Honoka - Cleveland Schoolkids Gone Missing

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Description: A desperate attempt is made to reach out and set things right between two who once walked the same path.

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CLEVELAND -- Police brought sad news to parents of sixty elementary school students, as an empty school bus was found parked at Big Creek Reservation.

"I don't know what happened," claims Dee Ingram, driver for the 220 bus. "I'd just picked up my students -- my god, my poor students..."

Students onboard the bus, from fourth to sixth grade, were being transported from a number of local schools to their homes.

"One moment we were driving down Memphis, the next moment I was face-down on my steering wheel. I snapped my head up to look around, and the bus was as quiet as a tomb." No students were seen on the bus at that point. Mr Ingram was unable to explain what happened between the times of 3:10 and 3:45 pm.

Parents began calling the school around 3:30pm inquiring as to the whereabouts of their children.

One parent who declined to provide their name commented, "Now I love Mr Ingram, he's always been a perfect gentleman to our children, but sometimes I wonder about his crazy eyes! Is he taking any kind of heart medication, or... has he been taking the crack cocaine?"

Pharmacology reports showed that Mr Ingram was free of any mind-altering substances, however his blood sugar levels were at a surprisingly low level. Ingram explained, "Well, sometimes I get in a rush and I don't have time to eat a proper meal, but I don't see what that has to do with anything..."

One witness had seen the 220 bus driving down Memphis Ave and making the turn into the reservation. Another witness reported a group of four dark-colored passenger vans departing the general vicinity. However no witnesses have come forward with any further information on the whereabouts of these sixty children, or their current whereabouts.

Anyone with information on these children is urged to respond to the hotline at 216-###-####.

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Zach had, slowly, begun actively and willingly re-engaging with the world at large. Part of it might have been a bit of fatalism; no matter how hard he tried? He could not stay uninvolved. Might as well lean into it.

To that end, he had taken up keeping a television in the forge tuned to the news. He had been listening when the reports of the kids taken off the bus broke. A quick bird bath of a shower and a call to Takehiro later, a car was ready to take him to where the bus had been found.

Sixty children missing is a lot of missing kids. Sixty too many in Zach's mind. Takehiro handed him a stack of photos. "I scrambled a guy to see what could be seen, and Cleveland PD have secured the scene for us. The detective on site knows to expect you, and not ask too many questions." The redhead ponders for a moment, "Though I doubt he'll listen on that last order. You know how it goes. You're down as a 'police consultant' for this one."

Zach nods as he flips through the photos. "Guess we'll see what we see."

At first, it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot to go on. There were tire tracks for the bus leading to the spot where it was eventually found. And then there were photos of some dirt that had accumulated in the parking lot from a recent rainstorm, showing fresh prints of the schoolchildren's shoes.

The prints show no sign of disturbance. In fact, the prints suggest a remarkable -efficiency- in moving the kids from the bus to another location, where each footprint abruptly disappears. There is no sign of adult-sized footprints in the area; from all indications, the ten-to-twelve-year-olds walked in perfectly orderly single-file line from the bus to another vehicle of some sort.

One police photo captures the detail of the tire tracks of the other vehicle, suggesting a sort of 3500-series van.

Another photo shows a small envelope found elsewhere, with dirt from the same vehicle's tires imprinted onto it. A fresh find, in other words. There are four characters written by hand in marker:


"To Zach."

The prints and tracks cause Zach to frown a bit. It's almost *impossible* to get kids to do anything this neat, this orderly. They'd mill about, not quite cooperate, outright RESIST in some cases. But there are absolutely no signs of that here. There are things... and NOT things... that could cause this kind of thing to happen but they thankfully tended to be few and far between. He'd have to figure out why this happened; it would narrow down the already short list considerably.

Zach's breath catches in his chest, his heart stopping for a moment. He recognizes the hand writing. He'd know it anywhere. The list just shrunk to a single suspect, one more than capable of making something like this happen. As sickening as the thought may be, the children may have been a secondary objective. The car arrives on the scene of the abduction, and Zach is out of the vehicle before it has time to stop. The hunter looks around, spotting the suit among the uniforms and press with a terrifying alacrity. He stalks over to the Detective, his body language clearly demanding people clear out of his path. There is no psychic pressure from Zach in this, nothing but attitude and presence, and still no words are needed or given before he speaks to the cop.

"Show me the envelope," he states bluntly. Takehiro jogs up a second later. "He's Zach Glenn," the redhead says, "I'm Takehiro. We spoke on the phone earlier."

The detectives on scene hail the new vehicle directly. "Right, right... well, we're at a loss, really. Here's the envelope...

He hands over the envelope. It's a mess, soggy with a number of solvents and chemical serums used to find prints -- but apparently showing none. The envelope is open -- and just as soon as it's handed over, one of the investigative team looks up.

"Oh, hey. We found this inside. I can read Japanese, but this stuff is total gibberish. ... Your name is 'Zach,' right? That fits the envelope... Can you make any sense of it?"

The inside is written entirely in katakana. But it would take someone familiar with the Ainu language to make any sense of it...

- - -

I wept, as I glided above a parched land,
And as I passed I gazed down
And I saw those were slain in battle
Their bodies unburied
And I saw those survivors
Wallowing in filth

I wept, for I knew the worst had passed.
And I flew away, knowing nothing more could be done.

I wept, as I flew to a neighboring town.
Where those of fair skin leapt and danced
And those of fair skin laughed and sang.

And I flew down to meet them.
And they did not notice.
They leapt and danced.
And laughed and sang.

One man stood alone
His hair, fair and white
His eyes met mine.
He saw the tears.
And he bore tears as well.
I spoke to him,

"You cry not with your own, but for the fallen.
I can see, for you alone see our plight.
Help them."

And he looked at me, and said,
"How can I help?"

And I smiled back at him,
For in my claw was a note.
And within the note, three words were burned.

Twelve hundred.
Fifty eight.

