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

Chapter 7: Lambs to Slaughter

   "You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention. Walk slowly, and pretend to be thinking of something else."
         -Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Mishima Syndicate Research Lab A-4
Cryogenics Division files X975032-AB
Mishima syndicate phonic records tag 734011-CD
December 5, 2017
11:58 p.m.

[begin recording]

TECH A: Excellent. All recording equipment is in serviceable order. The date is December 5, 2017. The time is 11:58 p.m. This is Technician A of Mishima syndicate research lab A-4, accompanied by Technicians B, C, and D. Glory to Mishima-sama! Sirs, would you please make a statement in order to identify your voices for the record?

TECH B: Technician B here. Glory to Mishima-sama!

TECH C: Technician C. Glory to Mishima-sama!

TECH D: Uh, Tech D, glory to whatever. Why do we have to go through all this crap every time we make a log?

A: We are in the Cryogenics Division, basement level 4B, in order to personally evaluate unusual power fluctuations in cryogenic unit Alpha.

D: I can understand saying the date and time, but we couldn't make a log in the first place if your gadgets weren't in "serviceable order," so doesn't it go without saying?

B: Quiet, you.

A: For approximately twenty-one years and four months, cryogenic unit Alpha has held two women in suspended animation: Nina Williams, biological age 22, and Anna Williams, biological age 20.

D: And identifying our voices - c'mon, we're not even allowed to use our names in here. So what difference does it make? Who cares?

C: We have an obligation to respect the formalities.

A: Syndicate President and CEO Heihachi Mishima has recently commanded the Cryogenics Division to awaken the women for the Iron Fist Tournament. Yet all attempts to fulfil Mishima-sama's orders have ended in failure.

D: I mean, I wouldn't care if we had to make a log only every once in a while, but this is the fourth time tonight...

B: I knew affirmative action was a mistake.

A: Counteractive measures programmed into unit Alpha's controls have frustrated our efforts. At this stage we do not dare risk forcibly dismantling the unit, because that would have a base 90% chance of leaving its sleepers in a permanently comatose state.

D: Hold it, hold it - B, are you making a slur at me?

B: You let one Korean dog in, the whole operation becomes a sham.

D: What!?

C: B, it is not your place to criticize the policies of Acting Vice-President Kazama. D, it is not your place to interrupt the record over trivialities. Now, will you both please be quiet so that A may speak?

A: As of approximately three minutes prior to now, unit Alpha has experienced a massive, inexplicable power surge. We will attempt to identify its source-

D: I've earned my place here! Don't you dare insult me, you racist-

B: Earned? You? Your kind isn't capable of-

C: Both of you, calm yourselves! This behavior is unprofessional!

A: -by running a computerized diagnostic on-

D: I'm the one who noticed something was screwy with unit Alpha in the first place! None of you prejudiced meatheads would've had the sense to get your sorry butts down here if it wasn't for me-

A: -uh, gentlemen?

D: -and you spit on me as if I'm a-

A: Gentlemen? Unit Alpha is resuscitating its sleepers.

D: -sub-human- what?

B: That's impossible.

C: Summon the Tekkenshu. We have a duty to ensure the sleepers' safe revival, and bring them under Mishima-sama's control.

A: Kotoku Tekkenshu Corps? Code yellow medical and security emergency in research lab A-4, Cryogenics Division, basement level 4B, send a team down here stat. Over.

static crackle

B: -don't understand this. Unit Alpha's atomic clock has accelerated itself seventy-eight years and eight months forward; how-?

static crackle

A: -increased electromagnetic field- static -interfering with our equipment-

static crackle

D: Hey, look - the blond's opening her eyes. static -one hot babe. Do you think she'd go for me?

static explosion

[end recording]

February 7, 2018
5:45 p.m.

         Mm. Now that was a good matinee.
         I love your country's pretty animated movies. And it's so sweet of you to lean over and whisper translations in my ear; I'm still a teensy bit slow on the language. There's something that I honestly don't understand, though. I'm wondering if you could explain it to me.
         All the main characters in the movie were Japanese, or at least, they all had Japanese names. But they looked white. I'm serious; didn't you see how pale their skin was? If that's ethnically Japanese then I'm Shaka the Zulu. And their eyes weren't just round, they were exaggeratedly round like beach balls. Only the villains and the one hero with a remote personality had anything resembling Asian eyes. Why on earth is that? Why does no one seem to think it's strange?
         Mm, all right. But just how much can you get away with in the name of 'creative license'?
         Oh, I don't know. I may be more difficult to surprise than you think.
         For example, I bet I can guess your first interview question. You want to know how I woke up from coldsleep almost eighty years before I should have, don't you?
         Oh dear, did I upset you?
         Is something the matter with your recordkeeping project? I thought it was coming along quite nicely. You appeared so pleased with it just last Monday-
         Jin Kazama? Is he sick?
         Mm, not to mistrust your instincts, but if he looks healthy and acts healthy, then what could be the problem?
         I see.
         Mm... you know, I've been told he's such a powerful telepath that it hurts him sometimes, isn't that true? When other people's thoughts are too much for him, doesn't he tend to have, well, mental problems? So maybe that's all it is. Long hard day at school, surrounded by so many bad thoughts he's getting blackouts by the time he comes home. Besides, Lee and Julia are absolutely devoted to him, aren't they? At least, I think that's what you've told me. I'm sure they're keeping a close watch on him, and I'm sure they'd take good care of him if anything went wrong. Isn't that right?
         There. So you see, nothing to worry about.
         Oh, you poor dear. You look so tired. Would you like to get a cup of coffee?

February 7, 2018
5:54 p.m.

