written by Victar, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Victar's Archive: http://www.victarfanfics.com
Chapter 4: Challenges
"Do you need to test your power that
-Steven R. Boyett,
Tokyo Sunrise: "News You Can Depend On"
October 21, 2017
FIRE RAVAGES BUSINESS DISTRICT
IKEBUKURO: At approximately 11 p.m. on Friday,
October 20, flames consumed four office buildings from 4100 to 4116 Ichi Street, in the
Ikebukuro district's most severe disaster since the earthquake of 2011. All four damaged
structures were property of the Mishima syndicate, whose Tekkenshu forces successfully
cooperated with the Tokyo Fire Department to contain the blaze before it could spread past the
block. Damages are estimated to cost in the billions of yen. No deaths have been reported, most
likely because the business offices had been closed for the night. Though the cause of the disaster
is currently unconfirmed, the Tokyo Fire Department reports that faulty electrical wiring is the
most likely culprit; once combustion started, a preponderance of flammable construction materials
in the makeup of the four buildings expedited its spread.
Police recovered one witness from the scene, Mr. Eijiro
Fujisawa. Fujisawa was treated for second-degree burns on his chest and right arm, and is
currently in stable condition. His statements have been incoherent and self-contradictory,
including ravings about a "lightning devil" and the repeatedly yelled demand to "get out of my
head!" Fujisawa, who has a previous conviction for armed robbery and served six years in prison,
was initially taken into custody on suspicion of arson, but the charge was dropped within two
hours of being made. Police cite lack of evidence.
Representatives of the Mishima syndicate have declined to
EXCERPT: private journal of Heishiro Mitsurugi
December 3, 2017
No, no, that's not right. This isn't a diary anymore. This is a
journal. Kids keep diaries; adults keep journals! I just passed my twentieth birthday last Friday;
that means I'm a man now, independent and self-sufficient.
At least, that's what Dad said when he threw me out of the
It's not like I'm homeless, 'cause the job I start tomorrow
comes with its own room and board - I'm expected to live there, and he knew it - but I'm
not sure why he tossed me out. Maybe it was just his way of telling me something. He never was
very eloquent with words. Actually, the message is pretty clear: Don't Screw This Up.
I have to do well at this job. I have to. It's my last chance.
I've been trying to get into a college, any college, for two years now, but my high school grades
are abysmal, and my application test scores are worse. It isn't the language questions, I always ace
those. It's the numbers.
I hate numbers.
I've never been good with them. Never in a million years.
They always slip out of my head. Even simple arithmetic doesn't work well with me; I get basic
sums and products wrong half the time if I don't do them extremely slowly and triple-check my
answers. It's always been this way for me. I try as hard as I can, throw myself into hours of study,
and I do badly. I slack off, concentrate more on the areas where I've got some talent, and it
doesn't matter, I still do badly. Plus, my family's broke and I've barely made enough from
part-time jobs to pay for my own needs, so even if I could get in, I don't know how I'd ever make
I have to do well at this job. It's my last chance!
It came like a blessing from Heaven. The Mishima
syndicate is offering me everything I could have dreamed for: paid acceptance into their own
private university! All I have to do is work for them. The syndicate, I mean, not the university. If
my performance is satisfactory for the first six weeks, I can start taking classes next semester.
What I don't understand is why.
Mishima University has got to be the most prestigious
college in all Japan, better than even the Universities of Tokyo and Kyoto - in terms of forming
connections, that is. Networking. Business contacts. Almost all the top corporate CEOs in the
country have a Mishima U degree - well, maybe more like three-fourths, I think I read that in a
magazine somewhere. It's the ticket that can get you top consideration for damn near anything.
They're reputed for taking only the best of the best. And they want me?
Oh, Dad told me that it's standard for Mishima syndicate
employees to be educated there; Heihachi Mishima doesn't want any dummies working for him, I
guess. But that begs the question. Why was I offered a job with the syndicate? It's not like I sent
in an application or anything - I never applied 'cause you'd think I'd have better odds of being
elected Prime Minister. Why would any of the huge and powerful people in that huge and
powerful syndicate ever have the slightest interest in me? I wonder if it's 'cause Dad has
connections with someone in the syndicate and he pulled strings. It was kind of hard to ask him a
question like that, though, when he was slamming the door in my face. I think he's changed the
locks by now, too. I had to spend what's left of my pocket money on a cheap hotel and cheaper
food over the weekend. Now I'm down to my last 5,000 yen. Tomorrow I show up for my first
day of work.
I wonder if the food at the Mishima syndicate is any
December 4, 2017
The food here sucks, and I'm terrified I'm going to be
eating it through a straw.
I had no idea this place was so... violent! At least from my
point of view. The truth is, I didn't know what my job was, exactly, until I showed up this
morning. All I knew was that I was supposed to work for the syndicate. I didn't even know if
there was anyone I should report to, or some servant's entrance I should use, so I just dressed up
in a business suit and approached the front door of their Tokyo headquarters.
Man, that building is huge.
Their foremost tower is the incredibly tall skyscraper at the
north edge of the Shinjuku neighborhood. Behind the tower is this sprawling complex, polished so
brightly white it makes your eyes hurt to look at it. I think it covers several square kilometers. I'd
never seen any of this before, 'cause I've been to Tokyo only a couple times in my life. I tilted my
head all the way back and I still couldn't see the sun; a big satellite dish on the roof of the central
skyscraper blocked it out. That tower must have had at least a hundred floors, each one marked
with a horizontal row of windows. Staring at the windows, I noticed that they were all covered
with some kind of black paint; I couldn't see through any of them.
Oh, well, I figured. If I have to sit next to a window while I
work, I'll probably just gaze out it all day, and that could cost me my-
That was as far as my thoughts got before I was
It wasn't exactly a sudden shock. In the middle of my
contemplation, I felt this itch on my throat, and when I moved to scratch it, the feeling tightened
into an uncomfortably sharp-edged pressure. A thin but forceful hold crossed over my chest,
stiffly holding my neck against the cutting line.
I reconsidered that whole "moving" thing.
A voice whispered, "You are trespassing."
It was a woman's voice, but not like that of any woman I'd
ever known. There was a harsh, dissonant undertone to it, as if she had gravel in her vocal chords.
My throat wasn't feeling all that good, either. I suppose I really should have been a lot more
scared than I was, but, well, she accused me like she was some kind of security guard. Which
meant she wouldn't hurt me as long as I didn't make any sudden moves, right?
I expected her to ask me who I was, but she didn't talk any
more. Like she was waiting for me to do something. So I said, "I'm Heishiro Mitsurugi. I work
"I can show you my IdentiCard. It's in my right front
"I know who you are, idiot!" The pressure on my throat
vanished; a sharp smack to the side of my face replaced it. I staggered away and held up
my empty hands.
"Um, then have I done something to offend you?" I asked,
tentatively. "Because I've never met you before in my life."
She didn't answer at first, but just ran the palm of her
fingerless glove along the length of her short sword, wiping off the slight trickle of blood that
marred it. I swallowed hard and touched my neck. There was a tiny crease of wetness on one side
of my throat. She must have stopped short of rupturing my jugular, seeing as how I could still
breathe and all. I suppressed a reflexive urge to cough. My eyes briefly squeezed shut anyway;
when they opened again, I got a much clearer look at her.
What I saw so startled me that I coughed in earnest.
From the roughshod sound of her voice, I suppose I
expected to be face-to-face with an ugly hag. She was nothing of the kind. She couldn't have been
more than a few years older than me, and oh, was she shapely! She wore this jet black,
form-fitting bodysuit, mostly cloth, although it tapered down to netting at her arms below the
and at her legs below the knees. Her shins especially had some kind of hard, black armor covering
them, as if to give an extra wallop to her kicks. Even though the fabric almost completely covered
her, it clung so tightly that I could see every curve of her muscular thighs, smooth waist, and
especially her bosom - I can't even come close to describing that, only to say that if I thought I
could have stared at it without getting my throat cut for real, I would have!
The mystery was her face. She had a mask stretching from
ear to ear, wrapping over the bridge of her nose, and its fabric was so thick I could see no
impression whatsoever of what was behind it. Above the mask's border, though, were two
almond-brown eyes, set with artistic perfection, and framed by two delicate eyebrows. She kept
her long, black hair tied back in a loose topknot; her bangs clumped together a little as they
drooped over those amazing eyes.
"I asked you a question, rookie," she hissed, returning her
short sword to a nearly-invisible sheath securely attached to her back. And I realized that yes, she
had asked me a question all right; I'd just been staring so much at her brea- um, well, generally
staring at her that I'd failed to register the words. The rocky sound of her voice was so discordant;
it absolutely did not belong in that amply curved, unbelievably desirable-
-steady, Heishiro. Remember, this job is your last
"I'm very sorry," I apologized with a bow - I really didn't
want to take my eyes off her, but it was probably for the best that I did. "Could you please repeat
it one more time?"
"I said, why didn't you fight back?"
"Um, well, I figured it would get me killed."
"So?" There was something coldly disturbing about the
casual way she said that.
"Well, what would be the point? We both work for the
same syndicate, don't we? I mean, you're something like a security guard, right? I'm sorry, should
I have checked in with someone before I came? This is my first day of work, and I'm not sure who
I'm supposed to report to."
She folded her arms. "I am Taki. I have condescended to
assist in your training. It seems you will have to begin with the basics."
She raised a darkened eyebrow, appearing almost
"I-I mean," I stuttered, "you want me to work in security
too, or something?"
"What did you expect?"
"Isn't this, like, an office building? I mean, no one ever told
me exactly what my job was here, but I figured you needed someone to help you sort files, or
enter data, or oversee phone lines, or..."
"...or, um, edit. I've had some practice at editing things.
Translations, too. When I start taking classes in your university, I want to major in language
sciences, so I can be an editor."
She laughed. Mockingly. I folded my arms and studied the
ground. I don't particularly enjoy being humiliated by a woman, no matter how fine-looking she is,
but she was apparently my supervisor; what else was I going to do?
"Don't you know," she smiled - actually, I didn't know for
certain that she was smiling under her mask, but her eyes sure looked like she was smiling - "why
you were recruited to serve the syndicate?"
"Are you aware of the legendary exploits of your
"The what of my what?"
"You bear his name; dare you tell me that I, a stranger,
know more of your own family history than you?"
Well, yeah. Dad used to tell me bedtime stories
about my ancestor Heishiro Mitsurugi, who lived some 400 years ago; I was, in fact, named after
him. He was a wandering, mercenary swordsman who refused to pledge fealty to a master and
become a samurai, despite many offers. He supposedly went in search of this ultimate sword that
turned out to be evil, and he helped a golden-haired woman champion of the gods destroy it, or
something. When Dad starts telling stories, it's hard to figure out where history ends and myths
begin. I can scarcely remember any of the legends now, though, because it's been so long since I
last heard them. At least ten years, I think. Dad never did talk as much after his divorce.
