Description: A meeting between minds on holy grounds in the American Southwest. Where the last known spot of Lightning Spangles sits beneath the desert night sky, two forces of darkness face off until the dawn. The dead are discussed, the lives they may yet lead are as well. And secret truths are exchanged.
Getting to Tombstone was the easy part. Finding the actual location was considerably more difficult. But out here in the arid desert air, there would be no one else to disturb her work, none but the local fauna -- scorpions, coyotes, the scavengers of the earth.
The dim light of a cellphone snaps on from the inside of a Chevy Suburban, parked a good fifty yards away from the side of a lonely stretch of AZ Route 80 -- close enough to allow a quick withdrawal, but far enough to evade casual scrutiny from the local authorities. The vehicle's lights are off, so as not to disturb the night vision of the only important person inside the vehicle.
The others, of course -- three hired guns -- have no clue as to the purpose of the visit, by design. Armed with no information, just night-vision goggles and laser-targeting sniper rifles. But they shouldn't be firing -- they're just here as backup, earning a quick buck for an easy night's job.
The door swings open -- and Scarlet Dahlia steps out. Her long, charcoal-gray coat sways in the breeze. Whorls of dust kick up, briefly obscuring the lights of Tombstone in the distance.
And Dahlia begins to walk -- away from the safety of the rental truck, and her hired guns. And towards the very spot her GPS had steered her towards. Her eyes grow glassy -- for she needs no night-vision, or sight at all. She reaches out for spiritual impressions -- the sort left behind by violent struggles.
And after a few moments, she stops walking. Her lips pull downward into a frown. And one hand snakes into a pocket -- fingers curling around the barrel of a pen.
Tail lights leaving the city limits heading toward the deserts of Cochise county. A dirty car, beaten from use and the weather, the old Toyota symbol barely clinging to life on the front, rattles over the lonely stretch of interstate. The driver knows the road. He's traveled them many times. It's for that reason he was paid to drive out here. To drive and follow a particular car from a distance.
He's done his job dutifully. And he has done as instructed; no matter where it stops, just keep driving and keep high beams on. Beep if they stop. Be annoying. Be obvious. Do not be someone that is tailing.
And that is what he does. He honks at the stopped Suburban. He flashes lights. He plays angry. He does this because of the man reclining in the back seat. The man with his eyes closed, hands folded on his chest, wearing a cassock that had a barely visible stain that the man swore was wine.
It's a distance after passing that the man's voice comes from the dark of the backseat. "You can pull over here."
The driver stops. He feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention when the passenger crawls out of the back. "Peace be with you, Hector," the man says, his voice is sweet in a bitter way. And as the man walks off, back in the direction from where he came, the driver gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles.
The passenger, now on foot, walks into the desert. The edge of the cassock he wears blows in the cold night wind over the desert sands. On his way, he lights a cigarette to pass the time.
For a tense minute or more, pandemonium reigns from within the Suburban. The lights are off -- it's supposed to -look- abandoned. The windows are blacked out -- because it's supposed to -look- empty. And it would, to anyone who doesn't approach from the front windshield...
But at the very edge of the breaking point, the very moment at which three attackers would have parted from their assignment, spilled out -- and in their estimation, put an end to the aggravating road-rager(s) -- the interruption stops. And the Suburban is left in peace.
One minute, three minutes, and more pass in silence. And then, finally, a text message is sent to Dahlia's phone, a familiar and short vibrational pattern resonates against her hip.
She doesn't check the message. For she is focused on something else entirely -- a trace of psychic residue, something barely perceptible to the Ainu tusukur. A sign of passing that would surely fade away if she were to break attention with it.
The truth, she understands. For one can talk about acessories to the murder -- but in the end those are merely souvenirs, their provenance useful only in the context of an external narrative which may or may not be true. But the tusukur's forensic approach go far beyond science -- getting straight to the heart of the matter. For she can detect the psychic signature of someone who, in life, never strayed far.
Dahlia draws in her breath. Knuckles grow white, as her grip tightens around the pen in her pocket.
In the next moment, she snaps from her trance.
And she turns slightly.
Her eyes focus with pinpoint accuracy upon the red-hot cherry of a cigarette.
Her teeth grind against one another.
Dahlia takes a step back, her heels pressing into the red soil. Her stance slackens, as she draws in a breath of the arid desert air. And she withdraws that pen from her pocket -- a transfer noted more from the clicks of fingernails against the metal barrel of the pen, than its appearance in a dark Arizona sky.
Dahlia's eyes begin to glow, radiant embers in the darkness, as the cassocked figure approaches.
Her voice clears the distance crisply, with no obstructions to block the sound. "It's been some time." Scarlet Dahlia's golden gaze fixes firmly upon the approaching soul. The glow remains steady, save for the flicker when she occasionally needs to blink.
"I was beginning to think you'd -forgotten- about me." Acid permeates every syllable, as the pen whirls about in her hand with only hushed click-clacks to announce its path.
The phone pulses again, at her hip. And, just like before, she ignores it. Just like before, she is consumed with a far more concerning matter.
The warm embers of a single spot of fire in the black ink see of the distant horizon. A spot of light approaches opposite the twin lights that stand against it. Both hot, one passionate. A silent approach, not for planning nor for subterfuge, merely a side-effect of the wind and distance and soft earth. It's softer in the sands.
He stops, a distant not so far as the vehicle from the woman. He removes the cigarette from his lips. He licks his fingers and pinches the end. He tucks the dog end behind his ear. He exhales and rolls his neck. His hands fold in front of him, fingertips tenting. He walks again.
"You are a forgettable person," he says, growing closer, "But I am not that cruel."
He stops again. He gestures toward the Dahlia's hip. "You're being called."
Dahlia remains in place for the interim, her coat flapping about in the mild breeze around her, until the man chooses to stop. And at that point, she strides sideways five feet, then forward three. For whatever she -was- studying, she would rather not disturb it.
