professionals when they are technical-ing. At least these grand leaders can identify that. So she continues to do her work. Quietly taking what she can while she watches the pagentry play out in front of her. It truly is an interesting showcase and she's more than happy to take her front row seat.

There would be many things a man like Zero could do.

He could immediately focus on Marz. He could correct her, explaining how the mission at the schools had been successful, or unsuccessful. He could be shocked that he was identified so cleanly. He could explain everything that had taken place. He could return fire, how futile her efforts were. Words, words, words. He could have even snatched up Yoshiaki, and made his escape. And what does Zero do, in the face of sudden barbed defiance?


As stoic as a statue. Every needle and sting is like water upon stone walls. Even when Yoshiaki is slammed on the ground, and his hand -crushed- under a boot. Even as he cackles, sobbing and cackling as his desperately holds his hand in kicking, writhing agony. Was he ignoring Dahlia? Or was he watching everything unfolding? He drifts over Yoshiaki, to watch her, to observe. That wordless -pressure-. For the beacon of hope for Dahlia, however, it was here. Her circus family. Waiting patiently to be prepared for their new lives as Yoshiaki's plaything. She lines up her fist.

And it break open.

Tubes break, wires pull away. liquid oxygen is replaced with real oxygen, as the poor victims instinctively cough and vomit the substance from within. Alive. Alive, but in a cosmic daze, as the boundary between reality and Yoshiaki's warped fantasies are blurred and dissolved into a soup. Alive, but there would be time to heal, to rebuild. Her circus family was alive.

Zero drifts back outside of Marz's room, giving Dahlia a moment of privacy to unite with them.

Scarlet Dahlia really hates being pressured. And yet, as the negative void occupied by a silver-haired not-school-principal maneuvers himself between Marz and Dahlia... she can't help but feel -some- sort of pressure.

There is, however, a task at hand. And as soon as the glass gives way to the pressure of her psi-augmented fist, Dahlia knows just how close that task is. The tubes open -- and a wave of confusion washes over her. Breath catches in the tusukur's throat as she leans forward, placing her hands on the jagged glass for support -- -any- support to deal with the backlash of not only -sensing- the second of her circus peers, but coping with her anguish as well.

The clock is ticking. And as much as she'd love to take the time...

** Don't worry, Rit-chan. It's me. Honoka. And everything will be all right. **

A comforting thought shared directly to the second subject's mind, perfectly able to penetrate through the deafening roar of a rapidly-draining chemical vat, and whispering through the darkened haze of overlaid memories. She bites her lip -- desperately wishing she had the time to extricate everyone she knows in such a personal gesture. Irritably, she clenches a fist...

And then she unleashes the power in her fist as one swift pillar of willforged energy, cascading like a spear across the front of each of the remaining vats. A shower of glass. Then a series of waterfalls, as liquified oxygen and nutrient baths spill out of each tube.

She draws in her breath. ** Don't worry, everyone. This is just one... bad... dream. Honoka's here. And Sudo will... Sudo will lead you home. **

And with a hand gesture, she trades places with her loyal companion. Perhaps he's -less- confused than the others, but... an order's an order.

Scarlet Dahlia begins striding towards the server room with urgency and purpose. She taps a small pin on her lapel and barks out orders into the air -- her gaze focused like a laser on Zero. "Team: Begin withdrawal phase. VIP objectives located, dripping wet in tan clothes. Need an extraction ASAP. Repeat, -begin withdrawal phase-."

She stops some ten feet from Zero, withdrawing her sanjiegun from its belt loop. With all three sections grasped in her left hand, she falls into a ready combat stance, gritting her teeth.

Dahlia's eyes glisten with golden radiance as she exudes raw, golden confidence. Behind her... the hallway glimmers in a sympathetic glow, radiant sparkles shining to suggest a 'wall' behind her.

She spares a glance to Marz -- and if she makes eye contact, she'll heartily indicate that maybe the copy progress is worth interrupting. But then her eyes snap back to Zero's.

"Dunno who forgot to CC: you, but this facility's closed. I ain't much for paperwork, so I'm leaving it in your capable hands."

Marz looks up from the screen. "He is doing nothing!" she calls out before looking back down to the progress marker. "I will forgo the spyware, that is clearly compromised, but I am running internal corrections on Coffee Maker. There are parts of him that are not resetting properly." She really wasn't a fan of doing the IT thing of having to explain her actions, but with nothing directly impeding her, she was quite focused.

After all, so far the entirety of the focus was elsewhere. She was content to work as long as the Dahlia was drawing out the attention.

Zero had no reason to impede Marz.

In fact, as she gives the oral report, Zero gives the faintest exhale, stating he understood. He was deaf to Honoka's own communications. The only sound now, other than the noises of Dahlia's work and Marz's words, was the shrieking laughter of Yoshiaki. Zero was standing right in front of him now, his back turned to him. When Dahlia emerges, he does nothing to interfere with her wall, with her energy, with her confidence. And when she finally lets loose that bitter, snarky response into Zero.

That is when he responds.

"Thank you." He bows to Dahlia, with the utmost respect."I have come here to provide an inspection of the security of this site, not to defend it." Zero explains. "We've been expecting a breach within the range of today, to two weeks from now. The loss of the Spangles subject, and the failure to infiltrate, was not reported to us directly. We have had reason to believe that Yoshiaki has been falsifying security reports." Zero states firmly. A strong gust of wind passes by Zero's cloak. The laughter stops from Yoshiaki. " My inspection is complete for the most part, as long as we don't interrupt the Shadaloo technician from her work. She should use spyware though. We have reason to believe some suspicious downloads from Yoshiaki. But sincerely, thank you. Your contributions will help us study and learn better auditing protocols for security. You do not need to worry about Yoshiaki anymore." He drifts aside a bit, adjusting his position to match Honoka's fighting stance.

Yoshiaki's not there.