I said, "Um, okay, I do know a little about my ancestor the
ronin. What does that have to do with anything?"
"Your ancestor was not merely a 'ronin.' He was one of the
greatest swordmasters who ever lived. Armed with only his katana, he could destroy entire
companies of trained soldiers wielding muskets. You are his descendant. And you think the
syndicate wants you to push papers?" She laughed again. "Come with me. We must begin your
instruction. There will be time enough later to crush your dreams."
Her talk was beginning to make me a little nervous. Did
she really expect me to become some kind of master swordsman? In this modern day and age?
Why? How? I'm a 'ronin' only in the sense that I've struggled for the past two years to get into a
college. Sure, Dad used to show me a few things with bokkens, and I even belonged to my high
school kendo club, but it was always just playing, a hobby. I've never even held a sword that
wasn't made of wood. And now I'm supposed to learn to be, like, a reincarnated legend-?
Well, I told myself, it could be worse. As long as my
instructor was this drop-dead gorgeous babe, how bad could this "training" possibly be?
I found out.
"I told you to practice the stroke one hundred times.
One hundred. Not a single stroke less - no excuses! Keeping proper count is the least of
the focus you will have to learn! Do another one hundred strokes at once, this time in the reverse
direction, and come to an exact stop when your weapon touches the paper!"
I found out real quick.
"The armor is not for your protection. It is to build your
stamina. When you are strong enough to move freely with another fifteen kilos of metal attached
to you, you may have a chance in Hell. Now, attack me, and this time try to be more adept than a
lumbering box turtle."
Boy, did I ever find out.
"Wrong, wrong, your breathing is all wrong, again!
How many times must I remind you? Don't gulp air through your mouth unless your nose is caked
An hour past noon, I begged her for a lunch break. She
gave me water to drink, but when I hesitantly asked her for food, she did that evil smile with her
"If you can penetrate my defenses once," she offered,
playfully, "you can eat."
I tried and tried and tried.
She moved so fast! Like a ghostly shadow, always
vanishing a half-second before I could reach her, and I think I got as close as I did only because
she deliberately let me. She never slowed down, never got tired, I don't think she was even
sweating under that uniform. I'd swing my bokken, it would whoosh against empty air,
and I'd feel the familiar thump of the flat of her short sword against my armor. I'd lunge
and she was to the side of me. I'd turn and she was behind me. I'd parry and I was flat on the
ground, again, like I always was whenever I did something dumb. I did something dumb a
The armor was hot and heavy. It weighed on my shoulders
like a massive backpack, and my insides growled with hunger. I became so exhausted that I could
never get up right away; I'd have to heave and pant my breath out for several seconds first, while
Taki would shake her head and murmur, "Hopeless. Just hopeless."
I think it was around five-thirty when a messenger of God
came to save me.
Well, not really, but I was so burnt out I could barely tell
the difference when this other guy entered the training hall. He signaled for Taki's attention. She
responded noncommittally. I collapsed in a heap.
"Just a moment," she said to the newcomer. "Got a ration
stick on you?" He nodded and handed her a small, box-shaped object in metallic foil. She threw it
to me. The brown, dry, sticklike bar inside looked vaguely edible. I wondered why she was being
so nice to me all of a sudden; I thought I didn't get to eat anything yet?
Then I took a bite of the rock-hard, tasteless stuff, and
decided that this must not count as "eating."
As I struggled to chew without losing a tooth, I watched
Taki talk with the other guy. I'd like to describe him, but when I try, the only word that comes to
mind is "average." Average height, average weight, average stature, straight black hair neatly cut
short in the common style, and no particularly distinguishing features on his plain, clean-shaven
face. He wore a very ordinary black business suit, matching necktie, and hat with a rounded brim.
Maybe his eyes would have lent him some individuality; I don't know, because a pair of
impenetrably thick black sunglasses completely hid them. Even his voice was average-sounding,
evenly toned, neither high nor deep, and absolutely unremarkable except for a light Shinjuku
"-sure he has not returned here?" Mr. Average pressed of
Taki, as I polished off the brick that masqueraded as food. "He was supposed to meet with
Doctor Abel at this time. It is not like him to be tardy. I thought perhaps he had lost himself in
"Do you see any devil-spawn?" she snorted.
"You should speak of the young master with more
Taki rolled her eyes. "Of course. No, the 'young master' has
not been here today, unless he used his Power to make himself invisible and sneak past my sight,
which must be what he does to you - isn't this twice in the last two months?"
"I was only obeying his orders! Lei Wulong was harassing
"It doesn't matter if he 'ordered' you to buy paintbrushes.
You've lost him. Old man Heihachi will have your head."
He glared at her. At least, I think he was glaring, judging
from the way the muscles in his neck tightened and held his head perfectly rigid; with sunglasses
like that, it's kind of hard to tell.
"That is, Mishima-sama will have your head," Taki
self-corrected, patronizingly. "Yours and Ishida's."
"I am Ishida," he snapped, repaying her patronizing
tone with interest. "Is it a waste of time to ask you for your help!?"
"Maybe, maybe not. What do you want from me?"
"Stay with Doctor Abel, in case the young master arrives
there. I must continue my search."
"There will be a price."
"What? I'm not asking you to-"
"You are asking me to be in the presence of the 'young
master'; you know what that means!"
Ishida ground his teeth together. "What is your price?"
"My price is that you will both owe me a favor. If you can
find the 'young master' before Heihachi comes back, that is; otherwise, the most I can hope to get
from either of you will be an organ donation."
"If we fail to locate the young master in time,
Mishima-sama's wrath will be the least of our concerns." Ishida stiffly turned his back on her and
away, taking long strides.
"Come on, rookie," Taki said to me. "Let's go."
I was only too glad to have my break extended - and
compared to the lesser Hell she'd just put me through, following her at a brisk walk was complete
relaxation. Or would have been, if my body weren't so sore and tired all over. She seemed to be in
a slightly more amiable mood than she had been in the morning, so I dared to ask a
"Who's this 'young master' you were talking about?"
"You don't know?" Her eyebrows went up a little, then
back down again, then flattened in a decidedly malicious manner. "No, I suppose you don't. And
you had better learn quickly. Jin Kazama is the young master. He is Heihachi Mishima's grandson,
acting vice-president of the Mishima syndicate, and your absolute superior. But those details do
not begin to touch upon what he is. What he truly is."
Her voice lowered, and gained an eerie, chilling resonance.
A malefic gleam flared in her eyes, the possessed look of a fanatic.
"He is the Fatal Lightning, that can rip apart your mind and
lay your most private memories bare. He is the son of the devil necromancer Kazuya Mishima. He
is a telepath - do you know what that means? It means you are a book spread open to him. You
cannot lie to him. You can keep no secrets to yourself. You possess no thoughts that he cannot
know as his own. He knows you. He knows everything that passes through your mind. Be careful
what you think, rookie. Guard your thoughts, before he steals them all from you, leaving you
without a past, a future, or a soul of your own."
My boss can read minds?
It was so hard to believe such a thing. She made him sound
more like a demon out of a campfire ghost story than a real person. And yet-
-well, okay, I do know a little about Kazuya Mishima, the
turncoat who sold out the Earth in the Great Invasion. Modern history books don't say much of
anything about him being a Devil, but, well, Dad used to tell me stories on the side about that,
too. As a young boy, I came to half-believe them. Now, listening to Taki's fierce description, and
seeing the driven look in her eyes, I could tell that she believed. Because underneath the
cruelty of her words, I could hear the resonance of something else - something worse than fear.
"Our boss can't be that bad," I hurriedly suggested. "I
mean, you work for him, right? So does Mr. Av- I mean, Mr. Ishida. And you're both fine, aren't
"'Fine'?" she repeated, hollowly. That deathly ring to her
tone became colder, emptier. "You do not understand. Not yet. But you will. You belong to him
now, as surely as the rest of us; you've signed your name on the dotted line, damned yourself with
a stroke of a pen. You are not like us now, but in time, you will become like us. Your soul will
shrivel and your humanity will die."
This was beginning to seriously rattle me.
I tried to venture another denial, but the words crinkled
and died in my throat. My eyes fell to the ground, and stayed there as I followed her, until I ran
headfirst into a thick, aluminum door.
"Ow!" I said, rubbing my forehead and squinting at the
thing. It had the words "EXPERIMENTAL LABORATORY - KEEP OUT" emblazoned in big,
black letters. The door sported a trim, vertical pull-handle. It was locked. Taki slipped a metal
something from somewhere I couldn't see; her hands moved in a blur. The door unlatched with a
click. I couldn't tell if she'd picked the lock or used a key.
I said, "Couldn't you just knock?"
She threw me a condescending look as she pushed the door
open. Inside was... well, if a room could by any rights be called both "spacious" and "cluttered,"
then that's what it was. Equipment and papers were everywhere, but they weren't just thrown
about randomly. All the files and typing and crabbed pencil scratches and graph paper printouts
were organized in nice, neat piles, catalogued by some non-alphabetical strategy. Various tables
had been heaped with such papers, computer disks, and books with titles like Bio-Mechanical
Cellular Interface Recombination. Nearly all the piles of stuff had been pushed to the sides of
the room, as if to clear a wide, central swath for whatever purpose. A big computer terminal
rested in one corner; its monitor displayed a screen-saver program that constantly diagramed
different anatomical cross-sections of the human body.
There was a humming sound. At first I thought it was the
computer, but no, on second listen it came from the back of the room. There was something
mounted against the far wall. It was a coffin-shaped chamber stood on end, with walls of dark
blue glass, maybe eight feet tall by three feet wide. A network of black wires and pipes, ranging in
diameter from hair-thin to thick like a tree, coiled around and thrust into the thing. I couldn't see
much through its tinted surface, just a long shadow.
An old man paced back and forth in the middle of the
cleared area, with both arms folded behind him. Boy, was he ever old. Practically the oldest
person I've ever seen. Old like a shriveled skeleton, old like a vulture; I'm not sure if I should hope
to grow that old, or pray that I drop dead a long time before it happens. His hair was almost
gone except for a whisper-grey fringe around the back of his skull, his posture was stooped
like a shrew, and his skin was so dry, pale, and brittle-looking. It was the washed-out,
liver-spotted skin of a geezer, but it wasn't exactly wrinkled in the way I'd expect. The few creases
his face were deep all right, especially the semi-trapezoidal grooves from the outer edges of his
nose to his upper lip. Overall, though, his face was so unlined it was as if he'd never changed his
expression in his life. He wore a rather plain white lab coat, and carried something that looked like
a cross between a hand-held computer and a clipboard. A pair of horn-rimmed glasses dangled
over the bridge of his hooked nose. The curved lenses of his eyewear seemed almost as thick as
the misty cataracts that clouded his olive eyes.