The man stabs at her pride.
And yet, she grins.
"That's the plan."
To remain faceless and anonymous, except when she wants to make a statement.
"Texted," she clarifies, pulling out the phone. She spares one half of her vision to acknowledge the message on the phone's screen, before tucking it aside. "Not important." And then she offers a lopsided smile. Words are considered, thoughts discarded -- and after a moment, pleasantries dispensed. "To what might I owe this visit, Saulder?"
Radiant embers blaze as she rests a hand casually upon her hip. A confident smile replaces the uneven smirk of moments prior.
Bishop checks, knight responds. Whitney's languid gaze turns toward Dahlia, though they look past her to the desert opposite the woman's imposition. He starts his walk, that shuffle-bump roll of a stride that kicks dirt into the air enough to gauge the wind and to judge distances and declination.
The winds are good. The man's steps shift, normal, clear, precise, and then they stop. Bishop moves to check.
Silence stands tall, the blonde man's lips smile, but his eyes stay distant and dark. "To make you feel wanted," he answers her directly. "And perhaps, in turn, to learn what I would want to visit you."
Bishop claims a square closer. "We are far away from the Ainu's grounds. Or have you taken on the plight of other displaced peoples?" Is there amusement in his voice? Is it possible for him to be amused? Questions all, but the lilt to his voice disappears when he continues with grave flatness. "It's easier to do research on our shared interest when I only have to watch your movements to know when breakthroughs occur."
Feints and misdirections of a verbal sort, while the body language remains perfectly clear and transparent. Deceptions built upon the hardy foundation of truth. Dahlia sees no need to hide her motions overly long, and yet -- she has enough reverence for the dead to respect their final grasps with mortality.
Her smile is shield enough for the first barb. A nod of understanding for the second. The mention of the Ainu, though, slips right past her defense, drawing out a reflexive hardening of her features. She curses herself for falling prey to the obvious, drawing in her breath. There is little else to say on that matter -- particularly when Whitney segues perfectly into the point of obvious reverence beside her.
Bearing a mild frown, she gestures with her hand towards indicate the spot in question. "First blood, spilled from the carotid artery. The rest got dicey. Incredibly brutal -- you'd like to have watched. Holes punched into her body one at a time, indelible traces of her soul impressed into the soil."
"In short -- Lightning Spangles is dead." Dahlia replaces her hand upon her hip with a feeling of finality. There is nothing of further import -- for there is nothing to see, nothing to sense, nothing she could offer to -verify- her supernatural intuition. It is just a spot of desert, like any other. The knight will gain nothing from defense of a pawn.
After a deliberate pause, her solemn frown lifts, ever so slightly. A note of... smugness touches her scarred features. "Long live Lightning Spangles."
Whitney Saulder steps toward the spot. Something about him shifts, no shuffling, no slow and exhausting blinking or distracted stare; he looks at the spot. He crouches down to it. His fingers drum slowly on his knee. A long, thin breath comes from him, something like a weary sigh, something strained.
"I only would have cared if I could see who she was at the moment," Whitney clarifies, "Not second hand media." He sighs and stands up. "You understand me more than your pointless misattributions to my interest suggest. Don't insult yourself by feigning." A tired hand waves in the vague direction of the road, and the gunmen. "If blood interested me, I would have saved you three paychecks."
He rests on his heels, fingertips return to a casual tenting of his fingers, looking as a priest before a sermon in that cassock. "What was lost here was an interest the world cannot repeat," he says. "Something curious. Something different. Mourn not the woman that was, but mourn what now will not be." He looks to Dahlia. "You knew her well. Will you offer eulogy?"
Dahlia's smile cracks larger. It's true -- if nothing else, Whitney bares all the facts about himself to anyone patient enough to play enough rounds of guessing games. It's just more fun to poke him about it. Or maybe "fun" isn't the word so much as finding -something- to smile about through the callous, unemotional, -efficient- murder of three guys she happened to want to keep alive a little longer.
"Like I said, they're not important." Dahlia does learn from mistakes.
What -does- interest her though -- and still serves as a point of mystery -- is Jezebel Faiblesse's position of reverence in Saulder's canon. A short-sighted, selfish, hedonistic shell of a human being, who just happened to possess the spark of creativity and the aura of raw talent needed to make a difference in the world. Dahlia's lips purse in amusement -- for she wonders just how much of that -private- persona he may have been exposed to. If he would adore her so much if he knew what -she- knew.
She holds her thoughts on the matter until Saulder asks the question. And with a mild shrug, she notes quietly, "She was... herself until the very end." That appears to be the her eulogy.
At least, until she gestures. "Not here, though, this is just a marker on the farewell tour, the point where our brave heroine gave up the ghost."
She sighs faintly, smile fading as she tucks the pen back into her pocket. Forming a heart with her thumbs and index fingers, she raises the shape to her own heart. "Because really, she lives within all of us, as long as we just remember her."
With her smile erased, she watches Whitney for a good long moment, cautiously considering. "But some people just couldn't stand to see her go. Grasped hold of the entirely -wrong- messages, hmm?" A double-edged statement -- for Dahlia is, in fact, curious to know what Saulder has to say on the matter. Even if she... already has a guess.
Dahlia knows things. Whitney often lets people know everything they could know about a situation. What tends to be missing in most cases is understanding. As someone may know a light switch turns on a light, or a key starts an engine, they do not understand the functions that underpin their knowledge. It is in those gaps that Whitney Saulder finds truth in his grasping, distant study of humanity. In it's broken, cracked cognition.
He looks at Dahlia, watches her, and her disaffection that he can only consider petulant and sullen. He wonders if it's part of the teenager lie still clung to despite the trappings of a criminal activist. He looks down to the spot on the ground, as arbitrary as any, and he speaks solemnly, consolingly, "Most people would find it difficult to admit when someone is their better."