At first, it seems he might have ran away. But then you see it. A mess of wires, around a wet metal shell. A smear of red on sterile floor. No bones. No flesh. Not even clothing. The wind was blowing again, touching against Dahlia's skin. The man's skirt was flapping, the blades at the hem of his sari swaying. "It is very unfortunate that I was not sooner, and you were not slower. If this was just a territory war with Shadaloo, I would feel nothing." He gives a nod towards Dahlia, a smile finally passing his lips.

"But you are saving people you care about."

Zero's chest rises, and he exhales. "Family is important, no matter the relation. Yoshiaki's work is completed. It was his fatal mistake, to have crossed you. We will use what we can with what remains. Shadaloo's capture of his research has already been written off as a loss. These... are not our family. They are like you and Shadaloo. Outsiders." The brainpan remains of Yoshiaki swirl and rise up.He releases his arms from behind his back, seizing the remains in his left hand. "What you are doing is admirable. But my inspection is complete."

"It is with a heavy heart, that duty requires me to kill you, Scarlet Dahlia."

The rush of wind passes by again. It was neither cold, nor warm. "I will give you a moment to decide how you will fight. I encourage you to make the first move. I do not wish to rush you, but I have no intention fighting an army. Please do not stall." bringing his elbow forward as he raises his right arm up to chest level. He begins to roll his fingers. The static drops. And his emotions are revealed. An open sadness, flares of regret. Fit into iron-clad cages, controlled and dominated within. He beckons for Honoka to come, the same way a father would call for his daughter. No hatred. No rage. No fury.

Just the stoic eyes burning back into Dahlia's own.

COMBATSYS: Zero has started a fight here as a boss!

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COMBATSYS: Honoka has joined the fight here.

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[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Honoka           0/-------/-======|

Marz insists that the silver-haired man is doing nothing. And yet, as Scarlet Dahlia stands in open defiance, -daring- the unsettling supervisor to make his move, the tusukur begins to feel the bile rise up in her throat.

"He's doing plenty. Open your eyes!"

Her fingers uncurl and recurl along the length of the rattan staves in her grip -- a tangible reminder of the control she still has over the tense situation. Her jaw tenses as she listens to the cold, dispassionate, and paper-thin explanation of how Dahlia actually helped Zero do his job, here and now. She's heard people talk like this. There's always a 'but'.

Most wouldn't catch the moment that Yoshiaki is transformed into little more than a bloody smear on the floor. Dahlia notices, though -- as carefully tuned to her environment as any juggler of her caliber ought to be. For a brief moment, her eyes fixate upon the metal casing, the wires still slick with blood and cerebrospinal fluid. But it's not long before she's turned her attention back to the silver-haired elephant in the room.

Zero offers a smile.
Dahlia flashes a narrow-eyed half-smile back at him.

People she -cares- about. Dahlia sneers at that. Not because she doesn't believe it -- but rather because he -picked up- on that, the psychic conversations that she believed were held quiet. He'd seen the subtle motions, read the volumes -- and parsed it. Correctly. But damned if she was going to legitimize the feeling with a verbal response. Not when every nerve of hers is primed for battle.

And then... the 'nothing' Marz spoke of reveals itself as a naked threat. Dahlia's forehead tenses -- a vein pulsing.

"Aww, I'm touched. Really. For a whole, like, -moment- there, it almost seemed like you -believed- that bullshit."

He asked. And so he shall receive. For Dahlia raises her hands, her intention to act on his words made manifest. Motes of fuschia light spill out from her hand, swirling around. And in a split second, the infinitesimally small orbs coalesce into a solidified beam of light, aimed at Zero's center mass. An enraged, telegraphed attack from someone clearly pinned up against a wall.

Or... is it? Because Dahlia knows where everything was in the room. The katana. The bo staff. And the diabolos. And while Zero has shown facility in manipulating the objects when his curious null-field was in play -- will he be paying attention when the objects he -wasn't- focused on suddenly shift about? When the diabolo is hurled at the spot past his shoulder, in anticipation of the subtle shift of weight that might come from reacting to such a patently obvious attack? When the bo staff might just -happen- to wedge its way between the back of one knee and the kneecap of another?

"For the record, Lord Vega would -likely- object to my death."
One would -assume- she's talking to Marz.
It'd be kind of hard for her to look away from Zero at the moment.

Marz disconnects her laptop from the servers. She slowly closes the laptop and stands back up with the reinforced case bouncing off her hip. She adjusts her glasses and the weighted gloves she wears. So it looks like there's going to be some sort of conflict here.

"I've finished my portion of the mission. It's only fitting I help you accomplish whatever it is you need from this," she says, eyes narrowing as she considers the situation ahead of her and around her. A fight is what it is, and she'd prefer a few of her sisters among the Dolls to also be here, but she discounts this situation as similar as to that upstart godhead in Mexico.

COMBATSYS: Marz has joined the fight here.

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[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Honoka           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Marz

COMBATSYS: Zero reflects Ishirishina from Honoka with Hikawa.

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[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Honoka           1/-------/=======|-------\-------\0             Marz

Zero, too, was taking in everything.

His suit handled most of the intricate elements; the streaming of data coming in steadily. It's the things that the suit doesn't pick up that Zero was focused on. MOtivations. Subtle tells. The perception of action and reaction. The pulsing forehead. He had seen that reaction many times before, whether from the likes of good children like Krizalid, or naughty children like K'. The spirit of independence was normal, and was something to be tempered, not suppressed. Foxy and Diana understood that well, but it was a difficult technique to train on. The girls around him, whether Doll or tusukur, could not help but be the reflection of the children Zero dealt with day by day. Zero hated to execute someone with so much potential.

But his emotions was not what would dictate him.

She states, how Lord Vega will object to her death. That earns a response from Zero, as the Shadaloo doll begins to join the conflict. At her own pace. Already, as the wind passes, the reaction comes point by point, as calculations are made unseen.

