PHOENIX REBORN

written by Victar, e-mail vctr113062@aol.com
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Chapter 15: Prelude to Confession


   "When people hate, is this how it has to be? Doesn't it ever stop until someone's dead?"
   "Ya dumb kid... it doesn't even stop when someone dies. Not... really..."

         -Hiroaki Samura, Blade of the Immortal: On Silent Wings


INTERVIEW WITH JULIA CHANG, section 5
February 13, 2018
5:45 a.m.


         Good morning.
         At least, it should be morning in another hour or so. Have you ever seen a sunrise from the syndicate's roof? It's breathtaking. I've been spending a fair amount of time up here of late, stargazing or sunwatching.
         It was Jin who first showed me how beautiful Tokyo can be, from this vantage. He occasionally comes to enjoy the view, late at night or early in the morning.
         I wish he could be with me for this sunrise, but you and I have a job to do.


         How can I give you my first impression of Lei Wulong, Super Police?
         He was more than a hero to me; he was a legend. A superstar. I'm not sure I want Jin to find out about this, but... I used to have a crush on Wulong, once. Back when I was fourteen, and I saw one of his movies on television. I can't remember the title, but it was the movie in which Wulong crashes headfirst through a store windowpane, even as a fiery explosion erupts behind him; you see his escape multiple times from different angles, in that ever-popular cinematographic technique. Then he rolls on the city sidewalk and brings his gun to bear, with a bold, indomitable look on his face.
         Or did I just describe all his movies?
         Oh, never mind. It wasn't until later that I realized the movie had been made before I was born. Meaning that the young, handsome man on the television screen had since aged, and put on a little weight.
         Have you ever seen Wulong's public service announcements? The thirty-second television spots in which he identifies himself as an alcoholic, and urges other victims of the addiction to get help? Those were filmed after he'd turned forty. I happened to see one of them about two weeks after I saw his movie, and that was the official end of my crush. Wulong hadn't aged badly by any means, but he had acquired a worn texture to his skin, and perhaps ten more pounds on his frame. I couldn't daydream about him anymore; it would be like fantasizing about my father.
         If I had one.
         Catsclaw doesn't exactly count; he was a good friend to my family, but I didn't get to see him as often as would befit a father figure. Although, come to think about it, he was roughly the same age as Lei Wulong. Or "Lei," as his closest friends and associates tended to call him. I don't know why that is, since it's actually his last name. Perhaps because "Lei" rolls more fluidly off the tongue. Or perhaps because his courageous bearing truly did embody the spirit of Thunder.
         That's what the name "Lei" literally translates to, you know. "Thunder." His first name "Wulong" means "warrior dragon," or something similar. From his name alone, I could imagine that he would be a rival of Heihachi Mishima, the most terrible Dragon of all. But...
         What I didn't understand - what I couldn't understand - was what Wulong had just said. He had claimed to be Jin Kazama's father. That didn't make sense; anyone with eyes could see that Jin's father was Kazuya Mishima, the devil-possessed sorcerer. Kazuya, who betrayed the Earth in the Great Invasion. Kazuya, whom Lei Wulong had vanquished in single combat. Kazuya, who had then committed suicide, rather than face the consequences of his monstrous crimes.
         According to the movies, that is.
         Jin was almost the identical image of Kazuya. He had inherited Kazuya's powers of telepathy and sorcery. Jin was the Fatal Lightning, whose raw electric energy crackled on his fists at will. While Wulong, for all his grand reputation, could only do sleight-of-hand magic. Of course Jin was not Wulong's biological child; he belonged to Kazuya's lineage, unquestionably. And yet...
         Thunder, the father; lightning, the son. It was the symmetric inverse of the elemental sequence in Nature. And now I began to recollect certain memories that weren't mine, memories that I had assimilated from Jin when I shared my life force to heal him. Detective Lei Wulong had figured prominently in some of those memories, along with Jin's mother, Jun Kazama.
         Could Wulong be Jin's stepfather? I'd never heard of a relationship between Lei Wulong and Jun Kazama. Then again, perhaps the detective had wanted to hide his family from the public eye, and from Heihachi Mishima. I shudder to think of what Jin would have grown up to be like, if his grandfather had been the one to raise him since birth. Years of Heihachi's malevolent influence had already darkened Jin's soul. I could hear echoes of the old man's cruelty in Jin's voice, as he stared at Wulong with utter abhorrence and spat, "You are not my father."
         He might as well have driven a knife into Wulong's ribs.
         "Jin," the detective gasped, as if with his last breath, and I knew. I knew beyond all doubt that Wulong was Jun Kazama's widower, and Jin Kazama's stepfather. He was suffering too much anguish for the truth to be anything less.
         Wulong clutched the folds of a large black cloak, wrapping it more tightly about himself. It stretched to the paved 'courtyard' ground of Jin's high school, and its hood covered the detective's head. All I could really see of Wulong was his face, fingers, and ash-grey forelock, brushed to one side of a part in his sable hair. Even so, the paleness of his skin and the gaunt, unsteady outline of his frame were enough to tell me something important.
         Wulong was not well.
         He wasn't merely under the weather with some twenty-four hour flu, either. He'd lost his extra ten pounds and then some, leaving him with the haggard look of a wasting sickness. And the physical frailty, if the debilitated way he leaned against the high school gates was any indication. Desperation had brought him here, forced him to stand and bar our path, when by all rights he should have been bedridden. I could see it in his sunken eyes.
         Mm-hm?
         Oh, I have forgotten about Xiaoyu, haven't I? Yes, she was there too. While I was intently trying to peruse the deep, personal subtext between Wulong and Jin, she seemed oblivious to it all. She was too blinded with delight, and the look of familiar happiness on her face suggested that it wasn't just because she was meeting a movie star. Like Jin, she knew Wulong from her past.
         I remember thinking that Wulong had better not be her stepfather too. I couldn't make any sense of Jin and Xiaoyu as siblings.
         "Lei!" Xiaoyu cried, and suddenly rushed him. I stared, wide-eyed. Jin's lightning abruptly flickered off, as if the young girl had inadvertently pulled out an invisible power cord. Wulong himself looked dumbfounded as she threw herself at him, in a joyous embrace that probably came close to crushing his ribs.
         "Lei! I missed you so much after you left the Temple how have you been it's been so long they still practice your Phoenix style there and now you're here for the Iron Fist aren't you I'm in it too really I am Heihachi invited me and-"
         She had to stop and take a breath. No, it was more than simply running out of air; she was...
         Crying?
         "U-uncle Wang," she half whispered, half sobbed. "He... h-he's..."
         "I heard," Wulong answered, his startled expression softening into sadness. He returned her hug and tousled her ponytailed hair, paternally. "I'm sorry, Pixie. He was a good man."
         "H-he wanted me to take him to Heihachi, he begged me, b-but seeing Heihachi was too hard on him, it was too much of a strain-"
         "Ssh. It's not your fault, you know that. It was just his time."
         "Get AWAY from him!" Jin shrieked.
         Hmm. How should I describe this? A moment before, Jin had looked vengeful, perhaps even sadistic, as he tortured Wulong with words. This was different. Now, Jin was acting genuinely panicked. As if he were outright terrified of something.
         No - as if he were terrified for someone.
         For Xiaoyu? Why? I mean, I knew he was fond of her, but why did he think she was in danger?
         "What's wrong?" Xiaoyu asked him, letting go of Wulong and wiping tears from her eyes.
         "Xiaoyu, no!"
         "I don't understand," she said, plaintively. "Why don't you like Lei?"
         "Step away from him, Xiaoyu. Go back to the syndicate. Don't walk; run."
         "You're not answering my question!"
         "Pixie, listen to me," Wulong hoarsely broke in. "Seung Mina is awfully worried about you. So is the whole Temple of Light. They asked me to find you and tell you. They want you to come home, right now."
         "B-but-" she stammered, turning back to him. Then she swallowed, and quietly asked, "Seung Mina's not mad at me?"
         "No, sweetheart. No one's mad at you. But you're getting too deep into a deadly Tournament, and Heihachi Mishima is a dangerous man. The whole Temple is afraid for you, and they want you home where you'll be safe."
         "Xiaoyu, DON'T go with him!" Jin exclaimed, half furious, half fearful. "If you want to return to the Temple then I'll talk to Grandfather about it, but-"
         "What's wrong with you? Why are you mad at Lei!?" she yelled back, getting caught up in the hyper press of emotion.
         "Not now! Just go home!"
         Xiaoyu stood there, bewildered, in the middle of a crossroads. She looked at Wulong, looked at Jin, and even looked at me, but I had no answers for her.
         "Are you really his dad?" she perplexedly asked Wulong, pointing to Jin with her whole arm outstretched.
         "Yeah."
         "I thought his dad was Kazuya."
         "It's a long story."
         "Do you need me to protect you from him? He looks mad enough to beat you up."
         "It's not that simple, sweetheart. There's some things we have to work out, and the only way you can help us is by keeping yourself safe."
         "You sure?"
         "Yeah."
         "But he doesn't think I'm safe around you, and you don't think I'm safe around his grandpa. So no matter what I do, one of you won't think I'm safe."
         Wulong opened his mouth, but couldn't think of an answer, so he closed it again without saying anything.
         Xiaoyu turned to Jin and put her hands on her hips, defiantly.
         "I want a panda bear," she stated, with resolute conviction.
         Wulong said, "What?"
         Jin said, "What?"
         "You heard me, Jin, and you know what I'm talking about; I told you twice before already! I want you to get me a panda. If you promise to get me a real, live panda bear, then I promise I'll go straight back to the syndicate and wait for you and Lei to work things out. I don't know what's going on, but it makes me feel bad to see you hate him so much and I don't know what to do about it!"
         "Are you asking me for a bribe?" Jin interpreted, distastefully.
         "Call it what you want, I don't care. But this is about more than me getting a panda I want. I need to know you want me outta here because you're really worried about me, because you're afraid for real, not just because you hate Lei so much when you won't even tell me why. You promise me a real live panda, you promise me one when otherwise you'd never get me one in a million years, and then I'll know."
         "But..."
         "You promise me now or I'm staying with Lei!"
         Jin covered his face with one hand. "I... promise."
         "You promise me what?" she pressed, skeptically.
         "I promise I'll try to get you a live panda bear."
         "You'll try for real? Not a fake pretend try?"
         "All right, all right!" Jin snapped, removing his hand and meeting her piercing stare. "Just go back to the syndicate, now!"
         "Okay. It's a deal."
         "Pixie, sweetheart-" Wulong croaked.
         "No, Lei. I'm sorry." Xiaoyu looked back at him and shook her head, sadly. "I miss Seung Mina, but I couldn't go back to the Temple of Light even if I wanted to. I already - I already did something bad when I sneaked onto Heihachi's boat. I feel awful about that and I can't make it right, but I do have to fight in Heihachi's Iron Fist Tournament or else the bad thing I did will be for nothing. And I promised Heihachi I'd fight in his Tournament; he needs lots of strong people to fight in it, as many as he can find, and I promised him for real that I'd be in it. You know the Order of Light never, ever breaks a promise, you know that. Seung Mina got put in a wheelchair because she had to keep a promise she made to rescue me."
         "You're not a member of the Order of Light. You're not bound by their rules. You don't have to keep your promises to evil people!"
         "I'm sorry, Lei. You're splitting tiny little hairs and you know it. I'm old enough to make my own decisions and I just made one." Tears were brimming in her eyes again. "Why are you so sick? I thought Seung Mina and Uncle Wang cured you."
         "Relapse," Wulong sighed.
         "Aren't you gonna get better? Maybe you should go to a hospital..."
         "Xiaoyu!" Jin interrupted, sternly. "We have a deal. It's time to keep your side of the bargain."
         "Lei?" she pressed, sorrowfully. "Is it really that bad?"
         "Yeah," he admitted, with a tired nod. "It is."
         "I'm..."
         Two shining trails spilled down Xiaoyu's cheeks. She choked on one last sob, and cried, "I'm sorry!"
         Xiaoyu tore away from us then, sprinting at incredible speed, out the gates and down the street. I could practically imagine her tears glittering in the wind.
         "Now you," Jin said, looking at me.
         I folded my arms. "I'm not going anywhere. She might be willing to leave without learning what's going on, but I'm not. And don't even think about trying to buy me off."
         Jin slapped his hand over his face again, this time mouthing a silent curse.
         Wulong glanced at me. I can't be certain of what was going through his head, but I can guess. My guess is that he believed - rightly - that nothing would move me. Not until I'd learned the whole story about him, his stepson, and the rift that had grown between them. Perhaps, like Jin, he also recognized the 'truth-seeker' drive in my soul. Or maybe I'm wrong; maybe he just didn't have the strength to worry about a stranger listening to his family problems, I don't know.
         "Jin. Read my mind," Wulong entreated, earnestly.
         Jin removed his hand from his face. "What?"
         "Four and a half years ago, you were in no shape to try and I was in no shape to let you. It's different now. I have to get through to you, and I don't care what it takes. Heihachi is planning to murder you, and you can't even see it!"
         Jin's upper lip lifted in a feral snarl.
         "Please," Wulong begged, his head falling forward for lack of support. "Then you'll know I'm telling the truth. I'm telling the truth about everything."
         "Go to Hell," Jin rebuked. Another twist of the knife.
         "Wait a minute," I interjected. "Why-"
         "This is none of your business!" Jin asserted, turning to me.
         "-don't you want to read his mind? Is there something you're afraid of finding out?"
         "Are you calling me a coward?"
         "Will it get a straight ANSWER out of you if I do!?" I shot back, throwing up my hands in exasperation. "I don't know why you're so angry with him, but I would hate to think it's because of some stupid misunderstanding that you're too stubborn to look at twice!"
         Jin's snarl turned hateful.
         He ignored me, and confronted Wulong with the full brunt of his loathing. "I will have nothing to do with any part of your mind. I can feel ripples of it from here, and it makes me sick. Your guilt. Your darkness. Your dirty secret, that you've lied about for twenty years." Jin pointed at Wulong, in ultimate accusation. "You murdered my real father in cold blood. After he was broken, helpless, and at your mercy, you murdered him to sate your lust for revenge! And you abandoned my mother to the Toshin; you ran away and let it take her soul!"
         "I..." Wulong shuddered, visibly. "I didn't know it was coming for her... she sent me away..."
         "Don't pretend! You must have seen the same warning signs I did; how could you not know!? Your own shame betrays you!"
         "I didn't kill Kazuya," Wulong pleaded. "He took his own life - the Devil made him-"
         "YOU'RE HIDING THE TRUTH AND YOU KNOW IT!" Jin exploded. "You think I can't FEEL it? You think I can't SEE it? The blood is dripping from your hands even as we speak, right before my eyes; the blood of your guilt, the blood of the crime you can't bear to confess!"
         "Read my mind. Please. Then you'll know what happened. It's the only way."
         Jin closed his hand in a fist, and brought it on level with his chin. Indigo energy blazed about it, in a shining firework display. "There is only one reason why I'm not taking revenge on you now, and that's because Grandfather needs you for the Iron Fist."
         Wulong straightened, no longer leaning on the gate. For an instant, his naturally brown eyes changed color; they flashed blood-red like cursed rubies. "You're not running away from me this time, son. You're not calling your damned bodyguards to hustle me from your sight. You are not getting past me, you are not taking one step outside this school, until you read my mind."
         "Crawl in a gutter and die."
         "It isn't going to happen."
         Lei Wulong removed his cloak.
