East Industrial Parkway, Industrial Area, Metro City
Kara winced slightly as she tightened the third lug nut. Her hands still stung from the abrasions she received while skidding along the road. She used an unopened water bottle to flush out some of the embedded grime while applying and gently rubbing an antiseptic wipe from her first aid kit over the wounds. Kara finished by wrapping gauze around the palm to cover the worst of it, though it still hurt to hold anything.
It wasn't the best dressing Kara had made and she would never have produced something so sloppy in the hospital. However, the nurse had a disturbing thought as she unsteadily half jogged back to the car following the fight. Although no vehicles other than Juri's motorbike had passed by recently, it was only a matter of time before someone else did. When that happened, they'd run into five broken bodies further on. If Kara was still in the vicinity fixing her tire, she would become a primary suspect given that Juri had already taken off some time before. Therefore, she was quite focused in getting the hell out of the area as fast as possible, which is why Kara gave a screech of surprise when she heard a voice behind her.
"Hello, are you Kara Neiland?" a youthful voice chirped behind her. The startled nurse gave a cry, dropped the tire iron and spun around to face the possible threat, scooping up the kukri knife on the ground beside her. Kara hissed painfully as she clutched the weapon. The trespasser let out her own squawk of alarm and jumped back, assuming a defensive stance before speaking again.
"Woah, take it easy, I'm not trying to attack you," the stranger cried. "Sheesh, is everyone around here this jumpy?!"
Kara stared in disbelief at the intruder. It was a slender young woman, not much older than herself. Sea green eyes contrasted with her caramel skin. Golden tattoos adorned her face below the eyes and chin, giving her a strikingly exotic appearance. Her outfit was very intricate: it was covered in lots of little golden ornaments and designs. A hood covered her purple hair, although Kara noticed two braids framing either side of the woman's face, clasped at the ends with more ornaments. Did they have any special significance? It was hard to tell. Then there was her legwear...it only partially covered one of her limbs.
The outfit stuck out like a sore thumb in a place such as Metro City, but what really caught Kara's attention was the fact that this young woman was carrying a glowing transparent purple orb. Or more accurately, it was hovering several inches above her hand! The nurse slowly lowered her knife and then dropped it before answering. Her hand throbbed from gripping the weapon.
"First of all, who the hell are you?!" Kara angrily demanded. "Secondly, how do you know my name? Thirdly, don't sneak up on me like that! Do you have any idea what's happened to me in the last hour?!"
The strange woman didn't respond immediately but turned her head to gaze into the luminous sphere. The lack of a response caused Kara to glare and tap her left foot impatiently. She couldn't see anything in the orb. The hooded woman continued to stare into the sphere before murmuring an "oh." The nurse's frazzled composure finally snapped.
"What the hell are you doing?!" Kara demanded, her hands spreading wide. "Look, I have things to do and places to be. If you're not going to answer, then leave me alone and let me finish up with this damn tire so I can get out of here!"
The girl finally looked up from her sphere, her lips pressed together before letting out a huff. Kara felt those sea-green eyes piercing through her.
"Well, there's no reason to be rude," the girl finally replied. "I'm just doing what I'm supposed to. To answer your first question, my name is Menat. The answer to the second is...well, I just know things. As to your last question..."
She paused for a moment before continuing. The look of annoyance faded from her eyes.
"I just looked at your recent past," Menat explained, her eyes lowered. "I didn't realize what happened to you. I'm sorry for my entrance."
Kara snorted as she stopped tapping her foot.
"Oh? And how did you do that, by looking into your what...glowing bowling ball?" Kara asked with a deadpan stare, her left hand's index finger nonchalantly pointing to the floating sphere. Menat's eyes shot back up to glower at the nurse, her nose scrunched up as she did so.
"Um, excuse me, this is a crystal ball," she shot back, her free hand gesturing palm up towards the orb. "I use it to see the past, present and future. Haven't you ever heard of a seer?"