And I said to him,

- - -

Zach reads the letter once, then twice, then hands the letter back to the detective. He lets out a deep breath. "It won't make sense unless you know about the Ainu," he says to the investigator. "This may not be about the kids," he says as he points to the bottom of the note. "Twelve hundred. West. 58, with a demand that I hurry," he says by way of explanation. A moment or two passes. "I'm just not sure what it means," he admits.

"Not a time, then," the detective says, "It's sixteen hundred now. An address?" The CSI tech speaks up again. "Westinghouse? But that place is kinda gutted out."

"Which makes it an excellent place to stash sixty kids and lay a trap for the person most likely to be able to object to this," Zach growls. He reigns himself in and looks at the detective. "Detective," he says evenly, "I know who took these kids. You, your people? Aren't up to getting them back without me." Zach isn't even certain he'd be enough to tip the scales, honestly, but that won't stop him from trying to do so. The alternatives are... unacceptable to say the least. He takes a deep breath.

"I'll go in alone," he finally says, "Make certain she and whoever she has helping her only notice me. I need you to find the kids, and get them clear." His eyes ask the question.

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The property at 1200 W 58th Street was once home to the Cleveland branch of Westinghouse Electric. In its heyday, thousands of people were employed at the location in the manufacturing of all sorts of electronic goods. After World War II, though, the sprawling facility had lost much of its lustre, with most of the manufacturing magnate's resources being gradually redeployed to other locations. Once a hub for Cleveland's manufacturing sector, the abandoned building has since fallen into disrepair, home for skateboarders, urban explorers, and the occasional gang presence in need for an imposing headquarters.

Now, there is but one person present in the building -- a far cry from the sixty children reported missing. It'd be pretty damn clear to Zach who that person would be though.

Six Shadaloo cyborg units are deployed around the building's perimeter. These specialized units are not intended as infiltrators -- their outer shells are gloss black, with the death's-head logo of Shadaloo clearly visible upon their breastplate and pauldron armoring. Each cyborg is armed with a long laser rifle, along with an array of backpack-mounted rocket launcher systems. And if the cyborgs' glowing purple eyes were not enough to set them apart from the background, the red tracking dots placed upon any viable targets would likely stand out as the daylight vanishes to nothingness.

It is worth noting, however, that they would not attack unless someone -other- than Zach Glenn enters the defended perimeter.

And when Zach Glenn -does- arrive, alone as per his insistence, the nearest Cyborg will lower its weapon, and snap a proper salute to the agent formerly known as "V1."

Scarlet Dahlia sits alone in a chair in the center of the manufacturing floor. Next to her, an old table saw has been moved into position. Upon it are an array of smart-tablets, each adding its own contribution of light to that cast by the twilight sky above. Dahlia looks... different than Zach may have seen her last, a shock of bright red hair drawn back high upon her head. She sits with her elbow propped upon a crossed leg, her hand clutching a small smartphone, casting its own light onto her eyeglasses: a pair of decorative bottom-rimmed frames.

And for the moment, her faint smile suggests that she seems curiously unalarmed at the goings-on. For, to her, everything is going completely according to plan: The missing children are nowhere in the vicinity.

Zach arrives alone at the abandoned building and immediately has a bad feeling about this. The police are on standby and awaiting Zach's call-in. She is most definitely here. The kids, however, are not. That's a problem. The cyborgs get the psion's attention. They are clearly here, and they feel like... well... they feel a lot like Vega. They make no moves to stop Zach, and when one of them renders him a goddamned salute?

Zach walks past them. She is seems to be taking pains to make sure the two of them get some alone time. He doesn't want to give her that, but there are sixty immediate reasons and many times more than that to have the conversation.

Zach picks a hole in the wall and walks in. She knows he's here; he is not being shy about it even if the cyborgs have not alerted her ahead of him. He looks the woman over. Her looks may have changed, but there is no mistaking her presence.

"Your messenger service sucks," he says by way of greeting. "Where are the kids?"

Oh, Dahlia knows he's on his way. She's seated in the middle of a cavernous room. Disused machinery is located around each of the edges, discarded work materials having long sense been scattered by nature and former inhabitants into piles of detritus. Echolocation is something -anyone- can get acclimated to given enough time and patience -- even for someone without psychic senses and intel being fed to her on an up-to-the-second basis.

And yet, she makes a deliberate point of keeping her focus on the tablet until Zach arrives, till his bombastic appearance. She looks up at him, over the transparent rim of her glasses. And gives him a lopsided smile.

"It's good to see you too, Zach Glenn."

Dahlia presses back into her chair -- a brand-new chair, actually, nothing that new and fancy would have been left by scavengers. She uncrosses and then recrosses her legs, switching sides this time. Fingers steeple, as she rests her palms upon her raised thigh.

And she draws out her response as deliberately as she can. "It is a terrifying thing, Zach -- to have your people loaded up on a bus. Moved -- somewhere. Anywhere. To potentially never see them again. All because a bunch of pencil-pushing bureaucrats decided your life was worth just three-fifths of theirs."

Dahlia's smile fades. She draws in her breath. "It's easy to forget, when your people never have it happen to them."

It wouldn't take a psychic to sense the growing impatience. She holds up a hand.

Calmly, she provides the answer he asked for. "The children are resting safely, Zach. Elsewhere. You have my assurance."

Zach takes a dep breath, and lets it out slowly. "Nope," he says evenly, after a moment. "You don't get to play that card. Not after what you press ganged me into." Zach takes another step forward, his hands loose at his sides, though Honoka no doubt can spot that microtwitch Zach's right hand gets when he is thinking about the sword.

"Where. Are. The kids?" he asks again. He does not care if he sounds like a broken record. The fact that he does not know where to find the missing children is the only thing keeping Zach from trying to beat the woman in front of him within an inch of her life.

The Sword of Clan Glenn is all but certain Honoka cannot be killed. Not after Mortal Kombat.

But he'd be lying if he said he was not suddenly curious.

"I can't tell you without putting my people's lives at greater risk. You'd trade sixty for ten thousand."

Zach would recognize the speed of her reply; Scarlet Dahlia only speaks that fast when she's rehearsed a line. For her next statements are slower. Pleading.