Energy blast incoming; chi signature unknown. Soul energy calibur Phi Gamma Zeta. Risk Factor 10%. Diablos was moving. Tracking positioning. Unknown Distortions Implicated. Risk factor of failure 40%. Staff interference, warning, warning, unknown assailants incoming. Risk Factor of Failure 60%, advisory not to engage in supplemental counter-actions. Cease deflection execution, activate shell protocols. The information is a stream, piercing to his very soul as well as his mind. Point of information.

But it's ultimately up to Zero to decide.

The NESTS commander sweeps his arm upwards. He notably refuses to turn as the diablos shoots towards the shoulder, and action that is clear he is forced to make. And with it, the bladed hem of his skirt sweeps upwards. Unknown material in the blades whip upwards in surgical timing. It's distorted, as the pressure to the back of his knees comes in against his own knees. Zero was at the cusp of stumbling, the sweep still rising up in tandem with the blast. A stumble will break the reaction, expose him. The suit directs energy to correct, as black energy crackles underneath. The expenditure of resources. The man lifts off the ground, as he lets his legs stumble. It was expensive. But by removing himself from the ground, he removes the risk of falling on his reaction. The upward sweep of his long skirt is complete, as it cleaves the ceiling slightly.

And it deflects backwards.

The blast is mirrored back, the strange materials almost capturing the blast in order to return it. Zero's composure was uneven and unstable; the unexpected assault had thrown him off his stoic, uneasy stance. His hovering ceases, as he forces himself to plant his feet on the ground. He would not lose his composure in a moment like this. His gaze was still as still as ever. But his suit was screaming at him. Things moving out of his control, the battlefield fluid and changing. And finally, he musters his response. Zero's tone is restrained to the extreme.

"I am sorry you feel that way."

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Zero's Reflected Ishirishina.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|-------\-------\0             Marz

The staff, having done its job, clatters harmlessly against the floor. The diabolos miss their mark -- one of them overshooting so far as to pose a threat for Dahlia herself. Absently, she raises her open palm at the last instant, catching it out of the air. "Hmph."

There isn't much time for her to toy around with the juggling prop, though, before the meta-material of Zero's skirt absorbs and reflects her psychic powers back at her. With only the briefest instant to react, Dahlia hurls the diabolo into the center of the blast, thrusting her shoulder up after it. Alternating waves of fuschia and void energy radiate outward from the point of impact. Dahlia's expression barely registers a change from the arrogance shown moments prior.

"Look, after seeing how you treat 'family' of employees, how'm I -supposed- to react?" As the staff rolls towards the nearest wall, the two diabolos clatter to the floor. And a small blossom of psycho power is willed into existence on Dahlia's index finger, rolling down along the length of her three-sectioned staff. The psycho power pulses with a slow rhythm, matching the cadence of Scarlet Dahlia's slowly tapping foot. A brief glance is spared towards Marz -- "Much appreciated..."

As the blossom rolls down the length of the three staves, the psycho power's pulsing begins to quicken. But just before the blossom gets to the end of the last segment, Dahlia takes a step forward and begins to twirl the staff. "Not gonna lie, though..."

It won't be a love tap that she's packing -- the whirling segment soon blurs into a faint circle of glowing energy. And as she takes another step forward, it looks like she might play it safe, striking Zero as he falls...

But that's when the two diabolos stir to life again -- hurtling upwards at Zero from the forward angle. The fallen bo staff strikes the wall, rebounding up at Zero from behind!

"... You kinda lost me at the word 'kill!'"

The sanjiegun is hurled to its maximum length, with the hastened pulsing of her psycho power signaling an impending explosion!

But then Dahlia would use the momentum of her whip-strike to whirl herself around counter-clockwise into a tight circle! Her leg would snap up, bringing her right heel scything overhead with a second attempt to make her mark upon Zero!

A studied approach is needed. This is a new challenge and one not faced alone. Still, this hardly seemed entirely her position to be in, but nevertheless it was the one she found herself surrounded by. She observes for the moment, allowing Honoka to throw herself at everything before her. To challenge this supervisory manager that has, most likely, had some impact in the situation involving the Dahlia's precious circus.

Seeing as she has little information currently, though she has a good deal of speculative ideas, her approach is a measured one. She slinks far, moving along the outside of Honoka's approach. A pincer maneuver, simple but effective strategy. And as Honoka comes with a crushing blow from above, Marz whips herself into position with a rear spinning backhand. This blow from the side, swinging hammer style in a brilliant iridescent burst of Psycho Power aimed for the back of Zero's head.

COMBATSYS: Zero dodges Honoka's Crushing Strike.

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Honoka           0/-------/=======|-------\-------\0             Marz

COMBATSYS: Marz successfully hits Zero with Axle Spin Knuckle.

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Honoka           0/-------/=======|=------\-------\0             Marz

"No, that is not correct."

Zero states firmly. "Do not think I am treating you as someone who is reacting inappropriately. You should be fighting back, with lethal intent!" His words are sincere, and almost sound hurt. As the energy builds up, and Marz begins his engagement, he refuses to change his position. He was a fixed point now. Let them adjust around him. As Marz makes her move, as the debris begins to shift, as the Dahlia makes her play, everything goes around the center. Point Zero.

Zero focuses.
%Five points of contact. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon. Calculating. 4% chance of 5 point evasion, 45% chance of 4 point evasion. 70% chance of 3 point evasion, 100% chance of 2 and less evasion. Calculating trajectories. Evasive pathways calculated. Warning, feint detected, emergency overrides enabled. Engaging evasive maneuvers. Success. Engaging in defense mitigation protocols.