         If this had been a movie, he would have whipped it off in a supremely valiant gesture, and cast it to the swirling winds. But this wasn't a movie, and he was no longer the picturesque superstar, so he just undid its clasp and limply tossed it by the courtyard's iron gate.
         Beneath the cloak, Wulong was dressed to fight.
         His flamboyant costume had to be made of the finest silk. His brilliant, spring green surcoat shined in the waning sunlight; daisy-white trim crested its hem, collar, inner lining, and rolled-up sleeves. Small, darker green stitching patterns blended with the surcoat's rippling fabric, and when he turned to throw away his cloak, I glimpsed a blue-and-white, fire-shaped symbol on the surcoat's back. The surcoat wrapped over his upper body; small, circular gold pins fastened its fold near his right shoulder. A seamless black sash around his midriff further secured the surcoat. The surcoat's trailing flaps parted on his right side; while the front flap reached midway down his thighs, the back flap dangled practically to his calves. I could see gold embroidery on the white inner lining of his back surcoat flap. The embroidery was an exquisitely tailored image of a Chinese dragon. Make that an Imperial dragon, high ruler of the heavens, for it had five claws per foot.
         Wulong's blousy, cerise-colored pants complemented his surcoat with an equally vivid shine; they were decorated with scattered gold embroidery of smaller Imperial dragons and pearls caught in branching coral. The pants gathered at the ankles, about a pair of plain white socks and flat-soled, slip-on black shoes.
         Wulong's vibrant costume drew my notice for a special reason. It appeared more alive than he was. Without the cloak to conceal the hollows of his wasting body, the sheer extent of his illness went from subtly apparent to painfully obvious. Even his sable hair seemed sickly. A dark red binder gathered the oily, clumping strands behind his head. The luxurious, feathery ponytail of his later movies had degenerated to a stiff tangle, reaching down his back and tapering in a point. Like a frayed piece of rope, dipped in a sticky substance.
         Wulong folded his left arm over his right, and defiantly tossed his head a slight amount. Jin rested his right hand on his hip, and unconsciously tossed his head in exactly the same manner. If I hadn't already been convinced these two were related, that would have done it.
         "Does it have to come to this?" I quietly asked, as I perceived what Jin and his stepfather were preparing to do. "Are you sure you can't-"
         "Quiet. I'll talk to you later," Jin stated, curtly.
         I wondered if I should physically intervene, and try to prevent senseless violence between father and son. My heart said yes; Wulong's body looked too enfeebled to withstand a single blow, let alone a fight. But my head said no; this situation was not the same as when Jin had mistakenly attacked Hwoarang.
         Wulong was guilty of something. Something that he'd kept hidden inside for twenty years. Even I could see traces of it in his haunted face, now that I knew what to look for. I didn't know whether Wulong had truly murdered Kazuya. Yet Jin's telepathy was a powerful divining tool; he would not have seen metaphorical blood on his stepfather's hands without a reason.
         Why couldn't Wulong confess in plain words? Why did Jin recoil from finding out the truth for himself? These were questions that only they could answer. I remembered, however, what Wulong had said to Xiaoyu - that there was nothing she could do to help him and his stepson work out their difficulties. And if she couldn't help them, then what chance did I have? I didn't even know Wulong, nor did I have the advantage of Xiaoyu's exuberant charm. Maybe the only way to quench Jin's lightning temper, and to soften Wulong's psychological bulwark, was for the two of them to have it out.
         I don't know. Sometimes, when I'm feeling cynical, I hypothesize that there's a certain property innate to the Y chromosome. It makes men incapable of attaining enlightenment without first beating someone up.
         Wulong put up his fists and hunched part-way forward, either settling in a protective fighting stance or warding off a dizzy spell. He was constantly moving, taking short side-steps to the left or the right; not at a particularly fast pace, but with a steady enough rhythm to make his stepson continually readjust. Jin adopted his straight-backed, Mishima-style karate stance, glaring at his stepfather through slitted eyes.
         But Jin did not attack.
         I think - I think his conscience was restraining him. Jin can sometimes appear menacing, but he is not one who takes pleasure in hurting the sick. Not even when spurred by seething hatred.
         "Last chance," Jin hissed. "Run away. Like you ran from the Toshin."
         "I didn't run from it. I turned around and ran toward it, from the moment the sky turned black. It was you and your mother who had to run away, wasn't it? Only your mother couldn't run fast enough."
         Wulong's verbal barb was low and throaty, tearing at the seams of a poorly healed wound. I looked in his eyes, and saw a reflected inner cringe. It had hurt him to say the words, at least as much as it hurt his stepson. But the taunt had the desired effect.
         Jin attacked.
         He charged headlong, crouching almost to a kneel and erupting into a powerful leaping uppercut. Stray electric crackles danced on his upraised left fist. It could have battered Wulong unconscious, if he had stayed still long enough for the blow to connect; but the detective darted to Jin's right, instantly responding to the telegraphed assault. Jin tried to lash out with a mid-level straight kick as he landed from his jump, but Wulong already had the advantage, and he used it. Narrowly evading Jin's kick, Wulong stepped into a razor-fast succession of punches. He kept his back straight and his chin tucked, bending his knees in a wide-legged horse stance, as he powered a succession of straight-armed fist blows from his torso. Alternating left-right, he struck Jin's ribs four times, and then snapped the ball of his right foot at his stepson's chest. He scored a direct hit on the brown-and-black school uniform patch sewn over Jin's heart. Jin staggered; he would have been knocked off his feet, had Wulong been in full health.
         Wulong assumed the Art of the Crane.
         As soon as he retracted his kick, he balanced on the ball of his right foot, lifting his arms and left knee as if pulled by invisible strings. His open hands settled high above his head, in an upward-drifting V-shape, and his left knee remained drawn above waist level, with the toes pointed down. Wulong released the tight fold of his left knee long enough to take a single step closer to his opponent, then resumed his avian pose perfectly, as graceful as the Crane itself.
         What's that?
         No, actually. I don't practice the animal Arts myself; just basic kempo, blended with a little assorted miscellany. However, I have long had a passing interest in reading this or that about various Chinese martial arts; it's one of my lesser hobbies. That's how I could recognize Wulong's Art of the Crane. I suppose anyone familiar with assorted kung fu movies would also have known it, instantly.
         I guess Jin hadn't seen enough movies, though. Because even as he recovered from Wulong's flurry, his forehead furrowed in puzzlement, and I saw him straining to calculate the strengths and weaknesses of an unexpected new style. Hadn't Wulong taught his own fighting Arts to his stepson?
         Then again, if I interpreted Wulong's words correctly, he hadn't been on speaking terms with Jin for over four years. Perhaps the detective had acquired a few new techniques in the meantime.
         "Is that the best you've learned from Heihachi?" called the Crane.
         Jin ground his teeth. As always, his face betrayed his intentions well before his body moved. I could practically see him thinking 'To hell with it, I'm taking the bastard down,' as he twisted his body clockwise, all the way about. His extended right heel gathered torque, and he jerked his arms to accelerate his spinning roundhouse, aimed at Wulong's face.
         But the Crane was faster.
         It was at once both swift and mysterious, Wulong's mimicry of the crane's elegant dance. He leaned forward and snapped his folded left leg in a high-hitting kick from the knee, clipping Jin's chin and breaking the oncoming roundhouse. Wulong turned, keeping his arms aloft in birdlike suspension; he looked over his shoulder as he made a backward stab with his right heel. The heel strike dislodged his stepson's shin. As Jin stumbled, Wulong swept his right elbow even as a crane flaps its wing, batting Jin's chest. Wulong completed the dance with a final, skyscraper-tall vertical kick that grazed his stepson's face and pushed him completely off-balance.
         Jin landed on his back. He immediately put his hands behind his head, arched his spine, and whipped to his feet in a kippup. A trickle of blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth, and his face tightened with ire.
         Wulong assumed the Art of the Snake.
         Aligning his body to mimic the coils of a rearing serpent, he balanced on his left leg. This time, however, he kept his stable foot nearly flat on the ground, while raising his bent right knee no higher than the waist. His arms aligned in a fluid S-curve. His right hand posed as the snake's head, palm down, fingers curving like serpent fangs.
         "If you can't handle me, you won't have a chance against the Toshin," hissed the Snake.
         The Snake lashed out with its venomous bite.
         This time, Jin was not so headstrong as to stumble into a new attack. He braced his guard against the one-two strike of the snake's head, mid-level punches poking at his midriff and meeting only the barrier of his forearms. But the last bite struck low, as Wulong stepped far forward on his legs and scored another hit on his stepson's left shin. It wasn't enough to make Jin fall, but it distracted him for a split second.
         Wulong assumed the Art of the Panther.
         Crouching part-way like a stalking cat, he kept his head up and stretched his arms as feline claws; his left arm fully extended, his right with a downward bend at the elbow. His hands drifted in small vertical circles, as if kneading the air, and he pushed the bulk of his weight on his forward left foot, sole flat on the ground, leg almost square-shaped and bent at the knee. Recovering from his shin scrape, Jin also adopted a lunging, mid-level stance, in order to belt the crouching Panther with a powerful, straight-fisted blow.
         The Panther was faster.
         I didn't clearly see the first hit of its double scratch, only the blur of Wulong's left hand making a low, outward swipe. Jin released a premature puff of breath as once again, Wulong disrupted his stepson's attack. Wulong's back leg pushed from the ball of the foot, twisting his upper body counterclockwise, and spinning his right hand to rake his stepson's face. Jin reeled. The feline momentarily remained poised in the instant of its pounce, arms spread wide and clawing.
         "No wonder you couldn't save your mother," growled the Panther.
         I'd like to offer an aside here, lest you acquire any mistaken impressions.
         It may seem to you, listening to me so patiently, that Lei Wulong was pounding Jin Kazama into the dirt. Not a chance. If Wulong had been at full strength, or even half strength, then maybe. But the detective's sickness had drained him. His attacks were more like light cuffs than true, body-breaking blows. Take his stepson's self-healing Power into account, and perhaps you'll understand why Jin's worst injury was the bloody lip.
         I don't think Wulong was deliberately pulling his punches, either. Oh, I'm sure the detective wasn't about to attempt a crippling or lethal technique on his stepson. However, Wulong didn't look like he was watering down his blows, or trying to restrain their full impact. I've sparred with Catsclaw a few times in the past; I know what it is to aim a couple inches short of your real target. No, it's just that Wulong's illness thoroughly robbed his strength.
         Also, allow me to say a few things in Jin's defense. I've seen him fight, and I know that usually, he is much more effective at it. Wulong had a few special advantages, though. He read his stepson like an open book, something that was, in fact, not terribly difficult to do. Jin's face plainly betrayed his emotions to me, who had known him for only a couple days. How much clearer must it have been to Wulong, who had raised him?
         Furthermore, bear in mind that Wulong knew exactly what he was doing. He was baiting Jin with precisely chosen taunts. The detective's words would have been biting enough under ordinary circumstances; what made them even more effectual was that his stepson had recently completed a school day. That is, Jin had just endured nine, long hours of unceasing stress on his psychic barriers. Jin was in peak physical condition, but psychologically, he was at his weakest. I'm convinced it was no accident that Wulong chose to confront his stepson at the school courtyard, and at that time of the afternoon.
         Finally, I'd like to point out that once Wulong had gained the cerebral advantage, he further reinforced it with a medley of perplexing and oddly fantastic Arts. Every time he rebuked an attack from Jin, he aggravated his stepson further. Between the verbal barbs and the exotic assaults, Wulong thoroughly trapped his stepson in an escalating cycle of mindless, headstrong frustration.
         I knew that Jin had the skill to trap and crush stepfather's limbs, as well as the speed to outmaneuver him. If Jin had been thinking clearly, he could have used his skill, speed, and vastly superior strength to end this fight before it began. Instead, he only became further mired in a self-defeating spiral. Indigo lightning cascaded about him as he screamed, "That's IT! Now you DIE!"
         Of course, it was an egregious mistake on Jin's part to stop and howl the threat. For his vituperation gave Wulong plenty of time to assume the Art of the Drunken Master.
         Wulong started to sway and stagger, keeping his left side turned toward his stepson. The detective extended his left hand, while his other drifted semi-protectively over his torso. His head lolled, precipitously, as he sidestepped in a zigzag pattern.
         Jin struck, this time with one of the fastest attacks I've seen him make: a high, simple straight punch with his left hand. I'm sure he intended to follow it up with worse, but he never had the opportunity. For the Drunken Master gripped his arm and guided its momentum as if it were all part of the natural stumble, at once both pushing and pulling Jin right past his target.
         An absolutely startled expression crossed Jin's face. Looking over his shoulder, he extended his right leg behind him in a high-hitting mule kick, but Wulong half-crouched, half-rolled sideways under Jin's heel. And so the detective succeeded in dodging completely behind his stepson. With a sharp yell, Wulong pulled Jin back by the collar of his school uniform, unbalancing him. As if sliding in an elaborate tango move, the detective swung by his collar hold and slid on his back, whisking his ankles in a rear attack at his stepson's feet. Jin started to sway backward, flinging out his arms; they coursed well over the supine detective's head. Wulong righted himself with a reverse swing. A vein throbbed in the detective's temple; with a strangled cry, he committed all his dwindling strength into a heavy push to Jin's back. Wulong's effort was just barely enough to shove his stepson face-first on the courtyard, next to the iron gate.
         Wulong completed his ambush with an elbow drop. Like a falling tree, he flung himself at his stepson, turning his back in midair and bending his right arm for a smack to Jin's exposed shoulder blades.
         It was the detective's first and last mistake.
         Though Jin's outrage diminished his skill, his instincts were still in effect. He rolled lengthwise to avoid a bruise, even as Wulong hit the courtyard supine. The detective tried to trip his stepson, scrambling from the ground to sweep his right leg in a low, wide arc. He missed; not because Jin had anticipated him, but rather because Jin was already flipping head over heels in a new assault. Heedless of his own back hitting the hard pavement, Jin brought both feet down heavily upon Wulong's side, summoning a jolt of electricity and bellowing an infuriated cry. The whack of the impact made me wince, as it had the vicious double effect of pummeling Wulong's midsection and crushing him against the stony ground.
         Wulong couldn't get up.
         A coughing fit gripped him; he struggled and choked. A small amount of blood trickled from his mouth, in a disturbing parody of his stepson. He tried to push his back off the ground with his arms, but he gasped, convulsed, and collapsed.
         I'd suspected that Wulong couldn't withstand a single hit, not in his weakened state. Yet, to actually see such a masterful, devious martial artist rendered helpless by one, unthinking shot... it wrenched my heart.
         Jin wasn't paying attention, though. He couldn't see that his opponent had been crushed; he could see nothing beyond his own outrage. Voicing a furious howl, he sailed in a high leap and landed hard on Wulong, his knees battering the detective's chest. Shock and horror trapped me, as Jin wrathfully alternated blows to his stepfather's face.
         "STOP IT!" I screamed. I rushed forward, grabbing Jin's upraised fist-


