ASHES OF THE PHOENIX

written by Victar, e-mail vctr113062@aol.com
Victar's Archive:
http://www.victarfanfics.com


Chapter 19: Captured


    "I always have a fallback position, whenever I take a risk: if all else fails, I'll die horribly, at great length, in great pain. Mind you, it's not a good fallback position..."
         -Joel Rosenberg, The Road Home


         Lee contemplated the meaning of pain.
         He drew one of his matched pair of fighting daggers, and looked upon its blade. The polished metal surface reflected his face, framed with unevenly singed silver hair, and raked by blackened burn-scars. His brother Kazuya had marked him thus, as punishment for speaking an ill-chosen retort. This was one form of pain.
         He closed his eyes, and bolstered the psychological barriers that made a poor shield against the agonized wails of the souls trapped within the syndicate. One soul in particular clawed at his sanity. It tore at him for his crime, and hated him for the murderer he was. Vengeful fury hammered him from without, and bitter shame poisoned him from within. This was another form of pain.
         Then there was the... was "loneliness" the right word?
         He turned the thought over, and decided that yes, it appropriately described his emotional isolation in a syndicate full of slaves and killers. He'd spent the first twelve years of his life orphaned and friendless, on the streets of Canton. Even after the house Mishima had deigned to take him in, his new father had scorned to so much as speak to him, his brother cared only to use him as a tool, his sole friend had been reduced to a vegetable, his only "uncle" marched with his enemies, and his...
         And his...
         This was more than a form of pain; even after the passage of years, it hurt so much that he could never think about it for very long. He'd pushed the memory away, repressed it in the darkest corner of his own heart - until now, when he was forced to confront it again, and choose what he would do.
         Lee made his decision.
         He had expected Kazuya's antechamber to be empty, and was mildly surprised to find Bruce Irvin there. The kickboxer sat in the throne that incorporated Doctor Boskonovitch's Project Loki, though its holographic image of Kazuya had been switched off. Bruce's rifle, loaded with tranquilizer darts, rested upon his knees.
         "What are you still doing here?" Lee rasped, the burn-scars on his throat reducing his voice to gravel.
         Bruce stolidly looked the silver-haired devil in the eye, something that very few people had dared to do of late. "They done sent one hit squad to cap the man. Betcha mama another's comin'. When they do, I be here to waste 'em, 'less you or the man sez no."
         "I don't care, and I doubt Kazuya does either."
         "So, you gonna gimme a real goddamn gun, 'stead a' this piece a' shit?"
         "No."
         Bruce appeared vexed, but remained silent. Which was just as well, because indigo Ki crackled in the air, coalescing into the oval-shaped portal to Kazuya's inner sanctum. The master sorcerer's sibilant voice resonated through the portal's eerie light.
         "Come inside, Lee."
         The silver-haired devil's fear of his brother returned to crush him, as always, and it took all the strength he had not to turn around and run from the room. Somehow, he forced his feet to take him through the luminous disc, onto the metal floor of Kazuya's retreat. In the many mirrors that enclosed this corner between dimensions, Lee saw disjointed images of the war raging outside the syndicate. He heard the screams, the shouts, the crash of imploding metal and the snapping report of gunfire, although they sounded as if they came from leagues away.
         In this looking glass, one of the Chosen, a muscular black man with arms of metal, slammed the muddy ground with his fist. The earth trembled in response. Mines hidden beneath the surface exploded, showering gouts of fresh mud, and android Jack-2 soldiers tipped over in the wake of seismic vibrations.
         In that looking glass was another of the Chosen, a Native American with red war-paint framing a vivid badge upon his face. He stood with his chest out, chin held high, and arms at his sides. An emerald glow spread from him, encompassing the Chosen Ones and their army. The inexplicable radiance turned aside bullets, allowing the troops to form a tight triangle and try to wedge themselves into the syndicate's territory.
         In still another looking glass, a contingent of androids was on the verge of breaking through a piece of the militia's formation. A barrier of invisible force, centered around the thrust-out hand of an old man, stopped them. Lee recognized the sorcerer as Wang Jinrey.
