PHOENIX REBORN

written by Victar, e-mail vctr113062@aol.com
Victar's Archive:
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Prologue: The End of Life


AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Toshin Expedition, section Alpha
Tekkenshu Corps files X35728-AB
Mishima syndicate phonic records tag 12486-CD
May 15, 2013
6:04 p.m.

[begin recording]

YAMADA: Testing, one, two three. The date is May 15, 2013. The time is 6:04 p.m. Will replay this sample at once.

click

Y: Excellent. All equipment is in serviceable order. This is Junior Officer Yamada of the Tekkenshu Corps speaking, accompanied by Senior Officer Kobayashi and a Mr., uh, Guatemala. Sirs, please make a statement in order to identify your voices for the record.

KOBAYASHI: Kobayashi here, as if it matters.

GUATEMOC: My name is Guatemoc. Mangle it again, and you will invoke the wrath of the War God!

Y: Correction noted. This statement remarks the inception of the first officially recorded Mishima syndicate excursion into the Toshin ruins, which we discovered in the Valley of Mexico three days prior to this time. It is speculated that within this subterranean tomb lie relics of the ancient Aztec civilization. Our mission is to survey and report its contents. Mr. Guatemoc, whose unearthing and deciphering of ancient writings helped lead us to this monumental discovery, has consented to serve as our guide. Glory to Mishima-sama!

K: Yamada...

Y: We begin our journey in a long, narrow brickwork hall, consisting of cinnamon-red stones mortared with the crusty remnants of a decayed organic substance. Each brick is approximately twenty centimeters wide and eight centimeters high. The floor is approximately four meters wide where we are standing; twelve steps further down it narrows to approximately two meters. The ceiling is approximately-

K: Yamada, shut up.

Y: But sir, we have orders.

K: You know damn well no one is ever going to listen to this thing. It will just sit in a file until a team of real archaeologists can make a competent analysis of this miserable hole in the ground. The only reason we're here is because the brass wants me out of the way while they're in summit with the Yad Vashem Self-Defense Force.

Y: Sir? Were you told that?

K: Not in so many words, but you know the score. Damn Jews have been clamoring for my head ever since the little incident at New Gethsemane.

G: So, you consider the slaughter of eighty-seven prisoners of war to be a "little" incident?

K: Oh, you've heard of me?

G: Personally, I would think that one would transcend the definition of a "little" offering once one has procured the blood of a mere dozen souls. Eighty-seven belongs more in the range of a "moderate" sacrifice, while a truly divine blood offering would present hundreds or even thousands of-

K: Don't get sarcastic with me. I will not hear of it.

G: I speak my mind. You hear what you will.

K: You need to be taught a lesson, do you? Then-

Y: Sir, may I humbly remind you that future expeditions and translation efforts will require his services.

K: Shut up or I'll give you a black eye.

Y: I'm sorry, sir.

K: Wait a minute - you already have a black eye. How did you get it?

Y: An accident, sir.

K: Never mind. How far is it to the inner chamber, anyway?

Y: Echolocation projects approximately one-tenth of a kilometer, sir.

K: Then move. The sooner this farce is over with, the better.

footsteps

Y: Let the record reflect that these internal walls have gained numerous copper ornamentations as we progress. They are hammered into a variety of stylized animalistic decorations. And now we have reached the final door; it is of solid stone, with pictographic runes carved upon its exterior. There are approximately twenty lines of one hundred symbols each. Posted on either side of the door are two extraordinary, primitive mannequins, composed of wooden blocks connected in the rough shape of a man and a woman, respectively-

K: Yamada, I told you to shut up. I'm sick of your prattling, I'm sick of your rigid-ass obsession with trivial details, I'm sick of your fawning attempts to gain a promotion, and most of all, I'm sick of you. The next time I tell you, it will be with my combat knife in your gut.

Y: I'm sorry, sir.

K: We've done our job. Let's go back.

Y: But-

G: Don't you wish to know what the ancient writing says?

K: What? You can read it?

G: It is a highly archaic variant of the Nahuatl tongue of my ancestors. I am the sole living man who has fully deciphered it. It speaks of Toshin, the great God of War, who sleeps beyond this gate. He is Strength. He is Immortality. His very composition is the elixir of the Divine; to partake of him is to transcend mortal being. Only blood can call him from beyond this ancient seal, freshly spilled blood, offered with reverent desire to gain eternal Life and absolute Power!

K: You can't possibly be reading all that off the damn door. It's too dark in here.

G: If you take a step closer, you can see the floor basin meant to collect the requisite bodily fluids.

K: I don't see any-

clatter

K: What the HELL!?

G: Although I must confess that in this poor light, I can repeat the inscription only because I took the time to study it when Yamada and I came here yesterday.

K: What's making those dummies MOVE!? Yamada- UGH!

clattering, thudding

Y: You made them move, Kobayashi. When you approached them. I found that out the hard way.

K: AH! Get these things - AHGK - away from me! Yamada! Ah - argh! AAH!

gasping

K: They... they stopped? I thought they were going to beat me to death, and they stopped?

Y: Of course.

K: Yamada, I - I can't move my arms. Or my legs. Help me up...

Y: Guatemoc will help you.

G: Yes.

K: What? Yamada, you whimpering, sniveling little snob, I'm giving you the orders! If you don't obey now, I'll - I'll - Guatemoc! My god, NO!

G: For Toshin, the God of War!

K: AAAAAAAAAH-!

Y: Heh. Heh-heh. Senile old fool. You never even realized, did you? Never realized how earnestly the Mishima syndicate desires an alliance with the Yad Vashem Force? Never realized that your head would be an infinitesimal price to pay for it? Never realized HOW MUCH I HATE YOU!?

G: Rest well, honored one! Your noble sacrifice will bring forth the Divine, and earn your place among the Gods!

Y: What-? Guatemoc, what are you doing?

G: Bringing forth his heart, and pouring free his blood.

Y: You mean, you're really following through with the second half of our orders? But that's insane, I thought it had to be a sadistic joke-

G: Only blood can open the way to Toshin, and his Elixir of Immortality. So it has been written. So it must be.

Y: You're sick.

G: Oh, Toshin! Manifest, and let us bask in your Divine Power! COME BEFORE US, O GOD OF WAR!

rumbling

Y: Wh-what? Did you activate some kind of hidden catch? Why is everything-

crash

Y: My... my god! H-how... who... what are you?

UNKNOWN VOICE: +YOUR SOUL IS WEAK.+

Y: Get back! Get back or I'll shoot!

gunfire

Y: AAAAAAAAGH-!

U: +I MUST HAVE STRONGER SOULS.+

G: All praise the Divine Toshin! O God of War, I beg of you, honor your reverent follower! Yes, yes, take me in your celestial embrace, and give me the gift of Immortality!

U: +I MUST HAVE SOULS WITH GREATER POTENTIAL.+

G: Ah-ahgk, Divine One, your embrace is too tight - I can't - can't... aaaaaAAAAAAAH!

U: +I MUST HAVE SOULS OF POWER!+

rumbling, crashing
static

[end recording]

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Toshin Expedition, section Beta
Tekkenshu Corps files X35728-AB
Mishima syndicate phonic records tag 12486-CD-2
May 16, 2013
11:48 a.m.


ISHIDA: Excellent. All equipment is in serviceable order. This is Ishida of the Mishima syndicate speaking, accompanied by Kimura and honored with the noble presence of Heihachi Mishima-sama. Glory to Mishima-sama! Sirs, would you please make a statement in order to-

MISHIMA: Forget the formalities. Just tell me what happened here.

KIMURA: We're, uh, not sure, Mishima-sama. Something seems to have provoked a massive cave-in. We've just now managed to clear the greater part of the wreckage. Nearly all the artifacts inside the tomb have been damaged or destroyed, except for two wooden mannequins-

M: I already know about that. Did you contain the wooden people?

K: With great difficulty, Mishima-sama.

M: Go on.

K: But I'm afraid the three members of the initial expedition are dead. Their bodies-

M: I can see their bodies. Did you recover the recording log?

I: Yes, Mishima-sama. It survived intact by a stroke of good fortune. We have kept it safe as per your orders.

M: Give it to me. Now.


PART I: ABSORPTION


Chapter 1: Paradise Remembered



    Anon, to sudden silence won,
      In fancy they pursue
    The dream-child moving through a land
      Of wonders wild and new,
    In friendly chat with bird or beast-
      And half believe it true.
          -Lewis Carroll, "Alice in Wonderland"


INTERVIEW WITH JIN KAZAMA, section 1
January 30, 2018
5:45 p.m.