         -and I felt the pain.
         I knew that Wulong's taunts had struck a nerve, but I hadn't guessed they cut this deep. In a sense, Jin hadn't been fighting his stepfather at all; he had been fighting the Toshin's shadow. I saw a flashing replay of Jun Kazama in the Toshin's unholy grip, and the felt the agony of Jin's past helplessness. He hadn't been able to save her, neither by running nor fighting, and the rage he felt was stirred more by his own perceived weakness than anything else - he couldn't save her, why couldn't he save her-?


         "Stay out of this!" Jin commanded, wrenching free his hand and severing the link of physical contact. However, he also quit pummeling Wulong. Perhaps he had felt a dose of my own revulsion through the link, mitigating his merciless brutality.
         "This fight is over," I declared. "You won. You won before you threw the first punch."
         Jin bared his teeth, ferociously, but I met him with a steady gaze. Eventually he broke eye contact, and looked down at his stepfather.
         Wulong groaned and coughed. Blood streamed from his nose and mouth, and bruises mashed his face, but he wasn't as badly hurt as he could have been.
         Jin stepped back from his stepfather and gritted his teeth, disgustedly.
         I retrieved Wulong's cloak, and used it in an attempt to clean the blood from his face. His coughing lessened. He reached, feebly, for the iron gate. Even gripping it as a stable hold, he couldn't pull himself up, so I helped him settle in a half-sitting position with his back to the wall. That seemed to alleviate his respiratory distress, for his breathing settled into a windy yet regular wheeze.
         "That's enough," Jin said to me, sounding irritated. "You and I are leaving. Now."
         "Aren't you forgetting something?" I returned.
         "Like what."
         "Like reading his mind."
         Jin folded his arms and looked away, disdainfully.
         "Your own mental health isn't at too great a risk if he consents, is it? Now that you've had your petty revenge, give me one good reason why you shouldn't scan his memories, and find out the whole truth for yourself."
         "Because he wants me to."
         "Great Spirit. You really are petty."
         "Don't pass judgement on me. And don't even think about volunteering to look through his memories in my place. I'd send you to Antarctica before I'd send you inside his head."
         "Son..." Wulong all but whispered, despairingly reaching out his hand. I tried to think of an appeal that would mollify Jin.
         "Don't you want to know how Kazuya died?"
         "I already know!"
         "You know what you've been told. You know the echoes that your empathy can feel. But you haven't seen for yourself, and if you don't look now, you may never have another chance. Why don't you want to know?"
         Jin unfolded his arms and rested his right hand on his hip, confronting me in the same manner as when he had squared off against his stepfather.
         "You just can't stop, can you? Always digging. Always prying. It's your biggest passion, figuring out everything you can about other people. But it's not the same when you think about yourself, is it? You belong to a higher standard than all those other human puzzle-boxes wandering around, hiding their exciting little secrets."
         "Are you calling me a hypocrite?"
         "Will it get you off my case if I do?"
         "Not if you don't have any evidence to support your accusation."
         "You've never tried to track down your real parents, have you?"
         Uh-oh.
         I've slighted Jin for being easy to read, but as I look to that day, I suppose that I was no better. Because his harsh query stunned me, drained what I was going to say, drained the defiance from my lips and cheeks and eyes. I was left paralyzed, slack-jawed, and inwardly scrambling to rebuild a sudden breech in my psychological defenses.
         "I know you were adopted. Why is it that you, whose insatiable curiosity drives you to relentlessly peer into my life, doesn't want to know who gave birth to you? Or who fathered you?" As a final repartee, Jin pointed to me and challenged, "What are you afraid of finding out?"
         My mouth shut itself. I couldn't think of any words to reopen it.
         The cutting harshness left Jin's face. He let his hand drop and sighed, "Come on, Julia. Let's just go home."
         "But..."
         "You don't have to worry about him," he added, with a dismissing motion toward Wulong. "I'll arrange for him to be taken back to Tokyo Mishima General Hospital."
         "No!" the detective gasped, fearfully.
         Jin looked down on Wulong like an unwanted stray dog. "What else am I supposed to do with you? Leave you for the groundskeeper to sweep into the trash?"
         "Please..."
         I cleared my throat, drawing their attention.
         "My grandmother found me when I was an infant. Naked, alone, and left to perish in the Arizona desert. Do you know, there are places just south of there which still have problems with black market adoption rings? Kidnappers who steal healthy babies, and then sell them to desperate, childless couples? My grandmother tells me that I was healthy. But my biological parents didn't even bother selling me for cash; they just left me to die.
         "My mother never wanted me. My father either felt the same, or didn't care enough to learn that I existed. Now, they're both either dead, or they still don't care, and I'll tell you how I know that. I know that because I grew up hardly a few miles from where my grandmother found me. If my parents ever had a change of heart, all they'd have to do is go back to where they left me, and ask around. There aren't that many abandoned, adopted white girls on the reservation.
         "My parents never wanted me, and they still don't. So I don't want anything to do with them. That's why I haven't tried to learn their identities. What would I do, once I knew who they were? Sue them both for child abandonment?
         "You're different, Jin. Your natural mother loved you. And your natural father didn't mean to abandon you; he never had the chance to learn about you.
         "Um," I suddenly faltered, as I realized I wasn't speaking from complete certainty anymore. Glancing at Wulong, I asked, "That is right, isn't it? Kazuya didn't know he was going to be a...?"
         "No. He didn't," the detective whispered, hoarsely.
         I nodded and stood up, looking Jin in the eye. "Kazuya was your father. And... and he was Heihachi's son, too. I know you love your grandfather, Jin. For his sake, for your stepfather's sake, and most of all for your own sake... don't you want to know?"
         Jin closed his jet black eyes.
         When he opened them again, his hatred of Wulong was still there. But it was diminished, set on a back burner to quietly cool.
         "Are you willing to show me how my father died?" he asked Wulong, neutrally.
         The detective managed a single, weakened nod.
         "Then do it."
         Jin didn't touch Wulong. I think he didn't need to; his telepathy was that powerful. He simply extended his hand, palm out.
         Seconds passed.
         Wulong shuddered.
         The snarl returned to Jin's lips, and the hatred in his eyes started to simmer once more. "You're blocking me."
         "No..."
         "You're blocking me!" Jin's fingers curled like tiger claws.
         "No, I - I'm trying-"
         "What do you expect me to do? Tear apart the inside of your head? Reduce your mind to the level of a six-year-old child!?"
         Jin tried to sound threatening, but he couldn't mask the pain that colored his words. He blinked, furiously. As if he were holding back tears.
         Either a hundred seconds or a hundred years later, Jin lowered his arm.
         "This isn't working," he told his stepfather. "Too much of you is refusing to let it go."
         I asked, "What if you tried again when he was unconscious?"
         "No good," Jin denied. "It's his unconscious mind that resists me the most."
         "Please," Wulong implored.
         "Shut up. Just shut up and-" Jin stopped, shook his head, and exhaled a deep breath. "No more games. No more mind probes. Just tell me, all right? Tell me how my father died. Tell me the meaning of what I saw."
         "I didn't... kill Kazuya..."
         "Then why do you have his blood on your hands? Why do you feel the shame of a monstrous lie?" Jin crouched next to his stepfather, fixing him with a stern, unyielding gaze. "Don't try to show me with your mind. Just talk to me. Tell me why, deep in your heart, you feel like you murdered my father in cold blood. I'll know if you're being truthful or not."
         Wulong's lips parted as if to speak. Moments passed, but he couldn't utter a single word.
         "Is it because you're the one who defeated Kazuya?" I gently asked the detective. "Do you blame yourself for causing his suicide?"
         "It's worse than that," Jin answered for him, without turning to look at me. "I'd know if it were nothing more than misappropriated remorse. It's much more vile. Jealous. Vengeful. Premeditated. Motive, means, and opportunity. Blood on the floor, ice in the soul. As ruthless as the Devil that possessed my father. Its murderous red eyes, reflected in shards of the broken mirror. Reflected in his own eyes. He won't let it go. Part of him wants to confess, but only a part. The rest of him wants to bury it forever. He's terrified I'll hate him even more than I already do, if I learn it's in him. It's holding him back. I can't get to it without destroying him."
         "You don't have to talk about me like I'm not here," Wulong mumbled.
         "Fine, then. Take it to your grave. It doesn't make a difference."
         Jin stood. The weariness of a horrible strain made his shoulders slump, and sapped the ferocity of his hatred. "Don't come near me again. I can't forgive you for what you did."
         "Didn't come for forgiveness," Wulong wheezed. "Came to save you..."
         "It's the same thing, isn't it? Because of what you did to my mother and father, you desperately long to redeem yourself by 'saving' their son. It isn't that easy. You'll just have to take all the darkness inside you to whatever gods you do or don't believe in.
         "You already have an avalanche of good deeds to balance the scales, anyway," Jin added, tiredly. "Turning back the Great Invasion, protecting the innocent as 'Super Police.' I'm sure that will be more than enough to save your wretched soul."
         "Heihachi is planning to murder you," Wulong breathed.
         "You really believe that, don't you? You have to believe it, you pathetic, dying animal. Because if you can't stay alive to 'save' me, then what do you have left to live for?
         "But you're wrong about Grandfather. All you know of him is what he used to be, and what he used to do to my real father. What you don't understand is how much he has changed. He is trying to redeem himself, not to earn my forgiveness, not to save his own soul, but because he knows it is the right thing to do. He has promised to help me save the world from the Toshin. Grandfather always keeps his promises, even you know that.
         "It doesn't matter what happens afterward. It doesn't matter even if I die too. What matters is that I'm going to avenge my mother."
         "Not fighting like that you won't," Wulong coughed.
         For a moment, Jin's brow darkened; then the weariness returned, lessening his raw displeasure. "It was pretty bad, wasn't it."
         "Atrocious," I chimed in, helpfully.
         "I must train harder," Jin said, looking at the ground.
         Wulong rasped, "You've grown much stronger, and you've learned more. But you still have two crucial weaknesses. You show what you're thinking on your face; it's too easy for an enemy to read your moves. You need to become like water: your mind clear, your face expressionless, your soul focused exclusively on the fight. And worse, you're not controlling your emotions. You let yourself be baited. All I have to do is say a few words about your mother, and you forget your skill, your tactics, everything. If you can't make peace with her memory... if you can't let the pain and hatred go... you will lose. Just like Kazuya lost to me."
         Wulong closed his eyes. His breathing settled into a slow, scratchy rhythm.
         Jin's fists clenched and unclenched. Though he clearly didn't want to hear his stepfather's advice, he was too intelligent to ignore it.
         At last, Jin forced his arms to relax. Turning to me, he asked, "Now will you come home?"
         "I'm sorry. I can't, not yet. You go ahead."
         "You're not staying with him," Jin growled, jerking his thumb at Wulong.
         "We can't just leave him here."
         "You heard him; he doesn't want to go back to the hospital."
         "I need some time to think. To figure out what to do."
         "Julia, no. He's too dangerous."
         "Sure he is. If I'm not careful, he just might bleed on me."
         "What on earth do you want with him, anyway?"
         I was beginning to get annoyed. It's not that I was especially angry with Jin, but he was pestering me when I'd told him I needed time to think. That's one of my pet peeves; when I'm trying to think, I don't like to be distracted. So I snapped, "I want to take him to a cheap hotel and sleep with him, what do you think?"
         I expected a hostile retort from Jin, but instead he blanched three shades paler.
         "You're joking," he insisted, his eyes growing wide with dread as gripped my shoulders with both hands. "Please tell me you're joking."
         Uhh...
         "Yes, Jin, I'm joking."
         And, um, I thought it was rather obvious?
         Jin steadied himself with a deep breath. "Grandfather and I are responsible for your safety, for as long as you're living with us. I nearly got killed once, wandering the streets of Tokyo alone; I couldn't forgive myself if anything like that happened to you."
         "Umm... I'll be fine, Jin." With cautious delicacy, I removed his hands from my shoulders. "I can't spend every second of my time inside either the school or the syndicate. And don't you dare assign any bodyguards to watch me. Heihachi tried to offer that when he proposed an alliance, and I refused."
         "Then take this."
         I received his gift, and studied it curiously.
         It was a curling band, made of some moderately durable material. It felt smooth, like plastic, and had a blue-and-white diamond pattern on one surface.
         "You wear it on your arm," Jin explained. "Let me show you."
         I was a little disconcerted, but not enough to protest as he wrapped the band like a bracelet on my upper arm. The band folded about my skin, and naturally retained its shape.
         "What is it?" I asked.
         "A distress beacon. If you're in trouble, squeeze it twice in rapid succession, and it'll summon the Tekkenshu to help you. We just finished the working prototypes yesterday."
         "Uh-huh. What else does it do?"