         Taken together, the mirrors formed a composite picture of Kazuya's victorious stalemate. It was a stalemate because the Chosen Ones' sorcery, plasma rifles, and tight discipline successfully defended the central knot of their army against Kazuya's untrained troops and mindless androids. It was victorious because the androids' superior numbers easily prevented the Chosen Ones from reaching the syndicate's grounds. In time, the Chosen Ones would tire, and their sorcery would fail; once they lost that edge, they would fall before Commander Baek Doo San's machine guns and the relentless android horde. The mirrors showed more scenes of battle, death, and destruction, but Kazuya pulled Lee's attention away with a single word.
         "Well?"
         Lee was trembling so severely that he could scarcely stand.
         "I am waiting. It is good that you have successfully captured Wulong and his associates, but you have not carried out the remainder of my instructions, and I would know why. Now."
         Lee hung his head, and thought of what he had come to do. His intentions ought to have calmed him enough to speak, but in the end, it was looking at the ground that gave him the necessary self-composure.
         "It's Jun-chan."
         A shadow of annoyance crossed the master sorcerer's face. "Continue."
         "Sh-she's one of the people we captured."
         "Your point being?"
         "H-how-" He swallowed, thickly. "How can you do this to her? Don't you remember her, or feel any kindred toward her at all? She's my-"
         "That was in the past."
         "But you were searching for her! You had me channel the syndicate's resources into tracking her down, just before the Apocalypse! I thought it was because you wanted to capture her, and preserve her with the rest of the sleepers. Why do you want to kill her? Do you really hate her that much?"
         Kazuya transferred his attention to the mirrors. "She is Chosen."
         "What? She's a Chosen One?"
         "No. She was not Chosen by the gods, like the leaders of that splintering militia. Another force Chose her, and others like her. Yes, I remember her; better than you do, it would seem. You, of all people, should know that her allegiance can never be turned to us. That is why she had to be located and dealt with, in one manner or another. That is why you must obey my orders." No emotion affected Kazuya's cold, ruthless judgment.
         In stark contrast, Lee's protest was a quavering whimper, strung on a skein of terror and misery. "I can't. I'm sorry, I just can't. During the invasion, when I saw you come that close to strangling the life out of her, I nearly... I-I can't go through that again. I can't stand by and watch while she's... she's..."
         "You are not required to observe, only to ensure that it is done."
         "It's the same thing, isn't it? It doesn't matter whether I do the killing, watch the killing, or turn my head; the result is death, and I'm responsible. You taught me that, brother. I'll never forget it. Never."
         "I have warned you not to address me as 'brother.' I shall not do so again."
         "Yeah. I know." Lee held out his dagger, his trembling hand gripping its unicorn hilt so tightly that blood drained from his knuckles.
         "You cannot threaten me with that." It was not a warning, merely a statement of fact.
         "I'm not threatening you. I'm pleading with you. Please spare her. She doesn't have to die. I don't understand why you want any of this done, anyway-"
         "Do you not? I would think it obvious. Wulong clings to his pretensions of nobility, just as you once did. He is not so easily conquered through fear, as you are; the only remaining way to bind him to our cause is through blood. Now do you comprehend?"
         "Can't you feel them?"
         "I beg your pardon?" Kazuya said, in that cutting-edge tone which could not, by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, be considered begging.
         "You should know; you're the one who traps them. They inhabit my nightmares; then I wake up in a cold sweat, and know that the horror is real. There's thousands of them. The one I killed searches me out with cries for revenge. Her eyes stare into me, and... damn it, are you completely deaf to their pain? Don't the ones you've killed ever tear at you?"
         Kazuya folded his arms. His jet black eyes narrowed, dangerously.
         "Wh-what I'm saying is that it's bad enough as it is. Tonight, if I have to lie down and see Jun-chan's eyes looking into me, accusing me, I... no. I can't let it happen. But we both know that I can't stop you, either. If pleading won't move you, and I never really thought it would, then there's only one thing left to offer you: a choice. Spare her, or find a new vice-president."
         "You are fortunate that I am in a good mood, Lee. Thus, I shall allow you one opportunity to carefully rethink your foolish words. Else I shall have to kill you."
         "No, you won't. I'll save you the effort." Lee touched the point of his dagger to the base of his left palm, directly above the blue-purple vein. The knife's furthest tip pricked his skin, setting free a minuscule droplet of red.