Kara raised her left eyebrow and slowly shook her head.
'Why am I getting all the crazies tonight?' she wondered. The last thing Kara needed at this point was another confrontation with an agitated nutcase. She decided to play along, although the nurse wasn't sure why this particular person decided to bother her. As she wracked her brain trying to figure out that puzzle, her thoughts turned briefly back to Juri. Was this Menat woman tied to her in some way? What was so important to Juri that made her leave so quickly?
East Industrial Parkway, Industrial Area, Metro City
Juri was in an upbeat mood as she left Kara standing by the side of the road. She fought several idiots who helped cause her delay. The fact that Juri killed them didn't bother her a whit. They were worthless and no one was going to miss them. Besides, for every one of those lowlifes she took out, there would be two or three ready to spring up in their place.
The street fighter also managed to rescue someone. It was a strange feeling for Juri since she was almost never in the business of saving people. On the contrary, when she interacted with anyone, the result usually was either fatal or at least a long stay in the hospital for those involved. Oh sure, there was the occasional one-night stand with a cute partner...
'Well, there was that fling last summer in Venice with a young Dutch couple,' Juri mused, grinning as her mind wandered off. That had been three pretty wild nights, all while literally busting up a Shadaloo cell. 'Hey, sometimes you just gotta unwind after a good fight!'
The memory of that city made her think of Menat, who was presumably training elsewhere in Italy. The seer was one strange gal and probably too nice for her own good. Menat was practically the only person who tried to befriend the ex-S.I.N. enforcer and want nothing in return. Hell, she even took Juri to Edmond Honda's sento in Japan to relax at one point. Juri wondered what the Egyptian seer was up to these days. Probably still trying to save the world by warning people of their fates. The street fighter thought Menat was adorably innocent in her own way, but very few took her seriously.
'I hate to break it to ya, fortune cookie, but the world probably isn't worth saving,' Juri thought. 'But you'll keep trying, won't you?'
Her thoughts drifted back to the nurse. Kara didn't even thank Juri for her deliverance. The freaking ingrate just bitched about how she needed a ride back to her car. What the hell did Juri look like, a taxi service?
'Man, people are always making everything about themselves,' Juri thought as she turned onto a road heading north. Still, she had to admit that the nurse was a tad smarter than she initially thought. Kara obviously knew when to pick her battles when she didn't push Juri to help her further. The street fighter was somewhat glad at not having to beat her senseless. The nurse wasn't really a threat and it would've been a boring fight.
The road eventually merged into a wider thoroughfare heading north. Juri made good time since the traffic was largely westbound. The street fighter's mood grew more serious as she crossed into Uptown. Her thoughts drifted away from past pleasantries to the present. Juri had a general idea of what to do when she reached her destination, but no particulars. The street fighter was fully aware of the old military saying, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Part of her actually wished that Menat was around. Her ability to see the future would be really useful right about now. Juri turned her motorbike onto the city's main street, the Metro Main. The usually bustling avenue was mostly deserted.
'Hmmm...maybe those riots weren't so bad after all,' Juri thought as she arrived at her objective. The streets were practically cleared of traffic because of the disturbances. The tall building loomed above her on the other side of the street as she parked the bike. It was the Grand Metro, one of the oldest hotels in the city. Juri gazed upwards towards the top of the building and grinned. Its concrete walls with brick facing beckoned to her. The prize was within her grasp. All she had to do was seize it.
East Industrial Parkway, Industrial Area, Metro City
"Ok...it was Menat, right?" Kara asked, looking for confirmation. She wanted to make sure she didn't insult this woman by mispronouncing her name. The seer nodded her head solemnly, her annoyance vanishing. "What exactly did you see in your crystal ball?"
"You had a flat tire," Menat replied. Kara rolled her eyes at the obvious, but the mystic pressed on. "You were going to be mugged by several men, but you broke away and fled. They caught up to you and were planning...terrible things. Then you were rescued by Juri Han, who killed all of them. Finally, she left you to complete her own task."
