ASHES OF THE PHOENIX
written by Victar, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Victar's Archive: http://www.victarfanfics.com
Chapter 20: Monsters
Now here is a riddle to guess if you can...
What makes a monster and what makes a man?
-Clopin, The Hunchback of
Notre Dame [animated motion picture]
Kazuya observed the carnage with avid interest.
Through one of the many mirrors enclosing his inner
sanctum, the master sorcerer watched
the prison cell that contained Liu Kang the monk, Jun Kazama the healer, Shimada the torturer,
and the hissing, spitting demon that had once been Lei Wulong. The demon's livid blue arms
wrenched apart its chains as if they were fragile wire filaments.
Shimada tried to flee.
He found the cell's only exit locked and bolted from the
outside. Lethal claws sliced into the
torturer's midsection, carving out one of his floating ribs and making him drop his iron brand.
Consumed with panic, Shimada retreated to the blazing hearth and reached for two more heated
metal pokers. Demon-Lei's hands wrapped around the torturer's wrists, and pulled with inhuman
strength. Shimada let out a shrill, high-pitched wail as his limbs were torn from their sockets; his
bright red blood splashed copiously on the fireplace. Demon-Lei lunged for him again, taloned
claws carving deep rents from throat to abdomen, and scooping out a tangled morass of bloody
The torturer's death-wail cut short. He toppled into the
crackling fire. His blood and
intestines reduced the flames to glowing coals. In the semidarkness, demon-Lei's eyes blazed
solid red, matching the luminescence of the mark in the center of his brow.
Kazuya nodded to himself.
His plan was working, if not as well as he might hope, then
as suitably as he expected. Lei
Wulong had not yet chosen to embrace his gift of demonic Power; if he had, then he would kill
with the exacting precision of conscious intellect, not the rabid fury of animal instinct. Because
Lei resisted the Power, it reduced him to the level of a mad beast - a beast that would in turn
slaughter its cellmates, while they huddled trapped and helpless in their heavy chains. When
demon-Lei ran out of victims to kill, he would revert to human form, with the fresh blood of his
allies staining his hands. Only then, when Lei could no longer pretend to be any less of a brutal
murderer than Kazuya himself, would the master sorcerer have a chance of turning Lei's
Perhaps it would not work. Perhaps Lei would destroy
himself, or remain defiant to the end.
But Kazuya had confidence that Lei could be broken and recast in the appropriate mold. The
master sorcerer had delved the depths of Lei's mind, and felt the similar bonds of hatred and
determination. He'd already claimed possession of Lei's soul; the remainder would soon-
A dissonant feeling plucked at the back of Kazuya's mind.
He shook his head and closed his
eyes. The sensation persisted.
Something was wrong; the Power at his command no
seemed quite so solid, or every bit as responsive. Clenching his teeth, the master sorcerer turned
to his other mirrors, which monitored the ongoing war between his own forces and the Chosen
"Shimatta," Kazuya growled, disgustedly.
Foremost among the ranks of that meager little militia was
one of the Chosen, a
thick-muscled black man who had become neither meager nor little. Through some form of
it sorcerous or scientific, he had increased to impossibly gigantic size, towering higher than many
a building. The giant kicked and swatted aside Jack-2 androids as if they were mosquitos. He
stomped his foot, and the last of the hidden mines exploded in a shower of wet mud. Cheers
sounded from the army that followed his cleared trail, onto the grounds of the syndicate. Their
very presence, their usurpation of a sliver of the soul-snaring grid woven into Kazuya's
property, undermined the master sorcerer's Power just a tiny bit.
This could not be tolerated. It would seem, Kazuya
reflected, that he'd have to personally
involve himself in this pathetic war after all.
The master sorcerer gathered his strength, focusing the
whole of his consciousness on the
battlefield. Behind him, and without the necessary modicum of psychic energy to sustain itself, the
extraneous vision of the prison cell winked out.
"Lei, no!" Jun shrieked, fearfully. The demon
ignored her. It continued to rend
Shimada into bloody pieces, well after the last spark of life had fled the torturer's glassy eyes.
"Kazama!" Liu Kang hissed. "You must act now, while the
monster is distracted-"
"'Distracted'?" she echoed, in a horrified whimper.
"Pull yourself together, damn you! Can you not remove my
She wrested her eyes away from the bloodshed. "I-I don't
think - I mean, the collar has
a powerful ward on its lock. If I try to open it with anything except the key Lee wears, it
will probably kill you. Or me. But I might have a chance against your other shackles-"
"Then attend to the chains on my feet, now!"
Jun crawled toward him, as close as the brace around her
own ankles would allow. When
she stretched her arms to their furthest length, she was just barely able reach the locks that
secured the monk's feet to the wall. Though the collar around her neck disabled her sorcery, she
could still hear the whispers of the wind spirits. She beseeched them for guidance, and through the
motion of air currents, she felt the shape of the lock's inner mechanism.