His eyes snap back, his gaze flits over the Dahlia's body language. He considers his opinion on her clarity of mind. He adds, "We should all be so honest with what we are."
A slow breath that drifts with the wind. He looks away. "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." He punctuates the recitation with a crack of his knuckles and a look toward Dahlia. "A message of taking the path iconoclastic. Or, a sarcastic refutation of pointless difference to the same ends. Both are true, neither are." He holds out two hands, bobbing them as if weighing invisible points.
"Does it bother you that the wrong road is the one more trodden?"
A hallmark of Dahlia's conversational style is her tendency to treat every remark as if it bore a double edge. To view compliments with suspicion, and likewise to view threats as statements of worth. In that vein, she has no trouble responding to the statement of acknowledging one's betters with a simple nod. For she feels this is a true statement, regardless of the intent in which it is delivered.
Curiously, though, she seems particularly introspective regarding Whitney's comment -- and the recitation of the finale of a Robert Frost poem he'd mentioned before. "It's ... curious, because I'd always seen her as the convergence of not just two, but three paths." She holds one hand level to the ground as she continues -- a sight lit only by the radiance in her eyes and the faint starlight above. "The public, the road most traveled, the tale of the shallow cowgirl written for pre-teens." A second hand, raising high at a precipitous angle: "The high path -- the savant who served to elevate the woman's journey into an ascendant artform." The first hand, lowered into a valley. "And the low path -- the perpetual victim struggling to find reason and meaning in the depths of a broken bottle."
Dahlia's eyes go wide, as her arms split apart, as if sundered by the narrative itself. Leave it to a circus performer to overdo the narration. "But in elevating a nobody to the role of Lightning Spangles Mark Two, the scientist omitted both the low path and the high, centering the newborn existence only on the one most trodden." Her hands splay apart -- never quite touching the center. "The baseline, defined at first as the balance between extremes, but copied, losing the integral magic that made it work. That made the experience -real- and -gripping-."
Dahlia dispenses with the theatrics, lacing her fingers together. "It doesn't bother me, for I know the person behind the mask. But I feel society, ultimately, is robbed of the richer narrative. Don't you?"
Whitney prefers to consider all conversations to be multifaceted. Two edges are for those who don't visualize the bigger picture. There are many ways to interpret many statements, and it is usually beneficial to know that. However, even a hall of mirrors has a single path one is expected to take. And Whitney is laying out what he wants to get the Dahlia to his conclusion.
He betrays as much emotion as he is won't to do, distant, tired again in that affected way of his. Plucking the dog end from his ear, he looks over Dahlia's head toward the road. Meaningless, but meant to draw meaning from others. He is fully listening to the woman's interpretation of the poem.
He wishes he could find amusement, but he doesn't feel it. Only finding the curiosity of potential information. And the connections he can make.
The dog end goes between his teeth. He doesn't light it. He lower his hands to tent his fingers at his belly. A belly that rises and falls with steady breathing of the cold desert air. The pageant before him plays out, and he nods, and he claps for the circus girl. "I told you the world needs a Spangles," he says. "That replacement is nature filling a void."
Now he goes to draw out his lighter. To let the glow of the orange flame draw long shadows on his face as he relights the old cigarette. Lit, he takes the cigarette out and turns it in his fingers before dropping it to the ground. "For Saturday's child, an offering of tobacco." The lighter clicks closed and the dark continues to hold sway as the tobacco embers die in the sand.
Still looking down, he continues. "It is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy. There is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry." Recitation again. He looks back to the Dahlia. "You know it should be you."
Dahlia is quite accustomed to Saulder's lack of emotional response -- but if nothing else, she takes pride in at least being close to the same page as him now. For while he has a great deal of intel as to what the novel Lightning Spangles is doing on stage, she knows that the bulk of the new avatar's history took place deep within Shadaloo facilities, safe from the prying eyes of any other institution. For the storied performer behind Ainu Spangles, in fact, -integral- to the new Lightning Spangles' relaunched career.
And from the way she grins madly at the way Saulder emphasizes -nature- filling a void, quite possibly demonstrating that she's never been exposed to that -particular- metaphor.
Though that grin does damper when the man in the cassock lights his flame. She's never been a fan of the odor -- though her exposure to that particular poison is mercifully cut short. She would -want- to sneer in disdain -- and for a fleeting moment her face exposes that desire -- but she settles on a tolerant half-smile instead. Perhaps a broken beer bottle would have been more appropriate, if less tasteful.
Tragedy -- no plot, no poetry. Dahlia is still in the midst of unpacking the meaning to the words' configuration when Whitney turns once more to her. She opens her mouth -- heralding a potential response -- but draws her jaw shut once more, her brow lowering. "... /What/ should be me?" A hand flutters to her necktie, the dramatics in full swing once more. "Dying a meaningless death, by a crazed fan who's finally had enough?" The hand splays out, reaching to the celestial audience. "Or the star, on the golden stage, taking the mantle from Lightning Spangles and advancing it to a new high?"
Dahlia laughs, allowing her hand to fall back to a hip. "For, really, I could say I've managed to play both roles. For the end of Act One has left me with a surplus of time and energy to devote to Act Two."
The Ainu advocate studies Whitney for a response -- fully expecting none -- and after a time, arches an eyebrow. "Ultimately, Lightning Spangles must serve out her time, before a successor can be crowned. Perhaps this one will prove to be the heroine they'd wanted all along, hmmm?"
Whitney Saulder knows there are gaps in the Dahlia's knowledge. It is why he finds a distinct amusement in that gap. The woman who values her power, her puppet strings, her insight into the underworld will not show a lick of curiosity over the incongruity of his vestments and the ritual of tribute to a Loa. That, of all things, is what amuses him. It soothes him to see the animalistic lack of comprehension be so thorough the woman focuses on other things. It reminds him of humanity's place.