         You've come.
         I... I knew you would come, of course. I've been trying to prepare. I should be prepared; after all, I'm the one who asked you to make a record of all that's happened, right? And I... I think I'm ready to talk about it.
         So, um... what do you need to know?
         Uh-huh.
         Uh-huh.
         Tell you about myself? Talk like you're not here? You're sure? Well, okay. Whatever you think is best. Although you know, if you'd rather, I could just show you - I mean, um, transfer the information directly to your mind; it'd be faster, and you'd probably get a clearer picture that way.
         No?
         Heh. I didn't think you'd go for it. To tell the truth, I think I mentioned it just to see the look on your face. Forgive me.
         Anyway... tell you about myself. Right. Well, if I should begin anywhere, it ought to be with my family.
         Family is very important, you know.
         It is our families that create us, and I'm not just talking about, um, physical genesis. Family is what guides and shapes the formation of our personalities in the early years of life. It is your family that teaches you what is right and what is wrong, how to cope and how to survive. These are the people who raise you and love you; they are a part of your core being, part of your identity. It's your responsibility to use the guidance they have given you to find your own way, yes, but a portion of your heart and soul will always belong with them.
         Or at least, that's the ideal.
         Not everyone is so lucky, I realize that. Some are deprived of family at an early age. Some suffer within families that are wounded - laced with pain, trouble, or domestic abuse. It's a horrible thing, so horrible that I've never wanted to believe it actually exists, even though I know better. That's why the Mishima syndicate - but I suppose Lee can tell you more about our humanitarian work.
         He was once an orphan himself, you know. He spent the first twelve years of his life abandoned and homeless, on the streets of Canton. Can you imagine what that must be like? To have to wake up each morning of your early childhood, knowing that no one wants you, knowing that you're all alone?
         I was much more fortunate. I had a family, even if it was pretty small - just me, my mother, and my father. No brothers or sisters. Both my parents had lost the last of their relatives before I was born; my father's mother perished during the Great Invasion, and my mother's kin had passed on before then. So I had no grandparents or extended family.
         None that I knew about, anyway.
         But even when I was very young, questions would form in the back of my mind. Questions that I couldn't answer. Most of them had to do with how my father looked nothing like me.
         I mean, nothing like me. You've met him, haven't you? You know what I'm talking abou-
         Huh?
         Oh, that's right. Talk like you're not here. Well, my father's picture is third from the left on the near shelf; from it, someone who, um, happened to be here could see that he was Chinese, with a rounded face, soft cheekbones, and a flat hairline where his bangs parted about his forehead. You can't see it in the picture, but his frame was densely compact, with short, wiry limbs and squarish muscles.
         In short, nothing like me.
         When I looked at my reflection in a clear forest stream, I could speculate that maybe, just maybe, I didn't happen to show my Chinese blood. Maybe I'd inherited my facial and body structure from my mother's side. But it was my hairline that disturbed me the most. I have a conspicuous widow's peak, and I'd read in a book that such things are caused by a dominant gene - meaning that for the child to exhibit the trait, at least one parent must exhibit the trait. My father didn't have a widow's peak, and neither did my mother. Where did that leave me?
         I asked my parents if I was adopted. They always said no.
         There was another matter that I thought kind of curious. My parents were married, but their names were different - my father's was Lei Wulong, and my mother's was Jun Kazama. At first, I didn't know that was unusual. When I learned it was, I asked my father about it. He explained that when my mother married him, she had wanted to keep her ancestral name, and when I was born, she'd wanted to pass her name on to me. It was very important to her.
         My mother always did feel a deeper tie to her ancestors than my father felt to his.
         I - I don't mean to sound judgemental when I say that. My father was a good man. I owe him so much. I've no right to judge him.
         I never had any right to judge him...
         Father...
         It's just that, well, he never visited the shrine with us - my mother and me, I mean. Never. There was a woodland path in back of our home; about half a kilometer past the lush greenery, in this silent circle of trees so tall you could look up, and up, and just barely see a streak of vibrant blue sky, my mother had constructed a humble stone shrine to our ancestors, and to the gods. Once a year, on the early morning of my birthday, we would travel there to leave offerings. We'd pray there, too - sometimes together, but more often separately. I don't really know how often my mother visited. Probably not more than a handful of times a year. I went once a week, rigidly, ever since around age ten. No exceptions. Not even if I was sick; I'd sneak out of the house and go anyway. It's, I guess, a personality quirk of mine - when I settle into a routine, or a ritual, I lock into it very strongly, and I don't like to make changes. If I think something has been changed, or disturbed, I feel agitated unless I double-check it, or triple-check, or quadruple-check.
         Julia has called me borderline obsessive-compulsive. I think she's deliberately exaggerating, a little. I think. She's not as easy to read as, say, you.
         Anyway, I got to know the shrine well because I spent so much time there. It had no pictures or furnishings; just flowers, and a set of plain, unassuming stones with names carved on them. I knew that most of the names belonged to my mother's family members, or my father's. There were a few others that weren't family. When I was about seven years old, I asked my mother who they were. She told me that they honored friends who had died in the Great Invasion.
         "The Great Invasion?" I quizzed, in utter innocence. "What's that, mama?"
         She bit her lip - that was an old habit of hers that she did whenever she felt uneasy. Even at that early age, I was sensitive enough to emotions that I could tell she was carrying an internal debate. Finally, she nodded to herself once, settled down with me on the fresh green grass, and gave me my first lesson in modern history.
         The story she told...
         It took her the rest of the afternoon to explain how the diabolical Shao Kahn, allied with the master sorcerer Kazuya Mishima, had once tried to annihilate the whole world. Roughly a billion people died. My mother and father had been part of the force that resisted the invaders, and eventually they won. The Shao Kahn was banished to the ends of Time.
         I could tell that my mother was leaving gaps in her story, and pressed her insatiably with questions. She answered many of them, but not quite all, and not quite to my satisfaction. I paused when I could tell that some topics troubled her, particularly when I asked for more about Kazuya Mishima and his second-in-command, Lee Chaolan.
         Then I noticed that two of the stones had their names.
         "But I thought they were bad guys," I said, or something like that.
         My mother shook her head. "We want to label people as 'good' or 'bad,' but it isn't always that simple. Human beings are an intricate tangle of contradictions, and they change constantly. Whatever else Lee may have done, in the end, he chose to give up his life for the good of the world. Would a 'bad' person do that? And Kazuya..."
         She looked away. There was moisture in her eyes, a glimmering, shining sparkle that refracted the dying sunlight in a tiny rainbow. I could feel the conflict and sadness in her thoughts, and it made me sad.
         "...I'm sorry," she said at last. "You'll have to ask your father about him. I can't say any more."
         My mind buzzed with questions all the way home. It was, I think, a Saturday, so I knew my father would be there to answer me. He usually didn't come to our house more than two or three days a week - most often Saturday and Sunday, sometimes Friday afternoon. He was gone the rest of the time. Off at work, I eventually learned; he was a famous detective in Hong Kong, which was hundreds of kilometers away from our remote home in the Yakushima wilderness. Can you believe, he actually hired a private aviator to fly him back and forth on a weekly basis? I shudder to think what it must have cost.
         But as I was saying, he was home. I was so eager to ask him about everything. He reclined languidly in his favorite armchair, eyes closed. The Sony television set was turned on in front of him. I couldn't tell whether he was sleeping; he liked to take naps a lot. Maybe it was the jet lag. Yet I wanted to interrogate him so badly that I was ready to wake him up. I ran to him and begged, "Papa, would you please, please tell me-"
         "You're just in time. King is on!" he beamed. His eyes snapped open, and a broad smile crossed his face. He hadn't been asleep after all. "Come and see!"
         Have I mentioned that my father wasn't a particularly tall person? Only one and three-quarter meters, I believe. He wasn't all that physically strong, either. But when I was seven years old, it was like he was the mightiest man in the world. He took me in his calloused hands and effortlessly lifted me onto his lap. His eyes flashed with excitement; in the flickering blue-grey radiance of the set, they changed from their usual mahogany brown to blood-red and back again. I don't know, maybe that might sound a bit scary to you now, but I was accustomed to it. His eyes simply had this natural habit of occasionally shifting color for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until I was much older that I ever thought to wonder why.
         My father's enthusiasm was utterly contagious, so strong it practically made me tingle. He pointed to the television screen. I peered where his finger led, completely enraptured by his exuberance, and secure in the comforting warmth of his affection.
