ASHES OF THE PHOENIX
written by Victar, e-mail email@example.com
Victar's Archive: http://www.victarfanfics.com
Chapter 24: The Greatest Power
"Where there is great love, there are always
-Willa Cather, Death Comes
for the Archbishop
Lee held up one hand in a gesture of warning. Liu Kang
eyed him, warily.
Lee removed his arm from around Jun's shoulders, and
struggled to remain standing without
her assistance. He had to lean heavily against the wall, for he was still weak from recently suffered
shock and blood loss. A brief grimace contorted the ugly, blackened fire-scars that disfigured his
Lee brushed back a stray lock of his ragged silver hair. He
resolutely fixed his auburn eyes
ahead, upon the steel door that barred their path - if a door it could be called. It
seemed more like a sliding panel, securely embedded in its surrounding frame. Instead of a handle,
there was an impressive array of square-shaped buttons and dim, steady lights. A camera lens
peered from a mounted post above.
Supplanting the technology, Liu Kang could feel the
ominous presence of an intricate
sorcerous ward, brimming with deadly paranoia and fueled by the immense Power of three
thousand enslaved souls. Liu Kang glanced at Jun.
"I've never been down here before," she said, answering the
question behind the look. "I
didn't even know this place existed."
"Kazuya added the vaults after he took over the syndicate,"
Lee rasped. "Stay back, both of
you. I have to give the security clearance." He staggered a step toward the doors, and nearly
collapsed from the exertion.
"Perhaps I could assume my dragon form and force my
way through," Liu Kang offered.
Lee shook his head. "The sensors are equipped with both
sorcery and technology, and the
defenses are programmed to disintegrate intruders - or as a last resort, to kill the sleepers. Not
even a shape-shifter or a teleporter could avoid setting off the traps. Kazuya made sure of
Step by slow, halting step, he limped the rest of the way to
the door, using the wall to
partly support his weight. The camera lens tracked him, until it angled straight down as he rested
his palm on a smooth black panel. Lights flashed in response.
The dispassionate words filtered through a speaker grate in
front of Lee. Jun's eyes grew wide.
"Why is the computer speaking with my voice?" she asked,
with a shade of troubled
Lee turned partway toward her, though he hesitated to
make eye contact, and shrugged
uncomfortably. "I missed you."
"It's me," the silver-haired devil muttered to the speaker
grate. "Lee Chaolan."
Recognition pending. Please
stand by. Strobe patterns
flickered on Lee's face,
and there came the soft humm and whirr of mechanical activity.
Palm print: match. Retina
scan: match. Voiceprint: slight
disparity. Facial depiction: severe disparity.
"That's because Kazuya tortured me, you stupid machine!"
Lee snapped, slamming his fist
against the grate. The whirring sound became noticeably louder.
EEG patterns: match. Identity
confirmed. Welcome, young
master. How may I please you? it said, in that eerie rendition of Jun's voice. The healer
blanched, then glowered at Lee.
"Code white," the silver-haired devil continued, ignoring
Jun's scowl. "The New Era has
dawned. Begin the Lazarus procedure for all units, all at once."
Chaolan authorizes the Lazarus
procedure, simultaneous for mass cryogenic suspension units Alpha through Omega.
"Yes. Do it."
Lee's lips curled into the barest, thinnest smile. "O brave
new world, that has such people in
The steel door slid open with one swift motion. A blast of
icy frigid air came from beyond.
Jun shivered and hugged herself, as the intense cold raised goosebumps on her skin.
Kazuya's death-web constricted Lei like the coils of a
gigantic snake. Helplessly dragged to
hands and knees, Lei could not move, could not breathe, and a dark curtain was gradually blotting
out his thoughts. He waged a losing battle with unconsciousness, and had almost succumbed
when suddenly, he felt a change in the necromantic strands that bound him.
Their pressure slackened, enough to let him take an
unsteady breath. He struggled to stand;
it was like trying to swim upward through tar. The enmeshing strands were reluctant to give way,
but he could feel their strength lessening with each passing second. Though he couldn't quite raise
his eyes from the floor yet, he could clearly hear the shock in Kazuya's voice.
"What...?" The master sorcerer stiffened. He twisted about,
glancing from mirror to mirror
within his inner sanctum. "What is happening? Show me!" A virtually frantic wave of his hand
filled the looking glasses with images of the syndicate.
"No," Kazuya whispered. "No, it cannot be..."
Lei tried again to lift his head, and this time succeeded; he
could almost hear the silent
snap of the death-web's stands breaking apart. He looked in the multitude of mirrors,
which seemed to cover every inch of ground within and without the syndicate. Each looking glass
showed the same thing:
Thousands of them!
They swarmed through the syndicate's corridors, smashing
its furnishings and shouting
incensed yells. As one great mass, they poured through its gates, attacking the syndicate's Jack-2
android militia with unstoppable fury. Just past the syndicate's outer borders, Major Jackson
Briggs sounded a call to arms and led his army in a renewed frontal assault, trapping the
syndicate's human defenders as if between a set of pincers.
"No!" Kazuya exclaimed, dementedly. "The
sleepers cannot be awake! It's too soon,
I don't have enough Power to control them-!"
