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[Dead] Bury the Ashes (Closed)

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It was night in Martial Town's peripherals, which is to say it wasn't very dark at all and not terribly quiet, either.  The sun was down though, that was something.  The streets were a bustle of energy and excitement undercut with a thread of nervous energy and expectation.  Martial Town wasn't the clean, quaint, entertainment one could find in the well-swept streets of Ignaz.  Instead, it was more the cousin of Last Chance, promising and assuring a good time but never safety, never comfort.  Even here, on what was technically the outskirts of a bustling club sector, the dream of Martial Town bathed the streets in neon.

It was that unforgiving glow had the two Dead members settled in the alleys, safe from the wince-provoking blue and green hues.  They were dressed to blend, tonight-- Phoebe with the pale and pallid pallor of a woman whose days were nights and whose water was alcoholic.  To passing eyes, they were just part of Martial Town's more exciting scenery.  Her clothing was deceptively simple club fair, skin-tight leather pants below a similarly styled long-sleeve shirt, peekaboo zipper included.  It was tits out, tonight.  Newly purple hair slicked back, with large silver studs marching up the edge of her ears and larger fake lashes, turned the style from actual-assassin to assassin-on-the-dancefloor, and with luck supplementing her well-honed skill would keep everyone's 'first glance' at her from being one of suspicion.

The Red Door lay just about a quarter mile from where they stood, alone and unnoticed in an alley well off the main thoroughfare, but the Dead wouldn't be taking the roads.  Earlier reconnaissance had revealed a network of tunnels underneath and extending just past Amirah's club, likely used to transport contraband and other less-than-desireables in and out of the club without needing to rely on the more visible entrances.  Those tunnels connected to the overflow drain lines and, on a dry night like tonight, would simplify the Dead's way into the club.  The Dead had done their best to assure the tunnels were empty tonight: a minor hack of the local news suggested the skies would pour tonight, making it far from ideal to use the tunnels, but there was no guarantee.  Amirah's office was thought to be on the lower level; entering in the tunnels should let them bypass the additional security in the main club.

Having levered the manhole cover up, the First gently wrapped its metal edge in psionics and set it carefully on the concrete, waiting for Ash to descend into the tunnels before following with crowbar in hand.  As the darkness closed over the pair, Phoebe used her will to set the manhole cover softly back in place, and seal them out of the streets above.  In an instant, it was silent - dark, damp, and claustrophobic.  Not their most glamorous mission, to be sure.  

The tunnels were a straight shot- the First guided by the memorized reconnaissance and plans on file for the club.  The latter would be incomplete, of course, but it was something.  Further in the cylindrical maze, before the Red Door's catacombs, she had stowed their equipment for the mission-- the pair had gone back and forth, but in the end had decided that attacking at the right place, and the right time, and achieving the right outcome necessitated a small team.  Phoebe could have chosen to come in with fire teams; grenades, automatic weapons, and pure furor, but provoking the other syndicates and raising the ire of the police force wasn't even slightly beneficial to her or the Dead, so here they were. 

Their planning was impeccable, as always, and on that Phoebe bet both their lives.


Edited by Noko

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He’d gotten a haircut so that his regular veil of white hair was short in the back and sprayed into a quaff in the front. Today he wore jeans and a black t-shirt, a black belt, and black shoes. Bereft of a blade, whatever he had to do tonight would be done unarmed. Ash wondered to himself as they exited the alleyway into a bath of neon disgust. Flitting across one alley into the next, the fated duo found themselves prying open a manhole cover. 

Ash descended first, and when they were alone in the darkness he found his psychic voice. As always, the agents wore the black pads that allowed them to converse psionically, even if Phoebe’s abilities wouldn’t already have allowed it.

“What’s this club owner's name again? Shouldn’t we have some kind of contraband if we’re gonna go through this door?”

So far the tunnels were clear, but Ash had brought a raincoat and a bead that would summon his sword in a baggy just in case things got hairy down in the tunnels.

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"...What’s this club owner's name again? Shouldn’t we have some kind of contraband if we’re gonna go through this door?" wondered Ash, prompting a glance up from Phoebe as the pair navigated the tunnels, en-route to the catacombs.

<Amirah Hodge,> she answered.  Even in her thoughts to Ash each syllable was a venom-coated promise cast in stone.  It couldn't be understated how personal this was for Phoebe - oh, she could couch it in benefit to the Dead, to expanding into new areas, and eliminating roadblocks.  The First was nothing if not persuasive- armed with data and scenarios, she could argue the crown right off of Odin Haze's head, but in truth this was not that.  This was a long smoldering rage masked by ash and cooling coals - just as dangerous and often underestimated.

"Shouldn’t we have some kind of contraband if we’re gonna go through this door?"  Ash continued, and with temperance and patience not usually attributed to the First, she glanced sidelong at him and smiled faintly. 