Jun poked the tip of her unicorn-hilt dagger into the
keyhole. She had surreptitiously lifted
the weapon from Lee's boot, scant moments ago; now, the knife made an unwieldy, yet
serviceable tool. Her collar would not let her cast any spells to unlatch Liu Kang's locks, but that
sorcery was only an extension of her own knowledge. With the aid of the wind spirits, she could
sense and depress the tumbler just... about...
She did not pause to celebrate her accomplishment, but
rather set to work twice as quickly
on the lock that shackled Liu Kang's other foot. Undo a manacle, free an animal from its cage,
open a steel-jawed trap; in the end, how much difference is there between any of these
"Excellent," said Liu Kang. He landed on the ground in a
crouch, and stood as though being
strung against a wall for gods know how long had not stiffened his muscles in any way. Jun briefly
wondered how he'd gotten his hands free; then she saw that the joints of his thumbs' metacarpals
were folded underneath his palms at an unnatural angle. He'd dislocated his bones in order to slip
out his wrists.
Liu Kang effortlessly reset his joints. Perhaps his hands
would be sore for a little while, but
any damage he'd inflicted on them would rapidly heal. If only his feet hadn't been shackled, then
he would have turned on his captors well prior to this moment, but he couldn't dislocate his heels
in the same way. As it was-
-he had a severe problem. Demon-Lei had finished
butchering the torturer into
unrecognizable scraps of meat, and now it turned toward him. Light from the fire's embers framed
the demon in an unholy red glow, shifting shade from bright crimson to deep maroon, and
glimmering upon the sanguine fluid that soaked its arms.
"I always knew it would come to this, Wulong," the monk
said, turning the side of his body
to the demon, and raising his bent arms to shield his chest and abdomen.
"Liu, be careful," Jun pleaded. "If you can just knock him
out, he'll change back into
"Silence, woman. Do not distract me."
Jun swallowed, heavily. She dearly wished she had her
bracelet, for she could have used its
technology to subdue demon-Lei without hurting him. But the device was gone from her wrist;
her captors must have recognized it for the weapon it was, and confiscated it. There was nothing
she could do now except set to work on her own chains, and pray.
The lock sealing the braces around her ankles was
substantially harder to deal with. She had
to consciously block out the demon's incensed hissing and Liu Kang's piercing battle
cries while she worked. Just as the clasp broke open, and she could rub her sore ankles, she heard
two discordant sounds at once: the demon's wheezing sputter, and Liu Kang's pained
Jun looked up.
Three twining trails of liquid red marked a savage rupture
in Liu Kang's right
shoulder. The demon swayed, favoring its right leg, though there was no way to tell whether any
of its own blood had mixed with Shimada's.
The healer stood. Her joints and tendons protested the
strain; she ignored the stiffness,
saying, "Let me try to deal with him, Liu. I've subdued him once before-"
"I told you to be quiet! I shall crush this wretched beast, as
I will all who defy me!"
Human and demon clashed in a vicious tangle. The fiend's
claws struck for Liu Kang's chest,
yet even as its shoulder moved to take the action, the monk was already twisting to the side.
Demon-Lei's claws cleaved air alone. Liu Kang immediately took advantage of the opening; while
the demon recovered from the momentum of its swing, the monk slipped behind it, curled his arm
around its neck, and attempted to choke it into submission.
The demon reached behind itself, seizing Liu Kang's upper
arms. It bent in half, and its
superior strength easily pitched the monk over its head. Liu Kang landed on his feet, but not quite
The blood-red mark on demon-Lei's forehead changed
color to sparkling gold.
Shining radiance parted the ash-gray forelock in his sable
bangs. Demon-Lei straightened,
tilting his head back. His arms flexed at the elbows and flung wide. An infernal blast of golden
brilliance leaped from the center of his brow.
Liu Kang tried to dodge, but he was caught off-balance,
and could not recover quickly
enough to evade the instantaneous javelin of light. It touched him, enveloped him, consumed him
in a flash of golden fire, followed by rippling crackles of azure, indigo, and violet energy. He
screamed once and fell to his knees, his muscles limp and paralyzed.
The demon's serrated teeth glistened pearly white against
the shadows. It took hold of the
insensate monk's arms, ready to tear him apart just like Shimada.
"STOP IT!" Jun demanded. She rushed the demon and
rammed it with her shoulder.
The demon's left arm let go of Liu Kang and struck at her,
while its right arm flung the monk
into the wall. A heavy impact stunned Jun. Her teeth cut into the inner lining of her cheek, and her
face met the hard floor. A nightmarish past memory of being similarly attacked spiraled through
her mind; she pushed it away and did her best to stand, despite the uncoordinated dizziness that
made the shadowy surroundings reel like a horrific merry-go-round.
Somewhere in the swirling chaos, she glimpsed Liu Kang
sprawled and unmoving on the
floor. She could not count on any more help from him.