"He's different this time around. He -listens-. And he's promised to help the Ainu people." Her expression brightens into a smile, bright enough that her cheeks dimple. "All of them. -Everyone-. He wants to -help us-."

The smile fades, as Dahlia unlaces her fingers. One hand scrapes against a scarred cheek, one gloved finger dabbing at the corner of an eye. She places one hand upon her thigh, the other returning to rest atop it.

"But... only if we can settle this."

She draws in her breath, sighing. Her eyes trace deliberately to Zach's twitching hand. And she... tempers her words somewhat.

Her eyes return to Zach's; flecks of gold float amidst wells of light brown. "I trusted you, Zach. To be there for me, to help me make sure that the -tough- choice was also the -right- choice."

Painted lips purse for a moment. And she continues. "Sixty lives, Zach. I've set aside a trust fund for them. This... speed bump will be a blessing in disguise. They'll be set for -life-."

She pauses. Eyes narrow. "But those only kick in if you walk with me."

Cl-clank, cl-clank, cl-clank.
Three soulless automatons stand at attention, guarding the obvious exits.
To Zach's front and left.
To Zach's front and right.
And directly behind him.

"I trust you, Zach, to understand... that this is the -right- choice. And it doesn't have to be painful. No one has to grieve today."

She offers a hopeful smile. Even as her body tenses for the reply.

Zach lets out a derisive laugh, a short ugly thing. He shoves his left hand back through his hair. The white hair is longer than any time she has seen it before, but it is neatly kept these days.

"After the LAST time the last time I went somewhere with you on your word?" Zach says. "You'd have to be crazy." A pause. "Though that'd explain a lot."

The empty left hand lowers, loose and ready. "Whatever conversation we're going to have? It'll have to happen here. Now. Just you, me, and your little wind-up toys."

Dahlia shows a smile, but does not laugh. "Perhaps I am crazy, Zach. But I know you can make the right choice."

She slips her hands into her longcoat. And she pulls out two sets of metal manacles, lit from within by glowing purple electronics. She holds them up for Zach's perusal.

"You can put these on, get in the van with me, and the children go free. Or do not put them on, do not get in the van, and the children sleep forever. It's really quite simple: any time you waste is entirely on your head."

Dahlia shrugs mildly. "And I don't plan to stay here very long. I was hoping you could get the kids reunited with their parents before any... lasting emotional side effects set in." She clucks her tongue. "And here I thought you were a hero like Michael D Weller." She draws in her breath, tongue darting out to moisten her lips. "Right this moment, he's doing more for the Ainu than your foolish bravado is."

Zach stares at the manacles for a long moment before stalking towards the desk. He stops just short of easy attack range, but in a spot where he can see what is on the tablet.

Kids. Lots of sleeping kids. Assuming that the feeds are live, that means the kids are alive. Now that he has taken a second or three to slow down and think for a moment, Honoka could not have gotten very far with the kids. There simply was not enough *time* to get the kids out of the city; the aircraft needed would have gotten noticed. Traffic in Cleveland being what it was, they had to be close as well. While it's not as bad as, say, New York City? Cleveland traffic can be a nasty snarl this time of day.

The children wouldn't just be in the city. The kids would have to be *close* as well. That... changes things. Zach's still not entirely certain he will survive this situation, but at least there is a shot at getting the kids clear. Glenn swallows carefully.

"I put those on and go with you," he says, "And you'll take me back to Vega. Turn me in to Vee... whatever number he's up to these days. You might let the kids go, you might not. Either way, I'll be in no position to argue the point after he's done with me."

Zach takes a breath before continuing. "If I fight you, I might win. I might not win. Either way, I don't know that I will be able to get the location of the kids out of you."

He glances at the robots, checking sight lines and firing lanes, and then stalks up to the desk. "So I've been dead, and I've been a meat puppet for your boss. Who, I might add, is using the Ainu people *exactly* the same way you are using these kids: as a lever to get what he wants."

Zach leans forward, left hand flat on the desk. The right hand comes down just as slowly, but does not open to plant on the desk. Instead, that hand curls closed, and a sword rips into reality.

Calling it a sword might not be completely accurate. The hilt is too long for the length of the thing, and pure white. The crossguard looks like some kind of silver-white metal, and it glints in the light that gets into the shell of the building. The blade is about two inches wide at the hilt and about eight inches long, and ends in a splintered mess. The weapon makes a quiet "clunk" sound as it settles onto the desk, while Zach leans in. Emerald eyes meet golden brown.

"Ask me which one I'd prefer," Zach says in a low, even tone.

The psychic pressure builds as Zach approaches. If her normal aura were lukewarm, the tusukur's present aura would be simmering to a boil, hissing with pops and crackles.

The tablets were arrayed upon the table saw for Dahlia's benefit, but as her expression doesn't change, it seems she doesn't particularly mind if he sees what's on the displays. The children are shown through the green haze and static of a night vision camera; no details will be spoiled here. Similarly, the other tablets only display information that is already obvious -- an overhead view of the current building, status of police forces, infrared camera views and the like.

She remains silent as Zach walks himself through his own logic. As he discusses his mistrust of her promise, Dahlia's lips press into a firm line. Because, really, she understands -why- he might not trust her. After that one boat trip gone awry.

What finally draws a verbal response, though, is the mention of her people being used as a lever. Scoffing, she answers, "This is nothing new. People like mine have been tools for people like yours for the length of recorded history. But this time, we have a seat at the table."

Her eyes cast down to the half-a-sword placed down upon the surface of the table saw. Those same eyes cast back upwards to address Zach as he leans closer.

Her scarred face does a frown no favors. "I suppose it didn't hurt to ask. Though I had hoped you'd join me, Zach."

In a split second, the pressure spikes to untenable levels. And it explodes -- with immediate results. The tablets fly off the saw. The saw itself is shoved backwards three feet, two of its legs creaking with ear-splitting noise. And a moment later, the table saw respects gravity, slamming down onto the other two legs with echoed frustration. The chair Dahlia was sitting in is blasted apart at the seams.

And Dahlia's longcoat flutters down to its rightful place, as she stands now, a good six feet away. One hand settles upon her hip. The other is wreathed in purple flames, fingers splayed out, flexing softly.