Zero finds himself hammered hard by the pincer strike; while he wasn't fully squeezed, the information demonstrated the only way out. When the diablos and bo come hurtling at him, he seemed to react to them without any visual contact. His gaze was locked on the sanjiegun is unleashed. He rises up off the ground. When the pivot comes, and Dahlia makes the leap, Zero's whole body moves. Turning and twisting, with the skirt flapping and pushing him, he manages to slip through all four of Dahlia's tricks. There was only one place her could go to escape.

The hammer-blow to Zero's head comes hard.

Zero actually preempts the blow, unable to escape it, but already recoiling for it, disrupting it as best he could. But the psycho power floods straight to his brainstem, into his soul. He staggers towards the wall, easing on it, as he lands on the ground again. It was only a moment. With two targets, the situation was difficult. And yet, he pushes off. Fast. "Excellent." He compliments.

"I'd expect no less from a Defender of the Earthrealm."

Really, really fast. It is difficult to account for the restrained movements he had taken to this point, to the sudden -charge- he was bringing straight at Dahlia. A piercing approach, that ought to carry momentum. Thus, when he stops just as suddenly, it's like he ignores the basic fundamentals of physics. His skirt twirls up, and that horrifying wind suddenly blows. Zero is up, flipping forward as a bicycle kick, the bladed skirt whirling and twirling, a threat in itself as an attack. He aims a footplant straight on Dahlia's head, leveraging a secondary kick to slam a heel to the back of her head, before launching past her- to position himself between Honoka and her amber wall? A question slips past, as he makes his repositioning.

"Shadaloo is beneath your character."

COMBATSYS: Honoka instinctively blocks Zero's Medium Kick.

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Honoka           0/-------/=======|=------\-------\0             Marz

Scarlet Dahlia can tell she didn't hit with any of her strikes -- however, even -hearing- the man hit the ground with a stagger provided some measure of satisfaction. She hums to Marz in an approving tone -- not so much as to be mistaken for essential communication, but still, encouraging all the same.

It's dangerous, though, for her to pay too much heed to Zero's honeyed words. For all the saccharine sweetness, his lethal bearing demands to be taken seriously. As Dahlia lands, the loose end of the sanjiegun whistles in a tight circle, as her free hand reaches outward. Her fingers are short, but still she's able to nudge the diabolos into new, more precarious positions.

She'd do more -- but Zero's swift motions demand her attention. The whistling stops abruptly as Dahlia maneuvers the sectioned staff upwards, pulling it taut between her hands. She winces, legs and arms bowing as a boot lands hard upon the center segment, reinforced rattan rapping against her forehead but otherwise holding fast. When Zero steps free, she reflexively readjusts the positioning, pivoting to allow the weapon to bear the second blow -- but unfortunately making Zero's escape all the easier.

"So you know about that..." she admits with a grin. Her time with Marz has been one of enduring patience -- Lord Vega this, benevolence that. But here -- this opponent who wants to kill her, recognizes her role in saving the world. Of the opportunist succeeding where that same Lord Vega failed.

The sansetsukon falls loose from her right hand, which ministrates towards the fallen katana. She flashes a grin, shaking her head fractionally. "Yet here we are -- locked in mortal kombat." Her right hand sweeps right dramatically -- the psychic 'wind' sweeping the katana off the floor and slamming it point-first into a wall just behind Zero. The blade sticks some four feet above and parallel to the floor -- a hazard for anyone who might be slammed upon it.

Perhaps Zero's picked up on that -- but he might be excused for not noticing it, as the gesture also serves to cast out a psychic 'ribbon' of sort from her right wrist. A flick of the wrist spirals the fuschia energy into a loose cone, centered over her hand. She suddenly thrusts forward -- a powerful, brutal leap, aimed at plunging a spinning auger of psychic energy right into the core of his being! "HRAAAAAA!"

Calcuations successful. So far, so expected. The strike was quick and clean and. . .complimented. That wasn't as expected. But then again, he was complimenting the Scarlet Dahlia, even though she wasn't the one to actually hit him. Nevermind. Petty pride aside, she just had to continue to push onward. To be the one without his focus. He would be no different from the sun god, or the damned Dragunov.

With the focus not on her, and the impressive display that Zero puts on is observed and considered. This was clearly an overwhelming force, and one that needed to be taken seriously. With a careful thought, she once more maneuvers about to find her approach.

Once more, she opts for the close in strike. Surging forward, she takes to the air. Twisting in a slow roll before she arcs downward with a sharp heel strike. For as Honoke approaches from one direction, Marz aims to cut off from another.

COMBATSYS: Zero blocks Honoka's Sarak Kamui.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|=------\-------\0             Marz

COMBATSYS: Zero dodges Marz's Diving Kick.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|=------\-------\0             Marz

"Because I must."

A deep sadness well up within. Smothered, blocked, not by machine but by a force of will. He repositions, moving himself back to the amber wall. Now, he was careful. Dahlia had plenty of room to move in, but now Marz was being forced down the hall as well. His systems scan, as "You should be a hero. You would be a hero. You have every shape and character of a hero." True words. Distant analysis. Marz was surging in. The flick of the wrist comes, as Dahlia brings the bolt to bear into his center.

"But something is still missing."

Warning Warning Warning energy surge incoming odds of evasion 0% raise defensive shielding. Hazardous environment warning repositioning. Incoming strike modifying defensive shielding into evasive manuevers. Alpha. Beta.

Zero brings up his hand, and the piercing stab of energy is met with a wall of pure, black energy. It pierces through partially, the cone becoming dispersed as the barrier fails to be quite as effective as it should be. The man moves, rotating in a semi-circle. Back was turned to Marz, as he almost seems to line right up to her executing heel kick-

And he suddenly shifts.

