written by Victar, e-mail
Victar's Archive:

Chapter 2: Paradise Destroyed

    "One way or another, there were dragons in Eden."
          -Carl Sagan

Hong Kong Daily Register: "Serving Your Information Needs in the 21st Century"
Section 3C
May 19th, 2013


MEXICO CITY: Trauma wracked the world of professional wrestling on the eve of the annual televised "Ultimate Bone-Breaking Rumble," when police confirmed a positive ID on the body of the event's ten-year decorated champion King. The renowned star had been missing for three days. To facilitate investigation into this perplexing homicide, local authorities are withholding the exact location, time, and manner of death pending autopsy results, but an anonymous officer has confirmed that foul play was definitely involved. Funeral arrangements are to be announced.
         King (no other name listed on any official records) was well-known not only as the jaguar-masked champion of the wildly popular "Ultimate Bone-Breaking Rumble," but also the primary benefactor of the Church of the Virgin Mary's Mercy. For over twenty years, King supported the charity almost singlehandedly. Ever since he achieved celebrity wealth and status after winning his first international championship in 1999, he has donated virtually all of his earnings - last estimated to number in the hundreds of millions annually - to the charitable institution. Formerly home to less than a dozen orphans, the Church grew rapidly; in 2001 it modified its mission statement to become an agency for sheltering needy children, and placing them in foster care. At least ten million children worldwide currently benefit from the institution's programs and subsidies.
         Mishima syndicate president and CEO Heihachi Mishima has declared his intention to fund the Church of the Virgin Mary's Mercy, compensating for the loss of King's patronage. The Church is the latest addition to a long list of charities supported by the syndicate, which is best known for its global relief and peacekeeping efforts subsequent to the Great Invasion. In a rare statement to the press, Heihachi Mishima said, "This fighter [King] was once a contender in the Iron Fist Tournament," referring to an international fighting competition the Mishima syndicate hosted in the late 1990s. "His soul was strong. His passing is regrettable."

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Files of Chief Detective Lei Wulong
Department of the Hong Kong Police Force
Classification Level: Omega
Section 202A-1
December 1, 2017
8:59 p.m.