         "What do you mean?"
         "Is there a hidden listening device in it? Or a micro-camera?"
         "No, nothing like that, absolutely not." Jin's eyebrows twitched, and he briefly bit his lower lip.
         "Really. Does Xiaoyu have one of these?"
         "Since yesterday night. She wears it under her uniform. I have one, too."
         "So why did you wait until now to offer me this one?"
         "I, uh, thought I was pushing you when I talked you into trying your new job. Didn't want to press my luck too hard, all at once." Jin cleared his throat. "If you're not home by nightfall, I'll try to contact you telepathically. If I can't get an answer, I'll have every Tekkenshu in the city search for you."
         "Umm..."
         "And if you threaten her in any way," Jin warned Wulong, "I'll make you beg for death."
         Then again, maybe this was as much free rein as I was going to get. "All right. But if I do answer your telepathy, and I tell you to leave me in peace, you'll respect that?"
         Jin sighed, and nodded. "Come back soon. Please."
         He walked away then, shaking his head somewhat. I could almost see him resisting the urge to look back over his shoulder.
         "I'll bet this thing has some kind of bug in it," I muttered, double-checking the innocent-looking armband.
         Wulong opened his eyes and said, "Let me see."
         Crouching next to him, I removed the armband and let him hold it.
         "Looks pretty clean," he decided, at last. "Not giving off infrared or ultraviolet radiation. No bugs or hidden cameras. No special chemicals, either. Just a simple distress beacon. Keep in mind, though, that the syndicate probably has the technology to locate this goody whether you activate its distress beacon or not. And therefore locate you, if you're wearing it."
         "I see."
         "There's also an enchantment on it."
         I knew Jin was holding something back. "So it is a spying device?"
         "Oh, my son doesn't need any devices to spy on you. He inherited his Power from Kazuya, and Kazuya used to be a master diviner, among other things. He could summon images from anywhere in the world, into his mirrors. But Jin's a good kid; his mother and I did our best to raise him right. He wouldn't intrude on your privacy unless he believed it was a matter of life or death.
         "No, this little spell is just a basic life sign monitor. If you're wearing the armband, then its enchantment keeps track of your pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, and so on. It sends a warning to my son if you get hurt or sick. That's all."
         "How can you simply handle the thing and tell all that? Technology and sorcery both?"
         "Demon sensitivity."
         "You're kidding."
         "I wish. And, by the way..." He offered the armband back to me. When I moved to take it, he clasped my hand, kissed my fingers, and flashed a pseudo-lecherous smile. "Enchanté, mademoiselle. Have you a hotel of preference?"
         "Oh, shut up," I muttered, pulling away the band and putting it back on.
         He chuckled, a low, uneven sound that terminated in a cough.
         "Are you sure you shouldn't be in a hospital?" I asked, tentatively.
         His smarmy good humor faded. "If I check in there a second time, I won't check out until I'm dead."
         "But..."
         "No. Not another word. Not unless you know what it's like to be shot up with enough drugs to kill a horse."
         "...you can't even stand, can you?"
         "Not yet. After a nap, maybe."
         "I doubt the school will let you sleep here."
         "I only need a half hour. Then I'll be healed enough."
         "How can you heal yourself? You're not a sorcerer, are you?"
         "No, no... it's a long story. Short version is, Kazuya once decided to play God with me, body and soul. I eventually got my soul back, but a lot of what he did to my body was permanent."
         "Oh?"
         "I heal fast. From most things, anyway. My cells are a lot tougher than average; they just don't give up. You think a normal man could keep all his hair through months of chemotherapy?"
         Chemotherapy?
         "You're dying of cancer," I realized. "And it can't be effectively treated, not even with sorcery, because your cancerous cells are every bit as preternaturally hard to kill as your healthy cells."
         "Eh, tell me about it. It's not all Kazuya's fault, though. Given what I used to do to my liver, I'm lucky it lasted for this long."
         "Look, um... Detective?"
         "Just my name is fine."
         "First or last?"
         "Doesn't matter. Lots of folks confuse 'em anyway."
         "Okay, uh, Wulong. If you won't go to a hospital, then do you have anyplace else? Any friends who can help you?"
         "I have storehouses."
         "Storehouses?"
         "Places where I stashed stuff. Some of 'em date back to when I was planning to arrest Kazuya."
         "What kind of 'stuff'?"
         "Where'd you think I got these clothes? I sure wasn't going to confront my son in a flimsy hospital gown." Wulong managed a wink with his right eye. "Problem is, the storehouses with the most useful stuff are pretty widely scattered. I'm not sure I can reach all of them without running into Heihachi's goons."
         "I could go to them for you."
         "You're a sweet kid. Too sweet. I don't want you getting any deeper into my problems; I want you home with your grandmother. I'll bet Catsclaw's worried about you, too."
         This time, I made an effort to keep my surprise off my face, but I wasn't very successful.
         "You think I don't know who you are?" Wulong appraised. "Michelle Chang used to be in the Iron Fist. She and Catsclaw both fought against the Great Invasion. I never knew either of 'em very well, but I knew 'em. The last time I saw Catsclaw was a couple years ago; he mentioned you. Something about how you were growing up so fast. You should go see him again. And then you should go straight home."
         "Stop right there. Do you remember everything Xiaoyu told you, about why she had to stay and fight in the Iron Fist?"
         "Yeah."
         "Good. Then I don't have to repeat a similar speech."
         "Headstrong stubborn. Just like Michelle."
         That put a lump in my throat, and I felt a brief pang for the adoptive mother I never knew.
         "I mean it, sweetheart," Wulong stressed. "This isn't some cute TV show. You're messing with dangerous people. Your risk of getting crippled or killed in the Tournament alone is-"
         "Who are you to lecture me? You're in the Tournament, and you're too sick to fight a sparrow."
         "I don't have to, not yet. Old man Heihachi arranged a bye for me; my first match in the Iron Fist isn't for a few weeks. And in terms of potential lifespan, I've got a lot less at stake than you do."
         "I can handle myself."
         "Not in a professional blood-sport arena you can't. I know a little about your background; I'm in the habit of researching everyone in the Iron Fist. And I'll tell you this right now, sweetheart: going to the gym once or twice a month doesn't make you a martial artist."
         "Ling Xiaoyu is in the Tournament."
         "Ling Xiaoyu has been in nearly constant training for the past seven years. You don't have her experience, and you don't have her natural talent, either."
         This would have been less vexing to hear if I hadn't sat through a similar warning from someone else, earlier that day. "Heihachi murdered my grandfather, and stole the sacred treasure of my tribe. I have to avenge my family's honor!"
         "By getting yourself killed? Where's the honor in that?" Wulong made a sympathetic, tsk noise. "You've got courage, sweetheart, but he's got a horde of Tekkenshu soldiers in Tokyo alone. What do you think you can do to stop an army?"
         "Heihachi gave me his word that-"
         "Oh, I'm sure he promised you the freaking moon. He's a silver-tongued Devil and you know it."
         "I'm going to bring him to justice!"
         "You're not an undercover detective, and you don't have any backup. All you are is a young girl with a future. A future that you shouldn't throw away. If not for your own sake, then for your grandmother's. And for my son's."
         Wulong had to pause for a short coughing spell. "He likes you, you know. It would break his heart if you went and got yourself killed."
         "What in the Nation are you talking about?"
         "Heh. Can't you tell? I can. I used to be a young man too, once." His vocal tone dropped to a low, deadly rasp. "Listen to me, sweetheart. If you go back to the syndicate now, then outside of a divine miracle, I'd say your odds of surviving Heihachi's machinations are about one-quarter my son's. At least he has his Power to protect him; you have nothing. You can't expect him to protect you, either. He may be sweet on you, but he doesn't realize what Heihachi is. I'm terrified he won't understand the true threat until the old man murders both of you, and then it'll be too late."
         I should have listened, I suppose.
         It would have been the sane thing to do. Yet even though all of Wulong's words reached my ears, only certain ones registered. Only a small part of what he said touched me, and set off a chain reaction.
         "That's it," I said, excitedly. "That's what I have to do! Where I have to start, at least."
         "Eh?"
         "I can't expose Heihachi's crimes in a court of law, not yet. But if can gather enough evidence to convince Jin that Heihachi is a monster - if I can make him understand - then he'll be warned, and he'll have to turn against his grandfather. Once Jin is completely on our side-"
         "What the freaking hell do you think this is? A Cold War?"
         "Exactly. And I have to stay in the syndicate, because I'm the only one close enough to Jin to reach him. Well, there's also Xiaoyu, but she's too dazzled by dreams of her own amusement park to comprehend Heihachi's true nature. Once Jin knows the truth, then I'm sure he can convince her."
         "Julia, sweetheart-"
         "I've made my choice," I cut off, looking Wulong directly in the eye. "You can't dissuade me from it. No more than I can talk you into getting proper medical care."
         The detective muttered a curse, and hung his head.
         "And you've done enough sidestepping around the original problem," I continued. "You need a place to stay, and someone to look after you. Aren't you friends with anyone else in the Iron Fist? I thought a lot of them were also veterans of the Great Invasion."
         "That was twenty years ago. Most of the old guard is out of the picture now. Retired, settled down, or murdered by the Toshin. Also, Heihachi's goons are watching everyone in his Tournament like a flock of harpies."
         "What about your police contacts?"
         "In Hong Kong, sure. This is Tokyo, Heihachi's seat of power. He has too much influence with the police."
         "All of them?"
         "There's always a few good cops. And the most decent-hearted among them would ship me right back to that damn hospital." Wulong's eyes drifted upward, in thought. "I do have a partner, but she's got a little girl, only two years old. I already lost one partner to a Mishima syndicate assassin, a long time ago. I'm not going to let the same thing happen to that little girl's mother. I'm just not."
         "Don't you have any friends in Tokyo?"
         "As in, people I trust completely? No. A couple heavy hitters owe me a favor or two, but that's not the same. Besides, I don't want any innocent bystanders to suffer Heihachi's revenge."
         "He hates you that much?"
         "More." In a bitterly ironic tone, Wulong added, "I 'killed' his son, after all."
         That made my eyebrows twitch.
         I studied Wulong, reevaluating what I knew of him. Could the heroic Super Police, whom I looked up to as a symbol of all I believed in, truly be a cold-blooded murderer?
         "What is it?" he mumbled, half-squinting at me.
         "If I were a master detective like Sherlock Holmes, then I'd know what to say. How to trick you into confessing your evil secret. Or how to prove it independently, confront you with the evidence, and make you admit once and for all what you really did to Kazuya."
         "I promised her."
         Wulong wasn't looking at me anymore. I don't think he was looking at anything in this world; he just started talking. Don't ask why he responded to me, when his own son couldn't get an answer out of him. Maybe because my face didn't remind him as painfully of his past, I don't know.
         "She pleaded with me. She knew I was planning to murder Kazuya, and she begged me to soften my heart. We had to capture him alive. The fate of the whole world depended on capturing him alive. And there was something in her heart, too. Love. Tenderness. Selfless compassion, even for the monster who had betrayed all humankind. So I looked away, and from the emptiness in my hollow, soulless shell, I promised her. I promised her I'd do everything I could to see that Kazuya was taken alive."
         Tears trickled from Wulong's sunken eyes. "I loved her, you know. I loved her more than anything in the world."
         He was, I assume, talking about Jun Kazama.
         Although I tried to draw Wulong out further, and pressed him on every angle I could think of, he wouldn't say any more. He finally rebuffed me with, "Go home, kid. Just go home."
         "I'm not leaving you alone in this condition."
         I think the prelude to confession had changed him, opening a small, hidden door to things he never would have said otherwise. Because his next words were, "I'm not really alone. I've got an angel assigned to my case."
         "A what?"
         "Heh. Would you believe me if I told you the Angel of Death sent one of her own to help me out?"
         "They really did pump you full of drugs in that hospital, didn't they."
         "Or maybe she sent an angel to kill me. I'm not sure anymore."
         "I don't think you should worry about being killed by an angel."
         "Yeah, I know. Divine Sanctions."
         What?
         What a minute. Did I just hear him say-
         "'Divine Sanctions'?"
         "Eh, Catsclaw never told you about those? They're a set of cosmic laws, restricting the extent to which so-called gods, devils, spirits and such can mess around with mere mortals."
         "They're real?"
         "Real enough to start an Invasion. Or stop one."
         I snapped my fingers in a burst of insight. "I just thought of someone who might be able to help you."
         "Oh, joy."
         "You're not carrying any mirrors, are you?"
         "Mirrors?"
         "Light-reflective surfaces of any-"
         "I freaking know what mirrors are, and no, I don't have any stashed away. Why? How ugly is this mysterious person?"
         "Um, it's just that he really doesn't like mirrors. I'm going to see if I can find him. Don't go anywhere, all right?"
         "Whatever you say, sweetheart," Wulong murmured, closing his eyes.