<It doesn't really matter.  The catacombs are a maze- if we carry the disguise all the way to Amirah without eliminating the guards, we'll have a handful of them behind us when we retreat.>  A nod accompanied this, then a wink.  <That would be a mess.  I stowed knock-out darts along with the rest of our equipment off of the upcoming branch, in a maintenance hatch.  In an ideal world, they take naps.  In a less than ideal world, they die.>  She shrugged.  <These clothes will just buy us a few seconds of confusion instead of immediate shooting in addition to making it easier to blend on our way out.  You read the prep docs, yes?>

Having reached the mentioned branch, Phoebe walked a few steps down the side and stretched upward onto her toes.  The maintenance hatch was high to protect against flooding and the woman streeetched, her shirt riding up as she snagged the edge of the metal panel with the underside of her fingernails, and levered it open.  With one last grab, she snatched a long waterproof duffel from the hatch, and dropped it to the floor.  Tugging her shirt back in place, she crouched, unzipped the bag, and began to load up on its contents.  The Mindgorger came first, prompting a welcoming smile, and like a courtier spreading her cloak she unfurled her psionics and began to probe the distant entrance to the Red Door for occupants and guards.


Edited by Noko
Added the door probe to make follow up posts easier.

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<These clothes will just buy us a few seconds of confusion instead of immediate shooting in addition to making it easier to blend on our way out.  You read the prep docs, yes?>

Ash hated his haircut. He’d refused to wear contacts. His red glare from beneath the prettily cropped curtain of hair bespoke anger, readiness, a hunger that said he would likely kill without remorse made even more evident by their psionic connection. Would Phoebe also know that everything he did was only to get closer to Cain? To kill Cain? Ash was no fool, and soon he would happen on the discovery that she had infiltrated the deepest corners of his mind at some point. Of course she knew. Would she care, though, if he helped her achieve the power she needed? Would she help him?

He looked where hands reached for hatch, the curves of Phoebe’s lithe body stretching, her shirt riding up. Blushing in the dark, he but barely beheld the bottom lip of her naval before averting his gaze away. Sliding the bag out of its hiding place and lying it on the ground, Phoebe withdrew her effects before the uncomfortably groomed Ash knelt for his two things.

The first was his blade. It was a classic length katana at 80cm (29.5in), a crimson scabbard that appeared dyed by a pristine quality of blood. Around the mouth of the sheath hung a single chain of gold. An adjustable strap allowed him to hang it around his waist or over the shoulder with ease, and its night black hilt was nigh imperceivable in the dimness of the tunnels.

The second was a bottle of Dali red wine. Popping it open with one thumb, demonstrating both strength and experience, spilled some on his shirt, took a small drink, and recorked it.

‘They’ll either sleep, or they’ll die,’ he repeated thoughtfully as he did. ‘We’ll have to take them out before they pass on what we’re doing.

There were about a dozen guards, Phoebe’s probe would find. One group of six at the entrance, and two groups of three roaming the tunnels. 

This would be Ash and Phoebe’s first official venture together, but their training had brought about a cohesiveness that dwarfed any Ash had ever had with anyone else. Though his life was yet to span as long as Phoebes, Ash absorbed information quickly. He feared Phoebe for her ability to meld so well with him; was she using him, or could they really be as in-sync as it seemed.

Ash and Phoebe had the upperhand of being able to locate their enemies. Maybe.

‘We don’t know if they can tell we’ll be coming. We’ll have to rely on the surprise of our disguises,’ he said over their mental link as they ventured farther into enemy territory.

“This way!” Just then, as if on cue, the searchlights of the outermost patrol neared around a corner.

‘Cover my back! I’ll distract them while you figure out how to take ‘em down.’ Ash quickly threw his sheathed blade behind a crate to the side, assuming the expression of a lost and possibly drunk 

“Ay, fuck’re you doing? This area’s off limits.” Then, as the the three rounded the corner. “Watchu want?”

The speaker was the tallest, most ripped human Ash had ever seen. Tattoos of black and red were scraped into every piece of visible flesh, three or four golden teeth and a bald head with a bandana. The other two were similarly thuggish, one of them a goblin. Clearly these weren’t meant to be any representation of corporate might. The speaker’s might appeared to be his main weapon, but Ash had no way of knowing. The other human held a long black pipe. The goblin was unarmed, but his skin was so rough that to touch it would be to lacerate one’s self; his strength such that he wouldn’t even need that to rip someone apart.

“Heyyy *hiccup* guys,” said Ash turning away from Phoebe, his hands spread. “We were just arguing about where we’re supposed to go to get to the bathroom. I’ve been looking for like an hour,” he laughed, his voice cracking as annoyingly as possible.

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Oh, Phoebe could certainly feel Ash's state of mind - the rage wrapped embarrassment flooded through the pair's psychic connection like a runaway freight train.  In all honesty, she wanted to laugh; the situation was ridiculous, as much for her as him, but sometimes the ridiculousness was needed to ensure the truth was never seen.  She waited patiently, a ludicrously gift-wrapped viper, until the samurai had wrenched the wine cork free, prepared his alcoholic cover, and was replacing its stopper.

