ASHES OF THE PHOENIX
written by Victar, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Victar's Archive: http://www.victarfanfics.com
Chapter 9: Broken Promises
First the man takes a drink, and then the drink takes a
drink, and finally the drink takes the man.
Lei had never seen Jun this angry before.
Accusation burned in her almond-shaped ginger eyes.
Building fury traced irate lines in her
face and constricted her graceful figure. Her wrath was as fierce as the inner pain that constantly
"You threw our fight!" she shouted, every word a
searing blast of fire.
"Uh, I'm not sure what you're-"
"Our match in the Iron Fist Tournament! You were
attacking so foolishly, relying on the
same pattern over and over. You never reacted to anything I did. I couldn't be sure before, but
now I know you're - you're not that STUPID!"
"Whoa kid, take it easy with the compliments or my ego
will explode," the cop muttered,
rolling his eyes.
"Why did you do it, Lei? Was it because you didn't have
the stomach to fight back against a
weak, helpless little girl?"
"Well, I wouldn't say that-"
"You say it every time I turn around! You won't even
speak my name; it's always 'kid' this,
or 'kid' that!"
"You're inflating this out of proportion," Lei soothed,
spreading his hands in a gesture of
peace. "So I took our match easy on you. So what?"
Jun gritted her teeth and clenched her fists, grappling with
her emotions. After a few seconds
of internal conflict, she slowly brought her hands to her sides. "At least now, you admit it. Why
did you lie to me before?"
"Huh?" Lei was visibly startled. His mahogany eyes
widened; one hand unconsciously
clutched at his collar. "Hey, I never-"
"You said that you underestimated me, that you'd lost your
edge! Neither of those are true,
"I never flat-out said either of those things," Lei
refuted, shaking his head. "Maybe
you jumped to those conclusions, but that's hardly my fault, is it? I can't be responsible for what
"You misled me!"
"You misled yourself," he corrected, folding his arms.
"And you fed lies to Kung Lao, too! You told him that you
lost to me because you had an
"No. My exact words were, 'Haven't you ever had an off
day?' It was a question, not a
statement. A question can't be proven true or false, and therefore can't be a lie."
"But you meant for both him and me to take it the
wrong way, didn't you? Didn't
you? The essence of a lie is the intent to deceive, and that intent was in your heart!"
Lei bowed his head and covered his eyes, blacking out the
painful sight of her rage.
"Why can't you be honest?" Jun's demand seared through
the fog that clouded his mind.
"If I had been, would you have thrown a tantrum?"
Jun's anger settled into a steady simmer. "I could answer
'no,' but you wouldn't believe me,
would you? Because as far as you're concerned, I'm just an undisciplined 'kid.' That's all I'll ever
be to you, isn't it? A little girl in need of a chaperone!"
She abruptly spun on her heels, and stalked out of the
White Lotus temple.
"Hey... hey! Where are you going?" A sudden, nervous
lurch nearly made the cop trip over
his own feet as he stumbled after her. "You can't walk away from me. You're supposed to be
guarding against my curse, remember? Use the bracelet and call someone to take over if you have
to, but don't just-"
"Urusai!" she snapped, without breaking stride.
"Okay, okay, you want to know why I threw our fight?
Because Kazuya was kidnapping
anyone who became eliminated from his Iron Caltrop or whatever Tournament, that's why. It was
the only lead I had on the bastard, so in order to set myself up as bait I had to lose a match."
"Why throw your fight with me?" Jun charged,
sparing him a brief, spiteful glare.
"Why not any of the other four finalists you fought?"
"Um, give me a moment." Lei scratched his head and
looked at the sky, piecing together
fragmented memories of the Tournament.
"I didn't know about the kidnappings at first. Then this
guy I beat - Sichuan Chinese, experienced martial arts teacher, very speedy, quick temper - was
supposed to meet with me and compare notes on Kazuya's henchmen, especially Baek. He never
showed. Drank myself under the table waiting for him.
"That was when I began to have suspicions. I picked up
more stories of sudden
disappearances, and a pattern started to form. So I decided to set myself up, but my next three
opponents were an outlaw swordsman, a freaking Cold War robot, and a bone-breaking assassin.
There was no reasoning with any of them; believe me, I tried. If I'd let down my guard, they
probably would have killed me.
"But you - kid, you don't have the bloodlust. Hell, I don't
what you were doing in that blasted murderous competition in the first place. I figured that if I left
myself open for a quick defeat, you wouldn't hurt me too much. And I was right."
Tell her the rest of it, crooned a quiet whisper in
Lei's head. Tell her how you
couldn't bear to risk letting such a beautiful, caring person fall into Kazuya's clutches. The cop
clasped one hand tightly over his brow, attempting to smother the bodiless sound.
"You defaulted to me because you think I'm harmless?" Jun
hissed through clenched teeth.
"A harmless little 'kid'?"
"You're no killer," Lei stated, folding his arms behind his
back and dropping his eyes. "I
know. I'd know even if I hadn't studied your psyche profile, because I've killed people."
"Soo desu. If you give me one more lecture about your
"Before that. I killed an innocent young woman once."
Jun came to a halt. Wary concern creased her brow.
"I'd been on the force for barely a month. The operation
was supposed to be by the numbers.
We'd finally closed in on - eh, you wouldn't recognize the gangster's name, but he'd violated
parole and we had a warrant for his arrest. Better yet, he'd made the very big mistake of getting
away from his mob bodyguards, because he wanted to be alone with his mistress. We'd been
tipped off, and we thought we had him cold.
"No one told us that his mistress was one of his
"She just seemed to conjure that tiny pistol out of nowhere.
Took me completely by
surprise. She was probably more scared than I was, because her aim wasn't very good. Or maybe
her little .22 automatic couldn't target worth dirt, I don't know.
"Well, I tried to shoot the damn
weapon out of her hand, but she was directly across from me. My bullet didn't stop at her hand; it
went through her arm, and into her chest... there wasn't enough time to get her to the
"Poor thing was barely out of her teens, too."
He sighed, and shook his head. "Dammit, if only I'd been a
little quicker on the uptake, I
could have stopped her without hurting her. I've practiced sleight-of-hand stuff ever since, trying
to familiarize myself with all the tricks, so I'll never be surprised like that again."
Jun bit her lip. For a moment, her anger seemed to
"This woman... did she shoot first?"
"Yeah. Got me, too - here and here." The cop indicated the
edge of his right collarbone, and
his left hamstring. "I was laid up for a few weeks. Once in a while, the old wounds act up, and I
have to be careful which joints I stress."
"And you still describe her as 'innocent'?"
"Everyone's innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,
Her indignation abruptly came flooding back, darkening her
face and congealing in her eyes.
"My name is Jun Kazama. Use it when you address me."
Lei turned away his face.
"Say my name!" she directed, putting her hands on hips. "If
you know my name, say it this
Is it such a terrible request? prompted the silent
"This is the last time I will ask. If you can ever see me as
anything more than a little child,
then say my name."
Lei peeked at her from the corner of his eye. The night
breeze became a stiff wind, howling
faintly as it stirred her raven hair. She was emotionally poised on the thin bridge that divided
affection from repulsion, affinity from antipathy.
It would be so easy.
Just tell her how beautiful she was. How her charm and
benevolence had begun to stir
feelings he didn't understand. How one of the few ways he could hold those sentiments in check
was to verbally categorize her as something off-limits: a 'kid.'
You can never love her. You can never feel love, joy,
or contentment again; only the
crushing void. If she knew, I think she would cry for you.
The memory of Liu Kang's calm pronouncement tipped the
balance. Members of the White
Lotus Society never lie.
Lei shook his head.
"Tamarimasen!" Jun cried. Her hands clawed at her hair,
and she pulled as if to tear it free
from her scalp. Despair strained her voice. "I thought that in time, you could come to respect me.
I thought I was your friend. After all I've done, you won't... you'll never..."
Lei croaked in an anxious whisper, "Please, kid-"
When he called her that detestable label one more time, the
last of her restraint dissolved.
She could bear it no longer. Days of suppressed exasperation and entreaties fallen upon deaf ears
detonated within her. Glimmers of frustrated tears formed in her eyes. The whole of her outrage
and desperation surged into a scream.
"I HATE YOU!"
Lei became stiff. His eyes squeezed themselves shut; one
hand pressed against his forehead,
and his forearm dug deep into the pit of his stomach. He shivered as though trapped in a winter
storm. All of Sanctuary's scorn, which he had endured and pushed to the bottom of his mind,
came bubbling to the surface.
You are disgrace to our profession.
It's your fault they died.
You're lying through your teeth.
You're one of them!
I HATE YOU!
The cop drew and exhaled a long breath. When his eyes
flickered open, all warmth had
drained from them, leaving only dull sheets of ice. He took his hand away from his forehead and
stared at it; it trembled uncontrollably.
"Join the club," he coldly exhorted, clenching his fingers
into a quivering fist. Then he veered
away from Jun at a brisk pace.
"Hey..." She watched him go for several seconds before
reality sank in, then dashed to catch
up. "Hey! You can't walk away from me; I'm guarding against your curse! Come back here!
Where in Sanctuary do you think you're going, anyway?"
"Wô xüyào jiû," he growled,
without turning his head.
"And what is that supposed to mean? You know I don't
Jun broke off, realizing that she did understand. She'd
heard him say those words before.
They had just reached the edge of Sanctuary's central
square. Most of the lights and activity
came from a single building. A few people lounged against its front wall, puffing their cigarettes.
