PHOENIX REBORN

written by Victar, e-mail vctr113062@aol.com
Victar's Archive:
http://www.victarfanfics.com



Chapter 20: Season's Evils


   They don't know about the razor's edge
       or how it burns when it strikes the flesh
   We all want a piece of something new
       believe in lies and your dreams come true

         -Saigon Kick, Edgar


AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Mishima Private Experimentation Facility
December 24, 2017
7:24 p.m.


SATAKE: AAAAAAAAAAH-!

DOCTOR ABEL: We're losing this one.

HEIHACHI MISHIMA: Not again.

S: Mishima-sama... p-please...!

M: You are supposed to be strong. You were my honor guard. All three of you were my honor guard! This is your last chance to be worthy of serving me!

S: I-I... I can't...

A: If it is any consolation, he lasted twice as long as the other two.

M: He is not dead yet!

HWOARANG: He will be.

S: Mishima-sama... why have... you done this...

M: You failed me once; this is your opportunity for redemption!

S: AAAAAAAAAH-!

A: I cannot think with all this screaming. I told you, you should have hooded them.

M: You will keep this man alive!

A: I do not believe it is up to me, any longer.

H: Let me out of this thing. Let me talk to him.

A: You?

M: Talk to him?

H: Do want him to survive this or not?

S: AAAAAAAAAH-!

M: Very well. Abel, release the vampyre.

A: Mishima-sama?

M: Do it.

clattering, humming

S: aaaah...

H: Ssh. Easy.

S: Wh-what - gasp

H: Easy. Don't try to move. Don't try to think. That will only make it hurt worse. Just listen to me, do you understand? Focus on me. Concentrate on what I'm saying.
         You have a choice.
         What you feel right now - the foul, rotting contamination eating through you - is more than mere death. It is the enslavement of your soul. If you allow it to take hold, it will bind itself to your body, and you will live. What is left of you will live, in service to 'Mishima-sama.'

S: I...

H: If you continue to resist, you will die.

S: gagging

H: Personally, I would recommend that you keep fighting against it. If you struggle, then yes, it will be bad. It will hurt, and you will be sick, and you will feel as though your insides are rotting away, because they are. But then it will be over.

S: whimper

H: If you let it take root, then it will not be over. The pain will go away, yes, but the rest of the corruption you feel - the filth clogging your blood, the cancer eating at your brain - that won't just stay with you. It will become you. It will devour any other sense of 'you,' and exist in your shape. You will remain 'human' in biology alone. You will very likely stay that way for as long as 'Mishima-sama' and I live. I am Immortal. 'Mishima-sama' intends to become Immortal, and it looks as though he might succeed.

S: B-but... why...?

H: You mean, why did you have this choice forced on you? Why were you kidnapped and subjected to this?

S: ...why...?

H: You're a convenient guinea pig. 'Mishima-sama' wanted to experiment with this process, before it's tried on certain other people. He felt particularly justified in using you and your two friends, because of some past 'failure' of yours. I'm sure you'd know more about that than I would.

S: ...aaaghk...

silence

H: I see you've made your choice.

Hwoarang sighs

H: Don't worry. The Grey Kingdom will have a place for you. They're letting anyone in, these days.

M: Abel! Revive him!

A: Yes, Mishima-sama.

M: And you - what, by the Eight Paths to Hell, was that? You were to keep him alive!

H: The only way he could have lived would have been through his own submission. He refused. I'd say I was sorry, but I can't lie to you... 'Master.'

smacking sound

M: Do not toy with me!

H: Oh, I'm really bleeding here.

M: Are you claiming that all three of them perished because they REFUSED to serve me? Because they REFUSED to serve my will!?

H: Any of them would have died for you. What you demanded was worse.

M: Are you trying to bait me into killing you?

H: As much as I want that, you're wrong. Do you not believe me? Would you like to find out for yourself? You want to be Immortal so badly; why don't you see if I can transmit my curse to you?

M: That is enough.

H: Of course, you would be trapped in that aging, decrepit body for eternity. And as soon as anyone beat you in single combat, you'd be their slave for life. Your dear grandson would be the first to try, wouldn't he? The second he looked at you, he'd know what you were, and he'd do everything in his Power to 'save' you.

M: I said, that is enough.

H: You're afraid he would crush you as thoroughly as Kazuya once did, aren't you?