         Activate Omega Level Classification.
         Activate Omega Level Classification.
         C'mon, c'mon, there's a good verbal interface computer, do your job, give me the clearance, I'm only the goddamn chief of this department - work, damn you, work! Activate Omega Level Classification!
         I'm going to kill him. I'm going to hunt down the idiot who dreamed up this voice-exclusive OS, kill him, and bury him in concrete next to the Windows 2005 development team. I'm really going to kill him. TRACY!
         Tracy, I'm sorry to bother you, but the computer is locked up again - it won't display any text, all I can get on the screen are these wavy green lines, you're the only one around here who can make it-
         What? It is?
         You're sure?
         But if the screen stays garbled like that, then how the hell am I supposed to know when it's running?
         So that's what my voiceprint looks like. Eh, give me a goddamn typewriter any day. Okay, Tracy, thanks for your help. No, no, that's all right, you have a nice trip home. I'll clean and edit all the garbage out of this recording later. Good night. Merry Christmas.
         I think I'm beginning to understand why Jun wanted to get away from all this stuff.
         It... still hurts to say her name.
         This is Chief Detective Lei Wulong of the Hong Kong Police Force, ostensibly running a test of the new system. Well, that's what I told Tracy, and it's not really a lie. One way or another, I'll find out whether these new file access, vocal ID, and clearance procedures are as secure as they're cracked up to be.
         Nice thing about Omega Level Classification. No one gets to see it. No one gets to know it exists. Only released to the right people, under the right circumstances. I have to make some kind of record that I know will last, while I still can, and store it in a format that old man Heihachi can't access, copy, alter, or delete, which is more than I could say for a piece of paper. The bastard's had my living quarters searched at least twice already, and half of Hong Kong - hell, a third of the blasted world works for him and his damn syndicate, whether they know it or not. But I can't just make what I know public, or else I'd be thrown off the Toshin case.
         They don't let cops work on cases that involve their families, you know. Standard procedure. Good reasons for it, too. I wouldn't break it if my son's life weren't at stake.
         Yeah, I have a son. Jin Kazama. And I was married to his mother, Jun Kazama. It's a secret I've kept for twenty years. The only people who knew about my marriage were some close friends who fought with my wife and me in the Great Invasion, and almost no one knows that Jin is our son. We raised him hidden away in a remote island wilderness, in order to protect him from his grandfather.
         Was that really where I went wrong? The first place I went wrong? I was so sure I was doing the right thing. I never suspected... never even guessed... the closest I had to anything like a bad premonition was four years ago, when I picked up the Hong Kong Daily Register and read about King's murder.
         King the First, I mean. I've seen his successor on TV. The kid shows promise, I suppose, but I just can't bring myself to compare.
         You see, I used to know King, the real King. We fought together in the Great Invasion, after us good guys won the battle for the Mishima syndicate and busted him out of its human freezers. King and I hit it off at once. Not sure why. Maybe because we had something in common: we were both drunks.
         Excuse me. "Recovering alcoholics," I mean. 'Cause we were both learning, slow and hard, but we were learning how to stay off the sauce. I doubt I ever would have been able to quit if it weren't for my wife. King also had his own family, of sorts, to help him stay sober - a little church of orphans that he struggled to keep running. The church, I mean, not the orphans. Heh, he was a millionaire when he died, but I remember when he was so desperate to scrape together some cash that he risked his life in that blood-sport hellhole, the Iron Claw or whatever Tournament.
         Like I'm doing now. "Covert assignment," yeah, right, Heihachi knows damn well who I am, he hates my guts, he freaking invited me, I know I'm walking into a trap. Not that I have much to lose. All I've got left is my son, and he...
         Dammit, I knew something was wrong when I read that article. Knew it. I kept thinking to myself, "This can't be. Not King. He's like a legend, a legend that never dies. Something's wrong. This can't be," over and over again, I was practically in a state of shock all during the flight home. I'd missed my last weekend visit because of a long-running case, but now I was going to make up for it by coming home for my son's fifteenth birthday, and spending the whole week with him and his mother. I'd been looking forward to it so much, and now I was shaken out of my wits. It's silly. I'm a freaking police officer, I survived the Great Invasion, it's sure as hell not like I've never lost any friends before, it's not even like King and I were pen-pals. But I had this deep-set chill inside my vitals, and I didn't know why. The real reason why.
         I thought I knew why, though. I thought I was taking it so hard because of my biopsy results, of the diagnosis that stayed the same even though I'd gone to three different doctors, I thought it was affecting my frame of mind. So I composed myself and resolved not to think about it for now, not to think about King either, threw the newspaper away, I was going to go home and enjoy my son's birthday and worry about everything else later.
         Which was why I dallied until late at night before I arrived home. Figured I'd give myself time to calm down, smooth out my emotions. My son is an extremely powerful empath, you see, and I knew he'd pick up on my anxiety if he were awake when I showed up. So I came home late, and Jun, well, she didn't scold me, but she looked at me with this uncertain frown. She knew that me coming home late meant something wasn't quite right. And when she embraced me at the door, I should have known that something was wrong with her, too. She held me differently than usual - tighter, more clinging, like something precious you're afraid you're going to lose.
         I should have known. I should have.
         I'm not sure whether I was going to say something, but she raised her finger to my lips as though to hush me, and took me to bed. Neither of us said a single word. We spent our last night together in darkness and quiet, communicating only by touch. I think... I think I was afraid to speak, afraid all my fears would show through my voice, and the terrifying truth would come out. At the same time, I knew that I couldn't hide the truth from her for long; she deserved to know, and soon.
         I didn't know why she was also so reticent, but I should have known. I should have. Why did I assume that I was the only one with a lethal burden on my mind? Why?
         Nngh... nn-not again... hate it when this happens...         
         Dammit, not now! I have to finish this freaking record!
         I didn't dream that night, but my sleep must have been restless, because when I woke up it was early morning - so early that the sun hadn't risen yet, and the sky was grey from the half-formed dawn. It was not at all like me to wake up so soon. Jun was the early morning person. Usually, I'd get up to full daylight and an empty bedroom. But this morning was different. Jun stood next to our bedroom window. It was open; a frigid breeze drifted through it. She was looking out the window, up at the cold, grey sky. She hugged herself, her right hand clutching her left upper arm, which was folded securely against her body. I'm not sure for how long I lay in bed, just watching her.
         She was so beautiful.
         Sometimes I can close my eyes and still see her, elegant as she was - her slender figure half-hidden by shadow, half-illuminated in soft radiance. The cool air gently lifted and separated the raven strands of her shoulder-length hair. If not for that slight motion, she would have seemed frozen in time, eternally still, her exquisite form the perfect silhouette of her graceful, loving soul.
         I've wondered how it was that I married the most beautiful woman in the world. What it was that I did to deserve her love. It's the sort of thing I could never ask her, because she devoutly believed that love isn't something that should be "deserved," or "justified," or that people should be judged "worthy" of it. And a part of me has, I think, come to accept her view, in some ways. But there's always been at least one small piece of me that will never understand.
         Her eyes closed, and I saw what might have been a tear. That was what finally gave me the courage to speak.
         "Jun," I said, quietly. "Are you all right?"
         She turned, slowly, and looked at me. Then she bit her lower lip, as she always did when she was troubled.
         "I had the dream again last night," she answered, in a whisper.
         I waited for her to continue.
         "It's the same one I've had for five days now. Not a nightmare. Not just my brain talking to myself. It was real, real as you and me here now. The last time I had such a dream was in the Great Invasion, and it wasn't a dream - it was a warning."
         I remembered, all too well. "What have you been dreaming about now?"
         "Sickness. Corruption. A terrible, terrible wound gone bad, a disease so malignant that not even all the gods and angels in heaven can... can heal it... can keep it from spreading... it's been hidden away for so long, waiting, festering, but it was only a matter of time, it's coming for us, it's all gone bad, it's all..."
         She trailed off, shivering.
         I heard her, I was listening to her with all my heart, but I did not understand. Why didn't I understand?
         "I'm sorry," I said, drawing up my knees and bowing my head. "I should have told you. I was going to tell you, I swear, I just wanted to... to wait until after Jin's birthday, is all."
         She stopped shivering outwardly, but when she looked into my eyes, I could see that inside she was trembling more than ever. "What is it?"
         I took a deep breath. "You were right about the fatigue I've been feeling, lately. It wasn't just a temporary bug. I've been tested by three different doctors now, and the results are the same. Liver cancer. I'm scheduled to undergo surgery in another week."
         Her beautiful eyes became so wide. There was such shock on her face. That should have been my clue, even if I didn't understand anything else. That is how I should have known. How could she have been surprised, if what I had told her was what she had already foreseen?
         "Oh, no," she mouthed, fearfully. "No..."
         "Listen. It's not as bad as you think." I slipped on a nightshirt, went to her, and held her shoulders, mustering all the courage and hope and resolve I could. "In the Great Invasion, you dreamed of a massacre, but we were able to join forces and wipe out the killers. We'll do it again."
         "I can't cure cancer, Lei. Neither can Jin. Healing sorcery doesn't have the power-"
         "That's not what I meant. We'll fight this thing, Jun, fight it and beat it with modern medical technology. Hell, what else am I going to spend money on? You never let me buy anything for you... look, don't worry. Don't be afraid. I'm not going to leave you or our son, I promise."
         "You're in denial."
         "I am not."
         She didn't say anything, but just looked at me with that searching gaze, the one that eventually makes me search myself and admit to what I find.
         "All right, all right," I sighed. "I know. I've put nearly all the money I've saved into a secret trust fund in both our names. In the worst case, it will provide for you and Jin - it's enough to send him to a good college, if that's what he wants to do. I've brought the paperwork home with me."
         "That's not what I'm worried about. There's something Jin needs to know, and he needs to hear it from you."
         "I - I guess I'm ready to tell him, it's just that it's his birthday, I thought maybe we should wait until-"
         "Not just about your cancer, Lei, although you won't be able to hide it from him. I knew something was disturbing you when you came home last night. He'll know, too, when he sees you."
         "Then what?"
         "He needs to know about his grandfather."
         I stiffened. "What?"
         "He needs to know about his-"
         "I heard what you said, do you realize what you're asking?" And I am ashamed to admit to the reproach that crept into my voice, the sudden antagonism that made me let go of her and start pacing, restlessly. "Do I have to remind you what Heihachi Mishima is?"
         "I still have Kazuya's memories, Jun. The memories he put in my mind. Even after all these years, they're a part of me and always will be. I remember how Heihachi verbally and physically abused his only blood son, beat him almost daily, tried to kill him, tried to control him, forced him to suffer, taught him how to hate with a vengeance. Those seeds of hatred twisted Kazuya, warped the Power inside him, and led him to invite the Devil into his soul. He became a mass-murderer allied with the monsters that wreaked genocide on the human race! And all the while, deep inside, he was as tortured as the thousands of lives and souls that he enslaved to his necromancy. The last remaining piece of his humanity could only struggle helplessly, desperately, pleading for someone or something to put a stop to his madness. I am not going to let history repeat itself, Jun. Not ever. I'm not going to let Heihachi near our son. It's not going to happen all over again! It is NOT!"
         She drew herself up a little taller and straighter, confronting me evenly - not with hostility, not with anger, but with a strength of will that could not be dismissed offhand. "Kazuya's memories of his father are from over twenty-five years ago. Time passes. People change."
         "Not Heihachi."
         "His syndicate helped restore natural life to the world, after the Great Invasion. His Tekkenshu forces have ended wars and famines-"
         "-and brought more nations than I can count under his thumb. You want to hear about the other half of the Mishima syndicate? The half that doesn't get reported in all the newspapers and TV journalism he controls with a fist of steel? You want to hear about how anyone who digs up too much dirt on his 'peacekeeping' force tends to vanish without a trace? You want to hear about his drug cartels and deals with a hundred different types of Mafia? You want to hear how-"
         "No, you don't have to tell me. You have to tell Jin. Tell him everything you know about Heihachi, good and bad, and show him the memories that Kazuya gave you. Jin is fifteen, Lei. He's not a little boy anymore. He's old enough to make decisions for himself, and he can't make them if he doesn't know the truth. The whole truth."
         "I said no! You know what our son is like. You know that if he learns about Heihachi, he'll want to meet him, he'll insist on meeting him, and once Heihachi knows of Jin's existence there will be no going back. I don't think there's a place in the world that Jin could hide from the Mishima syndicate, once they knew to look for him."
         "Maybe it's time to stop hiding."
         "I'm not going to discuss this anymore. I'm not. I'm just not. I know I've agreed to so many other things, so maybe you think I'll agree to this too, but it isn't going to happen. You want to keep your last name, and hand it down to our son? Fine, my name dies with me. You want to live out in the middle of a wilderness? Fine, I'll fly across the ocean to make it possible. You want to give up anything remotely like a material convenience? Fine, I'll clean up in that rusty bucket of cold water you call a 'bathtub.' You want to feed us nothing but rabbit food, milk, and eggs? Fine, as long as our son gets enough protein. You want to take Jin to your pretty shrine, teach him this religion that I think is a load of meaningless, self-deceiving crap, what the hell! Fine! Let him make what he will of it! But I'm not going to change my mind on this. I'm not! Not now, and not EVER!"
         I was out of breath when I finished my tirade. Jun never once became upset with me. She just looked sad. That was when it sank into me what I was doing. I was shouting at the most beautiful woman in the world, even going so far as to insult the beliefs she held dear.
         "I- I'm sorry," I muttered, turning away and covering my eyes with my hand. "I don't know what came over me. Didn't mean to yell at you like that..."
         "I'm sorry, too," she returned, quietly. "I know I've upset you terribly, because I haven't seen you like this since the Great Invasion."
         "I still can't tell him, Jun."
         "I understand." She embraced me from behind, putting her gentle, tender arms around my neck and chest. "You want to protect him. I can't blame you for that. There's something else I'd like to ask you, though. For our son's sake."
         "He's spent his whole life in virtual isolation with us. He's had almost no experience with the outside world. But one day, he'll have to become a part of the world, and he'll need to be prepared."
         "Eh, well, he's been getting better at controlling his powers around other people, hasn't he?"
         "In the village, yes, but we both know it isn't a city - it isn't even a suburb. Lei, for Jin's fifteenth birthday, I want you to take him on a trip. Take him to Hong Kong. Or mainland China. Or Korea, or America, take him and show him the world. Introduce him to other people, and help him learn how to adjust when he's around greater numbers. He does deserve to learn. I chose to live in the wilderness after experiencing life in the city, but Jin doesn't have the firsthand knowledge on which to base such a decision."
         I cocked my head a little to the side. "I already bought his birthday present. A battery-powered, laptop computer. It can connect to the Internet by cellular phone. And I was all wound up to convince you that this one technological device would be good for him, ready even to give up my TV if that would persuade you to allow it."
         "Take him on a trip, Lei. Leave this morning - the pilot who brought you is still at the village, right?"
         "Uh, what time is it?"
         My watch was over on the dresser, but she told me before I could go check it; I guess she knew from the condition of the sky. "A little before five-thirty."
         "Then he'll be there, but in about another half-hour he'll take off for the week."
         "Go find him. Tell him to wait. You can make it if you run."
         "Me? I'm hardly even dressed-"
         "Please, Lei."
         "-and besides, the plane only seats two passengers, at most. If Jin and I took it now, there'd be no room for you."
         "Lei, after the week is over, you're going into surgery. We don't know for certain when you'll have this chance again."
         "Jun, I-"
         "Please," she insisted, folding her hands one over the other. "It's important to me. It's important to our son. He's never really had the chance to spend as much time with you as he does with me; it has to be you who takes him. It has to."
         "Huh? Did you promise him I'd take him on a trip? Not that I mind, but-"
         "No, I haven't told him yet. I- I'll tell him now." And she turned and whisked out of there. I quickly threw on some clothes and followed her to our humble living room, where she held a piece of paper tensely in her right hand.
         It was a note, printed in Jin's precise, neat brush strokes. It read, "Gone to leave offerings." I remembered that he was in the habit of doing that, at the shrine his mother had made.
         "Jun," I said, shrugging on my blazer, "are you sure-?"
         "Go on," she pressed, turning to me. "Hurry! Tell the pilot to wait. I will send Jin after you."
         I looked at her, at the immediate, urgent concern in her eyes. The memory is like torture to me, now. It was so obvious, so transparently there, but at the time, the only thing I could see was that she dearly wanted me to do this, with all her heart and all her soul. And because it was what she wanted, because she asked me to do it, because it clearly mattered so much to her, I said...
         I said...
         "Four days," and I held up four fingers to emphasize the words. "We'll go on a trip for four days. Then we'll come back so I can spend the rest of the week with you, all right? I've missed you. I love you."
         She held me one last time. Differently than usual. Closer, more clinging, like something precious that you know will be taken from you.
         "I love you, Lei," she whispered in my ear. "Oboete-nasai."
         And I left.
         I... I left her. I left.
         Jin... Jin, I don't know if you'll ever see this record, but if you do, I - I'm not asking you to forgive me. I can't ask you. I can't forgive myself. But please, listen to me, believe me when I tell you that if... if there were anything, any price I could pay to go back and change what I did, I would pay it. I'd give up my life - what's left of it, anyway. I'd give up my soul. And I know damn well what I'm talking about, Kazuya took possession of my soul for six months during the Great Invasion, I know what it's like to exist without one, and I would do that if it meant that I could-
         -that I could-
         Nngh... nn-not again...
         ...hate it when this happens...
         C-... computer... deactivate Omega Level Classification.

February 1, 2018
9:45 p.m.

         Um, thank you for coming so promptly. And for all you've done so far. I saw what Xiaoyu put you through. Word is you're still avoiding solid food.
         Uh, before you begin, there's something I've been meaning to ask you. I was going to ask you the other day - I don't know why it slipped my mind.
         No, that's not right. I think I do know. It slipped my mind because I - I made it slip. Because I'm still not sure I'm prepared. But I have to know.
         Was your trip to Hong Kong a success? Did you get my father's records?
         You did?
         Thank you.
         Thank you, I sincerely appreciate it - I should have read these weeks ago, ever since Julia told me about their existence, but I just couldn't bring myself to negotiate for their release. You... you don't mind if I look at them now, do you?
         Thank you.