Zero turns, breaking away from the barrier as he slips back. He turns, and stops short, letting the heel strike pass right before his face. He is forced to lean back, to allow it to go. He glares at the Doll. It's not clear, if he is speaking to Dahlia still, or to the figure behind the mask placed over the girl now called Marz. But his gaze was piercing deep to the technician. "This isn't an invitation, and I am a hypocrite for saying this." He states firmly, as he reaches a hand out to the Shadaloo doll. He would be aiming for the throat, a precise snatching eagle claw straight for the doll's collarbone. If he connected, he would simply snap the bone in three places, wrenching Marz across in a clean judo throw to position her right at Dahlia's feet. The pincher strikes were becoming more and more an obvious risk. He needed to correct that.

"But you are better than these people."

COMBATSYS: Marz blocks Zero's Yokoshima Karatabe Satsu.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0             Marz

He reaches for her, this indomitable presence of a man. He had moved around her so deftly, so sharply, that she never had the chance to strike. So she hits the floor, having caught nothing. Internally grumbling at the failure of her ascertaining the proper approach to hit Zero. She twists, needing to keep moving. She put herself into a striking position, but she already knows that the math is not on her side, and being so close she has done more to threaten herself.

He talks to her, or past her. Speaking to her, or casting judgment upon her for Honoka's sake. The questions are, in the moment of a man coming for her throat, rather irrelevant. She had to maneuver, and she had to defend, not question the needless cryptics.

The claw digs at Marz's shoulder, a seething grit coming to the Doll's face. She crumples, but it's a tactical planning. She steps back and skips from Zero, falling and shoving her hands up in a cross at the wrists. A quick thrust to pull herself back and away from Zero. Where she winces, puts her hand to her glasses to correct their askew.

Narrowing eyes, she reads the surroundings, judges, and plans on the approach.

COMBATSYS: Marz calculates her next move.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0             Marz

Dahlia's nose wrinkles with distaste. She's been soaking up Zero's praise, but it hasn't escaped notice that he's yielded a grand total of none to Marz herself. And only now that she poses a legitimate -threat- does he strike back -- and not even then with a kind word.

It puts things into perspective, really. He doesn't need to goad -Marz- into combat. But he does gain value from instigating -Dahlia- to a fight. To show the same frustrating condescension that's motivated her to fight in the past. He's surely heard of the Akatsuki's struggles against the Syndicate -- but is -that- the angle he's playing? Is he intentionally feeding her temper? She knows so little about this man aside from his fake name...?

"I -am- a hero," she snaps, fading back from her scything kick as she raises her sanjiegun in anticipation. "And so is Marz -- for she believes in the value of -order-. And she's also a -friend- of mine."

Dahlia sets her jaw, stepping sideways to re-establish a pincer formation. Since he's admitted that he -doesn't- want to enlist her into NESTS, then perhaps the 'duty' Zero speaks of possessing is simple data acquisition on a notable adversary. If that's the case... she'll just have to give him all that he can stand.

She raises her right hand towards the amber wall. The barrier falls, like a curtain of shimmering gold lame. And then, quite possibly, Zero may have more data inputs than he can analyze at once: as the dozens of circus cast and crew show that they are far from mindless zombies to be led to safety by a dazed security chief (security chef?) For they are rushing past the barrier -- closing in to encircle Zero himself, despite his spooky, negative-space aura.

And Dahlia is lost into the deluge of bodies. Only her voice can be heard, a sound made choppy by the passing of impassioned people.

"You have it backwards though. These people are better than -me-."

'These' people. Shadaloo people. To Dahlia, perhaps her circus family is now inextricably intertwined with Shadaloo's fate.

Impossibly, Zero may be led astray by the anomalous results he's witnessing. None of the test subjects had shown any measure of psychic potential beyond the normal human baseline. And yet, guided by Dahlia's will... it seems -all- of them are showing markers of psychokinetic potential? Pink, fuschia energy starting to pool in -each- former test subject's hands -- growing to a gestalt of light too bright to take in.

"I need only lead the way!" The voice comes from all around. As if every crew member, every stage performer, every security guard... is speaking at once.

And then the energy is unleashed. Searing, white-hot light surrounds Zero, a torus of willforged energy around Zero, shrinking rapidly to contain him within its bounds. The ring will collapse down onto him -- and -explode- with a cacophony of voices screaming all at once.

COMBATSYS: Zero dodges Honoka's Nochiu-o Kando.

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Honoka           0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0             Marz

And then, after the deafening roar... the shouts dissipate. The white-hot light rapidly falls, as dozens of people waste away into nothingness. Only Dahlia remains, her hands held up, glowing with fuschia energy -- her eyes blazing with light as she stares back at Zero's black voids. Behind her, the amber wall glistens -- for it had never actually fluctuated. And her people continue their zombie-like shuffle up the long, long ramp leading to the night lights of Southtown.

It's more than acertaining the proper approach, but the proper processor.

Zero's skill was augmented by nearly the best that NESTS technology had to offer. Certainly, in some regards, it paled in regards to other cutting edge techonlogy leaders like Shadaloo, Ultratech, and the Dragoon mercenary group from Africa. In others, it was superior. The techonlogy support from the HitBit only served to augment the combat suit information to unnatural extremes. Every mistake Zero made, it worked to correct.

And any mistake it made, Zero would be swift to correct in turn.

Genetic perfection meets techonlogical perfection. As Marz takes her place, it allows Zero to make his place. Already, the suit was picking up the strange shifts in the psionic presence. Sensors that could read, and could deflect, but could not master nor understand. And yet, as Dahlia speaks to him, a pang of emotion comes from Zero. Eyes cast towards Marz. Back to the rising surge of power. The wall falls. The people surge past him, and the suit roars at him on the counter measures. Zero restrains himself. Waiting, reading with his own eyes. Their energy builds. The system screams. And Zero begins to make his mouth, a sudden rush of movement as he takes off the ground, as the roar begins.

And it whites out.

Pending energy maximum levels warning warning warning critical warning incoming attack warning alpha beta delta gamma epsilon warning incoming warning incoming ERROR OVERFLOW ERROR OVERFLOW REBOOTING
TneQ*'~A[L^) II\Kaxv(
|/Keffe ]8G\LBs~V`HU
^iWS -*Q<C${I;%F+fk4

He decides.