M: I COMMAND YOU TO DESIST, NOW!

sharp blow

spitting noise

H: Now I've lost a tooth. Oh, the agony. It could take a whole ten minutes to regenerate that.

M: Your assertions are specious. I am not seeking to create more vampyres, as well you know.

pause

M: Well? Answer me!

H: First you command me to desist, now you command me to answer; when will you make up your mind?

M: Answer my question!

H: Which one?

M: Why did my men refuse to serve me? They were NOT to become vampyres!

H: No. They were to become worse.

M: What?

H: At least my enslavement to you is guaranteed to end with your death. This... I've never done this before. I don't know if it would end with your death. Or with mine. I don't know if it would ever end.

M: I will not die.

H: We'll see.

M: Abel!

A: I am sorry, Mishima-sama. This one will not be revived.

M: Then cease. Have the bodies incinerated.

A: Yes, Mishima-sama.

M: As for you... you know more about this than you let on.

H: What?

M: Tell me how to ensure the success of this process.

H: I - I don't know. I told you, I've never done this before.

M: Then if you do not know how to 'ensure' success, tell me how to best increase the odds.

H: Wait. Wait, listen to me. At least listen to my warning. Please.

M: Well?

H: You must not do this. For your own damned sake, you must not do this. Kidnapping and murdering people is one thing. If you go through with this, then you will lose what little humanity you have left - do you even know what I'm talking about?

M: No.

H: I like to think that my evil has its limits. You cherish similar illusions of yourself, don't you? You're convinced that you are a good man, trying to bring Order and Righteousness to the world. Your precious syndicate did so much to heal the scars of the Great Invasion. Even though you've made any number of innocents suffer and die for your own Power, I'm sure you believe it was a necessary evil. A limited evil.
         If you go through with this, there will be no limit.
         If you use this process for your own ends, you will yourself become undead. Not literally. Not in the flesh of your body. You will sacrifice the final scrap of your conscience, the last shred of your honor, the dying breath of anything that was human, in your own soul. You will become a worse monster than any vampyre that despoiled the Earth. Is that what you want?

M: It is necessary. The Cyborg Army project has proven a failure.

H: Your own son knew better than to do this!

M: What?

H: Your adopted son, Lee Chaolan. Remember him? The silver-haired stray you took home from China? He ran a death camp, and he collaborated with soul-stealing DEVILS, but he knew better than to do this! Chaolan learned what I was, and he guessed what I can do even as you have, yet he never exploited my blood. He kept my true nature a secret from Kazuya Mishima-

M: That is enough.

H: Wait, don't command me to be silent. You haven't heard the best part. Because Lee Chaolan's evil had its limits, because he still had some fragment of a human heart, they gave him a second chance. They brainwashed and scoured him, burned out half his soul, but they actually made something 'holy' out of what was left. He's one of them now; he's on the side of the angels, and sooner or later, he'll have to come after you. It's only a matter of time.

M: Lee Chaolan is dead.

H: Yes, that's why you're really in trouble. You can't kill something that's already dead. What will you tell Chaolan, when he confronts you over your crimes? Do you want this on your head, when he comes for you?

M: Are you certain about all this?

H: I saw him. He has possessed your escaped 'Cyborg Army prototype' as his mortal vessel.

M: WHAT!?

H: Oh, yes. What's more, Chaolan has declared your grandson's soul under his protection. Given what you're planning for your grandson, do you think the angel will let you get away with it?

M: ABEL!

A: Mishima-sama?

M: You are hereby taken off this project. You will devote all your efforts to devising a weapon that can destroy the rogue Prototype Alpha, starting now!

A: But, Mishima-sama...

M: NOW!

A: ...I still can't remember.

M: incensed breathing

A: I try, Mishima-sama, I swear that I try. Every morning and every night. It isn't there. It won't - I can't - all I get is emptiness, I can recall nothing of my work on the Cyborg Army project! If you could only have the young master remove the block he put in my memories-

M: You will not even be in the same room as him, unless one of you is dead.

A: I am sorry, Mishima-sama. I might be able to reconstruct my knowledge if I had any reference material to work from, but it was all destroyed.

M: Not all of it.

A: No?

M: There is my own knowledge. I have overseen your work, on occasion.

A: You are no scientist.

M: You will create a weapon to use against Prototype Alpha, or you will share the fate of my honor guards.

A: I - yes, Mishima-sama.