The shrew-man paced a few more times before he noticed
us, then straightened - no easy task, given the involuntary cringe that twitched his shoulders and
the corner of his mouth as he struggled to break out of his stoop.
"You are late!" he barked, in a gruff, caustic reprimand. He
spoke in English, with a thick, exotic accent I'd never heard before - like he had something stuck
in his throat. I wondered where he was from. He didn't really sound American, or British.
"Um..." My eyes darted nervously to Taki, but she wasn't
paying attention to me or the shrew-man. She only stared at the far chamber - at the shadow
"Thirty minutes I have languished!" ranted the shrew-man.
"What has been taking you so long? The day has only twenty-four hours, and I must spend at least
six of them asleep! I cannot afford to squander the rest in useless waiting!"
"Uh, mister - er, Doctor? You are Doctor - Doctor Abel,
you are?" I suppose I shouldn't rag on his English accent all that much, because it's got to be
twenty times better than mine. I can do written translations all right, because I've paid attention in
school and even studied a little on my own, but actually speaking the stuff is a completely
different story. You have to think so much faster with your mouth than with your fingers, and you
can't just erase muffed syllables, and the natural order of the words is all screwed up.
"That is I," he huffed, sounding annoyed.
"I think you are confusing us with someone else," I
explained, speaking slowly in order to get the words right. "We are only here to wait for, uh, the
"The young master? The young master! Who do you think
has been forcing me to wait? The young master requests, no, he insists upon
testing Prototype Alpha, yes, he says he will be here to do it personally, but does he appear? No!
He only sends you, and you are late! I am not allowed to continue my work until the safety
disengagement protocols are tested! Who does he think he is, commanding a test and not carrying
it out? I have a schedule to uphold! Blood will spill if I do not attend to it!" His olive eyes
glittered like cursed jewels, and he gritted his yellowed teeth. I suddenly felt a very strong desire
to be somewhere else.
"We're, um, very sorry about that, but there's nothing we
can do, so we'll just wait outside, okay?" I edged toward the door and tried to open it.
"'Nothing you can do'? Nonsense! You are just what I
I gripped the center of the vertical door handle with both
hands and yanked hard. It was stuck. No, worse than that, it was locked!
"Taki!" I whispered, turning toward her. "C'mere and do
something about this, quickly! Taki?" She didn't answer me. She was leaning against the back
wall, and shaking.
Her bangs swayed from the quivering that rustled her
frame. Only a few seconds ago, she had the confident, authoritarian poise of a seasoned
instructor, and now... well, the last time I saw that look, it was in the eyes of a wild baby rabbit
that my cat had caught. I made Kitty drop the poor thing, but the baby rabbit didn't try to run
away; it just crouched there, motionless and afraid, and it died within the hour. Infected by the
bacteria that live inside a cat's mouth, or so I was told.
"Taki!" I urged. "C'mon, snap out of it, please!"
"No, no, you cannot leave; I need you to participate
in this test!" Abel demanded.
"Taki? Taki, open this door! Can you even hear me?"
The humming noise from the other end of the room
stopped. A decrescendo ksssh sound whispered in its wake. I heard Abel drone something
about tests and prototypes, that it showed excellent foresight for me to armor myself before
coming here, because it allowed him to experiment with a higher impact setting, and would I
please be courteous enough to face him when he was speaking to me?
It was a shrill, agonized wail from deep within. Her hands
clutched at the mask on her face, and she crumpled to the floor, huddling into herself.
I did not want to turn around. I did not. It was some
overwhelming, external drive - curiosity, maybe, or just unconscious reflex - that made me slowly
twist in place, and compelled me to look upon what had driven Taki insane.
I still wish I hadn't looked. I wish I'd just let it hit me from
It - he? - gods in heaven, he was a man, or had been once,
and he had not been a small one. He stood close to two meters tall, at least a hand and a half
above me. Thickly packed muscle tissue wrapped around his long arms and legs, making him
appear powerful and fierce; I could see the tendons bulging from his skin, and tension in his veins.
The blue-purple lines of his throat, in particular, traced a cordlike pattern between two swirling
black tattoos on the sides of his neck. Two small, metallic, knob-like protrusions stuck out from
the middle of the tattoos.
He looked tough. He looked mean. But his daunting
physical prowess wasn't what held me paralyzed with fear. It was his scars. He wore nothing to
cover his chest; just a silver-buckled belt suspending a pair of brown, ankle-length camouflage
slacks, seamless brown shoes, and a pair of black gloves with short, elastic wrists. So I could
clearly see the darkened marks perforating his upper body. Nine of them. I counted. One savage
trail ran straight through his eye, splitting the left side of his face into off-center vertical sections.
Seven brutal pockmarks were scattered all over the right and central portion of his trunk, ranging
from his collar to his belly, and a corresponding long seam cut down the left side of his chest.
I'm no doctor, but I've watched enough TV to know bullet
wounds when I see them. He'd been shot. He'd been shot seven times, with at least three hits to
his right lung, and he'd been gutted with a blade. There's no way anyone could have survived
-as soon as the inevitable conclusion formed in my head, I
pushed it back in terror, and desperately searched the man's face for any possible denial of what I
knew had to be true.
His face was gaunt, rigid, and expressionless. His
silvery-white hair had been shaved close to stubble and smoothed back, so that his widow's peak
sharp V on his forehead. I noticed that his ears stuck out a bit from the sides of his head; it was
almost a little comical, but I didn't feel like laughing when I looked into his eyes.
The eyes of a zombie.
They were deep-set, ringed by dark hollows, and had a
glassy film over their steel grey irises. They focused on me like the lens of an automatic camera,
but there was no recognition behind them. His eyes were still and lifeless, without spark or
Taki's screams died to voiceless sobs.
I didn't feel too sane myself.
A cold sweat broke out on me. I backed against the door.
My legs were trembling so much that leaning against its aluminum length was all that kept me
"Impressive, isn't he?" Abel beamed, excitedly - gods, he
was bragging about the thing as if it were his child! "Functional in less than three months! The
young master would not grant me an intact body to work with; I had to accept this damaged,
poisoned wreck, yet even with such inferior material, I have succeeded where all of my
colleagues have failed! Twenty years of research have paid off; the first soldier of my Cyborg
Army is independently operational! Say hello, Prototype Alpha."
The man moved. It was not a natural or graceful motion,
but neither was it clumsy. It was artificial. Calculated along planar, strictly rigid lines. He raised
both hands on level with his head, keeping his elbows bent at a perfect right angle. Then suddenly,
he dipped into a very low, wide-legged crouch and started to laugh.
It was the most ghastly sound I've ever heard - cackling,
crazed, hollow of life or joy. He lowered his hands to the ground and brought them in to himself
in a recurring, circular motion, as if daring me to approach. The monstrous sound echoed again
and again, each time exactly the same, repeating like a recorded sequence.
"I do not yet have it programmed for speech," Abel
explained, with a smile as sick as that of the twisted thing he'd made. "Such finely coordinated
motions are quite difficult to properly-"
"Make it stop!" I shrieked. The monomaniacal laughter was
more than I could bear; it was an abomination, ringing in my ears and tearing at my wits. I can still
hear it in my head if I hold myself too still.
Abel tapped his computer-clipboard. The laughing man fell
quiet and immediately altered position from the taunt to a stable ready stance, left leg forward,
hands clenched and raised to protect the torso. His right and left fists took several practice
swings, whiffing past the chin of an invisible opponent. Those lifeless, steel grey eyes stared into
me, and though I wanted more than anything to look away I could not move.
"This man-" I gasped to the doctor, "-this man is
"You are not very bright, are you?" Abel snorted. "That is
the purpose: a soldier that never tires, never requires pay, never mutinies, and never dies. And
you, my young friend, have the honor of assisting in its first active combat simulation. You are
about to become a part of History itself!"
"No, wait, don't-"
"Prototype Alpha," Abel commanded, "attack!"
And the dead man lunged for me.
He was a fast one, or maybe it's just that I was
incapacitated with fear, because he had me in his grasp before I could even think to get out of the
way. His gloved left hand seized my hair, and wham, wham he drove his other fist into my
gut. The breastplate of my armor offered some protection, but his blows connected so hard they
drove dents into the metal and connected with my stomach beneath, pounding blackballs of shock
that spread through my whole body and threatened to make me upchuck that so-called "ration
stick." But what made it really god-awful was that he started laughing again as he did it; his
staccato "MuahahahaHAHAHAHA!" coursing through my ears and my blood, even as he
half-tossed me up with his left hand and smashed my chin with a final hit, batting me away like a
ball. I slammed against the door, and bumped the back of my head.
The dead man roared.
He bellowed this guttural, animal outcry as he
half-crouched almost to bent knees, mechanically poising his arms, one up, one down, and rushed
forward to crush me. His bullet-ridden torso swiveled, adding momentum to the clockwise circle
of his rock-hard left fist as he brought it up, over, and down on the top of my skull. Taki probably
would have admired his form, if she'd looked up from her sobbing to see it. I must have blacked
out from that for a couple seconds, because next thing I remember I was stretched out face-first
on the ground, and I distantly heard Abel's disapproving reprimand:
"No, no, this will not do at all; it is not a combat simulation
if you do not fight back!"
I tried to get up. The dead man did not hinder me; he
waited patiently in ready stance, which was good for me, because it took me a couple tries in the
heavy armor to shakily plant my feet under me and force myself up, leaning against the door the
whole time. I know I should have tried to roll and spring to my feet like Taki taught me, but my
head was spinning so much that I was afraid one more revolution would make it fly off. As hard
as Taki had pushed me and even bruised me during this day from Hell, at least she'd always been
careful to avoid hitting my head, and taught me to do the same. You do not strike at a person's
head unless you don't mind killing them. A person's skull has the strength of an eggshell: resistant
to evenly distributed force, yet vulnerable to a localized crack, and it can take so much less than
you think to damage the brain inside. In sparring, you never do real head blows. If you're good
enough, you can practice by directing your head blows a centimeter short of their target; that's as
close as Taki dared to come, and I'm not good enough to risk trying it myself.