Various levels of animated chatter came from past the swinging front doors. Gold and red paint
decorated a wooden-plank sign. It had no words, only the picture of a half-full shot glass. The
night wind carried the revolting smell of fermented grain.
"No." Jun shook her head in a burst of panic. "You mustn't
go near that place, Lei; you're an
"Damn straight, and I can't take one more second of being
"But you swore you would never drink agai-"
"I don't care! If you can break your promises, I can break
mine!" Two soldiers and a Native
American, disturbed from their smoking, turned their heads.
"What are you talking about? I haven't - Lei, don't go in
If she really hated you, would she try to stop you
"Shut up, voice," Lei rebuked, shoving open the swinging
doors. "You're the last thing I
want to hear."
Chief Thunder listened to crackling flame.
An altar of fire rose before him, fueled with dry
tinder-branches and grass stalks. The summit
of the golden flame reached well above his head, and the great altar was so wide four men would
have to join hands to encircle it. Stylized pictograms of spirits and totem animals were carved into
the holder's base.
Chief Thunder crossed his hand-axes and chanted, sending
out his will. Through
the fire, he could feel the warmth of Sanctuary's hallowed ground. Echoes of sunken power
beckoned; he stretched out his arms, calling so that the strength of his life-force would fill where
past reverberations had faded.
Someone was behind him.
The presence was a stealthy one, hidden from the senses of
sight or sound, yet the fire
whispered and fluttered in response to its approach. Chief Thunder spun about, ready to bury a
hand-axe in the newcomer's neck.
"Who goes there!?"
"Just me," Michelle returned. No fear showed in her
cinnamon-brown eyes, despite the keen
steel edge held dangerously close to her throat.
Chief Thunder retracted the blade. "What are you doing
here? And how did you get past my
Michelle dropped to one knee. "Forgive me, my Chief. I
used concealment magic to sneak
past your guards. My purpose was to show you how lax all of Sanctuary has become. If I were an
enemy, I could have struck while your back was turned and shown you no mercy."
"You could have tried. I was aware of you from the
moment you walked within the shadow
of my fires. Rise, and tell me what is on your mind."
The young warrior stood. "Nightwolf is not here.
Sanctuary's protective spells are
weakening in his absence; I can feel it. Not by much, not yet, but the rate of decay will increase
the longer he is gone."
"That is to be expected. I am compensating for the loss of
our Mystery Man."
"With all due respect, my Chief, you are only one person.
You're trying to carry by yourself
a burden you once shared with Nightwolf, aren't you?"
"Fear not. The power of the Phoenix sustains me. And now
you have revealed the true
reason for your visit - you have come once more to petition for the privilege of maintaining
Sanctuary's mystic defenses, have you not?"
"It matters not whether you formally request a hearing or
creep in unannounced. My answer
is ever the same. Your heart is darkened with grief and frantic with rage; of late, the emotions
have rooted themselves within you many times more deeply than ever before. Until you have
purified your soul, I cannot let you approach this altar."
"I have spoken."
"-I'm the only remaining citizen of the Nation with the
natural aptitude to do it! You'll
completely exhaust yourself well before Nightwolf comes back. Assuming he comes back at
Her eyes momentarily closed in thought, then sprang open.
"What about the rest of the
Chosen Ones, then? Can't Liu Kang and Kung Lao help you?"
"Should I grow weary beyond my limits, I will formally
request their aid. Yet the wards that
keep Sanctuary safe are not lightly entrusted to foreign hands. I have faith that Nightwolf will
return before that becomes necessary."
"And if he doesn't? Remember, my Chief, you have invited
a demon within Sanctuary's inner
bounds. What will you do, if it attacks while you are weakened from a long night of
"The demon is no threat. It cannot betray its Oath."
"Why not? Do you really think that witch Jun can contain
it? She can't even kill!"
"Enough. It is time for you to go." Chief Thunder's resolute
tone, strong and true as the side
of a mountain, would brook no argument.
Michelle gritted her teeth, swallowed, and nodded. As she
turned to leave, the Chief's deep
voice sounded again, this time quietly resonant with commiseration.
"I am sorry about Catsclaw."
Her fingernails compressed deep creases in her palms.
"Don't be. He's in a better place than
any of us, now."
Catsclaw had given up pulling against the iron shackles that
chained him to the wall of this
hated dungeon, or yelling insults at his captors. It was a waste of effort, and he was determined to
save his strength for the right time and place.
The sergeant spared his new cellmate a glance.
"Mori," they had called him when they dragged him in here,
kicking and punching him as
casually as a thresher beats his harvest. They spat a great many other things to him as well, but
Catsclaw did not speak enough Japanese to decipher their insults.
Mori was an unusually stocky
Japanese man, perhaps mid to late forties, dressed in the same midnight suit as most other
Mishima syndicate henchmen. A coarse, unkempt mustache and beard covered his lower face. His
right arm had been set in a crude wooden splint. Catsclaw could discern little more in the gloomy
darkness, though he assumed Mori's many bruises would heal within a few hours.
"Quit staring at me or I'll flay the skin off your bones,"
Mori groaned, painfully.
"I am not your enemy."
"No. You are a mangy pit bull waiting to be set against the
other animals. They put me here
because they know it is a disgrace to have the likes of you for a neighbor. I should not be in this
"So why are you?"
"Go to hell!"
Catsclaw leaned against the wall, and leisurely clasped his
hands behind his head. "Well, if
you really don't want to tell me..."
"He never gave a damn before." Mori tried to sit up; his
strength failed him, and the best he
could do was turn his head toward the barred window in the cell door.
"The silver-haired devil! For as long as I've known, he
cares nothing of how we treat the
prisoners. Then all of a sudden, he takes it into his head to tell us what we can or cannot do.
Pretentious little upstart! He isn't even a true Mishima, just a gaijin dog trained to act like
Catsclaw unclasped his hands and dug his fingernails into
the cracks running along the stone
"You're right. Chaolan is a dog. And I'm going to kill him
like one." The sergeant's eyes
closed, resisting a burning itch that formed in their corners. "Dark Mane's spirit cannot rest until
Michelle pushed open the bar's swinging doors and swept
the environment in a single glance.
The place appeared surprisingly clean and tidy, though any
dirt would have been invisible in
the dim lighting. There was a constant background mumble as the mostly soldier patrons engaged
in small talk, or interacted with brightly lit machines in the back. The press of the crowd made
her a touch claustrophobic, and she almost reeled from heady liquor vapors.
Michelle wrinkled her nose. This place was distasteful, but
she needed to do something to
assuage her grief, doubts, and resentment. Every time someone examined her essence and
declared her unworthy, a little more disgust poured into the mix, until she felt ready to
She moved to the front counter and took a stool. In a flat,
hard voice, she instructed the
serve her a Bloody Mary.
"It won' make th' pain go away, y'know."
The young warrior shifted her eyes. Out of their corners,
she saw the demon seated on the
bar stool next to her. He was slouched all the way forward, resting his face and folded arms on
the rough wooden grain of the countertop. His left hand curled tightly around a shotglass half-full
of golden-brown liquid. Judging from the shaky tremor in his fingers, the flush in his skin, and the
slur that soaked his muffled voice, he was quite drunk.
Michelle searched for the demon's keeper. She quickly
spotted Jun, alone in a booth on the
far side of the room. Both the witch's hands gripped a tall, thin-sided tumbler. Jun made eye
contact with Michelle for a fraction of a second, then quietly keyed a sequence into her dull silver
Shadows could not hide the strife creasing the witch's face.
For once in her life,
perky, self-righteous, I-can-feel-the-anger-in-you Miss Kazama was stewing in her own rage.
The bartender served Michelle a brimming red goblet.
There was something repugnantly
pulpy about its smell. Michelle sampled a mouthful of the crimson stuff, and grimaced at the awful
taste - a burning, stringent chemical mixed with coagulated-
"This is vegetable juice!" she spat, wiping her mouth and
slamming her drink back down.
Liquid red splashed out of the goblet.
"Wha'd y' expec'? Real blood?" Lei adjusted his head
without rasing it. The ash-grey
forelock in his hair fell to one side, exposing the black mark on his skin.
Michelle drew her fingers through her spilled drink and
raised them, watching crimson
droplets hang from her nails. "I still want to kill you, demon. You're the same kind of monster
that... that murdered... you have no idea how much self-restraint I am exercising right this
moment! I want so badly to tear off your head!"
"So why don' ya?" Neither apprehension nor hostility
clouded the reply, only a distant wisp
"Too many witnesses."
"Ah. Goo' reas'n." Lei struggled to lift his head off the
counter. It was a touch-and-go effort;
he had to brace his upper body with wobbly arms. "Bu' seri'usly, M'chelle, 'm... eh, 'm seri'us. Th'
drug won' make it stop hurtin'. It'll jus' make y' high f'r a li'l while. Then it'll alllll come crashin'
"Why are you telling me this?"
"'Cause y' nev'r hadda drink b'fore in y'r life."
Michelle licked the blood-colored droplets off her fingers.
"What makes you say that?"
The cop chuckled; it was a raspy, somewhat forced
"S'funny. Ev'ry time someone
messes wi' m' head, I get m' own look a' wha' they're like on th' inside. I don' think s'
poss'ble t' read anoth'r p'rson's mind withou' showin' a piece a' y'r own.
