Kain - Timeline Variance and Authority

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Description: Kain Heinlein and the Scarlet Dahlia sit down for a long overdue meeting of minds. Or is it right on time? Plans are explicitly not made, allegiances explicitly not challenged, and surely this will have no impact on anyone's status quo, at all.

Scarlet Dahlia can be difficult to get a hold of at times, her presence defended by an array of automated services and human mediators. The shadowy manipulator behind the Akatsuki-gumi makes one thing absolutely clear -- she will only return calls when she's damn good and ready.

Until now, she has not been ready to contact Kain R. Heinlein.

There have been any number of reasons. A last-ditch effort to draw a dear friend back into the fold. A chance meeting that turned someone she'd loathed into someone she'd respect till the ends of the Earth. And most obviously -- a wide-sweeping redistribution of power throughout eastern and northern Japan. Things that would need to get done first.

She'd finally picked up the phone about a week ago. A meeting was arranged in Minato Mirai 21, the crown jewel of Yokohama, overlooking the Bay of Tokyo. This was, by and large, territory that was once under the de facto control of Duke Burkoff, his home away from Southtown. But through buyouts and power plays -- and more than a little 'reshuffling' of management roles, much of the area surrounding Southtown now falls under the gaze of the Akatsuki-gumi.

And chief to their Yokohama holdings is a ultra-posh seafood restaurant by the name of Matsubara. The building is roughly square in layout, with a large central staircase leading up to the second floor. The stairs and walls are lined with aged Japanese cedar rails. A tasteful array of tapestries hanging from the ceiling keeps the sound levels muted, to keep the large central dining hall from turning into a chaotic cacophony. The overall impression is one of opulent luxury -- and it's one that's enforced by a number of smiling hosts and hostesses, eager to welcome a newcomer to their seat. If, of course, they have a reservation.

Which Kain R. Heinlein would, of course, have. And upon arrival, the staff would be quick to respond to his beck and call, ushering him up the tall staircase to the upstairs loft -- and to circle him back around to one of many private VIP rooms on the upper level. The room would be, much like the restaurant itself, lavishly furnished. Some of the Matsubara's rooms are tatami rooms; this one would be Western-style, with ornate mahogany furniture and well-upholstered chairs.

And aside from Heinlein himself, the room would be unoccupied. For the moment.

A more challenging meeting to arrange Kain has difficulty recalling, if ever there was one. The simple truth of it is that past a certain point, likely around the time an unlikely coalition ran Duke out of Southtown-- and Terry Bogard saved the monster's life-- Heinlein stopped actively seeking to contact the Dahlia.

It's not that the point of usefulness had passed, or that Honoka was no longer of interest to the similarly well-insulated entrepreneur, and more that her pursuits in the aftermath of Burkoff's banishment were quite in line with the treaty Kain intended to propose in the first place. Particularly with the focus the Dahlia has put on a buffer around Syndicate holdings-- and vigilance against Duke's reinsertion into relevance therein. That doesn't stop Kain from answering when Honoka finally picks up the phone, however.

Heinlein's own network vets and passes on the information, and Heinlein is on time-- even slightly early. Perhaps it's a quiet statement of respect, or an act of wary caution... or likely some mix of both, and his own personal drives.

Caution is not the obvious methodology to the statuesque blonde's arrival all but alone, however. His driver is left outside, and if there is any kind of entourage or bodyguard contingent on standby, it's not evident in Heinlein's solo approach to the bayside restaurant, or his relaxed, casual demeanor interacting with the staff.

Clad in a finely tailored, custom suit of pristine white overlaying rich crimson and black accents, Kain's ascent to the second floor is graceful, unhurried, entirely too relaxed for introduction to someone as deadly, connected, and clever as the Scarlet Dahlia; at least, unless one is in the same league, or minimally... considers themselves to be.

Kain takes a seat at a small table with what he judges to be perhaps the greatest view of the water, regardless which he is actually shown to, and orders a bottle of the establishment's finest dry red wine, and an appetizer plater including smoked salmon and dumplings. The cultural implications of fine sake are just too messy to lead with in such a delicate introduction, despite its appeal and local mastery.

Kain's rather inscrutably stoic, all too relaxed demeanor endures, for some time if he's left alone, with seemingly infinite patience and utter lack of concern. Of course, the enigmatic Germanic firebrand's uncanny senses are seldom -not- focused both inward and out, and to a warrior, much less a psychic of Honoka's calibre? The beacon of strength within him burns like the celestial fires he taps; somehow at once hot and cold, dark and light, distant... and looming.

Having guards and declining to make use of them is a show of confidence -- especially when walking into a facility of potentially unknown dangers. Confidence itself is not a sign of ability, though; that's where Kain R. Heinlein's reputation comes in hand. His aid in the downfall of Duke Burkoff was, of course, no secret to the Southtown criminal world. It's quite well-known that Kain is a man with the means to pull off such a feat. But in the world money and control are often bedfellows with martial prowess. Kain's presence is overwhelming, despite his nonchalance -- it's something exempliied by the casual grace which he brings to each movement, or lack thereof.

Dahlia was, however, not present in the restaurant at the moment; instead, she was in the building next door when she'd received the text that Kain had arrived. The Ainu-Japanese woman stares blankly back at her phone, considering.

"He's early," she states matter-of-factly. And then taps her security chief, Sudo, on the shoulder. "Schedule moved up. Stay sharp."

Kain R. Heinlein may be early. But Scarlet Dahlia is prepared for that. He would need to wait no more than two minutes before Scarlet Dahlia's boots can be heard on clopping upon the wooden stairs. Whereas Kain dressed in white, Scarlet Dahlia is garbed in charcoal grey, trimmed with bronze. A pinstriped grey vest, beneath a long overcoat; a neutral grey button-down shirt, black slacks. And most striking of all, her vibrant red hair, framing her scarred face in concert with a pair of bottom-rimmed spectacles, glinting ever so slightly from the light as she turns at the top of the staircase.

And as she gets closer to Kain's table -- noting the change of seating, but not yet commenting on it -- she becomes increasingly aware of just how true his reputation -was-. Kain R. Heinlein is no ordinary man -- but a veritable force of nature who -presents- himself as a man. The psychic takes great pains to ensure that each step closer is communicated, that there would be no misunderstandings.

It also helps that the second floor -- that is, housing the table with the best view -- has been and will continue to be kept clear of other customers. No need for -extra- caution, at least.

"An excellent view, isn't it? I find myself here quite often."