         Kazuya's lips spread in a malevolent smile. "You jest."
         Lee shook his head. "At least this way, Jun-chan and I will be together."
         "Your bluff is amusing, yet utterly transparent when, even now, you shudder with fear for your worthless life and soul. You are a coward, Lee."
         "Yeah. I know."
         There was nothing more to be said, so he said nothing.
         With a firm, even pressure, he buried the knife's point an inch deep under his skin, piercing the vein that coursed between his radius and ulna bones. It required exacting precision to hold his left arm steady as he deliberately drew the dagger from wrist to inner elbow, cleaving the length of his vein in half. His arm throbbed where the cold steel had cut it; he ignored the pain, instead focusing on the welling splashes of dark crimson sludge that made irregular, clumping puddles on the metal floor.
         His head became light, and he could feel the strain of his increased heartbeat as he transferred his weapon from right hand to left, and attempted to repeat the mayhem upon his right arm. This was not so easy, however; though his fingers clutched the knife's hilt, he couldn't summon the strength to hold it properly, let alone cut as needed. Merely standing had become a dizzying chore. His legs slowly crumpled, and his rapid, shallow breathing rasped in his ears. As he slipped to his knees, he caught a fragmented glimpse of Kazuya's shocked face, which pleased him to no end. It would have been nice if that were the last thing he saw, but then his neck drooped, and he absently noted that he was about to pitch face-first into a copious pool of his own blood.
         There was a faraway clatter as his left hand went limp, clumsily dropping the knife.
         "You dare!?"
         Kazuya's outcry seemed distorted somehow, as if it were filtered through layers of water. The garbled sound was simultaneous with an immovable grasp around Lee's bleeding wrist, and snaking crackles of indigo Ki.
         Well, Lee reflected, in the end it didn't make much difference whether he died at his own hand or his brother's. The silver-haired devil closed his eyes and waited for the trauma of renewed burns. As expected, the tendrils of searing energy inflamed his blood-soaked arm-
         -except there was something strange about how they cauterized his skin, in such an intense, localized manner. The sensation went on and on, for long, slow minutes, until it finally lessened to a surprisingly gentle tingle.
         Curious, Lee opened his eyes, and looked up the length of his arm, from which Kazuya dangled him like a puppet. Lee's own blood dripped in winding trails down his biceps, and stained his skin dirty red. Yet the truly astonishing thing was the thick, twisted scar stretching where his self-inflicted wound had been, and sewing it closed.
         "How can you have the Power to heal?" he gasped, faintly.
         "Be still!" A stinging, backhand blow smacked the side of Lee's face. Kazuya let go of him, and he sprawled in a heap. The hilt of Lee's dropped knife dug into his side. Wetness from the blood on the floor started to soak through his clothes. "You dare - you dare try to dictate terms to me? You serve me. Your life is mine. It ends when and how I choose!"
         Lee awkwardly tried to push himself off the ground, but his left arm was nearly useless and his right was scarcely in better shape. The mirrors surrounding him reeled in flashing circles, making him sick to his stomach. He managed to prop himself part-way up on his right elbow. The thought occurred to him that he was probably in shock.
         "So choose," he mumbled. His left hand closed on the hilt of his knife. There was no need to put the rest into words.
         Kazuya's hands opened and closed. He seethed with outrage.
         Then suddenly, as swiftly as it had come, Kazuya's anger vanished. A calm, thoughtful expression supplanted the scowl on his face.
         "Lee, do you know why I have allowed you to live, all this time? Why I have invested the responsibility of running the syndicate upon your shoulders?"
         The silver-haired devil had a few guesses, but he felt too weak to say them aloud.
         "It is not due to any emotional attachment. I hate you, more than you can conceive; more than you have ever hated me, or shall hate me. I loathe you for the freedom you enjoyed, when my life was an endless hell. I despise you for taking that freedom for granted. As for your jealousy of me, of the 'attention' I received - that is unforgivable. If I were to torture your soul for a hundred years, it would not clean the slate.
         "I do not let you live because of any marginal competence you may have in your duties. If I so desired, I could easily appoint another, equally functional vice-president. Lei Wulong might conceivably fulfill this position, once he is turned.