"K'zuya's a bloody ruthless bast'rd. To'ally c'nsumed wi'
rage. More 'n anythin' else, he hates
his fath'r. I tell ya, if Heihachi really is alive, s' not 'cause K'zuya didn' try. K'zuya 'riginally b'came
'King a' th' Iron Palm Tree' when he beat th' stuffin' outta his ol' man an' pitched 'im inna biiiiig
"Liu Kang's obsessed wi' one thing: d'stroyin' all 'is en'mies,
an' by th' way, I think 'm on th'
list. S'all he really cares abou'. Kung Lao's been running th' Whi' Poppy 'r wha'ev'r S'ciety almos'
on 'is own ev'r since th' 'poc'lypse, 'cause Kang don' give a damn anymore.
"An' you, M'chelle..." Lei clumsily lifted his shotglass to his
lips. Quivers in his hand and arm
spilled a third of its contents on himself.
The young warrior became tense with alarm. Anxiety
briefly crossed her face, and her brow
furrowed in lightning calculation. "What did you see?"
"Well..." He did not so much set the glass down as let his
arm go slack, until the counter
stopped its fall.
"Tell me!" she demanded, baring her teeth in a threatening
"Notta whole lot. I know y've nev'r got drunk b'fore;
somethin' abou' y' 's too ord'rly an'
c'ntrolled f'r tha'. Bu' I felt y' hurtin' bad, on th' inside. Th' kinda pain tha' comes from losin'
ev'rythin' y' ev'r loved."
Michelle turned her face away, determined not to let him
know how right he was. Her eyes
itched with that strange, recurring burn; rubbing them helped relieve the soreness. She doubted
she would ever become used to the sensation.
"'M sorry. Didn' mean t' upset you. Look, if it makes y'feel
any bett'r t' hate me, y'go right on
ahead an' do tha'. Bu' if y' wan' m' advice-"
"-don' ev'n star' wi' th' drinkin'. S' not worth it. B'sides,
aren't Indians s'posed t' be more
suscept'ble t' it than mos' oth'r folks?"
"Look who's talking. I'm surprised Jun let you come
"Hey. She don' own me."
"She's been dragging you around Sanctuary all day long,
hasn't she? You may as well have a
leash around your neck."
"Eh, I don' have t' do wha' she tells me. I don'. Y'hear? I
don' have t' do wha' anyone
tells me!" Lei shouted, slamming his open hand on the counter.
Insight sparkled in Michelle's cinnamon-brown eyes. "The
two of you had a lovers' quarrel."
Lei's eyebrows came together. He scratched his scalp, a
ragged, unsteady action that nearly
"Right noun, wrong adje'tive," he finally slurred, dipping
his head in an
"Oh, come now. I saw you both sneak back inside
"Wasn' sneakin'. Walked pas' th' guards."
"You and she must have had quite a time together, alone,
late at night, in the romantic
"Quit talkin' 'n riddles. 'M too smashed t' figure 'em out,"
Lei muttered, swilling his drink.
"I imagine you had all the privacy you needed to
consummate your carnal desires."
Lei's eyes widened in mid-swallow; he choked and spewed
a mouthful of golden-brown
liquor as he fell off his bar stool.
"Y'got - <hack> - an ov'rac'ive 'magination,"
Lei wheezed, fumbling for the
counter and using it as a handhold.
Michelle smiled maliciously. Watching him stumble in a
tortured fluster was even more
amusing than she'd thought it would be. "Don't play dumb. I've seen how she dotes on you, and
I've touched your disgusting morass of a mind. You're in love with-"
"Ssh!" Lei had almost climbed all the way back up; when
he made an uncoordinated hushing
motion with one hand, he collapsed again. "Tha's not 'xac'ly right. I can't be feelin' wha' y' say, an'
y'know damn well why."
"Hm... on second thought, I can see how being Kazuya's
slave would inhibit you. He
probably wants his fiancée back untouched."
"No, no, no! 'M no one's slave, 'specially not t' tha' evil
bast'rd! I wanna d'stroy 'im!" With a
concentrated heave, Lei hauled himself back on the stool.
"That's what they all say. You may as well enjoy Jun's
affections while you can, because
sooner or later the Nation will have to kill you."
Lei shook, then cradled his spinning head. "Y'got th' kid
wrong. She isn' inneres'ed in th'
likes a' me."
"Oh? Then why has she been so sweet on you? Everyone
else hates your guts," Michelle
"Eh, y' haddit right th' firs' time, M'chelle - t' her, 'm jus' a
pet she fished outta th' sew'rs.
Prob'ly 'cause she felt sorry f'r me." Lei raised his shotglass to his lips for five seconds, then
slapped it down in disgust when he realized it was empty. "I hate bein' pitied, I really
"Y' wanna know wha' we was really doin' in th' woods?
She wanted me t' meet all her oth'r
pet critt'rs." He lifted the pitch of his voice into a reedy mockery of Jun's. "'Hiya Rover, an' Fido,
an' Rex. Thi' is Lei, th' new dog. Now play nice, 'kay?'"
Michelle laughed, not at the joke, but at the misery that
Lei joined in with his own drunken hysterics, but they soon
disintegrated into a forlorn
whimper. His head slumped forward. "I... always knew she'd get tired a' me, soon'r 'r lat'r. I jus'
didn' think it'd cut so deep."
"Poor little lovesick puppy," Michelle sneered.
"No. S' not like tha', I can't really be 'n love wi' her, 'cause
a' wha' K'zuya did t' me. Nah,
wha' 'm feelin' 's jus'... desp'ration. Gotta be. She can't cure th' pain 'r th' cold, bu' sometimes bein'
near her c'n take m' mind off it f'r a while. A shor' while. 'M not able t' off'r her real love; 'm jus'
desp'rate f'r a d'straction." Quivering resolution mixed with doubtful uncertainty troubled his
voice, as if he were struggling to convince himself.
"What difference does it make?"
Lei flopped his arms on the counter and rested his head
upon them, like before. Seconds
added up to a whole minute. Michelle was nearly convinced that he'd passed out, when she heard
his creaking murmur.
"I used t' have a reputation."
"If you refer to yourself as 'Super Police' one more time, I
will make you eat broken glass."
"Not tha'. Used t' have a rep f'r bein' a... a... whazza word?
No morals. A hussy?"
Michelle rubbed her finger against the edge of her goblet,
causing it to ring quietly. "'Hussy'
is female. I think the word you're looking for is 'lecher.'"
"Wha'ev'r. M' rep was 'xaggerated, an' not by me - if I
hadda nickel f'r ev'ry joke Jiao told,
I'd... I'd a' spent all m' nickels long ago onna drinkin' binge. Tha's how it worked; I'd get drunk, an'
if some freewheelin' woman d'cided she liked me f'r the night, wha' th' hell. Long 's she wasn' a
hook'r, tha' is. Thi' sorta thing didn' really happen all tha' often, bu' I did kinda attrac' th' gals.
Think s' 'cause a' m' looks. They could pr'tend they're wi' a movie star. Heh. Y'know, I
really hate bein' called 'Jackie.' 'Specially by someone in-"
"Don't say it."
"Hey, 'm drunk. I c'n say wha'ev'r I wan', 'cause 'm not
gonna 'member much a' anythin'
t'morrow. Anyway, tha' all changed when I really did fall f'r someone. An' I thought she loved me
The back of his hand tightened, and he drew his fingernails
across the splintering counter. "It
wasn' her fault. I hadda reputation f'r not carin'. An' I was nervous abou' tellin' her m' feelin's; she
didn' know how I really thought a' her 'till I was on my knee, off'rin' th' mos' 'xpens've diamon' ring
I could get legal. She used me f'r fun, an' walked away, an' it wasn' her fault..." He rubbed his
"It hurt. Hurt worse 'n anythin' I'd ev'r felt, a' th' time. No
one, no one ev'r d'serves t'
be hurt like tha', 'specially not th' only p'rson in Sanct'ary 's been really nice t' me. An' she would
be hurt; she's not th' type who don' care. She's not wha' I used t' be. Bu' she hates me now, so it
don' matt'r anyway. Any oth'r questions?"
Michelle sipped her Bloody Mary, and was about to
respond when she heard a thunderously
She turned on her stool in time to see T. Hawk enter the
bar. The human Colossus
had to hunch his back in order to fit through the doorway's low arch. Though the ceiling was high
enough for him to stand comfortably, he could have touched it with his palm. His umber eyes
reflected overwrought ill will. Other patrons stumbled over themselves to clear a path for the
wrestler, as he approached Michelle.
"I received your message," he told her, in a voice coated
with unease. "What are you doing
"What's it look like? I'm having a drink with the devil."
"But you despise him."
"Sometimes people like t' be aroun' people they d'spise,"
Lei mumbled, without lifting his
head. "Makes 'em feel superior. An' if 'm not here t' make oth'rs feel bett'r abou' themselves, then
T. Hawk gritted his teeth; his fingers curled and uncurled.
The wrestler finally wrenched his
gaze off the besotted demon and addressed Michelle. "Let us leave this place at once."
"No. You made me wait; now it's your turn. Go sit in the
back. I will join you after I finish
"But I came as quickly as I-"
"I said, after I finish," Michelle intoned, forcefully
setting her glass down.
heaved a sigh and shuffled toward the back.
"Y'know M'chelle, I think he likes you," the cop
"Yeah. I don' think he'd be so quick t' do wha' y' said if he
didn'. D'ya like him?"
"Hmph. He doesn't lecture me because I don't feel as
happy-goody-goody as everybody else
wants me to feel; I'll give him that much."
The cop cleared his throat, pushed up his head, and
changed the inflection of his voice to a
remarkably accurate imitation of Kung Lao's. "Well, there y' have it. Y'like him, an' he likes
Lei coughed and patted his chest, until his usual deep tone
of voice came back. "So, why's a
pretty gal like you still hangin' wi' a drunk like me, eh? Wai', don' tell me - s' m' scintillatin'
conv'rsation, right?" A leering smile crossed his face.