Dahlia cinches the hem of her left glove, as she stares out the window, standing a meter and a half away from Kain. If he looks at her, she'll favor him with a smile. But if not... it -is- a lovely view.

"It's been quite busy for me, these past few months. But I am glad the stars have aligned for us here, and now. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Heinlein." She bows formally, at the waist. And she seems quite content to watch the bay for as long as he chooses to.

A show of confidence, a perfect opportunity for ambush-- if things are going to go south, they might as well cut to it, right? It's hard in this case to really judge Kain's solitude as vulnerability, however; and Honoka proves wise enough to realize it. It's not a surprise to Kain-- he's studied her activities in some detail, such as is possible from an outside vantage point, at least.

The blonde man's wine is delivered moments before Honoka's arrival, but he doesn't immediately pour. Nor does Kain immediately turn to regard the Dahlia; though it's not that he doesn't pay attention to her approach. Each footfall is listened to, the subtleties of her own power and aura tingling across less quantifiable senses, "Lovely." Heinlein agrees with tangible sincerity, wielding a matter of fact ease and directness uncommon in their profession; much less in those with reputation for manipulation and intricate gambit.

Kain does turn his head to regard Honoka then, however, a small smile returned as he rises to reciprocate the bow, and indicate the other seat at his table with a graceful flourish before settling anew. The absence of chivalry in preparing her seat, or waiting to retake his own, speaks to the nature of their relationship as peers far more than any lack of old-world politesse; another peculiarity in a criminal who's survived the worst Southtown has to offer.

"Quite busy indeed." Heinlein agrees once more, his small lingering more subtly at the corner of his lips, even as his attention once more sweeps the bay pensively. "Securing and reaffirming your own foundation while limiting opportunity for intervention, and negating the possibility of perceived or actual debts." The quiet respect is given voice, without a hint of agitation at being, at least in part, suitably out-maneuvered by the Dahlia.

"Rather than from a place of need or difficulty, you come to this table from actualized strength, perhaps even renewed vision." It's far from simple flattery to butter her up, though it might be easily written off as such by many. "The pleasure is mine, Ms. Kawamoto." One card laid, with non-chalant frivolity, on the table. "Though it seems... inaccurate to attribute such maneuvering to astrology. I can only presume your curiosity has finally gotten the better of your suspicion, or there's something specific you hope to find here, now."

Considering that one of the Ainu people's greatest losses was precipitated over a couple jugs of sake, Scarlet Dahlia has never been much of a fan of wine. It's her restaurant, -her- territory now, and yet, even here, against a counterpart of Kain's stature, loosening the tongue would likely turn into a grave mistake. And losing oneself to euphoria, even moreso. Though, shortly after her arrival, a goblet of water is brought to the table, and placed at her setting.

Dahlia seats herself in the offered chair. Like Kain, she seems to loathe the formalities of both Western and Eastern civilization alike. And one of the first Eastern traditions to be dispensed with is the one insisting that smiles are bad luck -- for Kain has contributed handsomely to her good cheer by eschewing those sorts of chivalric traditions she only pretends to enjoy.

As she slides into the table, she is presented with a breezy summary of just what -she's- done in the intervening time. Her smile only grows with amusement as Kain accurately describes the broad strokes of her recent campaigns -- showing not only his skill in examining the tides of conquest, but in openly sharing said knowledge with her.

It is quite an accurate summary.
And she is quite pleased.
Right until he says the name of another woman.
Her smile twists lopsided, along with a scrunched eyebrow.

She steeples her gloved hands upon the table before her, addressing the other woman's name point-blank. "It seems you have us confused. You see, Ms. -Kawamoto- has visions and aspirations of her own. Kept to a quite different circle, as you already know. It's Dahlia, here, please."

Kain ventures forth with a further stab at her machinations. Whether he hits the mark or not is unclear, as she breaks into another elusive grin. "Why can't it be all three, though, really? Curiosity, specifics, -and- astrological alignment. After all, the Blood Moon was not so long ago, and it's served as a -wonderful- reminder of my need to keep fingers to the pulse of this side of the country."

Dahlia's steepled fingers part; as she twines her fingers about the stem. "But perhaps it's something else entirely. A dinner to celebrate a Southtown free of the influence of Duke Burkoff. An acknowledgement of the legend who started the ball rolling."

She takes a sip from her goblet, before resting the glass once more upon the table.

"It's mostly curiosity, though. On where you see Southtown five years from now. Perhaps the Aizawa-gumi and FATE will have devolved into trite border clashes, or found some new upstart in their midsts, mm?"

Sake would have been an insult. One that many, many men might have made utterly unintentionally. Wine? The wine is an indulgence; and either a show of trust, or another dangling display of alleged vulnerability and vice for the Scarlet Dahlia to dissect as she pleases.

Kain accepts a pour only after her own drink arrives, the niceties handled entirely naturally, entirely wordlessly, to cut to the heart of the matter. Oh would you like a drink? You -don't- drink? Oh dear! It's a blessing, at least by Heinlein's measure. It's the only thing he asks of their suitably surreptitious server, now. The protest draws his attention fully to her, a thoughtful light in his unusual, crimson eyes; a slight cant to his head as the statusque German regards her.

"Different aspirations? Her own vision?" Kain inquires, "Not synchronous tools, parts of a unified ambition?" It might ring as accusatory, the man's dulcet directness shifting only subtly. But that subtlety is likely apparent enough to the psychic, with Kain doing little to cloud his own mind. It's surprise. Perhaps a small measure of disbelief. "Or is the implication merely a matter of propriety, Scarlet Dahlia?" Heinlein gives the measure obviously demanded, at either rate. "To all three, however." Kain acknowledges, lifting the wineglass to his lips only after raising it in toast to his dinner partner.

"The man is a monster, a maniac." Kain further insists, with the tone of an analyst speaking clear fact. "Whatever becomes of the ambitions of Meira and Katashi, they are a far preferable presence to their forebear. As, I would hope, are you." There's a clear nagging doubt, there, expressed in a soft frown creasing the pyrokinetic's austere features.

"In five years, I would hope one or more of several promising candidates will have attained the power they dream of without having their reason and wisdom absolutely annihilated by it. I hope at least the vision of a few key actors will remain clear enough that the foundation of something new might be built. For far too long man has built and rebuilt the same civilizations modeled on conquest and avarice; control rather than realization, plunder rather than progress."