         "No, Lee, I permit your continued existence because you fear me. The rest of the syndicate respects me, and some cower from me, but you alone fear me in utter completeness, with every muscle in your body and thought in your mind. You fear me so greatly that you would do violence to yourself rather than attempt to cross me. Not even Boskonovitch's terror runs that deep.
         "And because you fear me, I know that I can trust you. Niccolo Machiavelli said it best: 'Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared.'
         "Ishida and Kimura obey me merely because obedience is all they have ever known; I cannot trust them fully. Commander Baek cares for nothing save bloodshed; I must view him with suspicion. Captain Irvin insists, ridiculously, that he is loyal because I arranged to save his life; under no circumstances may I turn my back on him. As for Wulong, that is yet to be resolved. For the present, Lee, you are the only one to whom I may safely delegate the power of the syndicate, which in turn frees me to concentrate upon my own Power.
         "That is the use I have for you. That is why, in due consideration, I now choose to grant your boon. If you desire Kazama so greatly, then she is yours, to do with as you will - upon one condition."
         The master sorcerer casually slipped both hands in his pockets. "She must consent to it."
         Lee blinked and rubbed his eyes. "Wh-what...?"
         "If you can persuade her to accede to whatever fate you have in mind, then let it be so. But her agreement must come of her own will, free and true; not through constraints such as sorcery, or torture, or bargaining for the lives of her comrades. I shall be watching you, and her, in order to learn the result of your appeal. You may go."
         Lee twitched. He was about to snap a hostile retort to the suggestion that he would ever want to harm or blackmail Jun; then the fear wrenched him again, and his breath spilled from his lungs in a voiceless hiss. He tried to stand, and to his amazement actually succeeded, although his vision was so blurry that he could hardly make out the crackling indigo portal to the antechamber. As he stumbled through, Kazuya's sibilant voice added one last comment, flavored with biting derision.
         "Perhaps you should try to get her drunk first. That worked once, did it not?"
         The silver-haired devil whirled around, his teeth gritted in a snarl, and he nearly lost his balance when the antechamber continued spinning all around him. It didn't matter anyway; Kazuya's portal had vanished.


         On the other side of the mystic gate, the master sorcerer inspected one of his mirrors. A moment of concentration caused an image of Lei Wulong, Liu Kang, and Jun Kazama to appear within. All three were prisoners of the syndicate. Thick chains suspended Lei and Liu Kang spread-eagled upon the cell wall. Jun's ankles were locked in a single brace. Her chains were noticeably longer, though, and anchored to a clasp on the floor, so that she had the space and freedom to lie unconscious on her back.
         Had Lee arranged for her to be held captive in a slightly more comfortable manner than the others, due to his sympathetic weakness?
         Kazuya smiled to himself. Out of all the different ways in which he could have punished his disobedient vice-president, none could possibly be more cruel than this.



         The dream has returned, same as ever.
         Violence.
         He is one with the white-clad relief workers, and the starving, dark-skinned people they have tried to help. All of them crowd into a dilapidated church. There is panic in the swarming throng of faces, and he can plainly hear the reason. Outside, heavy artillery roars, and gunfire spits in staccato bursts. The refugees have come here in search of sanctuary.
         They have come here to die.
         The people timidly shrink back as a contingent of gunmen force down the door. One of the relief workers is trying to reason with them; he is the first to be thrown backward by an invisible force, red punctures bursting from his white shirt. Screams and howling fill the dreamer's ears. Some refugees try to fight, but they cannot reach their attackers through the lethal barrier of automatic weapon fire. Some try to run, but the killers block the only way out. In desperation, the dreamer grabs the nearest person - it is the little girl he tried to comfort before - and forces her to lie face down on the floor, his arms protectively covering her head.
         An explosion of pain rips into the side of his chest. He is wounded. His strength slips away, along with the slow trickle of crimson welling in his side, and he falls listless next to the girl. By chance, his eyes happen to align with the bloody hole between her eyes. He has acted too late to save her.
         Hatred burns within him.