         An hour?
         I'm so sorry, I didn't notice the passage of time - a whole hour? Are you sure? I didn't mean to keep you waiting so long. I-I just couldn't stop thinking about how, for four whole years, I never once put myself in my father's place, or tried to see what happened through his eyes. He didn't have the empathic powers that I did. He didn't have the prophetic dreams my mother did. How was he to know? How was he really to know?
         No, no, it's all right. I'm fine.
         No, wait - don't go. I can't just send you away after making you wait like that; it wouldn't be right. You - you need to know what the record leaves out, don't you?
         You need to know what happened to my mother.
         When I woke up on the early morning of my fifteenth birthday, I sensed that both my parents were also awake, but something seemed to be troubling them, and that troubled me. They weren't acting according to habit - my father almost always slept through mornings, while my mother liked to sit outside and enjoy the sunrise. Even more than that, though, I'd felt a growing anxiety in my mother during the past several days. She'd been unwilling to discuss it. It bothered me, as I wrapped the food and flowers for my ancestors. It bothered me so much that I paused to leave a note, even though my mother surely would have known where I was going.
         A moment before I stepped out the door, I was suddenly taken with the temptation to psychically tune in to my parents' thoughts and feelings. But I knew I had no right to intrude on their privacy. So I reinforced the walls in my mind a little more, and left for the shrine, alone.
         Let me tell you about another of Julia's words. Projection, she calls it. Unconsciously attributing a flaw in yourself to other people, in order to protect yourself from condemnation in your own mind. I've blamed my father for leaving that day, and hated him for it, but what I failed to admit for four long years was that I left, too. I left for the shrine, when I knew something was wrong - when I had the Power to sense something was wrong! If I'd stayed, I could have confronted them both. I could have learned the whole truth from my father, and told him the whole truth about what I'd felt in my mother. But I didn't stay. I left.
         I... I left them. I left.
         The sky was overcast. Shaded this ominous, threatening grey, the grey of an impending storm. And the wind was so cold for the month of May; I shivered involuntarily as I tendered the gift I'd designated for the memorial to Kazuya Mishima. I'd scarcely kneeled and settled into my prayers when I heard the approach of footsteps behind me. The presence of my mother's thoughts brushed against the walls in my mind.
         She was afraid, but doing her best to put on a calm, secure front. It might even have deceived me, if I hadn't known her so well. If she hadn't let me into her psyche so many times in the past, while tutoring me about everything from sorcery to science, so that I could immediately recognize her undercurrent of agitation for what it was. I silently apologized to the souls of the dead, then turned to her and asked, "Mother, what's wrong?"
         "Your father is taking you on a trip," she said, softly. "You must go to the village and leave with him - you know where his plane is, don't you? Hurry. Your ancestors will understand."
         "Something is wrong," I inferred, standing up. "I've felt it in you all week. Why are you trying to send me away?"
         "Go. There is no time."
         I folded my arms and shook my head. "Not until you tell me."
         Her emotional guard wavered. She bit her lip, and hugged herself. I'd never seen her look so insecure. It shook me.
         "All right," she relented. "I will tell you something that your father does not want you to know. I don't want to compromise his wishes, but your survival could be at stake. Jin, you have a grandfather, Heihachi Mishima. If anything happens to both your father and me, you must go to him for protection."
         I was stunned.
         "I- I have a grandfather? Wh-why didn't either of you-" I started to stutter, and then the full extent of the truth sank in.
         I knew who Heihachi was. I'd heard about him and his syndicate, seen his picture in newspapers and rarely on television. Now that I had reason to think about it, he did resemble me a little - certainly a lot more than my...
         Than my...
         "My father isn't related to me by blood, is he?"
         "He is your father through love, Jin. Remember that, always. But your powers - your gift for sorcery above and beyond my own talents, and especially your telepathy - are the legacy of Kazuya Mishima. It is a long story. I wish I had time to recount all of it, but you have to go now."
         I studied her, carefully. It was slightly difficult to focus in the dim light. By now it should have been true morning, yet the sky wasn't any brighter; the grey overcast had become darker, heavier, omnipresent.
         "You still haven't told me what's wrong," I said to my mother.
         "There is no time. You must leave with your father."
         "Something is threatening you, isn't it? You've been having dreams, haven't you? For the last five days, you've always been the most upset just after you wake up in the morning. You've told me that you once had a nightmare that came true during the Great Invasion. What have you been dreaming of now?"
         Her ginger eyes closed. A slight trickle of moisture appeared in their corners. "I can't keep anything from you, can I?"
         "Whatever it is, Father and I will protect you."
         "No. You will not, because you cannot." How can I describe her, then? It was as if, in that moment, all the fear and inner dissent left her. She straightened to her full height, set her chin with a determined resolution, and looked me in the eye - she was a little shorter than me, so she had to tilt her head back a bit to do that. "I have to face this alone, Jin. It has targeted me, but if it learns about you and your father, it will come after both of you next, and you cannot defeat it. Not here. Not now. You are not strong enough, and more importantly, it is not weak enough. This was my warning, and it was very clear. If I try to escape my fate, if I let you fight for me, you will lose and you will die."
         "So you're saying we should just run away? Abandon you to this monster? It isn't going to happen, mother."
         "You're not running away from it forever, because you can't. You're buying time. Once, in the Great Invasion, I called upon the Power of Unmaking. I can't do so again, but I do still have my connection to the Earth, and to the life upon it - I can use that Power to send this presence away for five years. You must use those five years well. Hone your strengths, and look for allies. When it comes back, you must be prepared; find a way to end its menace."
         "I won't leave you," I asserted, clenching my hand and consciously summoning crackles of indigo Ki to my fist. "I'll help you. So will Father; the three of us will work together to banish this thing. You know your sorcery will be stronger with us as your reagents!"
         "No, Jin. You must go to the village. Now. I have already sent your father away."
         "Then come with us."
         "It would track me, and my worst nightmare would come true."
         "You can't insist on confronting this thing alone just because you had a dream!"
         "Not a dream. Destiny. Don't you see? I am not its first target. It has been hunting strong souls ever since it was roused, and with each new life it absorbs, it becomes more powerful. It has the potential to become the next Shao Kahn. If it is not stopped, it will eventually grow to annihilate the whole world. It is coming for me, and it will come for you, because we are among the few people who have any chance of stopping it. Only purity within and purity without can close the wound that is Toshin."
         A freezing blast went through me when she said its name.
         "What's all this about purity and wounds?" I asked.
         "I'm not sure. It was the final message of my dream - a message of hope. Hold on to that hope, Jin. Hold on to it, and share it with your father. You-"
         The sky, grey a moment ago, darkened to black. Wind howled, cruelly, vengefully. The air tingled with the spiteful fury of an impending hurricane.
         "No," my mother breathed, whipping her head back and forth, "no, it's too soon!" She looked at me, with fierce wildness in her eyes. "Run, Jin! Run AWAY!"
         "Don't worry, mother. We'll fight this thing, and we'll beat it! It's going to be all right, mother. It's going to be-"
         And it was there.
         I felt it before I could see it. Sickness. Corruption. A churning, walking laceration, torn open in space and time, an all-devouring void that could not be sated. Though it had a solid form, it wasn't truly a physical being; it was hunger and death made tangible, a moving, seething rift of necromancy. The malignant, consumptive wrongness of it pressed against me, smothering my thoughts.
         I had a vague intimation of its shape, framed as it was in darkness. It resembled a tall, broad, masculine warrior. Its green skin shimmered with a faint radiance. Glints testified to the pieces of stylized bronze armor decorating its arms, legs, and waist. A thick, mane-like plume almost as long as the warrior was tall stretched from its helmet, blowing in the wind. A small, disc-shaped shield protected its left forearm. Its right hand grasped a severed human head by the hair.
         The wind became a gale. I braced myself against the maelstrom and shouted, "You! Stay away from my mother or I'll KILL you!"
         Its eyes transfixed me.
         They weren't human eyes. In a sense, they weren't eyes at all. They were solid red pools of fever. Burning like fire, they glowed hypnotically in the darkness. I couldn't move. I couldn't think. All I could do was listen to its crushing judgement, delivered in its voice of doom. It did not speak just with "sound"; it's more as though sound waves were the by-product of an omnipotent psychic thunderstorm that pounded on my mind. Its communication was raw, direct, essential meaning, over and above the limits of human language, impressed more clearly than even direct telepathic contact.
         It broke eye contact with me, cast away the head, and advanced upon my mother. She did not move to fight it, or run. She put her hands together in prayer, and closed her eyes.
         "We do not always get what we want," she told it, serenely. "And when we do, it comes at a price."
         I didn't know why she was just standing there. At the time, I thought she was overcome with paralysis, just as I had been. Now I know that she wasn't. But she thought that I was still held immobile, unable to interfere, and I nearly was. It wasn't until the warrior-monster took her by the throat and lifted her off the ground that I regained the ability to move.
         "No!" I cried. "No, STOP!" I charged the Toshin, ramming it full force with my shoulder. It never saw me coming, or had a chance to brace itself, and even so my attack barely staggered it. Keeping my left side turned to it and poising myself on my right foot, I snapped a backfist to its face, then turned in a clockwise circle, leaning forward on my pivot leg and directing another punch into its midsection. It blocked with its shield, but doing so distracted it from its hold on my mother. I took instant advantage of that, channeling the flow of my motion into sweeping, straight-up kick with my free leg. My heel hit its wrist, hard enough to send a jolt both ways. There was some kind of energy coursing through its skin, an electrical shock that pushed me back; at the same time, it lost its grip on my mother's throat and she fell to the ground, coughing.
         It reached for me. I stepped back and thrust out my palm, willing my sorcery to create an impenetrably thick barrier. "Shogai!" I yelled, protecting myself and my mother with a flashing wall of psychic force-
         -which it never even noticed.
         Its very presence caused my magic to melt into stray beams of flickering light. Before I could understand how or why, the warrior-monster had me by the neck. Its energy bound me securely, and engulfed me in searing pain. I could feel a loathsome black gate reaching for my innermost core, threatening to rip me out of my body and suck me into its nether depths-
         My mother screamed, "NO!"
         For a moment, my vision blacked out. I couldn't breathe. I felt a distant impact, and blades of grass against my face; the Toshin had dropped me. Putting a hand to my throat, I swiftly summoned the Power to heal, mending the damage to my squeezed windpipe before I could suffocate. I nearly lost my concentration when I saw my mother fighting the monster, battling it for my soul.
         I... I've heard it said that there is nothing more dangerous than a mother protecting her young. Whenever I come across such words, I can only think of how she attacked that terrible monster - how she raged like a typhoon in the darkness, battering the Toshin with every shred of her being. She did not try to use sorcery. She pummeled it with raw physical force, and the power of her Ki. Even though she was a slight person, thin and scarcely more than half its height, she tore into it with a strength that pushed the limits of human, and the skill of an Aiki Ju Jitsu master. Keeping her right arm bent at a square angle, she cracked her fist against its chin - she had to crouch and jump off the ground to do that; shifting stance in midair, she landed balanced on her right leg, with her left side toward the monster. My mother moved so fast I could scarcely see her snap a backhand chest strike and turn in a circle on her pivot leg to repeat a lower-targeted body blow, just as I had done; she hit it high again, followed by another uppercut that actually made it reel. Its weight was mostly on its back leg now, so she crouched and rammed its thigh with her fist, accelerating her drive to push it off-balance by snapping her right foot in a high front kick, then turning and stabbing her left heel in a low strike to its weakened shin. Its supporting leg gave way, forcing it to hunch down on one knee, at her mercy.
         My mother catapulted herself in a cartwheel without touching her hands to earth. Her gathering Ki coursed through her, flashing like white fire on her feet; she landed on its back and shoulders in a spectacular discharge, grinding its face into the carved memorial to Lee Chaolan. Its helmet flew off its head, and its unprotected neck hit the stone at a hideous angle. I heard a perversely sharp crack sound. It spasmed once, and flopped motionless on the grass.
         "You killed it!" I exclaimed, in amazement and relief. Then she turned toward me, and the grim, resolute look in her eyes stifled my impulse to celebrate.
         "No," she said, harshly. "Watch."
         The Toshin's broken-necked form started to boil, becoming first like liquid, then like gas, a thick, cloying mist that crackled with electricity and rumbled as a thundercloud. The mist began to condense into something solid. Something big.
         "I've only forced it to assume its true shape," my mother continued. "It cannot be killed, because it is Immortality personified. Damage it enough, and it will become dormant for a few minutes, but it will always regenerate. Violence cannot slay it. Sorcery cannot harm it. Only sacrifice can bind it, just as only sacrifice can summon it forth. For the last time, Jin... run."
         "Nn-not - without-"
         I had difficulty speaking, though whether from lingering damage to my throat or an overload of stress I could not say. I took a halting step forward; my head hurt from where it had hit the ground, making me somewhat dizzy, but I was stable enough to reach her side.
         "-you!" And I seized her hand, pulling her after me as I fled the reforming monster. I don't think she expected me to do that, because I could feel her sudden bewilderment, acute through the link of our physical contact. We sprinted down the path to our house, and had almost reached the back door when the Universe erupted in fire.
         It happened all at once. A cascade of torrential flame washed all around us, consuming our home in an explosive blaze, fanned to an advancing incinerator by the unnatural tempest. White-hot sparks streaked like falling stars across the blackened sky. I couldn't see. I couldn't advance. We were both trapped inside a tightening net of superheated death. In a reckless burst of inspiration, I remembered the forest stream where I took my daily baths; I made a blind, lunging leap in what I prayed was the right direction, through the wall of flame, pulling my mother after me. There was an intense, searing flash all over my body as my clothing caught ablaze and the heat scorched my skin. I'd already summoned my healing Power, and was using it to counter the damage to myself and my mother as we passed through the fire, but even so, my abilities have their limits. When we hit the water, I was shaking from pain and shock, crippled from the agony of my scorched tissue. I tried my damnedest to block it out and focus on salving my mother's burns. She sensed what I was doing and wrenched her hand free from mine, breaking the link that allowed me to heal her; the suddenness of that completely disrupted my efforts. To this day, I still carry a jagged black burn-scar on my left biceps and lower shoulder, here, and similar fire-blisters all over my right leg from shin to thigh.
         I was coughing and choking, too, ready to gag from the smoke; my eyes stung from the cloying fumes. And so I never had a chance to anticipate the source of fiery doom before it swooped down from above, and gored me with its horns.
         I was lucky. Its horns were set so far apart on its head, spread like twin spears, that they did not impale my body cavity directly; instead, each long, curving spike carved into my either side, slicing underneath my outer ribs while missing my kidneys by scarcely a centimeter. The impact threw me, bleeding and burned, on the smoldering riverbank. My head hit a hard rock. I tried to get up. I tried to summon my healing power; there was nothing left to sustain it. The natural life around me was consumed in flames, and my own body had passed into a state beyond shock, worse than paralysis; I could feel the remote flow of red wetness down my sides and the tenderized texture of my scorched skin, but I couldn't do anything about any of it. I threw everything I had into an attempt to stand up, and didn't make it, sprawling half-in, half-out of the water. Darkness constricted my mind. It was a struggle just to keep my eyes open.
         "Nngh... no..." I mouthed, straining with quaking arms to push myself off the ground. I was just barely able to lift my head, barely able to glimpse, in hellish red-orange firelight, the shadows of the creature and my mother.
         The Toshin no longer appeared as a warrior. Its fanged, contorted face was the only part of its body that retained any humanoid resemblance. It had metamorphosed into a grotesque cross between a dragon and a gargoyle, its vast, leathery wings spread wide, its massive, stone-scaled body seeming to almost absorb the firelight and give off darkness. Crooked hind legs propped it up in a mockery of a bipedal stance, made possible only by the counterbalance of its stiff, heavy tail. Its clawed, animalistic forelimbs wrapped my mother in a backbreaking bear-hug, suspending her far above the ground. The enraged red pits of its fevered eyes glared into her own. They were at least twenty meters away - that was how far the monster had thrown me when it struck - yet I distinctly heard my mother's defiance carried on the wind, stern and courageous.
         "I warned you there would be a price."
         I was too battered to call out with my voice, or even move. I tried anyway, reaching out with my hand until my other arm's support gave way, and in place of an outcry I screamed with my mind. Mother! NO!
         Her thoughts answered me. I love you, Jin. Oboete-nasai.
         And the darkness gave way to purest white.
         The ivory light spread from her, driving back the unnatural night, engulfing the creature along with her, until they were both lost in a billowing, luminous star, a star so beautiful it still shined in my head after I succumbed to blackness of my own collapse, and the burning world dimmed to a uniform, sensory numbness where I could feel no pain, no grief, could feel nothing at all.
         I can tell you about it so clearly because I haven't lived it just once. I've experienced it again and again, countless thousands of times in my mind, awakened screaming from the nightmare for years after it happened. I've gone over it, and over it, and over it, remembering every detail, trying to understand why I failed. Why I wasn't strong enough to save my mother. What weakness or evil it was in me that... that couldn't...
         ...Julia has me seeing a shrink now.
         Excuse me. A "psychotherapist," to use another of her words. I'm not sure what good it's supposed to do, but I can feel that she worries about me, and she promised to worry less if I would agree to this, so there you have it. I'm sorry, my first appointment is conflicting with the time I scheduled to tell you what happened next, so that even though I know I've kept you longer than you thought you'd be here, I feel as though I ought to ask you to stay for a little bit more. Because when I woke up-
         What? I know it's getting late, but, um, don't you need to know this? Well, I suppose there's no immediate deadline. I just thought-
         You do? What other source?
         My grandfather's journal?
         I never knew he kept a journal...