Lately, it seems at least to Kain, he has been far, far too open about this personal ambition and attitude. There are some fairly clear hypotheses to be drawn from them, with regard to more worldly aims and intentions. Perhaps he's simply comfortable intimating that knowledge whether Honoka ends as an ally or an enemy. "Humanity has stifled its own brilliance for far too long; sacrificed the worthwhile for the inane. True freedom for complicit servitude." There's just the quietest, sharpest -edge- on those last five words.

The word 'propriety' draws a momentarily perplexed look from Dahlia -- the word isn't wholly unfamiliar, but she appears to let it percolate a bit longer as she considers her response.

She draws in her breath, steeling herself. And then, in a measured response, she offers a faint smirk, splaying the fingers of her right hand out to one side. "The tree-hugging naturist angle didn't test well with the hardened murderer demographic." The smirk fades, as her features harden: "Moreover, -her- concerns are not negotiable, whereas mine are."

It isn't the first time that Dahlia has been pressed on her Ainu cheerleader persona. It won't be the last. But she wants to make the point clear to Kain that the divide is not a line to be crossed lightly.

In response to the use of her preferred name for this context, though, she is prompt in raising her glass for the implication of a toast.

Duke -is- a monster. Or, perhaps, -was- a monster, as he's not been seen lately. And Alba and Katashi are good people. But she is not on trial here, not yet. Especially when she has not seen her counterpart prove -himself- to be especially bad -or- good in this measure -- so that his frown only earns a cool reception from her thin, lightly painted lips.

For now -- it is enough to listen. To hear the madness from Kain's own mouth, such as she had heard it secondhand from Alba and Katashi. To digest it -- and to wash it down her throat with a second sip from her goblet, as he speaks.

The goblet is set back down. As she arches an eyebrow, keeping her lips in a neutral state. She leans forward, keenly interested in his reaction. The insight already given her is a tantalizing taste. But after conferring with the beknighted leaders of Southtown, she's parched, and thirsty for more insight into the machinations of Heinlein's plans.

"You speak highly about the need for a new order, then. A renaissance, a -revolution- rather than simply repeating evolutions of the same flawed formula. But my question, Mr Heinlein, is: How would you characterize -your- role in this? As a patron, merely providing financial and moral support from the sidelines? Or as a power player, a -kingmaker- eager to promote and demote as the times change?"

She presses her thumbs together, resting her gloved hands upon the table as she listens in fascination.

"Doesn't it?" The hardened killer seems almost regretful of that. "Though it bears mentioning that agenda is why we're sitting here at all. I'm pleased to hear it isn't just part of the -act-." There's no derision in the emphasis; it's acknowledgement. He's never been in the circus, but there's a keen understanding of just how important persona and demographic may be.

"The Ainu are an echo of the very pattern we're discussing." Heinlein admits readily. "Unmeasurable insights into mysticism, an early understanding of the sea and its cyclical bounty that modern Japan should -sorely- regret losing, tanning and survival techniques ahead of their time..."

One could certainly call the claims pandering, under the circumstances. But they -were- just discussing the importance of demographics in such admissions; and the same passionate sincerity that Kain led with continues to ring in his words. Mad though he may in fact be, by certain definitions. "Yet there is nothing unique about the turn of events, nothing unusual. Potential, plundered. The unready or unexpecting devoured by the ravenous with the spurious certitude of 'birthright'." Heinlein veritably curses that word, a more outwardly volatile man would have spat.

As to the seemingly difficult, million dollar question, Kain spares little consideration before answering, "Neither." Choosing a third option, a gloved hand lifts to brush a lock of long platinum back behind his ear, accompanied by a thoughtful chuckle. The answer needs little thought; but whether to share with Honoka? With this piece, Heinlein takes pause.

"I am a man of consequential power and vision who walks a deadly path without roadmap or guarantee. I will either see the authorities and structures of this world shaken to their core, purged of avarice and the domination of the mediocrity of inherited wealth and extortion schemes that rob the multitudes of all promise... or I will die trying." Again. The glint in the pyromancer's blood red gaze is as deadly as the untrodden course he charts. "Those I facilitate will either realize promise, or fall to pattern. It is the opportunity that matters. Along with the faultlines that these particular actors create." It's another concept that Kain seems to expect to need little explanation; an understanding he's suspected in several of the Dahlia's own gambits.

"Mankind is designed to freely associate in common purpose and realization of the exceptional; not to be controlled for efficient production models. My acts will either echo in the deeds and strength of many, long into the future-- or I will fall, and the status quo will be assured a stay of execution. But its decay is already evident; its diagnosis, terminal."

The rebirth of the Ainu people as little more than an act? If he'd brought up such an issue to the Twilight Star juggler, she'd have responded with a grumpy expression. But even when the discussion revolves around the divide between her two personas, Scarlet Dahlia cannot muster anything other than a quizzical look at the intimation that her life's work could be anything but sincere. She states dispassionately, for the record: "It is not."

Kain then reveals that he sees the rise and fall of Ainu culture as symptomatic of the sepsis that plagues society. As a student of history herself, Dahlia had some to many of the same conclusions. She finds herself nodding along with the idea, sharing her mute assent with the points raised. And yet, the manipulator finds herself questioning his angle. He speaks with the perfect pitch of resonance, a viewpoint that so closely mirrors her own. Is it something he truly believes, or something he wants her to -think- he truly believes?

It's true that he doesn't have to share his thoughts. The only certainty is that he -wanted- to. Maybe to win her trust -- or perhaps her ire at being pandered to? She cops to neither, simply acknowledging the facts before her: "You have done your research." For that, at least, is unquestionable.

She listens silently as Kain explains how he is neither a patron nor a kingmaker. She still feels as if he -is- a kingmaker... and yet, there is one notable departure, as she recalls the words of Meira and Tairyu. Kain has, to her knowledge, asked -nothing- as repayment for his service.

The criminal world is -predicated- on reciprocation: you scratch my enemy, I'll scratch yours. Or vice versa. And yet -- even though she is working with secondhand information, she can't recall that Kain had asked either of Southtown's newly-crowned princes for... well, anything. Is their rule a quid pro quo, or a simple... -gift?-

"Ah, how altruistic," she notes with a neutralized tone. Is he truly neither a patron nor a kingmaker, as he so claims? "Leveling the playing field came with no strings at all for the new princes, hmm? It remains to be seen how well they will live up to the rigorous demands of your philosophy."