Kara bit down a retort as a chill ran through her body. Her skin tingled while her stomach tightened up. Everything Menat said was true.
"Wait, how do you know about that psycho?" Kara asked quietly. "And how did you know that I was almost murdered, among other things?"
"I told you, I see many things through this," Menat said patiently, motioning once again to the crystal ball. "As for Juri, we've...bumped into each other a few times in the past."
"I'll bet," Kara chuckled. "She seems like a real charmer. So, what's the deal with her?"
Menat's shoulders slumped slightly as she looked to the ground. She took a deep breath and exhaled before making eye contact with Kara again.
"I'm...It's not my story to tell," the seer finally answered. "Perhaps Juri will explain it herself someday. But she has her reasons for being the way she is."
"Ok, kinda cryptic," the nurse responded, then frowned. "Hey, wait a minute! What did you mean by 'she might explain it someday'? I wouldn't go anywhere near that nut. That bitch is one of the last people I'd want to see."
Menat raised an eyebrow, then sighed.
"A psycho who happened to save your life, am I right?" she pointed out. Kara rolled her eyes and sighed heavily.
"Yeah, Juri saved my life," the nurse shot back. "But made it very clear that she didn't do it for my sake. It was more a case of just wanting to kill some people who pissed her off. Those assholes who threatened me just happened to get in her way, I guess. She also took off while leaving me alone again to fend for myself, so let's not make her out to be some kind of saint!"
"Juri's a bit of a thrill seeker," Menat replied. "But she's complicated. Definitely not a saint though."
The seer locked her eyes on Kara's.
"Which is why I'm here," she continued. "Juri's in great danger and she'll need your help shortly."
Kara closed her eyes and began to gently massage the sides of her still aching forehead. Of course...
"Look Menat," she said, focusing back on the mystic. "You seem like a decent sort. Odd, but decent. But I just want to go home, take a shower and go to sleep. I'm not much of a fighter. I mean, if I had to I could...well, kind of. Let me put it this way. I saw Juri in action, and if someone like her is in trouble, I seriously doubt I'd be much help."
"You can be of more assistance than you realize," Menat replied. "There's a storm coming, Kara. The world as we know it now will not exist as it was. Both you and Juri will have parts to play in what will happen. That's why you have to help her. Your fates are intertwined."
Kara barked out a laugh.
"What the hell are you talking about?" she demanded. "Are you like one of those screwballs who just wanders around with a placard yelling 'the end is nigh!'? Yeah, there's been a few riots and that weird blackout in New York City a couple of years ago, but I don't see how everything is going to fall apart. People have said that for years, probably centuries even. We're still here. If things are as dire as you claim, why don't you tell someone who can actually do something about it?"
The outer corners of Menat's lips dropped slightly, her eyes matching the motion of her lips as they lost focus.
"There's more going on than you understand at the moment," Menat answered sadly. "I've seen the reactions of those people. It's not easy being a seer of the future, Kara. We're often ridiculed by those whom we try to help. But we do what we must."
The nurse's face reddened. She herself had mocked Menat just a few minutes ago. Kara was generally a compassionate individual by nature. It's what led her to becoming a nurse. She often had to deal with stressful situations in her profession, so losing her cool wasn't typical behavior. However, the night's events had been anything but mundane. She briefly chewed her lip before talking.
"Look, I apologize for flipping out on you earlier," Kara said. "It's been a rough night for me. You said you bumped into Juri a few times before. Can't you help her? You seem more capable at this sort of thing than I am."
"Juri and I are street fighters," Menat replied. "We've battled on occasion. I don't know how much you know about the World Warrior tournaments. We're not exactly friends, but I see things within her that others don't."
Kara nodded slowly. She had a passing familiarity with the street fighter tournaments and even knew several of the fighters' names. But the nurse wasn't a big fan and so never followed it closely.