As the light clears, Zero stands, turned to one side, chest singed and crackling with lingering fuschia energy. The most glancing of glancing blows; any closer, and it would be pierced the suit. No system. No data. Just endless noise, absolute blindness. And Zero, with nothing more to rely on but himself, somehow was able to understand. He straightens up, looking to Marz for her next move. And then, looking at Dahlia, he gives a slow answer.


It's not a No from Daniel, that judging, explainitory detective's No, where right and wrong is a tapestry of greys, even though you're the one standing firmest in it. It's not a No from Lee, dismissive to where even the apocolypse is only a mere delay from more important matters, important matters that are never explained or revealed except as thin martini glasses and thick women. It's not a No from Duke, where his plans are being torn apart before his very eyes, and he's reaching grasping to pull it together. It's not even a No from Jezebel, desperately clawing at the boundaries of reality and the walls of self-deception.

It's something much more than that.

It's a No of deep, penetrating honesty, of a grave sadness. The No a little voice so far in the back of one's head would make, so far away and quiet, only the faintest whisper in the boiling pits of one soul, when someone of so much power and so much presence. The No of someone who realizes the full extent of a mistake, and the lie used to paper over the mistake, the deception and weight within of the hated critic, the little voice of moral clarity that is used and abused, and tortured and blemished. The No of Nos, of the small creature that was made to look on the greatest, most elaborate momument of lies, and is forced to admit the truth of it. The No where motivations are stretched upon the rack, is beaten and roasted out in fires of inquisition. Searching for evil and malice when there is none.

There was none from Zero.

One of the most senior leaders of NESTS, an organization, a society renowned across the hidden world for its kidnapping and horrible human experiments, was here now, staring upon the damage and loss that Dahlia and Marz was inflicting on him, his reputation, his organization. Of intense power and control, with the authority and presence and intellect. The endless sensation that if he so willed it, he would be descending upon each of these ladies and rip apart their insecurities and weaknesses, to lay it bare upon the bunker floor, before delivering the execution.

And his No had no intention of that.

"There are greater goods and necessary evils." He begins, as restrains himself. "None sit in the ranks of Shadaloo. This... thing is an abomination, who does not know any light, any love from her so-called father. She has had her humanity wasted away, and replaced with the will of her lord. A handmaiden to a despot. You are useful. And when you cease to be useful, you will be made useful. You, and your friends."

"Then you will be a doll as well, like this poor creature."

"You know this is true." He says firmly. "And they know it is true. And the legacy of the Scarlet Dahlia will be like of the Lightning Spangles; a fond memory of those with hope, and a tragic reminders of those who were made to endure the true woman behind the mask. And the world will be a worse place for it." The last words come soft with remorse, as Zero shakes his head. His emotions were as transparent as any other, name or no name. Real sadness. Real disappointment.

Maybe it was tied to the mission at hand.

"They have all escaped." He says, backing away. Letting Dahlia once again make the next move. "Well done. There was no way for me to prevent that. You and the doll has had total control on this disaster against my organization. And you seem to be still be in control. And I am still obliged to kill you." He lands on the ground. Once again, resetting himself. Once again, positioning himself. He raises up his hand, gesturing to Marz, and then, to Dahlia.

"Will you permit this Mortal Kombat to continue, then?"

COMBATSYS: Zero focuses on his next action.

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Honoka           0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0             Marz

The ultimate plans of the great Lord Vega are known only to him. Why he gathered the Dolls. Why he brought together the disparate sisters to serve and work his cause. Marz is kept from knowing the details of her conditioning, and the conditioning of her sisters. It is, ultimately a blind spot in her mind. She knows very well of the manipulations Shadaloo has done, and will do, but she is incapable of recognizing herself in the mirror, as it were.

"She knows who has helped her. And who is helping her," Marz states, voice slipping cold and clinical. "It may have escaped your notice, but Shadaloo is not the one trying to kill her," she sneers.

He's already stated intent, and that he will kill them. So she has to strike, and she hopes that Honoka will see to finding a place alongside to close down this pompous man from a pretender to Shadaloo's throne.

Dahlia's nostrils flare as she stares back at Zero. Eyebrows lowered. It's clear she's displeased, but... is it more because of the words, or the fact that her illusive gamble was seen out for what it truly was?

The standoff lasts only for a moment, though -- enough time for the Ainu tusukur to regain -some- of the equilibrium lost from such a massive expenditure of concentration. Fooling the weak-minded is one thing, but deceiving a top-of-the-line electronic surveillance system and the mastermind behind it is something else entirely.

Luckily for her, she has something to juggle. The sanjiegun begins to whistle as she whips a loose segment around. A sound drowned out by her voice, coached and trained to project over the din of a crowd. "But people -will- hear my name, and find -hope- in it -- whereas no one will bother reading the legacy of a no-named 'Principal Smith."

A grin spreads across her face as Marz offers her own retorts, of both a physical and a verbal nature. "What good is -righteousness- if it's all talk!?" And, as the opportunist she truly is, she's not about to let the moment go to waste, leaping forward to close in upon Zero. The sanjiegun howls like a banshee as it's whipped in a rapid, direct prodding assault at Zero's fists as a preemptive assault on his next strategy. Dahlia then enshrouds her right leg in psycho-powered flames as she snaps forward with a powerful knee bash. And a third strike comes as she twists around sharply, whipping the sanjiegun around in a high diagonal lash!

COMBATSYS: Marz successfully hits Zero with Code Injection EX.

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Honoka           0/-------/-------|====---\-------\0             Marz

COMBATSYS: Zero endures Honoka's Power Strike.

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Honoka           0/-------/------=|====---\-------\0             Marz

Zero was not phased by either Marz's verbal retort, nor Dahlia's idling.