"You could say," Whitney repeats. "So why don't you?" he asks. A gesture to the empty desert around. "Here you have no audience. Here you have no fans. Here there is no one. Why hedge unless you are uncertain? Unless you do not wish to admit your inadequacies?" He hums, questioning.
"And you still talk of successors. Of times. Curious. So very curious."
Pushy, pushy. Scarlet Dahlia grins as she laces her fingers together, not unlike the tall drink of water standing before her. "Ahh, I agree with you -- there's no audience, no fans, just one potential bidder for a tantalizing piece of the puzzle."
She shrugs softly, taking a step back from the six-foot-long rectangle she'd marked off earlier -- and then starts to pace around its perimeter. "For one -- I -could- be dead, in that my own aspirations were thwarted by the very publicity I had once sought. The platform, such as it is -- destroyed. The personal brand barely mustered a spot in a local election."
Golden eyes turn back towards Whitney, afterimages tracing a lingering streak through the desert air. "But there is a matter which I need more information on -- a matter which has gone similarly 'dark' and which I would like to pursue."
Leather creaks, as Dahlia clenches her hand into a fist. "Gears, Mr Saulder -- a threat to our society, and an evolving threat to anyone who claims -human sensibilities- to be the guide to the future, hmm?"
She lowers her hand, encompassing her other around it. "I need to know -who- is involved in their production. And -where-. Would you be able to steer me in the right direction?"
And so it must come to pass.
Whitney Saulder draws a cigarette from a flattened pack at the cloth belt of the stained cassock. A flick of his lighter, and the acrid stench of tobacco rises. It was amusing, talking on things that may have been, could still be, but he believes he has pushed the Dahlia too far. She seeks something else. Something more pertinent.
Holding the cigarette overhand, he puffs as the first sting hits his lungs. "Yes, Scarlet Dahlia, I can could steer you in the right direction."
The wind picks up, dust devils sweep across the space between the two. The air is chilled, and fresh but for the smoke that lingers. Saulder holds for a long moment as he looks at the Dahlia. His hands settle resting across his stomach. His left foot slips along the sand. "However, I think I will only divulge to the face of a hero. A true Spangles."
Whitney Saulder nods his head toward Dahlia. "Can I get a yee haw?"
COMBATSYS: Whitney has started a fight here.
A positive response is a good sign, at first. Dahlia smiles in appreciation -- for it's rare to hear him be so open.
And yet, she realizes, he is not entirely charitable. The change in Whitney Saulder's presence is unmistakable -- and demands immediate reaction. The Mortal Kombat Champion's eyes flare brightly with golden radiance -- twin beacons that suddenly blur into streaks as she lopes sideways, clearing away from the site of Faiblesse's last gasping breath. She stamps the ground as she stops, loosing a small shockwave of force that ripples sand and soil beneath her. Her right hand extends in a warding gesture, while her left hand is slung downward; a sansetsukon falls into her grip with the sounds of a springing latch and jangling chains.
The action was unmistakable, and urgent. The words, however important, were secondary -- and it's only when she's adopted her new posture that the catchphrase of Lightning Spangles reaches her ears.
It hits her with the intensity of a slap to the cheek. And the scowling Champion's eyes surge brightly in response.
"It sounds so -dry- coming from you, " notes Scarlet Dahlia, raising her right hand. The tails of her longcoat flutter, as winds kick up around her in similar fashion. Tendrils of purple lightning begin crawling down her arms and legs as she stares back at him. Her eyes turn glassy -- as she once more widens her view to not just the dimly lit Arizona desert, but the spectral energies swirling about. The spiritual debris of Faiblesse's passing -- and the cinders of energy surrounding her challenger.
As she soaks in the thrilling aura of combat against a total unknown, her scowl fades into a confident smile. "I'll bite."
She clears her throat. Grinds her heel into the dirt. ANd braces for combat.
COMBATSYS: Honoka has joined the fight here.
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Honoka 0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0 Whitney
COMBATSYS: Honoka calculates her next move.
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Honoka 0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0 Whitney
Silence. Shoes scrap on sand. The flutter of a Father's cassock flapping in the winds of motion. Whitney Saulder surges forward. Where the Dahlia crackles with light and shines with power, Saulder is a void. No energies, no flowing of psychic strength or curling eddies of the life that surrounds, he is a bleak void.
But still he thunders forward. A full bodied charge the crashes toward the Dahlia. Curiously, his hands remain low, remain in that forced faux rest of a tented position at his belly. He snaps low, lower than it seems like a man his bulk could manage, but like a giant spring it is a coiling pressure that pops forth and upward.
A rising knee, and its twin shortly afterward. The beginnings of a forceful, full reckoned assault.
All done without word, without shift in feature, with the dull and dead eyed perfunctory actions of attending to a DMV visit.
COMBATSYS: Honoka fully avoids Whitney's Painful Nuance.
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Honoka 0/-------/=======|======-\-------\0 Whitney
It's probably unrealistic of Scarlet Dahlia to expect further conversation. Not -now-.
Dahlia takes note of the curious void of her opponent. The environment alone gives shape to the shapeless. Combined with his silence, there is nothing left to betray intentions, to suggest plans of attack. Radiance glimmers across the lenses of her glasses as she lowers her chin, keeping her hand raised high.
Until he surges into motion. Until he -commits- to a strike. It's at that point that Dahlia drops her shoulders low to the ground, the flaps of her jacket fluttering high. She keeps her golden gaze locked upon him, taking note of the scant few signs she has of his intent.
And then she reads that motion. Her low stance uncoils -- and she leaps backwards, twisting ninety degrees from her start. A rising knee clacks against the rattan of her sanjiegun -- yielding in process, providing no resistance to the motion as she gives way. "Hhn!"
