Description: The Mighty Lord of Shadaloo decides that it is time to reveal some very secret truths to the Scarlet Dahlia.
Honoka doesn't really -mind- holing up inside the Shadaloo headquarters, but Hokkaido will always be home. While here in the winter paradise, she's been able to not only connect with her Ainu origins, but she will get to sleep soundly with the knowledge that she's bolstered their ranks with a new ally, and new information.
The Ainu juggler looks back at her reflection in the mirror, riding in the backseat of a HiAce van rolling down route E38. As she brushes black dye out of her hair, she thinks about her recently concluded mission -- the one that started with a man who seemed to be a random poacher. And now, with her successful manipulation, three Ainu villages now have someone willing to work with them to develop strategies to deal with ninja attacks -- knowledge that can be quickly and efficiently promulgated to the rest of the Ainu network.
Closing her eyes, she rubs her cheeks with a microfiber cloth. Misshapen beads of custom compound peel away from her scarred skin -- beads that dissolve into a sludgy solution upon command. And as she once more opens her eyes, she pours the solution into a jar, sealing it tightly.
Dahlia looks back at her reflection. Vibrant red hair. Ruddy scarring all along her cheeks. And, upon reflection, she reaches for the piece de resistance -- a pair of bottom-rimmed glasses to lend an air of respectability, banishing the idea that the twentysomething is anything less than a force to be reckoned with.
Scarlet Dahlia turns towards her driver, as she starts unzipping her cold-weather jacket. The sooner she can be out of this preppy gear, the better. "What's our ETA on reaching the veestoll?"
Normally, the driver would be quite willing to give the Scarlet Dhalia an update as she requested, however for some reason it's different. If Dhalia were to look a bit closer, she'd possibly recognize the driver as one of the younger members of the former Twilight Circus. Yet, there's an edge to the driver's voice once he responds.
"Veestool rendevous will occur in five minutes. Orders are to load the cargo for immediate departure. Further instructions will be received once you are safely on board, Lady Dhalia."
The way the words are spoken could be construed by the Scarlet Dhalia as a warning. There's something big waiting upon the V-STOL, and its more then enough to fully spoke the poor driver.
No matter how hard she may try, the driver will refuse to engage her any further. If the Scarlet Dhalia were to check the doors, she'll find them completely sealed, as a faint hum of an electro-magnet can barely be heard. Once she may discover this, upon looking out the front windshield she'll see it. The large V-STOL sits in a small clearing just off the highway.
The ride gets rough as the van suddenly goes off road, quickly rushing up the open cargo ramp. Movement just outside the van can be heard as the driver suddenly dives out of the driver's side door, quickly slamming it shut behind him.
Yet, once the V-STOL lurches upwards, the doors to the van suddenly open as the doors to the cockpit slide open.
The personnel who just secured the van can be seen rushing towards the cockpit, only for the lights in the cargo bay to suddenly start going haywire.
The obvious sound of a lone figure's heavy boots upon metal echo out over the sound of engines and rushing air just outside the metal frame of the air craft. The power washing out from the figure making it's way towards the Dhalia is palpable. The air around them visibly twists, as it to attempts to get out of this /thing's/ way. However, the Dhalia would know just what it is. She'll know instantly just who has come to greet her.
"I'm surprised Dhalia. You haven't been very good about reporting in unless it suits you. I would have thought that you of all people would know better.. Poor Marz has had to do a lot of explaining for you."
At first, Dahlia is only a little concerned when she hears the voice at a different pitch than expected. Then she sees the man's face in the rear-view mirror. "... Takeru? Hey, long time no see. What happened to Rolando?"
It's when she gets no response that a pit begins to form in her stomach. Something's wrong. And yet, the use of someone she knows proves that at least the subset of 'Things That Are Going Wrong' is, at least, a somewhat known quantity.
It doesn't stop her from trying the door. Or paling as she notices the VSTOL out of position. Risky -- but not when the plans have changed.
Dahlia simply sits back in her seat, closes her eyes, and bats a yo-yo back and forth. The yo-yo's path fluctuates as the vehicle skids off-road, but the peculiarity is soon displaced by the golden radiance that accompanies the shimmering string.
The yo-yo keeps moving along its path as the vehicle is scooped into a larger vehicle.
The yo-yo keeps moving as the driver door slams shut.
The yo-yo keeps moving as the van doors slam open.
It's only when the metal-clad boots can be heard jangling just in her periphery that she raises a hand, catches the yo-yo in a palm, and winces at the pain therein. She draws in her breath sharply.
And then she opens her eyes, shoving the yo-yo into a pocket of her puffy winter coat, and leaping to her feet. And instantly she snaps into a proper salute to her Lord.