         Mm. How did you know I like my espresso with extra cream?
         Well, you guessed right. Did I guess right, too?
         About your first question, sweetheart. Or would you rather put this off? That would be fine with me, it's only that I've discovered something:
         I like to talk about myself.
         Shameless, aren't I?
         Mm, you're so good to me.
         Well, yes, I can try to remember a little of what it was like - "coldsleep," "cryogenic suspension," call it whatever name you want to skirt the fact that you're a frozen ice cream treat. You'd think it would be chilly and terribly uncomfortable, wouldn't you? But the truth is, I couldn't feel anything at all. Anesthesia coated the pain in my body, head, and heart. It was so... so disconnected, dark and quiet, like floating in an endless starry ocean.
         Dreams? I'm not sure. Sometimes I think I did dream, and I can reconstruct hazy visions that passed through my sleeping mind. And sometimes I think I'm just inventing the "dreams" because I feel as though my brain really shouldn't have been just sitting there like a piece of rutabaga, for over twenty years. I may have been completely unconscious almost the entire time, hovering like a lost soul on the tenuous border between life and the other side. Except that there are a couple things I clearly recall feeling, even through the void.
         One was the death of Kazuya Mishima.
         Joyous cheers reached me, past the echoless depths of ice and humming metal. The celebration came from the thousands of souls Kazuya had enslaved, all of them exulting in their freedom. I felt the shattered pieces of Kazuya's broken Power dissolve into the whirlwind born of his downfall, and I felt the spiteful vitriol of his demise. But before I could fully comprehend what had happened, and what it meant to me, stillness returned to wrap my thoughts in spider's silk. I was adrift between the shores of existence once more.
         Adrift for a long sleep...
         Adrift forever...?
         Time didn't pass like seconds ticking on a clock; it was a blur of flowing midnight, stretching and fading into an empty canyon. A kernel of worry formed within me. I wasn't supposed to be frozen forever, was I? I'd wake up one day - Lee said I'd wake up, I wouldn't be floating in a bed of stars for all eternity. But Lee was gone now; I was sure he was gone, although in that distant, unreal state I couldn't remember how or why it had to be so. I only knew that since Kazuya was gone, Lee must have followed him. So who was left to wake me up?
         Would I ever wake up?
         Was I even... alive?
         Could I have died, in the recesses of the cold machine? Would I know the difference if I had? No, no, that couldn't be; Allah wouldn't leave my soul in limbo, forsaken and alone forever. Allah wouldn't abandon me. Allah wouldn't...
         ...wouldn't... me, Allah... save me... I'll never stray from you again... save me Allah, I don't want to be like this for eternity...!
         +your soul is strong, yet self-centered.+
         And it was there.
         I didn't see it; it was an omnipresent pressure curling about my mind, lapping my thoughts with its hunger. There was something horribly sickening about it, like the smell of a contagious disease, or the feel of a slime-trail between my fingers. It didn't so much talk to me as drip through me, feeding me concepts, feelings, indelible impressions a thousand times more vivid than ordinary speech. I'm trying to put its communication into words, but its meaning was so profound it surpassed language, and erased any possible misconstruction of intent. I doubt it would have been capable of making a pun.
         +you would make an excellent ally.+
         Who are you? I thought back, fearfully. I knew it could not be Allah or one of His holy messengers; it was too greedy, too lustful. Inside my mind, I could feel reverberations of its need to absorb, consume, devour, murder-
         +i am your only hope for revenge.+
         -but something forestalled it; I could sense its frustration. Weakness. Estrangement. It was like me, cast adrift in a limbo between existence and doom. Its consciousness reached out to me, from the crest of one imaginary wave to another. For a long time, it had been trying to contact me or anyone else like me, but it had been too feeble prior to now. It had been growing stronger, though. Power gradually refueled its core, and a gathering of strong souls helped guide it out of the abyss, acting as a beacon to its ravenous hunger.
         +join with me. let us awaken as one. let us take our revenge.+
         Revenge? What did that matter? Yes, I wanted to wake up, I wanted to escape this dark and empty void, but-
         +kazuya violated you. join with me. take your revenge.+
         Kazuya is dead! I flung the thought at it, like hurling a fistful of change at a vagrant that will not leave you alone.
         +his seed survives. let me into your body. let us destroy the devil's son.+
         +kazuya violated you.+ The other presence became harsher. It gouged into me, opening the way to pain and disgrace. A vivid scene from my own memory replayed itself like a movie reel: Kazuya's fingers in my hair, jet black eyes staring into mine, acid sea of hatred scalding every pore of my being.
         Stop it - I don't want to remember this-
         +he tore apart your mind.+ Pieces of my life laid bare and discarded, ripped to threads with exacting precision, my integrity fragmenting into frayed trails.
         -leave me alone - it doesn't matter anymore-
         +he enslaved your will.+ Jet black puppet strings sewn into my head, their insidious web guiding my every move, filling so much space I no longer had room for my thoughts.
         -he was sick - possessed by Satan-
         +he raped your soul!+ Gut-wrenching pain, miserable humiliation, final betrayal when I saw Devil Kazuya's true face, saw its claws ready to murder my sister.
         Furious resistance gathered inside me. Devil Kazuya had broken and remolded me once; never again. Never again would I give myself to evil! This new presence might try to beguile me, but it could not hide its loathsome true nature. I knew that to let it infiltrate me would bring blood and destruction. No! Not even to wake up again, not even for revenge, not even to destroy the child of Satan! I have submitted myself to Allah, and put my trust in Him to save me. Never again will I turn away from Him to serve monsters such as you! I won't let you into my body! I won't let you! NO!
         And I was drowning.
         Not mentally drowning, not submerged in an intangible sea of pitiless black hatred; it was real, physical water that swamped my lungs and stung my eyes. I was awake. I was alive, but not for long, not when my breath rushed out in a flurry of sparkling bubbles. My last gasp of air escaped in a white-hot burst of pain; more water surged in to fill the vacuum. Panicking, I pressed my hands against the inside of a transparent plastic cylinder. There was the sonorous, grinding sound of machinery as a ring-shaped shadow passed above my eyes and down my body. The plastic shield followed it, and when I craned my head water broke above my face just in time for me to choke down mouthfuls of sweet air. I choked because there was still enough fluid in my lungs to leave me hacking and helpless for some time. I forced my body like a piston to spit out the clogging deluge.
         Everywhere, I heard bedlam.
         Frightened screams. The crashing of heavy objects. A crackle like static discharge, filtered by the wetness that dripped out of my popping ears. A metal-and-plastic tube filled with ice-cold water encased my whole body, except for a small window above my face and shoulders. Wriggling like a worm, I inched my upper half through the opening; it wasn't easy because, well, how should I put this. The window was quite narrow, I had to start from a nearly horizontal position, and Lee had put me to sleep in a paper-thin swimsuit with no bra support. Oh, with a few minutes of concentrated effort I just barely managed to squeeze out, and crouch unsteadily on the plastic capsule risen out of an icy lake. But it wasn't pleasant, and I must have looked absolutely comical.
         By the time I freed myself, the terrible commotion had reached a lull; I wondered why. Then the atmosphere lifted rows of goose bumps on my moist skin, and not only because of its frigid touch.
         I smelled blood.
         The waking world was nearly as dark as my sleep, although a soft blue light drifted from a ceiling panel. Blinking water droplets from my eyes, I squinted about me, and froze with horror.
         In Allah's name...
         I... I have to describe this?
         I-I don't know, I like this a lot better when I'm talking about me. Not about the poor scientists who... Allah be kind to their souls... all right, I'll try to tell you.
         One was... I didn't see what had become of his head. The stump of his neck still... still gushed. His body sprawled front-down, its hands grasping a compact black box with a speaker grill and a blinking red light; maybe a tape recorder or something.
         Another must have tried to escape; he'd made it all the way to the door before a torn, sparking piece of machinery crushed his leg. He had dreadful - dreadful blackened burns, half his lab coat still smoldered with fire, and his neck had been wrenched all the way about. He was prone on the floor, but the unmelted half of his face stared up at the ceiling. The poor man...
         Yet another had been... been... have you ever cleaned a fish? I never liked fishing, but I used to date someone who did, he took me on a camping trip and I saw him prepare a salmon for cooking... the third man... the third man was just like that, all the stringy intestines taken out through a seam in the body and strewn to the side. Only my date was kind enough to kill the fish before he did that. I could see the frozen agony on the scientist's face, eyes glazed and sightless through the glasses still on his nose. Oh, Allah...
         I... I had to throw up, even though there was nothing in my stomach; had to lean over and gasp dry heaves into the lake surrounding me. Then I heard the begging, punctuated by a hissing, static crackle that made my skin crawl. Everything made my skin crawl.
         "P-please don't- AAAH!"
         I didn't want to turn around and look, Allah knows I didn't, I just wanted to curl up and pretend none of these horrible things were happening, pretend it was all a nightmare, but-
         Allah preserve me, I knew who spoke those words! Her demand carried an unearthly, booming volume coupled with the soul-searing quality to impress raw meaning, but I knew that voice, knew that callous intonation with the hatred of a Medusa.
         Allah have forgiveness on her, she... red fluid dripped from her arms, splashed her face, it covered more of her body than the black, two-piece swimsuit plastered to her chest and hips. And her icy blue eyes glowed with Power; they shone in the darkness like twin lamps, the central focus of an unholy radiance that beamed from her, electrifying her flaxen blond hair-
         What? Oh, I don't know why she didn't look like Tagami anymore; maybe twenty years' watery immersion had washed away her disguise. I just wanted to stop her from torturing her terrified victim. But I couldn't move, couldn't get close enough to intervene. The icy lake encircling my sleeping capsule was too deep and wide, the water level was over my head and I... I can't swim. I never learned. The only reasons I've ever gone to the beach were to sunbathe and flirt with men.
         So all I could do was watch, crouched and helpless on my little plastic islet, while Nina suspended her victim by the armpits. Her blood-painted fingernails marked crimson stains on his white lab coat. Sweaty beads rolled down his face as he choked an answer. "Nn-not here, h-he's not here, I swear!"
         +I want his blood. I will have his blood. WHERE DOES HIS BLOOD LEAD!?+ Nina - I don't know how to explain this, she exhaled an evil purple mist, like a dragon breathing poison. The poor man screeched when it engulfed his head, he clawed at his eyes as if they were burning, I heard the sickening, hissing sound of the chemical reacting with his flesh. I screamed for Nina to stop, but her victim's screams were louder, they went on and on until she washed her toxin off by immersing his head in the watery moat around me.
         When she hauled him back out, he could speak again.
         "Sh-Shinjuku, M-Mishima syndicate headquarters is in Shinjuku! Th-that's where Kazuya's son lives, I've told you everything I know, I swear, you'll let me go now, right? P-please-"
         I shrieked, "Nina! NO!"
         She probably did hear me, but she didn't respond. She just sliced her right hand in an impossibly fast motion, leaving a red mist in the air; the poor man's head sagged back, unnaturally far, opening a stark crimson gash half the thickness of his neck as she let him fall to the floor.
         I screamed, "NINAAAA!"
         She looked at me.
         Eyes of ice. Eyes of Power. Eyes of the Medusa. You can't escape those eyes, the way they stare into you and hold your soul fast in stone. They carried no spark of recognition. They viewed me as if sighting through a hunter's scope.
         +You are useless to me,+ she stated, coldly.
         I whimpered, "Nina, listen to me, stop this, don't you remember me? I'm Anna, I'm your sister-"
         +I HAVE NO SISTER!+
         She pointed to me. A snaking, livewire streak of tarnished gold electricity gathered about her extended hand. I might have been doomed, if that weren't the very second when the door to that underground room crashed open and a whole bustle of armored troops rushed through. And I mean armored head to toe in steel-grey plates like turtles; I couldn't even see their faces through their dome-shaped helmets. You've seen the Tekkenshu in their full-body riot gear before, haven't you? That's what they were, Mishima syndicate Tekkenshu, although I didn't know it at the time. They used their assault rifles to open fire on Nina as soon as they saw her.
         Nina flinched.
         I watched the bullets tear into her; they spattered her blood-soaked body, and it was as if she'd been slapped. Lightly. She pointed to the Tekkenshu instead of me. The electricity on her hand became a forked burst of tarnished gold lightning, it shocked them through their armor, I heard more yells and Nina's insane battle cry. She lunged for them like a wild animal, all the while screaming for the blood of Kazuya's son. I couldn't bear it anymore. I cowered on the capsule, tucked my face between my knees and covered the back of my head with my hands, like I was taught in a high school tornado drill. With trembling fervor, I prayed to Allah, prayed for Him to save me and my sister and the poor soldiers, and perhaps He was listening because a few of them did survive her unstoppable attack. There was a resounding clamor as she crushed a hole in the very wall, and I doubt that any gunmen who followed her through lived to tell about it. I don't know, I didn't know, I didn't understand what was going on until the cold truth coiled inside me and became all too clear.
         The thing - the thing that had called to me. It had called to her, too. Deceived her. Lured her. Fed on her need for revenge. It was inside her body, possessing her. Controlling her with its ungodly Power. Making her commit these horrible crimes. That's why she couldn't recognize me; she was its slave, just as I had once been Kazuya's slave. The thing had taken over her mind and her memories; that's why she didn't know me, didn't know who I was-
         What? What's 'it'?
         Wait, where are you going? No, sweetheart, no, it's nice of you to pay the tab but that's not the problem, I'm beginning to really worry about you - come back! Where are you running off to?
         Was it something I said...?