M: And you, you wretched vampyre - you will cease your attempts to dissuade me, and tell me your secret.

H: I...

M: How do I maximize the odds that my next test subject will not die, like my former honor guards have died?

H: Listen to me. You do not want to-

M: I command you to answer. Now.

H: Nngh-... no...!

M: You are my slave. You cannot disobey me.

H: ...free will...

M: Explain.

H: ...y-you... you can't kidnap people and force this on them... they have to accept it of their own free will.

M: What difference does that make? A poison is a poison.

H: This isn't an ordinary physical poison! It corrupts the soul!

M: And if a subject takes it of his own free will, then he cannot die to spite me?

H: I don't know.

M: Yet you believe so, do you not?

H: I hope I'm wrong. As Satan is my witness, I hope I'm wrong!

M: Does the subject have to be told what he is taking? Or what it will do to him?

H: I don't know, damn you! I don't know!

M: Then we shall find out.

A: The young master would accept it of his own free will, if you asked him. He loves you.

M: My grandson is not expendable!

A: Then who is?





EXCERPT: private journal of Heishiro Mitsurugi
December 24, 2017


         I've really screwed up, this time.
         Anna...
         I thought she loved me. I really did.
         It wasn't just the big things. It was the little things. The way she would smile at me. The way she would listen and look interested whenever I told her about - well, about almost anything. The way she called me by my first name.
         She could tell. Right on our first date, she sensed that I don't like being called 'Mitsu,' even though I'd said it was okay for her to use that awful nickname. Instead, she called me 'Heishiro,' like she loved me. It took her a little practice before she could say it right, but she would whisper it in my ear as though she really loved me.
         So I...
         When she wanted me to do things, I never thought of saying no.
         It started out small.
         She asked me about her sister, Nina Williams. Half-sister, actually; they share the same father. Nina was the only family Anna had left. Anna felt terrible, because she knew that a horrible monster - Anna says other people are calling it the 'Toshin' - this monster possessed Nina, and turned her into a murderous Ogre-woman. Anna wanted so badly to find her sister, and free her from the Toshin's control.
         I told Anna everything I remembered, from when I fought Toshin-Nina. Even though I blacked out in the middle of the battle, and I didn't know how Toshin-Nina was defeated or what ultimately happened to her. I answered every question Anna asked, as thoroughly as I could.
         That was the beginning.
         I'm realizing it only now, but that was the first thing I did wrong. Mishima-sama didn't want anyone to discuss what had happened during Toshin-Nina's rampage. Taki had told me as much. I should have remembered that, and I didn't even think about it.
         Anna wanted to find out more about her sister. She feared that Mishima-sama's grandson might have taken revenge on her. Rumor had it that Toshin-Nina had hurt him badly, and humiliated him.
         So, I asked around.
         This wasn't so easy. A small part of me knew that I was doing something wrong, that Mishima-sama would not want me to pry like this. I ignored my conscience, because I was in love with Anna. I deliberately tried to corner and question people, in secret. Away from the syndicate's security cameras, which function as Mishima-sama's watchful eyes.


         "Is Anna Williams driving you to ask this?" Taki grunted one day, after I talked her into using her magic to briefly shut the cameras down.
         "She isn't 'driving' me. I'm curious myself. Do you remember what happened to Nina, after I passed out?"
         "No."
         "Come on. Didn't you see anything at-"
         "I said no!"
         I decided to stop questioning my teacher, before she tried to kill me again.


         "Nina Williams?" Xiaoyu chirped, as I walked to school with her. "Why are you - oh, I know what's going on! Your girlfriend is making you snoop for her, isn't she?"
         "Give me at least a little credit?"
         She giggled. "Buy me an ice cream cone?"
         "Sure," I said, and immediately did so.
         "I didn't even promise to tell you anything!" Xiaoyu pealed, happily licking her treat. "Boy, you really are easy to push around!"
         "Xiao-chan, please."
         "Okay, okay. Nina Williams. Jin told me about her! She broke his neck, she did she did, only he just barely managed to heal himself and Julia helped. Julia shared her life-force with him, didja know that?"
         Actually, no. I didn't know whether to perk up in curiosity, or shudder in terror.
         "Do you know what happened to Nina?" I inquired.
         "Uh-uh, I slept through the whole thing. But I bet Julia might know. She came to the syndicate the same night Nina attacked!"