The breath is put to good use. "Lord Vega, please forgive my indiscretion!" She stares past him, not daring to stare directly into those void-eyes. Not -yet- anyway.
The apology came before the comprehension of what she was even apologizing for. That much becomes clear as her brow furrows.
Clearing her throat, she continues staring forward, sweat beading on her brow. "... Lord Vega, my daily reports are available on the Shadaloo server. May I provide a summary of those reports to you now?"
Whatever this is, she's sure Marz is responsible. Somehow.
"Marz has been gracious enough to already have done that for you."
A faint smirk slowly crosses the Lord of Shadaloo's face before turning into a sadistic grin. Slowly, the living embodiment of Psycho Power steps towards the Scarlet Dahlia, clearly approving of her attitude to him. It's good when the underlings remember just who is in charge. It's a real shame that Juri can't quite remember that lesson. He must make a note to give the Taewkonista another 'training' session to reinforce that lesson.
Standing directly before the Akatsuki-gumi ruler, he lowers his gaze to stare down at her. Eventually, his left hand rises upwards, as the index finger starts to waggle back and forth, like a teach scolding an errant student.
"There is one thing I am not quite clear about, however. Why is it that the other reports I've received state that you're busy frequenting hostess clubs? Appearances must upheld, yet... I would expect that sort of behavior from one such as Bison. Not a well educated young woman such as yourself."
The way that Vega is treating this situation in itself is out of the ordinary. Normally, he would be ready to teach a lesson in regards to proper Shadaloo Operative proceedures, yet, the sadistic grin upon his face leads to a more important question.
Is he actually enjoying this? Is he truly going to show that above all, Lord Vega is a beneviolent leader?
"Though, you may explain one thing, as Marz was incapable of doing so without descending into fits of giggles."
The grin fades as a look of utter wrath takes its place upon his face. The Mighty Vega does not receive fits of giggles as a proper response. He receives answers.
"What, pray tell Dahlia, is a V-Tuber?"
Control freaks don't typically like to repeat themselves. And when Vega -does- so, stating once again that Marz -has- filled him in, Dahlia's jaw clenches. That little tattletale Doll is likely the sole reason her return trip was cut short in the first place.
And yet, Dahlia reminds herself to keep calm for her subservience is what's being called into question. She -had- filed reports -- and she stands by them. She draws in her breath, forcing the frustration out of her lungs. She releases her salute -- one held too long out of fear -- and lets both hands fall to mid-thigh. Red tresses bob as she lowers her gaze in both apology and deference.
She shudders as Vega pokes her 'well-educated' background -- is it a stab at her failure to graduate, or a tribute to the illusion granted by her autodidactic nature?
But she bites her tongue until she is finally granted the leave to speak. "Yes, Lord Vega." She lifts her gaze for a moment -- if only to check to make sure she -heard- him right. "... V-tubers... are virtual idols. The easiest way to think of them is as idol singers wearing digital masks. They appear as animated characters, rather than their true selves. They are... immensely popular right now in the zeitgeist. For only a low barrier of entry we can affect, subvert, and surveil a population of literally -millions-."
Her index finger and thumb press together. The absence of her yo-yo, her pen -- anything to keep her fingers busy -- is telling.
Taking a measured breath, she continues, "V-tubers also appear to be a a personal favorite of Marz's."
She looks up at Vega -- though keeps her chin pointed low. "I would like to address your earlier question, Lord Vega -- with your permission." And when the sign is given, she resumes.
There were three trips --" she clarifies, putting a discrete number to contrast the 'frequent' claim made. "-- two to scout, and one to make contact with the disgruntled yakuza boss who now owns the club. The Aizawa clan, its neck recently freed from Duke Burkoff's boot, stands to gain a considerable amount of control in Southtown -- as do we. And as a result of negotiation, we have an agreement of cooperation. The goal, of course, is to ensure that Southtown's power vacuum is filled by friendly parties."
Dahlia pauses, drawing in her breath. "And, Katashi Tairyu now believes he has an advantage over me. Which will undoubtedly work to your advantage, Lord Vega."
She takes a half step back, clicking her boots together -- though the effect is marred with the creaks of padded snow gear. That's the price of not allowing her the time to change...
"Then tell me Dahlia, since both you and Marz seem to have indepth knowledge of these V-Tubers.. Why is it then, you have yet to implement a plan to take full advantage of this? I understand that my Dolls may.. lack the ability to act on their own at times to fulfill my will."