Michelle stared at him. "Are you making a pass at
"Huh?" He thumped his fingers thoughtfully on the
countertop. "Heh. If I was, wha'd be y'r
"I would hit you."
"Then maybe I oughtta jus' let y' wond'r, huh?" Lei
chuckled and slapped his knee. "Eh, who
'm I tryin' t' fool. May 's well shave m' head an' join Lao's mon'stery. 'Cept then I wouldn' be
allowed t' drink. Can't have tha', c'n I? Now lessee, where'd tha' bartend'r go?" He languidly
peered from one end of the counter to the other.
"Ah hell, I'll jus' have yours." Lei picked up Michelle's
Bloody Mary and downed half its
contents in a single gulp, before she could think to react.
"Now y' don' have t' worry abou' finishin' y'r drink," he
grinned, affably. "I'll take care a' it f'r
ya, ev'n if s' weak an' watered-down compared t' wha' I like."
Michelle's hands knotted. "I'd tell you to give it back, but
now I wouldn't touch it with a
Lei's smile vanished. "M'chelle, I mean it. Don' ev'n star' wi'
thi' stuff. It won'-"
A shivering fit interrupted him. He bent in half, pressing his
free arm into his gut, below the
"It won' stop th' cold," he gasped, through chattering teeth.
"Won' fill th' void. Wish it could.
Should know by now tha' it don' help, any more than it helped th' las' hunnred times I got drunk."
Moistened trails trickled from the corners of his eyes.
"You're breaking my heart," she sniffed,
Lei's head snapped up. Internal agony wrenched at his
countenance, but now something
different superseded the suffering - a rush of righteous indignation. "Hey. I nev'r broke anyone's
Michelle's eyebrows rose in skepticism.
"Y'heard me," Lei rumbled, easing off the bar stool. He had
to grip the counter with one
hand to remain standing. His other hand rocked the half-full Bloody Mary in a grip so tremulous,
red liquid splashed over the cup's sides and stained his clothing. "No matt'r wha' y' think a' me,
there's at leas' one thing I c'n be proud of: I nev'r broke anyone's heart. Nev'r duped 'r pressured
anyone jus' t' sleep wi' her. Nev'r used anyone who wasn' usin' me in 'xac'ly th' same way. I NEV'R
BROKE ANYONE'S HEART! Y'hear!?"
"I hear you," Michelle snorted.
"Well. So there." Lei nearly missed the stool when he sat
"But there might be someone in Antarctica who
"If he comes an' gets me a real drink, I'll repeat it f'r 'im,"
Lei grumbled, distastefully eyeing
the Bloody Mary. He shrugged and swallowed another gulp.
Michelle laced her fingers, and rested her chin on them.
"I'm sick of your prattling. How
much longer are you going to stay here, wallowing in your misery?"
"Eh, dunno. Prob'ly 'till I pass out onna floor."
Her eyes flashed, and her lips flattened into a thin line.
"Not good enough. I want you out of
my sight, now."
"Hey, I was here firs'. If y' don' like tha', sit somewhere
"No. I won't abide your presence one moment longer. You
are leaving the premises."
"Oh, yeah? Lemme ask y' somethin', M'chelle: if
she-" Lei jerked his thumb in Jun's
general direction. "-if th' one p'rson who's been nice t' me can't talk me outta drinkin' m'self blind,
d'ya really think y' gotta snowball's chance 'n hell? Y'- agck!"
Michelle cut off his slurred rambling when she seized his
hair with both hands and wrenched
his face close to hers. "Unlike Jun, I have no compunctions about causing you harm. If you do not
crawl under a rock this instant, I will make you suffer, until she drags your broken wreck
of a body home."
"No kiddin'?" Lei weakly tried to twitch out of her hair-pull
and failed, wincing. "Well, I got
- ow! - news f'r ya. I already been through more 'n y' could - ah! - ev'r hope t' dish out. So go
ahead. Do y'r worst!"
An apprehensive quiver rippled through Mori when the cell
door creaked open.
turned his head. He glowered at the tall, limber silhouette in the doorway, recognizing Lee
Chaolan at once. Four of the syndicate's musclemen followed him inside, including Ishida and
"Sate doo surun desu ka, waka-shujin?" Mori snarled.
<You've already had me beaten as
badly as I ever gave that old geezer.>
Lee drew on a long cigarette poised between his second
and third fingers. <This one time,
perhaps. But I'll wager you haven't attacked him only once, have you? How many times have you
taken your whip to the helpless prisoners, Mori? And what about the animals you train? I've seen
you lash them until they cry out. I used to know... someone... who would be outraged by
<So? If you're going to kill me, get it over with
<The thought had crossed my mind. It is not what
you've done that upsets me; it's that
disobeyed my orders to do it. You knew I had forbidden any further torture in these halls, yet you
attacked Wang Jinrey, expecting his whip-marks to heal well before anyone figured out the
difference. Completely intolerable. Yet I did promise that I would not kill you.>
Lee's stagnant auburn eyes scrutinized the defiant animal
keeper. <Ishida. Kimura. Has his
arm knit yet?>
The two bodyguards tore the splint off Mori's arm and
forced him to stand.
master. He is fine,> they chorused in perfect unison.
<Good. Mori, your sentence is to face the Proving. Pass,
and you will see my brother's
New Era; fail, and you obviously won't. In either case, you will have paid for your
<Who do you want me to fight?>
Mori face twisted with fear. He shook so violently that his
chains rattled. <No. Not
<Why so worried? You should know him better than
anyone else. Or maybe that is
why?> Lee smiled with callous amusement.
<But I... I...> Mori frantically twisted his head,
searching for any venue of escape.
<I'm not the next in line for the Proving! This one has been here longer! He should face Kuma
first!> The animal keeper pointed to Catsclaw, who raised an uncomprehending eyebrow.
<Though his external wounds have long since closed, his
grief is another matter. But you
wouldn't know about that, would you Mori? To be hurt on the inside, one must first care about
others, yet you and I have both given up that petty capability. Ishida, get him over here.>
Two black-clad assistants unlocked Mori's chains and fitted
him with handcuffs. There was
no opportunity for Mori to struggle; Ishida trained a long-barreled rifle on him at all times. Lee's
guards roughly shoved the helpless captive toward their master.
"Wait. What are you going to do with him?" Catsclaw
"You really want to know? Then I'll let you see for
yourself," mused Lee. <Kimura! Bring
this one along as well.>
T. Hawk searched the bar for a friendly face; the closest he
could find was Jun, who fixed
her eyes firmly on the tumbler she gripped with both hands. He approached her booth, trying his
best to shut out the overpowering sights and smells that surrounded him.
"Do you mind if...?" he muttered.
She shook her head a tiny bit. Hawk squeezed into the
other side of the booth. It was a tight
fit, and the table's edge dug into his stomach.
"You..." Jun paused, swallowed a mouthful, and tried
again. "You can take over now." She
undid the dull silver bracelet around her wrist. "If he gives you any trouble, use this; it's more
humane than choking him."
"Didn't Sonya send you, in response to my signal?"
"Your assumption is wrong. Lieutenant Blade has made it
clear that the demon is not my
"Then I guess I'll have to wait a little longer. All I know is
that I need some time off. I..."
Her shoulders hunched as she replaced the bracelet. "I can't take it anymore."
Hawk eyed her glass. "The fiend has driven you to
"This?" Jun stared into her container. "It's spring water. I
no longer drink alcohol, not even
sake on New Year's."
Curious, Hawk peered at her tumbler. The perfectly clear
liquid within did not give off the
strong tang of beer or liquor, and Jun herself showed no sign of being intoxicated.
"I can order you one if you like, Hawk."
"No, that won't be..." the wrestler covered his eyes. "Sorry.
It is this place. By the Great
Maker, what is she doing here?"
"Michelle?" Jun sipped her water and cast a sidelong glance
across the room. "Right now,
she's sharing her drink with Lei."
"What!?" T. Hawk's hands jarred the table as he twisted his
neck around, watching Lei
swallow Michelle's Bloody Mary.
"I don't understand it, either. They've been laughing and
joking together for a while now. I
thought she hated him."
"So did I. What could they be talking about?"
"I don't know. This place is so noisy and stuffy that I can
hardly feel the wind spirits." She
listlessly drummed her fingernails on the tabletop. Her voice dropped to a tiny, forlorn ghost of its
"Hawk, why is Lei drinking again?"
"Because he is sick. He needs no other reason."
"When I tried to remind him that he'd gone clean, he said
that he didn't care because I broke
my promise. What promise?"
"It doesn't matter, Jun. The final choice was his; you must
not blame yourself."
"He just brushed me off and marched right in here. What
was I supposed to do, beat him up?
Turn the bracelet on him? Lock him in a cell?"
"Those ideas have appeal."
"Why doesn't he respect me? He won't even call me by my
name. Every time I confronted
him about it, he'd pretend he couldn't hear me, until finally I lost my temper, and-"
Jun's eyes widened. Her hands shook, and her face paled
from anguish. "Shimatta!"
"What is wrong?"
"In... in the sewers. When I first persuaded Lei to join us, I
promised that I would never yell
at him again. I... I broke my word." Tears congealed in her eyes. "That has to be it; I didn't realize
what I was-"
"It is not your fault."