         When he opened them again, he said, "Oh, freaking hell."
         "Hey!" Professor Shingo Yabuki exclaimed, letting go of his claw cane long enough to snap the fingers of his one good hand. "Now I remember where I've seen you before. You were in that movie, right? The one where you're running on a bridge, and the bad guys are trying to machine-gun you from a helicopter? And they shoot missiles at you, only you make a last-ditch leap and barely clear the bridge, flailing your arms and legs, while the missiles explode behind you in a huge ball of fire?"
         "You just described all my movies." Wulong clamped his hands on the iron gate and tenuously dragged himself to a standing position, trembling from the effort. "Aren't you Shingo Yabuki?"
         "You've heard of me?"
         "I've heard of a screwball idiot who tried to enter the King of Fighters Tournament by himself, making solo challenges to three-person teams of combat veterans. Saw the whole absurdity on TV, a long time ago. They played it for comedy relief between real matches."
         "A pleasure to meet you," Shingo offered, cheerily.
         "How'd you lose the arm and the leg?"
         "Ah, well, my bones got broken when I challenged the Tournament sponsor to single combat."
         "Oh? I never saw that on TV."
         "I was, ah, bending the rules. Tracked him all the way up to his airship in the sky, and that sort of antagonized him. The casts should come off in a few more weeks, I hope."
         Wulong studied Shingo's obviously artificial, wooden prosthetic limbs. Then he looked at me and squinted with one eye, while raising an eyebrow over the other. I shrugged, helplessly.
         "Crazy as a loon," the detective mumbled under his breath.
         "Now, now," Shingo gently chided. "Demons can't be choosers."