As I struggled to remain on my feet, another thought came
to mind as to why head blows should be avoided when you practice: even if they don't kill you,
they're likely to leave you in no shape to put up much of a fight. I wondered if I could explain this
to Abel. I took a deep breath, and gasped, "Doctor, um, I don't think this test is going too
"Do not worry," he reassured. "This was just a, how you
say, 'warmup'? I will change the setting now."
"Oh, thank you," I sighed in relief.
"Prototype Alpha: KILL!"
Oh, my god - what?
The dead man leaned back, cocking his powerful right arm
as if drawing an arrow from a heavy bow, aimed straight for my face. I barely got out of the way
in time, stumbling around to the side just before his fist hit the metal door, and pounded a
coconut-sized dent where I had been.
Taki has told me that a true life-or-death situation can
bring out the desperate side of a person - the survival instinct that can transform the scrawniest
weakling into a fighting demon. Which is why, if you want to kill someone, the best way to do it
is as swiftly as possible, before their overdrive kicks in and does everything it can to keep them
alive. And it's also why, when you're thrust into a life-or-death situation, you don't want to deny
it; you want to recognize it quickly so you can tap into your own power. At the time, I wanted to
think she was speaking hypothetically - especially the part about the best way to kill people - but
it's the only explanation I have for what happened to me next. Something in me went click
when I heard the old doctor's dry, rough-voiced command. I wasn't thinking or acting consciously
anymore. My arms and body moved with a dreamlike loss of awareness.
It really did feel like a dream: vivid, intense, removed from
reality, because that can't possibly be me ducking down, underneath the dead man's high kick, and
stabbing my heel at the ball of his foremost foot, right when his balance is centered. I'd faced
similar assaults from Taki a hundred times if I did once, but I was never fast enough to
successfully react to her, and the dead man had to be close to her match in speed, so you see, I
still can't say how it was me who did this. As the dead man stumbled, my bokken lashed out,
swooping down to up in my stiff arms; it actually cracked against his jaw and knocked him on his
back. I wasn't even on the ground anymore. I'd taken to the air, and I was about to land on him
and drive my wooden sword into his scarred chest, but he'd already started to gather himself in a
backward roll. My arm whipped out as I touched the ground, and I think I grazed his retreating
ankle, but it didn't slow him any.
He was lunging toward me again, hands of doom arcing for
my forehead as he spun his torso in line for a backfist strike, undead eyes sighting precisely down
the length of his arm; my own forearm went up to deflect him, but the sheer force behind his
punch was staggering. I reeled back from it, and the second punch from his other hand. He swiftly
turned his torso the other way, at last skating forward like a boxer with one final, outstretched fist
that pushed me hard against the wall. For the smallest split-second, the effort of that sequence left
him in a motionless, outstretched pose; I could just imagine tiny mechanical gears spinning in
limbo for their next instruction, as he paused there, right hand outstretched, left leg forward, neck
hooked so that his steel grey eyes stayed on exacting level with his extended knuckles.
I remember hearing an infuriated, wordless battle cry, and
thinking that it wasn't the voice of anyone in the room: not the dead man's morbid echo, and
certainly not Abel's sandpaper accent or Taki's grating sarcasm. But it could never have been my
uncertainly-wavering tenor either, so I'm still not sure what it meant. It came at the same time as
my wooden sword hurled itself in a tremendous overhead slash, breathing with a life of its own
and straining to tear off my arms with its vivid urgency; it plunged toward the dead man's
-but he'd already broken his pose and lowered into a
crouch; as my sword flew, he stood and thrust with his right fist, supported by the power of his
knees and thighs. The channeled brunt of his uppercut dug underneath my ribs at the same time as
my wooden sword broke in half against the top his skull - WHAM!
The agonizing shock in my gut jolted through my whole
body. My arms buckled, my hands spasmed, and I heard the dull clatter of two separate
pieces of wood hitting the ground. And just like that, the spell was broken. I was plain, ordinary
Heishiro again, crippled with pain and wanting very badly to throw up.
The dead man was laughing again.
That hellish, programmed noise tortured my ears and
swamped my senses as the centered shock in my body raised me off the ground. With just one
hand, he heaved me over his head and threw me on my back; the concrete floor hit me in one
hard, all-encompassing blast. I felt the thud of a stiff kick into my ribs, and probably more,
but after that it just sort of ran together into one massive overdose of pain. Moving was out of the
question. I was completely helpless when the dead man locked my throat in his hands, cutting off
You know that stuff I wrote about not wanting to grow
I take it back.
I take it all back, gods, I don't want to work here! I don't
want to be a bodyguard, or a swordsman, or a legend! I don't want to get killed just for doing a
job! This place scares me! Everyone in it scares me! I can't let my mind wander, I can't let
myself rest, because if I do then the nightmare comes rushing back to me all over again, I'm being
strangled by a zombie and I'm forced to stare into his undead eyes all the while, and the worst part
is I have no voice to scream with-
It was Doctor Abel who barked the monosyllabic
command, and as soon as the word echoed in my ears, the dead man let go of my throat. My chest
heaved in a sputtering rhythm. I... I think I was crying. Yes, I'm sure of it, it's something that
makes me feel sick to confess, but if you cry, at least it means you're still alive, which is more than
I can say for the thing that had broken me. Somehow, I regained enough strength to turn over on
my stomach and bury my face in my arms, so that no taunting zombies, women, or old men could
see my weakness.
I felt a nudge in the side of my ribs. It pushed a sore spot,
setting off a renewed sizzle of pain underneath my armor, and making me yelp loudly.
"Go on, get up," droned Abel's wheezing, accented voice.
"It is time for you to go. You are done here, and I work best alone. Up. Up! What is your
"Huh?" I murmured in an unsteady daze, lifting my head.
"M-my problem...?" My eyes magically succeeded in focusing on Abel's dried-parchment face, and
the significance of what he'd asked belatedly seeped into my thoughts. "You... you...
"YOU TRIED TO KILL ME!" I shrieked, attempting to
push myself off the ground. "Y-you sicced your dead zombie on me and- and told it to-"
"What?" Abel snorted. "Ridiculous. You are not my
property to kill; you belong to Mishima-sama and the young master."
"I HEARD YOU SAY IT!" I cried out in my own
defense. "You told it to kill me!"
"I have told you, the whole purpose was to verify
the safety disengagement protocols! I tell the young master they're perfectly responsive, the
prototype can be rendered inert and harmless with a single word; but no, he says that the safeties
must be tested in actual combat. I tell him it is a waste of my valuable time; he insists, he says he
has to be sure. Run along now. Find the young master and tell him his precious test was a
"I-I can't leave. The door is locked."
"It does not lock from this side."
"But it is."
His whisper-grey eyebrows drew together, then lowered
contemptuously. "There is a catch inside the handle. Squeeze it as you pull."
The thought of being able to get out of that monstrous
torture chamber, and away from the zombie with splinters from my smashed bokken embedded in
the buzz-cut stubble on its skull, was enough to rouse me to a wobbly crawl. Taki was still in no
shape to help me. When I tried to stand, bruised agony and spinning dizziness forced me back
down to my knees, but I managed to get to the door. This time, I felt along the underside of the
handle, and sure enough, just beneath the top of its length was a flat protrusion to squeeze. I tried
to pull it open, bracing myself on numb knees and straining with both arms. I'd heaved it a few
centimeters out of its jamb, when it suddenly flew outward of its own accord and bowled me back
on the floor.
"Excuse me? Is the young master here?" inquired a polite,
masculine voice with a light Shinjuku accent. My eyes still weren't working their best, but I
recognized the indistinguishably average silhouette.
"Ishida! Help!" I gasped, clutching at the pressed,
impeccable fabric of his jet black slacks. "Save us!"
He briefly surveyed the entire room before he looked down
to the worm groveling at his feet. Perhaps he couldn't see too well in the dimness of the lab,
because he removed his impenetrable sunglasses as he studied me. His eyes were dull brown and
as unmentionably average as the rest of him.
"I'm Kimura," he said, quietly. "I see you've met my
Kimura helped Taki and me out of that hellhole and into
the corridor beyond - Abel was so absorbed in fine-tuning his zombie that I don't think he
noticed our exit. Kimura couldn't stay, though; when he promised to summon a medic for me, I
thought I heard a tremor of anxiety running through his voice. Then I realized what it
"The, uh, young master," I muttered, working around the
need to wince. "You've really lost him, haven't you?"
Kimura hung his head in shame. "Pray that we can find
"Is it really that bad? I mean, you don't know that he's in
danger, do you?"
"You must be new here. The young master is not fully
adjusted to the outside world. It precipitates the worst in him, especially when he is alone. The
"What?" I prompted, as a tight ball of worried tension
condensed inside my collection of aches and pains. "What happened the last time?"
He shook his head and hurried away. I tried to lean back
against the corridor wall and rest, but I couldn't because I had to cough. I was terrified that I was
going to cough up blood, but the effort just laced more pins and needles along my bruises.
"The last time," Taki said in a hoarse monotone, "it took
the Tekkenshu two hours to bring the fire under control."
On the one hand, it was nice to see that she'd recovered her
sanity, or at least a piece of it. On the other, I think she's less scary when she's insane. If the "last
time" was less than a couple months ago, then it would have been right around-
"Y-you don't mean-? I-I read about the Ikebukuro disaster
in the Tokyo Sunrise, but it said that faulty wiring-"
"Of course it blamed 'faulty wiring'! The syndicate
owns the Tokyo Sunrise!"
"Is - is the young master always so destructive?"
"I told you, he is the Fatal Lightning. Lightning does not
merely burn. It sears your soul and stops your heart. Forever." A bitter strand of hate overtook
the despair in her voice. "It will not let you rest even when you are cold in your grave. It controls
you, uses you, binds chains of force into your dead flesh, until you become its slave for all
Clutching my throbbing forehead, I peered at Taki. She'd
slunk down to her hunched over sitting position, with her knees drawn and her back to the
other side of the corridor. Her almond eyes were closed; light from the spartan ceiling lamp
sparkled upon their tear-trails. I thought about what she was saying, and how she had been
reduced to a screaming wreck a few minutes ago.
She had seemed so tough when I first met her. No, she
was tough; she knew how to fight and she could work out all day without breaking a
sweat. Is it possible for a person to be that strong on the outside and not be strong on the
inside, too? Well, maybe it is. Maybe my first impression of her as a tough person was totally
off-base, or maybe I'm just so weak that I'm easy to impress, I don't know... but I couldn't shake
feeling that something a lot worse than simple fear had sparked her reaction to the zombie. And
she was crying tears now...
Tears for whom?
"The dead man," I mumbled. "You knew him, didn't you?
You knew who he was."