The Jack-2 androids were tough, but they were also slow,
predictable, and outmatched by a
horde of the world's finest fighters, chosen for their strength by Kazuya himself. Foremost among
the multitude, Lei recognized individuals from the Iron Fist Tournament, inciting and leading the
A hot-blooded fighter with garish yellow hair slicked
straight up like a circus freak used a
standing footsweep to trip one robot, then rammed his elbow into it with a massively powerful
push, capped with a brilliant eruption of orange-gold Chi. A lean, wiry martial artist kicked
another android into the air as he executed a backflip, then catapulted the machine higher with a
second, even more spectacular aerial twirl. A wrestler in a jaguar mask gripped another robot by
both legs and swung it in circles. He built up torque until at last he hurled the android into still
more enemies, and brought them all down in a noisy clatter of dented metal.
In the center of the maelstrom, Liu Kang had transformed
into a dragon. The tremendous
beast lumbered onto the battlefield, reared on its mongoose legs, and spewed its fiery breath. Its
flames reduced scores of androids into heaps of molten slag, clearing a path between the newly
awakened mob and the Chosen Ones' army. Dragon-Kang lifted his crocodile jaws to the sky and
bellowed his challenge.
SYNDICATE IS OURS, KAZUYA!
IF YOU WANT IT BACK, YOU MUST COME AND TAKE IT!"
"NO!" the master sorcerer shrieked. His hands tore
at the stiff spikes of his jet black
hair. More strands of his death-web broke apart. Lei remembered what Wang Jinrey had said -
that Kazuya's Power was inseparably tied into his ownership of the soul-snaring grid embedded
within his syndicate - and renewed hope surged within the cop's heart.
Kazuya raved, "This is IMPOSSIBLE! No one could
bypass the sleepers' defenses! No
one could activate the Lazarus procedure! NO ONE! Only Chaolan and I have the security
The closest mirror zoomed in on a picture of Lee and Jun.
Lee's face was pale, and he leaned
heavily against the wall to support himself. Jun seemed to be telling him something; he shook his
head in response.
"Chaolan," Kazuya repeated, in horrified astonishment.
"Chaolan has awakened the sleepers.
Chaolan was to ensure Kang's and Kazama's destruction, and yet they live!" Shock twisted into
vehemence as the master sorcerer clenched his hands. He trembled with ire. His furor peaked in a
"HE HAS BETRAYED ME!"
"Now do you understand, Kazuya?" Lei pressed, teetering
off-balance as he fought to
wrench his legs out of the fading mire that held them. "You've gambled the whole world that
you've got the strength to conquer the Shao Kahn, but it's not even your strength that you're
betting on! You've stolen it all from three thousand souls; without their help, what do you have
"Urusai!" the master sorcerer snapped, whirling
"Give yourself up. Surrender to the Chosen Ones. You can
expect more mercy from them
than you ever gave any of your victims!"
Kazuya's jet black eyes changed color to blood-red.
"No," he seethed, calculated malice permeating his
composure. "I possess one last weapon
to use against them. I possess you. Your Power as a reagent shall infinitely amplify mine,
and I shall eradicate the invaders who infest my syndicate!"
"It isn't going to happen."
Sharp crackles of indigo Ki laced Kazuya's left fist as he
brought it up, clenching it on level
with his chin. "I shall obliterate all resistance from your human persona, and your demonic
persona is innately subject to my will!"
He charged the cop head-on, sharply angling his left fist as
he swung it in a curving motion
from down to up, targeting the ribcage. A similar blow from his right fist followed. Lei's feet were
still trapped in the crumbling strands of the death-web; he couldn't adjust his stance in time. He
brought both arms up to ward against Kazuya's dual attack, but even blocked, Kazuya's force was
so great it buffeted the cop backwards. Lei's thigh muscles strained to keep himself upright as he
resisted Kazuya's two lightning-swift punches to the face, followed by a snapping right-hand
backfist. When Lei pushed against the backfist with his open palm, indigo crackles of the master
sorcerer's Ki flashed in front of his eyes, blinding him in a sudden rush of light. Sightless, Lei
knew that something was wrong when the blow itself weakened to a mild tap, but by then
it was too late. The full, redirected force of Kazuya's momentum channeled through his left fist,
and plunged into Lei's abdomen like a cannonball.
"AAH-ugh!" Lei gasped, clutching at his gut with both
arms and doubling over. He fell to
his knees. The last strands of the death-web faded to nothingness, but they had served
their purpose by trapping him long enough to succumb to Kazuya's feint. The scar that Kazuya
had inflicted on Lei's chest burned like an inferno. Feral darkness combined with the aching,
heaving urge to retch.
Lei had felt this ominous press before. Each time, it had
consciousness in a black curtain. Each time, it had subsequently let him awaken amidst brutal
slaughter, with fresh blood on his hands.
"Now you are wholly mine," Kazuya pronounced, his
words inflamed with possessive
exultation. "Embrace the Power, and become like me; or fight against it, and become a mindless
beast. Either way, you are subject to my dominion, and I have won!"