         It coils in his gut like a poisonous snake. He clings to it. If he survives this - no, he has to survive this, he will survive this, and then he will exact revenge. Hatred is no stranger to him, but now, more then ever, he finally understands to whom he must direct it. It is the greedy, the sadistic, the callous emissaries of Death who earn his richly deserved hate. He may be only one man, but he will find a way to destroy them - destroy them all, all the murderers and torturers and twisted people in the world-



         "Awaken, curse you! If I can recover from their sleeping poison, then so can you. Awaken at once!"
         "Wh-what...?" Lei stammered, momentarily lost in the confusing transition between the dream of Kazuya's memory, and hazy reality. Spots flashed in front of his eyes, and the side of his neck itched where the drug-coated dart had pricked it. He became aware of the strain on his limbs, and gradually traced it to the manacles that suspended him helpless and immobile against the wall.
         His sight cleared enough for him to become aware of more things - Liu Kang hanging as he was, and Jun, lying on the stone floor, with notably longer chains shackling her feet. Shadows danced about her, cast by the warm fire of a hearth in the prison's far side. A variety of hot iron items rested in the core of the blaze. Reflected in the flickering firelight was the shine of gold around Jun's neck, and Liu Kang's. Both of them had some kind of metal collar, emblazoned with incomprehensible runes, locked around their throats.
         Oddly enough, Lei couldn't feel the pressure of any similar collar around his own neck. Even more strangely, he could feel the weight of his 9mm automatic and his silver-bladed knife, hidden underneath his clothing.
         Had his captors neglected to search him? No, the gun had been in his hand when he'd fallen to them. Had they actually returned his weapon? Why? Was it some kind of twisted joke, since his chains rendered him unable to draw the damn thing anyway?
         "Pay attention!" Liu Kang directed, harshly. "Kazama is unconscious, and even if she were not, she and I are both outfitted with devices that block our sorcery. I cannot assume my dragon form, or even send a telepathic distress call to Major Briggs. You, however, are unhindered by any such device. You must know a spell that can set us free!"
         Lei tentatively strained against his bonds. They were firm and fast, completely unyielding. "Uh..."
         "Hurry! The jailer will return at any moment!"
         "Kang, the only real magic I know is how to make pretty blue lights."
         "Can you not affect your shackles?"
         "Well, for some crazy reason they left me my gun. It's strapped a little to the right of the small of my back, under my clothes. I suppose I could shoot these locks, if my hands were free."
         The monk growled a vicious suggestion concerning what Lei could do with his hands. Lei was trying to think of a worthwhile response when the cell door swung open.
         A short, stocky, wart-faced troll of a man shuffled inside. Lei didn't recognize him. The newcomer surveyed his captives. The dry skin of his mouth twisted into a sneer as he regarded Lei's studious appraisal, and broadened into an odious smile as he met Liu Kang's infuriated glare. Then his beady eyes settled on Jun, and he licked his cracked lips.
         <Well, well, my darling,> he slavered to her. Lei didn't understand the language, but the leer on his face was all too plain. <Still asleep, are you? This won't do at all. I don't know what the young master has planned for you and your friends, but it must be something good; he made me reinforce this cell until not even the Devil himself could break out. Whatever the young master wants done with you, you ought to be conscious for it. How should I wake you up?>
         He kneeled next to her, shoving one hand under the back of her neck and prying her torso off the ground. <With a kiss, maybe? You'd like that, wouldn't you?> He put his other hand on her breasts. <Or perhaps a little something more?>
         "Leave her ALONE!" Lei shrieked, at the same time as the cell door slammed open with the force of a cyclone.
         "Kusou!" rasped a voice from the doorway, so incensed, so menacing, it seemed to barely contain a rage that could level the syndicate.
         The jailer turned toward the wrathful figure in the doorway and cringed. He let go of Jun, whimpering, <I-I wasn't going to hurt her, young master, I swear->
         That was all he managed to sputter before Lee Chaolan lifted him by the collar and slammed him hard against the wall.
         "KOROSHITE-YARU!" Lee screamed. In that timeless second, his fury shadowed in the firelight, he truly appeared to be a devil with silver hair.
         <M-mercy, please->
         Lee's hands squeezed the jailer's throat. The defenseless man's face turned beet red, then a shade grey. His eyes bulged and his limbs flailed. At first his movements were frantic; they quickly became weaker.