February 7, 2018
6:28 p.m.

         Umm... is this important?
         It's not that I mind talking to you; it's just that, well, my next interview isn't until tomorrow morning, right? Tonight, I sort of need to catch up on my homework and lecture notes. You know that I've been missing a few days of school lately.
         ...what did you say?
         ...I don't understand, were you telling me something...?
         ...that's odd, I could swear you weren't trying to ask me a question a moment ago; but then, I'm not sure what you were - all right, all right, what's the question?
         Umm... probably.
         Well, I mean that I'm sure there are other telepaths living in the world. Maybe even hundreds or thousands, who can say? The world is a very big place. But I've never personally met another living telepath- hm?
         Let me see...
         Do you know, there used to be a race of intelligent Reptiles inhabiting most obscure corners of the Earth? At least one of them was telepathic - I know this from my mother, and the stories she told me about the Great Invasion. The Reptiles were nearly exterminated in the war, though. There might be survivors; my mother saw at least one female escape with her young. But if any of them still live today, then they must have gone back to keeping a very low profile. And that's probably in their best interests, which is why I won't tell you where they could most likely be found.
         Liu Kang is a powerful telepath, maybe even the equal of my father Kazuya. I'm familiar with Kang's abrasive personality only through my parents' memories, though. I wish I could meet him; I'd like to know if he has any advice for coping with the pressure of other people's thoughts. I've asked the Temple of Light to please send me a message if he ever returns. As for Kang's family, well, not even the Temple knows what happened to his brother. And I think the rest of his kinfolk passed on long before the Great Invasion.
         My father Kazuya inherited his telepathy from his mother; neither my grandfather nor any of his ancestors ever had the gift, as far as I know. But Kazuya died before I was born, and my grandmother... she...
         ...sometimes I wonder what Kazuya would have been like, if she had lived to raise him. Sometimes I wonder, and if I think about it for too long, the only way I can console my sorrow is through prayer. I lost my mother when I was fifteen, but Kazuya never had any memories of his at all.
         No clear memories, anyway...
         No, if my grandmother had any kin then I don't know who they are. If any of them are living today, they're probably in hiding from the Mishima syndicate. I... I couldn't blame them... wouldn't want to trouble them if they're afraid to come forward...
         I've already told you that my mother's family is long since gone, and even then, my mother wasn't a true telepath. At most, she might have had a latent gift. She was always very quick to pick up on people's emotions, and she could hear the natural spirits of the wind and the earth. I think I could hear them too, once, but that was a long time ago, in the Yakushima wilderness. Here and now, well, I'm so bombarded by other people's thoughts that I have to work as hard as I can to screen everything out. Even if I could afford to completely let my barriers down, I still might not be able to hear the nature spirits; I'm not sure I remember what to listen for.
         Actually, my mother probably did carry a recessive gene for telepathy. It would explain why I turned out the way I did. Kazuya was a strong telepath, but never so strong as to be rendered dysfunctional by his own Power.
         Well, that's the list. Short, isn't it?
         Why did you want to know?
         Uh-huh. Um, I don't need my Power to know when you're brushing me off. Obviously, something is bothering you; I don't mean to sound intrusive, but if there's anything I could do to help-
         Well, all right, I guess I can spare a little more time for an interview right now. I do have a lot of homework, but none of the big projects are due until the end of the week. Let's see, where did I leave off... oh yes, passed out on the training hall floor, on the evening of December 5th.
         I remember flashes of the nightmare.
         Grandfather's scornful reproach: You lost control of the forces inside you. Again.
         My mother's desperate plea: Run, Jin! Run AWAY!
         Her murderer's relentless demand: +I MUST HAVE YOUR SOULS!+
         And then I heard the screams.
         They ripped through the illusion of my sleeping mind, setting my soul on fire as surely as when the Toshin had burned me alive. The scars on my leg and shoulder erupted with agony. I felt the brutality as if it were inflicted upon me - my neck being twisted off my shoulders, my legs crushed and my face burned, my abdomen being gutted down its midline. The sucking rush of life fleeing my body abruptly severed each new shock.
         I woke up.
         My breath came in rapid, terrified gasps. Sweat soaked my body, forming a layer of clammy discomfort between my skin and clothing, which already had stains from hours of arduous training. Rising panic flooded my senses, gathering momentum not only from within me, but also without.
         Emergency on line one-
         -A-4 cryogenics division destroyed-
         -heavy casualties-
         Order the Tekkenshu to regroup!
         Mishima-sama! Mishima-sama, what should we do?
         Usually, I prefer to sleep in my room because it has thick layers of lead insulating the walls; it helps to block out the thoughts of all the syndicate staff, especially when I'm at the vulnerable stages of transitory wakefulness. But in that empty training hall, I had no such protection, and I could feel their acute urgency as they struggled to cope with a violent threat - no, more than a threat, it was a monstrous fiend-
         Oh, gods. It was out there.
         The Toshin was out there!
         -no, wait, the Toshin had not returned, not yet. I remembered how the Toshin's godlike Power had felt in my mind, the day it killed my mother. If it really were out there, in its true form, then its corrupt sickness would have superseded the psychic chatter of ten million mortals. No, it wasn't in the city, but something like it was; something was wreaking havoc in its name. It was forging a murderous trail though Tokyo. That was what I had felt in my nightmare; it hadn't been a dream, it was real, the victims were real, the Toshin's vassal was killing more innocents, and more, it pursued its bloody rampage even now-!
         I snapped.
         Mind disconnected from body. Impulse severed from reason. People were being murdered, just as my mother had been murdered, and the same beast was responsible. I could think of nothing else, could take no action except to leap through the training hall's open-air windows and sprint into the darkness. I reached out with my mind, but even at night, the chaos of the whole city of Tokyo was too much. I didn't know which way to focus my thoughts, where to find the source of the carnage-
         -terror. I felt raw terror, carried on the wind, so much terror that it overwhelmed any chance of fixating on the pernicious creature itself. There were desperate pleas, anguish, weeping, some of those who fled managed to escape but-
         -the terror I followed stifled itself in a mortal scream, life and body torn asunder. I stumbled, have to regain a fix, have to keep running, have to find the source-
         -have to run-
         -have to run-
         A psychic seizure consumed me in its pandemonium. There was next to no conscious thought, no plan. If I had been able to think, I would have tried to telepathically contact someone in the syndicate, and ask them where the Toshin was. Or else I would have contacted my grandfather; he abhorred being so spoken to except in the most dire emergencies, but this surely qualified. It was as it had been the day before, when a mob's panic inundated me, only this time I was running into the maelstrom instead of running away. Vengeance and dread gripped me. I didn't look where I was going. I couldn't look at all, because I was running blind, running into the maw of blood and thunder-
         I didn't register the collision until after it happened; something soft and fleshy crumpled against me, it buckled from the impact, my feet tripped over two stalks like the slender trunks of newly growing trees. I was falling; somewhere, I heard a startled, high-pitched outcry simultaneous with an emotional backlash of alarm, distress, bewilderment. It was so strong that it punched right through my empathic connection to the monster's trail of terror, although my internal terror kept me far too confused and disoriented to fully recover my senses. I was lying across the body of a stunned young woman, about my age. In that nighttime darkness, and that state of mind, I was in no shape to take in any details about her. The sudden, fearful realization that I might have hurt her cut through my mind. I quickly put my hand on her forehead, using my Power and the link of physical contact to heal her injuries. She hadn't suffered anything serious, thank the gods; just a couple bruises and a light concussion-
         "STAY BACK!" She enforced her spirited demand with an explosive thrust of her palm. The heel of her hand struck me in the mouth, transferring much more than physical force; I received a shocking picture of myself through her eyes. Framed in the baleful light of the full moon, I saw myself as an attacking...
         ...what was I saying?
         ...what was I...?
         ...the interview, I was in the middle of an interview. I was telling you how I pursued the Toshin, wasn't I? And how I literally ran into Julia - yes, it was Julia, this was how we first met, sounds pretty inauspicious, doesn't it? Because the first psychic image I ever received from her mind was an inhuman reflection of myself; she thought I was...
         ...thought I was...
         ...what... what was I saying?
         ...what was I...?