The pressure stabilizes -- though it remains considerably higher than before. Her expression settles into one of enforced neutrality. Her mind -- impassable, unreadable.

Coldly, she stares back at Zach Glenn's emerald-green eyes.
"I will respect your choice."

COMBATSYS: Honoka has started a fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Honoka takes no action.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|

Zach does not leap back. His plan had been to stand his ground in the face of that building force. The hunter is not sent flying like the furnature but he is forced backwards, his heels skidding as he tries to keep his feet. His momentum is finally arrested by a short, wheeling step, and then Zach takes the sword in both hands.

"You know I would never," he says quietly.

The sword ignites. No snap-hiss here, the blade of psychic might screams into existance, as if communicating the rage in the heart of the one who wields it. Golden energy surges to life around Zach, currents of purple sweeping through the aura. Even now, he cannot completely keeping the rage from touching his heart. The blade forms into the length of a proper claymore as the roar lowers its volume into an angry humming.

Zach charges Honoka, the blade brought low to his left, lowering his shoulder to slam into her midsection before sweeping the weapon up at the diagonal!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn has joined the fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0       Zach Glenn

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Zach Glenn's Sweeping Strike.

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Honoka           1/-------/=======|======-\-------\0       Zach Glenn

"Heh. Dahlia smirks back, confidently teasing her fingertips amidst the purple flames. "Says the person who learned to speak Ainu." She's still smirking moments later when Zach rushes forward, shoulder-first -- for she has a plan to deal with that. Her hand slips from her hip, reaches into her coat, and withdraws the long three-sectioned staff. By the time Zach reaches her, the Ainu has grasped hold of the staff with both hands, pulling the staff taut -- and it's the -staff- that catches his shoulder full-on, bowing from the pressure.

As Zach follows through with the spectral blade, Dahlia leaps backwards, her sansetsukon scraping across the keen edge of the blade with a shower of sparks. Her defense was enough to keep -most- of the blade from reaching her, though as the small bloom of crimson on her pant leg shows, the Ainu woman's defense was a little tardy.

Still. Battle has begun in earnest. And the manipulator is not above rearranging the battlefield from time to time. One hand is thrown towards the table saw -- a tortured scrape of metal across floor signaling its movement to a more opportune location. The hand is then swept towards the tablets arrayed upon the floor -- slippery hazards for Zach should he forget of their presence.

It all takes a moment. For in the next moment, the sansetsukon is coiled into her left hand. And her right erupts in a purple blaze, with the psychic energy spooling into a wide ribbon. The ribbon tightens into a cone. And Dahlia leaps forward, thrusting her sheathed fist at Zach with the intent of plunging its psycho-powered point squarely into his heart! "Nnnnnrgh!"

-- s/"Heh./"Heh."

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Honoka's Sarak Kamui.

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Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\-------\0       Zach Glenn

Dyrnwyn has always handled exceptionally well for Zach, even when the blade was made of metal. The same is more true since the loss of most of that blade. Zach whips the weapon around, using the weapon to divert Honoka's strike. Instead of using that etherial drill to pierce Zach's heart, it tears into his left shoulder, sending cloth and blood scattering across the floor.

Zach pivots back to turn what could have been a devastating blow into one that is only somewhat serious. The wound is already, slowly, starting to close itself up as his will forces his body to do the work.

"The Ainu are everything to you," he says through a rough breath. "That made it important to me." Zach brings the sword back to a ready position, staring at her past the tip of the weapon. "Plus, I had fun learning."

Zach charges in once more, bringing the weapon up and then down again, looking to power through Honoka's defenses!

COMBATSYS: Honoka dodges Zach Glenn's Heavy Swing ES.

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Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\-------\1       Zach Glenn

Dahlia knows Dyrnwyn well -- if only because she's seen him use it on -other- people. And she'd rather keep it that way. As soon as her drilling punch makes purchase, she pivots sideways, withdrawing as Zach hefts the half-blade up for another strike.

"It meant a lot to me," she admits, snapping the sanjiegun up to shoulder-level for a telegraphed defense. She has ... -doubts- on just how -fun- it was to learn Ainu, as shown by a sharply arched eyebrow. She lets it pass without further comment, though, as she'd rather deal with the sword hurtling towards her. Realizing that her sanjiegun won't provide much of a defense against a frontal attack, she retracts the weapon and pirouettes backwards, allowing the blade to cleave down into the floor where she'd previously stood, instead -- splintering wood flooring and metal subfloor alike!

She spins back to her feet, shaking her head irritably. Really, getting -sappy- in such a battle? With a half-glower, she points both palms at the floor, and vaults backward at a forty-five degree angle. "... Why are you bothering to talk with me -now?-"

Her boots touch down in the center of a pile of discarded roof tiles. She slides sideways, holding up her hands for balance, but as soon as she stabilizes, she begins to focus intently upon Zach. Whorls of purple flame begin to swirl up around her feet, rising.

"Could've just answered the phone, saved us some trouble."

COMBATSYS: Honoka calculates her next move.

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Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\-------\1       Zach Glenn

"Where's the fun in that," Zach asks in a tone so dry that it could parch the skin. Zach takes another deep breath, his eyes locked on Honoka.

What he is carefully *not* saying, is that he knows people are looking for the kids even without this confrontation. Sure, going through Honoka was the fastest route to their return, but it wasn't the *only* route. And there were too many police officers and federal agents unwilling to sit on their hands while a pair of estranged lovers could sort out their differences.

Honoka is much better at planning and plotting than Zach is, but that doesn't mean he can't do it. She is up to something, and he plans to be ready for it.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn enters a meditative state.

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Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\==-----\1       Zach Glenn

Dahlia lifts her chin, her eyes casting downwards imperiously towards Zach. Even as power swirls rapidly around her, she continues to stare back at him, transfixed.

Or... maybe she's just a little obsessed. "No, no, I get it. Unplug the phones, stuff cotton in your ears, and the world will just magically get better on its own."

Her expression hardens. For she knows he's not... -just- tuned out. She knows that, despite his self-imposed exile, he has nonetheless helped the world.