         "Ohh..." Jun groaned, stirring. Her ginger eyes flicked open. The back of her head was sore, where it had fallen against the ground, and her shoulder itched where the sleeping dart had stung it.
         "Nani...?" she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.
         Lee dropped the throttled jailer, who wriggled and gasped like an earthworm surfacing after a heavy rainfall. The silver-haired devil crouched on one knee, next to Jun, and anxiously asked, <Are you all right?>
         "Watashi..."
         Her delicate eyebrows came a little closer together. She shuddered. Her puzzlement branched into a confused tangle of emotions. There was worry, flustered agitation, and a hint of fear, yet these feelings soon became secondary to a uniform sorrow.
         She slowly pushed herself into a sitting position, peering closely at Lee. Her gaze drifted from the bandage wrapped around his left arm, to the loose black leather of his sleeveless unicorn vest, the shiny glint of a key hanging on a short, thick chain around his neck, and lastly, his ravaged face. The healer reached with her right hand, hesitated, then gently touched a blackened fire-scar that spread from the outer corner of his left eye to his chin.
         <Kazuya did this to you, didn't he?> she asked, sadly.
         <It doesn't matter.>
         <These burns must have been third degree. It's a miracle they mended cleanly, without infection or gangrene, but the tissue is permanently destroyed. I'm sorry, I can't restore cells that are already dead.>
         <It's nothing, Jun-chan.>
         <I think I can help your voice, though,> the healer quietly continued, moving her hand down to the scars crossing his larynx. <Your vocal chords have been damaged, but->
         Her brow furrowed with consternation. Her touch rested momentarily on his blistered chest; she closed her eyes, attuning herself to the sound of his breathing and the spirits of the wind.
         <Your lungs are clogged with poison. You've been smoking again, haven't you?>
         <After you ran away, there was no longer any reason not to.>
         <If you continue, then in another couple years you'll start to cough, and it will become worse, until the toxins you inhale eventually kill you. I can slow the decay a little, but not much.>
         <No, don't->
         Jun took a deep breath and started to sing, but the first note of her melody lapsed into a discordant warble. Her head jerked, and her hand went to her throat, fingering the golden collar. <What-?>
         <I'm sorry, Jun-chan. You can't->
         <What is this? What have you done to me?> She shook her head as if to clear it, and looked around the prison cell, meeting Liu Kang's scornful glance and Lei's unfathomable stare. Her legs twitched, causing their attached chains to rustle with a metallic clink sound.
         <I remember. You tricked us, trapped us, drugged us-!>
         <Don't be afraid; it's going to be all right. You->
         "English," she sharply returned.
         "Nan da?"
         "Speak in English. Anything you say to me, you say to my friends as well, and you must say it in a language they can understand."
         Lee's brow darkened with exasperation. "Nan no hanashi-o shite-irun da?"
         "English," she repeated, turning her face away. "If you want an answer, you must phrase the question in English."
         "All right, I'll humor your silly little whim. It's not like it's the first time," Lee grumbled. His words carried a soft accent that wasn't quite Japanese, but remarkably similar. "Jun-chan, the collar disables your sorcery. You mustn't tamper with it, or it could hurt you, even kill you."
         "Take it off."
         Lee's hand reflexively went to the master key hanging just below his throat; he caught himself, and shook his head. "I can't. Kazuya's orders. He's watching us."
         "Remove Liu Kang's collar also, and he can hide us with his cloaking spell."
         "Kazuya will still know-"
         "You have to help us," she urged, clasping his hand in hers. "There is no time. Even as we speak, good people are fighting and dying in a war. We have to end it as quickly as possible. Please, set us free and take us to Kazuya."
         When Lee started to shake his head again, her tone became more impassioned. "I know he threatens you with some kind of death-link, but I swear, we are not here to kill him. We must break his Power through honorable single combat. Take us to him, please."
         Lee replied, "Jun-chan, say you will come with me."
         "What do you mean?"
         "I mean that you will be put to sleep for a little while. It won't hurt, I promise. When you wake up, the world will be a better place, and I'll be there to take care of you. All right?"
         Her bafflement was plainly visible on her face. "What about my friends?"