EXCERPT: private journal of Heihachi Mishima
May 20, 2013

         Every time I look in the mirror, I see more grey.
         I despise it.
         It is the color of death that I see, thinning my moustache and hair to the cold shade of sifting ashes. It is the same as the ever-deepening wrinkles that crease my face. The stiffness that cramps my joints each morning, prior to my ritual bath. The fatigue that claws at my chest and winds my lungs when I conduct my daily training.
         I will not have it.
         I regrew this desecrated, wasted world in the wake of the Great Invasion. My syndicate imposed peace where anarchy would have reigned. It is my will, my rulership that has brought Order to the Earth! And yet, my work is far from complete. Not all the world acknowledges its debt to me, or holds my power in full respect. Such ingratitude. Such hypocrisy. Despite the disdain of these petty creatures, these children who feed upon the blood of their ancestors, I will not leave my work unfinished. I will not leave my work, ever.
         I will not die!
         My plans have suffered a setback, but I will not die!
         As much as I seethe at she who has taken away what is rightfully mine, I am forced to confess my own failing. It was I who delegated the responsibility for the Toshin expedition to weak underlings, rather than let the blood of the requisite sacrifice stain my personal hands. I did not expect the Toshin to be a living creature that could flee my will. I thought it to be a mummy, an artifact, or possibly a construct of sorcery. All I knew for certain was that it was the key to my renewal. The immortal, eternal antidote to the advancing poison of Time. Yet the accursed thing escaped me!
         I tried to track it.
         My Tekkenshu forces searched the world for any sign of its presence. For three days, we found nothing. Then came a breakthrough. I learned of a series of murders and disappearances of strong fighters, all over the world - partly because the syndicate keeps track of such people, and of former participants in the Iron Fist Tournament. Many such have been slain these past five days, their mangled bodies drained of vitality just as were the unfortunate wretches who conducted my expedition. The Toshin's own words in the recording log state that it is drawn to "souls of power" - this could not be a coincidence. We followed the creature's bloody trail, starting with where it slew King in Mexico City to where it absorbed a female Manji renegade in Japan.
         And then our instruments detected an unnatural shift in weather patterns scarcely a hundred miles away, emanating from the isolated wilderness of Yakushima Island. This time, I resolved, I would not repeat my mistake. I would not send servants in my place. I flew there at once by hoverjet, bringing with me an entourage of the Tekkenshu's finest. But it would be I, and I alone, who would vanquish the Toshin and claim its Immortality. Or so I thought.
         It was gone.
         Damn it to the Eight Paths to Hell! It was gone!
         Our hoverjet touched down amidst ruin: a burning forest, a house reduced to cinders, and the scorched body of a youth lying half-in, half-out of a woodland stream, blood from gashes in his sides staining the riverbank dirty red. Nothing but death, same as the advancing blight that menaces me.
         I was watching my forces' efforts to extinguish the blaze, raging inwardly against the tricks of fate, when one of my bodyguards queried, "Mishima-sama? Do you have any further orders?"
         Ishida and Kimura - those young, foolish pups are insufferably forthright. I remember when their fathers served me. Those were men who knew their place, knew never to speak unless spoken to, knew they existed solely to die for their master. What has become of this new generation?
         "Bury that," I snarled, pointing to the lifeless form sprawled nearby, "and we shall go."
         "Uh, Mishima-sama, I don't think he's dead."
         The single most vexing aspect of their presumption is that I know not whether it is one or both of them who dares talk back to me. They are the epitome of deindividuation, so identical in appearance, speech, manner, and dress that attempting to differentiate between them is futility itself. In this one way, they do resemble their fathers, and if I were to attempt to have them distinguish themselves, I know it would only aggravate their failings. For all their lack of respect, they retain the one trait I prize above all - strict loyalty. Loyalty given from their houses to mine, ever since Jinpachi Mishima saved their grandfathers' lives in the Second World War.
         "He cannot live. The Toshin does not leave survivors!" I countered, yet curiosity led me to step nearer, enough to see that the young man was indeed breathing.
         Ishida and Kimura took him out of the water. One of them used his own suit jacket to staunch the youth's bleeding, while the other summoned a Tekkenshu medic. They assisted the medic in cutting away the pieces of the youth's shirt that did not stick to his blistered body, and dressing his exposed wounds and burns in sterilized cloth. I had not told them to do any of that.
         Good help is so hard to find.
         "Revive him to consciousness," I growled. "Now."
         "Uh, Mishima-sama, he looks rather badly hurt, are you sure-?"
         "I said revive him!" They fell silent. The Tekkenshu medic injected a stimulant in the youth's neck.
         Perhaps this is not a total loss, I thought to myself. Perhaps I can learn something of value from this child, something that will bring me closer to the Toshin. Perhaps-
         "Uugh," the youth mumbled. "M-mother...?"
         Then I saw his face.
         I had not looked closely before. But now my head snapped back, and my eyes widened for want of belief. For I saw before me another impossibility:
         My son, to whom I lived to regret ever giving seed - my son, murdered sixteen years ago by the accursed Lei Wulong - my son, who should have died at my hands, it should have been I who killed him! Yet here he was before me now! Or so it seemed for one timeless instant, as I stared at the angular jaw, the sharp nose, the thick, slanting eyebrows, the jet black hair thrust back in an inflexible natural spike - this was my dead son!
         No. No, it was not Kazuya.
         After the initial shock of recognition dimmed, I could begin to notice disparities. His singed hair, though stiff, was not uniformly so; stray tufts drifted from the central mass, and loose bangs dipped over the widow's peak of his forehead. He lacked the scar I had inflicted on Kazuya's chest. He had a certain curvature to his cheeks, a certain texture to his skin that was not of my nation; I could smell he was not purely of Japanese blood. His voice was milder and significantly more mellifluous. And of course, he was younger, scarcely past his first decade and a half.
         Coincidence? Or could it be-?
         "Get me a DNA scan of his blood at once!" I demanded of the medic. He immediately went to work, taking a sample and arranging for it to be analyzed by remote satellite link.
         "Mother?" the youth repeated, stirring. "Where... where are you?"
         "Please don't try to move," insisted either Ishida or Kimura. "You've been hurt. Mishima-sama's Tekkenshu are searching the area for more survivors right now."
         Enough was enough.
         "You two!" I demanded of my bodyguards. "Leave him and search that wreckage for anything that can tell us more of what happened here!" I pointed to the charred dwelling. They obeyed at once; perhaps they sensed I was dangerously close to losing my temper.
         The youth did not seem to notice them, or much of anything else. He muttered to himself in a delirious haze, "I - I can't feel her thoughts... this can't be, she has to be alive! Mother? Mother, where are you? Answer me! Answer me!" He pressed both hands to his head and squeezed his jet black eyes shut in absolute concentration.
         A telepath?
         Kazuya had been a telepath. A strong one. The last thing he did before he tried to kill me was pry apart the pieces of my mind, and send me into a state of senseless insanity, for the sheer thrill of the psychic torture. It was months before I recovered enough presence to know my own name. Gods curse me for having mated with a mind-witch, may her soul consign itself to Hell.
         "Who are you?" I requested of the youth, gruffly.
         At first, I thought that he could not hear me. Then his head turned my way; he rolled on his side, and his eyes tried to focus, though he clearly had difficulty. In a whimpering plea, he begged, "Please help me. A monster attacked us. It wanted to kill my mother, please, you have to help me save her, she... she has to still be here somewhere, I don't know where, I can't feel her thoughts anymore, but she has to still be here, she has to..." He tried to push himself off the ground; weakness and blood loss kept him where he was. He awkwardly clasped his wounds and summoned light crackles of indigo Ki to his fingers. The unhealthy, anemic pallor to his skin subsided, a trifle.
         Sorcery! Again, just as Kazuya had practiced.
         "Mishima-sama. We found this." My bodyguards returned more swiftly than I had expected. They presented me with a fireproof ceramic box, painted with the symbol for "memory." I broke it open. Inside was a note, written in a woman's delicate brush strokes, addressed to "Lei" and "Jin." When I read it, all the missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and I did not need the results of the DNA test to know that the child before me was my blood grandson.
         "Burn this," I commanded of Ishida and Kimura, giving them the note. They did so without hesitation.
         "Now leave us." This time, my request was not only of my bodyguards, but also my complement of Tekkenshu forces. I added very specific orders concerning whom they were to search for and bring with them when they returned. Then I crouched next to the shivering youth, who did not appear to realize that healing sorcery can do relatively little when the one who casts it is half-gone himself.
         "Please," he beseeched of me. "Help me save my mother."
         "Your mother. Jun Kazama? And you are Jin?"
         "Y-yes. Please. Help me save her-" He regained enough strength to turn over on his knees and throw himself face-down in a posture of abasement, though he shook with feebleness the entire time. It sickens me to think of how my own flesh-and-blood groveled. "I-I recognize you now, you're Heihachi Mishima, my grandfather, she told me about you - please help me save her! I'll do anything you want, anything!"
         "She cannot be saved. She is dead."
         "The Toshin killed her. She deliberately sacrificed herself to it, in order to banish it for five years. That is what happened, is it not? It is why you can no longer sense her presence, and why you still live when the Toshin would have absorbed you if it could."
         "NOOOO!" he screamed, clawing at his hair. I disgustedly watched him descend into a hysterical fit, weeping and trembling, tearing the earth and gnashing his teeth. His reaction confirmed the worst of what I had learned from the note.
         It was gone. The Toshin, the key to my immortality, the godlike power that was rightfully mine to possess, it was gone! Gone for five years! IT WAS GONE!
         I wanted to kill something. Anything. The closest target was the youth at my feet. I could have put him out of his misery then and there, purged the threat of Kazuya's seed before it had the opportunity to fully mature. Certainly, I would not have a better chance than now. And yet, my mind was already decided otherwise. Fortune had brought me to this Jin at such a crucial moment, when he was weak, grief-stricken, and so very easily swayed. Opportunities like this must not go to waste.
         He was my grandson. Mine. Wulong and Kazama had sought to hide him from me, to keep from me that which was rightfully mine! Kazama was beyond my revenge, now, but Wulong was another matter. As for the youth himself, and the Power within him - I knew there had to be a way I could lay claim to it. There had to be a way I could turn these ill events to my advantage, and take back what was mine!