As this sober reality sank into her dazed mind, the wind
spirits screamed a warning into her
ears, and she retreated scarcely in time to evade a slash that would have shredded her stomach.
The demon snarled, stumbled, and lunged in a low, feline pounce. Its wicked claws cut deep into
her right thigh. Her muscles constricted with pain; she limped a step further back-
Her leg wouldn't work.
Jun did not look down upon her wound, but it hurt like the
hosts of perdition, and she could
put no weight on her limb. She lost her balance, and started to fall. Dangling wall-chains flashed
before her eyes; she grabbed them with one hand and hung on, using them to keep herself upright
as she dragged her good leg close enough to prop herself against the wall.
A scant few meters away, demon-Lei's blood-red, soulless
eyes stared into hers.
Fear devoured her. If she weren't giddy from a concussion,
if she could stand on her own, if
she could use her sorcery, she might stand a chance against the monster Lei had become. But
without the leverage to apply her own strength, her chances of turning his strength against him
were practically nil.
She still had the unicorn-hilt knife. When demon-Lei next
charged her, she could thrust the
weapon into his eye, impaling his brain. She would have to go for the kill; anything less would
leave him ample opportunity to gut her. If she could strike him dead on the spot, then maybe, just
maybe, she and Liu Kang would have a slim chance of completing their mission-
Tears brimmed in the healer's eyes.
Though the creature before her retained no spark of Lei's
conscious awareness, it still had
his face, and to kill one would be to kill the other. Her knife-hand shook; sweat covered her
palms, undermining her grip on the weapon and the wall-chain. Looking upon the demon, she
thought of Lei - his kindness, his quiet humility, his fierce loyalty to her and her friends. She
remembered the drowning sea of self-hatred that poisoned him on the inside, and the inlet of
compassion and caring that surfaced above it. She remembered how he had held her, in the hour
before dawn, when he had chosen to sacrifice his life for hers. And she remembered her feelings,
which she had uncertainly kept sealed within her own heart. At last, she recognized them for what
they were, and knew that she could never kill Lei.
Neither could she allow him to kill her. She thought of how
Lei had reacted when he
believed he'd slain Chief Thunder, and knew that to let Lei become her murderer would be as
cruel to him as killing him, if not more so.
What did that leave?
"Lei?" she softly implored, through the gathering tears.
"Isn't there any part of you that
The demon hunched in a half-crouch, and hissed like a
It was hesitating, but not from any recollection of goodwill.
No, it more likely remembered
that she had beaten it before, judging from the cautious glare of its eyes and the anxious tension in
its muscles. Once bitten, twice shy. Not for long, though; sooner or later, it would figure out that
she was crippled, and then it would move to finish her off.
"Lei? Please, don't you know me?" She gazed deep into the
demon's solid red eyes,
searching in vain for any trace of the person she cared so deeply about, the person she...
The person she...
Looks like you called it wrong, doesn't it? Well, look
Lei's voice sounded, not from the demon before her, but
from the recesses of her own
memory. The healer's eyebrows went down in puzzlement.
Look closer. Don't stop at the surface.
Jun looked, not only with her eyes, but with her soul.
She extended her senses, taking in the demon's rapid,
deepened breathing, its quivering
posture, and its breathy, constant hissing. Borne on the spirits of the wind, she could feel the
quickened pounding of its heart, and smell its increased perspiration amidst the charnel odor of
fresh blood. The healer was familiar with all these symptoms, and the natural reflex that prompted
In that moment, she perceived the truth. The truth that had
been before her all along.
"You're afraid," she whispered, lowering the knife.
The demon made a feral, hawking sound.
"Nightwolf said that you are the product of hatred, but
hatred is itself the product of fear,"
she continued, compassionately, without anxiety or anger. "Physical pain brings you to the
surface, and you remain in constant agony because Kazuya took your soul. You don't understand
what's making you hurt so badly or why; in confusion and terror, you lash out at everything
around you. You're like a wolf caught in a trap, who tries to bite anything that comes near
"It's all right. We're not here to hurt you." Leaning against
the wall to support herself, she let
go of the dangling chain and slowly held out her open hand, palm up.
The demon's legs coiled, preparing to launch it in a
Jun began to sing.
Jax's giant form swept away android and human enemies
alike. Yet just as the major led his
army into the syndicate's territory, he felt the harsh crackle of sorcery. Indigo Ki enveloped the
microcomputer he wore on his wrist. In an explosion of fiery sparks, the device shorted out. Five
seconds after that, he reverted to ordinary size, winded and all but helpless with exhaustion. He
swore a bitter curse.
"It's just as well," he heard Sonya mutter underneath the
chaotic din of battle. "Another
minute and that microchip would've killed you. At least now we're in enemy territory; all we have
to do is hold our position until-"
Nightwolf cried out.