         Lee's eyes briefly darted to Lei and Liu Kang. "You don't want to know."
         "I can't accept that. There's an army of good people depending on us."
         "Yeah, there's an army. They're no match for the syndicate's forces. Their magic is all that's keeping them alive, and when that runs out..." Lee shrugged. "There's nothing any of us can do for them."
         "I won't accept that."
         "Stop being stubborn. Say you will come with me."
         "Let us out of here. Take us to Kazuya."
         The singed remnants of Lee's eyebrows hovered low above his auburn eyes. "What's gotten into you, Jun-chan? Why are you acting so-"
         "I'm not 'Jun-chan.' Maybe you'd understand if you could address me as an equal, and not like I'm a scatterbrained little child, but there isn't time to explain it to you. We have to serve Kazuya a challenge. Let us out of here, and take us to him, before we lose the last hope to save the world!"
         The silver-haired devil glared at her, darkly. "You wouldn't have a chance against him. None of you would. He'd just butcher you all. I barely persuaded him to spare your life. Come with me, Jun-chan."
         "I'm not your 'Jun-chan'!"
         "What you are is my wife, and you have no business talking back to me like that!"
         Lei said, "What?"
         "We were NEVER married!" she shouted, defiantly. "You just pretended we were!"
         Lei said, "What?"
         "Don't you understand?" Lee asked. "Is it that hard for you to grasp? If you try to cross Kazuya, he'll kill you. You have to come with me, or-"
         "Or what? Or you'll hit me again?" she interrupted, spitefully.
         Lei said, "What?"
         A stricken expression fluttered across Lee's brow and eyes. "You never gave me a chance to apologize for that. It was the biggest mistake of my life. After you ran away, I kept waiting and waiting for you to come back, but you never-"
         "HE is your fiancé!?" Lei exclaimed, his face turning pale with startled disbelief. "Him? Lee Chaolan?"
         Jun turned toward the bewildered cop and cocked her head at a slight angle. "I thought you knew."
         "I thought it was Kazuya."
         "Heihachi Mishima was at best an ethnic purist, at worst a racist. He'd never arrange for his only biological son to marry someone with mixed blood, like me."
         "But at my hearing before Chief Thunder, you let it slip that Kazuya was 'practically family' to you, that you were engaged to-"
         "Kazuya is practically family. I was engaged to his brother."
         Lee appraised the cop with a shadowy glare, and rested his hand on Jun's shoulder. His grip was more firm than felt comfortable. "Don't talk to him, Jun-chan. He belongs to my brother, now. There's nothing you can do about it."
         "Maybe not, but there is something you can do," she reproached.
         "I told you-"
         "No, I'm telling you, and for once in your life, you're going to listen to me! Let us out of here. Take us to Kazuya."
         "You know I can't-"
         "Or else go away and leave me alone!"
         "What?" Lee's eyes widened, then narrowed.
         "You heard me."
         The silver-haired devil let go of her and clenched his hands. He no longer attempted to hide his growing anger. "You don't know what I risked for you. What I put on the line so Kazuya would spare you. And this - this is how you repay me?"
         "Don't do things because you expect a reward!" she hissed, every word a rancorous scald. "Do them because they're right!"
         "I'm not going to take this from you!" he asserted, recoiling and pointing to her with an accusatory index finger. "You can't talk to me like that! I thought - I thought you loved me..."
         "I thought I did too, once," she said, keeping her voice cold and even with effort. "But I didn't really know you then, did I? You're a willing accomplice to Kazuya's crimes. You know what he's doing is wrong, and you refuse to help us stop it! I can NEVER love the likes of you!"
         Lee's dagger was in his hand. He didn't remember drawing it, but now it pointed dangerously close to her throat. "When I think of what I almost did for your sake...!"
         Lei said, "Chäoláng! Tîng säo!"
         For once, Lee's hand was not shaking out of fear, but rather, rage. "You don't know what Kazuya has planned for you. Don't even realize..."
         "Tîng säo!" Lei repeated. "Nây sìk tèng mä?"
         "...at the very least, I should spare you the torture..."
         <I said stop it! Dammit, Chaolan, I know you can understand me; leave her alone or I'll murder you!>
         "...I should kill you like I killed Michelle!"