         Framed in the confines of the plastic box was a big, beefy... man? To me, he seemed more like a savage were-beast. A cruel, ferocious jaguar's head rested on his shoulders; terrible fangs jutted from its perpetually open mouth. His trunk was bare, exposing his rippling, powerful chest muscles and biceps, though long, black-handed fighting gloves covered his arms up to his elbows. He wore a champion's belt with a shining gold buckle-plate, a pair of royal blue stretch pants with a jagged zigzag of lightning down either leg, and traction-soled black combat shoes. The beast-man leaned back, raised his clenched fists with his arms bent at the elbows, and uttered a roaring, feral battle cry.
         "Go, King, go!" my father cheered, raising his own fist in imitation.
         I don't remember what King's enemy looked like; some fat guy in a purple mask, maybe. He never had a chance. Once King got his hands on the poor slob, it was all over. The beast-man wrapped his fingers around his enemy's wrist, clutching his arm and reversing in an about-face as he used brute strength to heave the victim over his shoulder. Purple-mask hit the ground on his back. King scooped him up like an armful of raked leaves, one gloved hand around his waist, the other hooking under his inner knees, and bent over backwards, ramming the base of purple-mask's skull into the ground again. The beast-man pushed off with both feet, rolling over his catch, arching his back, and bending his knees; he used the force of his momentum to carry his wriggling victim overhead and slam him into the floor a third time. King twisted around to a crouch, quickly readjusting his grip upon the fold in his enemy's body-
         "Power Bomb!" my father wildly exclaimed, as King rose up, and up, jumping several feet off the floor, and drove purple-mask's back and shoulders into the ground yet again. The beast-man slid his hands down to the ankles of his incognizant enemy. Curling his powerful arms securely around both foot joints, he started to spin in a circle, dragging his foe in a faster and faster torque until purple-mask was suspended practically horizontal to the floor. With a triumphant growl, King let his enemy fly free; purple-mask must have hurtled at least twenty meters before he crashed.
         Wow.
         "Honey," my mother sighed from somewhere nearby, "don't you think Jin is a little young for that kind of violence?"
         "Aw, c'mon, Jun," my father drawled, placably. "He knows it's only an act. Right, son?" I couldn't answer; I was too busy staring at the beast-man in total fascination, as he seized his next enemy's collar and brutally rammed his left knee into the hapless man's face. King's victim slumped into a torpid roll and ended up splayed flat on his back.
         Cool!
         "Mmm..." my mother vacillated.
         "Besides, I know you never let him watch TV when I'm not here. Let the kid have a little fun, eh?"
          "You're incorrigible," she relented, in a tender murmur. "Just don't keep him up too late, all right?"
         "Sure, sure." She kissed him on the cheek, then tousled my hair and retired.
         Well, I'm not certain exactly what "too late" meant to my father, but it couldn't have been "before 2:00 a.m.," because that was about when he finally put me to bed. I slept in all morning; when I woke up, my father was already gone, back on his weekly flight to Hong Kong. By next weekend, I had forgotten all about Kazuya Mishima. Later still, based on the pity and sorrow I'd previously felt in my mother, I assumed that she had placed a stone for Kazuya because she felt sorry for him.
         Which was true. It just wasn't even close to the whole truth.
         My life at home was a good one, even if it was pretty simple. Or perhaps because it was so simple. We had little in the way of technological comforts; my mother didn't care for such things. The old antenna television was close to our only appliance, and in retrospect, it's kind of amazing that my father talked her into allowing that much. There was no shower; just a sturdy, human-sized washbasin that could be heated over a fire, though in spring through fall I preferred to cleanse myself in the forest streams - that's something I've come to miss, here. There were no ovens or microwaves; my mother cooked vegetables over an open flame, and never prepared meat. My father did eat meat, I think, but only when he was away from home. And there weren't any computers - I know how shocking that must sound to you, in this day and age, but I never got to even touch a real computer until I was fifteen.
         I never felt deprived, though. I always had plenty of nutritious food to eat, warm clothes to wear, and people who cared about me. We'd grow our own vegetables in a little garden; sometimes my mother would heal people in the nearby village in exchange for bartered goods; and whenever my father came home for the weekend, he'd usually bring lots of supplies packed in big suitcases. He'd bring so many that my mother was in the surreptitious habit of waiting until he left, then quietly donating the surplus to the village's poorer families.
         I was happy at home. It was the outside world that troubled me.
         You know that village I mentioned? It was about an hour's slow walk down a dirt trail, less if you ran. In the center was a big, grassy knoll where my father's plane touched down every week. The town wasn't very populous at all, no more than maybe a few hundred people. There were a couple stores, and a limited public school, of sorts.
         I dreaded that school.
         Not that I minded the idea of learning in and of itself. But when my mother tried to take me there for first grade onward, well, that's where the problems started. Most of them had to do with adjusting to my peers, not to mention everyone else.
         You see, I wasn't... like the other kids.
         That's sort of an understatement along the lines of "Satan isn't a very nice guy."
         I've always had these, um, powers, I guess you could call them. I could feel other people's emotions, and I don't mean just study them and interpret their expressions, although I quickly got pretty good at doing that, too. I mean feel their emotions. Pressing in on me. Affecting my own thoughts. Becoming a part of my mental state. The more people, and the stronger their emotions, the greater the influence on me. When it was just me and my parents, well, it wasn't too hard to stay in balance, but when I had to be around ten, twenty, a hundred, or even more people - argh!
         What does Julia call it? Oh yes, ochlophobia, fear of crowds. Except that a phobia is supposed to be an unreasoning fear, and I have a pretty good reason, don't you think? It's better now than it used to be - I can of course get along fine inside the syndicate, even venture into Tokyo proper, although I don't like to do so during the day. And don't even talk to me about rush hour traffic.
         But back then, I hadn't yet learned how to build walls in my mind - thick, tough, resilient walls to block out all the intense feelings surrounding me. Sometimes, it would go beyond just sensing emotions. I'd make the mistake of looking too deeply into someone's eyes, and suddenly get lost in a whirl of thoughts, verbal and nonverbal, that weren't my own. The other person would get an unwelcome look in my mind too, and we'd both end up dazed, or shaken, or worse.
         I did not get along well with others at all. I was the scary kid, the freak of the village, the one who could rip through your brain and control your soul, the witch-child, the demon-boy... at least, that was what I could sense in other people's thoughts, and it probably affected how I thought of myself. Even though I gradually gained a certain amount of control over my abilities, my bad reputation persisted; it got worse with every passing year. I had no friends other than the forest animals. Maybe it was because of the rumors; maybe it was that a pessimistic part of me had resigned myself to being alone, and gave up well before it should have.
         People started to pick fights with me. I knew my parents disapproved of violence, and that they didn't want me to abuse the martial arts they'd taught me, so I tried as hard as I could to talk my way out of bad situations. It rarely worked. Sooner or later, I'd stumble into an ill-chosen remark, someone would yell "Stop reading my mind!" and things would go downhill from there. One-on-one fights were not a problem for me, but the other kids quickly learned to gang together if they were going to harass me at all.
         I hate gangs.
         I was more than just an, um, combination telepath and empath, though. When I was around ten, I discovered that I could make indigo electricity crackle on my hands just by concentrating. My mother taught me how to shape my will into a tangible barrier, channel my life essence in order to speed natural healing, and create other supernatural effects. She told me that my healing power, especially, was an extraordinarily rare gift. I used it a lot, too, typically to cover the black eyes or bruises that I'd get whenever I had to visit that damn village - do you know, I still can't remember its name, and I don't care? Julia has a word for that, too; she calls it repression. I think she has a word for everything.
         Well, eventually my situation with that miserable place got so bad that I couldn't take it anymore. My parents consented to pull me out of the school and continue my education themselves. They instructed me not only with books and exercises, but also mind-to-mind contact. Neither of them had the power to read minds like I did, so I'd always have to initiate such a session by looking into their eyes and entering their thoughts. I learned a great deal from their memories, although perhaps even more important than the facts, languages, and skills were the rules, controls, and scruples. They taught me how to keep strict self-discipline while in such a state; how it was extremely dangerous to attempt mental contact when one is emotionally unbalanced; how important it was above all to respect other people's privacy and mental well-being.
         My mother's mind was a very open and sunny place. I... I can't really describe it better than that. She loved nature, and she taught me to love it, too. She'd take me on long walks, in her mind as well as in reality, identifying various species of birds, animals, and flowers, describing the great wheel of life and how every little thing fit into the grand ecology. My father's mind was different, darker, although not in an unpleasant way - I could feel his love for me as strongly as in my mother's. There were more shadows though, more depths and concealment. My mother was the day; my father was the night. The essence of Yin and Yang reversed.