         I talked to him.
         It required the better part of an hour just to calm him down enough to listen. I repeated myself slowly and clearly, driving with the strength of my voice, my will, and my knowledge. I told him about his father Kazuya, his mother Kazama, the Mishima syndicate, the Great Invasion, and especially about Lei Wulong. At first he recoiled from what I said, shook his head back and forth, refused to let himself believe the truth. But he was a telepath, and his Power worked in my favor.
         "You... you're not lying," he mumbled, cradling his forehead. "You're sincere. You sincerely believe all this, and want me to know it. I can feel it in your emotions. But I - I can't imagine my father would - would-"
         "Your 'father'? That gaijin Wulong is not your father! You are Kazuya's son!"
         "I-I know, but-"
         "Have you any doubts remaining about Wulong's true nature? Then ask him yourself!"
         By then, my forces had returned, and they had carried out my orders. Wulong was with them. He sagged limp and quiescent between Ishida's and Kimura's arms. Bruises discolored his face, and blood trickled down his lips. Yet the broken bones of half my Tekkenshu delegation showed that he had not been easily subdued; four of my men were so incapacitated that their fellows had to carry them on stretchers. However, when I counted the number of my forces, it was the same - twenty. Wulong had not been able to kill a single one of them. Perhaps the inexorable advance of age was slowing him down.
         "Good work," I said. "Was he hard to find?"
         "No, Mishima-sama. We encountered him running toward this location, in a state of panic. When we tried to stop him-"
         "I can imagine. Revive him to consciousness." They administered a stimulant to his neck. In a few seconds, his eyes fluttered open, briefly shifting color from brown to blood-red and back again in the dawn.
         "Uuaggh... eh?" he moaned, raising his head. Then he met my glare.
         "You!" he snapped, baring his teeth like the feral animal he was. He pulled against Ishida and Kimura's grip, but his recent beating had sapped his strength. "Where are my wife and son? What have you done with them?"
         "What have I done with 'your son'? What did YOU do to MY SON!?" My temper snapped; I stepped forward and struck him a violent, backhand blow across the face.
         "Grandfather, stop," Jin called. "Please. Let me talk to him."
         I stepped aside, and allowed the youth to get a clear view. He managed to stand, swaying like a hollow reed.
         "Father," he tremulously addressed Wulong. "Is it true?"
         Wulong locked his eyes with Jin's. Intently. They both held themselves rigidly still for long seconds. Telepathic contact? I ground my teeth together, thinking that I might yet have to kill them both.
         "No," Jin denied of Wulong, pointing to him resolutely. "I will speak with my voice, and you will answer me in the same way. This man is my grandfather; he is part of my family, and he deserves to know the whole truth as much as I do!"
         "Jin..." Wulong choked, and could not continue until he spat out a broken tooth and a mouthful of blood. "Where is your mother? What's he done with her? He's holding her hostage, isn't he? We'll get through this, son, we'll get her out of this-"
         "MY MOTHER IS DEAD!" The youth's distraught shriek opened an insurmountable floodgate, from which Wulong could only recoil, as one by one his crimes were laid before him.
         "It killed her! The Toshin, the sickness, the walking wound came and killed her, I saw it kill her, where were you when it killed her? You abandoned her to it, fled to the village, when it burned her and murdered her and took her soul! She had no one to protect her, no one but me, and I COULDN'T STOP IT! You left her to it, left her all alone in this wilderness, she knew it was coming for her, but she couldn't go to my grandfather for help because of YOU!
         "You! It was YOU! You had to hide from my grandfather, it was you who had to hide, not me, because YOU KILLED MY REAL FATHER! You murdered Kazuya! It wasn't enough for you to beat him in single combat and break his Power; you murdered him in cold blood! Even though you knew - you knew he wasn't responsible for his own crimes, you knew he was possessed by a Devil beyond his control, you knew all this and never told me about it! You wanted him dead so badly that you murdered him and lied to my mother about it! For sixteen years, you've been telling us both lies, and your need to hide from your own crime left my mother defenseless when my grandfather could have protected her! And you didn't even TRY to protect her! You ran away and LEFT HER TO DIE! It's true, isn't it? It's all true!"
         "Nn-no!" Wulong whipped his head back and forth, desperately, frantically. "No, no, no, this can't be happening - no... Jun..." Sobs wracked him, and his chest heaved. I delighted in his torturous anguish.
         "Answer me!" Jin demanded, lost in misery of his own. "Is it true? Is it really true!?"
         "I- I didn't k-kill Kazuya," Wulong stammered, in slurred, quaking haze. "The D-devil did; it m-made him d-destroy himself-"
         "That is your word against mine," I interrupted, harshly. "Even I can see the guilt written on your face; how much more obvious must it be to my grandson?"
         "YOUR WORD DOESN'T COUNT FOR A DAMN THING!" Wulong raged, in the frenzied howl of a cornered beast. "Kazuya used sorcery to hide our battleground from all mortal sight! You couldn't have seen any of what happened until he was dead!"
         He couldn't have incriminated himself more if I'd written a statement for him.
         "Grandfather is right," Jin gasped, clutching his forehead. "I can feel your guilt - so overpowering, gods, it's a shame you've kept secret for sixteen years! A shame you never even told my mother!"
         "Nn-no, son, I swear, you h-have to believe-"
         "Then show me!" the youth insisted, now shaking visibly with uncontainable emotion. "Open your mind and show me what happened!"
         "No." Wulong sealed his culpability with that denial, deliberately hanging his head to avert his eyes. "Y-you're in no shape to attempt a memory probe; you could burn out both our minds. I w-won't risk letting that happen to you, no matter what it makes you think of me. Y-your mother's gone, I w-won't lose you too..."
         "MURDERER!" Jin screamed, lunging for Wulong. His trembling legs betrayed him, and he fell to hands and knees, renewed tears streaming from his eyes. "You KILLED my father! You let my mother DIE!"
         "It will be all right, grandson," I comforted, crouching and patting him on the back. I was able to speak with such assurance because matters were indeed improving; no matter what setbacks I might have suffered this day, I had at least reclaimed a part of what was mine. "Kazuya and Kazama will be avenged."
         I drew my katana.
         My katana and wakizashi are a fine set of blades, over half a millennium old, their length engraved with the symbol of the Tiger. Legend has them able to cleave stone. I had brought them especially to use against the Toshin - legendary weapons for a legendary War God. The thought of having to taint their sacred Japanese steel with Wulong's impure blood revolted me, but better that than to contaminate my bare hands with him, or give any of my entourage the satisfaction of slaying him. Wulong struggled. Even beaten and drugged as he was, he could not be properly restrained until two more of my men assisted Ishida and Kimura. They forced him to his knees, head down, waiting for the execution I raised high overhead.
         "No!" Jin called. "Grandfather, stop!"
         I brought down my sword.
         "Shogai!" the youth cried. An electric shock jolted me, as my blade met a barrier of tangible force, blocking it from Wulong's vulnerable neck. More sorcery!
         "Why are you protecting this vermin!?" I roared, whirling to face my grandson. "You know him for a murderer! You cannot still care about him!"
         "I don't. I care about you," Jin answered, holding out one hand toward me and placing the other over his heart. "Please grandfather. Don't let him drag you down to his level."
         I nearly dropped my katana.
         "Have you no respect for your murdered ancestors?" I demanded, incredulously. "Or do you want to finish him yourself?"
         "Nn-no, grandfather, there has to be a better way. Now that we know the truth, we can bring him to justice-"
         "'Justice'? Do you mean before a jury of his peers? His peers are police! What 'justice' do you expect them to give one of their own? And the man he killed is known by all the world as the scourge of the Great Invasion - Wulong has been awarded medals for what he did! For sixteen years, I have known of his crime and been unable to do anything about it because of his celebrity status, because seeking true justice would only bring the wrath of the law upon me. No more! I have found him guilty upon Japanese soil; he will not leave it with his life!"
         "But grandfather..." The youth shook his head, and wiped the last of his tears from his eyes. "Don't you know what it will do to you, if you kill a man in cold blood? I don't want that to happen to you. You - you're all I have left. There has to be a better way. There has to."
         This was not Kazuya.
         How could I ever have thought of him as Kazuya? Whatever else Kazuya was, he was strong because I taught him to be strong! What weak, effeminate, meaningless debilities was this child spouting? Who could have made him like this? Not that killer Wulong! Then how-?
         Of course, it was Jun who had caused him to be like this. Jun Kazama, his mixed-blood mother. Though I never knew her well, I remember her personality from long ago, when she lived in my syndicate. It was she who taught my grandson to be so pathetic and weak. No wonder the Toshin had crushed them both. She had been teaching him for fifteen years, and all her venom could not be undone in the space of a mere hour. It would take time.
         "Jin," Wulong murmured, his face still pushed into the scorched earth. "Thank - thank whatever forces you believe in; you still have your soul..."
         "Drug him unconscious, and get him out of here," I spat to my entourage. "Do not be gentle." They took him away.
         I turned to Jin and said, "Wulong must live with the dishonor of his unforgivable crime, knowing that he has forever damned himself in your eyes. For now, that shall have to be punishment enough."
         Jin slowly rose to his feet. "Thank you, grandfather. I-I must ask for your help one more time."
         "Oh?" I mused, sheathing my katana.
         "I failed to save my mother. But please, help me put her soul to rest. Take me back to your syndicate and teach me. I know you're the King of the Iron Fist Tournament, and I can sense that you've been hunting the Toshin; it's what brought you here in the first place. In five years, it will return to menace the world, and I will probably be its first target. I don't care what happens to me, as long as it is destroyed and my mother is avenged! Please, let me help you. Please."
         With those words, he became mine.
         Mine to control. Mine to use as I see fit.
         My grandson. Mine.
         Wulong, you live only because I suffer it. Only because your existence gives my grandson something to hate, and he will have to learn how to hate, if Kazama's poison is ever to be purged. But the day will come when I no longer need you as a scapegoat, and that is when I will enjoy killing you.
         And you, Kazama...
         Wulong murdered my son, but you did far, far worse to my grandson. You made him like this. You made him weak! That alone should damn you! But worse still, infinitely worse, you banished the Toshin! You denied me my immortality! I must live for at least another five years, must hold off the advancing tide of age, or else find a way to undo your witchery. How dare you take away my rightful Power! HOW DARE YOU!? Even now, despite his use to me, I am tempted to kill your son just to spite you!
         I hope the Toshin enjoys feasting upon your soul.
         I hope you burn in Hell!