She didn't nod; she just answered without emotion. "His
name was Bryan Fury. He used to work for the syndicate, too. I... I knew the telepath wanted to
gain something from his death, but I didn't... didn't know exactly what..."
An icy shiver ran up and down my spine.
"Fifteen minutes ago, you tried to defend that
devil-spawn," Taki continued. The tears stopped flowing from her eyes, which became dark and
"You heard the doctor - this is that fiend's pet project! He chose Bryan for it, he
personally oversees it, and you dare speak of him as if he were a human being!?"
"'Save us,' you cry. You pitiable wretch. It's too late to
save any of us. We belong to Satan now. When he can get no further use out of our living bodies,
we will join his army of the walking dead."
The growing fear inside me could no longer find a voice. It
shook me, twisting me up inside and out. I thought about my boss, Jin Kazama. I thought of
lightning and fire, a presence that could invade my deepest thoughts, a dictator who commanded
the likes of Abel to create an undead army. I thought about all of this, and I wanted very badly to
hide in a corner until my thoughts went away.
That was an hour or two ago. I've recovered enough from
my beating to write all this; I just hope no one asks me to get out of the cot I'm recuperating on.
Ishida and Kimura still haven't found Jin.
I hope they never do.
I hope he stays lost forever.
INTERVIEW WITH JIN KAZAMA, section 3
February 5, 2018
Welcome back. On time as usual, I see. How was your
Uh-huh. That's nice.
Hm? Oh, well, Lee's been working from sunup to sundown;
I'm beginning to worry about him. Julia's researching her latest paper on, um, I think it's the
ancient Harappan civilization. Xiaoyu decided to name her amusement park "WonderLand." She
wants it on a pink neon sign. Do you know, the place is actually pulling in enough revenue to pay
for its expenses now?
Uh... I'm okay.
I kept my promise to Julia. It wasn't as hard as I thought,
because she managed to find a counselor who wasn't afraid of me.
I hate talking to people who are afraid of me. And for most
of my life, that's pretty much been the same as saying "I hate talking to people." Fear and hatred
are probably the two most difficult emotions to block out, and if the other person is in my line of
sight, then no amount of effort can completely shield me. You'd think I could get used to it, but
just when I want to believe my mental walls have grown thick enough, I'll accidentally look into
someone's eyes and recoil from the picture within - a distorted version of myself, at best a
threatening tyrant to be appeased, at worst a monster to be killed.
I've wondered why that is. Why so few people can ever
look at me and see just another human being. Is it because I can hear their thoughts? Maybe I
should have tried to keep my powers a secret, but I've never had it in me to deceive people. Is it
because I resemble my father Kazuya? The Devil forced him to wreak such atrocity in the Great
Invasion that I can't blame the survivors for mistrusting me. Is it because of my position of
authority within the Mishima syndicate? Lee and I have so much work to do, so many corporate
wrongs to set right. Or is it just something within me, my attitude combined with all the other
factors, that makes other people afraid?
What about you?
Yes, you. I know you used to be afraid of me, too. Why
Yes, I really want to know. I'm not insisting that you tell
me, but if you're willing to do so, then I'd find it very helpful and appreciate it a great deal.
That... that was a mistake. A dire one. It would have
become much worse than just a "mistake" if not for Lee; it would have become blood on my
hands, and I owe him for helping me to see that...
I... I have to think about this some more...
Oh, you're right, of course - I'd forgotten this was an
interview. Where do you need me to pick up?
That's about two months ago, hm... let me see... no, it isn't
that I don't remember; I'm just trying to match the events to the date. What day of the week
would it have been?
Oh, yes. Yes, I know what you're talking about now. It
was a Monday afternoon when my father Lei Wulong tried to speak with me, for the first time in
the four years since my mother died. I'm not sure how he found me, but then, it isn't as if I was
trying to hide, and he is a detective.
I encountered him in the Ginza shopping district. I don't
normally visit that place very often - in fact, I'd been there only twice before - but Christmas was
coming up, and I wanted to go there before the last-minute rush. You see, my mother and I used
to celebrate the custom of exchanging Christmas gifts. My father Wulong never understood the
point, since none of us were Christian, but I digress. This year, I wanted to look for something
that would respectfully show my gratitude to my grandfather, for taking me in and teaching me
Mishima-style karate. I suppose I could have sent a servant in my place, or even ordered
something from the Internet Shopping Network, but I really wanted to see and evaluate the
prospective gift personally. Only that way would I know for certain whether it was right for him.
Even if it meant braving the outdoor marketplace.
You know the effect crowds have on me. I've gotten better
at shielding my mind from the crushing presence of other people's thoughts and feelings, all
pressing in on me at once; the fact that I can venture into Ginza at all is proof, when four years
ago, merely entering Tokyo for the first time was enough to make me fall unconscious. But it
takes hard work to keep so many voices out of my head, harder than the most strenuous exercise.
I had tried to prepare myself through meditation, and I'd deliberately come at dusk, just as the
busiest spots of the market were winding down, and it was still difficult beyond words. After
about forty minutes of blindly and emphatically trying to focus on music, antiques, artwork,
anything but the pounding cacophony a hundred times louder than ordinary noise, I was a nervous
wreck. I doubt I could have been polite to Amaterasu the Sun Goddess. And then my father
Except... except that by then, I had long since ceased to
think of him as "father." I saw him as a liar and a murderer, who had killed my true father and
abandoned my mother to die. This abhorrent image of him had become so locked in my head that
I couldn't react to him any other way. I hated him. Just completely hated him on sight, no thought,
no reason... damn, with that crowd submerging me, I'm not sure I could have reasoned my way
through one plus one equals two. He tried to talk to me - I think he was pleading with me - but I
didn't listen to a word; even now, I can't quote for certain what he was saying. I turned my back
on him. When he tried to follow me, I told my bodyguards, Ishida and Kimura, to get him out of
my sight. He resisted. Fiercely. He might have overpowered them both if not for an uncontrollable
coughing fit that suddenly crippled him. Violent spasms brought him to hands and knees. The
hatred in me flared, and I wanted to hit him, but then various people in the crowd began to react
to the struggle.
I was already in a weakened mental state; now I felt shock,
revulsion, and fear. To all surrounding eyes, it seemed as though a man were being beaten to
death in broad daylight. I swear to you, Ishida and Kimura only grappled with him, they never
struck him a single blow, but there was no way for the onlookers to know that. Vocal outcries of
"help," "police," and "stop this" blended into a tremendous, rising wave of psychic panic. So much
horror, so many physical and mental voices rioting in my head:
My God, they're killing him-
"Run away, it's a Yakuza assassination!"
-my children, where are my children?
"Mommy, why is that man on the ground?"
I can't stand by and watch this!
"In the name of Mishima-sama, stay back or I'll show you
what a beating is!" That was Ishida, he'd completely lost his temper, and his anger ignited a surge
of righteous indignation in the people confronting him. Mass rage and panic fueled one another
into a turbulent geyser-
"Everyone, please! He is only ill, we are summoning an
ambulance-" I think I was the only one who heard a fragment of Kimura's attempt to calm the
crowd; he always did have a quiet voice and quieter thoughts.
Jin, wait, listen to me, please-! That was my father's
desperate broadcast, in its own way the most fearful of all. He was brought low by pain, but not
from any external wound; I could feel an echo of the grinding heaviness in his chest, lungs, and
liver that took away his voice. The fear I sensed in him wasn't for his own life; a black curtain of
fatal resignation shrouded the darkness of his thoughts. He was afraid for me, and of what could
happen to me... and maybe, just maybe, afraid that I would never forgive him. I couldn't sense any
more than that because of two sources of interference: one from the hysterical crowd, and one
from the visceral wound of shame festering within my father's psyche. With a sight that extended
past corporeal bounds, I could perceive the red film of dripping gore coating his hands and
sleeves. It was the blood of Kazuya's death and the lies he had told about it, staining him as a
butcher, a monster, a murderer-
-no, no, I will not tolerate any contact with your
despicable mind! I refuse, I shut you out, I will not listen to you! I will not listen!
It was chaos. It was impossible. When I tried to
concentrate on blocking out my father above all, I became even more vulnerable to the tidal wave
of the crowd. A scuffle had started between my bodyguards and some onlookers with misguided
intentions; the panic was spreading to touch another hundred people; I couldn't think on my own
anymore. The masses' collective fear and the driving need to escape my father consumed me. I'd
broken into a stumbling, loping run, fleeing in a random direction, no longer aware of who I was
or what I was doing.
The next thing I remember, it was hours later. Night had
fallen. I huddled in a darkened brick alley, directly opposite two sets of dented, overflowing
garbage cans, my hood pulled over my face and my cloak wrapped around me.
Hm? Oh, I usually prefer to wear a hooded cloak over my
normal clothes during my rare public excursions, because the barrier of dark fabric helps keep me
psychically apart. It doesn't offer that much benefit, really, but every little bit counts. I wish I
could wear it at high school, but they have a strict dress code. Uniforms only.
My head felt like it had been split open with an axe and
glued together with toothpaste. I was hungry, tired, and had a foul taste in my mouth. There was
dirt on the knees of my school uniform and bruises on my arms, probably from tripping and falling
somewhere. But I felt too exhausted, physically and psychically, to apply healing sorcery to myself
I didn't recognize my surroundings. Probably not Ginza
anymore; the buildings were too squat, dirty, and run together. There were no streetlights. I
craned my neck looking for a street sign, but I couldn't see much of anything in the darkness. The
block was more or less deserted; it was quiet enough that I could - barely - resurrect the walls in
my mind and hold them steady.
Ishida and Kimura were probably worried sick about me, I
reflected. Grandfather too, if he'd come home from his trip yet. Better contact them, let them
know I'm okay. I tried to compose my mind and send them a telepathic message-
-and my headache became ten times worse.
...aaargh, I can't do this, not without at least another couple
hours of rest. Even if I can reach them, I won't be able to communicate anything except pain; hell,
it's not like I could tell them where I am right now. If I overestimate my limits, I could pass out
again, and this does not look like a nice neighborhood to sleep in.
I had good reason to be leery. You see, the last time I'd
been alone on the city streets at night - well, you've heard of the Ikebukuro disaster, haven't you?
Grandfather was furious. He almost forbade me to leave the syndicate ever again. He didn't
actually lose all that much money to the fire damage because he had insured the buildings, but it
was costly for him to keep my name out of the news and the police records; he had to call in a lot
of favors. It didn't seem right to me that he should do that. I was ready to confess everything to
the police and face the consequences, but my grandfather commanded me to be silent, and I was
feeling too ashamed to disobey him.