"Yeah, I've never understood the appeal of two people beating the shit out of each other," she finally said. "No offense, but it seems pretty barbaric. I see the consequences of those type of fights all the time at the hospital."
Kara expected an angry response at her disparagement of street fighting. However, Menat simply shrugged.
"It's not for everyone," she said. "I personally see it as a learning experience. We grow stronger for it. But I also see it as preparation for what is to come. There are some truly dreadful people out there who would use their abilities for great harm."
Menat stepped closer to the nurse until she was right in front of her. Through the glow of the sphere, Kara could make out Menat's features much better. The nurse was amazed at how young this woman looked but her sad eyes looked much older. What did this woman see that would make her so distraught? Menat placed her free hand on Kara's shoulder. The nurse could smell the faint but not unpleasant aroma of spices on the mystic.
"However, as I said earlier, Juri is in danger," the seer resumed, regarding the nurse. "She is going to be gravely injured trying to retrieve something that is important to her. I can't intervene. It's not my destiny to do so and there are other errands that need attending to. Much is happening tonight. It has to be you that saves her."
Kara searched Menat's eyes looking for some sign of deceit or insanity. Surprisingly, she didn't seem to find either. Kara again chewed her lip while thinking. On the one hand, she had no business getting involved in any of this. It seemed far too dangerous and the nurse would be in way over her head.
However, at the same time, part of her admittedly wanted to see this through. If Juri was truly going to get hurt, her nursing skills might be of some use. There was also the fact that Kara owed Juri for saving her life. Regardless of the street fighter's motives, the nurse would likely be dead right now without the timely intervention. And how did this strange young seer know about all of this? Was she watching the whole time? She couldn't quite understand why, but Kara had the feeling that Menat would have intervened if she had been physically present. She refocused on the seer, who had been watching her the whole time with expectant eyes. It was time to make a decision. She looked down and let out a long breath.
"Okay, I'll do it," Kara said, looking back up. Menat's face brightened. "I haven't had a chance to thank her for what she did and I owe her that much. I need to know where I'm going though."
"Oh, yes, that would help," Menat answered absentmindedly. She described the building in detail. The nurse was familiar with it.
"Yeah, I know the place," Kara replied. "It's the Grand Metro in Uptown. Pretty nice old hotel. It's a little surprising that I'm supposed to go there. I figured it would be in the slums or something."
"No, Juri's interaction will occur at that place," Menat insisted while a relieved smile formed on her face. "Thank you, Kara for believing me. I know that it couldn't have been easy to put your trust in someone you've just met. You may not realize it now, but you're about to undertake an important journey. And you should get going. Someone will be driving down this road in about ten minutes."
Kara turned her back to Menat and glanced at the car amidst the darkness. She suddenly had an idea.
"Listen, can you do me a favor?" She asked the mystic. "Can you bring that sphere closer? I'm gonna need the light to finish this up quickly."
Menat looked at the car and then to her crystal ball and then back at the car again. She sighed.
"It's not really meant to be a lightbulb," Menat murmured to herself, but moved closer anyway. Kara grabbed the lug wrench, ignored the pain in her hands, fastened the last nut on and cranked the car down with the jack. It only took a couple of minutes to toss everything into the trunk before she walked to the driver's side door, her hands still aching. The seer looked on while Kara worked and finished up. The nurse finally turned her attention back to Menat.
"Will I see you again?" Kara asked. Menat smiled and shrugged.
"It hasn't been revealed to me if that's what you're asking," the seer replied as she shook her head. "But given the circumstances, it's very possible. I need to go now. There are others who need to be warned. Take care!"
Menat took hold of her crystal ball with both hands, held it above her and executed a back flip before disappearing into an expanding ball of translucent purple light.
Kara marveled at the sight and continued to stare at the spot where the seer had been for several additional moments before getting into her car. She drove slowly from the curb to make sure there was nothing wrong with the tire before accelerating. Before long, Kara veered around the deadly scene on the road where she had almost died. The grisly site reminded her of just how close to death she had come. Kara was truly fortunate to survive that encounter. The nurse eventually came to a stop sign, turned right and drove in a northerly direction. Kara had no idea what would happen when she reached Uptown, but she'd made a promise to Menat and was determined to keep it. In so doing, it marked the first step in her rendezvous with destiny.