         Oh, come on. You never ask hypothetical questions. Besides, didn't you want me to finish an interview? If I can just remember where I left off...
         All right, all right. What is this 'purely hypothetical' inquiry of yours?
         Good grief.
         Well, I suppose it's a 'yes.' Theoretically, it's possible for a telepath to mess with his own mind. Theoretically, it's also possible for you to perform a lobotomy on yourself with an icepick. Odds are, you'll just splatter your brains and end up dead or drooling for the rest of your life. If I were to try something like that on myself - telepathically or with an icepick - I doubt that I would be in any shape to give interviews. Hypothetically speaking, of course. You dream up the strangest questions. What could have possibly motivated you to ask-
         Of course I'm sure. Haven't we been over this already? There probably are other telepaths living in the world, but I've never met any. Unless you count Lee.
         What - you didn't know?
         I'm sorry, I thought you knew. You did specify 'living' telepaths, after all. Lee wasn't a telepath when he was alive; or at least, I don't think he was. But his Power as a Guardian grants him a certain ability to affect the minds of others. It's how he can speak in his true voice and be understood in spite of any language barrier; he calls it the Power of Communication. It's not exactly the same as telepathic contact, but you can still feel him in your head. You've heard him use his true voice, haven't you?
         He's not like me, though. He can't receive a person's thoughts unless he has a direct link with them through physical contact. So he doesn't have to constantly worry about other people's emotions overwhelming him; gods, I envy him for that.
         Uh, I don't know. I suppose that might be within his Power, but what on Earth do you think you're implying? Does this have anything to do with the concern that's been eating at you? Lee would never...
         ...would never...
         ...what was I saying?
         ...what was I...?
         Wait - where are you going?
         But it's after six p.m., Lee isn't- wait! Come back!
         What's gotten into you...?

February 7, 2018
7:53 p.m.

         What the fuck are you doing here?
         This is my office. My life. None of you idiots have ANY business here! If you want to hire me then you've just wasted a trip across Tokyo, because it'll be a cold day in Hell before I work for the likes of-
         Go to Hell. Ask them how cold it is down there.
         I said no! It's after six. No one talks to Lee after six, not unless it's a matter of life or death. And if you keep doing your best to piss me off, it'll become a matter of life or death - yours. Wasn't the first time enough for you? You want to buy the farm all over again?
         Oh, shut up. I doubt I could wake him even if I tried. Damn patsy's been literally knocking himself out for the kids and their precious syndicate, don't ask me why. What did any of those brats ever do for him?
         You want to talk to Lee, you go home and wait until dawn, and don't you fucking ask me to take a message, and don't you come here again. What if you're seen? You think I want my clients to know I'm connected to the Mishima syndicate? Do you?
         Get out. Out the back door.
         You want I should make you get out?
         Put that away before I hurt you.
         Have you forgotten what I am? Have you forgotten what I can do to you? I got full control now; I don't just shut down when some wrinkled old bastard yells "STOP!" and don't count on Lee to save your ass, either-
         -hey, stand up and listen when I'm talking to you!
         I said stand up.
         Hey - hey, come on, get up, if this is a gag it's a bad one, you-
         Hello? Are you even breathing, dammit?
         Shit. Lee's going to kill me.

February 7, 2018
10:02 p.m.

         Hi. Feeling better?
         Good. Wonderful. So you have no difficulty whatsoever explaining yourself.
         I don't care how 'fine' you think you are. Were you deliberately trying to scare us? Bryan thought you were having a heart attack; I wish I could have seen the look on his face when you keeled over in front of him. Jin and I have been worried sick; I had to promise him I'd stay with you before he'd go back to finish his homework. Xiaoyu was so hyper we had to reassure her twenty times before the message got through once. And what about poor Anna? Didn't you just rush out in the middle of your date with her? You're lucky she's such a forgiving person. She's in the waiting room right now, and believe me, you owe her an apology for your reckless self-disregard. When will you get it through your head, you have to be more careful of your limits!
         Look, that doesn't- yes, I know, Jin told me all about it. That's not the point. You shouldn't be taking your life for granted! Why did you exert yourself past your threshold, anyway? What in the name of Sanctuary were you doing?
         You ran? All the way to Bryan's office? But that's practically five miles! No wonder you passed out. For goodness' sake, if you were in such a hurry then why not just take a syndicate limousine?
         Mm-hm. You have a phobia.
         Don't make pretensions. When you're afraid of something for no good reason, it's a phobia. You know, modern psychology has refined some extremely effective techniques for overcoming such hindrances; I'm sure Lee and I could set you up with an experienced specialist in desensitization-
         It was only a suggestion. Why are you acting so hostile? And you still haven't explained why you were running. I can't believe you exhausted yourself unconscious just to see Bryan.
         Oh, for - what would you want to confront Lee about that's so important, it couldn't wait until tomorrow?
         What? No, I-
         No! That's not - it's not what you think-
         You're wrong, no, it's not like that! You've-'ve...'ve got it backwards.
         It was my idea. I had to persuade Lee... plead with Lee... to do it. It was the only way.
         I was afraid of this.
         When Jin first told me that he wanted you to make a record - that you'd be interviewing him - I feared it would come to this. That sooner or later, you'd start asking him questions, and he wouldn't be able to respond. That you'd figure out what we did to him.
         Have you?
         No. No, and I shouldn't have to deny that; you know damn well it's not true. We're not controlling him! If we were controlling him, do you think we'd let you interrogate him in the first place? But it was his choice - look, whenever you reach a point where Jin can't answer you anymore, come to us. Lee and I will fill in the blanks. We know it's what he would want.
         Think, you ignoramus. I know you have a brain in there. Use it.
         Haven't you interviewed Anna yet? She's told you what it's like to be telepathically controlled, hasn't she? The Power to enslave a person's mind has extremely potent side effects. It shuts down the higher levels of abstract thinking. It numbs emotional reactions, and deadens your entire personality. It's the same as if someone were to control you through drugs, do I really have to say another word about that to you? Do I? If Jin were like that, you'd know. You'd know the instant you saw him. It wouldn't have taken you a month to notice.
         We aren't controlling him. We didn't alter his personality. We didn't - I didn't...
         ...I didn't make him love me...
         I - I can't answer that. Not yet.
         No, no, it doesn't sound right if I skip forward and tell you why, it's out of context, it's not justified! It sounds like we did something... something deplorable... evil...
         ...Great Spirit...
         Bryan wasn't even a part of it, did you know that? He was asleep. We couldn't tell him until after the fact, because he'd never have gone along with it. He despises us for what we've done. When you're beneath the morals of a drug dealer, where does that leave you?
         Ex-drug dealer. R-right, I have to get the details right...
         I have to tell you this in order. It has to be in logical order, start to finish, cause and effect, it doesn't make sense if I don't list everything in order... it doesn't... if you have to skip to the end and understand why, ask Lee. Ask Lee tomorrow.
         I have to tell you in order.
         I have to begin with the medallion.
         The medallion that touched my dreams.