<I love your hair, by the way.>

A wink followed, then the slyest of grins, a wily aside thrust into the conversation before Ash began reiterating the plan.  Was she using him?  Probably, if we were all being candid  with ourselves, but then again wasn't everyone using everyone else?  Aren't we all in mutalistic relationships with our families, our significant others, and our friends where the longevity of our attachment is proportionate to how beneficial it is to both parties?  Was this really so much different then that?  Or was it, maybe, just more honest. 

To be frank, what was Phoebe even getting out of this?  She had to know at least hundreds of more expendable fighters than Ash- a dozen more-strategic- a handful more skilled.  Yet, here he was.  Why?  There were so many good, thought-provoking, questions that could arise upon examining this situation if the Samurai chose to - but that choice was his, his and his beautiful, fringed, bangs.

"This way!"  The searchlights cut the corner and Phoebe sighed, and knelt, letting the insinuation speak for her as the guards rounded the corner.  

"...We were just arguing about where we’re supposed to go to get to the bathroom. I’ve been looking for like an hour."

The outfits, the location, the woman's position.. it gave them seconds, just a breath to work with as the guards let silence settle and looked from Ash, to Phoebe, then back-- to Phoebe.  The pipe lowered, their shoulders relaxed and the curl of a grin began to twist the tattooed man's lips.  Again, it was just the faintest disruption - the unexpected - and it broke the tension like it was a dried egg shell.  To Ash, it must have been confounding - he couldn't see Phoebe, after all, but stared at the reaction her suggestion had caused.

<Really, a goblin?  Their skin is like razor mail.  Dart the humans.>

The momentary diversion was all the First needed.  She found chagrin in her memories and let it spread a flush, a blush, that colored her expression and begged an apology the woman couldn't care less about.  In a thought, the goblin began to choke- confusion spread across his face as the air in his mouth and throat solidified, blocking his airway.  His clawed hands shot toward his neck as he bent double, chest heaving and struggling against his armor, trying to expel the blockage.  His companions turned toward him, eyes-wide and rigid with concern.

"Odin above!  Is he okay?"  Seemingly frantic with worry, Phoebe rose to her feet and painted her distress as plain as her persona's plans for tonight.  "I know first aid!" she called out, hurrying toward the trio.

Edited by Noko

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He'd taken the stage in a conservative black business suit, white dress shirt underneath with a red tie completing the ensemble. For this occasion he had cut his hair short, dying it the fringes red and leaving a few careless strands falling on his face. The song blaring and thumping in the background hadn't been of Shikai's choosing, but it fit well enough with the aesthetic of The Red Door. Everywhere open space was filled with attractive patrons dancing or crowded around small raised platforms like the one he was on. On these platforms men and women alike danced to the delight of the clientele. Lining the walls were small booths for those seeking a bit of privacy, along with a bar that served more than just alcohol. Neon lights buzzed with lurid heat; illuminating the room in shades of red, purple, and blue.

As the opening beats of the song rang out, he undid the buttons of his suit jacket one by one. By the time the music began to pick up, he had taken the garment off entirely and let it drop to the floor. Once the chorus began he tore open the dress shirt to reveal the pale, toned skin underneath. Things went on like this until he stood bare from the waist up; his audience paying him their unwavering attention.

It had been his job to scout the club, and from his vantage point he could see just about every corner of the room. Earlier he had reconed the tunnels Phoebe and Ash would take to enter the establishment. Now he was more or less keeping an eye on things. 

As he unfastened his belt, he hoped the others would be here soon!

Amirah sat at her desk, watching the hustle and bustle of the club on her computer with no small degree of satisfaction. Despite the warning of rain, plenty of people had still turned out for their nightly revelry. Creating such a loyal customer base had been no small feat. It had required her to get the best drugs, the hottest dancers, top shelf booze, and DJ's other clubs would kill to have. Seeing her investment pay off made it all worth it.

Rising from her desk, she walked to the private elevator in the corner of her office. She would ride it to the top of the building to the VIP era, where she would be meeting with potential investors she hoped to lure in.

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Even in the darkness before their enemy’s approach, Ash was visibly blushing at Phoebe’s wink. Of course, they were both using each other. For someone who had torn his mind open like a short story in a YA Lit class, as Phoebe had at this point, it would be as plain as day that Ash’s first intentions were to use whoever he could to get as close to Cain as possible— but something had happened in the process of meeting her and working with Shikai that he himself didn’t yet know how to process. He tried dearly to dislike them, but it became more difficult daily. One thing was certain, though, he knew well that he couldn’t betray them before he got to Cain because Feedback would consume him.

As Phoebe knelt and the guards came around the corner, Ash did nothing to hide the genuine surprise washing over his face. He held up his hands in true caught-me-red-handed fashion, piling on top of Phoebe’s illusion and providing her more than wide enough a berth to make her way toward the goblin.

This illusion was so thorough that the humans crowded in on their friend first, without bothering to stop her.