On the battlefield outside the syndicate, the tide had turned
once more - this time in favor of
the Chosen Ones and their allies. Thousands of newly revived sleepers, angry over their
kidnapping and led by the top-ranking contestants of the Iron Fist Tournament, swarmed upon the
syndicate's forces like a voracious column of army ants. To practically the last man, the awakened
sleepers were battle-hardened, blood-sport fighters, warriors, and killers, especially handpicked
for their lethal skill, and they tore apart the Jack-2 androids with ease.
Jax led his one thousand troops from Sanctuary in a
renewed assault against the syndicate's
five hundred human defenders. The major's advantage was not only in numbers. Nightwolf's
projectile ward shielded the Chosen Ones' army from enemy bullets, yet this time, no such
protection appeared about Kazuya's troops. Jax did not question his good fortune; he simply
seized advantage of it. In scarcely the blink of an eye, his army's gunfire cut down the syndicate's
first rank of defenders like red-trimmed stalks of grain.
Then the dragon reared its terrible head.
it roared. "LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS, OR
YOU WILL BURN!"
Almost in unison, the rest of them surrendered.
All except one.
Commander Baek Doo San laughed, wickedly, as he
brandished a Centaurian-bone sword
and Centaurian-hide shield. He'd disdained to use either armament before, but that was when
Kazuya's sorcery had protected him. Now, he raised his supernaturally hard shield to deflect
bullets; Lieutenant Sonya Blade barked an order to cease fire, lest her own troops be struck by
ricochets. Kabal struck with his hook-tipped weapon; Baek caught its curve on the edge of his
shield and shoved the wielder aside. The commander turned and kicked at Stryker's baton, and his
heel crushed bones in Stryker's right hand. Sub-Zero attempted to freeze the commander with
elemental Power; Baek's shadow-hawk swooped down from above and clawed at the scientist,
causing his icy blast to veer wide. Even the dragon appeared uneasy at taking on the mad
commander, who was armed with the very weapons that had nearly slain it a few days earlier. Yet
before Baek could come within range of dragon-Kang's crocodile jaws, a smaller, faster shape
darted between the two of them.
"Everyone, back! He MINE!" Seung Mina shrilled, hefting
the new weapon Kung Lao had
conjured for her use. It was the Tiger Fang, a thick blade with a sharp-angled tip mounted on a
long iron pole. The weapon appeared heavy, unwieldy, yet she handled it with consummate
"You," she accused the commander, "you from my
country, my home. You murder my
friends! You disgrace our ancestors, and bring shame to Land of Morning Calm! I challenge you
Baek's lips spread in an evil smile. His shadow-hawk
voiced an inhuman screech.
"The girl is insane," Stryker grumbled, awkwardly drawing
his taser with his left hand. "All I
need is one clear shot-"
dragon-Kang. "DO NOT INTERFERE. THIS IS
NO LONGER WAR; IT HAS BECOME A MATTER OF HONOR."
Not even Jax seemed inclined to argue with the tremendous beast.
"YAAAH!" Seung Mina screamed, rushing her opponent
with an unbelievably swift
succession of jabs. Baek's shadow-hawk swooped toward her face. When Baek raised his shield
against the blade of her Tiger Fang, she ducked low and pivoted on one leg, striking
underneath the shield's protection with her heel. The shadow-hawk's talons, which had come
perilously close to savaging her sepia eyes, grazed the back of her neck instead. Baek swung his
sword down at the same moment as her kick knocked his foremost leg out from under him;
falling, he was unable to put the brunt of his strength behind the blade, so that it only slashed her
thigh rather than slicing off her leg.
Baek went mad at the sight of her blood.
He hurled his shield at her, and charged after it without
reason, wildly swinging his sword
and laughing like a lunatic. She raised her Tiger Fang, bringing its pole against the flat of his blade
- a move that saved her life, or else the unnaturally sharp, Centaurian-bone edge would have
cleaved her weapon and her body in half. Seung Mina did not stop there, though; she forced the
pole of her Tiger Fang further forward, until it rammed against Baek's neck and cut off his
maniacal screams. He tried to kick her, but she had already left the ground, leaping over his head
like an acrobat on parallel bars. She landed on his other side, using momentum and adrenaline to
haul him over her own head by the hold on his neck. Baek crashed into the ground face-first.
The shadow-hawk dived at Seung Mina again. She
whipped her Tiger Fang in an arc from
left to right, using the flat of its blade to smack the bird out of the air. Then she turned her
weapon in line with her arms, setting it like a spear, and waited for Baek to rise. He laughed as he
did so, though a wheezing rattle interrupted his mania. Without any pretense of caution or
strategy, he made a reckless, full-forward lunge for her.
Seung Mina did not hesitate. She thrust her Tiger Fang into
and through his abdominal
Baek shuddered and dropped his sword. His shadow-hawk
screeched a discordant
lamentation and fluttered to his shoulder. He helplessly grasped the shaft that impaled him. A
growing splotch of red oozed from both sides of his wound; he slipped to his knees, staring up at
Baek's lips moved. For the first time in years, ever since
he'd killed his father and
damned himself, he spoke words that were neither a command, nor a response to a question.