         The first time I felt it was over four years ago. It was vivid. Resounding. Impressions thrust into all my senses: I heard the roaring, repetitive chopping noise of helicopter blades. I felt the uncomfortable bonfire warmth of slow-burning vegetation. Thick, cloying dust choked my tongue. I smelled smoke mixed with the tainted fumes of decomposition and excrement. There was death on the wind - when a body is murdered, its bladder and sphincter muscles relax, adding foulness to cruelty. And I saw...
         I saw...
         The destruction was panoramic. Strewn to one side of me were blocks of stone rubble, the remains of a once-mighty pyramid. Three crushed, mangled bodies, the source of the death I had smelled, sprawled amidst the ruination. A ragged collage of guttering blazes encircled the casualties; the firelight lent a shadowy distinction between stone, earth, and isolated clumps of desert brush. Throughout the wreckage, black-uniformed workers labored to clear broken stones, freeing the corpses from their prison. Broad yellow searchlights swept back and forth, emanating from the helicopters circling overhead. When I looked up, I could see no sun, moon, or stars; an black overcast blotted the entire sky.
         Several of the helicopters landed, with the screech of rubber tires and a deepening of the chopper noise. Militiamen toting guns as long as their arms jumped off the first few flying machines to touch the earth. Stiff grey plates completely covered their bodies, and helmet-masks with built-in black goggles fit over their heads; yet despite their seemingly clumsy armor, they hustled with surprising agility. The troops fanned out, aggressively.
         One last helicopter suspended itself inches above the earth. A single man disembarked in slow, heavy treads, kicking up slight clouds of dust. My dream-gaze rested on the impeccable polish of his black leather shoes. It traced the immaculate white of his designer slacks, the ruffle-garnished central seam of his matching undershirt, and the snowy fur trim lining his luxurious maroon surcoat. It passed over his black, skin-tight gloves, and below his chin, it crossed the midnight triangle swath of his buttoned, notched-collar body shirt with pearly inner lining. Last of all, it focused on his face.
         He was old. Wrinkled. Thick frown lines creased his forehead, chin, and eyesockets, in addition to a host of lesser grooves belying the wax-paper brittleness of his skin. Most of his hair was gone; what remained were two stiff, ragged grey brushes sweeping up and away from either side of his bald pate like great avian plumes. More grey colored the forbidding palisade of his bushy eyebrows, and the stern, narrow lines of his thin mustache, which formed an upside-down U-shape along the outer edges of his upper lip and chin. His eyes were ruthless jet black coals. Cruel, predatory eyes. Eyes of rapacious greed.
         I didn't think of him as a man at all. In the drifting context of my dream, he was closer to a dragon - and I don't mean a divine creature of Asian legend; I mean the dragon Smaug. An insatiably avaricious monster, hoarding its treasures and lusting for more, reptilian scales and ribbed bat-wings adjusting themselves as it folded its grasping arms. It surveyed the burning desert ruin with its possessive, voracious glare. This dragon would not devour you right away; first, it would lay claim to everything you owned, use you as its tool and its slave until you were too exhausted to raise another finger. Only when it could no longer extract any more value from your toil would it consume your flesh.
         The human dragon's overgrown eyebrows lowered, forming an ill-tempered V-shape.
         A fresh shock rippled through my mind. The graphic image of a green-skinned warrior appeared and vanished, superimposed above the flaming wreckage of a wheeled land vehicle. There were flashes of blood, hunger, and death; radiance from fevered, glowing eye-pools glinted upon sparkles of golden armor and a magnificent feather plume. If the grey-haired old man embodied a dragon's greed in human form, then the red-eyed monster was a dragon's corruption exacerbated beyond mortality, into a waking pestilence released to stalk the Earth once more. The plague-beast turned its malignant head.
         The human dragon's face tightened. He had sensed the esurient other presence as well. Confidence gleamed in his ambitious eyes. His lips affected the slightest touch of a smile. His gloved right hand lifted itself on level with his chin, and curled into a grasping fist.
         The dragons have challenged one another. Heaven help any innocents caught in the middle of their deadly thirst for Power.
         I woke up.
         My breath fluttered in my throat, and my heart pounded, but I did not feel afraid. I was annoyed at being startled out of the dream - I'd felt as though I had been close to understanding something important. There were missing pieces to the puzzle, clues to a convoluted truth hidden within a riddle of sleep, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to find out the answer. This hadn't been just a dream; it had felt so realistic, like I had truly been there. I needed to know what it meant.
         A high-pitched noise invaded my ears, like the ringing of a chime; it was what had awakened me. The sound stirred my recollection of the dream. I followed the keening vibrations outside my home, to a patch of dusty ground nearby. Possessed by a will that might not have entirely been my own, I delved into the soil with my hands, digging like the Restless Gopher my tribe called me, until I unearthed the treasure.
         It was a circular medallion, so large it fully covered the palm of my hand. Though it had lain buried for longer than I knew, its polished gold surface did not show one hint of rust or decay. The dirt had not dulled it; it shined with a brilliant, unearthly glow, looking as new as the day it had been created. There was a symmetrical design upon its front surface: a central ruby-red gem in an elliptical cut, surrounded by a spirograph star with eight looping points, each of which had a smaller gem nestled inside. More golden embellishments, like needle-marks or grassy trefoils, decoratively spaced themselves along the loops and outer circumference. The medallion shimmered, hypnotically. Beckoning. Glittering. The key to an inexplicable mystery.
         My grandmother's worried cry brought me out of my trance. She had woken up as well, and now she called to me from the steps of our modest dwelling. When I turned around, she saw the luminous object in my hands, and unbridled terror crippled her.
         "No," she moaned. "No! Not again!"
         "Grandmother, what's wrong?" I ran to her, and helped her sit.
         "Why did it call you?" she asked, fearfully. "What did you see in your dreams?"
         I told her everything, doing my best to reassure her. To me, the dream had not been a nightmare, but rather the tantalizing lead-in to an enigma that pulled at my heart and soul, daring me to elucidate the Truth. So that when I finished my story, I asked her directly, "Grandmother, why are you so afraid?"
         She didn't answer me at first. Instead, she returned inside our house, limping slowly and painfully on account of her rheumatoid arthritis. She emerged a few minutes later, holding an aged, brittle yellow newspaper. The medallion's glow illuminated a faded photograph.
         "Is this the man from your dream?" she asked, pointing to the picture.
         I looked closer, and... yes, there could be no mistaking that covetous dragon's face. He appeared younger, though, and his bristles of hair were jet black instead of grey. "Yes, Grandmother. That's-"
         "Heihachi Mishima," she finished, flatly.
         I sucked in my breath.
         "Heihachi murdered my husband for refusing to surrender the secret treasure of our tribe - the treasure that you now hold. I have kept it hidden not because of its value, but because of its threat. It is linked to a terrible, destructive force, and to let it fall into the wrong hands could bring the end of the world.
         "That medallion is a tool of corruption. It calls to evil. It brings death. Heihachi killed my husband for it. Kazuya Mishima kidnapped me to get it. My daughter was wearing it when Lee Chaolan murdered her; I had to bury it in her place, because those monsters of the House Mishima fed her remains to an animal!"
         She was overcome with grief and fear. I knew she was so badly shaken because she spoke of my grandfather and Michelle Chang. Only the gravest foreboding could have brought her to directly mention them; Navajo custom severely discourages referring openly to the dead, so as not to trouble their souls. I'd learned most of what I already knew about my slain family members from Catsclaw, who belonged to another tribe.
         I looked down at the medallion in my hand. Flickering in the darkness, it possessed a transient beauty. How could something so exquisite be the source of such pain?
         "You must rid yourself of it," my grandmother urged, desperately. "It cannot be destroyed; I have tried with all my strength to melt it into slag, or batter it into fragments. You must cast it away, before it calls the curse of the House Mishima upon your head! I - I lost my husband and my daughter to its evil, I can't lose you too... I can't... Julia, run away from here. Run as far as you can all night; when dawn comes, throw the cursed thing away from you and come back to me!"
         She cried as she held me, in her stiffened joints and frail old arms. I still didn't understand how one object could be the keystone to so much suffering, but she was my grandmother. I loved her and I couldn't dispute her wisdom. So that night, I ran far from our home, and continued my journey after dawn came. The sun had risen halfway into the sky by the time I reached the shore of a crystal-clear lake.
         It was a beautiful place.
         Fresh, springtime greenery surrounded me. Intermittent deciduous trees spread their leaves, lending me cool shade even as the sun's warmth became stronger. Soft grass brushed against my ankles. Light green, semicircular lily pads and cup-shaped white blossoms floated near the trunk of a toppled old birch, half-immersed in the still water. Tall conifers dotted the far shore, their darker, verdant green reflected on the lake. Much further away were the snowy crests of upthrust mountains, silent witnesses to my hidden task. The gorgeous natural splendor made the fiery, devastated landscape of my dream feel so remote; another time, another world.
         I approached the lake at a slow walk, admiring the pristine wilderness. A gentle breeze fanned my face. When I reached the water's smooth shore, I paused to look at the medallion one last time. It no longer shined with an inner light; its only glitter came from reflected rays of the midmorning sun. A shadow briefly passed across it; raising my eyes, I saw a circling hawk, wings lazily fanning its spiral in the blue sky strewn with wispy clouds.