With bass of the night pulsing from far away, circles and blotches beginning to appear like supernovae in the goblin’s choking eyes, the other guards’ backs to Ash and Phoebe, the young 
samurai disguised as a young fashion mogul grabbed his sword from behind the crate. Drew it silently in the fitting, thrumming theme to their demise. The gift-wrapped vipers slithered in from behind, fangs out.

“I know first aid!” she called.

“Me too,” he said.

Technically, neither of them were lying.

Severing the connection between L1 and T12, Ash drove his sword diagonally up through one the right guard’s spine and out his stomach. When the second guard, driven by the gross clicking of blood issuing from his comrade’s throat, Ash drove the knuckles of his left hand into his throat and crushed his windpipe. A squeal emanated from his crushed pharynx.

Just like a puppet, just like all of his loved ones had become, Ash pivoted the guard by his sword so that his utterly impaled body faced the one remaining guard who wasn’t hindered by deathly influence. *Schlick* came the sound as Ash withdrew his blade and roughly kicked the instantly dead guard into his pal.

Another stab, this one right through the soft meat of the dead guard’s right midsection, ruthlessly penetrated the last guard’s solar plexus.

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<Dart.  Dart the humans.>

The thought was sharp and taut, pushed from Phoebe as the woman tucked her hips, avoiding the spray of blood from the last guard as the goblin dropped to the floor, spasmed twice, then lay still.  Annoyed, she threw a universal what the fuck look at Himura, raising her palms as her psionics wrapped around the necks of the two 'mostly dead' guards with her thoughts and snapped them, putting a dispassionate and swift end to all the squealing and gurgling.  Shaking her head, Phoebe cast an examining eye down the length of her black leather ensemble.  Ah, there's a bit. 

With a thawing frown, she spied a misting of blood on the edge of her purple brassier, and lofted an arched brow toward Ash.  <You'd be a beast in an open-field fight.  For now though, less is more.  Clean up, we can't go in like this> murmured the woman as she crossed back to their discarded bags.  The jerk of her chin indicated the bloody mess he had made, viscera spilled across the sewer pipe floor and a pile of bodies at his feet.  I mean, it wasn't the worst, but it wasn't ideal either. 

Squatting, she pawed through the mostly empty bag and dragged out the only remaining piece of 'equipment' - a tiny black backpack purse - from which she drew two foot by foot black pieces of fabric.  One of those kerchiefs she tossed to Ash, while the other she dabbed against the edge of her bloodied brassier.  As she did so, the blood lifted from the fabric; molecule by molecule pulling out of the dainty lace edge until, in just a few seconds, there was no sign of the stain.  Clearly, she meant for Ash to do the same.

After slinging the backpack over her shoulders, Phoebe grabbed the discarded duffel with one hand and dragged it over to the bodies.  A few shoves with her boots got them into a semi pile on which the duffel was thrown and, after popping one of the thick stud earrings off of her ear lobe, she uncapped it and carefully let a few drops of liquid fall from it and onto the bodies.  Immediately, a black web of rot shot across the fabric and flesh alike and they began to disintegrate, decomposing, then dehydrating, until there was nothing left but the ever-present trickle of water which ran along the bottom of the pipe.  The woman stepped back, carefully resealed the 'earring', and looked to Ash as she worked it back into place on her ear.

<There are six more guards hanging around the entrance we're supposed to use and another group of three..>

Abruptly, Phoebe fell silent - cutting off communication like a dead branch.  In the dim sewer lighting her eyes narrowed, so less useful than the whorl of psionic fog she pushed out into the branching tunnels behind them.  For the moment, there was nothing - until there was something, just barely.  A rhythmic trudge of boots through water and the underlying murmur of conversation, growing closer.  Glancing back at Ash, she raised a forefinger - quiet - and beckoned him to the side.  The gods knew a woman standing alone prompted a whole lot less suspicion than any other combination, not that it mattered. 

The First let the group round the corner, just enough for them to see her and for her to see them, and smile, before a violent wave of telekinetic force slammed into the three guards and drove them into the curved pipe wall.  All three hit with purpose, sending a trio of sharp cracks into the air, before they slid as a group to the watery floor.  Exhaling, Phoebe reached up toward her silver stud earring and began the short walk over to them, her boots splashing in the water as she crossed the distance.

<Anyway, there are six more by the entrance - it's an awful lot for an entrance they thought was secure.  Scout it out, maybe I'm counting them wrong- I'll meet you there.  I need to check in with Shikai.>

'My whole existence is flawed...'

The crowd was into it - leering, cheering, blowing lines on the stage edge and offering handfuls to the Shinobi as he disrobed in rhythmic perfection.  A lot could be said for The Red Door - it was wildly successful, and wildly illegal, with neither showing signs of stopping.  Shikai was the perfect fit for it, too- chiseled, universally gorgeous, and with the sort of dead and disinterested gaze that made the masses feel like he was one of their own.  It was in the middle of their celebration of him that he felt the First take root in his thoughts and speak there.