         "Leave me alone," Julia said, when I found her at a public library one weekend. "I'm trying to think."
         "Can't you spare me a few minutes?"
         Julia ignored me. Her brow furrowed, as she squinted into a microfilm viewer.
         "Come on. You came to the Mishima syndicate on the night of Nina's attack; you must know something about-"
         "Anna Williams is pressuring you to investigate on her behalf, isn't she?"
         "No," I said, and at the time I believed that it was the truth. "Never."
         "Okay. Maybe she isn't 'pressuring' you, but she is manipulating you. Like she manipulated you into giving her your gun; Xiao-chan told me about that."
         "Hey, wait a minute. Do you have a grudge against Anna? Is that why you won't give me a straight answer?"
         Julia looked away from the viewer, and directly at me. "Are you Anna's lover?"
         "Wh-what?"
         "Her paramour. Her sexual partner. Her-"
         "That's - that's none of your business!"
         "Mm-hm. You were a virgin before you met her, weren't you."
         "That's none of your business, either," I declared, trying to sound lofty and righteous. It came out more along the lines of 'mortally embarrassed.'
         "No wonder she has such Power over you. I've seen this sort of thing before. Great Spirit, it's like I'm in high school all over again."
         Julia stood up from the microfilm viewer, moved to a nearby computer terminal, and typed a few search keys. I peeked through the viewer. It displayed a preserved newspaper article. Something about twenty linguists, all employed by the Mishima syndicate, who were recently killed in a terrible accident.
         "What the-?" Julia snapped, when she tried to return to her viewer. "I'm working here. Find your own damn reading station, and leave me alone."
         "Sure. As soon as you tell me about Nina Williams."
         "Has anyone ever told you that you are extremely annoying?"
         "Dad, when I used to ask him if Mom would come back and live with us again. Is there anything else you'd like to know, in exchange?"
         "A complete list of Heihachi Mishima's evil crimes, with documented proof."
         "You're kidding."
         "No."
         "Mishima-sama is a great man. He would never-"
         "I didn't think you had anything, but it was worth a try."
         "What would you need 'proof' for? Do you think you can take him to court?"
         "Go away. I told you, I'm trying to think."
         "Unless... it's the young master, isn't it."
         "What?" she said, a little too quickly.
         Ah ha. Got her!
         "I saw how you were looking at him, at his first Iron Fist match. It's obvious how you feel about him," I alleged.
         Actually, that implication was only half-true. Julia did seem to like the young master. However, I hadn't guessed that her affection might be stronger than friendship, until I learned she had shared her life-force with him. The young master is practically a Devil in human form, after all. I couldn't imagine anyone volunteering to give up their vital essence to such a terrifying person, unless they had already lost their heart to him.
         Julia's reaction now confirmed my theory.
         "You've really fallen for him, haven't you?" I continued. "Only you hate his grandfather, so you want to-"
         "You shut up about what I want!"
         "Too bad the young master is already dating Ling Xiaoyu."
         "Oh, you've heard about that?"
         "About how he takes her out to all sorts of places, and buys things for her? How he 'disappears' with her for hours at a time?" Anna had told me about it, once. She seems to enjoy rumors and gossip.
         "I don't know why Jin acts so secretive about it. So he's dating her. So what?" Julia tried to say it offhandedly, like the young master's personal life didn't matter to her one bit. She tried, and she failed.
         "How about a trade? If you give me everything you know about Nina Williams, I'll tell you everything I know about what the young master and Xiaoyu are doing, whenever they 'disappear.'"
         "I..." Julia appeared to be struggling with herself. "I can't make that trade."
         "Why not?"
         "Because Jin wants me to be discreet about Nina, and because Anna is a dangerous woman. She knows how to break people's bones with her bare hands."
         "Anna is not a killer, or a bully. She only wants to learn what happened to her own sister. She won't tell anyone else, if I ask her not to."
         "Mm, you have a high opinion of yourself. And of what you mean to her."
         "Anna is a good person!"
         "Well... I suppose she is less evil than Heihachi Mishima." I think Julia intended that to be faint praise, although in actual meaning it described Anna as the goddess I knew she was. Or thought I knew.
         "All right," Julia relented. "I'll tell you what happened to Nina Williams. You and Anna will keep it exclusively to yourselves, and you will tell me everything you know about what Jin and Xiaoyu are doing, whenever they vanish together. Deal?"
         "Deal."
         "Nina Williams was possessed by the Toshin, a godlike creature of immense Power and unspeakable evil-"
         "I already knew that."
         "Let me finish, you pest! The Toshin controlled her. Jin tried to free her, but he couldn't; she wasn't resisting it, and she hated him too much. She would have murdered Jin, if she hadn't been banished off the face of the Earth."
         Oh, no. Anna would be so horrified to learn that her only sister was-
         "Banished?"
         "Yes. She's between worlds with the Toshin, now."
         "But - but can she ever be brought back?"
         "When the Toshin returns to menace humanity, Nina will probably be with it."
         "Probably?"
         "Yes. Your turn. Exactly what are Jin and Xiao-chan up to?"
         "I have no idea."
         "What?" she shouted, so loudly that other library patrons looked at us funny.
         "I promised you I'd tell you everything I know."
         "And you don't know anything about it!?"
         "Sorry." I shrugged, but I couldn't hide my grin.
         "You-!" Julia stopped, and made an effort to calm herself. "Fine. You got the better of me this time. Just listen to me while I warn you of something, all right? I don't think Anna really loves you. If she did, she wouldn't trick you into tricking other people. So if you're having fun with her, great; but if she breaks your heart, it's your own damn fault."
         "You're just jealous," I dismissed, serenely.
         "Go away."
         I went away.