Grand Metro Hotel, "Metro Main", Uptown, Metro City
Juri looked up and down the street after she parked the motorbike. Normally, the sidewalks would have been packed with people walking to and fro amidst the stores and restaurants. The Metro Main, as the locals referred to Main Avenue, would also be bustling with traffic. However, the riots and the upcoming curfew had the effect of clearing the streets in Uptown, even though this particular area was far away from any of the problems.
The rioting actually helped Juri because she didn't have to worry about finding a distant parking garage for her motorbike. It meant the street fighter could beat a hasty retreat if serious trouble loomed. She could escape without too many bystanders getting in the way. Law enforcement seemed to be nonexistent here, which was no surprise given what was going on elsewhere. Juri wasn't worried about it too much. Get in, beat down Balrog, grab the prize and get out. If any of his stupid flunkies got in the way, they'd go down too.
Juri was curious about who the ex-Shadaloo lieutenant was selling this technology to. She was betting on the Secret Society, also referred to as the Illuminati. They would likely be the ones most interested. She had cooperated with them during the Black Moon crisis and for a short time afterwards. The relations soured after she took it upon herself to activate a particular Shadaloo Doll that they were interested in. The job called for a simple delivery of the idle clone, but it was revealed that this one was female, which piqued her curiosity. Naturally, Juri did what she did best: sowing chaos and activated Doll Unit Zero for the hell of it while telling her employers to go pound sand.
Unfortunately, her inquisitiveness backfired in this instance. Instead of a blank female clone, she inadvertently reactivated an old employer and enemy: Seth. In the ensuing disarray, the ex-S.I.N. leader was only partially integrated, had a mental breakdown and just went plain nuts. After getting knocked around for a bit by the insane clone, Juri decided to escape while she could. So now there was a crazy reincarnated Seth running around somewhere, likely causing all sorts of trouble. Juri didn't really care. It was no longer her problem.
To say that the Secret Society was displeased was a prize understatement and Juri had to avoid their hit teams along with everyone else she had to dodge. Well, at least it kept life from getting dull. If Illuminati agents were the ones buying from Balrog, it would be yet another run-in with that organization.
Getting inside the hotel was easy. Juri casually walked in the front entrance, ignoring the doorman who did a double take. Since he made no move to stop her, the street fighter assumed that he was just gawking at her appearance. It was a logical conjecture since people were entering and leaving and she would have looked like someone who had business there.
Juri continued her nonchalant stride through the lobby, glancing occasionally around like a guest taking in their surroundings. When she reached the elevators, the street fighter scanned around for the stair exits. It was almost certain that she'd be utilizing those while making her getaway. Luckily, she wouldn't have to scoot down too many stairwells on the way out. Juri got inside, pushed the button for the 7th floor and leaned against the side wall with her arms crossed.
A soft chime signaled the floor and the doors opened. She stuck her head out to look both ways before stepping into the hallway. There was no need to walk straight into a potential ambush and Juri didn't know the exact details of Balrog's security. She only knew that the room's door was guarded, according to her informant. Juri, with her photographic memory, had already disposed of the report.
In his account to Juri, the informant had acted as an agent representing an interested party in the technology Balrog was selling. He managed to set up a meeting with the boxer, who had shown him the goods. The agent had told Balrog that he would have to get back to his associates, but the latter had told him not to wait too long. There were other prospective buyers and Balrog had a "very solid" proposition already. The boxer had let slip that some very secretive and wealthy people had already made an offer.