Anyway, the memory of that entire catastrophe was
fresh in my mind as I cradled my throbbing head in the alley. I decided that I'd better get home to
the syndicate as quickly as possible. I still had my wallet in the right side pocket of my pants, and I
was carrying more than enough to afford cab or mass transit fare; trouble was, I didn't see any
kind of vehicles driving down the empty street.
Well, then... maybe a telephone?
There were no pay phones in sight, but there was a single
open business at the end of the block. A fading electric lamp cast long shadows on its painted
sign, which read The Dragon's Tail and featured a coiled, four-clawed serpent, couched in
a glaring splash of red and orange. I wrapped my cloak tighter around myself and
There were voices within. Lots of them. Maybe around
two dozen, physical and mental, but at least that was plenty less than what I'd been through a few
hours earlier. I braced myself against the backlash and ventured inside.
It was a dump.
Perhaps the dilapidated appearance of the surrounding
block should have prepared me, but gods, the place was a disgusting wreck. The wooden timbers
looked like they were infested with termites. Half the front bar stools had their cushions ripped
off. There was dirt, grime, and carved or spray-painted graffiti everywhere. Strong alcoholic
fumes made my eyes water; the only thing worse was the stench coming from the men's room. No
one was manning the bar. I looked around for a pay phone, and to my relief saw one in the far
corner. Unfortunately, a mass of densely jam-packed people separated me from it.
They formed two semicircular halves of a big ring, with a
cleared space in the center. I noticed that the people in one half of the ring were clad mostly in
black leather, while the others wore a variety of more frayed, casual clothes, predominated by
blue jeans. Both sides were cheering loudly, their cries ranging from jubilant outbursts to sneering
catcalls and vulgar epithets. I swayed from the force of their combined, self-feeding fervor. Damn,
my head hurt.
The phone, I thought to myself. Just concentrate on
reaching the phone. There's only a couple dozen of them; it's no different from being in a high
school classroom. Okay, make that being at high school with a severe case of stomach flu, but
still, I can do this...
As I edged my way into non-leather half of the throng, I
felt two emphatic psychological states, over and above the rest. A pair of people were in the
center of the ring, matched against each other in a physical struggle. One was a big, bearded man
in blue jeans; I heard his friends cheer for him as "Nanao." From him came disdain, contempt, and
annoyance with regard to his opponent: a petite young girl, no older than fifteen, dressed in
black leathers. Light sparkled from a broad silver cross around her neck, studded with
twinkling diamonds; I wondered if she were a real Christian or just wearing it for the glitter.
Emotionally, she was caught up in the immediacy of the challenge, not thinking past her next
attack strategy or defensive reaction. She had violet hair - this was no trick of the light, her hair
really was the color of forest wildflowers. I couldn't help taking a closer look, and spotted the tips
of black hair-roots close to her scalp. It seemed odd to me that someone would want to dye
part of their own body such an outlandish pigment, but I suppose I really shouldn't be one to
The leather-clad onlookers were all rooting for the young
woman - well, all except one, who leaned back against the far wall and half-closed his eyes. I
heard yells of "Get him, Yukie!" so I assume that was her name. The strange thing was, her fans
weren't sincere. Although their vocal exhortations matched those of the men cheering for Nanao
decibel for decibel, on the inside they weren't particularly wound up over her winning or losing.
They were bored. They were waiting for this fight to be over.
But if they were that uninterested, then why cheer for her
Aargh, Jin, you're doing it again, getting drawn into other
people's emotions when it's none of your business, stop it, block it out, reinforce the walls, plow
through the crowd, the telephone's only a couple meters away now-
Yukie's shrill scream sliced through my barriers. I felt a
sharp surge of - no, not quite fear or pain, it was loathing and disgust at being touched that made
her cry out as her opponent firmly grappled her waist. He flung her bodily into her leather-clad
comrades, who toppled like crushed bamboo stalks. Yukie sobbed and crouched on her knees,
both arms wrapped around her stomach, her face pressed into the floor. I was rattled for a
moment, worried that she was hurt, but no... no, she wasn't badly injured, and her emotional state
had stabilized into calm anticipation. Her outward appearance of tears was a sham. She had
expected to lose all along - no, she had planned to lose.
Aah, hell with it, just get the damn phone.
I drew my hood and cloak more tightly around myself as I
squeezed next to the banged-up old pay phone with the shredded remnants of a vandalized phone
book chained to it. That's all right, I don't need the book, I remember the number... I think...
How much does it cost to make a phone call, anyway?
Yes, I'm really asking you. How much does it cost?
I didn't know then because the instructions on the
telephone had been scratched out, as if by a knife. I decided that maybe if I shoveled in enough
coins, I'd be able to just call and receive whatever change was due me. Now that I think about it,
it probably wasn't very wise to openly flash a wallet in that seedy place, but fortunately for me no
one took notice; they were all too caught up in their jeers and rebuttals.
"Ah, quit yer whinin'!" Nanao snarled to the weeping
Yukie. The currents of his own disgust rippled against my mental barriers - disgust for having to
fight against someone who was so much smaller and weaker than he was.
I wondered if I'd put enough loose change into the coin slot
It's embarrassing to admit, but the truth is, I wasn't sure
exactly how to use a pay phone. I'd never had to do so before in my life. Certainly not in the
wilderness of the Yakushima mountains, and once I came to the syndicate, well, I was still
kept pretty sheltered and sequestered. I almost never went anywhere without bodyguards to run
errands for me. So there I was, stuck trying to figure out what to do, and the vociferous
background noise was not helping my concentration.
"You owe me cash!"
"Pay your dues!" Greed and zealous self-gratification
oozed from the demands of the blue jeans side of the crowd, the side that surrounded me. Had
they been making wagers on the outcome of the fight? Is that even legal? Probably not - no, wait,
I know people sometimes gamble on the outcome of sumo matches, don't they? I've never
gambled myself, so I don't really know. I do remember that some of the people in that crowd,
especially the ones who weren't clad in leather, bore the touch of poverty - a hunger that isn't
quite satisfied on what you can scavenge, clothing a day dirtier than what you're able to launder.
I've heard that gambling tends to be more popular among the poor than the rich. Perhaps this type
of challenge was a bright spot of excitement in lives that were dull and largely devoted to scraping
together basic necessities, I don't know.
I pulled a lever near the upper right corner of the rusty
telephone. All my coins spilled out of a door-slot in its base.
"This was not a fair match."
I froze when I heard the new voice. Paralyzed right there,
with my fingers still pressing down on the telephone lever. It wasn't the words or the tone, it was
the psychic wavelengths of the personality who spoke them:
I didn't have to turn around to know that he was the one
leather-clad gang member who hadn't been cheering earlier. When he had been withdrawn and
quiescent, the tumult of the others had masked the black ripples of his thoughts, but now - now,
my headache returned with a vengeance. This one person was so twisted up inside that he made it
worse than the rest of the crowd combined.
"You agreed to the bet!" Nanao retorted. "Three matches,
three losses for you. It's not our fault you're so desperate for street fighters that you have to
conscript scrawny little girls! You've lost. Pay up."
"Triple your winnings says you can't handle a real
"A real fight from what? You? You're scrawnier than she
"Unless, of course, you're too exhausted from beating on a
girl. If you want to plead weakness, then take what little you've got and leave while you still
"You gotta big mouth, punk. A big mouth and a
"Hwoarang will kick your ass! I'll bet this on it!"
Yukie burst out, tearing off her diamond-studded crucifix and throwing it on the floor. Other
leather-clad gang members followed suit, tossing out more money or gold jewelry. Nanao's
distaste at accepting another seemingly pitiful challenge immediately softened in the wake of
renewed greed, shared by his fellows-
-dammit, for the last time just concentrate on the
telephone! Block them out, block everything out, block out the darkness and the bragging, not
necessarily in that order, and think, dammit, think, how are these devices supposed to work?
Take the receiver off the hook.
A dial tone? That has to be a good sign. Now, insert the
money, and um, do I have to dial a "1" or something first? No, I'm in Tokyo, same as the
syndicate headquarters, that shouldn't be necessary. At least, I hope I'm still in Tokyo... how
about if I try just the plain number? Tap the buttons and-
I'm sorry, your call cannot be completed as
dialed, consoled the automated voice from the earpiece. Please check the number
and try again. When I self-consciously touched the earpiece rest lever, the change I had
put in spilled out that little swinging metal door in a jingling shower.
"BLOOD TALON! BLOOD TALON!"
Voluminous cheers punctuated a storm of renewed
conflict, washing against my senses. Hwoarang's leather-clad friends were rooting for him, this
time with the utmost sincerity. I felt a backlash of Nanao's pain and pushed it aside, as I decided
to try what I should have done in the first place: hitting the "operator" button. A response came
sooner than I expected, and in less than a minute I was making a collect call to the Mishima
syndicate - I know it sounds cheap, but the truth is I honestly had no idea how to make my coins
stay in that incomprehensible metal box; it kept spitting them back out. I was nearly holding my
breath until the receptionist agreed to accept the charge.
"Young master?" she asked, uncertainly. "How may I serve
"I, uh, need transportation," I stiffly requested, suddenly
reluctant to explain that I was completely and utterly lost. "Could you please contact Ishida and
Kimura? Tell them to pick me up at a place called-"
Before I could finish that sentence, Nanao slammed into
me. I mean, physically slammed; he collided into the back of my cloak, hitting me at an angle and
sandwiching me against the telephone. But the mere impact was nothing compared to the
simultaneous barrage of psychic trauma, amplified by the personal contact:
Cracked and splintering ribs driving bone shards into the
chest. Burning puppet strings reduce the right arm to a mass of dangling, bloody livewire.
Choking stickiness in the throat, ringing shock in the forehead, stabbing pain, air hisses spastically
from the mouth, can't breathe, can't stand, can't move, can't-!
All in a flash, I felt Nanao's wounds as if they had been
driven into me, and I reacted at a level below conscious thought. My Power manifested, instantly
and automatically, surging through my hands in a static electric discharge that blew apart the
telephone in a flashing explosion. The blast blinded and even singed several of the onlookers, but
you know, I don't think any of them realized - then - that I had caused it. To them, it was as
though Nanao's crash into me had torn apart the rusty old phone, and the sparks were from the
electric wires inside the ruined object. As for me, I was frantically grappling for psychic balance.