"K-... komapso..." He squeezed his sorrel eyes shut; a
sparkling glint of moisture appeared in
their corners. His right hand fumbled for an oval-shaped, ebony locket on a white cord around his
Seung Mina gritted her teeth, and gave her Tiger Fang a
<I... I thought I would go on killing and killing, killing
forever; I thought the blood would
never stop... thank you... th-thank->
"YAH!" she shouted, planting her heel on his shoulder and
pulling her weapon out of him
with a vicious wrench. Blood dribbled from Baek's mouth; he collapsed in a spreading pool of dull
The ebony locket fell from Baek's hand. His shadow-hawk
wings and made one last, echoing cry, as its black shape slowly dissolved into nothingness. Its
eyes of red fire dimmed to cinders, then winked out.
Seung Mina kneeled on the bloodstained ground, and
retrieved the ebony locket. A touch of
her index finger flicked it open, revealing the black-and-white photograph of a young boy and the
father who had loved him.
She wasn't aware Liu Kang's shape-shift to human form, or
his advance; he just seemed to
appear beside her, appraising her with what could only be called wonder. "Kung Lao was correct
about you. You truly are worthy of induction within the Order of Light."
Kung Lao approached Seung Mina's other side. With a
downward glance to Baek's lifeless
body, the younger monk asked, "What did he say to you?"
"Nothing," she quietly answered, closing the locket and
curling her fingers around it,
protectively. "It no matter."
Kung Lao turned to his Shaolin brother. "Liu, what
happened? Where are Lei and Jun? Did
you challenge Kazuya?"
The elder monk's tawny eyes widened. "Gods - I had
forgotten! In dragon form, it is so
difficult for me to remember-!"
"I came to warn you all. Kazama is fine, yet my divinations
can locate neither Lei
Wulong nor Kazuya Mishima. My conclusion is that they are both within the sorcerer's inner
sanctum. I have not the Talent to open the portal into his domain; we must pray that one of us can
do so, and we must set to the task at once!"
"What's the big hurry?" Stryker interrupted, cradling his
injured hand. "We've taken over
Kazuya's syndicate; he's nearly powerless now, right?"
Liu Kang shook his head. "The blame is partly mine. I
should have listened to the healer's
wisdom, and not let Wulong split apart from us. I fear that he has gone to challenge the sorcerer
on his own."
"So? What's the worst that can happen?"
"Do you recall what Wulong and Kazama did to the army
that invaded Sanctuary?"
"Yeah. So you're saying..." Gradually, the frightening
realization worked its way into
Stryker's thoughts, until his face drained of all color. "Uh-oh."
It is like drowning, or falling into a bottomless pit.
I possess one last weapon to use against them. I possess
The harder he struggles, the more deeply the darkness pulls
Your demonic persona is innately subject to my
This is his last chance - failure this time does not mean that
he will cause just one death, or
several. If he becomes the demon now, it will be the end of the Chosen Ones, and all who fight
alongside them. It will be the end of hope. It will be the end of the world.
Faces flicker before him, speaking with voices pulled from
You are a demon because your hatred rules you,
Nightwolf tells him with calm,
matter-of-fact authority. However, there is also good inside of you, and strength, and caring.
You need to recognize and embrace these qualities within yourself. Only through this can the
curse be broken.
It is a fine thing to suggest, but it's nothing more than
words, abstract concepts.
You have to let go, pleads his lost partner.
How? For what seems like his entire life, he's thought of
himself as worthless, lowest of the
low, a piece of alcoholic gutter trash who poisons the lives of everyone he touches...
You really ought to give yourself a break, Kung
How do you make yourself feel something? How
do you tell yourself you are a good
person, when you don't believe it and never have?
Lei o ai shite-imasu, Jun softly calls, tears trickling
down her cheeks.
What does that mean?
In a burst of desperate insight, he recalls that the last time
he fell victim to the demon within,
Jun restored his humanity. He thinks of the song she was singing, of its haunting,
ethereal beauty, and clings to it as if it were driftwood in the middle of an ocean. Remembering
the angelic melody brings tears to his eyes, and staves off his final plunge into the darkness for a
precious instant longer, but he can still feel his hold on consciousness slipping.
Lei o ai shite-imasu.
What does that mean? Why does it feel so important? He
dearly wants to ask her, and can't
remember why he didn't when he had the chance. Was it because the question had escaped his
mind? Or was it because he had been afraid of what the answer would be?
Why would he be afraid of the answer?
Lei o ai shite-imasu.
He can practically see her standing before him, holding out
her hand. She is so beautiful.
Everything about her is beauteous; her face, her voice, her kindness, and especially her soul. He
yearns to protect her, to be with her, yet how can he ever hope to be worthy of her? To so much
as exist in her shadow? How-
Lei o ai shite-imasu.
Though the words are unfamiliar, he has seen that look in
her eyes before. It was there when
she pleaded with him to join her patrol. It was there when she fought and struggled on his
execution field, when she begged the very gods to save him. It was there when she embraced him,
in jubilant rejoicing. And it is the same thing he has felt in his own heart, all this time.
At last, he knows.
At last, he understands.