Dahlia sips at her water, letting the thought linger in the air. A prompt, for him to elucidate -- if he so chooses. And if he declines that choice? That is what the smoked salmon and dumplings are for. Two orders arrive -- one for Dahlia, and one for Heinlein.

And here, Dahlia smiles more openly. For not only does the salmon pair well with his dry red -- but it happens to be her favorite apertif at this restaurant.

Geese Howard is a philanthropist, responsible for numerous acts of conservation and traditionalism and respect within Southtown, and without-- it's an act, a tool, a methodology to continue the back-scratching and upward mobility of money. It's not surprising, then, that Kain has similar suspicions with regard to Honoka... or, indeed, that the Dahlia has her doubts about Heinlein's own veracity.

"Ah, but you already brush against the cost of my 'help'." Kain observes obliquely, punctuating the statement with an unhurried sip of wine, and then holding his tongue longer for the arrival of their delicacies. It's perhaps worth noting that the demeanor displayed to their server is one of polite appreciation, rather than the haughty impatience all too common in those of his alleged station.

"Alba and Tairyu are individuals of no small promise, repeatedly quashed by the will of tyrants and the greed of this world; but I have helped them find the confidence and timing to seize opportunity, not a gift. As you yourself noted-- who knows what potential they will actually realize." The jury's out on these dangerous, embittered warriors who have yet to even decide how much they -trust- Kain; or vice-versa.

"When a person finds more and more power, you discover more and more clearly what lay at their heart; you discover what they truly desire. Right now, their 'gift' is a target for the greedy and the wrathful, my charity is all but certain amplification of their already daunting trials." If Kain regrets this danger, or in any way feels -bad- for Alba and Tairyu, it doesn't so much as glimmer in the statuesque man's gaze. A moment is taken to savor several tidbits of the salmon, parsed alongside that fine wine, his own satisfaction evident.

"Though the favor they've already done me should be obvious." Even if Heinlein himself already realizes many around, even those nearest to that gathering storm have yet to grasp its sweeping course. Or the intensity of the building gale. Alba, Tairyu, and Honoka weren't the only ones consolidating their holdings, expanding into the vaccuum left by Burkoff. They aren't the only ones who've suffered under tyrants whose own acts have mandated cold, careful, calculated vengeance.

"Whether they are allies I'm proud to call upon, or another obstacle-- a disappointing but far from impossible outcome-- remains to be seen." It may ring altruistic, but whereas some would cast their acts in a light far more benevolent than the truth, Heinlein offers no such pretense. No shroud to the deadly, ruthless implications of his own will to face the same turbulation he assures the Dahlia are in all of their possible futures.

It's true that Scarlet Dahlia is moving money around. The path of her money is obfuscated through a multitude of front corporations along with legitimate-ish real estate firms. However, with the loss of her financial wizard, Daisuke Oda, the subterfuge may be imperfect enough to spot a pattern. That is to say -- the money does not go upward, but sideways and then downward, to the benefit of the Ainu people of Hokkaido. Kain didn't ask that. But perhaps he already knows?

For now, Dahlia's amber gaze is locked onto Kain's crimson irises. Chopsticks shear off a piece of smoked salmon, lifting it to her lips as she pays rapt attention to the explanation he offers. Many of this, she knows -- rotated, translated, reframed from before perhaps, or just innately understood. But she focuses on the interstitial words -- the glue that binds the concepts together. The space between the lines, that spells out the true -cost- of Alba's and Katashi's participation.

And as Dahlia has a taste of the savory meat, she nods with understanding. "It's... elegant, really. It costs you next to nothing to arrange the playfield, so that they can play out their games. Coach a little here and there if needed..." She raises another chunk of salmon, with a faint smile and nod, "... and simmer to flavor."

She smiles, taking her next bite. She leaves her chopsticks raised, as an indication that she is, indeed, still thinking.

And once she is done, she nods. "This gives you a lot of free time. As it has me. But there is, well... at -least- one thing that sets us apart, Mr Heinlein. You see, the notion of a 'status quo' is an enemy I've moved on from years ago."

She sets her chopsticks down, folding her hands once more, patiently.

"My time in Castle Alucard has reminded me of the urgent danger that faces -all- of humanity: that hordes of ravagers from any number of alternate realms can strike at any moment. Earthrealm is ill-prepared for the realities of mortal Kombat. When it comes to defense, Earth looks to her champions. But when those champions are done for... there will be no one to replace them."

Dahlia draws in her breath. She may be shorter than Kain, but the Champion of Earthrealm has a bearing that can at times transcend the physical.

"There is much to be done, Mr Heinlein."

"Incorrect, Scarlet Dahlia." Kain asserts matter-of-factly in the wake of another sampling of savory smoked salmon, in the aftermath of listening intently to each word Honoka speaks; paying a quiet but intense attention to each nuance of her expressions and motions during her answering explanation.

"That is not where our paths diverge; that is why they must intersect. Our Realm is vulnerable because our society is weak, self-serving without enlightenment, and consumed by its own avaricious idols. Not only to the cycle of Mortal Kombat-- but to so, so many other adjacent forces, parallel realms, ancient entities. Our own cycle of zealots and tyrants has left our entire species eroded, our best and brightest quashed for threatening petty interests; a society where the multitude are quashed for the indulgences of the few."

An elite class that doesn't even represent that promise! Even if it occasionally hosts an ever-shifting cycle of those who've seized the most strength, but the least wisdom; the least soul and self. It's mad enough that the alleged madman has to chuckle, a dark if authentically mirthful measure of notes.

"-Some- of these would invite the very apocalypse you dread for their own transitory might. -Others- who represent a similar existential threat from /within/. Our own capacity for destruction, and transitively, self-destruction, is as great as /any/ other Realm." The same bloody history they've discussed now in some depth authenticates that much. Kain matches Honoka's gaze, mirrors her unassuming intensity in a fun house distortion of such similar perceptions, "To perservere, our will must be /tempered/; not //compromised//."

It's all but certain the Dahlia and her own Family have tried quite hard to dig up information on Heinlein and his actual operations. Her knowledge of the man, such as it is, more than proves Kain isn't the only one at the table who's done their homework. To all outward appearances, Heinlein's cashflow is the source of shrewd, legitimate business. Nightclubs, resorts, a charter airline. A Southtown high-rise comprising luxury rentals, a rooftop park, and an entire indoor mall that's quite, quite posh. Rental empires in some of the highest priced neighborhoods here, or there. Notably, holdings that often serve a secondary purpose of allowing Kain to move and operate quite flexibly without being easy to locate at any given time.