<We're on time, but there's halfway chance we enter loud.  Let me know if you see the interior guards start to move toward the basement.  Otherwise, stay in place.  If we come in loud, we may need you to clear the club to avoid the bloodbath.  Have you seen Hodge?>

For now, the guards seemed unbothered - milling about the club, their patterns hadn't changed.


Minutes for guard check-in cycle: 18
Minutes since guards last checked in: 12
Minutes guards have been dead: 4
Minutes until other guards get suspicious: 8


Edited by Noko

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<No sign of the big bad boss lady just yet.>

From the cluster of hands that reached up toward the stage, Shikai spotted a woman that would be considered beautiful by any objective standard. Not more than five feet tall, she had curves like a lovingly crafted statue, and her skin was almost as white. Red hair framed eyes as green as the Zombie's own; eye's wide at the show before her. A black blouse and a black and white striped mini skirt were paired with the kind of heels that must have been torture to wear, but completed the ensemble nicely. As soon as he picked her out of the crowd, Shikai knew she'd be a useful prop.

Grabbing her by the wrist, he hauled her onstage with no visible effort; spinning her so that her back gently hit the pole in the center of the stage. Before the young woman could respond, he moved to her and looped both arms around her and the pole. The poor girl looked confused before he fixed her with his most charming smile, and moved his face closer to hers. Any doubt she had seemed to evaporate as she closed her eyes in anticipation of what came next. But just before their lips touched, Shikai diverted to move his face down her neck and to her collarbone, just close enough for her to feel the warmth of his breath without ever making contact. The woman gasped and arched, and the shinobi took the chance to lower himself down before sliding back up again. Doing so gave him a good view of a new entrant to the club.

<We've got a bigshot coming in. He's not stopping at the bar; looks like he's heading toward the VIP elevator.>

The elevator was behind him, which meant that he would need to reorient himself. He grabbed his new dance partner by the arm and spun them both to face the other side of the bar, giving the patrons behind him a good view of the unfolding spectacle. Together with the woman he swayed, pulling away whenever she would try to grind into him. Sensing she was becoming frustrated, he gave her neck a quick nip, and pulled her in close. She responded by grinding herself into him, and as they moved he began to unbutton her shirt with one hand, and snaked his other hand beneath the hem of her skirt, stopping just below the waistline. When she threw her head back and let out a sultry moan, he couldn't help but take another nibble, only to find her blood didn't taste quite right; and he recognized the slight chemical taint of party drugs.

<Yup, he's a big fish alright. I still don't see the boss, but I've heard she likes to personally greet her VIP's.>

Amirah smiled and rose to greet her guest as he stepped out of the elevator, "William, so good to see you."

William was a short, stout man, the muscle of his youth still evident under the slight paunch and balding pate. His expression was neutral as he politely shook Amirah's hand.

"You're lucky I agreed to meet Amirah," he replied bluntly, "I've heard about what's been happening with your... associates. An uncharitable man might conclude that it is unwise to be in your company."

The Phoenixes smile turned a shade brittle, but never wavered, "Then I suppose it's fortunate for me to have such an... altruistic business partner."

Lips twitching upward, William snorted, "Potential business partner. Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

"Of course. If you would follow me to our table, perhaps we can open this meeting with some refreshments?"

Grunting in affirmation, William began to follow Amirah to their table.

Edited by danzilla3

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<Dart.  Dart the humans.>

As Phoebe’s and Ash’s eyes met, she would see purple Maleficence spiraling in his sclera. It wasn’t unfeeling of her anger, but it was unhindered. It had to be, that was its nature.

One fact would become painfully apparent to the psychic veteran: Ash Himura, for all his intricacies and fancy footwork, was as unpredictable as he was capable of being the x factor in a tight fix. Yes he was untraceable by magic in his body because he held none, he was immune to blood magic, and he was an unbelievable close quarters combatant— but he was easily chaffed (not to be confused with chafed), and sometimes still made rash decisions. It was almost as if his mind was always elsewhere, focused on some goal that seemed as far away as his outstretched fingertips from the clouds. His broken nails, his calloused hands, his scarred arms, raked through the thorns in search of some middle ground that felt right. 

His friends, master from the dojo, mother, all of them were dead. It didn’t sicken him nearly as much as those who proudly called themselves ‘Dead,' though. Afterall, what had they done but steal away his father and work him like a literal puppet to this day as the main Problem Solver, one of Cain’s most prized puppets Andrew Jorjorean, infest Tia’s Water Ablution Kormoir with Maleficence and infect him forever, crush his mother’s head between thumb and forefinger like a meaningless pea. 

It had burned him, scalded his very soul and he had rallied thousands of the surviving children behind him. That was when Cain began dousing them all with his blood. One by one, Ash’s allies in the face of morality and justice for their families had become Cain’s thoughtless servants. Around two months in is when Ash realized an unprecedented and yet-understood immunity to Cain’s magic. By now Ash was bound by the Dead contract. Attacking Cain seriously, or any Dead member, meant certain death or immobilization by Feedback. He wouldn’t waste such a thing on any Dead member but Cain, because he knew it would be his last moment. Until then all he could do was bide his time.