You think of yourself as 'worthless,' but a 'worthless'
person wouldn't do these
things. It is the truth. Not because she has said it, but because he has done things that
he knows to be good, and strives to do even better, despite all that conspires against him.
Don't be afraid. You are at heart a good person; no
curse can change that. Trust in me.
Trust in yourself.
I... I can, he tells her, gathering his strength and
resolution. I do. I will.
He acknowledges the sources of his self-hatred. Guilt and
pain, grief and rage; if he did not
feel these emotions, he would not be human. Yet their insidious domination is what separates him
from her, isolating him in a glass cage he has built around himself. The only way to be free is to
release their hurtful control over his life. Admit to the feelings and the fears, but never let them
take away your hope - whether it is hope for a better tomorrow, or hope for a better you.
He accepts who he is, and aspires to what he can
He renews his commitment to what is good, and his
determination to do what is right.
He lets the hatred go.
I love you, Jun.
The glass cage shatters into a thousand pieces, and the
darkness shatters with it.
"What - what is happening?" Kazuya questioned,
uncertainly. "Why aren't you changing
Lei crossed his arms in front of his chest. Azure Chi flared
from his hands, spreading to
engulf his entire body in a single flame.
"This is not possible!" the master sorcerer exclaimed. "You
share my Power! You are under
Lei assumed the Stance of Phoenix Illusion. Balancing on
his right leg, with his right arm
arced above his head and his left bent across his chest, he lifted his left knee above the waist.
"NO!" Kazuya howled. "It cannot be!"
"Your curse has no hold on me," Lei said, even as his Chi
concentrated into a blinding
azure-white star, centered about his bent leg. "I have found the Power to break it - the greatest
Shock and panic kept the master sorcerer rigidly captive, as
paralyzed as his death-web had
held Lei a scant few moments ago. Kazuya could not think, could not react to the turn and spin of
Lei's leaping Phoenix Kick. At the last moment, the sorcerer tried to create a mystic barrier to
protect himself, but it was too little, too late. Lei turned in a counterclockwise midair crescent,
dropping his heel across Kazuya's face and chest in a supernatural explosion of Chi.
The master sorcerer hurtled into and through the nearest of
his mirrors, which fractured into
a cornucopia of shards. Beyond, the riveted metal floor extended into a short ledge, which ended
in a sheer drop against empty darkness. Kazuya landed painfully on his back.
Lei finished the symmetry of his style's single most
powerful attack with a smooth landing
spin, and saw where the master sorcerer's form had come to rest.
Then he froze with horror as Kazuya changed.
The sorcerer rolled and crouched on one knee. His skin
turned livid blue, with dark purple
veins. Folding, batlike wings split from the upper half of his dress suit, shredding it to scraps of
fabric. Wickedly recurved talons sprouted from his hands and feet, splitting his polished black
shoes into disjoint pieces of leather. A blood-red, inset gem shined in the center of his
Devil Kazuya screamed.
As if in sympathy with the keening wail, all the rest of his
mirrors broke apart in one great
shatterstorm. Lei threw his arms over his head, and huddled face-down on the floor; shards of
glass cut his arms and his back, tearing his clothing, and crisscrossing him with bloody
Devil Kazuya attacked.
"Come on, Lee," Jun urged. "You've rested for long
enough. We have to join Liu Kang and
the others on the battlefield."
The silver-haired devil shook his head. "You go on."
"Don't argue, Jun-chan. Just do it."
"Why are you trying to get rid of me?"
"Why should you care?"
Her ginger eyes narrowed, and suspicious caution
supplanted their concern. "You still have a
lot to answer for. Just because you helped us doesn't mean I'm going to let you escape."
"Ah." He chuckled, as if enjoying a private joke.
"I mean it."
"Of course you do. That's what makes it funny." An
inscrutable half-smile briefly flickered
across his lips. "Well, if you must know, I'm waiting for a 'friend,' of sorts. He was stored in
cryogenic unit Theta, but I expect he's searching the syndicate for me right now. We have some
unfinished business to settle, and you don't really need to be around for it. So you go on ahead,
Jun-chan; I'm sure the battlefield has plenty of wounded who need your help. I promise I won't be
"Who is this 'friend'?"
Lee seemed about to answer, when his face abruptly turned
cold and expressionless. He
looked over her shoulder and nodded, slightly. Jun turned around.
Standing behind them both was a tall, black-haired
Cherokee man dressed in military
fatigues. His eyebrows angled down in the fierce set of hatred. He had gotten ahold of a knife and
cut his face with it; red trails formed slanted lines across his cheeks, like vivid war-paint. He
gripped the weapon in his hand, and pointed it at Lee's heart.
"Catsclaw!" the healer gasped. "You're alive! We thought
the rest of our patrol had been
"They were," growled the soldier. "All except me. Get out
of the way, Kazama."
"This doesn't concern you, Jun-chan," Lee stated,
dispassionately. "I promised the sergeant
another chance at me, when the New Era dawned." He pushed himself away from the wall, in an
effort to stand unaided; a spate of dizziness made him clutch at his forehead and sway.
"No. Stop this, both of you."
"Your face has changed, Chaolan," Catsclaw spat, noticing
the jagged burn-scars that
stretched from Lee's lower eyelids to his chin. "Did one of your victims do that to you?"