         Ahh... here's the sunrise. So beautiful you just can't paint it with words, isn't it?
         I'll talk to you again tonight, during the moonrise.
         Hm?
         Oh. Now there's a question I hadn't thought of.
         I'm not completely certain why Shingo agreed to take Wulong in. Or why I was so sure that he would. It was just a gut feeling. When Wulong mentioned the Divine Sanctions, it made me think about an earlier talk with Shingo. I remembered the ardent look on Shingo's face when he told me that he knew the risks he was taking, teaching Jin Kazama's class. Maybe I went to Shingo because, somehow, I sensed the fighting courage of his warrior soul. Because I saw him as a kindred spirit to the Thunder Warrior Dragon, Lei Wulong.
         Or maybe because only a loon like Shingo would risk his neck to shelter Heihachi's mortal enemy. I don't know.





AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Files of Chief Detective Lei Wulong
Department of the Hong Kong Police Force
Classification Level: Omega
Section 202A-3
December 7, 2017
10:42 p.m.


         Activate - cough - Omega Level Classification.
         Now. Whoever's listening to this. If my body turns up in a ditch somewhere, and I'm not dead of natural causes, Shingo Yabuki's your best murder suspect.
         He's not the most likely person to kill me, mind. Not by a long shot. But whenever Heihachi's men off a victim, they're always careful to make the poor slob 'disappear.' Yabuki isn't that sophisticated.
         coughing
         Oh, freaking hell. I don't know what to do anymore. It's not enough for Heihachi to plot the murder of my son, is it? No, he has to draw more innocent children into his web. Ling Xiaoyu and Julia Chang... I might have had a chance of saving my son, but how in the world am I going to get all three of them out of this alive? And I still haven't figured out if my only 'friend' is schizophrenic, or what.
         He has a criminal record, you know.
         I looked it up through this hand-held gadget whatsis of a thousand uses, or whatever it's supposed to be. The pocket miracle that can record anything at Omega Level Security Classification, as long as it's dictated verbally. Why does it have to be verbal? Do I sound like I'm in the shape to talk? I don't want to die without giving the idiot who designed this thing a good smack over the head, I really don't.
         So, I looked up Yabuki's criminal history. It's not all that bad; he's not credited with inciting the Orochi Blood Riots or anything, as far as I know. But after the Riots... after he lost his parents and his younger sister, and disappeared for over a year... he came back screwed up. Really screwed up. Missing his left arm, leg, eye, and ear. Plagued with all sorts of demented hallucinations, including the unshakeable belief that his whole family is still alive. His surviving sister tried to take him in, but that didn't last a month.
         He was charged with domestic battery and destruction of property. Something about smashing the mirrors in his sister's house. She tried to stop him, and, well... according to her own statement he didn't even see her, pushed her on the broken glass without realizing it. She had to get stitches. A neighbor called the police, and Yabuki resisted arrest like a psycho. Yabuki was docile enough at first, but one look at the side mirror on the patrol car and he absolutely freaked out. Took the rookie cops sent to handle him by complete surprise. He might've been handicapped, but they still had to choke him unconscious to stop his rampage. It was quite a fiasco.
         Yabuki's sister eventually dropped the charges, though, and had him committed to a mental institution instead. Serenity Consolation Asylum. He stayed there for almost twenty years until the Mishima syndicate got him out, for whatever insidious reason. They had to strike a deal with the sister, too, since she's Yabuki's legal guardian. Part of the deal is that she can call the Tekkenshu for protection anytime, if she feels threatened by her deranged little brother.
         I hate criminals.
         But it looks like I'm stuck with one for now, because I have nowhere else to go. So I've been casing his apartment, trying to find out what I can about him. The place is surprisingly normal.
         Normal for a packrat, anyway.
         It's something of a disorganized mess. Empty containers strewn in and out his trash suggest that he practically lives off microwaved food. He's also garnished the premises with all sorts of ridiculous charms, and scrawled paper spirit wards. He's only been out of the asylum for a few months, though, so he hasn't been here long enough to turn this place into a complete disaster.
         There most interesting object in his front room is a big trunk. It's got a quality combination lock, so well-made it took me ten minutes to figure out the tumbler catch. The trunk also has several paper wards against 'evil' on it, but I suppose I'm not 'evil' enough to trip them. Inside, the trunk is full of notebooks. Lots of notebooks. Pocket notebooks, hand notebooks, full sized notebooks, all of them filled cover to cover with sloppily scribbled notes.
         There's one pocket notebook that seems special. It's twenty times as worn as any of the others, and it has a unique symbol traced on its inside cover, like a sun sign. The same symbol that's on the back of the fingerless fighting gloves Yabuki likes to wear. Let me try to recite a few excerpts from memory...


Axe kick: lifts leg with heel directly above head, lets heel fall in parallel with body, toes flexed, arms close to torso, exhales breath hard.

Flaming uppercut: jumps vertically and twirls entire body in single revolution, raising arms. Elbows are at shoulder level, bent 90 degrees. Hands point up, palms face outward, fire trails in spiral. Shouts "ORIYA!"

Victory: summons flame to finger, puts hand on hip, wags finger, asks, "Did that burn?" then winks and snuffs out flame.

         It goes on and on like that. Dry, meticulous economy of words, illustrated with sketchy diagrams of human figures. Like a whole catalog of someone's fighting style, including basic forms, sorcerous attacks, and personality quirks. The sorcery comments in particular seem out of place; if Yabuki's a sorcerer, then I'm a freaking showgirl.
         All of the other notebooks read the same: extensively pedantic descriptions of different fighting styles. Lots of styles. Karate, Tae Kwon Do, wrestling, capoeira, and that's just the beginning; some of 'em are so exotic, I can't think of a name right off my head. I looked through 'em all, then put 'em back in the trunk and refastened the lock.
         These aren't the only notebooks in Yabuki's home, by the way. But the ones that he doesn't have locked up tend to deal with more mundane stuff: day planners, lecture outlines, that sort of thing. Looks like it's the notebooks of fighting moves that he treasures the most.
         Okay, so Yabuki's a martial arts buff. I suppose I should expect that; he was in the King of Fighters Tournament, after all. What I didn't expect was what I found when I broadened my search to the kitchen.
         There's blood in his freezer.
         Animal blood, according to the labels. Various receipts in a desk drawer confirm that he buys some of it from a local butcher, and imports the rest. The blood set me on edge, and I renewed my search with extra care, but if he's murdered any human beings then I can't find a trace of it.
         Also, his bathroom mirror has been pried out of the wall. There isn't a single shiny or reflective surface in the whole apartment. He's even given the faucets a coat of black paint. Between the blood and the aversion to mirrors, I'd be tempted to think Yabuki is a vampire, if I didn't know better. I've enough demon residue left in me to detect such things, and all my senses tell me he's human.
         He's just freaking nuts.
         He- oh, hell.
         I, uh, thought you were asleep. No, I wasn't holding anything - let go of my sleeve-!
         No, no, that's nothing, it's just-
         -no, you can't have it, it's-
         -agh-
         coughing


         It is an Omega Security Classification recorder! I heard they were making prototypes of these. I knew you were Super Police, but I had no idea you were daring enough to beta test brand new hardware.
         Of course I know about the prototype. I designed the manufacturer's web page. That's part of how I used to earn my keep at Serenity Consolation; assorted Internet work. That and a little cleaning, sometimes.
         Are you all right?
         In the name of Kusanagi-sama! That's a nasty cough. You shouldn't be talking into a recorder at length; you'll only make it harder on yourself. Why don't you hook it up to my computer keyboard? Then you can type what you want in, and you won't have to hurt yourself anymore. Okay?
         You didn't know it could take a keyboard attachment? Uwaa! Did you honestly think the designers were that short-sighted? No, no, they're really very nice people. I used to exchange electronic mail with one of them, myself. He got me a similar device for my own computer. It's not an Omega Security Classification recorder or anything, but it does a fair job of translating spoken words into text. Much more convenient than trying to type with a broken arm.
         In any case, Lei-san, I just remembered to ask you something when I woke up. Chang-san mentioned that you might be having problems with an 'Angel of Death'? One of her servants is out to kill you, or something like that?
         Now, now, it's all right; you don't have to deny it. I'm sure anyone else would think it's ludicrous, but I know a little about these matters. And you're in luck; I happen to have exactly the right thing on hand. Just a minute, let me find it and warm it up in the microwave...
         humming sound
         Hmm, let me think... the door's probably the only thing I should mark; type-specific spirit seals are usually pretty effective that way. Ward the main portal, and the whole home is protected. Unless you invite them in, but that goes without saying. Besides, if I were to put any on the windows, it might start some unpleasant rumors.
         ding
         Ah, it's ready. Can you hold the bowl for me? Careful, it's hot. Don't spill any on yourself; that stuff's murder to get out of nice clothes.
         Why, it's the blood of a lamb. Nothing's more effective at hiding you from angels. I saw it in a movie, once. When you're ready to deal with this angel, all you have to do is step outside; the protection should only cover my apartment. But, um, if you don't mind my saying so, you don't look like you're in any condition to go wandering around. If there's anything you need, I'm sure I can get it for you.
         What? Oh, so I do. Sorry. Here's your recorder back.