         Of course, not all my tutoring was like this. Both my parents trained me in their martial arts since I was old enough to walk - my mother and I did Tai Chi nearly every morning, and nearly every evening she would take at least a couple hours to instruct me in her fighting style, Aiki Ju Jitsu. My father practiced something completely different, which he called the Phoenix Style. He wanted to teach it to my mother; she'd just smile and say it wasn't meant for her. He wanted to teach it to me. I tried to learn it, I tried really hard. I think part of why it's always been difficult for me - aside from the fact that he couldn't instruct me more often than two days a week - is that the whole style is about deception. Using unpredictable, unusual, constantly changing motions and stances to mislead your enemy and capitalize on his mistakes. But my personality has always been scrupulously straightforward. I've never liked deceiving others, never could do it at all. By the same token, I could never really get the hang of the sleight-of-hand magic tricks he tried to show me; they required a knack, no, an intent for misdirection. I've always been better at reading others and tailoring my actions around that, than trying to beguile them and tailor their actions to suit me.
         I'm told that my father's Phoenix Style is preserved and taught at the Temple of Light, though. It's comforting to know that even if I'm never good enough to master it, it will endure through the generations.
         The other thing my parents taught me was sorcery, or at least its basics, and the various Laws that govern it. I've already summarized my mother's training. My father, on the other hand, had little natural inclination for spellcraft. He never could do much more than summon a steady azure glow to his hand. That didn't dissuade him from tutoring me, though.
         Let me give you an example. When I had turned fourteen years old, my father approached me one weekend and said he thought I was ready to take the next step beyond my mother's barrier spells. My mother looked at him with a frown, but didn't object. He took me outside, gave me dense earphones and a pair of thick goggles, selected similar gear for himself, and set up a large, rectangular plate of clear, plastic-like material with an arm-sized hole. When I asked what it was all for, he said, "To protect us from the noise, and ricochets."
         Ricochets? I wondered.
         Then he removed his jacket. Underneath, he wore a holster cross-strapped to his body, and inside the holster was his gun. He took it out. My eyes grew wide as I studied its polished black barrel, textured grip, and sleek design. The only places I'd ever seen guns before were on the television, or in his memories. Yet here was the real thing! Wasn't it illegal to bring these into Japan?
         He chuckled. I was sure I hadn't spoken that thought aloud, but maybe I'd been so surprised that my control had slipped and I'd broadcast directly to his mind.
         My father said, "Some folks in government owe me favors dating back to the Great Invasion, and I am a cop, you know. Trust me, it isn't a problem. I'll even teach you how to handle it, later, but right now this is more important." He loaded the weapon with a fresh bullet clip. His movements were careful, but also quick, sure, and precise; I could tell that he'd done this many, many times before. Once the clip snapped into place with an audible snick, my father pointed to a long-trunked conifer about thirty meters across from us, the lowest branches of which spiraled well above our heads. "I'm going to shoot at the base of that tree-"
         "Won't that damage it?" I interrupted, getting a little worried.
         "Not if you use your Power to protect it from the bullet, which is something I know you can do."
         "How do you know?"
         "Trust me. The Power is in you. You just have to figure out how to use it - now!"
         He fired.
         "Shogai!" I cried at the same time, thrusting out my palm as my mother had taught me, and willing a flashing tray of force to wrap around the tree's base. There was a small thud in the wake of the gun's harsh crack, and bits of bark chipped off the conifer's new bullet wound.
         "No, no, no," my father tsked, shaking his head. "That's your mother's barrier spell. It can shield you from larger, slower-moving objects, but it's no kevlar. A projectile ward is the opposite; it deflects objects that are small and move very fast, although it isn't particularly helpful against, say, a fist to the face. Try again; you can do it."
         He fired.
         And fired.
         And fired.
         I thought he would never run out of bullets; he reloaded over and over again. I tried everything I could think of. Making a shield, or a cushion, or a vortex, or - nothing seemed to work; I couldn't stop the bullet. He tried again the next day. And the weekend after that. I hated it. It wasn't that he looked down on me, or chastised me for my failure. On the contrary, he never stopped encouraging me, reassuring me that I could do it, that sooner or later I'd learn. We went on like this for over a month, I think. We killed the poor tree, and started on another one. I was afraid I'd never learn, that despite his words it really was impossible for me. One day, maybe five weeks after we'd started, it all became too much.
         "I can't stand this!" I cried, ripping off my protective gear and falling to my knees. "How am I supposed to cast a spell without knowing how it's done? You don't even know how it's done!"
         "I've been trying to get in touch with a friend who knows it," my father muttered, a trifle apologetically. "But he's retired from Sanctuary's political scene; no one's sure where to find him. You'll have to manage on your own."
         "What makes you so sure I have the ability, anyway? You don't have it. Mother doesn't have it. Could any of your ancestors do this? Or any of hers? You've told me that the power for sorcery is inherited. Where am I supposed to have inherited it from?"
         He turned away, abruptly. I could practically hear the click of something locking shut in his mind, some emotion that he shunted away before it could make itself felt.
         I looked away too. Minutes passed. We just stayed there, without confronting one another. I was concentrating pretty hard on holding back tears of frustration.
         Then the thrush began singing.
         I recognized this particular one. It was the old thrush - Siberian blue robin, actually, member of the thrush family - the one whose slaty aqua feathers were growing unkempt with wear, whose snowy white underside was turning dull and coarse. He'd passed his prime years ago; even though he no longer raised broods, he kept returning to our house every spring and summer, mostly for the birdbath and the seed that my mother set out. I don't know why he'd decided to visit us when just a few minutes ago the area was echoing with gunfire; maybe he was hungry. His beady black eyes almost seemed to look into my own with sympathy. His melody was comforting, soothing. It eased my anxious mood.
         My father turned his head, and followed my line of sight. "You like that bird?" he drawled, languorously.
         I nodded. "He comes here every year. He's like a friend to me."
         "Uh-huh. Not anymore."
         "What?" I heard the sudden cruelty in my father's voice, sensed it in his thoughts, and spun toward him, uncomprehending.
         "Say bye-bye birdie." His eyes glittered blood-red. A sneer that I can only describe as demonic crossed his face as he leveled his weapon on the thrush-
         "NO!" I exclaimed, at the very moment his finger tightened around the trigger-
         -there is a rushing, roaring explosion as the powder within the cartridge is ignited, expanding with absolute violence, hurling the bullet forward at a speed beyond ordinary perception-
         -but it is still there, screaming on the wind, its shock waves like ripples in the wake of a waterfall, defining its path-
         -its precise path, and that is where there can be no uncertainty, for its presence is tiny and only an equally tiny, intensely compact star can have any hope of meeting it-
         -an equally tiny, intensely compact star that transfers its own momentum, and receives momentum; even as the bullet reverses direction, the star unfolds like a blossoming flower made of energy, spreading its borrowed force wider, evenly distributing it over a greater and greater area-
         The thrush dropped like a stone.
         "You - you killed him!" I cried, in shock, but my father held up his palm to stay me.
         The thrush began to move. He twittered forlornly, then flapped his wings and fluttered away. I could see no blood, no injury in the motion of his flight. I'd made the bullet ricochet, and reduced the lethal impact to a mere shove.
         "EXCELLENT, son!" my father exclaimed in profound joy, clapping me on the back so hard that I sank to my knees again. "That skill could save your life one day!" He hugged me tightly. I wanted to share his happiness, but I was still shaking from what I'd seen in him scarcely a few seconds before. I'd had no idea he possessed the potential to be so ruthless.
         And the next weekend, when he offered to teach me how to shoot his gun, I would have nothing to do with it.
         I... I don't know, do you think I've given you a good picture of the first fifteen years of my life? I'm really wondering how it would sound to an outsider, now. Maybe it might seem backward and isolated - the gods know I've had a difficult time adjusting to the outside world, and still do - but that's not how I remember it.
         I remember it as a paradise.
         A paradise on earth.
         I... I know I can never go back to the life I used to live, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's important to change, grow, adapt and learn more. I have responsibilities here, to my friends, to the syndicate, and to Julia. Even if I do miss the forest bathing.
         The paradise is gone. I couldn't have prevented its end. It took me a long time to accept that. When it was ruined, I felt as though my soul had died with it, and it's only recently that I've begun to feel something new being reborn from the ashes. I know now that it's all right to feel the anger, guilt, and blame, but that I should not let the feelings control or destroy me. It's not what my ancestors would want. And I finally understand that it's not what I want, either.
         I couldn't have saved the paradise. I just wish I had appreciated it more while I lived in it.
         If only I had appreciated it more...
         If only...
         I...
         C-... can we continue this later? I'm sorry. I have to pray now.