Taking that half step towards the Dahlia that she took away, his left hand reaches forward, placing itself upon the scarred remains of her face. The sheer power coming from his fingertips would worry any who found themselves currently in the Scarlet Dahlia's place, yet there is no malice there. It's a warning.
"You, however, are far more intelligent then you let on. You have yet to let me down. You've successfully provided me assets that none of my men have ever been able to dream of doing."
The hand is removed as the Lord of Shadaloo suddenly swings it at the side of the van. There is a loud crunch as the van door implodes upon itself as Vega narrows his eyes upon the young woman.
"Oh, I know you're still playing both sides of the fence. I wouldn't have it any other way, but consider this a 'friendly' warning. Do not think for a moment that I will not hesitate to take your people from being critically endangered, to completely extinct if you attempt to betray me. I only expect positive results. Subert the Aizawa clan as you wish. Take advantage of this V-Tuber nonsense."
Lowering his hand back to his side, he slowly rises from the floor, flickers of purple flames and energy swirling around him.
"Just ensure that you continue to deliver, or else I will be forced to do more than just give friendly warnings."
It wasn't meant to be a retreat, but Dahlia had let her position escape her. The gap is closed, and contact is made. The maelstrom of Psycho Power seething across the bands of ruined, corrugated flesh is far from a comfortable sensation. Her punishment, her reminder that Vega is far from someone to be trifled with. Dahlia stares forward, stock-still -- and whether that empty, deferential gaze contains Vega is entirely up to him.
The hand is removed -- and then driven into the van like a hammer. A shudder racks through Dahlia as all muscles tense. This -would- be a good time for the yo-yo, wouldn't it? But there will be no solace for her, with both of Vega's dead, hollow eyes boring through her soul.
Speaking her mind, the -truth- of her position, would lead to death. Not only hers, but as Lord Vega makes painfully clear, the death of her entire culture. Shaken from the sudden impact, Dahlia's eyes snap to Vega's for an anchor, some relative -calm- within the storm. Eyes are dangerous in such a confrontation -- Vega's even more so. But without her momentum focus, Dahlia finds herself lost. Aimless. And at an uncanny loss for words.
The pressure releases, as Vega withdraws. Words from before the panic return to her. The accusation -- that she -hasn't- been doing work. He's -wrong-. And yet, her vocal chords fail to respond -- a self-preservation instinct. For -denying- the claims he's made is not the hill she wants her people to die on.
No -- Vega recognizes what she's done. And it's important to accentuate the positive.
Her skin is cold, clammy. Her voice trembles as she struggles to maintain eye contact. So very much is riding on every word being one hundred percent correct, one hundred percent sincere. "Th-thank you for recognizing the value your servant brings, Lord Vega." And even this... borders on insubordination.
She shuts her eyes for one moment. The whip will crack, she knows it. Her life could be snuffed out -- just like that.
But she wrests control back. Eyes snap open once again -- and her voice crawls back from her throat.
"Your servant is grateful for all of the gifts bestowed upon her. And... and your servant wishes to restate her loyalty and commitment to the goals of Shadaloo, present as they are in -every- infinitesimally small decision." Not a contradiction of Vega's earlier dismissal of her efforts -- a clarification.
"I...." Her voice cracks. Her body torques, ever so slightly, as she withers in Vega's piercing gaze. "I serve no one else but you, Lord Vega. Glory to Shadaloo, for now and ever."
The lord of Shadaloo's face softens now, as he senses that the Dahlia has truly gotten the picture. Yet, there is still another he must address, and this one will be far worse for the young woman to comprehend.
"While you, my Dahlia may understand the posistion you are in, I'm afraid I must address your other self now."
The Mighty Vega lowers back down to the floor of the cargo bay, and for a brief moment, there is a trace of humanity within his eyes. Yet, as soon as it appears, the raw and terrible might of his power snuffs it out, revealing for the most fleeting of moments the cost he paid to obtain his own strength.
"Miss Honoka Kawamoto. For you, give this warning. Your former compatriots are in a far more dangerous posistion then you are. They are not fit to serve me, yet, for a rare moment, I will admit only this. I /respect/ what you did in order to free them. I also respect your intent for your own people. Do not take these words lightly Honoka Kawamoto. Look to your otherself for caution, but look also at yourself for direction."
Arms slowly cross as the lord of Shadaloo once more narrows his gaze upon the Ainu Crimelord. His voice grows soft, giving the Ainu a hint as to what it once may have been, long ago. "Find a new home for your compatriots who have interwoven themselves into my people. I only say this because of what you sacrificed. I do not make deals that will not pay out in my favor."