The street fighter let out a snort. She thought Balrog was an idiot who bragged way too much for his own good. He had inadvertently tipped his hand. Juri just had to make sure to get there first before the other party arrived. The unknown number of henchmen did not concern Juri greatly. They were just cannon fodder to her and Balrog was unlikely to have many given his financial troubles. However, she respected the fact that the boxer could throw a punch that felt like a freight train hitting you. And despite his size, Balrog was faster than he looked. He would not be an easy opponent to take down, but that's just how Juri preferred it. The fight itself was just as important as winning, perhaps more so.
The building's hallways were arranged in a square, which meant that Juri would be able to look around a corner before blundering into security. Balrog's room was in the hallway on the other side of the building from the elevator, so she decided to head right as the doors closed behind her. Juri peeked around the corner, saw nothing and continued walking. When she reached the end of that hallway, Juri glanced again and saw a large brute standing about a half a dozen doors down on the opposite side of her corner. From what she saw in her momentary observation, the guard wasn't paying too much attention. In fact, he didn't look like he was expecting trouble. However, there was something about him that seemed familiar to the street fighter. She pondered this for several moments before deciding to take a slightly subtle approach.
Juri turned the corner and strolled down the hallway, as if looking for her room. The guard habitually glanced in her direction as she entered his vision but showed no other signs of interest.
'Yeah, Balrog really hired the cream of the crop,' Juri thought disdainfully. 'This'll be like taking candy from a baby.'
The street fighter gave a polite smile to the guard as she neared him while still acting as if trying to find her room. The henchman gave her a blank stare but made no other move. An image of familiarity clicked in Juri's mind as she finally realized where she'd seen him before. Well, not this man exactly, but the type. He was a Shadaloo Artificial Soldier or AS for short. They were troopers batch-cloned into various types of models depending on the organization's needs. The one guarding the door was of the D model (AS-D), which meant he was hulking and relatively slow, but could pack a wallop if he connected with a hit. Juri almost didn't recognize him because he wasn't wearing a distinctive sky-blue uniform and coal-scuttle helmet. The question was, what was he doing in this hotel guarding Balrog's room? Juri decided to contemplate that at a later time because the guard would get suspicious if she hung around much longer. The street fighter decided to attack just after passing by.
As she walked by the AS-D, Juri quickly pivoted and "tapped" him in the chest with her foot. The unexpected assault forced the guard to slightly recoil in reaction with a surprised grunt. The street fighter followed that tap by quickly "grabbing" him with an ankle hook on the side of his neck and flung him several steps past her down and into the center of the hallway. As the AS-D stumbled, Juri jumped up, twisted several times in midair and delivered a spin kick to the back of his head. The guard sailed several feet through the air before landing headfirst onto the floor in front of one of the other guestroom doors. While he was momentarily stunned, Juri followed up her attack by rushing up and savagely drove her heel and foot several times into the back of his head and neck. The AS-D convulsed and lay still. The check for a pulse from the man's wrist proved that Juri didn't have to worry about him again. The street fighter rifled through the guard's clothes and soon found what she was looking for, the room door's black card key.
The brief commotion caught the interest of a guest whose door was right next to the body. The door opened and an older woman's eyes bugged when she saw the corpse on the floor. The street fighter was momentarily startled by the possibility of an ambush until she saw who it was. Juri had to think fast and settled on telling the woman it was government business and for her to stay in her room. The guest quickly nodded and backpedaled into her room, the door shutting loudly behind her. Juri shook her head as she got up. She needed to move fast. The street fighter wasn't sure whether the guest believed her and it was entirely possible that she might notify the hotel staff downstairs.
Juri returned to the now unguarded door and slipped the black card key into the slot, turning the door handle slowly. It opened, revealing a short entry lobby with a bathroom on the left side. The bathroom door was open and the fan running, with the light scent of soap and water drifting out. Someone, likely Balrog, had just used the shower. She checked to make sure it was vacated before moving on. There was no need to have her escape route blocked due to carelessness.