         Jun's icy veneer fractured, and the pain showed through. Glistening moisture formed in her eyes. "I... I knew there was blood on your hands, but not whose blood it was... it must have been her soul that tried to warn me about you, about the trap you'd set..."
         <Chaolan,> Lei insisted, forcefully, <if you hurt her, if you touch her, I will disembowel you. I will not need to be insane to do it.> Light from the fire glittered on his eyes, making them shift from mahogany to blood-red and back again.
         Lee shook his head and glowered at Jun. "I don't care anymore. I don't care what becomes of you, or how much you suffer. I don't care if you're torn limb from limb!"
         <Chaolan, if you harm her, I will show you what suffering is. I will rip out your viscera and->
         "Nây hó chún!" Lee snapped in Cantonese, addressing the cop for the first time. He sheathed the knife and returned Lei's lethal glare with unbridled contempt. <You're supposed to be a detective. Don't you know why they're wearing collars and you're not? Haven't you figured it out?>
         <Don't kill her, Chaolan. I will tear you into bloody pieces if you kill her.>
         <Of course I'm not going to kill her, idiot. You are.>
         Lei said, "What?"
         "Shimada!" the silver-haired devil called, turning to the jailer. "Heat up your brands and get to work on this one." He indicated Lei with a jerk of his thumb. "The scar on his chest is especially sensitive. Start there."
         Shimada bowed, deeply. "Oh, thank you, young master; it has been too long since last you let me-"
         "Shut up and do it. Now."
         "No, don't!" Lei cried, raw terror creasing his face. "I-I'm under a curse; when I'm hurt, I shape-shift into a monster-"
         "Now there's a new one. I thought I'd heard them all," Shimada chuckled, blowing on his red-hot implement of torture. With a greedy leer of anticipation, he shuffled toward Lei. "Just what kind of monster are you supposed to be, hm?"
         "A-a demon. P-please, you have to believe me-!"
         Lei's terror blossomed into outright panic. Sweat beaded on his brow, and his pupils dilated as the jailer pulled up his azure fighting coat, exposing the jagged black mark on his chest. Neither Lei nor Shimada noticed the heavy clank sound of Lee locking and bolting the cell door from the outside.
         Liu Kang did, though. He caught Jun's eye and quietly suggested, "I suppose it never once occurred to you to accept Chaolan's offer, ply him with your feminine charms, and then overpower him or steal his key while he was off-guard?"
         Jun looked at the monk as if he were a pile of moldy, rotting waste. She clenched her teeth and held up Lee's second unicorn-hilt knife. She wanted to explain that the chain holding the key around Lee's neck had been too heavy to break, too short to slip off without his noticing, but Lei's choking scream drowned out her words.
         Her indignation became horror.


         It is like drowning, or falling into a bottomless pit.
         Lei feels the impending darkness press against his conscious mind, and struggles to resist. Kazuya has said that embracing the Power would give him control, yet he thinks of how the Power has warped the master sorcerer, and knows that surrendering to it will not save the others. Nightwolf has told him to embrace the good within himself, that the only way to break the curse is to let go of his self-hatred.
         He tries. Frantically, desperately, he tries.
         How do you make yourself feel something? How can you tell yourself that you are a good person, when you don't believe it and never have? Failure now means a fate worse than death, turning into a monster, a murderer, but he doesn't know how to stop it. Tears well in his eyes when he thinks of waking from a blackout to find Jun's lifeblood dripping from his fingernails. He would do anything, anything to avoid that; it is a living nightmare worse than the most brutal of his dreams. He'd sooner die, he'd sooner kill himself than-
         The black curtain snuffs out his last spark of awareness.




         The reinforced cell door was strong enough to contain a demon, yet not so thick as to completely muffle the metal clatter of breaking chains, the hiss of a monster released, or Shimada's high-pitched death-wail.
         Lee plodded away from the sealed slaughterhouse. He lit up a menthol cigarette without thinking about it, and took a deep draught of its fumes. As he turned the corner, an echo of Jun's frightened shriek drifted by his ears. He remembered what she had said about poison clogging his lungs.
         Lee pulled another cigarette, and smoked two at once.


End of Chapter 19: Captured