December 8, 2017
2:03 a.m.


         Okay, that was nerve-wracking.
         Yabuki's trying to sleep again. It seems he has some problems with nightmares. I was able to question him a little, about those.
         "The nightmares?" he said, a shade too nervously, scratching the back of his head with his one working hand. I noticed he was still wearing his sun-sign fighting gloves, even when dressed to sleep: one on his real arm, one on his wooden arm. "Oh, uh, they're nothing, really."
         "What do you dream about?" I asked. I'm not a shrink, but the more background I can get on this loony, the better.
         "Ah, well..." He managed a lopsided grin, but it didn't completely conceal the fear inside. "You're really curious?"
         "If you don't mind telling me."
         "I dream..."
         Yabuki closed his eyes, and his voice became distant. Maybe a little sad, in a haunted, ghostly way. "I dream that I'm really... I'm really not here, you know? Not waiting to get back in the King of Fighters Tournament, that I can never fight in another Tournament again. That I'm not seventeen, I'm a middle-aged man who's spent the last twenty years practically locked up. That I haven't seen my big sister in over a decade... she doesn't want me anywhere near the life she's made for herself. That the rest of my family were... because of me... because I was so eager to fight in an evil Tournament...
         "...sorry... sorry, I don't know what got into me," he hastily wound down, rubbing his right eye. "Although, I think I know what started the dreams this time. Chang-san started working for me today, and she... she reminds me of my little sister. Not that they look alike or anything, but, well, Chang-san has that same, inquisitive type of mind. Little sister is always coming to me with questions, like 'Where do rainbows come from?' or 'How does that guy on TV shoot fire from his hands?'
         "Thank Kusanagi-sama it's only a dream," Yabuki sighed.
         I can hear him in the next room, even now. Still tossing about, occasionally talking or whimpering in his sleep. Even woke up with a strangled scream, once. It was hours before he settled down enough that I decided to try typing this. I think I'll wait until he's off at his day job before I dare to take a nap myself.
         I don't trust him. But I may not have a choice; I need a place to stay, and someone to retrieve my storehouse stashes for me.
         On the other hand, some of those stashes contain weapons. Dangerous ones.
         If only I could get them myself. That isn't likely, though. I doubt I could withstand multiple trips around Tokyo, even if I didn't have to worry about evading Heihachi's goons. Yabuki may be the only one I can talk into doing this. If I try to contact someone else in the Iron Fist, Heihachi could find out where I am, and ship me back to that miserable hospital.
         I think I'll monitor Yabuki, for a while. Maybe I'll send him to one of my storehouses with not-so-hazardous items, see how he reacts to that. I need time to figure out what I'm going to do.
         Computer: Deactivate Omega Level Classification.





INTERVIEW WITH BRYAN FURY, section 4
February 13, 2018
6:05 p.m.