He was not the only one. The emerald glow that had
shielded the Chosen Ones' warriors and
soldiers flickered; the army yelled as a few stray bullets made it past the projectile ward and
tore into their bodies. At the peak of their formation, Sonya saw one of her sub-lieutenants, Zeke,
go down, with a crimson stream flowing from what was left of his head. Baek Doo San, the
commander of Kazuya's human troops, laughed wildly as an indigo glow warded his forces from
return fire. The horde of enemy androids intensified their attack.
"Help me!" Nightwolf exclaimed, slipping to his knees.
"Kazuya is fighting my sorcery!"
Sub-Zero and Kung Lao were already there, supporting him, but the grim, strained look on
Sub-Zero's face did not bode well, and the dark shadow of Kung Lao's hat stopped just short of
"Chosen Ones, to me!" Nightwolf declared. "We
must all stand together if we are to
have any chance!"
Jax, weakened and winded, limped toward him. Kung Lao
clasped the major's hand. Kurtis
also joined the human chain.
Kabal grumbled, "No soy brujo-"
"You are Chosen by the gods, and that links us despite
your lack of Talent!" Nightwolf
shouted, answering the skepticism behind the words. Kabal took Stryker's hand.
Sonya turned, ready to delegate her command to Second
Lieutenant Sparky, but he had
already anticipated her need and taken charge. Raven coordinated her efforts with his, smoothing
the transition. Sonya took Jax's hand.
In a sudden, whirlwind rush of sensations, she felt Kazuya's
She could hear the agonized cries of the enslaved souls that
fueled it, and the relentless tidal
wave of his will pressing against her and her allies. His raging sea of hatred flooded her, drowning
her thoughts. Seven Chosen Ones struggled against the master sorcerer, and the whole of their
combined essence was many times greater than the sum of its individual parts, yet Kazuya had the
strength of two thousand souls behind him. His Power superseded the Chosen Ones' by a palpable
margin, slowly overwhelming them all, for the strongest of their number was somewhere within
the Mishima syndicate, unable to lend his aid.
And then withered, frail hands clasped Sonya's and Kabal's,
as an eighth person turned the
human chain into a circle. He filled Liu Kang's vacancy with the courage and wisdom of many
years. His composed, harmonious frame of mind eased the disjoint personality conflicts in their
group consciousness, and bolstered their combined Power to the point where they could, just
barely, resist Kazuya's efforts to destroy them. Nightwolf's projectile ward stabilized, though
Kazuya successfully kept his own troops similarly protected.
Sonya curiously regarded the newcomer who had turned
the tide, and was ultimately
not surprised to see Wang Jinrey. A gripping fear still troubled her.
"Isn't Kazuya supposed to be fighting Liu Kang, right now?
And if he is, then how can he
spare the effort to work sorcery? Unless Liu has already been..."
She trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence. Kung
Lao started to tell her that he'd
know if his Shaolin brother had perished, but remembered that Kazuya was watching them and
held his tongue.
"We must fight on," Wang insisted, with the
forceful self-assurance of a prophecy.
"Do not lose hope, else we shall lose all!"
Well, at least we've got Kazuya's attention, Sonya
thought to herself. Let's see
how long we can keep it.
Mellifluous singing filled Liu Kang's ears.
The last thing he remembered was being flung into the
wall. His head hurt from the sharp rap
against cold stone. How long had he been unconscious? Minutes? Hours? No, it couldn't have
been for too much time, because the lingering effect of demon-Lei's infernal blast still weakened
him. His muscles did respond to his wishes, just not as quickly or gracefully as he desired.
Endeavoring to remain silent, he pushed himself off the ground, and turned his head enough to see
She was holding the monster at bay.
Jun actually kept the fiend spellbound, wrapped in her web
of music. In the guttering
remnants of firelight, Liu Kang could hardly make out demon-Lei's shadowy outline, and Jun's
silhouette. She was wounded, able to stand only with assistance from the wall, yet her song had
an inner strength in distinct contrast to her external frailty. She sang a hauntingly beautiful,
wordless melody. The demon stayed in a partial crouch, its clawed hands poised like the forelimbs
of a praying mantis; it swayed in unconscious rhythm to her music, and did not attack.
When - no, how had Jun become so powerful that
she could bind a demon to
her will? How could she work sorcery, with the runic collar around her neck? For Liu Kang could
see the device's glint of gold, a tiny spark of reflected light against the uniform gloom.
No, questions later. For now, he had to deal with the
emergency. Jun could not hold the
monster off forever. Even now, Liu Kang could hear her tiring from blood loss, and the notes of
her music grew weaker.
The demon twitched, uncertainly. Liu Kang had to subdue
now, while it was still trapped in her snare. He crept nearer.
"Lei o ai shite-imasu," Jun softly called, tears trickling
down her cheeks.
The demon straightened.