The last time I'd lost control like this, I'd started a fire that-
-no, no, don't panic now, you can't panic, a life is at
stake! Ten seconds ago this whole conflict had been none of my business, but now Nanao was
dying; both his lungs had collapsed, and if he didn't get treated he would suffocate. I was far
from the best frame of mind or strength of body to attempt healing sorcery, but it couldn't be
helped. Fortunately for Nanao and me both, the half of the crowd surrounding us was so stunned
that it bought me time to regain tenuous control of my own faculties and set to work. I draped my
cloak so that it covered my hands and Nanao's broken ribs - it helped to have a physical barrier,
no matter how thin, to shield me and my patient from the surrounding voices. His shirt was
untucked, so it was a simple matter to pull it up and place my palm on the sucking chest
I shut my eyes and let my focus coalesce upon the damage
within. I made my Power spread in delicate, sensitive tendrils, using my reluctant link with Nanao
to pinpoint the exact source of his damage. It's one thing to nudge bone shards into their proper
alignment, and prompt the body's regeneration at an increased speed. That's not so hard. The real
problem was his pleural cavity - that is, the layer between the two membranes that encompass the
bulk of a person's inner chest; its fluid seals the surface of the lungs, and when it's ruptured, the
lungs shrivel up like empty balloons. My mother had taught me how to treat this a long time ago -
you not only have to close the rupture, but also gradually withdraw air from the pleural cavity, in
order to gently reinflate the lungs. Medical surgeons use sterilized chest tubes for this process; I
had nothing like that in my possession, so my Power sculpted makeshift tubules from Nanao's
own cells, held in place by polarized electric charge and sheer concentration. Easy, now... easy...
too fast and the delicate connective tissue could tear, I'd have start all over again...
"Out of my way!" There was no lapse of time
between the warning and the sweeping kick that cracked against my cheek and sent me sprawling
in the corner. Stinging me far more fiercely than the blow was a psychic lash of dripping,
His rage wasn't directed at me. He perceived me as little
more than an inanimate object. He was angry at Nanao for having fallen so easily, angry that the
fight had been over almost before it began. "Get up. Get up, damn you, get up! I'M NOT
DONE WITH YOU YET!" He gripped Nanao's collar with both hands, heaving him bodily off
the floor - a remarkable feat, for the wounded man must have weighed at least ninety kilograms.
Nanao did not answer because he had lost consciousness, but at least he'd resumed a raspy
half-breathing on his own. I'd restored one of his lungs before I was interrupted.
"Hwoarang, you can put him down! We won. We can
collect the bet now," Yukie pleaded, hanging on his arm. Hwoarang didn't respond to her; he
shook Nanao and screamed words that I couldn't make out. They sounded like they could be
Korean - I know a little of the language, and I thought I recognized the tones - but it was a dialect
that I had trouble understanding. Which was strange, because Korean doesn't really have mutually
unintelligible dialects like, say, Chinese.
"Do as she says!" I commanded, in the sternest, most
forceful voice I could muster. Which wasn't very stern or forceful. The healing sorcery had taken
a lot out of me.
Hwoarang turned his head.
On the surface, he looked like a punk. A young one.
Certainly no older than my own age of nineteen years, and with a noticeably slighter build than
me, though he was about my equal in height. His thin, pinched face had a Korean curvature; he
definitely looked Korean, except that his skin was ghostly pale. I don't mean the pigment-free
complexion of an albino, either; more like someone who is deathly ill or suffering severe
malnutrition, though he obviously wasn't sick or starving - at least, not physically. His pallid,
bloodless skin contrasted sharply against the obsidian black of his leathers, or should I say, deep
blue stretch pants with strapped, black leather overlay from ankle to mid-thigh. Sharp,
multi-pointed spurs jutted out the heels of his matching leather boots. At his waist, an obsidian
marked the brim of a tight-fitting, sleeveless shirt colored the same dark violet as Yukie's hair.
Fingerless, obsidian fighter's gloves guarded his hands. As a final highlight, he had pushed a pair
of obsidian shades above his eyes; they crested his forehead, framing a wild, unruly tangle of
watery-red hair. The folds of his cropped tresses clumped and layered in an unkempt pattern, like
the ruffled feathers of a raptor. And his eyes...
I did not want to look into his eyes. The eyes are windows
to the soul, it is said, and his was not a soul I wanted to see. But I knew that I couldn't afford to
show any weakness, so I returned his glare from beneath the hood of my cloak, wrapping the
black fabric more tightly around me, and wrapping my barriers more tightly around my mind.
His eyes were the brown of rot and decay. He appraised
me with the cruel, calculating gaze of a predator. But there was more to him than mercantile
hatred. There was buried torment. It hadn't been just anger that drove him to punish Nanao; it was
desperation, suffering, a keening inner cry-
-I felt myself getting pulled in too deep, and barely steadied
myself in time to hear what he was saying. Externally, that is. Internally, he was an endless,
"Are you challenging me?" The words were calm and
liquid; they betrayed no hint of what was inside him.
"If that's what it takes," I answered. "After I've
finished treating your opponent. You've hurt him badly. If he dies because you won't let me near
him, then I'll see you arrested for murder."
Hwoarang smiled. His canines were unusually long, with
pronounced points; they poked slightly over the edge of his lower lip. "Idiot. Cops don't give a
damn what we do to each other, as long as they get their share of the skim. You don't belong
here, do you?"
The rest of his leather-clad associates smirked or leered in
response to his question. I wondered if he was their leader. "What difference does it make?"
"Life is cheap down here," he spat, a spark of seething
resentment flashing past his rotting eyes. "Your kind doesn't understand that. You want to
pretend that it means something. You make me sick."
I made him sick? He was giving me a
"It must mean something to you," I suggested, quietly.
"You're alive, and you have the will to fight."
I was trying to reason with him, calm him down.
I don't think I could have said anything to enrage him
He didn't scream with his voice. His face became like
stone; his body did not tense. But beneath the surface, his silent shriek broadcast itself at a
tortured pitch. I staggered from it, and clutched my forehead.
"If you try to test that will," Hwoarang said, "it will be to
"I told you, after I've finished treating my patient!
Put him down, carefully-"
"Agree to my terms, and I will not harm him. I will give
you two minutes to pretend that you are making a difference. Refuse, and he dies now."
"You're pushing it."
"Hwoarang, don't," Yukie nervously implored, clutching at
his elbow and throwing me a fearful glance. "There's something bad about this one, I can feel
"Shut up," he snapped to her, but true to his word, he
refrained from taking out his anger on Nanao. I finished reinforcing the seal to Nanao's pleural
cavity, slowly drawing out the air and reinflating his other lung; mended the fractures in his arm;
and accelerated the healing of his concussion. He started to revive as I finished.
"Who the hell are you?" he mumbled, in an unsteady
"Doesn't matter. Here. Go to a hospital and get yourself
checked over," I softly told him, passing him several bills underneath the protective cover of my
cloak. His eyes went wide, then creased with loathing.
"I don't take charity," he growled. He hands tightened into
fists, and he tried to rise, twitching with pain.
"Then give it to someone who does." I turned my back on
him, and never saw him again.
The crowd was ablaze with enthusiastic, greedy whispers
of betting and haggled odds. At this rate my headache would never get better. Hwoarang was
waiting for me, impatiently practicing a set of high roundhouse kicks - his form looked like Tae
Kwon Do. Which probably meant that I'd face a lot of high-hitting, kick-based attacks, though I
knew better than to commit too heavily to such a speculation. As Hwoarang turned, I noticed a
Satanic design on the back of his violet shirt: the long, narrow skull of a ram, with curling white
horns and a slash of bloody red below its jawbone.
Hwoarang settled into a narrow fighting stance, marked by
a light-footed bouncing in place. The left side of his body was turned toward me, with his back
straight and his hands angled to shield his chest. I could feel that part of him wanted more than
anything to charge me headlong and lose himself in combat, but he held himself back with the
same discipline that concealed his inner torment.
"You're a sorcerer," he appraised. "You used sorcery to
"It's not too late to call this off," I suggested.
"It was too late a hundred years ago." His rotting brown
eyes narrowed to grim slits. "Take off the cloak. I want to see who I'm dealing with."
He snapped his fingers. Drained from healing, teetering on
the edge of psychic overload, I didn't register what was happening until three or four of his
leather-clad comrades ripped my cloak off my shoulders. Well, at least now I knew that
Hwoarang was definitely their leader, for all the good it did me. The chatter of mental voices all
around me grew louder, without the fabric to serve as a damper. I gritted my teeth, and pressed
both hands against the sides of my head, stepping into a wide-legged stance so that I wouldn't reel
like a drunkard.
Would you like to know what the worst thing about a
psychic headache is? Painkillers don't help it. Not healing sorcery, not aspirin, nothing makes it go
away except rest and silence. And I wasn't about to get any of either. Instead, I had to hold my
ground against a whole new onslaught of Hwoarang's emotions:
"You," Hwoarang gasped, "you're dead!"
"I'm beginning to wish," I winced under my breath.
I don't think he heard me. "You're dead, you've been dead
for twenty years, I FELT THE STORM WHEN YOU DIED! You're dead! YOU'RE
Twenty years? Was he referring to the Great Invasion? He
didn't look like he had been born when it happened.
"KAZUYA!" he screamed, so out of touch with
reality that even his own gang members shrank back from him. "Your hold on me died with my
master, I WON'T BE YOUR SLAVE! I'll kill you all over again, as many times as I have to,
I'll kill you, I'LL KILL YOU!"
The last of his restraint ignited into an open flame. He
rushed me wildly, heedlessly, leaving the ground in a flying aerial kick that hurled him bodily at
me, his left heel on target for my chest, ready to crush my ribs as surely as he had crushed
I summoned my wall of Force.
Grandfather never did approve of my sorcery, whether
used for healing or fighting, so that I almost never practiced it while training under his guidance.
And of course, I couldn't give my study of sorcery anywhere near the same priority that I did to
learning how to fight the Toshin. But my mother had taught me these skills, and in her memory I
could not let them atrophy. In the four years since I'd come to the syndicate, practicing in secret,
I'd refined an alternate technique for projecting a barrier of Force strong enough to repel all
incoming attacks. What I do is clench my fists and cross my arms in an X front of my chest, then
flex them apart in front of me, like this; the action resembles a double outer block. The created
barrier, generated from within the center of the X, is itself invisible. You can clearly see the
flashes of indigo electricity outlining it, though, especially its upper half.
This technique has a couple advantages over my mother's
style of thrusting out her palm. It's faster, stronger, and can be done at a closer range. This
disadvantage is that it's trickier to sustain, shape, or move the barrier, with my hands set at its
edges rather than in the center. And in the mental condition I was then, I couldn't possibly keep
the wall of Force up for more than a split-second. But I didn't have to. All I needed to do was
push Hwoarang's attack away; while he staggered, I could let the barrier dissolve and ready
myself to repel his next attack. This went on for a while. At first, the crowd was awestruck by the
electric display, but soon they started to grumble restlessly - they wanted to see blood.