When the second knee comes up, it will contact nothing but a whirling gust of air, as Dahlia is whipping around in the opposite direction. Taking advantage of her close proximity, she would aim to smack one of the sanjiegun sticks against Whitney's shoulder, the remainder of the sectioned staff cleaving the air with an aberrant path. When Dahlia pulls back, the dragon staff will seek to snap around the back of Whitney's falling leg -- claiming an advantage against her potentially unbalanced opponent. "Haaa!"
Should her dragon staff manage to snare him, she'd surge forward with a rising knee of her own. And then she would step forward, slamming a palm laden with a full charge of Psycho Power into his sternum with enough concussive force to blast him right back off his feet. If he seeks to absorb it. the power she brings to bear will be a test to his resolve. "HRAAAA!"
COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Whitney with Seta-pagoat EX.
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Honoka 1/---====/=======|======-\-------\0 Whitney
Crack! The swift movement of the Mortal Kombat champion is more than enough to handle the force of the rushing man. More than enough to take advantage and to hold him enough to claim a crushing psych powered pulse and scatter him to the earth with a crashing, sand flinging, shuddering force.
He bounces, almost lifelessly, folding and rolling without resistance until, after a tumble over his shoulder and slide across the the ground on his knees, he kicks back and up to his feet.
Head inclines, his cassock bears shredding, tears from the force of Dahlia's blow, marring on his exposed chest. His hands continue to curiously remain at their position at his stomach. "The hero fights, defending herself against the villainous assassin from the Mishima Zaibatsu," he says, words put out in the open, a bait beyond the flagrant use of his body to put the situation to his advantage in the unspoken emotional fight.
Once more he surges toward Dahlia. A slipping run that see Whitney tilt forward and charge. It's a striking series of knee and snap kicks. His hands kept from the fray, that is, until the final swing as both hands slap toward Dahlia's ears to clap hard and disrupt concentration.
COMBATSYS: Honoka dodges Whitney's Blind Assurance.
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Honoka 1/---====/=======|=======\-------\1 Whitney
Dahlia stutter-steps sideways to regain her balance. The predator's tongue darts across her lips; she relishes every ounce of the pain she's dealt out. For in truth, she's -wanted- to make solid contact with Saulder for -quite- some time. Drawing in her breath, she lashes the coiled dragon staff to her right, the tip of the staff blasting free a crescent of dry sand from the parched desert.
Though Dahlia may be enjoying the visceral exchange, the Akatsuki manipulator understands that one clash does not define the outcome of a battle. It's plain to see that this Saulder's body is a perfect match for his keen intellect -- a deadly weapon, honed to perfection. Not one to be taken lightly.
But even in the heart of battle, he remains true to himself, offering a tantalizing morsel of truth without any verifiable fact. To declare himself as not only an assassin, but of the Mishima Zaibatsu -- the foul corporation who might just be responsible for -bringing- the Gears into existence? Dahlia narrows her eyes, but does not allow her smile to falter as she sweeps around to close the gap. The sansetsukon spins at her right as her pace quickens, plumes of sand kicked up in her wake!
"And the hero, always thinking of her people, presses for more!"
As Whitney tilts forward, Dahlia continues to close. But as he leaps forward into a knee strike, the acrobat uses her momentum to whirl her into a forward flip, sending her body flying right over the whirling sansetsukon. Kicks lash at the formerly occupied space, airflow cracking into miniature thunderclaps from the barrage of strikes. Dahlia swivels in mid-air, landing feet-first and then vaulting into a two-meter-high backflip, carrying her narrowly out of the reach of Saulder's clapping strike, the spinning sansetsukon serving as a gyroscope for the gravity-defying measure.
Pushing off the gyre, Dahlia aborts her backflip early, driving a boot heel at a sharp angle into the desert floor. A jerk of her wrist collapses the three sections of the sansetsukon into her hand. With a rapid reversal, she surges forward, aiming to plunge the tripled staves of the sansetsukon into Saulder -- or whatever limbs he hopes to interpose in her path.
And once -- or if -- contact is made, her psycho-powered payload will deliver a powerful clockwise torque, petals of searing energy erupting outward in unison. "HRAAAAA!"
COMBATSYS: Whitney counters Crushing Strike from Honoka with Dreams Deferred.
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Honoka 1/--=====/=======|==-----\-------\0 Whitney
A brilliantly swift enemy. Dancing expectedly around each surging, strike. Every tilt is skipped as Dahlia keeps one step away from Whitney Saulder's heavy hands.
And this is just how the man has expected things to go. She moves as he's judged her to move. She hits as he's judged her to hit. She stays away, and she has struck him to his core, but he is reading, ever reading and eventually traps spring.
In the verbal world, he has left similar traps. True enough is his employment by Heihachi Mishima. Though that man's pursuit for perfection and unheeding acknowledgement of the falseness of society is admirable, it is not what Whitney seeks. He is, as all others are, a tool for a momentary flutter of interest and an eventual opening to the sundering of falsehoods for the Illuminati's new world.
But if he can drive conflict between two more opposing forces through his actions, then all the better to destabilize when the time comes to illuminate the world in fire.
The lie is spoken. The lie as Saulder sees it. It's his moment to act. He does so simply, quickly, and decisively. A twist of his body, his superior reach, and a sudden flash of his hand interrupts the Dahlia's spin into charge by way of wrapping about her neck and lifting her off the ground with a crushing thumb pressing up at her throat.
"Are you?" he asks bluntly, fingers gripping tighter and tighter, "Which people? Ainu? Yakuza? A circus? Fans? Or whatever you are calling your tools in the given moment? Which face is fighting me, I wonder."
With an anger, he twists and throws Dahlia to the ground before a single stomping kick to her head. "Who are you?" he asks with deep, honey sweetness, "You can tell me. I will see it in your eyes as they fade."