Its head moved in response to the quiet pad of Liu Kang's
feet, and it started to turn around.
In a flash of instinct, Liu Kang knew that it was aware of him. He had only one chance. If he
attempted to choke the fiend, it would just throw him off again. If he tried for a head blow, he
might knock it senseless. Yet the monster had the strength of an elephant and the speed of a
cheetah, while the monk's muscles were still sluggish and unreliable. The demon might well evade
the attack, after which it would make short work of both Liu Kang and Jun, unless-
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.
Lei himself had said this, an unguessable amount of time
ago. In fact, the holster had slipped
in the wake of his shape-change and the struggle; it now dangled by his hip. Lei's own weapon
was in easy reach.
Liu Kang had less than an eyeblink to weigh his options,
select the surest one, and act upon
it. Without another thought, he seized the firearm and pulled its trigger. The demon still had not
completely turned around, and so the explosion hit it squarely in the back. It grunted and flopped
on the floor.
"Silence!" Liu Kang harshly snapped. "I have just saved
our lives, the only way I could!
Your spell was faltering-"
"THERE WAS NO SPELL!" she shrieked, trembling with
unchecked emotion. "You -
you're as much of a monster as Kazuya!"
"Perhaps. To fight monsters, one must sometimes become
a monster. Now, let me attend to
"If you come any closer, I'll kill you!" she warned,
brandishing her knife.
Liu Kang immediately stepped back, aiming his firearm.
"Do not move, demon, else I shall
The monk retracted his arms, holding the gun close to
himself with its muzzle pointed
skyward. "You are-?"
"Sane? More or less. Can I stand up now?"
"Are you not injured?"
"Well, I... wait. I remember. You shot me in the
"You do not sound wounded."
The cop eased to his feet, rubbing his spine with one hand.
"I think I've got a bruise the size
of a cantaloupe. It's only a bruise because I'm wearing a bulletproof gift from Sub-Zero. Good
thing you didn't know about it, or else you might have had the sense to aim for my head, you
"Lei, thank the gods," Jun sobbed. "I was terrified you
"You're bleeding," Lei realized, turning to her. "Aw,
"It will heal," she reassured, feebly.
Lei and Liu Kang helped her lie on the ground. Lei slipped
off the bloodstained azure
fighting coat he wore over Sub-Zero's textile armor, tore free a piece of its clean inner lining, and
pressed the piece against Jun's wound. Liu Kang wrapped the coat's black sash around the injury
to his shoulder. After a careful check for broken bones, Lei elevated Jun's legs above her
"What do we do now?" she asked, distantly.
"Now," Lei returned, "you are going to stay quiet and not
move, until you come out
"I mean, about the mission. We're trapped."
"Not for long. Sooner or later, Kazuya will send someone
to fetch me."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. The devious bastard never does anything without a
deeper purpose. I don't think he
sealed us in here just for the pleasure of watching me kill you. When his people come, we'll be
ready for them."
"They shall expect to find only you still alive," Liu Kang
speculated. "We shall turn that to
our advantage." He extended the handle of Lei's gun to the cop. "Allow me to return this. You are
far more skilled than I in its use."
Lei reclaimed his weapon. "You know, you're either very
brave or very trusting."
"Trusting. In your demon form, you have not the
intelligence to use it upon me; in human
form, you have not the desire."
"Oh, but you're wrong."
"I do have the desire; I'm just not going to give in
to it." Lei put away his gun.
"What I did, I did out of necessity. I cannot see in
near-total darkness, as you can, so that I
was unaware you had reverted to human-"
"Save it. Once we bust out of here, we're splitting up. You
protect Jun; I'll strike out on my
own. At least that'll reduce our chances of killing each other."
Jun started to speak a faint protest, but Lei cut her off
with, "Don't even say it. This is twice
now my curse nearly made me kill you; I'm not going to tempt fate a third time."
"You are outvoted, Kazama," Liu Kang serenely stated.
"Two against one."
Lee Chaolan unwrapped the bandage around his left
Its gauze was clean, of course; Kazuya had healed the
wound well before the silver-haired
devil had covered it. The bandage's only purpose had been to conceal the long, savage scar
running from his palm to inner elbow, a stark reminder of his suicide attempt. Now Lee cast limp
length of white cloth atop the paperwork on his desk, and wondered why he had bothered to hide
the scar at all.
Lee wondered why he bothered to do anything at all.
This medium-sized room wasn't exactly an office; it was
more of a storage bin. One big filing
cabinet, with records of all the prisoners who had ever resided in the surrounding cells, or who
slept in the vault beneath them. Lee wasn't sure why he kept track of their names and faces
anymore. Maybe just because it was something to do.
Lee opened Jun Kazama's file folder.
It contained a photograph he'd taken when she was fifteen.