But anger, =passion= is the source of her power, not forgiveness or understanding. The Ainu tusukur pulls out her sansetsukon, grabbing the central staff with two hands. Her gloves creak with the tension of her grip. She twists her hands in opposite directions to reduce the chain length. With the staff fused into a single bo, she twirls it rapidly, infusing it into a dense purple with her accumulated power.

"I thought I needed you. But maybe you're right. The world doesn't need another hero who sits on his ass feeling sorry for himself."

She leaps off her pile of roof tiles, sending a small cloud of them flying into the air. And she hurtles bodily towards Zach, swinging the staff overhead. She'd aim to whack Zach with it -- but whatever she hits, the impact would set off a psycho-power charge powerful enough to blast a meter-wide crater into the floor.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Honoka's Crushing Strike.

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Honoka           1/-----==/=======|=======\===----\1       Zach Glenn

The hunter rolls his eyes as Honoka starts her leap. "That would be what you get for thinking," he mutters, an almost irritated tone in his voice. Zach brings the claymore up, catching the end of the staff at the crossguard. The taller psion is driven down, his knees flexing with the impact in order to keep his feet. He strains as bits of floor and debris slice into his limbs from the blast. Psycho power scorches his clothes and skin. Zach bends under the strike.

But he remains unbroken for the moment.

"Never claimed to be one of those," Zach says thoughtfully. "Not entirely sure why people keep trying to hang that title on me."

Dyrnwyn whips around in a swift, brutal arc as Zach twists the weapons lock to slash at Honoka's flank as he steps back and out of the crater. A targe, formed of golden energy appears on his arm, its surface lined with purple racing around it in Celtic knotwork designs.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Honoka with Flashing Blade ES.

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Honoka           1/-----==/=======|====---\-------\0       Zach Glenn

As Dahlia's strike is caught by the crossguard, she continues the necessary follow-through, then hops backwards to a safer distance. The staff twirls about a finger as she brings it back to her side.

His reply glances off an unimpressed frown. "Mm. And that's the saddest part."

As Dyrnwyn whips around to strike, Dahlia nonchalantly brings her staff around for what she'd felt would be a simple parry to the side -- but her penchant for the dramatic means that for the split second her whirling staff was in motion, it was unable to do its job. As a result, the sword bites into her completely unopposed.

Dahlia cries out in alarm as the psychic blade tears into her, knocking her sideways abruptly and forcing her to one knee. She forces her jaw shut, choking off the pained cry. And with renewed determination, she rolls herself sharply away from Zach -- enabling herself to kick off the floor with her less-injured leg, leaping sharply in a different vector entirely: the nearest pillar.

Somersaulting a half turn, she lands on the side of the pillar with both feet, the sanjiegun collapsing once more into its folded, triple-staff form. "Your greatest enemy is your own shadow!"

And in the next instant, as Dahlia uncoils herself, a rushing column of unmitigated Psycho Power explodes forth. At the center of the column, the very -origin- of the power is Dahlia's extended palm, braced by her other hand. Dahlia torpedoes forward, excess energy sloughing off of her like the layers of an onion -- seeking to utterly -overwhelm- Zach with the outpouring of force, and plow him through the far wall!

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Zach Glenn with Range Kando.

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

Zach recognizes Honoka's technique as she starts to employ it. How could she not? It's only featured in a number of nightmares. He's only used it himself a handful of times. Zach brings that etherial targe around to meet Honoka's charge. Sparks of gold and violet fly in the clash as Zach is slowly pushed back. It looks, for a moment, like he might be able to hold up under the assault.

It is not to be. Zach's balance is overwhelmed as the shield shatters. Honoka slams into Zach, elicting a scream of pain and frustration as her psycho power burns through his frame. Smashing *through* the wall does not help his situation either. Smoke and dust fill the husk of the building.

The hunter lets out a cough as he staggers to his feet. The shield flickers back to life on his left hand as the sword gleams in his right.

"And you talk about *me* talking too much," he rasps, as he tries not to choke on the air around him. Then he steps through the hole the two fighters made, and calmly approaches Honoka. His feet all but dance through the rubble as he gets in close before laying on a barrage of sword strikes and shield bashes that leave small detonations of his own Soul Power in the aftermath!

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects Detonation Combo EX from Zach Glenn with Kunne Chup Kamui.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\====---\1       Zach Glenn

The torpedoing Dahlia coils up, somersaulting away from Zach and the wreckage of the wall. Landing a fair distance away with a ruffle of her coat, she pulls the collapsed staff up to shoulder-height, keeping the three ends collected in her grasp.

She arches an eyebrow, as Zach pulls himself free from the rubble. "Mm. You're still on about that?" A gloved finger lifts up, nudging the bridge of her eyeglasses back into proper position, triggering a small glint in the glass lenses.

And then Dahlia gets a wary feeling about the approach. She steps back, slipping the coiled staff fully into her left hand. A change in grip lets the loose sections slip to the floor with a clank and some clinks of chain.

And when Zach closes in, Dahlia matches his pace in reverse. Perfect recall gave her a huge advantage in her stage training, and it serves her well here as she backpedals effortlessly over the tragicly distressed terrain, swerving to avoid one pitfall, sidestepping past another. The true danger, though, is Zach's sword and targe -- a blisteringly fast barrage of blows that sees golden energy intermixing with the fel purple of Dahlia's empowered staves. The empowered weapon meets each and every blow with a clack. The energy from each explosion is met with perfect precision -- a swing of the staff that bisects the impact, rechanneling the energy along for the ride.

And as the final strike closes in, Dahlia leaps into a backflip. The staff whirls around, leading a long streamer of collected energy -- and just as the final detonation goes off, the staff brings its chain right along to the point of impact. Both explosions are large -- but as the golden energy seeks to annihilate itself, a prominence flare of violet shoots right through, seeking to engulf Zach's upper body whole. And when Dahlia completes her backflip, she snaps her uncoiled staff downward -- and the prominence detonates upon Zach in a fiery purple display!

"I don't remember -that- during our training," she comments wryly.