         I did not want to rid myself of this mysterious golden treasure, but if it truly were as dangerous as my grandmother said, then I had to protect my tribe. With that resolve in mind, I brought my hand back and cast the ancient object into the lake. It traced a parabolic arc, becoming a dazzling white star at the peak of its flight; I had to blink from its airborne sparkle. When I looked again, it was gone. There weren't even any concentric ripples to mark where it had plunged into the water.
         It was sunset when I returned home. Grandmother was waiting for me, reading in her rocking chair on the front steps of our humble porch. I ran to her, and she embraced me. She told me never to let anyone know where I had hidden the amulet, never to speak of it again.
         For over four years, I obeyed.
         But even though the object was gone, my curiosity remained. The next four days reported a string of terrible, unsolved murders and disappearances all over the world, with only one common thread connecting the victims. Each one of them had been a strong fighter of great repute: King the First, Jackie Chan, do I have to give you the whole list? At the time, I didn't know whether these gruesome events had any connection to the medallion or my dream. It was just a dark intuition that prompted me to mark each killing site on a world map, and note that the slaughter proceeded in a steady path, carving a gory trail from Mexico all the way to Japan.
         Japan. Home of Heihachi Mishima.
         ...although curiously enough, there existed no verifiable record of Heihachi's Japanese citizenship. Japan's government actually denied that he originated within their country - or used to deny it, before the Great Invasion; I had to really dig in order to learn this. After the Great Invasion, of course, the Japanese government heaped ceaseless praise upon him as the most noble "humanitarian" alive in the nation.
         I did a lot of research on Heihachi, on his deceased sons Kazuya and Lee, on the Great Invasion, and on the Mishima syndicate. Studying the syndicate especially was an extremely frustrating process, because roughly ninety percent of what I could find was nothing but propaganda. Endless articles, interviews, books, and more, all praising the "good" of the mighty Mishima Financial Empire. Glory to Mishima-sama, who had brought the world peace, mercy, and food in the wake of the Great Invasion!
         What the propaganda didn't mention so explicitly was how Heihachi never helped a developing nation unless his people could get their hooks deep into its government. An "advisory panel" here, an "appointed consortium" there, you can read it in the fine print if you look closely enough at certain constitutional documents. Whatever "good" Heihachi may have wrought, my first impression of him as a power-hungry dragon was all too close to the modern truth.
         I couldn't absolve myself of the suspicion that Heihachi was responsible for the worldwide murders. He probably wasn't the actual assassin; certainly, I couldn't imagine why he would want all those high-profile fighting champions killed. Somehow, though, he had to be a part of the slaughter. The death that topped each new headline was the inevitable fallout of his private war with the other dragon.
         But what sense did that make? I couldn't explain myself to anyone. My grandmother would only plead with me to forget about the Mishima syndicate. Catsclaw was away on a mission for his military bureau, the Outworld Investigation Agency. Anyone else would have just dismissed my theories as the nonsensical chatter of a pubescent girl. I'd thrown away the only object that could connect me to all this; without it and its visions, what did I really know? I had no evidence of Heihachi's misdeeds, or of what the killer truly was. Where would I have gone to find proof? What, exactly, was I supposed to do?
         The serial killing spree ended after May 20th, with no one the wiser about its culprit. No one, that is, except possibly Heihachi and his colleagues. For several days after that, I lived in uneasy tension, afraid that another such murder would occur and it would be my fault for not stopping it. I didn't know why I felt so guilty. I rationalized that if there were anything in the medallion that could conquer the dragons, then surely my grandmother would have told me. Whatever the mystical object was, it hadn't saved my grandfather and it hadn't saved Michelle, so how could it possibly save anyone else? There was nothing I could do, or so I told myself. I told myself that over and over, until eventually I came to believe it.
         Knowing what I do now... I can say that it was probably true.
         Four years passed. I attended high school, threw myself into my studies, and graduated as class valedictorian in the early summer of 2017. More than anything else, I wanted to go to college and continue my education - I particularly wanted to major in Archaeology - but I couldn't.
         No money.
         It's not so easy to get scholarships, even if your academic record is spotless, and nearly all the offers I did receive were from businesses or institutions with ties to the Mishima syndicate. It wasn't much of a coincidence; the syndicate owned a third of the world, and the remaining two-thirds was so hard-pressed to compete that it had much less to give in the way of charity. How many hands must a dollar pass through before it loses the taint of blood? I was torn between personal morality and the fervent desire to learn.
         What made it worse was that my grandmother's arthritis worsened until she could hardly walk anymore. She needed money for a doctor, and someone to help her around our home.
         Catsclaw was very kind to us, though - more than kind, he's probably been the closest I've ever had to a father. He paid for the expense of my grandmother's medical bills. He reassured me that even if I left home to attend a faraway school, he would find someone to look after her. I suspect he might have offered to help with the cost of my higher education, if he didn't have his own kids to put through college. I eventually decided that I would work as many part-time jobs as I could, and save money for a whole year. Then I would enroll in the university that best suited me, and if I had to, I'd go into debt to pursue my dream.
         That was my plan, and I would have been happy with it, except that something else overtook my dreams.
         It was late November of last year when the images returned to encroach upon my sleep. Sometimes I'd wake up in the middle of the night, and be unable to recollect three-fourths of what I'd visualized, even if I immediately tried to write it down. But I remember glimpses of the sparkling amulet, Heihachi Mishima slavering in all his dragon's appetite, and the red-eyed monster that stalked the ethereal bounds of the waking world. During the day, I couldn't concentrate on my work; pictures from my dreams would dance in front of my eyes. Worried, I read multiple newspapers for current information on the Mishima syndicate, anything that would help make sense of the random clues fed into my sleeping mind. I learned that Heihachi was renewing his syndicate's Iron Fist Tournament.
         A Tournament of strong fighters... just like the murder victims of the unsolved killing spree from the past. In fact, some of those murder victims had been listed as former participants in the Iron Fist...
         It bothered me. Something was happening, a conspiracy, a mystery tied to me and my family, it haunted my sleep. I never could just ignore a conundrum; I had to work at it, think about it, obsess over the scant details day after day and I still didn't know what was going on. It consumed me. Entered my thoughts so deeply that I couldn't always tell when I was dreaming and when I wasn't. By the time I approached a certain lake in the snow-covered winter wilderness, I was so far lost in the dilemma that I couldn't remember why, when, or how I had chosen to retrace my steps from over four years ago.
         The medallion was on the shore.
         It just rested there, shimmering, as if it were a smoothed-over pebble that had washed up on the beach. When I took it in both hands, I knew - knew with preprogrammed clarity - that something evil had drawn it from the water. Great and terrible Powers were dangerously close to being unleashed, and if I did not act now, I would never know what they were or have any chance to stop them. I would never expose Heihachi Mishima for the murderer he was, or vindicate the sacrifices of my grandfather and Michelle.
         I made my decision.
         Withdrawing my meager savings, I put a few necessities into an old suitcase and left my grandmother a note. Aside from the medallion, I had little idea what to take with me - how does one pack to vanquish dragons? In the end, I just took a change of clothes, some personal hygiene effects, and a travel guide. All in a few hours, I did this, and on December 5th I boarded the cheapest Mishima Airlines flight I could find. I did not want to touch anything bearing the name "Mishima," but I had little choice; you know they have a monopoly on Japanese airspace.
         Michelle was the Wandering Warrioress. Me, I just flew coach.
         It wasn't until the plane alighted at the Tokyo Mishima Airport that I really began to wonder: just what in the name of all Creation was I doing? Was I really going to enter the Iron Fist Tournament? I'm a scholar, not a fighter. Sure, I knew some kempo from Catsclaw, but I practiced it mostly for exercise. I'd never been in anything like a blood-sport arena before. I couldn't even afford the Iron Fist entrance fee; I'd spent almost every penny I had on a passport and one-way ticket. I had heard that the syndicate would waive its fee in return for the exclusive rights to your mortal remains, should you be killed in the ring, but signing an agreement like that did not appeal to me at all.
         Getting killed in the ring did not appeal to me at all.
         Would the syndicate even let me in? I thought I'd read something a few days ago, about the Tournament's "preliminary qualification matches." Specifically, I'd read that they were over. The true Iron Fist was already underway. Did they allow contestants to join late?
         But if I didn't enter the Iron Fist Tournament, then how would I get close enough to Heihachi to expose his crimes? How could I begin to oppose the menace of the red-eyed other dragon?
         Maybe I could sneak into the Tournament...?
         Where was I going to spend the night? The Mishima syndicate arranged room and board for participants in their Tournament, but it was roughly 9:30 p.m. local time when my plane landed, and the Iron Fist registration offices were closed. So were almost all other businesses.
         Um, maybe a hotel? Okay, lodging, lodging... check the travel guide...
         Finding a place wasn't difficult. Everyone was so polite; it's amazing, I'd be wandering around uncertainly when complete strangers would come up to me, bow very slightly, and kindly offer directions. The problem was, of course, money. Thanks to the profound impact of the Mishima syndicate on the world's economy, the Japanese yen was at an unmatchably high strength against my American dollars. Which meant that the last of my petty cash wouldn't pay for a single night in a cheap flophouse. I wandered the streets for hours, checking prices in hotel after hotel, and eventually I considered taking in a late-night movie, just so I could sleep through the screening.