The other, perhaps most noteworthy lesson easily learned is that everyone under Heinlein's umbrella is treated remarkably well, paid at least what they're worth, vetted carefully by even more loyal networks. It's not impossible to turn an agent-- but one is far more likely to send noise up the chain before succeeding if they didn't step very, very carefully.

On success? Well, the legit business actually -is- all but entirely compartmentalized from criminal enterprises thriving in Heinlein's territory in Southtown-- gambling, narcotics, smuggling, prostitution. The rate of violent crime is the lowest in the Syndicate. Any trace up the structure would find a nearly military command structure, cellular in nature, all tying back to one man; or one myth. Another legend-- or alleged demon. The Martyr of Might.

Incorrect? The correction is enough to arch Dahlia's eyebrow. Though, she realizes, her error was caused by -starting- to talk about her role as Earthrealm's Champion and not actually -finishing- said statement on the same topic. And with that acknowledgement, she remains quiet, dampening her expression back to a more neutral state, and reaching for a sip of water from her goblet.

She listens, quietly. Patience is a virtue she has learned in dealing with people of a high-society nature like Kain, whether they eschew the social trappings or not. People do not like being interrupted -- and that is a quality she herself shares with Kain. So she keeps her fingers interlocked -- an alternative to expressing her frustration -- as the smoked salmon before her cools.

She'd done some research on the mastermind's means -- research considerably augmented by Shadaloo's vast resources. As it turns out, Lord Vega bore a bit of a grudge against Heinlein, after a remarkably -close- finish in the very tournament that granted Dahlia her hundred years of immortality.

And yet, the records are, in many ways, still incomplete. Data cannot paint a portrait of a man in the way that even a simple conversation, or even the answer to a simple question, can. And as Heinlein finishes, and a momentary silence falls...

Dahlia calmly unfolds her hands. And carves off a slice of dumpling, so that she can enjoy sampling it for a few moments in consideration of all that Kain has said.

It might be clear, when she finally does speak, just how much she'd been holding back. The tension is clear in her throat, in her voice.

"Many things are as fragile as the glass you speak of in analogy. I am eager to learn how you intend to achieve this... balance. To temper humanity, without shattering the heart and promise you speak so highly of."

"And as chaotic when shattered." Kain acknowledges, even if he shows little sign of being dissuaded; doubtful. "It's so easy, isn't it, for the small compromises to become large ones; for the necessary path to spiral out of control into the very thing one fights hardest against."

The musing is far too topical to be random, particularly when inserted in place of an actual answer to the query posed; something Heinlein has all but certainly thought about. Surely, such a man has not only a plan... but several workable contingencies. "You know the creature that calls itself Vega. A manifestation of malice and unfathomable Id, unable to tolerate beauty even in itself. A being that wishes to preserve this Realm only to consume it himself in a maelstrom of malevolent fire. An avatar that stands against -everything- we speak of as surely as any ancient demon king-- or wrathful celestial god."

Kain folds his gloved hands, his analytical focus on Honoka only redoubled now, its subtlety no longer expertly applied. The energy around them reverberates with its resonance, in tune with the German's uncanny senses, his impossible mastery of each elemental ebb and flow. "Perhaps that's what brings me here, more than anything. You have confirmed much that I had considered before now, but there is one puzzle that absolutely demands inquisition."

A puzzle who's subject, at least, is now abundantly clear. "I do not intend to risk detailed steps and plans at this juncture, due entirely to that dark master." For Vega considers none his partner, nor peer. "But I will say with no pretense that along my path, such a corrupted man must be incinerated; and so I must know. Why?" So much wrapped up in a single, punctuating syllable. The weight in the air is all but tangible, Kain's distaste and anger, coldly palpable.

Scarlet Dahlia draws her goblet close for another sip of water. Holding her tongue for so long has parched her, it would seem. But now, as she watches Kain over the rim of her glass, the reasons for his hesitation, his venom-edged doubts, are finally brought to light.

Lord Vega. It all comes back to him, doesn't it? The man who came to her demanding fealty. The man who brooked no debate, who sought to ruin her life -- all to show her an unexpected magnanimity, a kindness of mercy. And a path forward to make it all worthwhile.

It makes sense, why Kain would reveal some plans, and not others. To show his earnestness, or the semblance of such. To show that he's made good use of his time, thinking things through.


The goblet is set down again. And Dahlia breaks her lock on Kain's gaze, looking down at her salmon. And gently, deliberately, slicing off a portion of it.

She chews. Considers, thoughtfully -- looking down at her plate, not raising her gaze back up to meet Kain's -- not yet. And when she does lift her eyes, it's to the nearest of the servers, with a leisurely sweep of her fingers.

"It's time. Bring it in."

She turns back to Kain, with the smallest of smiles. "I'd qualify that, by insisting that keeping one's eyes on the prize is a way to never lose one's way. But if you keep turning back to one moment in the -past-..." The words take on a particularly keen edge -- and, perhaps in realization of that, she draws in her breath once again, offering a placating smile. His blistering condemnation of her choice in business partners was not a storm she was happy to weather.

After a moment's recollection, she starts with a more neutral tone. "I've given my working arrangement quite a bit of thought, Mr Heinlein. It's commendable that you've spent so much time looking into my interests, and yet, you've missed the key fact. Is it truly because you thought that... Miss Kawamoto's activism -was- an act?"

The smile fades into somber resignation, as she trades her chopsticks for the goblet once more. "After all. Some concerns are not negotiable."

Her arrangement with Lord Vega is not one she -wants- to share. And yet, perhaps if only to answer his question in a way that can be -acted- upon, perhaps it was necessary. And yet, with that dispensed with, Dahlia finally... releases some of the pressure she was holding back. A hand splays to the side -- in the direction of the VIP room she had originally intended for the meeting to take place. There, a man is wheeling in a small serving cart, with something vaguely rectangular concealed beneath a velvet cloth.

"You're aware of the Backyard, yes? And how there are a number of realities, some far flung from ours, others not so far at all. I've been... -fascinated- with the Backyard, ever since a seer showed me on that island, so long ago."

Dahlia rocks the goblet from side to side. The water's surface ripples, ebbs, and flows, resolving into a perfect, if translucent, mirror of the scenery above it.

"The possibilities are endless. And -- as I have learned through my own life -- our lives are ineffably, inextricably bound to those of our counterparts in these other realms."