The facts of his life’s demise at Cain’s hands, and his certain inability to do anything about it were enough to boil over the edge without Maleficence streaming in his veins.

With all of them combined he was on edge in every moment of his waking life, constantly driven to evolve into something greater and hopelessly hindered by his humanity.

Ash’s blade withdrew from the men as he pushed one against the other, crimson from the nearer one pooling on his hilt guard as he pushed him into the other one. While the one nearer him blocked a spray of blood from the other directly, the wound on his back was such that it dribbled weakly from the open wound in his lower back. When they fell and Phoebe handed a black rectangle to Ash, he used it to wipe his hands before folding it up and putting it in a pocket. Might be useful later.

<Anyway, there are six more by the entrance - it's an awful lot for an entrance they thought was secure.  Scout it out, maybe I'm counting them wrong- I'll meet you there.  I need to check in with Shikai.>

While Shikai and Phoebe ventured upward, Ash continued through the depths below like a shark. He was eerily silent, eerily aware of his surroundings as he neared the last corner between him and the six. It took him virtually no time to find them while maintaining cover of shadow. A gossamer cone of light beamed down from a nightlight crystal encapsulating both them and the door they surrounded, three on each side.

These black pads were just about the fanciest, most ergonomic devices he’d ever used. He could convey an image, a thought, a feeling, and it took no training at all to filter the unwanted information out.

As such, Phoebe and Shikai were able to see in their heads an image of the guards before Ash turned around and sat against the wall around the corner.

‘14 minutes and change,’ his voice came over the connection between them.

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Maleficence's seething wrath lay across Phoebe's consciousness like a blanket of brambles, intrusive in a way that Psion was unable to ignore.  Heavy and piercing, the interloper scratched and scraped, a familiar and continually irritating companion to her time with the young Samurai, and one whose unexpected and unplanned arrivals had reached the end of the woman's patience.  With a glance cast back at the boy and with the irritation of the interrupted, she expelled Maleficence's intrusion - rejecting it, reflecting it, in a forceful wave that resonated back to the samurai.  

Her footsteps carried her across the damp water pipe as Maleficence's influence fled from her, dispersed or carried out with Ash; she didn't know, didn't care.  There was business at hand now- neither the samurai, or his issues, or Amarah, or her guards, would keep the woman from her task.  There was business at hand and that business was vengeance. 

Coming to a stop by the corpses, Phoebe thumbed open her earring and loosed another few drops to fall to the corpses.  Again, the web; the rot, the collapse, the horror of life ruined with such casual ease.

<We've got a bigshot coming in. He's not stopping at the bar; looks like he's heading toward the VIP elevator.>

<Yup, he's a big fish alright. I still don't see the boss, but I've heard she likes to personally greet her VIP's.>

She paused in her motions, shooting a thought immediately back to Shikai: <Who is he?  What's your assessment of his impact to the op?>

<14 minutes and change.>

As the bodies disintegrated, Phoebe sorted through the incoming information-- why wasn't it a surprise that Amarah didn't keep her calendar up to date.  How was an international criminal syndicate supposed to be plan?  Why even bother going through the trouble to acquire a victim's schedule if they didn't even bother to stay current?  Such an annoyance.  Staring off into the darkened passageway, Phoebe rolled her shadowed eyes skyward and cast a sigh in their wake.  The remaining six guards were at least lazy- six men standing by a doorway to an narrow incoming water pipe was a recipe for distraction, even for well-trained guards, even if it was a secret entrance.  It's a half-dozen people; enough to feel secure and relax, start swapping tales, and slacking on watching the perimeter.

With an inward breath, the First straightened herself- for a moment, despite the Cleopatra-eye, the hair that belonged in a children's book and the outfit that most certainly did not, she was herself- want, edged in violence and determination, and entirely capable of achieving her ends.  It stood at an impasse with the persona she'd adopted, but there was no one here to note or care.  She ran her hands flat over her stomach, smoothing wrinkles that couldn't exist in any world, then wrapped her thumbs over her forefingers and popped both knuckles.

<I'll be there in 2.  Be ready.>

And off she went.

The First came around the corner like a vision- bold, beautiful, and inappropriately smiling.  It was her method- confuse, distract, attack, and in the face of someone who looked so inviting it almost always gave her a step or two.  She ran one hand back through violet locks and caught the nearest guard's eye in a flirtatious glance.  "Guys, I.."

One of the men glanced at the spear in her hand, less mesmerized than he should have been and with a ducking dodge peeled off from his companions in time to watch their legs fly upward like they were nothing more than puppets upended by a cruel master.  Their heads cracked sickly on the iron floor as the First turned to look at her escaping prey.  

"..really don't understand why.."