It's quite likely that the net value of this exchange of martial skill will be a whopping 'zero,' as Dahlia already views his statements with a healthy amount of skepticism. But determining the value will take time -- and that's better left till -after- the fight.
Especially considering how Saulder has managed to ensnare the acrobatic Ainu despite her best attempts at evasiveness. In rapid measure she finds herself snatched out of the sky in mid-strike, her psycho-powered payload remaining intact within the heart of the tripled staves as she's hauled up into the air.
Whitney would definitely be able to sense the growing rage within, as Dahlia grapples in vain against his forearms, kicking in futility for purchase. All she can manage would be weak, though, with even the formidable Mortal Kombat Champion falling prey to restricted airflow.
Really, if Whitney had wanted an immediate answer, perhaps he should have reconsidered a chokehold -- or obstructing her face with a stomp. As it is, he'll get the answer in form of her body overflowing with golden light -- plainly easy to see in the darkened desert.
And as he draws his foot back, Dahlia practically explodes from the ground, vaulting into the sky. Her spine curves -- her face pitched forward as she refills her lungs with oxygen. Several bursts of energy waft away from her in flight -- powerful explosive gusts of energy needed to propel her upward, it would seem.
But before Dahlia reaches ground, the glow slips forward, and begins to circle around before her hands. Yellow swims around purple, a rapidly whirling gyre of gathering forces -- and from within, a brilliant white light etches the shape of a star.
Dahlia's feet touch down some several meters away. And almost simultaneously, three other impacts can be heard slamming into the desert floor. But the most emergent threat comes from the point in front of her hands -- a star-shaped column, extruded through the sigil, plunging forth at Whitney as if to envelop him in its searing, white-hot light!
Her voice is coarse, gravelly from the recent exchange. But it carries, nonetheless: "I am Dahlia! That's all you need to know!"
COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Whitney with Nochiu-o Kando.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ////////// ]
Honoka 0/-------/--=====|====---\-------\0 Whitney
Whitney Saulder has questions of humanity. He wonders how he is the way he is, while they are the way they are. Unamused, unadorned, direct, uncaring, motivated by the interest of the moment. He knows they are selfish, they are cruel, they are wanton. He does not chide humanity for that. He knows he doesn't want to be fettered, he doesn't want to go hungry, he knows he has needs. He knows people act the way he does. What he finds frustrating is the need of humanity to lie, to call to ideals, or to create false faces and fronts. Something he has learned to do, and finds it simple, but that leads to more frustration when people keep acting in the way he expects.
He is not so foolish to expect a real answer from the Dahlia as he strangles her. He is a creature of rhetoric despite himself. He wants her to hear the question, and maybe, just maybe, it will make her think.
This time it doesn't. And time again, as the stellar strike comes through Dahlia's hands and scorches around her, he can only find himself troubled by the boring roteness of the Dahlia's answer.
Certainly there is pain. There is great, searing gouts of pain. Physical scouring at the blazing intensity of the beam. Bearing into him, surrounding him, enveloping him in a burning radiance. It is brilliant. It is beautiful. It is boring.
He lay on the ground in the wake of the cascade. He feels the sand of the desert, it digs into the wounds and screams the pain across his body born brunt of the burns. But it's only physical. It's only a brute animal striving to survive. And that it terribly, utterly banal. Whitney Saulder is no stranger to physical pain. It's sensation, but not sensational. If he dies, he knows it will be no different than how he feels to live. So why worry because electric signals on potassium channels tell him something is wrong?
Whitney Saulder sits up, he stands up, and he looks with tired eyes to the Dahlia. "This is not about me," he says. "It never was. It was always you." He sniffs, then clears his nose of mucus and sand with a huff toward the dirt. "You crave attention, but disdain true curiosity. Afraid that without your masks you will find something no more real than shadows?"
"I enjoy the idea of the Spangles, because she was always honest, even when she lied. She was herself in the end, as you said. The one thing you never can be."
COMBATSYS: Whitney gains composure.
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Honoka 0/-------/--=====|===----\-------\0 Whitney
As her column of energy subsides, Dahlia draws in her breath, drinks in the pain and suffering of her opponent. So many times she's been frustrated with his lines of questionin -- and for once, she is starting to feel satisfaction in the answers she's giving him.
Dahlia draws one hand up, planting it upon her sternum -- to better relish the vitality beating within her ribcage. Her other hand droops to the side, her wrist lazily swirling the loose end of her three-sectioned staff around -- a meditative aid, a necessary sensor for the ebb and flow of the world around her.
He sits up -- the stance of a talker, not a fighter. He stands up -- the gait he puts on, the stance of a man with a leg injury. He wears masks just like she does, puts on airs just to lure people into a false sense of security.
Dahlia drinks it in, enjoying the momentary advantage as she circles around. "You sound frustrated, Saulder. Is grasping at straws all the assassin from the Mishima Zaibatsu can muster?"
But then she listens. There's no purpose to a conversation if both parties refuse to listen. Her index finger rises; the gloved digit traces the furrows in her fire-scarred cheek.
"You want complex answers and yet you only ask simple questions. No wonder you never get what you want from me." Her fingers claw across her cheek -- the -pain- an essential ingredient to her thought process. "The face. Fighting you. Is Scarlet Dahlia. There's no lie in that, no grand mystery, no -deception-."
The Ainu tusukur scowls as she walks a long, wary circle around her conversational partner. "I'm not afraid to admit that I might -be- nothing more than shadow. Shadows need masks to walk in the light." The brightest light source in the desert sky insists, "And I don't particularly -care- to walk in the light like she did."
The radiance from her eyes begins to ebb, momentary glistening across the glass of her bottom-rimmed spectacles. The reddish tint of her hair begins to show through again as she continues her pacing, as her staves continue their whoosh-whoosh-whoosh.
"It doesn't matter," she insists. "Scarlet Dahlia is the name I chose. She is who I am -now-, who I will be -remembered- as."