The picture showed her sitting
on the hood of a school bus, during a warm spring day. A chipmunk perched on her slender
forearm; she smiled at it, benevolently. Next to the photograph, a sheet of paper listed the
upgrades of her status from "missing" to "at large," and then "captured." The tip of Lee's pen
touched the line below that, in preparation to writing "deceased."
He couldn't do it.
His pen quivered in his hand, until he had to set it down.
The silver-haired devil exhaled a
deep breath, and wiped his hand down the blackened burns that permanently scarred his face.
By now, he reasoned, Lei Wulong had almost certainly
killed his cellmates and reverted to human form.
Lee fingered the master key on a thick chain around his
neck. He thought of returning to that sealed slaughterhouse in order to retrieve Wulong, as
Kazuya had instructed. He thought of looking on the carnage within, and seeing what was left of
Jun's savaged body scattered upon the floor. A sickening urge to vomit coursed through his
innards. Then, it occurred to him that he didn't have to look.
Lee summoned Ishida and Kimura.
The matched pair of bodyguards responded promptly, as
always. For perhaps the thousandth
time, Lee studied their impenetrable dark glasses, conservative black suits, neatly cropped hair
and dispassionate demeanor, searching futilely for any distinction by which he could tell them
apart. As if it mattered. As if anything mattered.
"Bring Wulong to me," requested the silver-haired devil.
"Be careful; use tranquilizer guns
to pacify him, and see that he's effectively restrained."
They bowed and left without a word.
Lee's gaze drifted back to the photograph. Ashes from the
smoking cigarette in his mouth
spilled on it, obscuring Jun's picture in a crumbling haze.
Lee set the cigarette in an ashtray. His arms became
weaker; he rested them on the desk and
slowly put his head down, blocking out the world and almost everything in it.
Murderer, Michelle's soul whispered, her voiceless
accusation stabbing through the
depths of his mind.
Leave me alone, he thought back, defensively.
I did what I had to.
There was no other choice!
She laughed a maniacal scream.
He could feel the presence of other enslaved souls as well,
haunting him, clawing at him.
Mori's haughty scorn plied apart his resistance; Shimada's helpless plea joined in, begging to know
why he had been left to his fate. And more, thousands more, all the syndicate's victims weighed
like a headstone on Lee's own tomb. The silver-haired devil waited for Jun's disembodied voice to
find him, and drive him irreparably insane.
Something - a shift in the cries of the souls, a disturbance in
the air, the faint smell of drying
blood - warned him. He started to look up, into the path of a flying kick.
"KIAAAAAH!" The piercing battle cry fused with
the howling of the souls, giving a
solid voice to their inaudible outrage.
Lee reflexively tried to throw himself out of his chair;
instead of crushing his neck, the flexed
heel of his enemy wrenched his right shoulder, spinning him around. He dived, rolled, and rose
with his dagger in his hand. Then he saw who had attacked him, and nearly dropped his
"You," Lee gasped to Liu Kang, "you're dead-!"
"Stay back, Kazama," the monk warned, keeping his tawny
eyes fixed on his opponent.
"Chaolan is mine."
Behind Liu Kang, leaning against the doorway to the
record-keeping room, Jun looked at
Lee with a cold expression on her face. Her skin had a deathly anemic pallor, and part of Lei
Wulong's bloodstained fighting coat was tied around her right thigh.
Liu Kang glared at Lee with the wrath of a dragon, and
made another strike to Lee's throat.
Years of training saved the silver-haired devil. He stepped back, deflected the blow, and slashed at
the monk. For one, horrible moment, Lee thought that Jun's and Liu Kang's vengeful spirits had
come for his own soul.
Then he saw the red trickle, from a shallow gash he'd
inflicted on the monk's left upper
"You're not dead," Lee growled. "Dead men don't
Liu Kang warily circled the silver-haired devil.
"You're also unarmed."
"I need no blade," said the monk.
In one swift motion, Lee drew the dagger across his own
left upper biceps, leaving a shallow
wound that matched the monk's, and threw his knife into the wooden wall. The dagger embedded
its point an inch deep, and quivered like a bowstring.
Liu Kang's eyes narrowed.
"It's called a fair fight," Lee said, answering the question
behind the look.
"Fair," Liu Kang snarled, as though it were the foulest
Lee darted in close, sending his fists in two successive
punches to the monk's face, followed
by an elbow to the gut. Liu Kang responded with breathtaking grace; his forearm served as a
cross-guard one moment, and a weapon the next. He targeted Lee's elbow, striking it sharply, and
seized hold of the silver-haired devil's arms. Liu Kang turned and twisted his enemy's limbs in a
half-circle, expecting to hurl Lee in an overhead throw; the silver-haired devil anticipated and
jumped with the motion, using his enemy's own grip to turn him around and reverse the technique.
Liu Kang let go and kicked low to Lee's shin.