         Anna was devastated to learn the horrible news. I tried to comfort her as best I could. Days went by. I think I fell deeper in love with her each passing hour. I'm not even going to mention how much I spent on her Christmas present.
         Then she asked me to do something special for her. Something serious. It was - gods, was it really less than six hours ago? This very Christmas Eve.
         I knew it was wrong. A tiny, nagging voice in my head kept telling me it was wrong. I still couldn't deny her. All I could say was-
         "Why don't you ask Ishida yourself?"
         "Or Kimura. Either one, it doesn't matter. What you have to remember, Heishiro darling, is that you can't ask them. They wouldn't be able to say yes."
         "But-"
         "Their security clearance is just about the highest in the syndicate. If anyone outside the Mishima family has access to the classified files, they do."
         "-wouldn't this get them in trouble?"
         "Oh no, not at all. Why would it? I'm only trying to learn how to get my sister back, and how to get that horrid Toshin out of her. You understand, don't you darling?"
         "I... well..."
         "All I need you to do is borrow one of their IdentiCards, and lend it to me. I'll use it to call up the right information, and return it to them in no time. See? No one finds out, no one gets in any trouble."
         "How - how would I-?"
         "You're a clever person, darling. You'll figure it out. Here - I've already gotten a couple proxies made for you. If you switch one of the fakes for the real, then I can switch the real one back later, and they'll never know. No one will ever know."
         "I'm not a pickpocket. I don't even know where they keep their IdentiCards, and you still haven't explained why you're asking me to do this."
         "I'm sorry, Heishiro darling. They won't let their guard down around me. They think I'm too 'dangerous.'"
         "And I'm not?"
         "I know you're dangerous," she purred, wrapping her arms around my neck.