Her hand climbs higher. Thumb brushes against the corner of her eye.
She draws in her breath. And the spinning of her staves becomes stronger, more dynamic.
"Eskerimrim." It's not a name he'd find in any ledger or record -- for she'd made sure of that.
She pulls her hand away, clenches it into a fist. She stops pacing, now that she's fully squared up with Saulder. Her expression hardens, her brow furrowing. "That little girl died with her parents, on a boat in a lightning storm."
A frown becomes a lopsided scowl. "And then a star was born." She scoffs, with half-hearted self-derision.
But then she extends a hand to Saulder -- an open palm, from some ten feet away. Tendrils of purple lightning begin to spark at the tips of her sansetsukon. Her eyes flare once -- a momentary burst. And she fixes her gaze solidly upon Saulder.
"Do you insist on testing me further?"
COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!
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Honoka 0/-------/--=====|===----\-------\0 Whitney
COMBATSYS: Honoka calculates her next move.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ////////////// ]
Honoka 0/-------/--=====|===----\-------\0 Whitney
A name. An identity. A curiosity. Whitney Saulder's head tilts back for a moment to consider the information ahead of him.
"And on the pedastal these words appear. . ." he trails off, leaving with a tired exhalation of exasperation. He once more settles his eyes on the Dahlia. He stretches his neck and he flexes stiffness from his fingertips. He runs his tongue over his teeth and he wonders if the girl will even understand him.
He doubts it.
"The Dahlia failed the test long ago," Whitney Saulder says. "But the dead girl shows promise."
What comes is haphazard. A shuffling little motion, then a rolling downward to a crouch that he bursts out of, knee pistoning for Dahlia's chest, a hand in check, ready to grab and hurl when the feinting lunge gives him closeness.
COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Whitney's Risk Assessment.
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Honoka 1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0 Whitney
Dahlia grins, holding her ground as Whitney speaks. For this a challenge -- a test of his desire to continue. The mention of a pedestal arches an eyebrow. The engraved statement lowers both eyebrows.
As he surges forward, she quickly tosses the 'handle' staff of her sansetsukon into the opposite hand, shedding sparks of lightning onto the desert floor -- easily avoidable, but potential hazards for the unwary. The repositioned weapon is pulled taut across her, clacking and bowing from the effort of absorbing Saulder's knee strike.
The followup is a bit more difficult for the tusukur to predict. The quick grappling attempt meets a raised forearm, grip sliding down the length of her sleeve as she pulls back and away, while the sanjiegun twirls around, seemingly of its own accord.
Slipping free, Dahlia turns on her heel, lashing the chained weapon back and away. She returns with a smirk: "Ha! 'Always leave them wanting more.'"
Overflowing with confidence, she lashes out sharply with her sanjiegun, hoping to twine it about his leg. Should her weapon clack against his shins, tendrils of purple lightning would spill out, jolting into Saulder's leg with powerful shocks. Dahlia would then pull the chained weapon tight, seeking to pull his leg right out from under him.
COMBATSYS: Whitney fails to counter Charged Combo from Honoka with Refutation of Reason.
- Power fail! -
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Honoka 1/-----==/=======|==-----\-------\0 Whitney
It seems as though The Dahlia's target does nothing but stand and wait. He is motionless as the sanjigen comes rocketing toward him. The reality is, he misjudged. The lightning blasts out, wrapping and crackling with the linking chain. The whipping toss hurtles him around. A slam heavy enough to crater the desert, to send sand whirling high into the air.
To reroute the force of an opponent requires a consistent force to reroute. It's no surprise then that Whitney was caught by the rapidly changing trajectory of, well, himself. And for it he finds himself in a pit of sand, battered, feeling the broken pain as an adrenaline dulled sensation ebbing throughout his body.
It is damage, pain in the moment, that could end in death. He finds himself without much recourse or care. Were it to end here, it would end here. But he suspects there is more to come from the Dahlia. He stands curious to her ultimate bloodthirst. Or perhaps the bloodthirst of the dead child.
Dahlia felt his strength as it threatened to choke the life out of her. What kind of immortality is conferred to the Champion of Mortal Kombat -- the kind that grants long life, or the kind that grants invulnerability from mortal wounds? Both? Neither? There's no user's guide for these sorts of things. Regardless, she knows she can be crippled, debilitated. It's inconvenient, to put it mildly.
There's no way she'd allow that to happen here, in the middle of the desert. He wanted to see a hero -- and she's determined to show him.
Dahlia tosses the sansetsukon into her left hand, collecting the three staves together. She presents a confident smile -- and an awkward Wild West drawl. "This Showup Hoedown's over, pardner."
And in a sudden surge of light, she clears the remaining distance to him -- lunging palm-first at his cassock collar. Should she grab hold, she'd whip Saulder sharply to his right -- slamming his back down hard into the desert floor. Her eyes would momentarily flare with the intensity of the storm -- and as she pins him in place, a calamitous bolt of lightning will thunder down from the heavens, with her lithe frame as the conductor.
To assert control of the situation. To prove that -Dahlia- is in control, and not some ghost from her distant past.
COMBATSYS: Whitney fails to counter Niwen Horobi from Honoka with Pointed Rebuttal.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ <
COMBATSYS: Whitney can no longer fight.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ <
Whitney Saulder is a man without care. He does not hold concern for the woman that fights him. He does not truly hold a concern for the world, for the people in it, for himself. This fight is just a means to find some new information. New information means a momentary burst of interest, a taste of feeling.
The pain is also sensation. That pulsing soreness, the scream of torn flesh, the throbbing blackness creeping through the corners of his eyes. It is a moment to feel. And it is good.
And now he lay on the ground. He opens his eyes and he looks up at the furious woman, the proud woman, the 'Dahlia'.
"You've won. Congratulations," he says, a trickle of red coming from his lips, coating his teeth.