Their physical retorts were another story however. The surge of energy comes straight for Zero's suit, not to Zero. The system prepares to feed information to Zero... as suddenly, it is negated. The surge of energy forces the NESTS commander to groan in pain, as he is alone, totally alone, as his suit fails to say anything of note but garbage. The man grips a hand into a fist, as he is forced in a position for punishment by Dahlia. he cannot fly, as his systems reboot in the face of Marz's attack. Standing fast, he lets it come, feet fixed, as he slams the fist into the staff, nearly breaking his hand in the process. The effort only serves to expose him to the follow-up: a knee that -rips- his suit, exposing electrical sparks and exposed neutral networks in his chest. The final kick comes, as she twists around, the lash slamming into his shoulder. A crack is heard, as the arm changes shape. But the energy rips open another fresh exposure of neral networking; the connection of the suit like an extension of his own skin, exposed. Zero recoils, bringing his fist to his shoulder. But he did not lose his position. The reboot was complete. Extending his fist out, he speaks aloud. "Spoken like a true Spangles." Zero laments. "You leave me no choice then."

And he unclenches his fist.

The orb of purple-black energy immediately expands. The veil is initially harmless, a broad field that stretches well over Zero, spreading down the cooridor. He straightens his posture out. In the pit of the palm, a tiny pinprick of a black hole, a tiny window into oblivion. Already, a piercing wind was cutting down the tunnel, as a high-pitched whine is heard. Zero's cloak was beginning to blow. The air was getting cold, ice cold. And then, a screeching sound comes.

The first ball of energy would pass along the wall.

There is a horrible screeching sound, as along the ball's path, the metal would be -crushed-. A pressure was building in the field, drawing more and more towards the single microscopic center of the orb in his hand. A pull, a constant pull to draw them towards it. But the balls of energy were much faster, pulling in heavier and heavier, each one bringing impossibly incredible pressure on contact. Crushing force, each one an implosion as the vacuums rips at the very air. A single orb could collapse a skeleton.

And then there is another one

And then there is another one.

The cooridor begins to get distorted, as the walls come twisting in. The orbs pulling towards the inevitable black hole. Frost was now covering the surface, as the vacuum and wind brings a deep cold in it. The wind was howling now, as the volume of orbs reaches a dozen. Each one thankfully not actively tracking towards Marz or Dahlia. But as the cooridor becomes twisted and misaligned, the steady field destroyed into a fun-house shape, the palm closes. The pressure, the wind, the orbs, everything stops but the field. And even that, fades away. Zero draws in a heavy breath.

There would be little time to reflect, before the counter attack comes.

COMBATSYS: Zero successfully hits Marz with Shera Metsusei+.

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[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka           0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Marz

COMBATSYS: Zero successfully hits Honoka with Shera Metsusei+.
+ Epic Hit! +

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[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka           0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Marz

Everything is pain.

Pressure tightening, crushing, killing. The force of this man. The force of what he brings, is insurmountable; that he has proven. He will win, no matter the odds. He has proven his superiority. This was a matter of survival, and moment to moment the calculations were less and less in favor of the Shadaloo Doll.

Reality rent asunder, geometry skewing and shredding. A crushing feeling of utter wrongness as the world folds in on itself. And Marz, at the middle.

This was not her fight. It never was. She was just there, dragged along in the dramatics of a fallen mobster and a Spangles obsessed powerhouse. This was not her fight. She may as well have run when she had the chance.

But she is here. And she is standing.

No words, just a shout as she surges forward. She will buy time for Honoka's escape. She will show what she is to not be ignored. Even if all she has is a laptop to shove bodily into the man's belly.

Dahlia's sanjiegun snaps back into her palm. At one point in her fighting career she may have sought to press her advantage -- but sensing the recoil, she backflips to a safer distance. Which allows Zero his moment of grandstanding.

Which forces a smirk from the Shadaloo associate.
Dahlia -- or perhaps her alter-ego -- a true Spangles?
"You're doling out compliments again? Or did you think that would actually sting?"

But then Dahlia sees that her caution was warranted. Her coat rustles in the sudden wind, the loose tails drawn into the pull. She digs in her heels, knuckles white against her sanjiegun as she braces for impact. A faint yellow glow suffuses throughout her body -- a preemptive reaction.

And then all hell breaks loose. Dahlia drops to one knee from the pain, the pressure growing tremendously. She grits her teeth as she feels her bones shuddering to withstand the awesome, unstoppable pressure. The sanjiegun's chain and her hair and clothes flutter about in the unnatural breeze.

And then -- she begins to laugh. A laugh not so much given but -ripped- from her lungs in the vortex of negative pressure. A laugh borne of defiance in the face of certain annihilation.

For Dahlia knows what it's like to be close to death. To have both knees shot out by a merciless killer. To have her leg shattered by a savage crime lord. To have a third of her body burned. And now this -- every bone -aching- from the reality altering field.

She laughs. For in the absence of the best medical minds on the planet, or a bullet to the brainpan, laughter is the best medicine.

She should fall, when the vortex subsides. She looks down at her hand, swollen from contact with the vacuum. The sound of her own voice laughing -- now that she can hear it -- startles her back to action.

But Marz is the one to act first. A marvel of mental conditioning, trained to leap right into action against all self-preservation instincts. Or at least, that's what Dahlia would tell herself in the moments of it -happening-.

She laughs again. "Ahahaha... this is -rich-..."
Her hand snaps to her ear. Inspiration strikes -- and the opportunity arises to reassert command of the situation.

"Aha... ahem. Ladies and gentlemen, we're now in phase -three-. Positions, please."

Dahlia rises, with a clink in the sanjiegun chain. The yellow glow surrounding her has long since faded. Arteries and veins are visible as she stands, still trembling from the vacuum. She... enjoys Marz's attack, basking in it.