         Like I said, I knew it was wrong.
         However, I was certain that I wouldn't be able to do it anyway. I'm no thief. I wasn't their friend, either. They barely tolerated me.
         So when I found them, taking their break at the syndicate bar, I figured I'd just talk to them quickly. They'd probably regard me with hostile disdain, or at least, Ishida would. Ishida might even hit me again. That would be the end of it. I'd be sorry to tell Anna that I failed, but...
         Hey. What's going on, here?
         I knew something wasn't quite right, when I approached them. They were at a table by themselves. Ishida was his usual ill-tempered self, sipping a clear seltzer. But Kimura...
         Kimura had removed his shades. They rested, neatly folded, on the tabletop. His head was bowed, with one hand partly covering his eyes.
         He looked absolutely miserable.
         Like he was crying in silence.
         I stopped in front of the table, not sure of what to do.
         "Well?" Ishida growled to me.
         "Umm... may I join you?" Say no. Please say no.
         "Whatever," he snorted.
         I pulled up a chair.
         "Mariko," Kimura breathed, so quietly I almost didn't make it out.
         Who? No, wait a minute; Taki once told me that Kimura was married.
         "Your wife?" I inferred, cautiously. When Kimura didn't answer, I reduced my voice to a volume more his level, and asked, "Is she all right?"
         "She's fine!" Ishida snapped. "Just fine. Hell, she's probably living it up at some housewives' Christmas Eve party right now, isn't she? Hey!" He reached across the table and poked his grieving cousin.
         "What's wrong?" I asked Kimura. I can't remember whether the concern in my voice was real, or method acting.
         "Nothing is wrong," Ishida insisted.
         "I can't see her," Kimura mouthed.
         I said, "You mean, for Christmas?"
         Kimura nodded, once. Ishida looked like he wanted to bite my head off, except that he figured I might taste bad.
         I'd have lost my nerve completely if I paid any more attention to Ishida, so I focused on Kimura and lowered my voice another notch. "I'm sure she understands, if you have to work through the holidays. You must love her very much."
         "I haven't seen her in three months."
         Hm. The quieter I got, the more it seemed to open him up. Testing this theory a little further, I went down to a whisper and queried, "Can't you call her? Or write her a letter?"
         It worked.
         "We are only servants. We are not permitted to telephone anyone. But her letters..."
         He shuddered, and let his face fall in both hands, his elbows resting on the table.
         "We send them every week, except hers is - hers is late..."
         "I'm sure it's just the Christmas postal rush," I comforted.
         "See, that's what I told you!" Ishida half-exclaimed, clapping his cousin on the shoulder. "It'll be all right. You'll be with her again in another week or two, as soon as this whole Iron Fist mess is wrapped up."
         Kimura sobbed, in complete silence.
         Ishida caught my attention and gestured to me. I didn't understand, but I followed his indication to step away from the table, out of Kimura's sight. Or out of what would have been Kimura's sight, if he had been able to look up.
         "You want to know the worst part?" Ishida muttered to me, under his breath.
         "Uhh..."
         "He's never like this around Mishima-sama. Or the young master. Or the other kids, or Taki, or - he won't show it around them, he won't even talk about it around them. He always has to be this emotionless, dutiful, perfect goddamn servant, nothing ever shakes him up, and he NEVER breaks down, except around me!"
         Ishida raised his hands and clenched them, as if trying to drag something out of the air. "Gods! I can't believe we're related!"
         If they didn't look so identical, I'd be reluctant to believe it too.
         "Damn it," Ishida huffed, glaring at me. "I can't stand him when he gets this way, but I don't dare leave him alone. He might drink, and if the young master catches one whiff of alcohol from him - ah, you don't want to know. So, can you watch him for a while?"
         "Me?"
         "Just for the rest of our break. Fifteen minutes. I need fifteen minutes to myself, or I'm going to start smashing things. Can you watch him, or should I start with your face?"
         "Um, all right. I'll stay with him."
         "Good." Ishida turned on his heel and stalked out of the bar.
         I settled down across from Kimura. By then, his tears had stopped.
         "So," I said, awkwardly. "Do you have any kids?"
         "No," he breathed. "Not yet."
         Maybe that's for the best. I try to imagine this near-mute man disciplining a screaming toddler, and get nowhere.
         "Could you order me a drink?" Kimura said, a little more coherently. Like he was trying to put the pieces of himself back together.
         "Uhh..."
         "Oh... that's right. You probably don't have much credit left in your account."
         This was in fact true, so I allowed myself to nod.
         "Anna is going to bankrupt you, if you're not careful. Here. Put it on my card. Get one for yourself, too."
         And he gave me his IdentiCard.
         Just like that.
         I never even had to ask for it.
         A tiny voice inside me was saying, 'I can't take this card out of your sight, because if I do, I'll steal it for Anna and I know that's wrong.'
         What I actually told him was, "I, uh, can't get you anything alcoholic."
         "I know," he whispered, despair pulling his head back down.


         It was wrong, and I knew it.
         It was wrong to switch Kimura's IdentiCard for the proxy Anna had given me, after I paid for our drinks. It was wrong to give him back the proxy, as if it were the real thing. Even worse, it was wrong to act like I was his friend, drinking fruit juice with him until Ishida returned. And it was horribly, insufferably wrong to race back to Anna, and give her Kimura's IdentiCard.
         "You will return this to him?" I stressed. "Soon?"
         "Of course, Heishiro darling," she reassured. "I'll take care of everything before our date tonight. Eight o'clock, at that lovely all-night restaurant you took me to last time. You'll be waiting, won't you?"
         Do you know what the most damning thing about it was, in my mind? What really stood up and screamed 'This is WRONG'? It wasn't just that I was breaking Mishima-sama's rules, and possibly getting Kimura into trouble. It wasn't just that Anna could have used that IdentiCard against the syndicate in any number of ways. It wasn't even that I lied, cheated, and stole - gods, I never knew I was capable of being such a treacherous bastard.
         But, what felt really wrong... wrong in the sense of an unspeakable crime... wrong in a way that makes me feel sick, dirty, and evil on the inside...
         I used a man's love for his wife against him.
         Love...
         True love...
         It should be so much more sacred than that.