Scarlet Dahlia disengages herself slowly and warily from the fallen Saulder, her hand quivering as she holds it poised over his chest. She expects trickery of some sort -- largely because the tall man has been difficult to read for as long as she's known about him. Largely because the patterns that dictate the ebb and flow of battle are illegible. Largely because his immunity to the base desires of humanity is such a foreign concept to the empathic tusukur.
The quivering stops -- or at least, minimizes -- when she rises to her full height, and can find herself looking down upon him. Words are spoken -- softly and simply.
Dahlia finds herself... numb. All ten fingers curl about the rattan weapon as she draws back. Certainly, pain is a thrill -- the pain of her throat, the pulses wracking Saulder's body. These won't go away. But the delicious -anguish- she'd gleaned from other victories? The taste -- as bland as if the chef had left a crucial ingredient out of her favorite dish.
"... So it seems," she concludes. Eyes narrow to slits, dampening the golden radiance spilling out to a mere trickle. Her grip on the sanjiegun loosens, two staves drooping to the desert floor.
The third staff twirls around, lightly. "Mishima picked up what's left of the Gear Project, yes. Now tell me something about Gears that's *not* in the tabloids and nutball conspiracy sites."
Her longcoat flutters about in the faint breeze. And the stars look to the brightening horizon with envy.
Whitney Saulder wipes the corner of his mouth, staining the cassock with a second person's blood. He looks at the spot on his wrist before he drops his arm down into the sand. He will have to change. Bothersome. The wind blowing overheard spits small grains into his ear and his hair. Bothersome. The Dahlia bought his false connections between Gears and his employment by the Mishima Zaibatsu. Not bothersome.
He looks to the dark sky and the bank of the milky way before tilting his head to the light rising on a new day. At least one from the perspective of the viewer, Whitney felt it necessary to remind himself of the apt metaphor that are 'new days'.
Oh, he realizes that The Dahlia is still there and still expecting something. Some sort of proof. He sits up, and he looks at the woman before he draws out a badly battered cigarette pack to stick a filter between his lips.
"Give enough monkeys enough typewriters and they're bound to be as accurate as Nostradamus," he remarks. "But if you want my insight, it's simple, Gears are as Darkstalkers. They're not the threat. They're a utility as any outgroup. Whether you want them on your side, or to exploit them for mass appeal, is upon yourself. Pick which one you want them to be."
Scarlet Dahlia frowns. A hand snakes up, working loose the knot of her necktie as she draws in her breath -- not much of a pleasure with the dry air, but still some relief considering the predicament she'd been in earlier -- one from which her pulse is still pounding higher than normal.
She gathers the three sections of staff together, then with seeming carelessness, spears them into the ground. And then, folding the tails of her longcoat beneath her, she proceeds to sit. Whereas Whitney has a smoke to let the pressure off, Dahlia's got no similar release -- until she withdraws the pen from her pocket. Resting her wrists on her knees, she drums the pen around as she attempts to hone her focus. For meetings with Whitney do not exactly come easy -- particularly this time.
She snorts with derision. "'Mass appeal,' you say, as if we might need backups to upsell the Hoedown Dillo." Her pen thrums around for a few moments, before she clarifies. "A utility then. Distribution. Or migration, if you ascribe free will to the beasts spawned from the dog pound." One hand twists palm up. "Ballpark figure, how many do you suppose we've got to worry about -today?-"
COMBATSYS: Honoka takes no action.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ <
COMBATSYS: Honoka has ended the fight here.
A light sparks in the growing dawn. A cigarette is lit. Whitney puffs and looks out toward the distant road. A place where a Spangles fell, and where another is. It should be poetic, but Whitney Saulder just feels the acrid smoke rolling out of his lungs. "Mass appeal," he says, "Because some find championing the causes of minorities to be the noble and heroic way to their own power, Eskerimrim."
He rolls his wrist a continuing gesture, "While others find it more useful to position them as outsiders, invaders that must be stopped. Dangerous threats that, while oppositional, are still lesser people than one's own." He takes the cigarette from his mouth and lets the smoke roll out.
He looks toward the sitting Dahlia and flits the ash from his cigarette. He studies her fidgeting. He judges its intent. "I don't worry," he tells Dahlia, "Gears aren't concerning. Individuals are perhaps dangerous, but as a collective they are not. Illyria has many, but only a few would be any direct threat, fewer still taking into consideration your own power."
Once more the cigarette enters the corner tuck of Whitney's lips, "What you should be considering is how many do you need to exist in order to rally your followers to your side?"
With the rising of the sun comes the dimming of her eyes -- with the light levels rising, there's really no need for the special effects budget.
Though there is a fire rising -- it just happens to be in the Dahlia's heart this time, as Saulder equates the Gears which she'd thought to be sub-human as... well, not. Combined with his new favorite catch phrase. She shoots him a mild frown. "Touche, I guess."
The pen, by this point, is not thrummed like a drumstick, but has started to orbit around her thumb in one of her typical feats of dexterity. "Some of my people are concerned." But almost as soon as the words spill out of her mouth, she looks downward, pensively. Considering.
"... Perhaps it's simply a matter to rise above."
The sun breaks free from its terrestrial prison, igniting the cacti and brush aflame with its incandescent brilliance. Dahlia finally turns the puzzle over in her mind, snatching the tumbling pen out of the air with a note of finality. "I suppose the correct answer is zero. For we needn't trouble ourselves with Gears when the enemy is someone else entirely."
A smiling Dahlia -- a terrible sight, indeed. "It's rare that I might say this, but it's been enlightening to talk with you, Saulder-san. Hope your ride is nearby, though." The smile turns lopsided. "For I'm not sharing a ride with a 'Mishima assassin.'"
Log created on 17:19:02 03/08/2021 by Whitney, and last modified on 21:53:23 03/16/2021.