"But I went back on my word; I made him start drinking
Lei's drunken bluster of, "I NEV'R BROKE ANYONE'S
HEART!" surged above the
murmur of the crowd. Jun sniffed back a half-formed sob.
"Listen to me, Jun. It is the nature of an alcoholic to blame
his failings on others. Do not fall
into the trap. If you take the guilt for his actions upon your own shoulders, then it will
poison you as surely as his disease poisons him." The emphatic, sonorous underscore to T.
Hawk's voice commanded her attention. She did not need the wind spirits' insight to know that his
intensity came from the depths of bitter wisdom.
"That doesn't change what I've done."
"Bah! Yours was an unreasonable promise to begin with.
You are kindhearted and patient by
nature, Jun, but even you are only human. Like all other humans, you have a boiling point, to
which he clearly pushed you. Yet do not be fooled - you cannot control his decisions. You did not
force him to come here, and you do not make him bend his elbow."
The high-pitched cacophony of breaking glass caused Jun
and T. Hawk to turn their heads.
Lei had dropped the Bloody Mary. The goblet's shattered
pieces spread outward in a spiral,
while its crimson contents splashed on his loafers and the floor. His hands hung limp at his sides.
His knees sagged. He might have fallen over backward if not for Michelle, whose fingers tugged
firmly at his hair.
They were kissing. Michelle's eyes screwed shut with
gut-wrenching revulsion; Lei's stared
Jun's fingers tightened. A flash of vivid white Ki engulfed
her right hand; her tumbler
cracked into jagged shards, lacerating her skin.
Shock consumed T. Hawk's face.
Michelle screamed a wailing shriek. "Beast! DON'T
The young warrior wrenched her pursed lips away from
Lei's. She used her grasp on his hair to hold him in place for a powerful, open-handed slap to his
cheek, let go, and hit him again with the back of her hand. Lei grunted from the stinging collision
and flopped on the floor. A reddening welt offset the drunken flush of his face; dull maroon blood
dribbled from the corner of his lip.
T. Hawk's surprise immediately deepened to urgent
concern. He squeezed out of the narrow
booth and rushed to Michelle's side, calling, "Are you all right!?"
"It was horrible! Hawk, I'm scared," Michelle cried,
clinging to his arm. "I was only talking
to him, when suddenly he - he forced me to- I think I'm going to be sick!" Her shoulders cringed,
and she covered her mouth with one hand.
"Huh?" Lei mumbled, in a daze.
"Do not worry. The demon will not harm you again. He
will never dare to harm anyone
again, once I am finished with him!" The wrestler smacked his fist into his open palm.
Lei stared at them both with total incomprehension.
"Dunno wha's goin' on, bu' Hawk, if y' wanna be her
boyfrien', then be careful," he winced,
gingerly touching his bloody mouth. "I think she likes it rough- urk!"
Lei's slur became a choking sputter as T. Hawk wrapped
his massive hands around the cop's
throat, lifted him high, and throttled him up and down like a goose.
"Hawk!" Jun's piercing cry froze the wrestler in place, but
he did not let Lei go.
"Agck-hghhh..." Lei gasped.
Jun's teeth dug into her lower lip. Blood and water dripped
from her right hand, leaving a
splotched trail as she approached. "You... you must stop this; his curse could trigger if you strike
him on the chest or stomach-"
"Then I will not strike him there." With both arms, T.
Hawk flung Lei into the booth Jun had
vacated. Lei was far too drunk to even attempt a proper breakfall; the booth table's edge cut into
his back, and his head banged against the hard surface.
"'Kay, so y'like bein' rough too..." he groaned, sliding to the
floor. "Tha' settles it. Y'r perfec'
f'r each oth'r."
"Stay with Jun," T. Hawk instructed Michelle. "This won't
Advancing upon Lei, T. Hawk adopted an unorthodox
battle stance. He bent and suspended
his arms at shoulder level, with the palms parallel to the ground and pointing toward his enemy.
His hands traced small circles, in rhythm with his tread.
"Hawk, no!" Jun's targeted her bracelet on the
wrestler. "If you don't step away, I'll
"Oh, so y' wanna fight?" Lei growled, painfully pulling
himself to his feet. He perched on his
right leg, lifting his left knee above the waist. His right arm curved above his head, while his left
clutched at the table's edge to hold himself upright. "Great! I didn' take y' on b'fore 'cause a' m'
Oath, bu' 'm assumin' y'r laws lemme accept a challenge!"
His life is naught save a hollow mockery. You refuse to
allow him death. The fight is all
he has left; would you take that from him as well?
Liu Kang's calm, candid description of Lei reverberated in
Jun's mind. Members of the White
Lotus Society never lie. No longer sure of the right course of action, she pulled the bracelet closer
to her body.
T. Hawk scoffed, "'Challenge'? This is not a duel. Predators
such as you are beneath that!"
"'M warnin' ya!" Pivoting his heel toward his enemy, Lei
hopped forward, flattened his back
and extended his left leg in a wobbly, out-of-range side kick. His arms flailed in a losing battle to
maintain his balance. "Give up now, 'r feel th' pow'r a' m' style!"
Unsteady, asymmetrical ripples of azure Chi flared about
Lei's bent leg.
"PHOENIX KIIIIIICK!" he screeched, as he spun in an
erratic counterclockwise circle. His
momentum peaked in a twirling, jumping kick that whipped his right heel in a savage crescent
-or would have, had the wrestler waited patiently for him
to complete his slow aerial turn.
Instead, T. Hawk rotated with calculated speed and precision, thrusting his own leg in an
upward-angled line while his torso dipped low for counterbalance. T. Hawk's mule kick
caught Lei in
the small of the back, knocking him out of midair.
"Ugh!" The cop landed on his shoulder and rolled to his
knees. "Aright, now y'r askin' f'r it!"
Springing from a crouch, he lunged forward, staggering and drunkenly swinging his fists at the
T. Hawk easily pushed aside the sluggish, misdirected
blows, one after another. Lei stumbled
past the wrestler and blinked in confusion, looking left and right for an enemy who happened to
be directly behind him. T. Hawk's open-handed chop to the back of his neck transformed the
world from a watery blur into an explosion of red sparks.
"You inhuman monster!" T. Hawk grabbed Lei's collar
with his right hand, dragging him
within reach. Holding him close in a Titan grip, T. Hawk chambered his left elbow and repeatedly
smashed it into the cop's face.
"We have opened our home to you, despite the sickness
that stains your breath, and how do
you repay us? By wantonly assaulting one of our own! Your evil is a deadly threat to Sanctuary!
You embody everything I DESPISE!" Each blow snapped Lei's head backwards, leaving a
blue-purple bruise or a trickle of blood. The cop absorbed the savagery in relative silence, broken
by the occasional gagging noise.
Jun hid her face from the horrible sight, but when she tried
to summon the will to intervene,
her voice died to a creak.
"Hawk really does like me, don't you think?" Michelle
mused, as she watched the violent
spectacle with relish. Her lips parted, exposing her even teeth in a heartless smile. It was not the
expression of a terrified victim.
"Nani...?" Jun's eyebrows dipped low, as the significance of
the details became clear. "You...
it was you! Lei wasn't holding on to you in any way, but you were pulling him
toward you by the hair! He didn't force that kiss on you at all; you forced it on
Michelle shrugged. "You were too weak to keep your pet
demon away from his precious
booze, so I sacrificed myself. Once Hawk is done with him, you should have no trouble making
him go home. We both get what we want. Kill two birds with one rock."
Jun shook her head in disbelief. "This can't be happening. If
you want Hawk's affections that
badly, surely there must be some other way to get his attention."
"Don't pretend you're upset. I know how badly your pet
offended you when he spurned you
for a liquor bottle. You're glad he's getting punished-"
"No, that's not-"
"-or else you'd have stopped it by now."
Swallowing her protests, Jun compelled herself to look
upon the brutality once more. Lei's
nose was smashed to a pulpy wreck, and his pupils rolled behind the upper eyelids. His arms
jerked reflexively with successive impacts.
"Hawk!" she cried, assertively.
The wrestler paused in his vehemence. Lei became
completely flaccid in T. Hawk's grip. The
cop's head sagged all the way back; blood from his nose reversed its flow, coursing across his
forehead instead of down his chin. A dry rattle came from his throat.
"I tire of these interruptions, Jun." The wrestler sounded
more than a little irritated.
You're being manipulated. If she told him, would he
believe her? She scarcely
"I... think you can put him down now. Isn't that right,
Michelle?" Jun pressed, with a
piercing stare toward the young warrior.
Michelle shivered and clasped her hands together. The
cruel smile Jun had seen an instant ago was gone, subsumed by the appearance of
"I guess so," she agreed, meekly.
"Very well. But only because you consent to it," the
wrestler rumbled, nodding to Michelle.
Shifting his grip to around Lei's chin, T. Hawk made a
short hop, using only one massive
whip the cop's unresponsive body in a vertical circle. Lei's back and heels smacked against the
ceiling. The wrestler smashed the back of Lei's head into the ground. Aftershocks vibrated in the
floor. Lei's limbs sprawled listlessly.
"Just one moment." Without wasting effort, the wrestler
riffled through Lei's blazer and
extracted the cop's holstered .38 revolver. "We never should have armed this monster. He is
already too great a menace."
"Let's go, Hawk." Michelle practically beamed with
warmth and gratitude. "That was very
brave of you, confronting a demon just for me."