"Considering a possibility is not the same thing as being convinced." Kain offers in small clarification. The man's exposure to Geese Howard leaves all righteous causes in doubt; particularly in their field. "You assert that my judgement is unfounded, based in a personal vendetta over one particularly unfortunate battle in an ongoing war?" Kain's inquiry carries a measure of utter disbelief, a sentiment echoed visually by the almost whimsical arch of one platinum brow.

-Really-? Heinlein has the good grace not to outright laugh, though the emotion does little to dull the sheer intensity of the moment, the fervence of this piece. Still, the enigmatic rebuttal does shed some light on the possibilities in play, even without offering certitude. "Did it promise to destroy the entire island, everything and everyone you'd ever loved, if you did not cooperate? Did it somehow convince you the power wielded would be used to preserve, and not devour? You know of a particular seer, I'm sure-- the one called Rose."

Implication hangs without explanation, another card in their ongoing exchange, a piece of knowledge that speaks to perspective; or perhaps another quiet test. "The simple nature of near infinite iterations of reality yields near infinite variable results, patterns often as much trends of nature and environment as actual ripples from mystical currents surging between."

Not that Heinlein discounts the latter, either. "Are you implying that in a million possible iterations of your vision, the one which ends /well/ involves any endgame of Vega's?" Again, there's disbelief-- but it's tempered, still, by that honest, almost urget curiosity he already owned. That Kain does not scoff at what may have been glimpsed, here, speaks to the pyromancer's own more... spiritual delvings, a topic rarely even implied in company that is not Grant's.

Dahlia knew that her comment would get a notable response from Kain -- perhaps moreso than any other remark she had made through the conversation. It's good to know he's human, at least -- for his whimsical disbelief, masked as it is but revealed by the upraised brow, could be considered as much of a tell as anything else he could have said.

But in an effort to keep the conversation from tilting off the rails, she lets it slide. As soon as he started laying his doubts to Lord Vega's will on the table, it became clear that neither would be beyond judgment by the other.

That said -- her iron resolve is tested with the possibilities he produces. If he was trying to rile her up, it seems he was capable of quaking the goblet in her hand. Her jaw set, her lips barely part enough to offer a response . "I'm afraid that in -that- regard, you'll have to make due with what you know now, Mr Heinlein." She breathes out -- amber gaze trembling just slightly as she regains her composure.

"But yes. I'm aware of her. In fact -- I swore to her then -- and to you now -- that I would use the power entrusted to me for the sake of Earthrealm." So few people trust her when she says that, it's... really kind of astounding to her.

Heinlein appears to go in another direction, after hearing those words. And he even alludes to the possibilities she spoke of -- delivering yet another leading question. To which Dahlia's lips split into a wide-toothed grin. "Mr Heinlein, from the thrust of your questioning, I'm starting to think you might not be looking at this situation objectively."

She raises her hand, beckoning her server and his cart closer. "In Castle Alucard, I gained the opportunity to look on a -number- of possible futures. Unfortunately, these were... limited viewpoints, at best."

She reaches for the velvet cloth, and tugs it away. Beneath the cloth sits a mirror, framed in hardwood, ornately carved into geometric shapes. The mirror takes on a slightly amaranthine hue, reflecting back almost everything on the Matsubara's second floor: the table, the half-eaten appetizer, the glass of dry red wine, Kain's fine manner of dress, the gorgeous view of the Yokohama Bay.

Everything, that is, except Scarlet Dahlia and her place setting.

"But one of these mirrors was broken. Most curious, I took it with me. And found that this... vision, Mr Heinlein, is one in which your wishes came true."

Dahlia leaves the mirror on the cart, tilting her head as she peers into the glass, making positively sure that Kain can spot her conspicuous absence.

She turns back to him. "You see, in this mirror, there is no Shadaloo base. And, more troubling to a close friend of mine... no recognizable island of Hokkaido."

The offered artifact is eyed dubiously, but with no small measure of intrigue, its nature and origins carefully attended. Heinlein looks, quick indeed to spot the differences, subtle and overt, between this world and the one relected in the liquid. It cuts the overt tension between them, at least for Kain's part, and at least for the immediate moment as the statuesque blonde's attention is diverted, and that innate thirst for knowledge, for understanding supercedes the discussion of anger, of doubt.

"Weather patterns are not dictated by butterflies, Dahlia." Heinlein observes quietly, even as he continues to consider the enchantment and image before him. "But even subtle shifts in action, inaction; ability and timing-- dumb, chaotic chance can chain into everything that follows. You could have attuned a cursed object, destined to show you a dark vision and skew you towards the very things you fear. You could be looking into any of, again, nigh -infinite- possible realities, alternate timelines where one of those variables substantially diverged the -now-." Kain could continue to rant possibilities-- but the point is the important part.

"In this vision, you never even made it to today. Your future here is not entwined with the fruition of -my- wishes. But I do believe that, and I understand your frustration." //Entirely// too personally, and keenly. "As you know, I was beaten in Mortal Kombat. I was murdered." It's an admission of what Honoka obviously knows-- and a clarification of a point she may or may not.

"It was a fool's errand, a needless risk, by the scales of all but the maddest. Yet it was a senseless fight that had to be fought; for reasons we are both all too intimately familiar with." In that, they can absolutely agree. It's why these madmen who would metabolize and expunge the world if it allowed them to create a nastier energy blast bother Heinlein so very, very much. Not to mention their general zeal to be the Sole and Absolute Arbiter of Control. There's too much anarchist left in the deceptively angry young man to tolerate tyranny.

"This mirror, however... unless you know the specifics of this divergent world, and all the factors that fell together to destroy-- all that has been lost, here-- you are judging reality based on little more pertinent than a nightmare." Kain withholds judgement, but the hypothesis is unapologetic. -Does- the Dahlia know all the details of what she's showing him?

Dahlia's introduction to the artifact was intentionally brief. She was curious as to how Kain would respond. And as he begins speaking, the Ainu tusukur's eyebrows raise in curiosity, her eyes responding with each of the statuesque blond's declarations with keen interest.

As it happens, Dahlia has already contemplated many if not all of these points before.

Dahlia's eyebrows lower as Kain veers away to make a personal connection to his discourse. She answers with a neutral tone, "Do you?" Though she soon expresses some empathy of her own, brows knitting with concern as Kain mentions his defeat in Mortal Kombat. The brief mention from the Shadaloo archives gains new richness with a first-person account. A soft hum of acknowledgment is offered.

But, of course, the Champion knows how Mortal Kombat ended. And how the selfish 'fool's errand' ultimately bolstered Outworld's stake in the tournament. All according to Dahlia's own dire predictions.