The lobby opened into the main guestroom area. A minibar was to her immediate right, with a dressing table just beyond that. Further on, a king-sized bed with nightstands on either side was also to the right while a large TV was just across from it. A couple of tables with chairs cluttered the far end of the room. Beyond that was an open sliding glass window that led to a small balcony.
A small briefcase on the dressing table lay just beyond Juri's reach; her most important objective. It was already open and there were three velvet ring boxes in it. They lay linearly in a foam mold. Balrog was on the other side of the bed, facing away from her, wrapped up in putting his silver blazer on over his purple dress shirt. Several towels lay strewn across the mattress. Juri couldn't believe her luck and grinned widely as she slid over to the dressing table and popped one of the small boxes from its slot. However, the removal made a soft sucking sound, which alerted the boxer.
"What the..." Balrog sputtered in disbelief as he turned around. "How the hell did you get in here? And what are you doing with my merchandise?"
Juri laughed and held out the box just in front of her, admiring it.
"You always were an idiot," she replied. "Do you know how long I've been looking for this?"
She flicked the box open and cooed softly. Inside, in another mold, was an artificial eye. A very particular one.
"You know, I didn't expect someone like you could pull off something like this," Juri continued. "I thought it was lost forever, but I guess Bison really was interested in my eye, since he made duplicates. I'm simply taking back what is rightfully mine. I probably should thank you for making it so easy for me to retrieve it. Maybe I'll just beat you senseless instead of killing you. Oh, and don't bother calling your stupid bodyguard, he's dead."
Balrog growled as his fists clenched, veins popping along his rippling forearms. He snatched his golden boxing gloves from the bed and quickly slipped them on.
"I'm gonna bury you in this hotel," he ranted, his massive chest expanding and then slowly contracting. Juri wondered how his muscular physique could fit in that blazer. "Nobody takes from me, ya hear? When I get through with you, you'll wish you never stepped into this room!"
Both fighters moved sideways away from the bed to face each other and give teach other more room to maneuver. As they did so, Juri instinctively flinched when she noticed that someone else was standing in the lobby entryway. The street fighter thought she was quiet entering the room, but this person seemed to have appeared out of thin air. It was a powerfully built man in a black business suit. His copper-colored hair was tied in a man bun in the back while his neatly trimmed mustache and beard formed into an extended goatee around his grim expression. Emerald eyes gave a questioning look at the pair.
"I hope I'm not interrupting something," the man said with the barest hint of an Irish accent. He saw that Juri held a ring box in her hand. His eyebrows furrowed and frowned at the boxer. "Balrog, I thought we had a deal. You're not reneging on us, are you?"
Balrog briefly glanced at the newcomer before staring daggers into Juri.
"Nothin' to worry about, Aiden," Balrog snarled as he glared at her. "Just a stupid bitch trying to steal from me. I was about to pound her through the wall."
Juri positioned herself so that her back was facing the wall, just in front of the TV. It ensured that she wouldn't be attacked from behind, but it still kept her between both opponents. Juri warily kept her eyes peeled towards each of the men. The appearance of this other man completely blocked her exit, and Juri mentally kicked herself for not expecting the buyer's eventual arrival. However, even if the client had showed up, she certainly didn't expect this giant. Aiden studied her for several moments and nodded knowingly before responding.
"I know who you are," he addressed Juri evenly. "You're the one who declined to hand over the Seth clone over a year ago. Lord Urien was quite angered with the betrayal."
The street fighter stifled a gasp. So, the buyers were Illuminati! That explained this agent's appearance. Given what Juri knew about them, it was a good bet that he was augmented genetically and possibly loaded with cybernetics. This was going to be a problem.
Just when Juri thought her situation couldn't get any worse, an additional figure dropped onto the balcony and stepped into the room behind Balrog. The long, triple bladed tekko kagi claw attached to his right hand was all the street fighter needed to know about the new arrival. It was Vega, another one of Shadaloo's lieutenants. Balrog turned to face him. The boxer was clearly unhappy with the most recent intruder into his affairs. Juri grimaced and muttered a curse in Korean. This was getting very complex.