"Uh, it was nothing. Anyone else would have done the
same," T. Hawk replied, a trifle
Jun's heart caught in her throat when the sibilant, furious
hissing came from Lei's broken
form. The last time she'd heard him make that noise had been moments before he tried to kill
Targeting her bracelet on the cop, she was shocked to see
shambled to his feet. He swayed as he stood. His face was a battered wreck, and crimson blood
streamed from his mangled nose. One eye was swollen shut; both sported black rings. But that
was all. His skin retained its washed-out tan, his open eye kept its mahogany iris, and his hands
did not grow wickedly recurved claws. He was not transforming into a demon.
She kept her
bracelet trained on him, just in case.
T. Hawk whirled about, anticipating a fresh assault.
"HsssSSSHAH! Ssh-hhgck..." Lei's shoulders
heaved. He pressed both arms against
his midsection and doubled in half, spitting blood and vomit.
T. Hawk frowned. Lei raised his
head and wiped his mouth, then pointed his stained index finger accusingly at the wrestler.
"gckh... y'... y' hyp'crite!" coughed the cop.
"Haven't you had enough?"
"Y're... a... freakin'... HYP'CRITE! Y' don' wanna protec'
Sanct'ary, y' jus' wanna 'mpress y'r
girlfrien'! Y' don' really b'lieve 'm a threa' t' y'r home, 'r else y'd... y'd..."
Lei shuddered. Inner
torment threatened to collapse him, yet somehow he remained standing. "Y'd take tha' gun outta
th' holst'r an' use it. Now."
The wrestler's eyes became dangerously narrow.
"Y'heard me! I've f'gured it alllll out. Y'r Oath don' stop y'
from hurtin' 'r killin' someone if y'
think y'r actin' in Sanct'ary's bes' innerests, does it? 'r were y' jus' showin' off when y' beat me
Jun lowered her bracelet. "Masaka..."
"Ignore him, Hawk," Michelle urged, linking her arm with
his. "I need to talk to you about-"
The wrestler drew away from her and shook his head.
"Keep back. This isn't over yet."
"But-" the young warrior's eyes grew wide as songbird
eggs when T. Hawk opened the
holster and withdrew the loaded weapon. "You can't-!"
"Tha's th' one," Lei raggedly hissed, eyeing his own
revolver. "Wha' y' waitin' f'r? 'M s'posed
t' be K'zuya's pawn, 'member? 'M jus' waitin' f'r th' chance t' murder innocen' people, an' if y' let me
live, tha's wha' 'm gonna do! Isn' tha' wha' y' think? Don' tell me y' have doubts!"
Michelle edged toward Jun.
"This wasn't supposed to happen!" the young warrior
whispered, her eyes darting to the two
men. "Use the bracelet; stop it now!"
"A beating is one thing, but are you going to let Hawk kill
your pet? You're colder than I
thought." Bafflement crossed Michelle's face. Jun countered with a probing stare, yet to the best
of her perception, the young warrior's trepidation was genuine.
T. Hawk wrapped his hands around the gun's handle and
held it close to his shoulder, its
muzzle pointed skyward. His umber eyes locked upon the cop's unfocused gaze. "When I look at
you, I see nothing but corruption. You are sick. Pitiful. You personify all that I hold in
"QUIT MAKIN' SPEECHES!" Lei shrieked, flinging his
arms apart. "D'cide NOW! Are y' a
hyp'crite an' a bully? 'r are y' tryin' t' save y'r frien's from a monst'r?"
"Be quiet, demon."
For the first time that night, a wave of apprehension
crossed Lei's face. His legs shook. He
almost took a step backward, then gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, waiting.
T. Hawk held the gun's cylinder upside down and shook
out its unfired bullets. They
bounced and rolled on the wooden floor.
"Ha!" Lei laughed through split lips. "I knew y' didn' have
th' guts t'... t'... HEY!" His sneer
became a shrill whine when T. Hawk curled his free hand around the barrel of the gun, and
strained with both powerful arms. "What're y'-"
The .38's barrel snapped off in T. Hawk's hand.
"AAAAAH!" Lei shrieked, falling to his knees as though he
had indeed been shot. "M' .38!
Y'- y' didn' have t' do tha'!"
"Do you value this metal killing device more than your own
life? You're even less than I
thought," T. Hawk snorted, dropping the weapon's broken halves.
"Hawk hates guns," Jun explained to the dumbstruck
Michelle. "When a mad militiaman and
his private army forcibly relocated Hawk's tribe to Mexico, sparking a firefight that killed people
on both sides, Hawk vowed to regain his homeland without further gunplay. He has never
discharged a firearm since. Lei was in no danger."
"You could have told me."
"I was worried about you, Michelle. I still am. But at least
now I know there's hope for
"Hmph." The young warrior turned away from Jun. "Come
on, Hawk. Let's go."
"Agreed. And what was it that you wanted to
"Many things, but the most important one is Sanctuary's
safety. We don't have nearly enough
guards posted..." Michelle's voice trailed into the distance as she and Hawk exited the bar.
Sensing that the excitement was over, various customers returned to their drinks and
"...y' didn' have t' do tha'..." Lei moaned, reaching forlornly
for the remnants of his weapon.
He wobbled on his knees, and fell on his face.
Jun examined the cuts in her right hand. They were
superficial, and already mending; a brief
application of her power finished the process. Satisfied, the healer kneeled next to Lei and said,
"Here. Let me have a look at you."
"Eh?" Lei pushed himself off the floor. His good eye
"Oh, s' you, Jun." His mouth parted in an acrid grin. "'Jun.'
There. I said it. Y' happy now?
Huh? Are you? Hell, why y'even still HERE? Y' HATE me, 'member Jun?" He threw back
his head and laughed, sarcastically. "Why y' doin' thi' f'r me, huh Jun? S' 'cause y' broke y'r
promise an' made me get drunk, isn' it? Y' feel 'sponsible f'r cleanin' up y'r own messes, don' y'
Jun tapped her bracelet. Lines of roseate energy streamed
from it, holding Lei mute and
paralyzed in a field of shimmering force while she examined him.
"Sub-Zero's diagnosis was correct. Whatever bad effects
your curse may have had, it's also
made you physically tougher than an average human being. You're not nearly as bad off as you
should be, considering what you just went through. None of your bones are broken, though your
pride might be."
She sang the first verse of a soothing song, passing her
hand over his bruises. Her call went
deep, through the floorboards, into the earth below and the life that it nurtured. The spirits
answered her entreaty, willingly yielding their strength and the power to channel it for mending.
Lei's bruises faded, and the swelling in his right eye went
Jun's song came to a close. She switched off the bracelet.
"You'll be fine by morning. We'll
talk when you're sober."
"What happened?" demanded a familiar voice from
Jun peered up at Sparky. "Did Sonya send you?"
"Yeah. Sorry I'm late; I was just rotated off my shift with
mask boy. Which begs the
question; what the hell happened?"
"Later. Right now, I need you to take over for a little
while. I want to visit some friends."
"Nobody ever tells me anything," Sparky grumbled,
accepting her silver bracelet.
"I'd tell ya," Lei cackled. "'Cept I'd jus' be feedin' y' lies,
She fixed him with a stern glare.
"I said, we will talk when you are sober." With that, she
turned and went.
"Where y' goin', Jun?" Lei slurred to her retreating figure.
"Off t' see y'r oth'r pets? Wha', 'm
not obedien' enough f'r y' anymore? An' aft'r y' trained me t' say y'r name an ev'rythin', Jun! JUN!
Cast iron bars divided long, deep blocks on either side of
the high-ceilinged wall into cells.
Some of the prisons showed signs of recent use, but all were empty. Catsclaw memorized each
turn and twist of the corridors, searching for a means of escape. There was nothing he could do
now, with both hands cuffed behind his back and Kimura's rifle trained on his throat. If only his
hands were free! Lee wasn't even looking at him; all it would take was a split-second with his
hands around the silver-haired devil's neck. Then Dark Mane's spirit could rest easy, and nothing
else would matter after that.
"I know what you're thinking," Lee commented, exhaling a
murky cloud of smoke as he
walked. "You feel your friend's soul railing within these walls. Or was she more than a friend,
The sergeant clenched his teeth, refusing to give an
"rrrRREEEOOWL!" A grating,
feral cry, brimming with the need for vengeance, startled Catsclaw.
"Damn noisy beasts," Mori glowered. "After I Prove
myself against Kuma, I'm going to slit
Alex's throat." He glared menacingly at one of the cells as they passed it. Inside, all Catsclaw
could see were twin vivid-yellow pinpricks of fury, gleaming in the darkness, and the white sheen
of jagged isosceles teeth. Something dry-skinned and limber made a rustling noise.
The sergeant's eyebrows came together. He could almost
remember hearing something like
that before... but where? How long ago?
"Aw... crap." Lei folded in on himself like a collapsible box,
tucking both forearms against
his midsection and slumping on his side. His eyes flicked shut.
"Hey, fella." Sparky prodded his inebriate charge. "You
can't sleep here."
"Lemme alone. 'M not both'rin' anyone."
"Your quarters aren't far. I'll take you there." The second
lieutenant grappled with Lei's
sixty-five kilograms of dead weight, pulling him to his feet.
Lei went completely limp. His head drooped, and his knees
buckled like blades of grass.
"Not like I nev'r slept onna floor b'fore. 'r a gutter. 'r a bin fulla garbage... they're pretty sof',
"C'mon, don't make me carry you with the bracelet. I'm
supposed to save its power cell for
emergencies. Can't you put a little more effort into standing up?"
"'r wha'? Y' gonna hit me too? Almos' think 'm used t' it,
now. S' not tha' diff'ren' from th'
Sparky's eyes glittered. The corners of his mouth turned up
a little, as though he knew a
tantalizing secret. "If you come along quietly, I'll tell you a story."