"Considering that I've betrayed him, I suppose you could
call him that," Lee mused,
positioning his arms in a wavering defensive guard. "I don't think I'm in any shape to give you
much sport, though. Sorry."
"You're not in chains; that's more of a chance than you
gave Dark Mane."
"I know," the silver-haired devil replied, softly. "I thought I
was granting her a quick death,
instead of a slow and torturous one. But if I hadn't killed her..." a heavy thread of emotion choked
his voice, and he had to swallow a lump in his throat. "If I hadn't killed her, she might still be
alive. She might have been rescued, or fought her way free by now."
Lee took a step forward, but Jun could see in his eyes that
he had no intention of harming
Catsclaw, or fending off the knife that pointed to his own heart.
"I said stop it!" Jun demanded, directly interposing
himself between both men.
Catsclaw's grim expression exploded into outrage. "He is
Kazuya's chief lackey! He
murdered Dark Mane - you knew her as your friend, Michelle Chang!"
"And he'll answer for his crimes in the Nation's court of
law! But on the day of his trial, I
will testify that he saved my life, and Liu Kang's, and risked his own to set you all free.
More than ever now, we have a chance of winning this war, and it's because of what Lee had the
courage to do!"
"You can ignore her," Lee cordially suggested. "She's
exhausted. If she tries to cast a barrier
spell, she'll collapse from the strain."
Catsclaw's sharp-cut features tightened in an animal snarl.
"I don't care what you've done in
a pitiful attempt to gain her sympathy. You're a murderer, and you will face justice. Now."
"You don't want justice!" Jun rebuked. "You're out for
revenge, and you know it! Don't you
have a degree in criminal law? Doesn't the principle of a fair trial mean anything to you?"
Lee threw his head back and laughed out loud. Jun and
Catsclaw both stared at him with
"Sorry," he finally managed to say. "It's just that you have
no idea how wrong you are,
Jun-chan. I'm not going to be dragged in front of some Indian jury. No, sergeant," and his
vanished as swiftly as it had come, leaving behind only emotionless indifference. "If you still want
your revenge, this is your last chance to come and get it."
"Catsclaw, don't," Jun insisted. Weak, fading sparks
of white Ki flickered on her
fingers, though the effort made her hands tremble. The sergeant moved to shove her aside-
-and a clawed, scaly, three-fingered hand clamped on his
It was Alex. Three infant reptiles clung tightly to her back
and neck. She rumbled a series of
growling, clicking noises to the sergeant. He bared his teeth at her; her jaws snapped open and
shut scarcely an inch from his nose.
Catsclaw paused for one last glower at Lee, then turned
and left for the battlefield. Alex
"Wh-what was that all about?" Jun wondered, staring at the
bipedal reptile's retreating back,
and the younglings that rode on it.
"The lizard knows," Lee muttered. "Don't ask me how.
Animal instinct, maybe."
"Knows what? That you wanted him to kill you? I could
see that clearly enough."
Lee shook his head. "I didn't 'want' him to knife me, but at
least it would've been quick and
"Lee, you may have heard some bad rumors about the
Nation's court system, but no matter
what sentence they hand down, you won't be tortured. I'll see to it, I swear."
The silver-haired devil made no response; he just leaned
against the wall again, and closed
Lei's silver-bladed fighting knife was less than a stick
against Devil Kazuya's tough skin. A
single slash of those deadly claws ripped gaping welts down the length of Lei's right arm, forcing
him to drop the useless weapon. Devil Kazuya pressed his attack with brute force. His speed was
mesmerizing, his strength unsurpassed. His blows could not be blocked, for their sheer power
plowed through any attempt at defense; Lei's only options were to dodge or retreat.
Yet Devil Kazuya possessed cunning as well as brawn.
When Lei tried to take the offensive
and dart close enough for a step-in crescent kick, his enemy sidestepped with unimaginably
perfect timing, slipping past Lei's attack and countering with a brutal succession of
punches. Lei reeled as the devil pummeled his face straight-on, turned for a backfist, then kicked
high, crushing Lei's clavicle into a synaptic blare of hurt. Defense was impossible; it took
everything Lei had just to stay conscious.
Devil Kazuya dipped low. The talons on his feet slashed
Lei's leg, undercutting the cop's
balance, yet before he could tip over the devil hit his face again with the left hand, surged forward
with an uppercut from the right, then crouched and sprang with a supremely charged, jumping
uppercut. The devil's wings flapped for assisted lift as his clawed fist crashed into Lei's chest and
chin, breaking ribs and hurling the cop onto a bed of mirror-shards. Trembling with agony and
blood loss, Lei tried to stand up; his gashed leg slipped, and he fell back down. He slowly rolled
on his stomach, leaving behind a spattering of red upon the glass fragments.
"By sssorcery or force, I shall
control you!" Devil
Kazuya snarled. Hatred glowed in his blood-red eyes, making them burn like coals as he
advanced. Lei remained motionless until the devil was only a couple meters away.
Then the cop sprang into action.