No, of course I didn't want to fight Hwoarang. Making or
answering a legitimate challenge is one thing, but I don't care for extortion. And I mean that in
more than one way. It had taken me a while to figure it out, but I'd come to realize that the entire
leather-clad gang was running a gambling scam. They'd challenge other groups to a fight, and
pretend to lose; then Hwoarang would show off his true skill, and his associates would collect on
the artificially inflated odds against him. That had to be illegal, and I resented being dragged into
their scheme. But what really irritated me was how Hwoarang had tried to use a human life as a
bargaining chip. If he wanted a fight that badly, then damned if I was going to give it to him. I
never explicitly promised him a battle to the death, and even if I had given my word, I wouldn't
have felt obligated to keep it. A vow made under the duress of a life is not and should not be
binding, because life is precious beyond all vows. To give a person who recklessly threatens
human life exactly what he wants is to reward and encourage his evil behavior.
My head hurt too much to explain that to Hwoarang,
"What is wrong with you!?" he exclaimed, hammering at
my barrier with both fists, then lurching and shaking out his numb hands. "Fight back! Fight
back! It's not single combat if you don't - fight - BACK!" He punctuated
each of those last three words with kicks targeting my feet, midsection, and face, respectively. His
attacks rattled my barrier more than I let myself show. But the repeated electric jolts were taking
a heavier toll on him than fatigue was on me. He sank to one knee, trembling with aftershock and
barely contained furor.
"Kazuya," he hissed through grinding teeth, "you
"I am not Kazuya."
He stared up at me. His rotting brown eyes widened.
"He was my father," I clarified, now that Hwoarang had
worn himself down enough to hear me out. "I'm told that I look like him. My name is Jin
"I don't believe this," Hwoarang mouthed, shaking his
head. "I don't believe any of this...!"
"I regret my father's crimes deeply. Is he the reason why
you have such hatred inside you, and against me? Did someone close to you die in the Great
"Someone close to me...?" A chuckle escaped him. It was
not an amused sound. It was the edge of madness. He threw back his tangled raptor hair and
laughed, until his growing frenzy peaked in a maniacal scream.
"I DIED IN THE GREAT INVASION! Burned to
a skeleton! They threw me in a mass charnel pit with the rest of the corpses! Do you know
what it's like to have soil insects gnawing away at your flesh as fast as it can reform? Do you
know what it is to suffocate over and over again, because you have dirt and mold in place of
lungs? Do you know what it is to have a cairn of boulders pressing on your chest, trapping you
for months in the earth and the maggots and the dark? Do you!?"
I wanted to think that he was speaking metaphorically.
Certainly, the rest of his gang looked leery of him as he ranted his gruesome tirade, and yet I
couldn't feel one shred of hyperbole emanating from his poisoned darkness. He literally believed
every word he was saying. Perhaps whatever he lost in the Great Invasion had thrown him into
such grief that it created a false reality in his mind?
"So you're Kazuya's brat," Hwoarang sneered, as his mood
abruptly shifted from raving to pensive. "Never thought the reclusive power-monger had it in him.
'Kazama'... 'Kazama'... where have I heard that name before?" His raptor eyebrows traced a dual
arch. "Of course. The bitch who exterminated ten thousand of our troops."
"Watch your tongue!" I snapped.
"So, she is your mother." An evil light glinted in his
hate-filled eyes. "Did I call her a 'bitch'? My mistake. I meant 'whore.'"
My blood boiled.
Yes, he was baiting me. Yes, I even think I was partially
aware of it. It didn't matter. I loved my mother. So much of me had perished with her, four years
ago. All I had left of her was her memory, and to hear this - this creature befoul that
memory with his filthy insults-!
"You shut up," I seethed, pointing to him. My outstretched
index finger shook with impending rage.
"I heard Jun Kazama was captured during the battle for the
Mishima syndicate. Looks like Kazuya got good use out of her."
"Don't you talk like that! My mother gave up her life to
save the world! She-"
"-was a whore," Hwoarang stressed, matching my
intensity. What made it even worse was the vicious sincerity of his taunt, combined with the
pounding bloodlust of the crowd. It amplified the fury of my own thoughts, and my mental
discipline was already close to shattered.
"That's a lie!" I shouted. Crackles of indigo electricity
sizzled violently on my fists.
"Kazuya never took a wife. You don't even have his last
"I'm warning you-"
"You really are a bastard child-"
"-don't you talk that way-"
"-the product of the Devil and his whore!"
"-about MY MOTHER!"
And that's when I lost control.
When I lashed out, I was possessed with the agonizing
memory of how I had failed to save my mother. I wasn't just attacking Hwoarang. In disparaging
my mother, he had become like the monster that murdered her; I was fighting to avenge her,
fighting in blind desperation against my past shame. In a mindless burst of frenzy, I lunged at him
with my right fist. He was prepared for it, of course; he'd been waiting for it all along, now that
he'd figured out how to reach past my wall of force and inflame my deepest wound. He brought
his forearms up, forming a stiff barrier against the punch that still pushed him back. While I was
overextended from my wild swing, he retaliated. Tucking one long leg close to his body, he thrust
out his heel in an almost perfectly straight line; the impact drove into the pit of my stomach and
hurled me away. I was barely coherent enough to fall properly, using my arms and legs to absorb
most of the shock.
Hwoarang advanced and swung his right foot in a
downward swipe, as if to kick a wildflower free of its stem; the side of his foot smacked my head.
I was too consumed with vengeful lightning to feel more than a disembodied push and grind, as
the rotating, circular blade of his metallic heel-spur slashed open my skin. Crouching on my left
foot, I turned in a clockwise circle, sweeping my right leg in a spinning kick to knock him off his
feet, but he aborted my attack with a strong shove to my knee, upsetting my single axis of balance
even as his left arm locked my right. He twisted behind me, turning so that he faced away from
the side of my body even as he used his hold to keep me from turning toward him. I do know how
to escape a basic armlock, but I have to be in a stable frame of mind to do it; and so I failed to win
free before he raised his right heel high above his head, then whipped it behind him to crash
heavily on the back of my skull.
This time I really did feel it, and the collision of the hard
floor meeting my face, and I'm not even going to describe how bad my migraine had become. I
managed to roll on my back in time to see Hwoarang's triumphant, predatory smile, as he raised
his knee and drove the spur of his boot toward my exposed neck.
I grabbed his foot.
Wrapped both hands around it even as it came shooting
down, and through that hold I channeled every filament of my raging inner core. Brilliant electric
tendrils erupted about Hwoarang's body. I heard distant shouts and screams from the crowd, saw
flying sparks and smelled smoke, and Hwoarang's surprised "Aahr!" floated above it all as my
Power reached up to his unprotected torso and electrocuted him. If not for the insulating effect of
his leather, he would have been shocked beyond the ability to move; as it was, he convulsed so
spastically that his shades flew off his head. I seized the chance to scissor my own legs around his
and force him to the ground with a twist of my lower body. Letting go of his foot, I pounced on
his trunk, chambering my fists and alternately driving them into his face. When he struggled to
push me off with his right hand, I gripped it and held it close to my chest, throwing myself back
perpendicular to where he lay and bracing his torso with my calves. The skin of his hand was cold
and grisly, resembling the feel of fish scales more than human flesh. Bending his supine palm like a
lever, I forced the hyperextension of his elbow joint until I could hear the grinding crack
of its break, and my rage still wasn't satisfied.
I rolled backwards, and we both staggered tenuously to our
feet. Hwoarang's right arm hung limp, no longer able to guard his chest. A stream of blood tricked
down my forehead from where his heel-spur had gashed me; the thick wetness mixed with my
bangs and stung my right eye. We both swayed and tottered. Electrical shock had left him visibly
trembling, while my head hurt so fiercely I had to half-crouch in order to stay upright. I
summoned a ball of indigo lightning to my fist. He subtly adjusted his fighting stance, putting his
right foot forward instead of his left. We attacked. I propelled my right fist in an upward gut
punch, while he snapped a spinning kick, purposefully keeping the angle of his foot low to
compensate for my stooped posture. Both hits connected at the same time; I felt the jarring,
ringing slam of a final blow to my head while my fist plowed underneath his sternum,
simultaneously letting loose with an explosive electrical discharge. There was a senseless cascade
of red pain, reflexive clutching, and heavy dullness. I had a disjoint glimpse of Hwoarang
wrapping both arms around his gut, sinking to his knees, and toppling on his face. Then the
decaying floorboards were rushing up to meet me, one last time. I heard the thud of him
hitting the ground as an eerie echo to my own, dislodging whump, which reverberated
through my bones and muffled my headache in a black blanket.
And that's all I remember of December 4th.
If only I hadn't lost control.
I will regret what I did, and the merciless consequences
that came of it, until the day I die. If I had handled the confrontation with Hwoarang in a better
way... if I hadn't lost my temper, if I hadn't attacked him and spilled my own blood in the
struggle... I didn't even have to fight him, you know. All I had to do was stall for a few more
minutes, until Ishida, Kimura, and a small army of Tekkenshu arrived. I'm told they fired gunshots
into the air to scatter the crowd, before they collected me and took me home.
Of course they knew where I was. I'd telephoned the
syndicate, hadn't I?
Oh, didn't you know? All the syndicate's phone lines are
equipped with automatic caller ID. Even though I hadn't been on the line long enough to tell the
receptionist where I was, she had the origin of my call on record, and I knew it. So my initial plan
had been to just hold Hwoarang off with barrier spells until Ishida and Kimura came. But then it
all went out of control...
...and when I regained consciousness, I was in a flustered
semi-panic, terrified that an innocent person could have been hurt or killed in the fallout of my
fight with Hwoarang. My bodyguards reassured me that they had dispersed the crowd without
inflicting any casualties, and extinguished the fires caused by stray sparks of my Power. When I
tentatively asked them about a leather-clad Korean with watery-red raptor hair, they mentioned
that they had seen an unconscious but still-breathing person matching that description; he'd been
carried away by his comrades. I heaved a sigh of relief, thanked Ishida and Kimura profusely, and
had them quietly transfer a large payment from my personal account to the owner of The
Dragon's Tail. To compensate for damages, of course, including but not limited to the loss of
the telephone. My bodyguards and I agreed to, uh, not mention any of the incident to Grandfather
unless he asked.
I was upset with myself for losing control, but I thought -
gratefully - that at least no permanent harm had come of it.
I was wrong.
Gods in heaven, I was wrong.
I'm sorry, Yukie... you were right to be scared. If only I
hadn't lost my temper... if only I had stayed in control...
If only I had stayed in control...
End of Chapter 4: Challenges