February 2, 2018
6:45 a.m.

         Welcome. Please, have a seat.
         I have a message for you, from Bryan Fury. He has consented to your request for an interview, and would like to speak with you tonight, in this office - is six an acceptable time?
         Good. I'll let him know.
         Now. How may I help you?
         That isn't possible, strictly speaking. I can't "pretend" I don't know you, when it is factually untrue. However, I can attempt to behave as though we have not met. It is a subtle distinction, but in my case, pathologically requisite. I hope you don't mind.
         As for telling you about myself... is that really necessary? Let me see, I think it's on the fifth shelf - no, don't get up, this will only take a moment. I've recently acquired the hobby of reading assorted books written about myself and my brother, Kazuya. Curiosity, I suppose.
         Oh, well, no, I'm not related to Kazuya by blood. I'm not even of Japanese origin; just assimilated the culture, more or less. I'm from the Chinese city of Guangzhou - you've probably heard it called "Canton." Lived there without any family until I was twelve, when Heihachi Mishima took me off the streets in order to provide his son with a rival. It's all in the history books-
         -ah, here it is: Rise and Fall of the Devils. It's a remarkably accurate biography of Kazuya and me, from birth to death, with particular emphasis on our role in the Great Invasion. He was possessed by a Devil, while I was the so-called "silver-haired devil." You are welcome to borrow this copy for as long as you might need; the syndicate's entire library is at your disposal. My point is, I hold such a well-known place in infamy that I shouldn't have to recite this volume's contents. My name has even become a part of modern language, much as "Judas," or "Quisling." A "Chaolan" is a special type of traitor - one who turns upon his brother.
         What you really need to know concerns my involvement in the recent crisis. Isn't that right?
         Oh? I see.
         Of course. Yes, I can explain how my situation came to be as it is. I think the best place to begin is with Jun-chan. When I saw her again, for the first time in sixteen years.
         I didn't want to wake her up.
         She looked so peaceful, sleeping there. So beautiful. Time had aged her; or rather, aged how she perceived herself. Her figure was just a little more full, her face a shade more lined. But she was still willowy, lovely, and not only in the perceived exterior of her soul - its radiant inner purity was also plain to my sight. She did not belong there, in that dismal prison. She belonged in a place where I could not follow.
         You will be put to sleep for a little while. When you wake up, the world will be a better place, and I'll be there to take care of you. I'd made that promise to her once, during the Great Invasion, but I never thought it would come true like this. Now that it had come to pass, I was reluctant to keep my word. I don't know for how long I just stayed there, resting by her side, cherishing this one, last opportunity to be with her.
         I didn't want to wake her up, because if I did, I knew she would leave me. I'd be alone again. Sometimes I think I've changed, or tried to change, but deep inside myself there was still a piece of the old Lee Chaolan. The Lee who could not distinguish between love and jealous possession. The Lee who would sooner hurt or kill something than let it have its freedom. The Lee whose violent temper drove her away from his heart.
         You see, she used to be my fiancée, a long time ago. I am ashamed of how I treated her. I'll always be grateful for her forgiveness. I saved her life in the Great Invasion, but she saved my soul. I'd never have found the strength to resist my brother's tyranny, if it weren't for her. And if I did not awaken her now - if I selfishly allowed her to languish in this dreary realm - I'd be a traitor again. I'd betray not only my promise to her, and my love for her, but also my duty as a Guardian. I couldn't do that. She deserved better. I'd be alone again, but her happiness would be my comfort.
         I touched her forehead and whispered, *Jun-chan. Oki-nasai.*
         When I heard my own voice, I realized I'd reverted to my true form; it's something that happens unconsciously when I'm distracted, exhausted, or otherwise lose awareness of myself. I really didn't want her to see me like that, not then and there. So I quickly refocused my self-perception; after a split-second of hesitant indecision, I decided to appear in my old sable tuxedo, with the bow tie, silver gloves, and for the final touch, a red carnation pinned over my heart. Jun-chan always did think I looked fashionable in that.
         Come, now. Just because I'm dead, you don't think I have any vanity left? Hmph. Don't I get to keep at least one vice?
         Jun stirred from her slumber. Her head moved a little to the side. She murmured something I couldn't discern, and her eyes opened. Her mouth parted, as if to take in a quick breath, although she did not actually do so. She pushed herself into a sitting position, looking at where I crouched on one knee. Her hand reached out, tentatively, and brushed against one of my facial scars.
         "Lee," she addressed, softly. "Is it really you?"
         I nodded.
         "But you... you died sixteen years ago. I-I tried to save you; Kazuya's death-link was too strong for me, I couldn't even get you into stasis... I... I'm sorry..." she pulled both hands close to herself and shook her head.
         "There was nothing you could have done," I consoled, perhaps a little awkwardly.
         The beginnings of tears sparkled in her eyes. "Am I-?"
         "I wish I could say I was happy to see you, Jun-chan," I sighed. "But I honestly didn't expect to for at least another forty years."
         The tears condensed, and traced their paths down her cheeks. Her fair head drooped. There was no shock, however; no stunned disbelief or urgent denial. Her life had not been taken by surprise.
         "Lei," she whispered in fearful concern, more to herself than to me. "Jin..."
         "The Toshin didn't kill them," I reassured. "If it had, they'd be here."
         She raised her head. "Where is 'here'?"
         She looked all around. I can't say for certain what she saw, but I can tell you how the realm appeared to me. It was a barren, desolate wasteland, such as a large part of the Earth became during the Great Invasion. The Mishima syndicate used to rule over such dusty, lifeless plains. Flat, sifting earth stretched endlessly in all directions; the only landmark was an upthrust mountain peak, stark and craggy, its tip piercing the grey overcast that darkened the sky.
         "We're inside that - that thing?"
         "This realm is the inner existence of its psyche, yes. If it can be said to have a psyche."
         "It looks so empty."
         "I've already sent the other souls on their way. You're the last one."
         "There won't be any more for at least five years."
         "I know. I sensed the Toshin's banishment. That was your sacrifice, wasn't it?"
         She nodded.
         "I'm sorry, Jun-chan."
         "Don't be. Not for me. I lived long enough to marry and raise a family. You never had the chance." She wiped the tears from her eyes. "Where did you send all the other souls?"
         "To the Grey Kingdom. But there's a better place in store for you."
         "Is there?" There was something a little odd in the puzzled way she tilted her head to the side.
         "Yes. Technically, I shouldn't be the one to guide you; you're not in my domain. I'm only of the Grey Kingdom, when by all rights, one of the Guardians of Paradise should be looking out for you. But they're not here and I am; extenuating circumstances, I suppose. In order to reach the Paradise, all you have to do is-"
         "Chotto matte. 'Paradise'?"
         "That's what they call it. It has more than one name."
         "What makes you so sure I belong there?" Again, there was that uncertain look, as if she didn't quite expect this. At the time, I thought it was just humility.
         "Ah, well, let me put it this way. You mentioned Lei's name - Lei Wulong, right?"
         She nodded. "He's my husband. Jin is our son."
         I dropped my eyes to the dusty earth. "You still love Wulong, don't you?"
         "With all my heart."
         You'd think that, after sixteen years, I could hear that and not cringe. And I didn't, at least not externally. It was a piece of the old Lee Chaolan that was angry at myself for asking such a thing when I already knew the answer, and when hearing it could only bring heartache. I decided not to ask the next question, regarding whether Wulong loved her just as deeply. If he did not, then he was a churl and a cretin, yet I remembered him as neither.
         "The Paradise," I stated, "is open only to pure souls who share true love. That's you, Jun-chan. That's why you can go there, and wait to be reunited with Wulong."
         "You make it sound so simple."
         "Well, maybe I could be oversimplifying a little. I don't know everything about it; it's not my domain. The Guardians of Paradise would probably be able to explain it better. What I do know is that to go there, all you have to do is wish."
         "You get one wish, Jun-chan. All pure souls do. Think of the love you carry within you - hold on to it, focus it, channel it into your heart's desire - and your hope will come to pass. You will ascend to where you deserve to be. Not even the Toshin can keep you prisoner - Jun-chan?"
         "Just thinking," she mused, absently. "I've been told that necromancers and other evil creatures find it almost impossible to keep a 'pure' soul. This is why, isn't it?"
         "Ah, well, I've never considered that before. I suppose it makes sense, though."
         "But if I get only one wish, then I have to use it on something more important," she reasoned. "I can wish for the Toshin to be permanently destroyed-"
         "No, Jun-chan. I'm sorry. Evil can't be conquered just by wishing. Your gift can only affect one thing: the destiny of a soul."
         "My destiny? It's not predetermined?"
         "Uh, well, I don't think so..."
         "Can I go back, then? Can I - can I return to my family?"
         "Jun-chan, don't wish for that. For your own sake, don't."
         "Why not?"
         "Ah, it's kind of hard to explain. In realms such as this one, you may seem to have a physical body, but that's just your automatic interpretation of the distal stimulus. It's a matter of perception. Your form is only as you perceive yourself to be, and in the domain of the living, perception alone does not provide full existence. You are a shadow. You can't touch anything, or interact with the world in any way. No one can see or hear you unless they are also dead, or very close to it, or unless necromancy is involved. I know what I'm talking about, Jun-chan; I've gone back there myself, many times. Trust me, you don't want that."
         "If it's so terrible, then why have you gone back?"
         "It's, uh, my job. And I wouldn't call it 'terrible'; it's just that you deserve better."
         Her brow furrowed, a little. "What is your 'job'?"
         "Uh..." I fingered my bow tie, self-consciously.
         "You don't mind telling me, do you?"
         "Well, no, not really." If only because the alternative was to say goodbye and be left alone. "I'm a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom, now. It's my duty to serve and protect souls in need. Most human souls can find their destiny on their own, but sometimes they become lost, or troubled, or menaced by threats immaterial to the physical world. Sometimes they need someone to help show them the way. Or to fight for them. Or maybe just to listen."
         A slight smile touched her lips. "You've become an angel."
         I raised both eyebrows. "A what?"
         "Well, you do the work of one."
         "Let's not get carried away, Jun-chan," I denied, shaking my head and holding up my palm in protest. "I'm just a Guardian, in service to the Grey Kingdom. Nothing more."
         "If you say so."
         "I say so."
         "Is..." She bit her lip for a moment, as she tended to do when working up her inner resolution. "Is Kazuya a Guardian, too?"
         I looked away.
         "You, um, do remember Kazuya, don't you? I-I know the Shao Kahn took possession of his soul by contract, but I thought we freed him along with all the other souls when we banished the Kahn... didn't we?"
         "Yes," I quietly answered, closing my eyes. "Yes, you did. I remember."