INTERVIEW WITH JULIA CHANG, section 1
January 30, 2018
9:45 p.m.


         You were prying Jin with questions tonight, weren't you?
         How did I know? Come on. How could I not know? He's been praying in the shrine all evening, at least three or four hours - said he didn't notice the passage of time. It's what he does when he's feeling depressed. Yet he did not appear any more moody than usual this afternoon. I've also heard about the assignment he gave you, and that you've been arranging interviews in order to garner the information you need. The most plausible resulting hypothesis: he has retreated to the shrine because you requested that he discuss something painful.
         You were asking him about his family, weren't you?
         You know how he gets when he has to talk about his family.
         Look, I'm not trying to dictate how to do your job. And it probably is a good thing for him to talk about it. A cathartic. But - oh, do I even have to remind you? You remember. You know how close it was just a few weeks ago.
         All I'm asking is that you take it slow. Give him at least a couple days to recover before you speak with him again. All right?
         Oh. Really?
         Hmph. If you were going to interview other people anyway, then why let me waste my breath on a tirade? You can be rather inconsiderate at-
         This is my interview?
         Oh, no. I forgot! Jin and I are going to Xiaoyu's amusement park in another fifteen minutes; I'm sorry, but I was casting about for a way to cheer him up, and I didn't check my appointment book before I talked him into it. Look, whatever you need from me for now, can you make it brief?
         Mm-hm.
         Mm-hm.
         I don't mind telling you about myself, but how am I to speak as though you weren't here? That's ludicrous. Obviously, you are here; if you weren't here, I'd be talking to myself, and I never talk to myself - not out loud, anyway.
         Mm? Well, if you meant "Talk like I don't know you," you should have said "Talk like I don't know you." Miscommunication is the root of so many human problems. Imprecision in words leads to confusion in actions. It's a shame, really, how many conflicts could have been avoided for want of a soft word rather than a harsh one, or a clear specific in place of a meaningless generalization. This is why complete knowledge of proper grammatical semantics is a singularly important skill; though informal dialect has its place, a formal language structure guarantees one the most basic template for the formation of unambiguous-
         Excuse me?
         I am telling you about myself.
         This is what I'm like. This is how my mind works. Ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted to get things straight, absolutely clear, no equivocation, no confusion. I want to piece together confusing puzzles. I want to simplify and make sense of the details one by one. I want to reason and analyze, form a pattern, draw conclusions, test those conclusions as needed, arrive at an answer, solve the mystery. And I prefer not to use an unreliable heuristic in place of a proven algorithm.
         It's why my tribal name translates to "Restless Gopher." I live to dig for answers, and I don't necessarily mean metaphorical digging, either. My greatest scientific love is for the field of archaeology; that's what I've declared as my major in college. Ancient history is a special kind of puzzle; you take the clues, unearthed treasures, and records of the present, then use them as best you can to piece together what people's lives in the past were like. I also have a fondness for education in general; I was the valedictorian of my high school class. Whether it's science, mathematics, language, or history, I was zealous to learn it because you never know when a new fact or skill can help you solve a mystery that seemed incomprehensible before.
         I love detective stories, too. Real or fictional, they're my favorite type of entertainment. While other little girls were reading picture books, I was engrossed in my first Sherlock Holmes story, "The Speckled Band." When I was very young, I wanted to be a detective when I grew up. I changed my mind when I was old enough to understand how grueling a real detective's job is. Specifically, I realized that detectives are police, or private individuals who play a role similar to that of police. They have to carry guns. Sometimes they have to shoot people. Sometimes they have to decide in a heartbeat whether they should shoot to kill.
         I don't want to have to weigh in a split second whether I should try to kill a person. I don't want to have to weigh anything in a split second; it takes me time to think matters out, assess the details, compare the options. If something as precious as a human life were to hang in the balance of my choosing, I would pray for enough time to be certain I've made the right decision. A detective is less likely to have that luxury. Of course, it's also possible that an archaeologist might have such an unforgiving decision thrust upon her, but for a detective it is quite literally an occupational hazard.
         It was my grandmother who taught me to revere life. She always felt that no life should ever be taken if at all possible, not even that of an animal. She was a vegetarian. Which is slightly atypical, for she was also Navajo, and our tribe has a strong tradition of hunting. When I questioned her about the contradiction, she just smiled and said, "I follow my own path. You must follow yours."
         And I do. I have learned how to hunt animals, when I'm not hunting for artifacts or knowledge, but my chosen tool for such excursions is the camera. I've never eaten meat. At times, I've wondered what it would be like to taste it; I've been strongly tempted to try. But I can't, and I won't, out of respect for my grandmother. I owe her too much.
         I owe her everything.
         It was she who found me, abandoned in the ancient Pueblo ruins two and a half miles away from her summer home. On certain dark days, when threatening grey clouds darkened the sun yet held back from bursting into outright rain, she would climb and wander among those ruins. The motion of the journey and the beauty of the landscape would help bring a certain peace to her troubled soul.
         You see, she lost the two people she loved most under a grey sky. One was her husband - my grandfather - a Chinese man by the name of Chang, whom she married four decades ago. Chang was an employee of the Mishima syndicate, who was sent to our tribe in order to find and steal its "secret treasure," but his own heart was stolen instead. He quit the syndicate, and refused to give them any information about what he had found. For that, Heihachi Mishima had him beaten so badly that it took him three days to die.
         My grandmother was pregnant when he lay on his deathbed. Ominous thunder rumbled across the grey sky as he whispered his last words to her. They were a desperate plea: don't fight the syndicate. Don't let them know you exist. Hide somewhere safe and nurture our child. Out of love for him, she swore she would honor his wishes.
         Allow me to clarify one point before I proceed. My grandmother could not have brought Heihachi to justice even if she had gone public with her story. She never saw the actual beating; the only court testimony she could have given would have been the hearsay of a dead man. Against the legal and financial empire of an international conglomerate, that's less than nothing.
         So my grandmother stayed with her tribe, supporting herself as a skilled weaver - I've tried to learn the craft myself, but my hands are so clumsy; I'm not nearly as good at it as she is. A month later, she gave birth to a daughter, Michelle Chang.
         Perhaps you've heard of Michelle? Some of the modern history books mention her name in passing. She was one of the core leaders and sorcerers who resisted the Great Invasion. It was around the time of the Great Invasion, when the Shao Kahn's curse blotted out the sun under a perpetually grey sky, that the Mishima syndicate kidnapped both my grandmother and Michelle. Eventually the syndicate was conquered and my grandmother was freed, but the victory came too late to save Michelle. Lee Chaolan murdered her, on the orders of Kazuya Mishima. Again, my grandmother was robbed of the chance to see the killers of her loved one brought to true justice, for Kazuya and Lee both died in the final battle for the syndicate.
         And then, about two years later, she discovered me - naked, alone, scarcely a few days old, and left to die of exposure under the grey sky. She's said it was as though Michelle had come back to her. But I can't think of myself like that. I'm nothing like Michelle ever was. I know this more from a friend of my grandmother's than from my grandmother herself. He was the nation of Sanctuary's ambassador to our tribe, and he'd often drop by to visit my grandmother and me, just to see how we were doing. Sometimes he'd help us out with groceries or expenses, but I think that the most valuable thing he did for me was to teach me the Chinese kempo that Michelle once practiced. He'd learned much of it from Michelle herself, when they'd both fought together against the Great Invasion, and he continued to study it throughout his life. His name was Catsclaw, by the way, although you probably won't find him in any history books.
         Catsclaw used to tell me so many stories of the Great Invasion, and about Michelle. She had a fiery temper, lightning-quick reflexes, and a powerful aptitude for sorcery. I possess none of those traits. Especially not the sorcery, although Catsclaw determined that I was a talented reagent, and showed me how I could psychically join forces with him to increase the strength of his spells.
         For that matter, I doubt I'm as good a fighter as Michelle was. She used to be a wandering warrioress, who searched out challenges to test her fighting skills, while I'd much rather test out my theories. Yet I am honored to be associated with her. To this day, I think of her as my mother, even though she died years before I was born, and I bear her last name with pride.
         Is that a good enough start?
         I'll tell you more later, I promise... hey! I know. Why don't you come along with Jin and me? Xiaoyu will probably be at the park, and you can interview her. I'm serious; you have a much better chance of actually connecting with her if you don't schedule an appointment in advance. You know how Xiao-chan is. Besides, I think she'll be pleased to see you - you've been away tracking down records and sources for, um, how long? Three days?
         Hm.
         You look awfully pale, all of a sudden. You're not actually nervous about interviewing Xiaoyu, are you? Come on. What are you afraid she'll do to you? She's only a sixteen-year-old girl.
         Even if she is off her Ritalin.