Lee also let go and jumped up, well above Liu Kang's kick,
snapping his legs in a vertical
scissors motion. His boots caught the monk's jaw, though not as directly as he would hope; Liu
Kang had managed to turn himself sideways and lean back, evading the worst of Lee's double
kick. Lee landed, dropping and sweeping his heel low to the ground, but Liu Kang had already
sprung away like tumbling acrobat, rolling and coming to his feet by the far corner. He spat out
blood and a broken tooth, assessing Lee with newfound respect.
Liu Kang was the Order of Light's grand champion, and
virtually undefeated in single
combat, but he was unaccustomed to opponents who could match his lightning speed, in thought
as well as reflexes. The last time he'd encountered any such had been a full year ago, in the Shao
Kahn's last Tournament; none of the disciples or allies he'd trained with since had the natural
talent to nullify this one, crucial edge. And so Liu Kang's greatest strength became his greatest
weakness, as he strived to remember a tactic that didn't involve taking advantage of a swifter
response time. Worse, the collar around his neck disabled his sorcery, preventing him from
focusing his Ki into offensive bursts of elemental Fire.
Then again, if he were free of the collar, he could just
assume his dragon form and incinerate
Lee. No point in brooding about that.
"You are fast," commented the monk.
"So are you," Lee replied, advancing cautiously.
"How did Kazuya break you?"
"Let me demonstrate."
Lee rushed closer, slashing his right heel on a
bone-crushing trajectory for Liu Kang's outer
knee. When the monk retreated, Lee pressed his attack by hopping closer and repeating the kick
two more times, until he'd backed Liu Kang in the corner; then he finished with a hook kick to the
midsection. The monk surprised him by slipping closer, face-to-face, and preventing Lee's final
kick with a double-handed clout to his enemy's thigh. Lee retracted his leg and snapped his right
hand in a backfist, but Liu Kang had already crouched low, well underneath the silver-haired
devil's knuckles. The monk immediately reversed his ducking motion, channeling his strength into
a forceful uppercut.
Lee's left forearm guarded against the attack, but since the
silver-haired devil was already
tentatively balanced on one leg, the barrier alone wasn't enough to stop Liu Kang's assault. The
monk's uppercut pushed past Lee's guard, digging into his lower lip and bowling him backward.
Lee twisted as he fell, hitting the ground in a lengthwise roll and springing to his feet in an instant
kippup. Liu Kang used the precious second he'd bought to escape the corner.
"Nice one," Lee said, wiping a crimson dribble from his
"I should hope so."
"But is it the best you can do?"
"Judge for yourself."
Liu Kang lunged closer, driving his left elbow toward Lee's
forehead. The silver-haired devil
stepped to the side, avoiding the attack easily, but it had been a feint; the true threat came from
Liu Kang's right hand, which landed a solid punch to Lee's solar plexus. Shock from the blow
registered on Lee's face, and another elbow hit him square on. Liu Kang kneed his solar plexus
again, stabbed at Lee's knee with his heel, and kicked twice more to Lee's midsection and upper
body. Lee finally wrenched his arms up in time to soften the last couple hits, but his face twisted
with tightly controlled pain. He retreated, whipping in a back handspring parallel to the wall, and
came to rest almost on his right knee, his right ankle sharply bent and his left leg held rigidly
square. Liu Kang charged him-
-and never saw, never had a chance to stop himself before
Lee thrust his right leg straight
up, in the monk's path. Lee's blazing kick cracked against Liu Kang's sternum; the silver-haired
devil lent a slight angle to its momentum, so that it knocked Liu Kang back against the wall. Lee's
torso dipped low for counterbalance, and at his fullest extension his heel pointed to the ceiling; he
dropped it down on the monk's head, and finished with a spectacular high flip.
Lee clipped his enemy's forearm with both insteps on the
way up; apparently, Liu Kang had
managed to resume his guard despite the punishment he'd endured. As Lee turned in midair, he
noticed that the monk had staggered closer to where the silver-haired devil would land. When Lee
touched the ground, his arms already formed a shield against Liu Kang's wild
swipe - a shield that seemed unnecessary when the monk's hand closed well short of Lee's
Then Lee felt a stiff tug on the back of his neck, and his
auburn eyes widened.
Liu Kang had grabbed the key on a metal chain around
Lee's neck, as it swung high
from the jolt of Lee's landing. Lee's first instinct was to duck and free his head from the chain, but
he knew that if he let Liu Kang have the key, he was finished. A split-second of paralyzed
indecision was all the monk needed; he slipped behind Lee and turned a virtual pirouette, twining
the metal chain.
Lee's hands went to his throat. The chain dug into his
windpipe with crushing force. The
metal links that constricted his neck were too thick to break apart, and Liu Kang had the chain's
slack entwined like a twist-tie about the back of Lee's neck, so that the silver-haired devil could
not free his head. Clutching at the tightening chain did little to help his air supply. He gnashed his
teeth and threw himself backwards, attempting to drive an elbow in the monk's stomach or
sandwich him against the wall. Liu Kang was ready for this, and adjusted the tension of his pull as
a tug-of-war team might brace its hold on a rope, keeping the noose around Lee's neck securely
Lee made a choking noise. Progressive weakness seeped
into his limbs; his lungs were
parched for want of air, and a numb sensation crept from his fingers and toes upwards. Liu Kang's
grating voice penetrated the foggy haze.