         At the end of the Great Invasion, the Shao Kahn's banishment sends echoes of psychic upheaval throughout all transcendence, setting off cycle after cycle of shockwaves. To search through a billion freshly liberated souls may seem like an impossible challenge, but the new Power entrusted to me speeds my task, and it is not long before I find my brother, Kazuya. The Guardians of the Black Abyss hold him in thrall, their ropelike, inky tendrils wrapped about all four of his limbs.
         The Guardians of the Black Abyss...
         Some call them Tsathoggua, after the Great Old One that supposedly spawned them. They are not like me, nor like the dragons that guard the Paradise. I was a living man once, but I can't imagine the Tsathoggua as ever having existed in human identity. Their true forms have no one cohesion; they are like an arching body of viscous black fluid, constantly shifting, thoroughly malleable. Sometimes I think I can see eyes, or sets of flat-rowed teeth in the midst of their amorphous mass, but such features are merely transient ripples in their liquidity. They seem inseparably tied into the Black Abyss itself. Unlike other Guardians, who travel existence to aid souls in need of a guide, the Tsathoggua never stray from various gates to the Abyss. They do not have to. Unlike the Paradise or the Kingdom, the Abyss innately compels souls into its depths. Its pull affects only souls that are evil beyond redemption, but for those souls, it is irresistible. No matter what the stated motive, no matter what the illusions about the self, a soul who causes great suffering and lacks remorse will ultimately have no choice save the embrace of the Black Abyss.
         I don't know what the Abyss really is, or where it leads. It, too, has more than one name. Some say it is the lightless caverns of N'Kai, home of the Tsathoggua; others insist that it is utter oblivion. All I know is that which enters the Abyss never returns to menace the beings of any other realm, living or dead.
         The Tsathoggua lift my brother in front of the whirling, elliptical vortex that is one of a diametrically infinite set of gateways to the Abyss. At first I think they are torturing him, and I race frantically closer, fearful that I will not reach him in time; then I see what is really happening.
         Kazuya screams.
         -only it is not his voice, or rather, not just his voice; a second cry, in one sense his own but also growing more and more disjoint, erupts from his breast. The Tsathoggua shift, flowing back and forth, as I watch my brother change into the Devil. Livid blue, batlike wings split from his navy dress suit. Thick talons sprout from his hands and feet, tearing apart his polished black shoes. Spikes protrude from his elbows and knees. Goat's horns thrust back from his head. Dark purple veins streak his skin, while his eyes turn the wild red of fresh blood, and a gem of matching color pushes out from his brow. The dual scream echoes again, but this time, one cry escalates while the other diminishes. I see the Devil, manifest in all its hideous mockery of my brother's form, lift and separate. Its wings flap frantically, and its fur-covered legs kick, as it tries to flee the Abyss. It can't escape. The Abyss pulls it with the suction of a cyclone. A beam of molten gold shoots from the inset gem of its brow as the Abyss reaches out to claim it; then it is gone, swallowed up in the nothingness, while Kazuya hangs limp and unresponsive in the Tsathoggua's hold.
         They are laughing at him.
         %That was amusing,% they sneer, in the reverberating tone that is not so much sound as it is penetration of consciousness. %Now, what to do with the rest of it?%
         %Let us cast it in as well.%
         %No, let us play with it some more.%
         %What does it want?%
         %Tell us, it. What does it want? Play, or cast?%

         Kazuya shudders. He keeps both eyes tightly closed, and does not struggle against the Tsathoggua. "Do... as you will."
         I cry, "Stop!"
         There is nothing in the Tsathoggua's shapeless mass that especially responds to my presence, but they say, %Now what is it?%
         %It is a little Guardian.%
         %Very little.%
         %Very foolish.%
         %Very newly formed.%
         %Will it play with us, too?%

         "Put my brother down!" I demand. "He belongs to my domain. Your domain has claimed its due!"
         %Put it down, it says?%
         %What if we say no?%
         %What will it do then?%

         "I'll fight you for him. I'll throw you into your own Abyss!"
         The bubbling, slurping sound of their mirth increases. %Guardians may not destroy one another. It is forbidden.%
         %Unless it wants to cease being a Guardian?%
         %So soon after its formation?%

         "YOU are the ones who aren't acting like Guardians! The rules are very clear, you may not force a claim to those outside your domain! For the last time, put my brother down or pay the consequences!"
         Their laughter escalates to a peak.
         %Oh, this is good!%
         %Little Guardians are so gullible.%
         %So naive.%
         %So much fun to play with.%
         %Especially when newly formed.%
         %Let us play with it some more.%
         %Let us watch what it does!%

         I am about to attack them, when without warning, they set Kazuya down on his feet. Gently.
         %The little Guardian does not understand,% hiss the Tsathoggua. %But it will. It will. This it is of our domain.%
         %Not because we force it.%
         %We cannot force it.%
         %We are Guardians, too.%
         %It is ours because it is.%
         %Watch the little Guardian! Watch it try to save it!%