"Aa-SHU!" he cried, coiling and pushing off from the
ground in a skid. He slid into Devil
Kazuya feet first, kicking his enemy's legs out from underneath him. The devil voiced a cry of
Lei painfully rose to one knee. Performing the sudden slide
had cost him. Getting up cost
him even more. Breathing hurt. His gashed arm had gone numb, his kicked leg protested in the
extreme when he put any weight on it, and he didn't dare look at how much of his own blood
matted his hair and his clothing. His desperate maneuver had bought him a little time, and the
advantage for one more attack, but if he failed, he would not rise again. His best, and perhaps
only chance was to lash out in the one way that would cause the most pain.
"Give up your nightmare of a dream, Kazuya!" Lei spat
through bloodied lips. "It's no
different from your father's!"
the devil. The luminance of its
blood-red eyes escalated to a bonfire blaze.
"I know because I've studied Heihachi Mishima as
thoroughly as everyone else in the Iron
Fist Tournament. He wanted to make the world into a utopia, same as you. The only difference
was that he freely admitted to wanting to rule it!"
"Be still!" Devil
Kazuya seethed. "That man no longer has any connection to
me. I hate him, I have vanquished him, and I am free of him forever!"
"Free to follow in his footsteps, you mean. In the past two
years, you've guided the Mishima
syndicate straight down the path he originally chartered. Did you want to overthrow him? You
have become him-"
"No, you are
"-in deed and in thought-"
"-you ssspeak utter
"-all the way down to your soul."
"I am not like
The inset gem in Devil Kazuya's forehead changed color to
gold. He spread his dragon's
wings, flapping them for lift. Lei's fingers curled around a glass shard, despite the sharp twinge of
its razor edges cutting his skin.
"Look at what you've done!" the cop challenged. "Look at
how you've hoarded wealth and
influence, brutalized your family, murdered to serve your own ends, and plotted to dominate the
world! All of these are things Heihachi Mishima has done before you!"
"I AM NOT LIKE
At the peak of his flight, Devil Kazuya unleashed the
Power within the gem on his brow. A
narrow beam of golden brilliance surged from the inset stone, shooting toward the cop like a
javelin of light-
-and Lei held up the broken mirror-fragment, reflecting the
eldritch radiance upon its source.
Devil Kazuya screamed once more, yet this time, it was a
shriek of utter anguish, as his own
Power turned upon him. It encased him in a ball of fire, followed by ripples of azure, indigo, and
violet energy, searing his nerves and paralyzing his muscles. He could not move. He could not fly.
He could not fight.
Devil Kazuya had lost.
Broken and beaten, he dropped like a stone, and flopped
awkwardly on the floor.
His body reverted to his human form.
Lei dropped the mirror-shard, and painfully limped to the
master sorcerer's side.
"It was all for nothing," Kazuya whispered, consumed with
venomous despair. "Three
thousand lives and souls - I took them for a greater purpose, but you have rendered it
meaningless. I have murdered for nothing, damned myself and my soul for nothing. You have
made it all nothing."
"I didn't defeat you," Lei said, tiredly kneeling next to
Kazuya's sprawled, inert form. "Your
own hatred did. Your hatred - and your compassion.
"Among all your memories, you've never shown me what
happened to you between the
Peace Corps massacre and your battle with Heihachi in the Iron Fist Tournament, but I think I
know. In the six intervening years, you went on a quest for Power. Power to protect the innocent
and punish the guilty, or so you believed. But when you found and embraced your new source of
Power, it changed you against your will. Warped you into a devil. Only a tiny piece of your old
self remained, to rail desperately against what you had become.
"That tiny piece is why, when I first fell into your clutches,
you threw me back to where I'd
come from, and later transported me with you when you moved your syndicate to another
continent. You've claimed that you wanted me to join your cause, but you've looked into my
mind; you should know that I would never willingly do such a thing. You've claimed that you
wanted to harness my Power as a reagent, but if that really were the case, why didn't you just burn
out my brain a long time ago? Or when you captured me along with Jun and Liu Kang?
"No, the real reason you spared me was because you
needed me. You needed someone to
stop you, defeat you, break your Power. All this time, a part of you has been working toward
your own downfall."
Lei exhaled his breath in a long, slow sigh. "You really are
like me. You really are the
brother of my soul."
"You... you are wrong," the sorcerer wheezed. "Wrong
"No. I know I'm not. Join us, Kazuya." Lei firmly clasped
the sorcerer's unresponsive hand.
"It's not too late for you. We can help free you of the devil within, and your strength can help us
overthrow the Shao Kahn."
Kazuya's jet black eyes flashed.
"New York City," he hissed, spitefully.
"That is where the Shao Kahn is - not that the knowledge
will serve you. You shall not live
long enough to pass it on."
"What do you-"
Lei stopped in mid-sentence. He could feel that something
wrong. Though Kazuya's Power had been broken, the omnipresent press of enslaved souls was
still imminent. Thick, cloying tension hung upon the air. The cop remembered something Kung
Lao had once told him about necromancers, and his mahogany eyes grew wide.
"Let them go, Kazuya," Lei urged, taking hold of the
sorcerer's shoulders. "Let the souls go!
Your Power is broken; if you try to hang on to them, their effort to depart will kill you!"