"'Fair'? 'Fair' indeed. You left us to die, hobbled by our
chains. 'Fair' has no meaning to
monsters such as you!"
The constricting vise around Lee's neck abruptly loosened,
but the pain in his windpipe
remained, and he gasped desperately for breath. He was only half-aware of the blows that battered
his face, ribs, gut, and thighs, and he could not defend against any of it.
"Or such as I," added the monk.
Still wheezing, Lee gained a fragmented glimpse of his own
unicorn-hilt knife in Liu Kang's
hand; the monk must have taken it out of the wall. Lee heard Jun ask a question he couldn't make
out, though Liu Kang's reply was crisp and distinct.
"No, Kazama, I shall not kill your precious fiancé. I
need only ensure that he will
Lee felt a cold, savage lash of renewed pain thrust into and
through his left knee. The source
of the pain twisted viciously, tearing apart the hinged joint, and then withdrew, leaving behind a
fountain of agony. The sharp-edged violence repeated itself on his right knee. His lungs heaved an
outcry, but their lack of breath reduced it to a whispery murmur.
Liu Kang took the master key off of Lee, and used it to
split apart his collar with a
satisfying click. The smile on his face became a sneer of victory, which in turn became a
roar of triumph, as he abandoned his human form for the coils and scales of a tremendous
"KAZUYA! I COME FOR YOU! YOU
WILL BURN!" boomed the great beast. A searing wave of fire
surged from its crocodile jaws, blasting a hole in the wall. Its scaled length lumbered through, and
its bellowed threats shook the syndicate to its foundations.
"Liu Kang, wait!" Jun shouted, limping after the behemoth.
"You're going the wrong way!"
Lee coughed. His fingernails dug into the floor.
Jun paused and looked at him. She recognized the
blue-grey tinge to his lips, eyelids, and
earlobes, and the strained rustle of his abortive attempts to breathe. If she turned her back on him
now, he would surely suffocate.
For the first time in her life, she was tempted to let a
Lee had served as Kazuya's right-hand man, a willing
accomplice to the sorcerer's crimes. He
had killed Michelle Chang. He'd abandoned Jun to suffer a gruesomely horrible death, abandoned
her soul to be trapped in Kazuya's diabolic web of torture. But the worst part, the part that made
her tremble with open loathing, was how he'd tried to make Lei her murderer. When she thought
of what that could have done to Lei, her hands clenched and her ginger eyes flashed with anger.
Even now, Lei had separated from her and Liu Kang, taking his chances on his own. She might
never see him alive again, and Lee was directly responsible.
She could leave Lee to die now, just as he had left her.
And she wanted to.
Merely wanting something didn't make it right, though, nor
did it justify compromising her
sworn oath as a healer. She might be surrounded by monsters, but damned if she was going to
become one herself.
All these thoughts flickered through her mind in less than
the second it took to retrieve the
master key and rid herself of the collar around her neck. Jun kneeled next to Lee, tilting his head
back and touching his mangled windpipe. With her will, her soul, and her music, she worked the
Power to undo damage and clear blockage. Lee coughed in response.
When she was done, his breathing resumed in a shuddering,
yet regular rhythm. He groaned,
mumbling something that she couldn't distinguish, and didn't care to.
"Urusai yo," she told him, curtly. She retrieved the bandage
on his desk, sliced it in half
with her knife, and wrapped the pieces around his wounded knees with brisk efficiency. "There.
At least now you won't bleed to death. Have the sense to lie still, and the rest of your injuries
should heal on their own. I don't have any more time or strength to waste on you; I need to catch
up with Liu Kang."
A moment of concentration mended the wound in her own
leg, though the increased
exhaustion of her psyche offset her renewed physical stamina. In this syndicate within a wasteland,
far removed from any ecosystem of natural life, her Talent was infinitely more draining.
Shouldering the burden of fatigue, she stepped through the smoldering hole that the dragon had
made in the wall.
"Mata... nigeru no ka?" Lee gasped, plaintively.
Jun spared him a final, contemptuous glance over her
shoulder. "After we break Kazuya's
Power, I will see you held accountable in a court of law for all your crimes, starting with the
murder of my friend, Michelle."
With that, she sprinted after the dragon.
<Not again,> Lee called after her, through the
delirium that clouded his mind. He
struggled to lift his head off the floor, and managed to push himself up on his left forearm,
stretching his other hand after her retreating figure. <You're not... running away from me
Michelle's soul screamed a maniacal laugh.
End of Chapter 20: Monsters