         Then I got lost.
         It must have been past midnight when I realized I'd mismatched the angular characters on the signs to the letters on my map, because there were no more people on the streets to ask for directions. And I was yawning from exhaustion. Jet lag had caught up with me. The only thing I could be grateful for was the unseasonably warm weather; I didn't even need to wear a jacket over my tank top. But would I really have to just wander the pavement until dawn? Oh, what a headache...
         A warm glow spread from beneath my neck.
         It came from the medallion, which I wore under my clothing on a beaded cord. I drew it out and held it in my hand. When I turned one way, it became dim; another, and its illumination surged brightly.
         Was it trying to guide me somewhere...?
         Curious, I followed the medallion's beckoning light. I kept my eyes fixed on its mesmerizing shimmer, enraptured by the soft, humming vibration that coursed through my skin. In retrospect, my self-absorption had to be more than a little foolish, especially given that I was alone and unprotected on the nighttime city streets. All I can offer in my own defense is that the medallion's lure had completely captivated me. Perhaps I even put my trust in it to keep me safe, I don't know... but because I never raised my eyes, I didn't see what hit me until it happened.
         In the split second between when he crashed into me and when we both tumbled to the ground, all I saw of him was the intimidating silhouette of a lean, powerful body. Then the sidewalk soundly rapped the back of my head; I think I passed out for a couple seconds before I became aware of the looming apparition's hand pressed over my brow. Streaks of indigo electricity sizzled from his fingers, crackling against my face, scalp, and body. His preternatural sorcery ignited my own fears. In that one, terror-stricken instant, I mistook him for a nefarious Devil that had swept out of nowhere to waylay me, maybe even rape and murder me. So that I reacted on the level of frightened instinct, before my conscious mind could recognize that his Power was not hurting me - just the opposite, it soothed my contusions and revitalized my tired muscles.
         I screamed, "STAY BACK!" and drove the heel of my hand into his mouth.
         He had not been expecting my reaction. His head jerked from the blow, and he flopped on the sidewalk. I received an emotional whiplash when I struck him, jarring anxiety that was sharply distinct from my own feelings. It was so disconcerting that I had to cradle my head. Then I saw him spring to his feet in a swift kippup, and I struggled to stand as quickly as I could. The fight-or-flight reflex set my heart pounding and charged me into hyper-intensive state, ready to attack him all out if I had to-
         "The Mishima syndicate is that way!" he frantically exclaimed, pointing in the direction from which he'd come. "Go there, tell them Kazama sent you, they will protect you for the night!"
         Umm... is this what murderous prowling Devils usually say to their victims?
         His English was flawless, almost completely free of accent. His voice was smooth and slightly musical; it would have been more pleasant if he weren't shaking and half out of breath from panic. I stared at him, perplexedly.
         He was the very likeness of Kazuya Mishima.
         I knew because I'd come across pictures of Kazuya when I studied the Great Invasion. This person was close to identical - same narrowly angular face, same perniciously thick eyebrows, same jet black hair extending behind him in a peculiar spike. Although I never did see a photograph of Kazuya with stray bangs hanging over his widow's peak like that, or loose clumps drifting from his central hair-mass like the shedding fur-tufts of a feline undercoat. And the person in front of me was much younger; if Kazuya were alive today, he'd be approaching fifty. My new acquaintance's high school uniform underscored his relative youth.
         He was dressed as a very ordinary student, in a long-sleeved deep blue shirt with a folded, sweat-stained white collar around the V-neck, and a teardrop-shaped, brown-and-black patch sewn over his heart. His sleeves were rolled up to beneath the elbows. His dark slacks had thin black, tan, and aquamarine crosshatch pinstripes, stretching down to where their hems draped over his seamless brown loafers. The only remotely unusual aspect to his attire was his fighting gloves; their sequin-dotted red surface covered the backs of his hands, tapering to black knuckle-guards around the first third of his digits and leaving the rest of his fingers bare. I'm getting at something overall, namely that the normalcy of his apparel contrasted paradoxically against the face of the Devil necromancer from the Great Invasion. My first intuition was to classify him as a malevolent spirit, risen from the dead in mortal costume, but that speculation turned to water when I looked into his eyes.
         They were jet black, but they did not reflect a black heart; distressed concern for my welfare showed through his face. I knew because I'd seen that same look in my grandmother's eyes, the night the medallion first called to me. His words and gesture further emphasized his good intentions. If he truly were a masquerading hell-spawn, then he performed his role with superlative theatrical skill. It didn't make sense. He was a living, breathing contradiction, appearing like the human embodiment of supernatural evil and spiritual kindness all at once. He was a mystery, a puzzle. I had to figure him out. I couldn't figure him out-
         Wait a minute. 'Kazama,' I knew that name from my research on the Mishima syndicate, wasn't he-
         "Jin Kazama? Heihachi Mishima's grandson?" I tentatively asked.
         "Yes, yes, go, RUN! It's out there killing people, I have to stop it, run to the syndicate and you'll be safe there!"
         "RUN!" He turned around and sprinted into the night.
         Oh, no you don't, I thought, determinedly. You're not getting away from me; I haven't figured you out yet!
         I slipped the medallion back underneath my tank top, and dashed after him. Left my suitcases right there on the sidewalk, the better to keep up. He had long legs, and bolted across the ground like a hare; I burned every shred of energy I had for speed, and I was still falling behind.
         Hey, wasn't he leading me through Ginza?
         Damn, I'd left my map behind and I couldn't read any of the street signs, but didn't that building over there match my travel guide's picture of Ginza's Bridgestone Museum of Art? Or maybe not; what the heck did I know? Just run faster, Julia, faster, you can't lose him now-
         He was a block ahead of me when he reached a street busy with traffic. He didn't slow. With a sick feeling inside, I realized he wasn't even aware of the fast-moving vehicles ahead; I yelled a warning just before he plunged into the moving onslaught, but I doubt he heard me. Brakes squealed, sparks flew, and I heard the heartrending thud of an impact as I approached the curb. Before my sick feeling could blossom into fear, I saw a flash of dazzling indigo lightning on the road's far side. Jin's hands fastened about his right leg, generating the electrical vibrance; he let go, staggered for a few steps, then accelerated into a run as if he hadn't been scratched, turning a right angle and disappearing down a darkened alley.
         I had to catch up immediately, but there weren't any streetlights to guide me across the road, and another long string of vehicles cruised right in front of me. I remember seeing police cars and ambulance vans among them, brilliant red sirens crying their mournful wail. But that was all irrelevant, my quarry was about to elude me, he was a mystery tied into the greater enigma, I might lose my one and only chance to solve the whole puzzle unless I crossed now, and cross I did. The driving need to know overrode the prudent half of my consciousness; I raced into the traffic, and as I came upon a blue-white squad car running perpendicular to my path, I vaulted from the ground, landing on its hood-
         Oh, don't look so amazed. In order to be high school valedictorian I had to get A's in all my classes, including gym, okay? And Catsclaw did teach me some basic acrobatics in addition to kempo. I used to practice my running jumps and flips in the desert, not that I'd ever attempted this kind of maneuver on a moving surface before. It was instinct that made me spring off the hood before its crossways motion could undercut my precarious footing. I tucked my body into a spinning ball, performed a midair somersault, and scraped my knees something awful on the road's far shoulder.
         Ow, ow, ow that stings but no time to stop, which way did he go? Down this turn, into the shadows, can't see a damn thing, really hope I don't run into any sharp objects, where was he- aha!
         He briefly hesitated at the steps of a rather fancy hotel, such as I had been unable to afford, then dashed away just as I reached the building myself. And saw what had stopped him in his tracks.
         Great Spirit.
         I will not describe the carnage. Two businessmen had been horrifically murdered, and left to rot on the steps. Well, I call them 'businessmen' because what was left of their torn bodies carried tattered cloth pieces of suits and ties. There was one survivor: a young woman in the outfit of a maid. She looked unhurt, but overwhelmed with a paroxysm of shock, huddling herself into a fetal ball next to the doorway.
         "What happened here?" I demanded of the maid. "Who did this!?"
         "Onna," she whimpered. "Oni no onna!"
         Miserable rotten frustrating impossible language barrier I can't figure anything out I should probably call the local equivalent of 911 but I don't know what it is and I don't speak Japanese AAAARGH!
         That does it, I'm catching up with Jin Kazama now, I'll tackle him to the ground if I have to!
         I trailed him past a couple more near accidents and another bloody carcass, this one a luckless street drifter judging by his dirty coat, until we were in a rundown section of Tokyo. I don't know its precise location, only that it wasn't in Ginza. I'd closed within a dozen yards of Jin when he ducked inside a dilapidated bar. An unsteady electric lamp threw flickering splashes of light on the building's sign, which featured a red-orange dragon with four claws on each foot.
         I knew the place was a bar because I smelled the odor of strong liquor when I approached. As I came closer, though, the heady, intoxicating vapors receded beneath the stench of something else. Something far worse.
         More blood. Blood and foulness.
         Great Spirit...
         This time, it looked as though at least four... no, five people had fallen victim to the mysterious killer. Most of their scattered remains had once worn black leathers. They had been gutted, decapitated, or dismembered, although bloody footprints and a back door slammed off its hinges suggested that some of them had escaped. And in the center of the red-splashed floor...