"Ffft. Big freakin' deal."
"It's about me and an old friend of mine. He was a good
person. Half of Sanctuary wouldn't
be here if not for him. Once - was it only a year ago? - the demon sorcerer Shang Tsung had us
both at his tender mercy."
"Tsung? Lao told me abou' 'im. He takes people's souls,
don' he?" The pressure on Sparky's
arms lessened, though his charge still leaned on him heavily for support. "Did... did he...?"
"He wanted to, that's for sure. But he wanted Lieutenant
Blade to fight in his wicked
Tournament even more. So he dangled me and my friend in front of her as hostages, threatening
to suck us both dry if she didn't do as she was told."
"An' who's thi' frien' a' y'rs?"
Sparky's smile broadened. His charge had become hooked
with surprising ease, and was
docilely staggering by his side.
"According to his army registration, he was Jake Feldspar.
But he insisted that wasn't his
true name. I can hardly blame him; my given name is supposed to be Lance, and I've always hated
it, too. Everybody who knew him, knew him as Catsclaw..."
Alex's piercing shrieks echoed after the sergeant, and had
not faded entirely when he smelled
a nauseating, putrid odor on the stale air. It became stronger the further they went.
their march in front of a new cell. This one was more brightly lit. Catsclaw peered within, and
swallowed his rising gorge.
The place was a charnel house.
Decaying flesh, bones, and dried bloodstains covered the
floor. There were no intact bodies,
but most of the... pieces... had once belonged to human beings. Here was hand, three of its fingers
chewed off, the ripped shred of a dark green cuff around its severed wrist. There, a thigh bone
had been broken in half, its marrow greedily sucked through the splinters. The rest of the
amputated leg was well-chewed; Catsclaw spotted a dirty moccasin around the foot. Torn
clothing, fragmented ribs, crushed skulls, and spilled entrails formed a macabre pattern of carnage.
And in the center of it all-
"That is Kuma?" gasped the sergeant.
"He used to be old man Heihachi's darling pet," Lee
-was the biggest damn grizzly bear Catsclaw had ever seen.
The ursine monstrosity was as
massive as Sonya's bulletproof army van, and probably almost as tough. Shaggy brown fur parted
around its elongated claws. Its thick, heavy head had been resting on the floor, but now it drew a
snuffling breath through its nose and opened its beady black eyes.
the bear. Its pink
tongue darted over its lips and licked its rows of yellowed, arrowlike teeth. Kuma shambled to its
four feet; a metal clank sounded as it stopped several yards in front of the sliding cell door.
A wide iron shackle around its neck chained it to the prison's stone wall.
"Remember, Mori," Lee said in a level tone, "to pass your
Proving, you need only to survive
and remain conscious for at least two minutes." He withdrew a shiny silver stopwatch from the
pocket of his vinyl slacks. Etched on the timepiece's cover was a kneeling unicorn.
Catsclaw burst out, "You don't mean to put him in the cage
"...rrrrRRRRHHUUL!" Kuma reared
on his back legs, swiping futilely at the newcomers. Flecks of white foam dripped from its
A stiff prod from the barrel of Kimura's rifle reminded the
sergeant of how precarious his
situation was. Mori stared him down with contempt and spat, "Goddamn mad bear! I've tried to
discipline Kuma for a year now. Damn incorrigible beast deserves everything I've done to it."
He shifted his hateful glare to Lee. "I just want you to
know how little I think of you. When
I agreed to serve the house Mishima, no one said anything about bowing to gaijin rats. I only hope
Mishima-sama has the sense to destroy you before you turn on him."
Lee snapped his fingers. One of the silent guards uncuffed
Mori's hands and opened the
sliding door to Kuma's lair.
Lee said, "You will walk inside, or we will drug you and
Catsclaw's father had called it "Warrior's Pride."
When fear becomes secondary to dignity, when the
resolution to face what one must settles
upon one's bearing, when one chooses to calmly brave the jaws of destruction - that is the essence
of Warrior's Pride. Catsclaw had, very rarely, seen it before. It was on Sonya's face when she
followed the crimelord Kano upon a ship of unknowable evil. It was in Dark
Mane's eyes when she defied the master sorcerer Kazuya Mishima. And it was in Mori, of all
people, who scornfully turned away from his captors and entered the cage of death.
A guard slid the door shut, latched it, and threw a coiled
whip through the bars. Mori
claimed his weapon, unrolling it fluidly in his hand.
"Remote lock 2784-Alpha: Disengage!" In response to
Lee's flat command, the iron shackle
around Kuma's neck split open and clattered upon the floor. The ursine killing machine was
Kuma roared as if
in joy, leaning way back and throwing its massive bear-arms wide. Its claws lashed down and
forward, coming together with critical force, yet Mori had already darted out of their lethal
flinched from Mori's whip, and advanced on the human with a steady, shambling gait.
"You ugly beast, don't you know your master?" Step by
step, Mori backed up. The cell was
none too spacious, though; he was soon pinned against the side wall.
Kuma made a low, tentative paw-swipe. Mori jumped,
letting the deadly claws pass
underneath him, and snapped the whip when he landed. Kuma's moment of recoil was the crucial
second Mori needed to slip around the beast, buying himself time to retreat to the other side of
This wasn't a battle. This was a game of cat and mouse,
predator and prey. Mori's whip only
irritated the massive monster, made it more stubborn. The animal trainer's one chance was to stall
for time. And stall he did, using his greater speed and intuition to lead the beast in circles.
"Sixty seconds remaining," Lee said, calmly. "Ishida,
Kimura, be ready." With precisely
synchronized nods, the two bodyguards trained their rifles on the chaos inside. The other guards
watched Catsclaw like a pair of gargoyles.
"Dumb brute! I'll make you into a rug!" When Kuma tried
to wrap its massive arms around
Mori, he ducked underneath the bear's reach and cracked his whip with an underhanded motion,
nicking its chin.
Kuma jumped. The huge beast should never have been
capable of such an action, but it
bounded forward, mouth frothing, muscles rippling, teeth and tongue eager to taste fresh blood.
Mori, too, reacted faster than should have been possible for a man his age, diving and rolling
underneath the animal's flight trajectory. Kuma landed with a ground-shaking thud.
with blind fury,
Kuma galloped toward Mori on all fours. The animal trainer watched its blind charge, waiting
until it was almost upon him, then at the last moment dodged out of the way and lashed his whip.
It wrapped around Kuma's neck. Mori slipped behind the monster, pulling tight; the bear made
a reedy, rasping sound.
Mori's mouth split in a fierce smile as he choked the beast.
Kuma railed and turned, but Mori
turned with it, keeping the whip in a stranglehold about its neck. When the bear tried to claw at
the binding cord, Mori only wound it in a tighter noose, circling in front of the animal.
"Ha! You're not so tough," Mori triumphantly leered,
reeling the whip in hand over hand.
"Your head will make a fine trophy over my-"
Kuma suddenly lunged forward. Mori had committed so
much weight to his pull on the whip
that he staggered, unprepared for the sudden slack. The bear's massive arms enfolded him in a
rib-crushing hug before he had the chance to right himself. Kuma's pincer-like jaws clamped on his
Mori didn't make a sound. He no longer had an intact
trachea with which to cry out. His
limbs flailed as the bear's teeth tore and swallowed bloody chunks of flesh from his neck and face.
The brute threw its broken meal to the floor, roaring in ecstasy, then lunged forward and batted
Mori's lifeless body as if it were a river salmon.
"That was close," Lee reflected, clicking his watch to a
stop. "A little longer, and he would
have been the second man to survive a struggle with that monster."
"You are the real monster!" Catsclaw snarled to the
silver-haired devil. "No matter what he
may have done, he didn't deserve to die like that! Why didn't you have the manhood to face him
yourself, you misbegotten coward?"
"I did want to kill Mori personally, but broken promises are
like ghosts. They tend to haunt
you." Lee appraised the sergeant with an analytical glare. "Perhaps you have recovered as much
as you ever will. You're ready to face the Proving again."
"This time, I will kill you."
"You've already had your chance against me. But I may
give you another one, if you live to
see the New Era."
"Are you going to throw me in with the bear, too?"
"No." Lee glanced at Kuma; the ursine monster had buried
its muzzle up to the eyes in
Mori's viscera. "He's too busy with his latest plaything."
"Then I will face Alex."
One of Lee's silvery eyebrows rose, curiously. "Will
"Y' was r'scued by a buncha freakin' lizards?" Lei queried.
Sparky's story had just taken a
turn for the dubious.
"Not lizards. They'd be more closely related to dinosaurs,
or perhaps modern-day birds.
They called themselves something that means 'Us,' or 'the People' in their native tongue. When the
masked ice-ninja betrayed us all, Sonya became captured, but the Reptiles fled with me and
Catsclaw to their jungle home.
"They were the most peaceful, patient, and civilized beings
you could imagine. More
humanitarian than most humans I've known. The Reptiles took care of us for a few months, until
we were well enough to travel, and they helped us find our way through the jungle, back to our
own kind. All they asked in return was that we swear never to reveal the secret location of their
home to any other soul.
"Sometimes I wonder if they escaped the Apocalypse. A
few weeks before it hit, me and
Catsclaw asked Liu Kang to contact the Reptiles with a telepathic warning. All he got was static.
Maybe their minds work too differently from ours to communicate effectively, I don't know.