INTERVIEW WITH LING XIAOYU, section 1
January 30, 2018
10:15 p.m.


         Me?
         You wanna interview me?
         Meeeee...?
         Welllll... okay. But first, you have to...
         GO ON A RIDE WITH ME!
         C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! There's no one else left; my park closes at ten and Jin wants to keep it open tonight but he won't let anyone else stay because heeeee doesn't like crowds! Dumb telepath spoils all my fun. Him and Julia are making out on the ferris wheel right now, see up there? Isn't that totally gross? There's no one left to go on my faaaavorite ride with me, and they won't let me on without two people in a car! So c'mon, c'mon. You'll love it! It'll be fun!
         Huh?
         Me, talk about myself? Make believe I don't know you? Silly! Okay. But you have to buy me some steamed buns after the ride! I like steamed buns. Chinese steamed buns, not those dry, cake-like things you find here. And shrimp dumplings, and Peking duck - I can't believe how long it took Jin to import really good food into my park! Just because he eats like a rabbit, does he have to make everyone else starve? I'm trying to come up with a good name for my amusement park. What do you think of XiaoyuWorld? Or Panda Park? Or-
         Huuuuuh?
         I don't wanna talk about my life before I had my park!
         My life was so boring before I got my park! My mama had so many children, and she took in even more from her relatives, I had maybe a dozen brothers and sisters. I didn't like it! No one would pay any attention to me! There was no money to spend on going to movies or amusement parks, we barely had enough to buy food! And then we didn't even have that! So mama sent me away to live with Uncle Wang.
         She said it was for my own good. She said she couldn't handle me anymore. Well, I was sick of her, too! Uncle Wang wasn't really my uncle, either, he was - was - he told me once, listed so many names and stuff I can't remember, something about my great-great-grandmother's cousin's nephew or something. Anyway, he was nice. But he was old, really old, like close to a hundred, and he lived out in the middle of NOWHERE!
         It was this big stupid Temple of Light where he lived, and where I had to live! It was waaaaay up on the side of some mountain in China! Miles and miles and miles away from anything like a real city! No stores, no movies, no TV, no amusement parks, NOTHING! Uncle Wang had a special word for "boring." He called it "ascetic." Once a year, he'd take me traveling to cities, and we'd go all over the world and tour amusement parks, but the rest of the time I was STUCK out there!
         Just about the only thing you could do there was study. Boring! Uncle Wang taught me how to read and write - he couldn't read to me 'cause he was blind, did you know Kazuya did that to him in the Great Invasion? But he'd drill me with spoken words, and use these magic powers to trace glowing symbols in the air, and he'd have me trace them too, and usually someone else would help him correct me when I wrote on paper, and so on, and so on. I never could learn to read in my old school, 'cause I could never sit still for long enough, my teachers always got upset with me, but it's like nothing could ever upset Uncle Wang. He'd just give me session after session, take a break if it was going bad, then another session, we took a lot of breaks, and that's how I know three languages, Chinese, English, and Japanese! And a bunch of other stuff, too!
         I don't like the school I go to now. But Lee helps me with my homework, he's really nice that way. And it's not so hard to sit still and study boring stuff, even really, really boring stuff, ever since I went to the doctor, it was Lee's idea to take me to the doctor and I got this medicine I take during the day, only during the day, I'm doing lots better in school now.
         Lee's really nice. He says I can do or learn anything if I put my mind to it. He reminds me of Uncle Wang sometimes. Do you know, he says he used to live with Uncle Wang too, ever since he was twelve? No wait, it was the other way around, Uncle Wang used to live with him. In the syndicate, I mean. Not in that stupid temple.
         Dumb old temple.
         The only thing you could do there that was even close to fun was learn how to fight. My mama wouldn't even let me study Wu Shu, but at that temple it's like they teach every kind of Chinese fighting style there is! And a bunch more, too! Uncle Wang's style kind of bored me, though I never told him that - I didn't wanna hurt his feelings. I liked learning Hakke Ken and Hike Ken and Bagua Fist. Uncle Wang encouraged me to study the styles I wanted and mix them into something that suited me, isn't that cool?
         I got pretty good at it, too! Don't believe me? I'll take you on, IwillIwillIwill!
         Oboy! Here's our ride!
         It's my absolute faaaavorite ride, "Quadruple Flying Catapult Plunge of Doom"! Cool, huh? Let's go, let's go, let's go!
         Whaaaaat?
         You CAN'T back out now! If you won't go, I won't tell you anything about Hwoarang! I won't, I won't, I won't! And I know you wanna know about him, I know you have to write about him! You HAVE to go on with me, you have to, you have to! Inside, inside, inside!
         Whee!
         See? I told you it would be fun!
         What about Hwoarang?
         Oh, yeah. Stupid Hwoarang. I hate him. So you wanna know how I first met him, right? Yeah, I knew you'd wanna know! Well, it WASN'T fun. I was only nine, I'd been at the temple for a few months, and sometimes it got so boring that I'd run away and play by myself until it got dark. Uncle Wang didn't like it when I did that, he was afraid I'd get lost, or that something bad would happen to me.
         I hate it when Uncle Wang is right.
         I never saw it coming. One minute I'm hanging off a tree branch, trying to pretend it's a swing ride, and WHAM! I had this wire-like arm wrapped around my neck, and a clammy hand over my mouth. And I mean CLAMMY! And whatever he was wearing, it had an open chest 'cause I could feel more of his clammy skin on the back of my neck while he had me trapped! It was so cold and disgusting, like a lake full of seaweed, it makes me sick to think about it!
         "Don't move," Mr. Disgusting hissed in my ear.
         I bit his clammy hand.
         "Ahr!" he snarled, and his fingers twitched enough for me to take a breath and yell! I yelled "Lemme go, lemme go LEMME GO!" and I fought against him! I slammed back with my elbow, stomped on his foot, and squirmed and squirmed and squirmed!
         "Stop it, you little brat!" he demanded. His voice was as disgusting as he was, sick and evil and dripping with so much hate it upset my stomach! "Don't make me kill you. You're no use to me dead!"
         "Lemme go, lemme go LEMME GO!" I fought and I fought and I fought, but I couldn't get out of his grip! He was too strong! I was only nine years old, and I didn't really know how to fight yet. Boy, if I could only face him now, I'd beat him up! I'd beat him up and make him my slave, I would, I would, I would!
         "I'll let you go when you take me to the Temple of Light," he growled. "Show me the way. Now!"
         "I'll take you!" I shot back. "You bad, nasty, disgusting man, I'll take you there and they'll kill you!"
         "We can only hope." There was something really funny about the way he said that. Like just for a second his hatred wasn't so strong, and there was something else under it, something I couldn't figure out. It was so weird, I actually stopped fighting him for a second. Which was all he needed to get such a grip on me, I could hardly move at all!
         "Which way, brat?" he demanded. The hate was back in his voice now, every sick and clammy and disgusting bit of it, I thought I was gonna throw up. But I didn't, and I showed him the right path. I had to correct him so many times, like every so often he'd just veer off the wrong way for no reason. Uncle Wang later told me it was 'cause of the wards. The Temple has this really powerful magic hiding it, evil things can't even get near it unless they have a guide.
         Like me.
         Stupid Hwoarang.
         Huh? Of course it was Hwoarang who had grabbed me! Who did you think I was talking about? I said I'd tell you about him, didn't I?
         Anyway, when we got there the whole place was in alarm. We were surrounded! They brandished lots of spears and swords and guns! Uncle Wang and Seung Mina were up front - do you know who Seung Mina is? She fought against the Great Invasion, and she ran the Temple of Light ever since Grand Champion Liu Kang put her in charge and went away on some, I don't know, soul journey or something. At least that's what Uncle Wang told me. The story is that if the Temple ever needs Liu Kang again, he'll come back and defend it. But he wasn't there then!
         "No closer, or I'll break her neck!" Hwoarang snapped. Seung Mina glared at him with these cold, angry eyes, cold like the skin on his clammy hand. She looked really mad! I could tell by the way she held her zanbatoh - huh? - that's her weapon, it's like a long pole with a sort of butcher-knife blade on the end. She held it like she was ready to stab someone. And all the other people, they looked like they were just holding back, ready to charge in with swords and guns!