The man lunged, the baton in his hand extending as he attacked without thought, driven by panic and anger.  The woman dodged- just a slip, the lean of her torso and the turn of her shoulders, as she brought her knee up into the man's midsection and listened to his breath escape in a vomitous whoosh.  A slam from her psionics followed, driving him to the ground, before she whirled the spear around and brought its blade clean through the top of his spine.

"..there are so many guards at this entrance."

It had only taken half a minute- three lives, one for every handful of seconds, and as the First watched Ash engage she was already looking for the rag with which to touch up her look.  


Guards check-in cycle: Every 18 min
Last check in: 14 mins ago
Minutes guards have been dead: 6
Minutes until other guards get suspicious: 6 (2 min wiggle room)


Edited by Noko

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<He's not wearing a nametag.>

The woman from earlier had proven to be more aggressive than Shikai had bargained for; and she had dragged him off to a private booth as soon as his song was done. He had just about managed to steer her towards a booth with a view of the elevator before she had practically pounced. She currently was in his lap, tongue dancing with his as she ran her hands across his torso like she was trying to memorize every inch of it. While the General couldn't deny that it was enjoyable, it was also making it really hard to focus on the more important things he was supposed to be doing. 

<But I know that the VIP section is where Hodge meets with potential business partners. This guy doesn't seem like the clubbing type, and his security detail is no joke. My gut tells me he isn't your run-of-the-mill guest.>

Shikai knew more information would be needed, but he wasn't sure how to get out of the situation he was currently in. Then it dawned on him that he might be able to once again use the woman to his advantage. Pulling away from the kiss, he looked up and smiled at the stranger.

"What's your name, sweetie?"

Eyes still dull from drugs and lust, the redhead mumbled, "Dinah."

"Mmm, such a pretty name," he purred, "Dinah... I want to... entertain you some more, but I have a problem. I left something up in the VIP area, but I can't have anyone knowing about it. If you could help me get up there, I would be ever so grateful."

Dinah opened her mouth as if to protest, but the words transformed into a moan as Shikai kissed along her jawline. When she managed to compose herself again, there was a strange steel in her eyes.

"What do you need me to do?"


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It wasn’t that they had left them that bothered Ash— it was that Phoebe had responded to his infection with a backlash that harmed him in tandem with the Maleficence she was feeling. Ash understood that she was probably fed up with the intrusion of its presence, but he had no control over it. All this did was alienate him further from them. How, his addled mind thought, could such powerful people judge him for making a mess when all he had was a fucking sword?

His companions leaving him to his own pains afterward was not foreign. In fact, designs like this had been a lynchpin of his adolescence; ironically it was a principle all of the Dead he hated so dearly should be familiar with and acceptant of, to some degree. This acceptance was just another factor of Himura’s that made him unsuspectingly perfect for the organization’s ranks of which he was already unwillingly part.

Unknowingly, unsure even of his own state in these youthful days, Ash was slipping out of his Maleficence haze as he waited and reported. Someday, possibly, he dreamt of some sort of grasp or control of his unfortunate situation. For now, he ventured desperately for a way to control his mess, if not for the sake of pleasing Phoebe then perhaps for the dual purpose of that and serving the Dead effectively.

<I'll be there in 2.  Be ready.>

Ash already knew what that meant, anticipated what would happen the best his teenage mind could. He was ready when she arrived, watching her swing around the corner with a different clarity in his expression. Phoebe’s pretty voice echoed through the grotesque tunnels like a mockingbird in a, well, sewer. When Phoebe turned around, ready to withdraw her rag while watching Ash, she didn’t see his spraying, gory dismantling the other three guards. Actually she saw them all totally unharmed with their arms drawn, approaching her.

One of them— probably the alpha of their group— reached for the radio crystal at their shoulder, a smirk barely forming on his lips, before his neck snapped to the side at a fatally unnatural angle. 

What a disaster this alternate method had been for Ash. Now, as the two peripheral guards turned to address the cut-up jeans boy with his cropped hair, he kicked the nearest one in the abdomen. Wheezing back like a deflating balloon, he fell back toward Phoebe while Ash jetted toward the third. This one was granted full view of Himura just in time for the teen to slam the butt of a sword’s hilt right into his throat. 

The last guard who was both alive and not about to die from a crushed windpipe would be thrust into Phoebe’s arms. Really, it was the best Ash could do without creating a mess they need exhaust their precious peroxide pads on. Once they dispatched this last guard they would begin making their way upward to meet Shikai somewhere in the middle where his confidante would hopefully lead him. 

‘We’re in,’ came Ash’s voice, slightly extra defiantly.

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Phoebe looked up from the small black cloth as the trio approached; her brow perked, like they had interrupted her looking for her pen at a bank or some other incredibly mundane setting, before a smile so wide it was all teeth bloomed across her pretty face.  It was disconcerting, to say the least.  She was already weaving as the man reached for his radio-crystal- already binding that tiny button in a cage that would prevent its activation- already trailing her gossamer will along the strong curves of each of the guards' jaws when the lead guard's neck snapped, its break echoing with finality.  After that, it was awkward chaos- the stumbled steps of a young man in his first slow dance, asked to coordinate his body along lines he didn't know and didn't like, but Ash managed.