Pain, however, is nothing new. Zach roars from the deluge of it, the searing agony of it. If Honoka was out to make the hunter suffer for transgressions real or imagined, she is certainly succeeding. Zach hits the ground just loosely enough to keep the fall from adding to the damage that is already stacking up. His ability to bounce back from injuries is already hard pressed to keep up with the abuse his ex-lover has heaped upon him.

But still, he rises again, and takes his stance. There is some wobble to it, and there is a clear trickle of blood from his mouth and nose. But the stance is still there. The sword is still in hand, even if the targe is starting to flicker out.

"Because," he coughs, "We shared *everything,*" he says in that scathingly dry tone of voice.

Zach lashes out with his left hand, contorted into a claw-like grip. A surge of energy blasts the ground around him clear of dust and dirt as a construct rips into existence. A hand much like Zach's own, only larger, that reaches out to grab Honoka and take her in a crushing grip!

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Zach Glenn's Shining Finger.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\=====--\1       Zach Glenn

Dahlia draws in her breath. Her heartbeat accelerates as she senses the exquisite pain in Zach's suffering -- not something she'd -normally- relish, but as of late...

Okay, she enjoys it a bit more once he tosses those words back in her face. Irritably, she reaches out telekinetically to the tablets scattered about the floor, and re-scatters them onto the floor around her. With a sour look, she turns back to Zach, noting, "You'd shared more than enough with the Librarium. So thanks for that."

By now though, she's narrowing another one of the piles of debris. And some of that debris is plucked out from the ground as Zach summons a psychic hand to crush her. Dahlia, thinking quickly, snaps her sanjiegun up and interposes the first and last segments as a stopgap, keeping the grip from crushing her ribcage and hips even as it closes down on her shoulders. "Nnnrgh..."

And then she closes her eyes, snarling. The pile of debris comes to life -- a mass of pulled-up floorboards, wall paneling, and ceiling tiles -- and begins to swirl around her!

Dahlia shouts -- a wild, uncontrolled shout of primal fury. She barrels forward -- breaking free of the grip. And with the array of building materials whirling around her -- she makes a charge for Zach! It's a toss-up as to which is going to hit harder between the boards and Dahlia herself - but the answer will become clear when one of them actually -hits- Zach. For when Dahlia comes in the wake of the storm, she will be swinging her sanjiegun wildly, in a tympanic barrage aimed at bashing Zach's sword and targe out of the way, clearing a hard and fast path to Zach's face and upper torso. And should she manage that, she'd grab hold of him by the front of his shirt -- and then whip him sideways over her hip, slamming him to the floor with a hip toss!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn blocks Honoka's Urara Kando.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\======-\1       Zach Glenn

Zach takes a half step backward, a slightly confused look on his face. The first plank flat-out hits him... and does very little. He felt an impact, but a quick glance suggests that no such thing actually happened. Zach mentally braces himself up and stalks *through* the whirling debris, focusing on Honoka's weapons. The targe and broken blade meet each of her strikes, and Zach feels the impacts all the way through the shoulder.

But he weathers those too, until the smaller woman goes for the grab. The hunter lets the targe vanish, and releases his grip on Dyrnwyn. The sword vanishes back into the ether as Zach grabs Honoka's wrists.

"I did no such thing," he says firmly, the truth of it evident in his voice as he shoves hard against Honoka's arms.

He isn't content to open space, however, as he charges in the same movement. A half moment later, he plants his feet and hurls his left fist in a three-quarters uppercut at Honoka's jaw. Energy, both golden and violet, surges around the former Marine's fist as the punch is fired. If it connects, that energy will detonate with thunderous force!

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Honoka with Explosive Strike.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Honoka           1/------=/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2       Zach Glenn

Dahlia scowls as Zach grabs hold of her wrists. Even with her wrists bound, the sanjiegun continues on its whirling course, nearly clocking Dahlia in the head -- until she deadens its momentum with her telekinesis.

"Bullshit," she hisses, even as Zach shoves her back and away. "You were always--"

Her eyes go wide as she realizes Zach doesn't intend to debate her with words -- but with action. She starts to brace for impact, as a fist sheathed in gold and violet rockets up into her face.

But it's for naught -- Dahlia is caught flat-footed. And then the explosion which follows knocks her backwards. The sanjiegun, released from its momentary freeze, falls limp in her hands as she flies backwards. Her back slams down onto the slick surface of her tablets. She skids, hard, her backslide stopped only by the pile of planks and floorboards -- a pile which is violently upset by the collision, falling on top of her.

She doesn't stay down long. Boards and planks go flying as the Ainu tusukur blasts herself back to her feet, her hands and the long tail of the sanjiegun trailing behind her. The tails of her longcoat blasts upwards, carried aloft by a twin helix of violet, golden energy -- the perfect counterpart to Zach's own energies.

Blood streams from her nose, and down the right side of her face, trailing into the crevices of her scarred lower face. The fabric of her coat is shredded, no doubt from all the planks she'd been thrown into. Dahlia is now coated in scarlet -- now in more than name and hair color.

She rages forward, glowing with golden energy. She thrusts her right elbow forward, a violet-shrouded sanjiegun trailing from the left. "We were a -team!-"

She leaps, landing to crouch low in front of Zach. The glowing sanjiegun whips around from her left, the electricity-laced pressure warbling through the air at her side as she makes her counterattack clear. "And you -left me behind!-"

Dahlia pitches sharply into an asymmetrical backflip -- leading with her right hand, whipping around sideways as she twists, imparting the maximum possible velocity to her psycho power-infused sanjiegun. Seeking to clobber the weapon diagonally across Zach with leverage and her enraged Psycho Power!

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Zach Glenn with Kamui Atemka.

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

Zach blinks again in confusion. Honoka is remembering things very differently than he was. She closes the gap more quickly than he has ever seen the acrobat move, and the staff smashes into his chest, imparting all of that momentum and rage in an explosive strike that launches Zach across the floor and into another wall, elicting another scream of pain from the hunter. Dust and smoke sweep through the building again.

But still, impossibly, Zach still stands. His eyes are a bit bleary, his stance nonexistent. But he still stands, through sheer force of will.