         What were they waiting for?
         I started squirming again, and Hwoarang muttered some kind of curse when I jabbed him and got enough of a breath to yell, "Don't just stand there, stab him! Shoot him! KILL HIM!"
         "Don't listen to the brat," Hwoarang said to Seung Mina, his sick, loathsome, evil voice cutting through my yells like I wasn't even saying anything. "If you don't know what I am, then ask the old geezer - he has Power enough to sense it, I'm sure. Open fire on me, and you won't kill me. You'll just spatter me with the girl's brains. You lose your little brat; I lose my hostage; everyone's unhappy."
         Seung Mina looked at Wang. He nodded once. Her mouth formed this thin, flat line, and she said, "State your demands."
         "I want to fight you. To the death. It has to be single combat with you; no one else can take your place, unless Liu Kang reappears. Agree now, and I'll let the brat go without hurting her. I know all about you Order of Light freaks; you always keep your word, even to the likes of me."
         She didn't even stop to think about it. "I accept your terms."
         "Then you can have this back!" And he shoved me away really hard, so hard I hit the temple steps and started to cry - this was 'without hurting'?
         Uncle Wang was with me just like that, using his magic healing power to make my bruises go away before I even had any. Seung Mina kneeled next to me too, and asked, "Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"
         Hwoarang did not like being ignored. "Hey! You're supposed to-"
         "You agree to duel; as challenged party I set rules!" she shot back. "You break rules, you attack me before duel start, rest of temple stop you! Even if they no can kill you, they can make you suffer - I see how you wince when even this little girl strike you!"
         "Now," she said, turning back to me, "little one, please tell me. Did he hurt you? Did he-" she stopped and swallowed, looking at me with such kindness. "Did he violate you?"
         I think I was too young to completely understand what she was asking, and I couldn't stop crying. I blubbered something about how I was okay, but I was really sorry, the bad man made me show the way to the Temple, and so on.
         "It all right," Seung Mina said, tenderly. "It not your fault. You do right thing." Then she looked at Uncle Wang again.
         "The little one is distressed, but untouched," he told her, softly. "Be careful, my child. Do not let your rage get the better of you in battle."
         "What can you tell me about him? He say you sense something."
         "I sense that he is a creature of darkness, vastly tormented. He was not lying when he said that bullets would not kill him; yet I detect little potential for sorcery, so that I doubt he was referring to a continuous projectile ward, such as Kazuya once used. The rest is unclear. He does seem distantly familiar, yet I cannot remember from where."
         "Then we find out." She turned toward her enemy. "You - what your name?"
         "Hwoarang," he growled, sulkily. I stopped sobbing, lifted my head, and got my first good look at him.
         Funny. He seemed so much bigger and meaner when he held me hostage. But now I could see he was just a teenager! Well, maybe nineteen. He had a kind of skinny body, with long legs and short arms. He wore a training gi of white cloth, black trim, writing I couldn't make out on the back, and a black belt with sparkly little gold characters, knotted about his waist - the shirt looked sort of silly on him, it was like two sizes too small, its bottom edge stopped at his lower ribs. There were deep blue fighting guards on his hands and feet. His face was pinched and made me think of a hawk. He looked Korean, like Seung Mina, but with very, very pale skin. As if he didn't get enough to eat. His hair had this watery-reddish color, and it fell limp and stringy on both sides of his hawk-face, down to his chin. He had a white headband with black trim, matching his gi, but it didn't do a very good job of keeping his stringy hair out of his eyes.
         His eyes...
         When I saw his eyes, I got scared of him again. They were this ugly brown, brown like rotting wood, so dark and cruel and mean and evil! Not like the eyes of any teenager I'd ever seen!
         "Why you want to fight me?" Seung Mina demanded.
         "Why should you care?"
         "You challenge me. I want to know why. You no make rules. I do. Answer my question!"
         He mumbled something. I think it was in Korean, because Seung Mina sharply corrected, "No. Stick to English, so others can understand and remember why we duel. I say I fight you because you threaten one of mine, and because I give my word. Why you want to fight me?"
         "You killed my master. Baek Doo San."
         "That was in battle for Mishima syndicate."
         "Yes."
         "During Great Invasion."
         "Yes."
         "Thirteen years ago."
         "I can count."
         "You just a child then?"
         "Hardly," he sneered. "I was on the front lines, fighting for Kazuya and Baek. You don't remember me at all, do you?"
         "No."
         "I'm not surprised. Liu Kang burned the flesh off my bones. It took me months to regenerate."
         Seung Mina's eyebrows got really flat. "Immortal."
         "Not in single combat. So you're not at as big a disadvantage as you think."
         The angry look to Seung Mina's face became a little softer. "You must love your master very much, to go so far to avenge him."
         "No. I hated that sick psychopath." That funny tone touched his voice again, like all the madness and hatred and evil draining away for just a tiny bit, and - and - I still couldn't tell what was under it, I think I'll never know. He dropped his eyes down to the ground, put his left hand on his hip, and scratched the back of his head with his right hand, like maybe some itch was bothering him. "If it really is that important to you, then you'd better get something straight. I may look like one of you, but I am not like you. I'm not here for love. I'm not here for revenge. Those are for people who die from old age. I am here to kill you, like you killed my master, unless you still have what it took to destroy him. Got that?"
         "I understand."
         "Now will you fight?"
         "You no want weapon of your own?"
         "Don't need any."
         "Then I FIGHT!"
         And she charged him!
         And-
         -and-
         Oboyoboyoboy! We're getting to the really good part of my ride! The beginning is kind of long and slow and dull, but this is where it starts looping and looping and spinning! Hold on, hold on! It'll be FUN!
         AAAAAAAaaaaaaaa!
         Huh? C'mon, c'mon, open your eyes! It isn't any fun if you don't open your eyes, I won't tell you about the fight unless you open your eyes! I remember it really well, I do, I do, I do, I know lots and lots about fighting I'm really good at it I can tell you all about it, open, open, open!
         Yeah, yeah, now you can see! Huh? Oh yeah, okay, it went like this!
         Mina charged him, see, she yelled "Hai, hai, YAAH!" so loud it hurt my ears, it's like her body caught on fire she was so fierce, she stabbed with her zanbatoh from up to down, chopping at his chest, again, again, I saw a sludgy reddish-black substance fly, she twirled around for another cut, but he was already moving with her, sideways, matching her spin, and her cuts must have been really shallow because I only saw red-black, on the very tip and edge of her blade, dark red-black, real blood isn't really that color and I have seen real blood, I have, I have, but it was red-black and it flew off in itty-bitty red-black drops-
         -and Hwoarang grabbed her, locked her weapon arm like a wooden puzzle piece, Uncle Wang used to carve me puzzles like that at the Temple, pieces lock like that and just pulling won't make them go apart, pieces get trapped, trapped, he balanced and kicked to her chest and face with his right leg, switched to left, kicked again, again, right again, twice, it made this awful, thudding sound, I saw her headband fly off, looked like a flag, her hair spilled all over, her voice cut off when the last kick pushed her away, made her hit the ground hard, her face all bruised and bloody, her arm twisted!
         Here's the second loop! Hold on!
         AAAAAAAaaaaaaaa!
         C'mon, keep your eyes open, open! Keep 'em open and I'll tell you what Hwoarang said! He said, "How did you do it!" in this loud, loud scream, stepped wide like he was getting on a horse, and as he screamed some kind of Power suddenly flashed in him, all around him, brilliant blue-white light sparkling on his on his hands and feet, giving off tiny sparkly trails, I thought he didn't know any sorcery? He screamed, "How did weak creatures like you ever crush Baek? Or Kazuya? Or the Shao Kahn? How did you even have a chance-"
         -he ran up to where she had fallen and lifted his sparkly heel up high above his head, high like a skyscraper, right above her neck-