"And you," the sorcerer sneered, malevolently. "And that
traitor, Chaolan. I planted a
death-link in you both - he when I crushed him in the Iron Fist Tournament, and you when I
your body!" A bubbling cackle of laughter shook him, and gained momentum into outright
hysteria. "I have not lost! Our battle is a draw!"
"Kazuya, NO!" Lei shouted. "Don't do this!"
A searing blast of golden lightning snaked about the master
sorcerer's form. He jerked as
though electrocuted by a livewire current. His face twisted in a grimace of hate and agonizing
pain. His muscles shuddered involuntarily, then stiffened.
"No," Lei mouthed, in numb denial. "Brother..."
An unnatural crackle of indigo Ki streaked across Lei's
chest and throat. He gasped, and
doubled over from its searing electric touch. More shocks followed, riddling his entire body with
"Nngh-no," he refused, brought to hands and knees by an
inexorable force that slowly
burned and crushed him, inside and out. "No! Not now! Not when I finally have something to live
for...!" A rigid burst of static encircled his arms. There was no way to fight the sorcery of
Kazuya's death-link; it assailed him with unyielding intensity, grinding his bones and shocking his
muscles, and it would not cease until he was dead.
"Jun..." He was only faintly aware of crumpling to the
The newly awakened sleepers had reduced the last of the
Jack-2 androids to scrap metal
when it happened.
The ground rumbled as if from an earthquake. Howling
wind rushed from all directions,
and spiraled into a cyclone. Flashes of golden lightning burst in random patterns, and the
syndicate's walls buckled from an unseen strain. Thousands of souls cried out, not in suffering, not
in pain, but with the exultation of freedom. It could mean only one thing.
"Kazuya has tasted defeat," Lee murmured in distant
amazement, opening his auburn eyes.
"We... we won," Jun replied, with a shy, girlish smile. "We
"Yeah." That mysterious upturn appeared on the corners of
Lee's lips for a split-second, then
disappeared again. "You really should go, Jun-chan."
"This is not like you at all," she observed, searching his
fire-scarred face in puzzlement.
"Why are you trying to push me away?"
Lee sighed. Jun realized that she'd heard the faraway,
detached quality to his words before,
in the voices of other people - at times from Lei, and once from Takeshi Fujioka. And in each of
"I'm not going to let you commit suicide," she ventured,
and the slight motion of his singed
eyebrows confirmed her intuition.
"I already have."
"No. You're not getting off the hook that easily."
"There's no longer a choice. Ever since I decided to betray
Kazuya, there have been only
two possible outcomes: that he would triumph and kill me for my treachery, or that he
would fail. You know he put a death-link in me. It can't be removed."
"Lee, I told you before, we did not come to kill Kazuya.
We're here to break his Power
through single combat, and that's what just happened."
"You're in love with someone else, aren't you?"
Perplexity creased her brow, in response to his sudden
change of topic.
"It's that cop, isn't it? Lei Wulong?" Lee softly continued.
His hand gently touched the side
of her face, brushing lightly against strands of her dark hair.
Jun's mouth tightened, and she gave a quick nod.
Lee had changed, in the past six years. She could remember
a time when such an admission
would have immediately thrown him into a jealous rage; yet now, all he did was let his hand drop
and close his eyes. "I... I hope he treats you better than I did. I hope he brings you the happiness I
"Why are you talking like this? What are you trying to
"You lived with us for years, but never really knew my
brother, did you? Just like you never
really knew me. If you had known Kazuya, you'd understand that he will never suffer to be taken
"What?" Fear registered on her face as she became acutely
aware of the insurmountable
force of three thousand souls, souls that Kazuya struggled to hang on to, despite his broken
Power. "No! You-"
A flicker of indigo Ki laced Lee's body, causing his muscles
to convulse involuntarily. He bit
back a pained yell and sank to the floor. More electric streaks sizzled through him; it took a
supreme act of will to ignore their livewire shock, and concentrate on speech. "It's - it's all right,
Jun-chan. I'm not afraid. I'll never be afraid again."
"No! There has to be some way to stop this!"
Weak, unsteady sparks of healing
Power flashed on her hands as she touched Lee's skin and labored to undo, or at least lessen, the
spreading damage of Kazuya's death-link. Another surge traveled from Lee to Jun, disrupting her
efforts in a flash of violent lightning. The healer shrieked as the force of the discharge flung her
against the other side of the corridor. She collapsed, and did not rise.
"Jun-chan!" Lee anxiously cried.
She is only stunned.
Between spasmodic intervals of increasing torment, Lee
Dark Mane stood before him, tall and proud, looking as
she had in life. Her thick, black hair
spilled over her shoulders, stirred by a wind from no natural source. And for once, her
cinnamon-brown eyes stared into him, not with hatred, not with incensed accusation, but rather
She touched him, and the jarring pain vanished, though he
could still feel remote echoes of
the burning, grinding sorcery that gradually rent asunder his life. He was able to say one final
thing, before the crushing trauma of the death-link stifled what was left of his voice.
"I - I'm sorry I killed you, Michelle. I'm so sorry..."
End of Chapter 24: The Greatest Power