"Certainly, me and Catsclaw had a rocky enough time
talking with them. Oh, they were
swell fellas, but none of them spoke two words of English - except for the one Reptile who used
to be Shang Tsung's bodyguard, and he didn't escape with us. They talk in this weird medley of
hisses, clicks, and caterwauls. I could never make sense of it, but Catsclaw, well, he's got a sharp
mind and a slick tongue. He'd sit across from one of them for hours, listening to and repeating the
YOWWL!" Alex screamed.
Catsclaw hissed and made a series of clucking noises.
"Sssrawwh, sssrawwh," he urged,
keeping his lips pursed close together. To a saurian, revealing one's teeth is a dire threat.
"Nihun gurai da," Lee growled, checking his stopwatch and
glaring at one of his guards.
<Why aren't they trying to kill each other, Kimura?>
The creature threw its head back and uttered a
high-pitched, frantic wail that made Lee's
ears hurt. Its green-and-black mottled scales quivered with barely contained rage, and its
elongated crocodile-snout gnashed. The vertically slitted cat's pupils crossing its vivid yellow eyes
narrowed to slivers.
Alex was slightly less in stature than a typical human being,
for it stood on
crooked, birdlike hind legs. Its front legs were short and stubby. Yet Lee had seen the hooked
claws on its three-toed hands and feet make short work of hapless enemies before; what Alex
lacked in raw strength, it compensated for in natural weaponry, scaly armor, and animal
Still, it did not attack.
"That does it," Lee snorted to Catsclaw, extinguishing the
stub of his cigarette against the
cell's bars. "What's going on with you and that lizard? Don't tell me you're actually talking to
Catsclaw did not give the silver-haired devil the respect of
eye contact. "No. She is
talking to me. Her inflection is unfamiliar, but most of the core vocabulary is recognizable. If I
understand correctly, you fiends kidnapped and smuggled her from her home. You took her away
from her eggs. Her brood has doubtless perished by now, without a mother to care for them. She
wants vengeance for her lost children."
"You don't say."
<When he opens the door,> Catsclaw told Alex in the
True Speech, <we rush them.
I'll take the ape-mortals on the left; you take the ones on the right. Remember, Silver-Hair is
<Fool,> Alex hissed, <do you really think they are that stupid?>
"Well, well. This is quite unusual, Sergeant, but you are
indeed still alive and conscious,"
Lee noted, closing his stopwatch. "Congratulations. You've passed your Proving. Ishida!"
The suit-clad bodyguard leveled his rifle on Alex and pulled
"What? No, DON'T!" Catsclaw cried, but there was no
time to react; in the space of a
heartbeat, two thin, fletched darts protruded from Alex's pale grey stomach scales.
<I... hate... this
part...> she clicked,
clutching at the missiles. Her legs folded beneath
her, and a cloudy third eyelid closed sideways over her corneas. She slumped on the cell
Catsclaw realized that a third dart had buried itself in his
neck, though he couldn't remember
how or why. In fact, he couldn't concentrate on much of anything, except how the room was
spinning, spinning so fast...
Lee's calm voice floated serenely above the maelstrom.
"Don't be afraid. A better world
Five hours' immersion in Nature helped.
Jun had washed her hands in the crystal-clear stream, felt
the ageless wisdom of the earth,
and stood motionless in the cool breeze. Sanctuary's sacred wilderness did not have all the
answers. It had something much more important: peace and acceptance. She looked deep within
herself, examining segments of the complex puzzle that embodied her problems.
A few of Jun's nocturnal friends and companions
accompanied her during the long walk back
to Sanctuary's inner settlement. Above, a brown-feathered owl cast a shadow across the moon as
it glided in perfect silence. A red-furred squirrel perched on her shoulder; its whiskers tickled her
ear. Nightwolf's spirit-brother trotted by her feet. The squirrel chattered fearlessly at the wolf. She
said a silent goodbye to them all when she reached Sanctuary's inner gates.
Jun turned recent events over and over in her mind.
Sonya was right about me, she finally concluded.
I did want to heal everything
wrong with Lei, and thought I could do it all by myself. She looked down upon her hands.
White sparks flickered on her fingertips. The wind spirits stirred the air and whispered in her ear.
She listened to their truth, and stored it deep in a secret place within her heart.
I've always had a tendency to overextend myself. When
I was young, I used to care for
so many animals that I'd struggle on as little as four hours of sleep a night. When I cast healing
spells, I frequently pour myself into the magic until I lose consciousness. This is one situation
where I have to accept that there are limits to what I can do, and what I am
She held her shining hand close to her heart and thought of
the aid Lei had given to Sonya's
scouting party, even after Liu Kang had wronged him. How Lei had saved her life from a
golden-horned Centaurian, and guided her across a wasteland infested with enemies. How he
humbly endured Sanctuary's collective scorn. The skillful fighting lesson he had freely given Kurtis
Perhaps most important of all, she thought of the sincere,
desperate ring to Lei's voice when
he'd said that he wanted to free himself from his addiction, and pledged to do exactly that. At the
time he made the promise, he'd wanted very badly to keep it. He'd wanted to be sober so much
that he willingly accompanied Sonya's patrol, knowing that he would have to confront his
inevitable withdrawal symptoms on the open road.
I won't give up hope for you, Lei. I only pray that you
haven't given up hope for
Sparky stood at attention outside the closed door of
barracks room 13.
"Thank you very much for all you have done," Jun told the
second lieutenant with a demure
bow. "I am in your debt. How is he doing?"
Sparky shrugged. "Sleeping like a baby. Really Jun, he's
been no trouble at all. You know, I
was just about to call for a replacement, 'cause I've been on my feet for ten hours now."
"Well, I'm ready to resume my watch."
"Um..." Sparky scratched the back of his head. "Okay, I'll
be blunt. Why did you let him get
Jun folded her arms. "Lei and T. Hawk were baited into a
fight. Lei was so drunk he could
barely stand, so he received the worst of it. I allowed Lei to answer the challenge because my
duty is to guard against his curse, not to control his life."
"Uh-huh. Next question: did you get any sleep during your
time off? You won't be in any
shape to watch him if you're dead on your feet."
"I'll be fine. Nightwolf and Chief Thunder have taught me
how to borrow strength from the
sacred power of the living land; it will sustain me for up to another twelve hours. I want to be
there when Lei wakes up, because I told him that we would speak when he was sober."
"So you did. Well, all right," Sparky acceded, returning her
bracelet. "Though I'd appreciate
it if you didn't give the guy too bad a tongue-lashing. He seems pretty decent, as killer demons go.
Besides, any friend of yours is a friend of mine."
She accepted the dull silver object with a smile. "I'll tell him
"Gotta crash and burn. By the way, you know I happen to
be quartered down the hall, right?
Room 27. You have any problems, just yell my name."
As Sparky left, Jun fastened the bracelet around her wrist.
A paroxysm of worry suddenly
troubled her. Deciding to verify Lei's welfare, she pushed open the door to his room just a
Lei sprawled prone on his bed, still fully dressed except for
his blazer, which had been
sloppily thrown over the far bedpost. His right arm and leg drooped over the mattress' edge,
dragging on the ground, while his head rested on its left side. His face was placidly expressionless,
both eyes closed, and his left arm curled around a bunched-up pillow.
Near as she could tell, he was sleeping peacefully. Or was
he? He did have that talent for
pretending to be unconscious.
Lei didn't snore, but the wind spirits carried the quiet rustle
of his steady breathing. That in
itself was reassuring; at least his latest drinking binge hadn't triggered another respiratory
Jun opened the door a little wider. The portal's swinging
edge jostled the
twig-and-feather dream-catcher she'd suspended by the archway. A line of yellow light from the
splashed across Lei's motionless form.
Streaks of his own dried blood discolored his face.
Jun stepped inside and silently riffled through the pockets
of Lei's blazer, until she found his
embroidered, sky-blue handkerchief. Scanning the smallish room, her eye fell on the boxlike
mini-refrigerator in the corner. It wasn't running, since Sanctuary had little in the way of electrical
generators, but maybe...
Jun opened the insulated refrigerator, and was pleasantly
gratified to find a still pool of cool
water collected in an old ice tray. She moistened the kerchief and approached Lei. Brushing his
bangs aside, she used the damp cloth to gently clean the crusty reddish flecks from his face.
I still can't believe Michelle put you through all that,
just to win Hawk's heart. If she
weren't so wrapped up in her own world, she'd have known it was completely unnecessary. It was
also wrong. In the morning, we can hold her legally accountable for her actions. Everything will
be all right. You'll see.
Jun's right hand was trembling, just a tiny bit. She
transferred the wet kerchief to her left and
very lightly dabbed the dried blood from Lei's lips.
"Mmm... heh." Lei stirred sluggishly, though his eyes did
not open. He clutched the pillow a
little tighter. "M'chelle...?"
The kerchief, now stained purple, slipped through Jun's
fingers and slapped the floor. She
took a step backward, then another, until she had retreated through the doorway. Her right hand
constricted around the doorknob.
Jun violently slammed the door. Buffeted by the rush of
displaced air, the
dream-catcher was caught between the door and its archway. The viselike collision crushed its
twigs and tore apart its delicate strands. Its supporting thread pulled taut, dislodging the miniature
tack that had held it. The dream-catcher's crumpled halves fell on either side of the closed
Jun leaned against the outside of the door and hugged
herself, slowly sliding to the ground.
In the morning, she thought, clinging to the
comforting whispers of the wind spirits.
She pressed her fingertips tightly against the inner corners of her eyes, as if to seal off any
possibility of tears. Everything will be all right in the morning.
Everything will be all right...
End of Chapter 9: Broken Promises