         "-when YOU CAN'T EVEN STAND AGAINST ME!"
         Seung Mina shrieked, "YAAAH!"
         And he brought his heel down like a falling blade, but suddenly she moved, she moved so fast I could hardly see, her foot shot out across the ground and kicked his one leg out from under him, his heel still hit the side of her head but not as hard as he really wanted, the sparks on his hands and feet went out, she was still standing! He rolled as he fell, tried to get up, she stuck the blade of her zanbatoh into the dirt, stepped on its shaft, her foot perched on the guard where blade met pole, she spun her entire body alllll the way around the shaft, whipping her other leg in a big circle, high enough to sock Hwoarang across the chest. He staggered! She took off the ground, her spin became an incredibly high leap, like sorcery of her own, she tucked her knees into a small ball as she spun, spun with her zanbatoh-
         Third loop! Oboy, oboy!
         AAAAAAAaaaaaaaa!
         Keep your eyes open, I said! Don't you wanna know what happened next? Hwoarang's head tilted back, he could see her flight, see it very clearly, his teeth gritted in a snarl, sharp, sharp, teeth poking over his bottom lip, his teeth were so sharp, he kicked straight up, straight up, his trunk went so low he looked like a sideways letter T, and I swear he actually shot a few inches off the ground, they both collided in midair, his foot in her gut, the pole of her blade on the back of his head! And they landed in a heap, she tried to draw back her zanbatoh and stab him again, he planted his foot on her chest and shoved her away! She jumped back, flipping; he tried to get up, staggered, clutched at his head, he was dizzy and she knew it, she knew it, she knew to charge in while she could, spinning and spinning her weapon so much faster than the fastest baton twirler in the world, he retreated, retreated, his legs switched as he moved back, right foot forward instead of left, he kicked as she thrust straight, his angle was so perfect her weapon went right by him, didn't touch him, but she must have felt she was missing him because she turned her body at the last instant, his kick just grazed her shoulder, turning her to the side, he didn't even turn around as he whipped his body the other way and swung his other leg backward, in a kick like a hook-curve, she brought up the pole of her zanbatoh to block it, there came this incredible CRUNCH of broken wood as his heel snapped it in half, shoved her dazed and sprawling on the temple steps, maybe a couple levels above the ground, barely hanging on to the broken half with a blade!
         Last loop! This is the biggest and best one, it is, it is, it is!
         AAAAAAAaaaaaaaa!
         I said KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN! I'm not finished yet! 'Cause Hwoarang dashed forward, full forward now, not even trying to keep a stance, Seung Mina was on her knees at the temple steps, he leaped off the ground and flew, flew like the hawk, I can only think of hawks when I think of him, swooping hawks, sharp, sharp hawk-claws ready to stab, his heel was gonna crush her head-
         "YAAAAH!" she screamed! She really screamed, she didn't try to dodge, didn't try to guard, she jumped off the steps, her own legs shoving her so fast, so fast, she met him straight-on, they collided together one last time, I saw the blade of her broken weapon go into his ribs, into his lungs, tear through the back of his shirt, bloody and gory, the weapon just stayed stuck through him, in him, at the same time his heel dug so deep into her stomach, slamming her hard, so hard against the stone steps, there came an awful, awful SMACK sound, like hitting wet laundry as hard as you can against a washboard, horrible, horrible sound-
         They fell.
         Seung Mina didn't move.
         Hwoarang tried to move. His legs wouldn't work right. His arms twitched. He opened and closed his mouth, gripped the gory shaft running through him, couldn't pull it out, his hands were shaking so hard he couldn't pull it out. His eyes squeezed shut, he looked like he was really, really hurting. He was just lying there, helpless, he looked so helpless, until at last he muttered, "What's taking you so long? Finish this!"
         Hwoarang opened his eyes, and saw Seung Mina on the temple steps, not moving, her back twisted at this terrible, terrible crooked angle, not right, not right at all. "No," he whispered, rotting brown eyes growing wide, so wide, "no, wake up, damn you, wake up!" He reached for her, flopping on his side, the pole through him wouldn't let him roll on his stomach. "Wake up! Wake up!" His hand touched her shoulder, and he tried to shake her, but then he sort of crumpled and folded up, was he really a hawk? He looked more like a crawly worm now, a crawly worm on a fish-hook.
         Uncle Wang said, "This duel is ended. You have won."
         "NOOO!" Hwoarang didn't act like he could even hear, grabbing Seung Mina's shoulder so tight his pale hand turned dead white like powdered salt. "You have to get up! You were able to kill my master! You're the strongest warrior in the Order of Light, the strongest except for Liu Kang and I can't find him anywhere! Get up! Get UP! Get..."
         He was bleeding from his eyes. It's funny, I don't think he was ever cut there, but he had these twisted red-black trails dripping from the inner corners of his eyes, down his face, red-black same as the sludgy pool that oozed and oozed from his chest. "...please get up... please... you're my only hope..."
         Uncle Wang took hold of the blade sticking through Hwoarang's back, and wrenched it out with a single yank.
         "AAHR!" Hwoarang yelled, he jerked in a sudden fit, bent over and pressed his arms against the bloody hole in his body, but now he could roll to his knees and huddle on the steps, and the oozing red-black from his chest didn't ooze so much anymore.
         "Begone," Uncle Wang said, sternly.
         "But... but if she can't..." Hwoarang shook his head, and his body trembled, I thought he'd fold up again. "Who can? How long do I have to go on like this...?"
         Uncle Wang suddenly held himself very still. His head turned to the side, like he was trying to hear something far away, so far away.
         He told me once that sometimes he could see the future, or at least bits and pieces of a maybe future. I was never sure if I believed it. But I guess that was what he was trying to do, because when he spoke, it wasn't exactly his voice; it was this really sad, deep, powerful judgement, like something you just know just know will happen, or maybe happen. He said, "You will die for a murder you do not commit."
         "Wh-what?" Hwoarang blinked and squinted up with his rotting brown, blood-streaked eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"
         "It is all that I can give you. Now, go!"
         Hwoarang shook some more. He tried to stand, it was very hard for him, his skinny body was swaying, still shaking. Then he turned and ran, stumbling and staggering. Even though he'd won the fight, he ran away as if he'd lost, he ran and he ran and he ran, and he never, ever came back.
         Uncle Wang kneeled next to Seung Mina. He put his wrinkled old hands on her neck, and on where her back twisted at that awful angle, there was this really soft, really fuzzy blue-white glow on his fingers. I tried to get closer, the other temple people held me back, I tried to see if she was still breathing, I wasn't close enough to see, couldn't see for sure, I think I called out her name. The other people made me hush, told me I mustn't bother mustn't bother Uncle Wang right now, took me back inside the Temple. I asked if Seung Mina was okay, if she was gonna be okay, they wouldn't answer me, they just told me to pray to the gods, pray for Seung Mina...
         I- I'm sorry, Seung Mina. I'm so sorry. I-I know, I know, everyone says it's not my fault, b-but I'm so sorry, I-... I-...
         I don't wanna talk about this horrible stuff anymore.
         Ride's over, anyway.
         I said I don't wanna talk about it anymore! Ask someone else, ask someone else, go to the Temple of Light, I don't care, I said I don't wanna and I meant it! And it's time to buy those steamed buns you promised me! Off the ride, off the ride, off the ride!
         I want my steamed buns, you owe me, you made me feel so bad! They're over this way, this way, and they're the good kind, the kind that really melt in your mouth, I wanna eat my steamed buns! This way, this way, this way!
         Hey, cook! Gimme four steamed buns! My friend who I pretend I don't know will pay for them, yes, yes, that's right, that's right! Oh, you wanna buy anything for yourself? I like the cotton candy, too. The cotton candy is really good! You want some, you want some?
         Huh? Why are you kneeling down on the ground? You're not still dizzy are you? The first time I went on the "Quadruple Flying Catapult Plunge of Doom" I got so dizzy, but now I can do it ten times in a row without even-
         -without even-
         Ew. Gross! Now I lost my appetite.


End of Chapter 1: Paradise Remembered