Smoothly, Phoebe shifted her weight, one-hand guiding the newly dead guard to her side while the other craned backward and slipped two darts free from her pack.  A beautiful matador in black leather, avoiding the second guard was a simple task for the First- just a step to the side and the flourish of her hand, enough to avoid and set the stumbling man off balance, before she stepped back into to finish what she'd started.  His death was painted in the same flowing artistry as it began- with the dark-haired Thief a whirl, her hand set on his hip for a murderous tango twirl, that left him with a needle in his throat and shock on his face.  He fell into the sparse water, followed soon by the suffocating third, and the First surveyed their handiwork with a considering gaze.  

"See, darts," she said, slinging off her pack and replacing the extra needle there.  With a shrug, the seemingly flimsy pack was maneuvered back in place as she looked down toward the single guard who was still living, technically.  It didn't make much sense to leave just one alive- that's just one waiting to make trouble, so after a moment in thought followed by a mild shrug, she drew the Mindgorger back to her hand and thrust its blade downward - severing the man's spine just beneath his skull.

"We need to talk about that.. thing.. in your head.  Later, of course.  It's something we need to handle."

All this as the woman repeated her earlier performance- earring, drops of liquid, web of rot and decomposition.  Viewed by another set of eyes, the nonchalance with which this was all accomplished would be terrifying on its own, but to Phoebe is was just another step toward achieving her goals.  Maybe if there were a moral mirror- a sense of normalcy, anywhere, she might realize how black her road had grown.  In the Dead, though, black surrounded by black just looked normal.  Looking toward Ash, she recapped and replaced the earring, then carefully looked over her boots for blood or other cover-breaking imperfections.

"It's catchy, you see.."

And it was, the Maleficence- at least to Phoebe.  The insidious fog it spewed forth was a poison in the emotional atmosphere- one the Psion, saturated as she was, found very difficult to ignore.  It was only the Mindgorger's barrier which fended it off, rendering it the irritating sore that it was in lieu of the tempting rage it wanted to be.  How Ash dealt with it as much as he did, she didn't know - and found amazing - but that didn't mean they still shouldn't leash it.

"..what do you think about trying to harness it?"

A brow quirked toward Ash, tempting the boy with the possibility.  As the remaining bodies dissolved into sludge, then dissipated in the water, Phoebe strode into the basement level of the Red Door and unfurled her psionics to get a idea of their next set of difficulties.  With the potential of nearby enemies, she switched back to telepathic communication.

<Well, the answer to why there were so many guards at the door seems to be that the entire basement contingent was shooting the shit at the entrance.>

The woman relaxed a bit, lax and casual as she strode through the basement toward the far end  The schematics they'd obtained suggested there were stairs at that end of the building but as they moved through the space, stacked as it was with stored barrels of liquor and ale, they came upon a central elevator shaft which hadn't been present on the schematics.  There was a single button inside, illuminated '2', and a hatch in the top which lead to the outside of the elevator cab which Phoebe examined thoughtfully.


<Can you climb?>

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Dinah had done her job beautifully.

Shikai had watched the young lady approach the guards watching the entrance to the VIP area with some apprehension. If they got suspicious, they would kill the girl and then put the club on high alert. But Dinah put on a magnificent show; playing the lust-filled party girl to the hilt, and was able to lead one of the men away from his post. He would follow up with her in just a bit; but right now he had his own work to do. 

Prowling through the crowd, he circled around to the side of the guard, where he could approach concealed in the mans blind spot. Once he was free off the club goers, he surged forward, silent as a shadow. The guard never saw the shinobi as he clamped his hand over the sentry's mouth and bit into the mans neck. As his jutsu took hold, the guards body seized and shuddered before finally going still. Smiling wide, Shikai left the guard to man his post, now a servant of the Zombie and his cohorts. Now he went to find Dinah and the guard. The two of them had agreed that she would lead him into the restrooms and keep him there until he Shikai came to find them.

The bathrooms were all polished black marble and neon lights; blue for the men's room, and pink for the ladies. Shikai ducked into the former and immediately spotted Dinah and her mark. The sentry was clumsily groping the poor girl while she looked on with disinterest. Her face lit up when she saw the shinobi, and he brought a finger to his lips and gave a playful wink to keep her quiet. An instant later, he had closed the space between them, and repeated the process of silencing the guard as he bit into his neck. Moments later, he sent the guard, now under his jutsu, back to his post before turning to Dinah.

"You did really good," he assured her, "But now I need you to get out of here for awhile alright? Something bad is going to happen, and I don't want you to get caught in the middle of it. I'll come find you when this is all over."

Dinah looked confused, but nodded before making for the exit. Making his way over to the elevator where he knew his comrades would arrive, he would wait for them to arrive so they could finish things.

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