But no. Here? Dahlia's empathy comes to an end with a smirk, as she takes the one last bite of her smoked salmon. She relishes the taste for a moment, as Kain smugly reminds her of what she already knows -- or, perhaps, doesn't.

"Stop and listen to yourself, Mr Heinlein -- scrambling to tell someone who walks in nightmares how the world is supposed to function."

Fingers splay out to one side, gesturing to the mainland. "In another reality, Miss Kawamoto lays waste to the Diet, compels the Emperor to commit seppuku, and dubs herself the Empress of Japan. In yet another, Scarlet Dahlia fails to take action at all in Mortal Kombat, and the world turns to ash. Trust me, Mr Heinlein... I am -well- aware of how these alternate realities interact with our own -- and how they do not."

Dahlia slides her appetizer plate aside. There will be no main course for her, though of course, Heinlein can eat as he so chooses. "It sounds, though, as if you want to dismiss these uncomfortable truths as useless, when I can assure you, they are not. These are valuable insights into how slightly different circumstances can provide wildly differing results. And how, -largely-, personalities remain intact."

Dahlia folds one hand into the other, as she leans back in her seat. "What -I- take away from these visions is a richer view of our current reality. To understand that my ambition for power is no less than the Empress'. Nor is yours any less than the blond Champion's."

Dahlia clears her throat, pausing for effect. "Nightmares are the mind's way of preparing for the real world. It's hardly a waste of time to read further into them, with that perspective."

The idea, the inevitability of a multiverse is supported by item after item in Kain's experience, in his own divination and exposure to forces that should, rightly, be outside of reality. This particular glimpse, however, the confirmation or questions offered by this artifact, depending on one's perspective, is that rare area where Heinlein is left playing catchup. For all the rapport with regard to cause, belief, motivation-- this is one arena where Kawamoto has an inarguable leg up over the blonde pyromancer.

And so she watches him catch up, try to rationalize it, and analyze the possibilites she's had years to consider in a span of moments. That it rings as somewhat awkward is unsurprising. "Not useless." It's as close to an apology as Heinlein comes, just now. "Simply nuanced; and risky." Something which he at least understands that Honoka sees, as well.

"Some nightmares are borne of instinct, warnings and exercises that prepare us. Some are functions of trauma, reinforcing and perpetuating what we feel most certain we're escaping. Some are waking tragedies, the deeds of those so long corrupted their humanity is a distant echo."

It's not anything the Dahlia doesn't already realize as well-- but it might go some way to lending perspective on Kain's own attitude. "If you're trying to tell me there are /reasons/ you made the compromises you've made-- if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be here." Kain sips his wine, tearing his attention from the vision offered in the mirror, back to Honoka.

"If you're trying to tell me that the realization of -my- ambitions inherently denies your dreams, I strongly suspect there are unseen dominoes tumbling in that equation, each time. You tell me, if you've such a keen grasp of the currents at play-- do /you/ believe your fealty to Shadaloo /ends/ as well as it's /served/? Do you believe I am a destined nemesis, or that this timeline has crossed our paths differently?"

Dahlia offers a faint smile, as Kain admits the value of such an artifact. Apology accepted, such as it is. She continues to listen, the remainder of her dumplings all but forgotten as Kain speaks of nightmares future, past, and present alike. She nods slowly, as Kain alludes to the reasoning behind the compromises she's made -- reasoning she's shared, albeit in indirect code.

For if there is one... drawback to working with Shadaloo, it's that Dahlia's caution lies on the edge of never -truly- knowing the reach of Lord Vega's insecurities. Anyone in her service could be a spy. Broadcasting devices could be woven into her clothing without her knowledge. There are rooms within Shadaloo R&D which are off-limits even to her. And it is with that suspicion that she holds her tongue. Skirting the line of treason, against the man who has gifted her with every imaginable resource, but never crossing it. Knowing that only her -mind- is granted sanctuary from the strongest of psycho-powered devices.

The Ainu woman would not have survived as long as she did without taking extraordinary measures of caution. And as Kain tears his eyes away from the mirror, he will find Dahlia's attentive gaze still pinned upon him.

At the suggestion of Kain's ambition denying her dreams, Dahlia's response is immediate -- a closed expression, pursed lips, a small shake of the head. The question of fealty arches an eyebrow -- and yet, there is a moment of hesitation, and thought. But the question of nemeses...

The predator licks her lips. "No. That's not what I believe at all."

Gloved fingers lace together; thumbs dock against her chin as she leans forward. "I see opportunities in this timeline. Opportunities to share our goals and intentions. Opportunities not to work at odds with one another, but towards shared goals. The demise of rotting underbrush, the resurgence of weakened culture, the rise of new incubators for progress."

Dahlia's eyes cast to the mirror briefly. "I've seen what another 'you' can accomplish, Mr Heinlein. I can only presume that was done -without- an analogue to this lovely little chat of ours."

Amber eyes swivel back to address two orbs of crimson. "But how much can we achieve working together, towards those similar goals -- with a -clearer- appreciation of the trials we must each be going through?"

In some ways, Dahlia is more free than she has ever been before. But there are, nonetheless, times where she feels trapped, constrained. Pinned in place, unable to make a move. And in Kain -- she sees an opportunity. Someone who can plunge the knife where she cannot.

"By sharing information -now-, perhaps we can prevent these unseen dominoes from proving to be obstacles to our... shared ambition."

It's explanation perhaps more than apology; there's nothing unusual or difficult to understand in the uphill climb to grasp... exactly what's going on here. But Kain is closer than he began, and in the end, his intention was much as Honoka outlines. In that, then, there is success-- if a subtle measure in the struggle ahead of each of them. Ahead of all of them.

"I couldn't agree more." There's a darkness to the intonation that has little to do with the Dahlia, and more the realization of her caution; something easier to connect with his own intimate grasp of the threat she's under, and the risks of any play that's not simply following instruction to the letter.

There comes a sensation like a long, slow rumble of thunder through the air, a familiarity here on the bay. Only there's no physical rumble, no shuddering structures, no darkening sky.

It's a spiritual storm, gathered with a nigh effortless whim that suggests power was being intentionally suppressed, concealed before. It reverberates across every current of life, surges off the sea foam, roars through the breeze as distant stars lend accentuated luminescence to Heinlein's gaze, locked on Honoka's. Even psychic impressions are threatened with an overwhelming white noise, for lack of a better term, a resonant aura somehow centered within the Germanic man-- and channeled through him, a conduit for void and light in tandem.