         I ignore them, and address my brother. "Kazuya? Are you all right?"
         He does not answer me at first. He is shaking, so severely as to make the tatters of his dress suit flutter. His jet black eyes open, slowly. There is a bewildered, animal fear to his composure. He can't bring himself to look at me directly. The thought occurs to me that this is how I must have appeared to him when I was his terrified slave, as recently as a couple weeks before. Yet there is more than just fear in Kazuya's countenance, and on his face. There is grief. Misery. Self-loathing. Overwhelming remorse. Tears trickle from the inner corners of his eyes.
         I haven't seen him cry since he was thirteen. I never thought he'd do so again.
         "Lee?" He speaks thickly, and with difficulty, choking on a half-formed sob. "It is you, is it not? Why... why did you stop them?"
         "Because you are my brother."
         "I... I see." His trembling subsides, though he still won't look at me. "You were the first one. My first victim. First to be brutalized, first to be enslaved, and first to be marked for death. It is only... fitting... that you be the first to claim your revenge." His legs weaken, and he slumps to his knees.
         I crouch next to him. "Kazuya..."
         "I learned what it is like," he says, faintly. "What it is to have a monster trap and torture you after you die, solely to reap Power from your soul. I - I put three thousand people through that... abetted the Shao Kahn in such torment of a billion more...
         "I understand what Wulong was trying to tell me, now. The world truly - truly cannot be made a better place merely by exterminating those who appear evil. It was my goal to eradicate all evil from the world, but as I pursued it, I allowed more and more 'exceptions' to perish as well, until... until I became a far greater menace than the most vile of my victims. It was my dream to rule over a New Era of justice, but that could never have been, for my dream provided no means to apply justice to me or mine. I am ready to face that justice, now. Inflict what you will, for as long as you will, and cast me into the Abyss when you are done."
         I embrace him. "Brother. I have my brother back!"
         His eyes grow wide. He tries to pull away, weakly. "What are you-?"
         "It's all right," I smile, letting go of him and warmly clasping his shoulders. "The curse is broken, brother. No more revenge. No more suffering. Everything will be all right."
         "No. Not this. Anything but this. You cannot forgive me!" he gasps, shrinking back. "Hate me, damn you. Hate me as I hated you! Treat me as I treated you! How can you forgive me, when I burned you and killed you and made you a murderer? When your soul still carries the scars I gave your body?"
         "That wasn't you, brother. It was the Devil that possessed you."
         "To be possessed by the Devil, one must first invite the Devil."
         "It's all right," I repeat, reassuringly. "You're free of the Devil."
         "For now."
         "No. You do not understand. Your forgiveness cannot help me. It cannot heal that which has sickened inside of me. That which yearns for Power at any price. If I am not served justice, I... I cannot be certain I will not call the Devil again, or another one like it. You must hate me! Hate me for what I have done! If not for my sake, then doubly so for your own!"
         "You are not beyond redemption," I state, firmly. "If you were, then you would not be in front of me now - the Black Abyss would have drawn you in along with the Devil. Brother, it is time for you to come with me. I will take you to be judged before the Lords of the Grey Kingdom."
         "And what are these Lords like?" he murmurs, distantly.
         "Merciful. Immensely. I'll speak for you, brother. You may have to undergo a penance, like I'm doing; I'm a Guardian now, I'm trying to atone for my crimes through service to mortal souls. But I know you won't have to face anything worse. Don't you see, Kazuya? They gave me a second chance, when I - I murdered of my own free will. Unlike you."
         "Do you truly believe that mere repentance can wash the blood from your hands?"
         "I... I don't know. Maybe it can't. Maybe nothing can. All I know is that I have to do something for the people I hurt, or others like them, even if it won't change what I did or who I am. I'm not a slave anymore, brother. I'm helping people now. That's what is important."
         He brushes the last remainders of his tears from his eyes. "Lee, do you know why I placed you in charge of the syndicate? Why I truly allowed you to run it?"
         "Brother, it doesn't matter anymore."
         "I have said it was because you feared me, and because I could control you through your fear. Yet that was only what I - the smallest part of I - could cause the rest of me to believe. I knew the syndicate's crimes tormented you. I hoped that you would one day turn upon me, that your conscience would be both my ruin and your salvation; it was not a wish made in conscious awareness, yet it was made. And granted. It is a debt I can never repay you, nor to any of the others who sacrificed themselves to end my reign of terror. It is... it is good to know that at least one member of the House Mishima is not damned for all eternity."
         "Two members," I correct, standing up. I hold out my hand to him. "Come on, brother. Let's go. The Lords will decide your fate."
         "My fate has already been decided."
         He does not take my hand. Instead, he slowly climbs to his feet on his own, bracing one hand on his knee in the process. His gaze remains averted from mine as he says, "I think you shall have to restrain him. He does not understand."
         "What are you talking about?"
         %Gladly,% say the Tsathoggua, and before I comprehend what is happening, I am the one with inextricable ropy tendrils wrapped around my limbs.
         "Can you render him unconscious, as well?" Kazuya asks.
         %We can. We choose not.%
         %We want to feel it struggle.%
         %We want to hear it scream.%
         %Little Guardians are so much fun to play with!%

         "Brother, don't talk to these creatures!" I strain against the Tsathoggua's hold, but they keep me rooted fast.
         "I am sorry it has to be this way, Lee," Kazuya sighs. "It would have been so much easier if you would only hate me."
         And he turns toward the Black Abyss.
         "No!" I exclaim, as I realize what he intends to do. "Brother, don't! You mustn't! Nothing that goes into the Abyss ever comes back!"
         "Precisely." He approaches the shimmering void with slow, measured steps.
         In a burst of desperation, I call upon the Power of my true form. I thrash and flail like a flying fish caught in a net. It does no good. I can't break loose; there are so many Tsathoggua, and they grasp me with inhuman tenacity. My sword is in my hand, yet I can't strike with it, for it is held as fixedly as the rest of me.
         *Let me go!* I rail to the Tsathoggua. *You have no right to do this! You can't interfere in my domain!*
         %It is you who seeks to interfere in ours.%
         %And it is ours.%
         %Not because we force it.%
         %We cannot force it.%
         %We are Guardians.%
         %It is ours because it knows it is ours.%
         %You cannot force it to be yours.%
         %You are a Guardian, too.%
         %You cannot save it from itself!%

         *KAZUYA!* I shriek, hysterically. *Listen to me, I'm your brother, I care about you, I know you don't deserve this! If you were really meant for the Abyss, you wouldn't have to give yourself to it!*
         Kazuya pauses before the onyx rift. His head falls. "The alternative is unacceptable. There can be no mercy for one who never showed mercy to his victims. Else there can be no justice, and without justice, there is nothing." He turns toward me, watching me writhe in vain, and raises an eyebrow. "Is that what you have truly become? You look almost... holy."
         *Kazuya, NO! DON'T DO THIS! Please - please don't, you're my only brother, I lost you to the Devil once, I can't bear to lose you again! I can't! I CAN'T!*
         "Goodbye, my brother." It is the first and only time he has ever called me that.
         Kazuya enters the endless depths.
         *No! NOOO!* I scream, and my despairing cries echo for long after the last trace of him vanishes into the midnight expanse. *Come back! COME BACK!*
         The Tsathoggua let me go. I rush after my brother, to find him and pull him out of the eternal gulf, but the void is like a solid wall to me. My sword will not penetrate it; my fists hammer upon the blackness as if it were a barrier of steel.
         %Little Guardian, you cannot retrieve it,% the Tsathoggua leer.
         %It is gone.%
         %You may not follow.%
         %Guardians are forbidden the embrace of the Black Abyss.%
         %Come back when you are not a Guardian.%
         %The Abyss will be waiting for you.%
         %It waits for all that is.%

         *No,* I weep, falling to hands and knees. *No, brother, don't - don't leave me - don't leave me alone...*

         "Lee?" Jun asked, anxiously. "Lee, can you hear me? Are you all right?"
         "No," I whispered, bowing my head and covering my face with one hand.
         "I-I mean, the answer to your first question is 'no,'" I stammered, breaking away from the bitter memory with a concerted effort. "No. Kazuya... didn't become a Guardian."
         She fell silent, and did not ask anything further about what happened to him. She probably didn't have to. I think my reaction told her everything.
         "A-anyway," I continued, forcing myself to regain composure, "if there's nothing more you want to know, then you - you don't belong here anymore. It's time to use your wish. Goodbye, Jun-chan. I'll always remember you."
         She folded her arms, determinedly. "Not yet."
         "What do you mean?"
         "A wish is a precious thing. It should not be squandered lightly."
         "You can't want to stay here."
         "I never said that I did." She tilted her head in that sidelong manner again, her brow wrinkling in thought. "There is another way out, isn't there? The same way that you let out all the other souls?"
         "Well, yes." I pointed to the crest of the mountain within Toshin's psyche. "That peak is the one place where the confines of this realm weaken enough to conjure a portal, which is what I used my Power as a Guardian to do."
         "All the way up there?"
         "Then let's start walking," she declared, standing up.
         "But Jun-chan..."
         A quizzical expression crossed her face. "You don't mind my company, do you?"
         "Uh, no. No, I'm grateful for it."
         "Then come on. There is more I want to ask you, and we can talk on the way."

         Excuse me for a moment. I don't know why the phone is ringing; I asked my secretary to hold my calls-
         -moshi-moshi? Yes. Yes, this is Chaolan speaking, how may I help you? Ah. Ah, really? They did? This is wonderful! No, no, it's no bother at all, you did the right thing to contact me. Thank you. Thank you, excellent work, I know President Kazama will be pleased. Could you hold for five minutes, I'm in the middle of something right now. Just five minutes, and then we can work out the specifics. All right? Excellent!
         Hm? Oh, that was our Delhi liaison. We've just made a breakthrough with the new provisions for enforcing India's laws against child labor - it's been technically illegal for the better part of an era now, but horribly prevalent, trapping generation after generation in a vicious cycle of poverty that ruins their bodies and deprives them of a chance for education. We're on the verge of convincing the government to change all that for the better, if we can only keep this grass-roots coalition focused - I'm sorry, I know you expected more time, but this really is important, can we reschedule? You do know how and when you can reach me, don't you? Yes, that's right, between six a.m. and six p.m. Thank you. Thank you, I appreciate your cooperation.
         Do you know, this is the one thing I never thought I'd do again? Working for the syndicate, I mean. Or rather, running it. As vice-president. Employed by a president who looks so much like Kazuya, even acts a little like him sometimes, and who needs me to manage operations so that he can concentrate on his studies, just as Kazuya once did. I'm even at my old desk, with the words "OBEY, OBEY, OBEY" carved between the unicorn icons - Kazuya had that done as a cruel joke, back when I was his slave.
         Sometimes I feel as if I am confusing the present with the past. Sometimes I wonder if anything's changed at all.
         Then I take a call like this, and I know it has.
         Hm? No, I'm the one who had my desk brought out of storage. I keep it as a vigilant reminder of the critical distinction between service and slavery, conscientious loyalty versus blind obedience. My title wasn't Jin's precise choice, either; he would have made me president and CEO if I'd let him. He's even trying to persuade me to accept a salary. He doesn't quite understand that despite my current circumstances, I am still a Guardian, and Guardians, by definition, do not labor for reward.
         So - I'll see you again soon, won't I?
         Good. Take care.
         It's been a pleasure.

End of Chapter 2: Paradise Destroyed