"We were a team," Zach says, "But you showed quite clearly you didn't *me* around. You just wanted a thug."

Zach lets out a ragged breath, making a vague sweeping motion with both hands. The dust sweeps out from the building again, and there are weapons *everywhere.* Swords, knives, bats, clubs. Anything that was conceivably swung at a foe in anger during any fight that took place in this city in the past half-millenium or so has a spectral equivalent hanging in the air now. Zach locks eyes with Honoka one more time, the emerald orbs clear and blazing in that moment, with a single tear running down his cheek.

"But I guess we never really understood each other after all."

Zach charges in, his form blurring in the movement, snatching a spectral sabre from its resting place. He dashes towards Honoka, slashing with the weapon with enough force to cause the construct to shatter in his passing. He skids to a halt near a baseball bat, pivots, and charges his ex-lover again. Again, the weapon shatters in the process of the strike. Over and over, without seeming to stop, Zach blurs across the floor of the building snatching etherial weapons from the air and slamming them into Honoka over and over.

It takes a moment or three, but eventually, there is one weapon remaining: a broken claymore with a pure white hilt. Zach grins weakly as he grabs the weapon. As soon as the grip is established, something happens. The blade, shattered and splintered in a moment of grief and rage, reforms. The blade of Dyrnwyn shimmers silver-whit in his hand for a moment even as something even stranger happens. Wood starts to form across the crossguard, covering the blade and hilt without affecting Zach's hand.

The sealed blade is brought in low, sweeping at Honoka's right leg halfway up her thigh. The speed of the movement sends him skidding *past* Honoka, at which point he loses his balance. The hunter staggers a couple of steps, and then drops to one knee to gasp for air and cough up blood.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn successfully hits Honoka with #Claiomh Solias+#.

[                                <
Honoka           0/-------/-------|

Dahlia lands on one knee. Blood smeared on her right brow, she glares up at Zach past dirt-caked lenses, as her left hand pulls the sanjiegun back into a tripled coil.

"I'd =wanted= to =explain=," she hisses, rising back to her feet. Her right fist clenches shut, as she raises it out to Zach. "There was no fucking =time= to explain, and it all..."

Her words trail off, as she sees the dust roil outwards. Panicked, she looks left and right. This isn't -her- doing. This isn't =His= doing. This is =Zach's= doing -- the psychic signature is unmistakable.

She was able to hold it all in. Right up until those last words break what's left of the dam. Tears break free, trailing down her bloodied cheeks. "I swear to you, Zach..."

The sanjiegun slips from her hands. Chains clink against one another, as rattan cracks against the floor. She curls her forearms before her, hands clenching into fists.

And Dahlia's entire -world- becomes a blur for the next impossibly long moments. Kevlar-reinforced fabric shreds apart like tissue paper. Scarlet mists the air, as more wounds are carved inside. Bruises form, hidden from view. Somehow, in the midst -- she cannot hear herself, but she screams, repeatedly, as each blade breaks skin, as each bludgeon cracks bone and batters flesh.

And still -- through it all -- Dahlia stands. It's two meters back from where she the brutal assault had -begin- with her, but there she stands -- rims of golden light just starting to weep at the edges of her most egregious lacerations. Guard obliterated, her weary arms hang to either side. She shudders -- a moment of indecisive weakness.For Mortal Kombat's Champion cannot die to such things.

Her face, saturated with literal blood, sweat, and tears. Her eyes, staring at that accursed sword. That ipetam she'd so feared. The look is traded -- a look that takes only an instant of recognition.

She burns with fury. Violet flames erupt from her hands, anew. For she knows =exactly= what that foul sword's purpose is -- where it's =aiming=.

"You =bastard!="

Her second wind is cut short by the decisive sweep of a blade before it could even gather. Corded muscle sliced and bone cracked in almost the same place that Duke Burkoff had pulverized so many months ago.

Scarlet Dahlia sinks to her left knee, howling with pain. She tips onto her left side, curling into a ball as her hand slaps against her lacerated thigh. Tears pool on the floor beside her as she quivers, shuddering uncontrollably. The nails of her left hand bite into her palm -- a futile effort to distract her from the pain of her right leg. She writhes about in torment.

"You... =heartless= son of a bitch... I ... fucking... murder... EVERYONE you've ever..." Babblings of fevered, impotent rage.

At once, she -slams- her fist into her right knee to get it to stob throbbing. To stem the blood flow. "AAAAAAAAAUGH. God... mother fucking... =why?!="

From all across her body, the small flickers of golden energy wink out. The bulk of the Champion's regenerative forces divert to the bloody gash in her leg. Tea-stained eyes look up through the twilight at Zach.

She coughs up globs of blood. Strains as she reaches out -- no longer for the sword, but to Zach. "I promised you =mercy=. An =end= to this... =meaningless= life. And this..."

She glares at Zach, hinging her jaw shut. =Daring= him, once more, to speak.

As one lone tablet shows the flickering green night-vision of children slumbering peacefully.

COMBATSYS: Honoka takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Honoka can no longer fight.

Zach drags himself to a standing position once more, and spots the tablet. He snatches it with perhaps a bit more intensity than is warranted. He stops just outside of her reach before hunkering down to show the tablet.

"Give me the kids," he says hoarsely, "Leave this town. *NEVER* come back." He takes a moment to glance around, as if seeing the room for the first time. "Or we'll have this conversation again," He says as his gaze returns to Honoka. He tightens his grip on his sword.

"I can't kill you. Not shouldn't. Not wouldn't. Can't," he says after a long moment. "I'm *aware* of what you being the Champion means. Throwing you in jail will cause more problems than they'd solve. But I *can* make things like this," Zach waggles the tablet to illustrate, "Not worth your time." He lets the tablet drop.

"I hope we can come to an understanding," he says not with a gloat, not with smugness, but in a low growl she has only ever heard Zach use in dangerous situations.

Dahlia looks down at her leg. The golden radiance at the rim of her injury flares, not unlike the lit portion of a piece of wood or coal, moving -ever- so slightly.