         Not again.
         When will you understand? If you give Lee Chaolan a message at daybreak, and you request an interview with me at six in the evening, it does not mean I have advance notice, because I SLEEP during the day!
         Shoo, shoo, buzz off. I have more important things to do.
         No, I do not have time for one quick question, I-
         Oh, really?
         Really. You're not kidding. Lamb's blood?
         Shit. This is funny. No, this is really funny. Have you asked Lee about this?
         Why not?
         Oh, yeah. Still insists he isn't really an 'angel.' And I bet he'd continue making excuses, even after he heard. Man, this is good.
         Okay. Fine. I'll spend a little time to confirm what you already know. Enough so you can get down what kind of world-class screw-up took it on himself to possess my body. Only you'd better not have been taking any more interviews from Lee behind my back.
         Have you?
         Good. Then I'll start with when I woke up, after I was nearly killed by a bunch of Tekkenshu and their fucking tank. Uh, December 8th, I think it was. Early morning too; like around 3:30 a.m. I remember seeing the date and time flash on some big, neon billboard, way in the distance.
         Then I realized I was sitting on the roof of a skyscraper.
         No shit. Just perched on a building so high up, it had blinking red lights at its corners, to warn away low-flying aircraft. My hands rested on the edge; my legs dangled over it. Tokyo was all spread out below me; buildings scattered like blocks, streets like traces in the dirt, electric lights like little fireflies, occasional faraway cars like crawling ants. Some idiots might have found the view breathtaking. I would've been a lot more calm if there weren't a stiff wind, ready to tip me over.
         And if I were in control of my own goddamn body.
         I wasn't, naturally. Lee was in control. Even worse, Lee had done another one of those shape-shifts or whatever you call it; my body wasn't mine anymore. My view moved up to the half-full moon, looming bright yellow; then down to the dizzying world below. Somewhere in there, I glimpsed white wing-feathers.
         He'd turned my body into his 'true form.' Into a copy of himself as an angel.
         I hate it when he does that.
         Hey, I thought, and couldn't actually say because I couldn't control my own goddamn vocal chords. Hey! What's going on? Where am I now?
         *You're awake?* he thought back, in that annoyingly ultra-clear angel voice. *Excellent.*
         What are you so happy about?
         *You've been asleep for two days. I was thinking that it's about time we tracked down Lei Wulong.*
         You've been waiting for me to wake up before you went after him?
         This was a surprise. I wanted revenge on Wulong for ruining my life; Lee wanted revenge on Wulong for murdering Kazuya. But I hadn't expected Lee to wait for me, before he hunted Wulong down and got that revenge.
         *Partly. Wulong may be ill, but he is not to be underestimated, and the cooperation of your consciousness is an asset to my own Power as a Guardian.*
         'Partly'? What's the other part?
         *Mishima syndicate Tekkenshu have been searching for you. They appear to have stopped active pursuit; I don't know why. However, it would seem they regularly patrol the city, like a supplement to its police force. And if Heihachi is anything like how I remember him, he is going to have spies everywhere, watching for us. I've been trying to avoid detection, while simultaneously rebuilding my strength and maintaining your body's biological functions. It wasn't easy. It's been a while since I had to worry about basic-*
         Spare me the details, I interrupted, and thankfully, he did. Okay, so we go after Wulong. You want my 'cooperation'? Fine. Give me back control.
         *We need to reach him first, and we need my Power for that, and I need to be in control of your body for that.*
         Whatever. Just give me back control when we get to him!
         *Let's worry about that when we're there, all right?*
         I seethed, but held my temper in check. I didn't want to get into a mental battle with Lee on the edge of a fucking skyscraper; what if I finally won back control of my body for good, and the last thing he did with it was pitch it over the side?
         Hey, wait a minute. Why was my view suddenly sloping down?
         He WAS pitching me over the side!
         AAAAAAAAAAH!
         I'll be kind enough to skip the scenes of my life flashing before my eyes - it's none of your fucking business anyway - and let you know that my view swooped down, then floated back up, nice and seamless as you please.
         Shit. I forgot how much this bastard angel loved to fly. Shit, shit, shiiiiiiiit!
         This is NOT a good idea! What if we're SEEN!? I thought, trying very hard to keep a lid on my panic.
         *At this height, the risk is minimal.*
         As Lee rose past the skyscraper roof like some fucking Renaissance painting, he created a glowing white light in his cupped hands - more like gathering a whole mess of little white lights, actually. They made a shiny ball; then he spread his arms and let them scatter.
         What are you doing?
         *Divining Wulong's location.*
         I thought he was at Tokyo Mishima General Hospital.
         *He escaped.*
         Figures.
         *I've been biding my time, reserving the necessary energy to trace his movements from it... this way.*
         I'll also spare you what it's like to soar and dive through a nighttime city. Let me just mention that if I had been in control of my body, I would have lost my guts over half of Tokyo.
         We finally reached - eh, looked like a school of some kind. Big clock face embedded in a main building, ten-foot wall surrounding paved inner grounds, and so on. There was a closed iron gate in front. Lee touched down on top of the wall, near the iron gate.
         *This is as far as I can directly trace his trail. Too many other people have passed through these gates.*
         Oh, shit. Are you saying we've lost him?
         I felt a strong echo of Lee's smug self-satisfaction. *Not at all. Wulong was once made into a demon; his blood still carries traces of the taint. All I need to do is call upon my Power as a Guardian to sense the whereabouts of local demon kindred.*
         Huh. Why not do that right from the start?
         *It takes less energy to find a nearby demon than a faraway demon.*
         Ask a stupid question, I suppose...
         Lee put my hands in front of me and did that idiotic white light trick again.
         And again.
         And again.
         And-
         What's going on? I thought, as I detected a tenuous uncertainty in his emotions. Isn't your 'Power' whatsis working?
         *Quiet. I'm trying to concentrate.*
         -again.
         *This isn't right. This can't be right. He wouldn't have left the city. He would have stayed to fight in the Iron Fist-*
         Are you telling me he's not in Tokyo anymore?
         *The whole city is free of demons, unless you count Hwoarang. This CAN'T be right-!*
         Maybe he's fighting a match outside the city.
         *In past Iron Fist Tournaments, perhaps. In this Iron Fist, Heihachi is seeking to lure the Toshin with strong souls. He has to gather those souls in one place, not spread them around the world.*
         Then maybe your precious 'Power' isn't working so good.
         *Impossible. I've done this before.*
         But you're not picking up pretty boy Kazama, are you?
         *Why would I?*
         He's part hellfiend, isn't he? His father was the Devil of the Great Invasion.
         I felt a flustered undercurrent of Lee's growing ill will. *My brother Kazuya was not a Devil. Kazuya was possessed by a Devil. It is NOT the same; the monster controlled him, it made him commit his crimes!*
         Whoa, there. Don't get your feathers all in a ruffle.
         *And I was using my Power to detect demons, not Devils!*
         What's the difference?
         *Devils can use sorcery. Demons cannot.*
         Doesn't sound like much of a difference.
         *It is if you have to fight one.*
         Okay...
         Then maybe Wulong's dead. You mentioned he was sick, didn't you?
         That rattled Lee.
         I mean, that really rattled him. Big time.
         He started to pace, agitatedly, back and forth on the wall. *No. I refuse to believe it. I refuse to believe he has escaped me. I refuse to believe I waited too long! I-*
         "-REFUSE!" Lee screamed, and with a disconcerting wrench, he ripped himself outside my body. He was no longer in his angel form, either. He was back to talking in a normal voice, and looking like a scarred, silver-haired ghost in punk's clothing. I grimaced, spotting those extendible silver threads that connected his left hand to my neck. If not for those threads, I'd be free of him forever.
         At least my body was back its normal self, for now.
         Even if I was precariously balanced on a wall.
         Very precariously.
         Oh, shit, no-!
         "Bryan-!" Lee's quasi-transparent form gasped, twisting around a split-second too late.
         I tried to land like a cat, but my right foot skidded on gravel. Fire shot through my ankle. I flopped on my side with a hard thud, cracking my head against the pavement.
         Lee jumped down next to me, quickly. "Oh no, I didn't realize-!"
         "Spare me," I hissed, trying to get up. My hip throbbed, and my head spun.
         "You're in pain. Let me-"
         "Oh, no you don't. You stay outside my body for a while; I'm fucking keeping control."
         "I'm sorry."
         "Shut up." A wrenching jolt ripped through my ankle, when I touched my right foot flat on the ground.
         "It's twisted," Lee observed. "You can't walk on it."
         "No shit."
         "Um, we have another problem."
         "Oh?"
         "I've, uh, used up a lot of your energy with those failed divinations. I might have barely enough left to heal your ankle, but anything more could make us both pass out, or worse."
         "What do you mean, you've 'used up' a lot of my-"
         My stomach growled.
         I suddenly realized I was hungry. So hungry I felt dizzy. Weak. Ready to faint. Which is probably why I couldn't keep my balance on that damn wall.
         "It has been a long time since I had to live off the streets," Lee explained, apologetically. "And I was never very good at it."
         "You haven't fed me anything in the past two days, have you!?" I snapped.
         "Umm... one of the complications is that your digestive system is largely cybernetic, very limited in what it can safely process; I couldn't-"
         "Oh, shit."
         "I was able to sneak a bowl of broth that someone left behind in a-"
         "SPARE me the DETAILS!"
         Lee hung his head, and looked hurt.
         "Look, angel. Here's an idea. If Wulong's dead, then why don't you leave my body and go chase him on your own? Settle your revenge in the afterlife, take his soul to Hell or whatever."
         "I am not an angel, any more than Kazuya was a Devil."
         "Did you hear the rest of what I said?"
         "I can't leave your body. You'd die. I'm serving as part of your central nervous system as we speak."
         Ah, not this pack of lies again. I was too hungry to argue with it anymore.
         "Okay. Okay, then here's the plan," I outlined. "For now, we assume Wulong is not dead. If he is, there's nothing we can do about it; so let's figure he isn't. Also, we assume he's still in the city. Or that if he isn't still in the city, he's coming back to it. He's got too much phony pride to just up and quit the Iron Fist Tournament. I'm betting what happened is, he's found a way to protect himself from your fancy Power."
         Lee raised his head. "That didn't occur to me. It could be possible, but... Wulong isn't a sorcerer. Could he have found an ally who knows sorcery?" Wary unease crossed Lee's face. "It would have to be a powerful wizard indeed, to deny a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. We could be in trouble."
         "We'll take care of that when we get to it. And if we can't find Wulong any other way, we'll wait until he comes out for a match in the Iron Fist, and nail him then. Right now, we need to get out of here, before dawn breaks and someone sees us. Sees me, anyway. You got any ideas where we should go?"
         "Ah, let me think..."
         "Just where have you been hiding for the past two days?"
         "Underground, most of the time. In the sewers and subway tunnels. But there's very little edible food down there, which means-"
         "I starve to death in a stinking sewer. Shit."
         "If you give me control-"
         "What? What can you do with control that's so much better than what you've done already?"
         "Uh... your question aside, I can shape-shift your body back to my true form. In that form, you don't exactly have to eat. We'll still be low on energy, but your need for nourishment will not worsen with the passage of time. So you won't starve to death, as long as I'm careful not to expend any more Power."
         This was getting so good I could just puke.
         "Screw that. I've got a better idea. Remember that Tokyo address pretty boy Kazama gave us? Where that scientist who hates the Mishima syndicate is hanging out? The pretty boy said that the scientist would help us. What's the name, Doctor Basket-... er, Boscoe-..."
         "Doctor Boskonovitch," Lee finished for me.
         A change came over him.
         I've told you before what he got like when I confronted him with his war criminal past, right? All withdrawn and remorseful, unable to resist a fly, like he wants to crawl in a hole and hide from his own guilt? That's how he looked.
         "Now what?" I demanded, crossly.
         "Going to Boskonovitch... may not be a good idea."
         "And why the fuck not?"
         Lee shuddered. It's screwy. What does a dead man have to shudder for? Does he feel the cold? I'd understand it if Lee felt the cold through my body, and made me shudder, but-
         Ah, hell. It was downright warm out. Weird for December.
         "Out with it," I demanded. "What did you do?"
         "I..."
         "Now I remember - you were startled when you heard this doctor was in the area. He's from your past, isn't he? Your mass-murdering, spineless-collaborator-to-the-Great-Invasion past. You fucking did something personal to him, didn't you? Confession time. Now."
         Lee's mouth moved, but I couldn't make out the words.
         "I don't HAVE all fucking NIGHT! NOW!"
         "I killed... his daughter."
         Just one wonderful piece of news after another.
         "Kazuya and I... we needed him to work for us... his genius... his secrets for the Jack-2 android soldiers... so we made a plan to kidnap him. Kazuya's plan. I didn't like it, but I didn't say anything, I wasn't strong enough to resist my brother. I supervised the plan's execution. We made Boskonovitch's daughter sick with chemical weapons, so that he'd come to us in exchange for the cure, but..."
         Lee swallowed. Why does a dead man, who doesn't even have to breathe, need to swallow? Ah, forget it. "...a Jack-2 unit had developed a bond with her... wanted to protect her... it took her away from us, before we could put her in cryogenic suspension. Hid her from our agents. By the time we found her, it was too late. She died thirty minutes before we could freeze her. B-but... we used her to lure the doctor regardless... with empty promises of a cure for a dead, innocent girl..."
         Lee closed his eyes and shook his head. "It wasn't supposed to be like that. Kazuya promised me we wouldn't kill her. She wasn't even supposed to get very sick. We weren't supposed to kill a child... it w-wasn't supposed to..."
         "Oh, shut the fuck up."
         Lee shut up.
         This was bad. Sure, Lee was the one who had earned Boskonovitch's eternal hatred, not me; but could I count on Boskonovitch being generous enough to cut me some slack? Or else, could I count on keeping Lee's possession of me a secret?
         Maybe. Wouldn't want to stake my life on it, though.
         It would be great if I could, say, ask Boskonovitch to help me force this unwanted spirit OUT of my body. But if I were in Boskonovitch's shoes, I'd find it a lot easier to just kill Lee's host and get revenge on Lee that way. Shit, shit, shit.
         "Okay, so Boskonovitch is out. Or else left as an absolute last resort. There has to be somewhere else we can go."
         "You're a policeman..."
         "If you don't know that the Tokyo police are nothing more than an underfunded, ill-equipped backup to Heihachi's Tekkenshu, then you're an even bigger idiot than I thought."
         "Wait. I do know a place," Lee realized, gradually recovering from his shaken penitence.
         "Oh, really?"
         "Or rather, you know a place."
         "Oh, really."
         "So that I was reluctant to seek refuge there until you woke up."
         "Uh-huh. Where is this incredible safe haven?"
         "Taki's home."
         Oh, no.
         Oh, shit, no. This whole night had just hit rock bottom. There was no way, no possible way-
         "HOW do you know about her!?" I yelled, and my voice cracked somewhere in there.
         "The Law of Reflection."
         "The what of the what?"
         "Whenever you perform any targeted sorcery or psionics, and your target turns out to be invalid, the net effect of part or all of your endeavor is reflected directly upon you. For example, when my search spell for demons failed, I would have become a more visible target to any demons looking for me. Fortunately, the Mishima syndicate is pursuing us solely through technological-"
         "SPARE ME THE DETAILS! What does this have to do with you knowing about Taki!? Have you been reading my mind!?"
         "No, you were reading my mind. Remember?"
         Oh. That.
         I didn't want to remember that.
         "When you look through another person's psyche, if you deliberately target a specific memory that you expect to find, and it isn't there, then the Law of Reflection comes into play. Nearly all mind-probes tend to involve the Law of Reflection, because the prober never knows exactly what to expect of the probed person's mind when he goes in. Which is why a mind-probe almost always has some repercussions both ways, although a highly skilled telepath, who knows in advance what to anticipate, will reveal very little of himself-"
         "When I tell you to 'spare me the details,' do you actually get what I'm saying, or does your angel brain operate according to different rules of grammar?"
         "In our case, you must have been looking for an important memory that you didn't find. While I fell asleep wondering where we could hide from the Tekkenshu. Which must be why I ended up learning about Taki's home. The Law of Reflection mirrored the most suitable pieces of your memories to my psyche."
         Oh, shit. Now I remembered.
         Just for fun, I'd been looking through his memories for sex. I'd expected to page through a horde of women succumbing to his silver-haired charm, and the reality was much, much less. If I'd had any idea it would have this kind of side effect-
         "How much do you know about Taki?" I pushed, with a sick feeling in my empty stomach.
         "Not a great deal. That she used to work with you, on behalf of the syndicate. That she is a skilled sorceress. The location of her home. That she would be willing to give you succor."
         "Give me WHAT!?"
         "Assistance in time of distress." Lee tilted his head, curiously. "What did you think the word meant?"
         "Shut up, shut up. Taki's loyal to the syndicate. She'd only turn us over to them."
         Lee thought about that.
         "You do not truly believe what you are saying," he evaluated. "You are rationalizing, in a weak attempt to justify your personal antipathy."
         Shit. I forgot the bastard as good as had me on a lie detector.
         "For the last time, shut up! I am not crawling to Taki. I am not."
         "Definitely not."
         "Damn straight."
         "I'll shape-change you into my true form and fly. It's the only way we can reach her place before sunrise, with your ankle in that condition."
         "NO!"
         "What's wrong?" Lee's brow furrowed, sympathetically. "Is your conscience bothering you? Did you do something to her that you regret?"
         If he weren't already dead, I would have fucking killed him.


         And that's all the time I have for you. Now I'm a half hour late, but it'll be worth it. I can't wait until Lee wakes up. I'm just dying to tell him the 'powerful wizard' he was so scared of was really that pathetic cripple Yabuki all along. It'll be so good-
         -huh?
         Oh, that. We compromised. I finally agreed to hide out at Taki's, on the condition that we stay the hell away from Taki herself. In other words, steal her food without her knowing it. We even found events in the Iron Fist Tournament listed on her calendar, complete with the place and time of Lei Wulong's first match. Which wasn't for weeks. Lee was pissed off at having to wait, but it didn't bother me so much. It gave me extra time to think about how I was going to get rid of the angel in my body.
         Staying out of Taki's sight was easy, since as I'd hoped, she wasn't even there; she liked to live in the Mishima syndicate for days or weeks at a time. That was a relief for me, but Lee didn't feel good about breaking and entering without Taki's consent, let alone snooping or stealing. I had to sell him the whole idea with some bullshit about how Taki could be in danger from the syndicate, if she knew we were at her place.
         Hey, it had the dubious value of being true. That's why it convinced him.
         What can I say. I was hungry.


End of Chapter 15: Prelude to Confession