"Ah, did I interrupt this evening's festivities?" Vega asked with a dramatic bow. The Spanish ninja always knew how to make an entrance. He had an ivory-colored face mask in his left hand as he surveyed the scene. His eyes traveled from Balrog, then to Juri and ended with Aiden. "Hmm, the uncouth lout, the chaotic beauty and..."
He paused as he glanced at the Illuminati agent.
"I don't know you," Vega finally admitted with a sniff of disapproval. "A rugged barbarian, I suppose. No matter."
He turned his attention back to Balrog.
"My, you have been a busy little beaver," he chided the boxer. "He will be most vexed at what you're attempting."
Balrog's nostrils flared as he brought his gloves up into a guard position.
"Ain't none of your business, pretty boy," he shot back. "Get lost or I'll pummel you to death as well."
Vega gave a wry smile as he raised his tekko kagi.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," he said. "You've stolen some very valuable property and you know what he'll think of that."
Balrog barked a rough laugh. Aiden simply observed the exchange. Juri was having a hard time keeping an eye on all three. What was Vega's angle?
"You know, meat, I'm gonna enjoy screwing up that pretty face of yours," the boxer said. "This beatdown is a long time comin'."
Juri was too busy mentally digesting the entire situation to say anything. Vega, Balrog and this Aiden person were going to make for a very strange fight. The question was whether the eccentric ninja was an ally of convenience or another target. Juri knew that one thing was certain. The coming battle just got a lot more complicated.
When I decided to write this story way back at the end of 2020, I had to do quite a bit of research (and still am, I doubt that will ever end since there's always something new that I learn while writing these chapters) before thinking of typing a single paragraph. The original story was actually going to be much simpler than it is now and would have gone in a different direction. However, as I pored over the various Street Fighter wikis I found that I wanted and needed more info, particularly on Juri, who is the main character. One of the sources that I stumbled across was a site called Mane Street: Street Fighter Game Lore Theories ( /) by Steven Mane. After reading several of his articles (which pertain to various lore theories and interviews almost entirely about the Street Fighter universe), I grew very interested in incorporating some of his work into my story. I reached out to him and asked for his permission to do so, which he graciously gave. During that time, I've talked to Steven extensively as well as pore over his various theories on the blog.
Steven's blog emphasizes that Street Fighter has a much richer background of story lore than most people realize. I happen to agree with this assessment. In fact, reading his articles actually made me think of the Street Fighter background in a whole different light. As I write this story, there will be circumstances where I will use information from his articles and incorporate them within the chapters. I will state when this occurs and which articles I'm utilizing from.
Steven wrote a piece on Balrog towards the end of last year. Since this character appears towards the end of the chapter, I wanted to include the article's name and link. It's called Apollo Greed: The Fall of Balrog ( /2020/12/03/apollo-greed-the-fall-of-balrog/). This one had some good background info that Steven brought together from various sources into a coherent piece.
If you haven't done so already, I would invite any of the readers here to go to that site and read some of Mr. Mane's articles. Whether you agree with any of them or not, I guarantee they will make you at the very least think about some of the lore that exists behind the scenes in Street Fighter. His articles have a lot of nuggets of interesting information and they are well researched. He can be reached on Twitter at StevenManeVox
I also want to give a shout out to the Street Fighter: Website of the Warriors Revival ( / ) for generously providing links to my story here at . They're building an extensive collection of fan fic, fan art and other Street Fighter related material on their site, so again, check them out. The site is also on Twitter at SFWoWR .
Finally, I wanted to introduce Aiden, an Illuminati agent who (with a partner) will be a recurring character(s) throughout the Sidekick story. I felt that while Urien does handle some affairs, even he can't be everywhere at once and the Twelve series model clones, while great for fighting, lack an ability to gather intelligence. I would assume that the Secret Society would have a number of individuals to take care of certain errands that were either below Urien's attention or beyond the capabilities of the Twelve models.