The transformation from the humble juggler Honoka Kawamoto into the savvy businesswoman Scarlet Dahlia is, in many ways, a sacrosanct ritual that very few can be trusted to witness. Indeed -- only those of her own Akatsuki, those from the disbanded Twilight Star Circus, and those from Shadaloo itself are permitted to even -know- of the ritual. It's an important part of keeping those personae separate and compartmentalized -- all the more important for a tortured soul who barely sleeps more than ninety minutes a night. And if that ritual is interrupted? Panic, disorder. Nothing Dahlia cannot handle -- but uncomfortable all the same.
And panic has compounded, what with the Akatsuki van rerouted, forcibly emptied, and partially dismembered, as if it was nothing more than a sign of things to come. Dahlia feels like she's on the edge of a precipitous cliff, where one wrong step can spell her doom.
And then? Then there's a little something known as whiplash. For Vega not only calls on her more public persona -- an alarming turn of conversation in itself. And then he... dials back on the intimidation. Each sign, whether the return to gravity, or the soft expression, causes her to seem incrementally more... confused.
"... Milord?" A perplexed Dahlia gulps for breath, grasping her left hand with her right, thumb pressing firmly into her palm. A moment passes, then two. And then her expression softens accordingly, light returning to her eyes. "I mean -- yes." A humble smile -- but still that asymmetrical lift of an eyebrow. Honoka is now listening.
Her former compatriots -- the circus performers. Those she went to great lengths to save. To provide a home for. But more importantly, to shield from the repercussions of NESTS experimentation. They were open targets before -- and under the galvanized umbrella of Shadaloo Headquarters, they are now safe.
More accurately: as she listens, she now understands the tense. They -were- safe.
"I... " She starts, but she finds that Vega is... listening to her. "I'm... honored, sir." She spends a few seconds finding the phrasing -- her heart still beating much more rapidly than normal. The barest hint of a Hokkaido drawl is present in her voice. "... And I appreciate that you've given them another chance." For there is -nothing- requiring the Lord of Shadaloo to temper his anger.
Clarity comes to her eyes -- as the dense fog over her mind finally starts to dispel. She offers a tight smile, bowing her head. The face may be Dahlia's, but the expressions would be easy to match with the King of Fighters veteran.
"I have a plan in mind that I can start right away, sir. One that should be beneficial -and- make use of their talents."
And moisture begins to bead in the corner of her eyes. Whether because of the whiplash between her personae, the tempestuous moods of the Lord of Shadlaoo, or... being genuinely moved? It's hard to be sure, and the rail-thin acrobat standing before Lord Vega might not even know at this point.
"Thank you. I can't even tell you how much this means to me. To /us/."
Almost as quickly as it came, it is gone. The faint traces of kindness. The subtle, yet faintly tangible motes of concern. The simple humanity. Once more, it is lost under the power that sustains him. That allows him to do all that he is capable of.
Once more he is /THE/ being of Psycho Power.
The faint softness to his voice returns to it's usual harshness. "Do what you must, Honoka Kawamoto. Not only for your compatriots, but your own people as well. Just remember the warnings given to your other side. I am not a patient being. Nor am I prone to forgiveness for failure."
And true to fashion, a sadistic sneer grows upon his visage, as he once more lifts up from the floor of the V-STOL's cargo bay. Psycho energy starts flowing from him now like a river as he floats past the Ainu.
"Play both sides. Continue to do as you will. Just ensure that you remain clear on where /we/ stand.
Honoka's heels touch once more, as Vega's compassion bleeds away into the ether, displaced by his intimidating aura. Strong-willed and fierce, the Ainu woman chooses to stand in the face of the maelstrom rather than succumb to the base imperative of flight or the laughably small chances of surviving a fight.
Honoka nods her head once more. Do what you must. -For your people-. These words alone set Vega apart from those who would doubt her, those who would belittle her. Words of empowerment, of affirmation -- coupled with words of caution, of concern.
There was a time in which Honoka looked into the eyes of Kamuy Kanna, avatar of thunder and savior of humanity. There was a time in which she pleaded for his help, for him to act as the shepherd of her people rather than the engine of their destruction. And her request was denied. Kamuy Kanna's eyes were just as white and impassive as those of the one hovering before her. But while Lord Raiden showed indifference to the Ainu, Lord Vega showed compassion.
Psycho Power is the path to righteousness.
She answers him with a salute. "I stand beneath you, Lord Vega. Bringing glory to the world as your loyal servant." Locks of red hair rustle about in the unnatural breeze as she stares into those cold white orbs. Her gaze stays fixed on him -- as if now, she sees him in an entirely new light. Not just one who -says- he'll support her. But as someone who actually -does-.