         She was the youngest victim yet. Couldn't have been older than fifteen. She lay on her back, with her eyes petrified open. Her leather jacket fit her petite frame snugly. Her violet hair spread out underneath the back of her head, framing her face in a fan-shaped sea of strands. Savage gashes, each the width of a human finger, had shredded her delicate throat into lumps of crudely torn flesh. Taking rigor mortis, dependent lividity, and blood coagulation into account, I'd estimate that she had been dead for twenty minutes.
         Her right hand remained frozen in a locked-joint clench around the pendant ornamenting her silver necklace: a diamond-studded crucifix. She held it protectively over her cooling body, as if her last act had been a futile gesture to ward away her killer.
         A young man in a matching leather jacket crouched next to her, touching her mutilated throat with his right hand. His physical appearance was also a contradiction; his eyes possessed sharp epicanthic folds, indicating Asian heritage, yet his skin was colored deathly pale, not like any Asian I've ever seen. Small droplets of thickening gore hung from his fingers as he lifted and held them on level with his face, motionless, oblivious.
         Jin snarled, "Hwoarang."
         The other youth turned, curling his cerise-touched hand as if it had grown bloody talons. I studied him intensely, searching each stitch of his clothing and strand of his watery-red raptor hair for signs of violence. But aside from the stains on his fingertips, all I found were two red-black streaks on his face, running from his antagonistic eyes down the length of his cheeks.
         A thunderstorm gathered about Jin.
         Sizzling streaks of vengeful lightning curled about his body; crackling bolts lit his insurmountable fury. Incendiary rage burned away any shadow of the kindness I thought I'd seen before. I backed against the tavern's far wall, away from the static blasts that made my hair stand on end. Bursts of scorching hot energy carved splintered gashes and sparked fires in the surrounding wood. Jin raised his left hand, clenching it tightly; electricity blazed so fiercely on his fist that it seared my eyes.
         I don't know if you've ever seen him as the Fatal Lightning.
         I pray that you never will.
         I pray that none of us will. Never again.
         "You," Jin seethed, possessed with the unrelenting wrath of the elements. Vivid energy outlined his extended arm as he pointed to Hwoarang. "You are its minion. You have been killing innocent people in its name! You murdered her! She was your follower, she trusted you and YOU MURDERED HER!"
         Hwoarang narrowed his bloody eyes.
         "Yesss," he hissed, cruel and serpentine. "I killed her."
         I said, "What? Wait a minute-"
         "DIE!" the Fatal Lightning screamed, lunging forward to wreak his revenge.
         Hwoarang had been waiting for the charge; I could see the calculated anticipation in his face. He reacted at once, springing from his crouch and whipping off his leather jacket in an unbelievably dextrous motion. Hwoarang threw the article in his enemy's face, like a matador using his cape to distract a bull; the sudden misdirection purchased all the opportunity he needed to grasp Jin's lightning fist in both hands. With a stiff pull, he forced Jin's headlong assault into a forward stumble. At the same time, Hwoarang swung his left leg straight up, so high his foot reached above his head; he brought his heel down in a crushing impact to the small of Jin's back. Jin's upper body arched a notch past what a normal person should be capable of, and half-twisted as he fell. He hit the ground on his side and rolled supine.
         Hwoarang sneered, "If that's your best-"
         It should not have been a mistake to pause for a sarcastic taunt; Hwoarang's attack should have broken Jin's spine, or at least ruptured a disc. But the Fatal Lightning sat up as if he hadn't been touched, extending his arms and crossing his flexed palms in an X.
         Electric vengeance streaked from his hands.
         It erupted from him at the speed of thought, exploding against its target. Blazing raw energy seared a crater in Hwoarang's chest and bound him in a momentary cage of living Power. I shouted a protest, wanting to run forward and stop this mad violence, but I had no idea how to get between the Fatal Lightning and his prey without being fried to ashes.
         Before the raging current burnt itself out, Jin rose to take its place, turning his body in a clockwise spin and whipping his right arm in a right backfist smash to Hwoarang's forehead. His rotation accelerated into a full turn as he lifted his right heel in a high spin kick, and then he left the ground in an airborne tornado, whirling his leg as a churning propeller blade. Hwoarang somehow managed to bring his arms up to guard against the cyclone, but his stunned vision failed to recognize that Jin's spiral landing was also an attack. The Fatal Lightning pivoted one more revolution on his left foot, using his right to slash at Hwoarang's shins.
         Jin halted his pirouette, rising to his full height on his pivot leg, lifting the knee of his free leg, and cracking the ball of his foot in a critical front kick to his enemy's face. Hwoarang had been half-crouched from the damage to his own legs, unable to guard against the Fatal Lightning's continued assault; Jin followed up with an overhead slam, driving electricity as well as sheer force into his fist as he brought it down on Hwoarang's head. The punch flowed into a low shin kick and another backfist, as Jin turned the right side of his body toward his enemy; he caught the back of Hwoarang's calf in his instep and struck his tripped opponent on the way down with one more face punch. Finally, Jin scissored both legs in a jumping front strike, snapping his feet down to up one after another.
         At the last instant, Hwoarang curled in on himself, crumpling into a ball and crossing his arms in front of his face; one of the jumping scissor kicks glanced against his guard, but the other went high over where Jin expected him to be. That was raptor-haired fighter's opening. More red-black blood tricked from his mouth, matching the trails from his eyes; his body was so thoroughly battered that he should not have been able to stand, yet with his own brand of macabre vigor, he seized the advantage. As Jin awkwardly landed from his missed attack, Hwoarang spun in a clockwise swirl of his own, rocketing his right heel just a few degrees short of straight up. His surprise counterattack caught his enemy under the chin and staggered him. Hwoarang turned the other way to swing his metal-spurred left boot in a horizontal strike across Jin's chest; I heard the crack of ribs breaking. The raptor-haired fighter instantly reversed his spin yet again to retarget his enemy's chest with a kick from the other leg. Another, bone-crunching shatter made me shriek a protest against the meaningless brutality, but my cries had no more effect on Hwoarang than they had on Jin, and I didn't know how to interpose myself without getting kicked to pieces. Hwoarang assaulted his stunned foe with two more heel blows, one to the ankle and one to the head, that drove Jin off his feet and into the far wall. The Fatal Lightning sizzled like a dying ember, his overextended fires winking out for a second. From the disoriented manner in which he struggled to right himself, I could tell he was dangerously close to losing consciousness.
         This time, Hwoarang knew better than to hang back; instead, he closed the distance between himself and Jin with a single long stride, springing his left fist in one last blow to his enemy's head-
         Jin shrieked, "MURDERER!"
         I could scarcely see it happen for its speed. One instant, Hwoarang was on the brink of victory; the next, Jin had seized his hand in the moment of its flight. Brilliant lightning traced his grasp as he turned Hwoarang's arm in a crescent wrench, simultaneously moving to his enemy's side. Jin slipped his ankle in a flexed lock about Hwoarang's unbalanced left leg, then used his holds and the weight of his own body to force his enemy prone on the ground. Hwoarang could not hold back a cry of pain as he hit the floor, because Jin still kept the raptor-haired fighter's lower limb crookedly entangled between his own shins. Jin released of Hwoarang's arm and seized his foe's ensnared ankle, still restraining him with both legs. He was sitting on Hwoarang's back now, bending his enemy's trapped limb at the knee, pulling it toward himself; at the same time, his electrical Power burned with renewed zeal. Indigo energy blasted Hwoarang's body, culminating in a firestorm explosion and the hideous snap of his left thighbone being shattered.
         Hwoarang spasmed once, and stopped moving.
         Whatever forces that had driven him to endure past mortal limits gave out. Pain and electrical shock rendered him helpless. Jin let go of his broken leg and snarled his raptor hair with one hand, wrenching his head and shoulders from the ground. Hwoarang's arms dangled limp. His rot-brown eyes flickered open, and he bared his pointed teeth in a grimace.
         Jin spat, "The trail of blood ends here. Now. It ends with your life!"
         Hwoarang closed his eyes.
         "Yes," he silently breathed. Jin could not have seen his lips move, but I did. "Yes, it does. Forever."
         A shooting star of lightning streaked about Jin's upraised fist. He chambered it high, poised to strike the back of his captive's neck and crush the cervical vertebrae. Like kneeling on a branch, bending it toward yourself, and using the dual brace of your weight and your hands to snap it in two. He was going to murder Hwoarang.
         I want you to think about that.
         Hwoarang was innocent. He had not killed any of those people, least of all the young girl; I knew it, and Jin should have known it, should have seen if he'd looked past the false confession. But as the Fatal Lightning, Jin could see nothing but death, feel nothing but homicidal madness. I want you to think about that ruthless side to his soul. I want you to understand how blood and slaughter set such misguided rage afire in him. I want you to picture that fire, in all its unforgiving destruction.

         Now, I want you to picture that fire turned inward.
         You were here, one short month ago. You remember when Jin sealed himself within his shrine. What you did not see was the merciless sentence he pronounced on himself while inside. Unarguable. Implacable. Inconsolable. How do you think Lee and I brought him out alive?
         You think about the Fatal Lightning. You think about it, and then you go talk to Lee, and then... then you pass your judgement on what we did to him. And let whoever reads your damn record decide for themselves.
         It's... it's not even permanent. You know that, don't you?
         We're not going to leave the block in his mind forever. Only until we can safely remove it. Only until we find a cure.
         We are going to find a cure.
         We have to find a cure.
         We're going to find a cure...

End of Chapter 7: Lambs to Slaughter