She offers a macabre chuckle, as her eyes cast back up to Zach. Her eyes half-lid shut -- perhaps she's delirious?

Or perhaps not. "You -enjoyed- it, Zach. All this time, you've been seeing pain as something you -have- to do. And now..." She bites her lower lip, watching Zach for his reaction.

And, after a moment, shakes her head side to side. "They're spellbound. /Pon-itak ki/. No doctor can wake them up. I wonder if you can, without causing permanent... memory damage."

Dahlia adjusts her position, wincing as she forces herself to sit up. Her right hand presses tightly to her once-more fractured leg, attendant with a fierce glow of golden light -- that appears to do little.

"Your terms are ridiculous though. I'll only stay out of Cleveland if you stay -in- it. Because if you're... =free=, that's a =problem= for me. And the Ainu back home."

Her eyelids flutter as she attempts another adjustment to her seating position. This is -not- comfortable. But from the creeping progress of the gold-etched line upon her leg... it's quite possible she may be seeking to strengthen her negotiating position.

Zach does not move from his crouch, staring at Honoka for a long moment before driving the tip of the wood-coated claymore into the floor right next to the tablet he just dropped. The weapon sinks about two inches into the concrete. "We both know that won't work," Zach says after that moment. "I can't trust it. Not after the boat. You *won't* trust it. We wouldn't be here now, otherwise."

Something makes a chirping noise from Zach's jean pocket. He frowns for a moment, and without taking his eyes off of Honoka, Zach pulls a small radio out of his pocket. It looks like it could survive a missile strike and continue to work. The hunter thumbs a button. "Go for Sword," he says.

"Sword, this is Keys," a Spanish accented voice says over the radio. "First four were dry. Heading to the fifth." Zach grins a bit. "Roger that. If you find them, don't try to wake them up just yet. Still..." Zach pauses as he stares at Honoka as he yanks the sword free. "...coming to an agreement over here." He releases the push-to-talk button and focuses his attention squarely on Honoka.

"Give me something here," he says, his eyes hard. "Otherwise I start testing the limits of your immortality. You said it yourself, we're on a schedule here."

Dahlia grits her teeth as the communications interrupt her. And yet -- she can hear the words. She can piece them together. She had six sites -- distractions in place just to ensure that tracking the signal would -not- be so swift. And it's clear that the last one is about to end in bloodshed.

She glances at the cyborgs at the perimeter of the room. Listening -- no, -recording- everything said in the room. Unblinking sentinels provided by Vega, not for her protection, but for his insurance. For his assurance that the matter is taken care of properly.

The rope is burning to the end of its length. She is losing control of the situation. Dahlia shuts her eyes.


She can hear the child crying out for her.
She can smell the stack of boxes burning.
She can see the room enveloped in flames.
She can feel the motes of ash rising, slamming into her.
She can taste the stale air.
She can sense the agony of a small child suffocating to death.

She keeps her eyes closed as she speaks. "I don't hurt kids, Zach. Sisam or otherwise. Consider that. And listen to me."

She keeps her eyes and mouth closed. And raises her -voice-, that she might be heard over the gulf of barren wasteland that has sprung up between the two.

~ You need to be there, Zach. To help them. ~

She draws in her breath. Damp eyes open; her gaze lock onto Zach's. And she continues.

~ The stand down code is his name: Arthur Solomon. Someone will need to shout this at the robots before opening fire. That should prevent the need to -open- fire. ~

~ The children are locked in a dream, where they are cooking a grand meal for their family and loved ones. You will need to coax them out gently with the correct scent. The wrong scent, and the psychic shock will be too great. ~

Her gaze flickers downward from Zach for just a moment. But then she looks at him intently, her eyes trembling.


The Asian fawnlily. A flower she never failed to stroke her fingertips across while walking the streets of Hokkaido.

Her bravado disappears, as her shoulders fall slack. Tears begin to flow, as she struggles to keep her eyes lifted enough to keep Zach in view.

~ It's so stupid. I... wanted to tell you for so long, Zach. But I was afraid. You'd spilled... so -many- of my secrets already. Shared so much of my past. And what... you could -do- with so much more knowledge. ~

She looks up at Zach, tearfully smiling, as she clasps her hands together -- the pain of her leg nearly forgotten in the moment.

~ I was so scared, Zach. And yet -- you kept every other secret to yourself, didn't you? Even... my greatest shame. ~

She breaks eye contact, looking down. A gloved hand rises, wiping the tears from her cheeks, from her eyes.

Her words come out haltingly, wracked from shuddering lungs.

"Say... =something=, Zach.... anything."

The word, the... name? It brings forth a memory. The scent of a flower, an explanation. Zach had, on several walks, spotted the woman's habit of stroking oneww specific type of flower. He had asked after it, taken a smell of onew. She had told him a story, about how the flower was used as an ingredient in a few dishes. How it had been replaced with a cheaper, onew might argue less effective ingredient. The flower apparently had medicinal qualities its substitute lacked. One more example of How Japan Ruined Everything.

~ Potato starch. ~ Zach's color is starting to return, his balance improving as he brings himself upright. He brings the blade of the now wooden weapon to rest on his shoulder. He stares down at Honoka... Eskerimrim for a long moment before walking towards one of the holes in the building.

"I won't forget this," Zach calls over his shoulder. "Any of this."

Scarlet Dahlia -- no, Honoka -- watches him walk away. Her Cyborg escorts make no attempt at pursuit, their cold, mechanical sensors recording without comment.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Zach is clear of the building, and the patrol robots, within moments. He pulls out his radio, and calls for his ride. A few moments later, and the SUV is making its way towards its destination. Takehiro was sitting next to Zach when he notices the weapon across Zach's lap.

"So you're done," the Japanese man says.
"I'm done," agrees Zach.
"And the sword?"
"Whole," Zach says, sliding it over to his cousin. "Make sure that gets to Edinburgh, will you?"
"And what are you going to do?" Takehiro asks.

"Find the next generation of shields," he says. "And make sure they have the equipment and training they need to do the job right."

Log created on 01:19:32 03/07/2021 by Honoka, and last modified on 15:04:55 04/03/2021.