Play both sides, he says. When the conversation began, she'd believed the 'two sides' were Akatsuki and Shadaloo. But with Vega's statements and compassion, she understands now that the two are really just Shadaloo and the Ainu. Vega makes it perfectly clear that he endorses of Honoka's life work as a valid side project for Dahlia.
Twin traces of moisture trail down her ravaged cheeks. For despite the Lord of Shadaloo's tantrums -- she saw, for a brief instant, the compassionate person inside. The only one who truly -wants- the world united as one.
The wiles and whims of the Mighty Lord Vega are as much of a mystery to anyone. Some have likened him as a force of nature. Others have said he's just a tyrant with a god complex. Then there's those who have truly come to understand the true ideals that Vega has.
Finally, there is one more who has gotten a glimpse of his majesty. A man who once was just like the young woman before him. A man who sought to obtain power above all.
A man who gave the might of Psycho Power flesh and bone.
His tantrums and outbursts could be attributed to the madness that comes with being a vessel for such might. It could be what little humanity that resides within his core that lashing out from being crushed by the sheer weight of his station.
Or, it could be an act.
"I am pleased to hear that from you, my Dahlia. Finally, you understand the conviction that is required."
The lord of Shadaloo floats past Dahlia now, coming to the rear of the cargo bay. The doors remain firmly closed, yet this poses no obstacle for the Mighty Vega if he were so to choose.
"Fight your way to the top my Dahlia. The only truth to this world is only the strong have a right to decide. The NOL, has might. Their might makes their word law. The Syndicate has might. Their might makes their rule law. All governments of the world, have might. Their might is what leads their nations."
The shimmering violet glow psycho energy swirls violently now around Vega, as he suddenly vanishes from sight. All that remains is the lingering trails of his voice echoing all around the Dahlia.
"Continue to show me your might, and you will rule as one of my kings...."
Mortal kombat with the forces of Outworld proved that only the mighty will survive. Kindness and compassion have their place, but is not on the battlefield with bloodthirsty killers, with souls who spit on the notion of 'honor.'
For if honor was -really- what the Japanese were all about, the Ainu would not have been slaughtered after dinner and drinks, time and time again.
Once more, Earthrealm will need to face the Outworld menace. Once more, years or decades from now, Earthrealm will need to decide if it wants to die play nice, or emerge triumphant in konquest.
Dahlia swivels to follow Vega as he traverses to the rear of the VSTOL, bringing the ruined side of her van into her periphery. Only the strong decide. The puppetmaster nods in reply to Vega, lips pressed firmly together. He doesn't have eyes in the back of his head -- but she knows he can sense every iota of agreement.
The Novus Orbus Librarium has might? Pride kicks up a corner of Dahlia's mouth. It's not an enemy -- but an ally, in an oddly perpendicular sense to the traditional means. The NOL's 'God of Destruction' is -- on her side. Until he's not. Perhaps this perpendicular arrangement will change -- but with Vega's endorsement, perhaps it's too late for them to matter in the grand scheme.
The Syndicate has might. And arrogance. Eyelids close fractionally, the lips turn down. And yet, Vega is right in that -- for all the fighting, the Syndicate has held fast against her Akatsuki aggressions. Striking from the shadows hasn't been -quite- as effective on that front. Perhaps this is the time to strike -- with the Syndicate weakened, with the confirmed blessing of the Lord of Shadaloo.
Her mind had wandered without the locus, without Vega's intense gaze. But when he stops speaking, and the violent glow intensifies, Dahlia sees the impending change. She reaffirms her resolve in an instant, with stiffened spine and renewed salute. "None will stand before Shadaloo's might, Lord Vega."
For Scarlet Dahlia has the power to change the world. And now, perhaps more than ever, the mandate to wield it. And just as soon as her words are spoken, Vega is gone -- just as abruptly as he had arrived. Dahlia holds her salute -- out of respect, now, not merely out of fear.
She is not a Doll -- she already stands above.
And the door has been left open for even more presence.
For even greater might.
For an even better chance to protect her people.
For when even the Kamuy above frown on her chosen path.
Dahlia holds the salute a good fifteen seconds. An instant longer -- and her knees buckle. To come so close to what she sees as the -true self- of Vega is a bold revelation. But to have held her tongue, to have suppressed her initial feelings for so long?
Free of the constraint of decorum, one hand jams into her down jacket pocket. And immediately afterward, she feels the familiar and comforting twang of a yo-yo string, its steady tugging rhythm allowing her the solace she needs to sort these revelations into order.
Log created on 09:29:14 02/19/2021 by Vega, and last modified on 18:03:59 02/27/2021.