It's an equation he's worked himself. Honoka has connections, methodology, and strength to suit his own purposes. And Kain? Kain is perhaps one of a scant handful in the entire world with the ability to smite the entity he claims demands smiting.

"Should we leave this violently to sell it, or are you secure in the conversation?" He inquires in the midst of that obscuring, unseen monsoon. With uncanny calm, Kain sips the last of his glass of wine.

The sensation of thunder fills her senses. A white noise, brimming in her periphery. And a smile flits across Dahlia's face, as she comes to understand precisely what it portends.

The Ainu mastermind raises her hand -- then sweeps it away dismissively. The wheeled cart holding the artifact mirror is covered once more, and rolled away.

"What a curious question, Mr Heinlein." A chuckle tumbles forth from the back of her throat.

As well as a brief, and meaningful, wink of her right eyelid.

"You call Lord Vega a corrupted man, fit for incineration. You, a man, who at one point fought him to the death, and lost." Dahlia plucks her goblet of water from the table, raising it to her lips, quenching her momentary thirst. If she is threatened -- she is good at hiding it.

Until she stands up, stepping back from the table. "I don't think it's my choice to make, Mr Heinlein. As combat goes, I must surely be your lesser." The goblet in her right hand is swirled, the clear liquid a small whirlpool. And Kain would likely sense that the binders suppressing her power, such as it is, have been released. Her amber eyes begin to glow with golden radiance, as she raises her left hand high.

And as soon as she does so, all eyes turn to Kain R. Heinlein. Perhaps more importantly -- every single crew member in the restaurant reaches into a pocket, or shirt -- and pulls out a small, pistol-like device. A gun, but unlike any of commercial manufacture -- creations of silver and gunmetal, glowing with a chamber of purple light. And each employee's eyes glow with that same terrible light -- fixating their pupilless gaze upon Heinlein with singular focus.

"It doesn't -need- to be violent," Dahlia continues. "I mean, this would be your chance to prove what a better, uncorruptible man you are."

Dahlia raises the goblet to her lips, and takes another sip -- as her militia of Shadaloo plants takes deadly aim with their small-caliber psycho-powered pistols.

Dahlia steps aside from the second-floor rail, suggesting two potential exits: over said railing, or out the window Kain had been looking out of since his arrival.

"I leave the choice to you, though," she offers, with her smile the last veneer in front of a veritable torrent of overbrimming psionic potential.

It's an intriguing dichotomy. As the Dahlia is likely aware, Kain has offered both Alba and Tairyu a pool of manpower-- or more accurately, access to the graduates of a certain paramilitary training company-- a source of soldiers that any in their right mind would view as suspect. Yet, while Vega connects strings directly, yields near-drones of uniform capacity answering without hesitation to a psychic summons, there is no such tight control on Heinlein's operatives.

Each is an individual, with their own aims, their own beliefs, their own codes; at least, as much as such variance still allows success in said training. It lends credence to the claim that Kain does not seek to be a puppetmaster, but rather a facilitator; that he sees a future freer of controls, not simply yoked by the manacles he himself designs.

"Uncorrupted." Kain corrects softly. "Not incorruptible." It's a deceptively important distinction. One which maintains perspective on his own relative humanity, and the perils of temptation and moments of unwise initiative. None of them is immune. The staff draws their aim on Heinlein, and the statuesque blonde gracefully rises, allowing himself one final bite of that delectable salmon.

"Mostly." There's the smallest predatory smile at that, and rather than leaping from the second floor, either via staircase or window, the pyromancer strides with straightforward intent right back towards the door. Several fire, but despite impeccable aim, each psycho powered round is sublimated in surges of dark flame, an indigo inferno answering each deflecting sweep of motion.

It's almost a dance, the rhythmic footfalls, the motions of arm or lunging glide that do nothing to interrupt the flow from one movement to the next. Kain's departure is not a sprint, but neither is it slow-- precise, methodical, full of unquenchable intentionality. It leaves little opportunity to cut him off, and the server who succeeds finds themselves abruptly, forcefully disarmed with an audible crack of bone, as one gloved palm closes tightly over the host's features.

That peculiar, indigo flame surges out his eyes, pours from a gaping mouth, and the soldier falls. He'll survive-- probably. But Kain is gone an instant later, the jangling chime on the door the only indication he passed that way at all. Which vehicle he entered, which direction he took outside the restaurant? It's one more mystery for the enigma wrapped package.

There's a plain psychic imprint, projected tightly through the lingering impact of the unseen bayside storm, a lingering, echoing thought only for the Dahlia. "Just as I'd hoped." More or less. Details are less important than the context they occupy. One sequence of events passes, and it is with greater understanding, and a rather unusual camaraderie that the future of this timeline shifts, that carefully arrayed dominoes already begin falling in new patterns. And so, it begins.

Dahlia frowns slightly at Heinlein's gentle correction. She'd flung a verbal jab, so perhaps it's only fair that he seems to be taking it in good humor -- a point which is realized a moment later with a partial upturn of her frown.

What happens next, though, causes the Dahlia to purse her lips in puzzlement. The psychic had given the restaurant staff an ad-hoc command to open fire if their 'guest' had made any move for the door. And it's true that they did, in fact, open fire. But to see his indigo flames burn through the psychic bullets as if they were made of nothing but cork is... unsettling to say the least. Are they even -reaching- him, before the cobalt flames annihilate them?

Dahlia hides her true thoughts behind the rim of a glass goblet, her eyes growing glassy as she gives more specific marching orders to her foot soldiers, forcing them to stand their ground in the path of implacable Heinlein.

Bone crunches. Flames ignite. A foot soldier in a waiter's uniform is tossed aside like a bundle of rags. And in an instant... he is gone.

The entranced restaurant workers slowly return their psycho-powered firearms to their discreet holsters. And Dahlia -- her eyes fading back to their typical color -- strokes her scarred chin with a look of consternation.

One by one, the workers stagger about in confusion as the puppeteer's strings slowly smolder into nothingness.

Dahlia casts a baleful glare to the door. And yet, as the words from Heinlein float to her consciousness, she cannot help but harbor a secret smile at the thought. Indeed -- just as she'd hoped. The meeting will be reported a failure. But, as Kain suggests, that statement could be no further from the truth.

Log created on 10:00:06 07/27/2021 by Kain, and last modified on 21:22:42 08/02/2021.