She takes one stride forward. "You think you're some kind of -savior-. But you're just as trapped as the rats scurrying around this shithole bunker. Look at you!" She thrusts her open palm out towards the wrecked wall panels around her. "Destroying yourself and this facility for the sake of -impotent vengeance!- Because you can't bear to be -wrong- about something!"

Dahlia carries out the inverse of Zero's gesture.
She -clenches- her fist.
And in doing so, explodes into a golden glow. Ribbons, like translucent, honey-hued bandages, ripple outward from her back. In the dark of the underground passageway, her eyes shine with the intensity of moonlight. With her second, her third strides, the ribbons span out further -- showing that the power granted by the Old Gods is much mightier than she'd deigned to show thus far in this fight.

The tunnel shudders. What starts as a dull rumble builds into an urgent, thundering roar.

"What a pathetic shell of a man you turned out to be."

She easily clears the distance between herself and Zero. She rears back her hands, glowing with furious power. And she lurches forward, as the sound of a diesel-powered freight train threatens to vibrate the battered wall panels right off their frames.

She reaches out not for Zero.
But for Marz's shoulder and ribcage.
And as soon as she makes contact, she leaps backwards.
And the ribbons disappear into nothingness.

The sound of a diesel engine is just that -- the overtorqued, overtuned engine of an armored Shadaloo troop carrier thundering down the tunnel from without. Past the battered wall panels. Past the discarded weapons. And hurtling its armor-plated cowcatcher right into Zero, as it stops just short of running him flat, brakes squealing with a rubber-burning intensity. Once the vehicle pulls to a stop -- its tires still glowing orange -- its side door flips open with a hydraulic hiss.

Wincing with residual pain, Dahlia ushers Marz towards the vehicle's open door. "Gonna have to take a rain check on this 'death' you keep promising me."

COMBATSYS: Honoka takes no action.

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[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka           0/-------/------=|>>>>>>-\-------\0             Marz

COMBATSYS: Marz successfully hits Zero with Crash To Desktop EX.

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[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka           0/-------/------=|>>>>>>-\-------\0             Marz

The distorted bunker would be nearly completely destroyed.

A rending aftermath, with only just survivors. For Zero, Marz was just another solider, an underling, a support. Honoka, to his eyes, was the mastermind. She was wrong, and she would never see how she was wrong. Just like K'. Just like Maxima. So stubborn in their own self-deceptions. The breeze is still. And he stands fast. No eyes on Marz. A hand out towards Honoka. Sometimes, you needed a plan. Sometimes, you needed to be everything in the center stage.

Sometimes, all you need is a laptop shoved into a man's belly.

"Hrngh!" Was the sound, as Zero doubles over in pain. Stunned. His gaze comes along to the girl who ambushed him. The doll, Marz. The golden light begins to build when he was trapped in his moment of weakness. The light cascades all around, as he is exposed. Data floods him, as the attack begins, as the tunnel shudders. Zero forces himself to stare into the light. He raises a palm up.

And no attack is executed.

The rumble of a engine rattles around. A plan. An escape plan. The van stops in front of him. Zero suddenly gives out another pained gasp, doubling over again. "You do not understand. As long as you pull your strings, as long as you stay on your tightrope, as long as you remain convinced that you will win. This was not about revenge. No one is defined by only the greatness they do. They must share it by the evil they believe they must commit, in order for a greater good." He looks towards the faintest smear of what was once Yoshiaki. His suit reweaving itself. Repairing itself. Repairing the flesh underneath. Zero turns his back away in his stunned pain, giving the pair an opening. An opening to attack? Or retreat?

A purple field begins to stretch out once more in the tunnel.

COMBATSYS: Zero takes no action.

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[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka           0/-------/------=|>>>>>>-\-------\0             Marz

The engine rumbles, diesel smoke billowing out the tailpipe, as the Shadaloo grunt inside the truck revs the engine. Carbon monoxide itself is likely to be a problem if the vehicle were to stay here much longer.

Dahlia though, has a free hand to cover her mouth, as she ushers Marz towards the open door. And yet, Dahlia's voice can still be clearly heard over the din and smoke. "See? Isn't it -fun- blaring contradictory truths at one another? We can't -both- be wrong, can we?"

Eyes flash golden -- beacon light cutting through the dense black smoke. The whup-whup-whup of a spinning sanjiegun cleaves a path through the air -- insurance against an indirect projectile attack. But a moment later, Marz and Dahlia will have taken their seats in the getaway vehicle. For attack is unnecessary. Dahlia already had two mission objectives, and spending further time arguing with -yet another- man who acknowledges her works but refuses to accept her worldview is just not helping her mood. Nor is it helping the migraine brought on by her body being thrown into near shock.

The door slams shut without another word. And with a squeal of tires on warped flooring, the troop carrier peels away in full reverse. Shadaloo team exeunt, stage left.

COMBATSYS: Honoka has left the fight here.

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[                      \\\\\\\\  <
Marz             0/-------/-<<<<<<|

The attack never comes.
The purple field hangs, as Marz and Dahlia make their escape amongst the smoke. The projectiles dare, the pressures dare, and then... the vehicle escapes. Steadily, the field fades. Zero steadies himself out. He falls into a parade rest position. The girls had succeeded. Shadaloo had won the day. And Zero failed in one objective.

But succeeded in others.

Zero returns his attention to the remains of Yoshiaki's head. Reaching out for it, he inspects it. A survivor of the conflict. Though damaged. Data. He had come for data. Ultimately, that was his duty. His disappointment was not his duty. This was a major loss for NESTS. But as he looks into the hollow remains of Yoshiaki, he considers the cost of knowledge. NESTS would learn. They would grow.

And maybe then, duty will be his revenge.

COMBATSYS: Marz has left the fight here.

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COMBATSYS: Zero has ended the fight here.

Log created on 15:58:47 03/09/2020 by Zero, and last modified on 15:10:36 04/07/2020.