         Everything happened so quickly, afterward. It couldn't have been more than an hour later, when the young master tracked me down. He grabbed my collar with one hand and literally dragged me into a secluded room; then he did something with his hands that made the security cameras glow. I think he was turning them off, like how Taki knew to turn them off with her magic.
         The young master looked mad.
         Really mad.
         Like the Devil that people say he is.
         "What is the meaning of this!?" charged Jin Kazama, the telepathic wielder of an unholy Power, the Devil grandson of Heihachi Mishima-sama, and the heir apparent to the Mishima syndicate. His jet black eyes flashed with outrage, and indigo electricity sparkled upon his fists.
         He still scares me.
         "Young master?" I whimpered, startled by how suddenly he had ambushed me; my only warning had been an uneasy, static tingle on my skin. "I-I don't-"
         "Don't you dare try to use your fear to conceal your guilt!"
         The young master slapped something down, on a nearby table.
         Kimura's fake IdentiCard.
         "What on EARTH were you thinking!?" he shouted. "Stealing or forging another person's IdentiCard is a Class A offense! Do you know what that means? Do you have any IDEA what kind of charges you're facing, or what the punishment is!?"
         Oh, no.
         "Anna-!" I gasped. "Is she - is she all right? What are you going to do with her?"
         "Anna Williams?" the young master contemptuously returned.
         "You mustn't be angry with her. It wasn't her fault. She only-"
         "I thought she put you up to this," he grumbled, rolling his eyes.
         "You mean, you haven't caught her?" Did I just give Anna away? Oh, no, I hadn't meant to do that-
         "We're trying. Do you know what she did?"
         "Uhh..."
         "She tried to use Kimura's stolen IdentiCard to download classified information. Only she didn't know Kimura's passwords, so our computer system cut her off and alerted us. She fled. She didn't even stop to extricate Kimura's card from the automatic lockup. Kimura tells me that he never gave his card to Anna; he gave it to you. Exactly what do you think that makes you?"
         "I..."
         "Listen. I know you're in love with Anna - I feel bad for her myself, because she's suffered at my father's hands - but you have to accept the truth. She doesn't love you. She was just using you all along. You can't trust her.
         "We have to find her immediately. I need to know how badly we've been compromised, and whether she divulged classified information to anyone else. So, if you tell me where I can find her, I'll consider going easy on you. Don't worry about what will happen to her; Grandfather still needs her for the Iron Fist Tournament. You're in a lot more trouble than she is. Got that?"
         Well, almost, but...
         "Now. Where is she?"
         "Why ask me?"
         "You don't get to ask questions! You answer them!"
         "Can't you use your telepathy to locate her? Or your magic?"
         "I would rather not force a mind-probe on you. I've had enough of that to last a lifetime."
         "You can't find her," I realized. "She's found a way to protect herself from you."
         "YOU are not protected from me!"
         It's funny.
         I knew that I had done wrong. And I knew that Anna had done wrong, too, even though it was only because she wanted to help her sister. Yet, when I saw the young master so incensed... like a seething Devil, frustrated because a precious human soul has eluded its malevolent talons...
         "I'm not telling you anything!" I shouted back, genuinely angry.
         "Excuse me?" the young master hissed, not the least bit apologetic.
         I drew my sword.
         It's a real katana now, not just a wooden practice weapon. Taki gave it to me, after I refused to carry a gun. I suppose it's an ordinary enough blade, nothing fancy about the handle or the design. It has a cutting edge, though, and isn't that what really matters?
         "Do you really think you can threaten me with that?" the young master snarled. "Have you forgotten what my sorcery can shield me from? Look at yourself. You can't even hold it right; your hands are shaking too much."
         "I won't let you hurt Anna, especially not through me! If you try to take anything out of my mind, I'll fight you! I'll kill you if I have to, you - you DEVIL!"
         That got him.
         He wasn't impressed by my threats; yet a single, spoken word nailed him, as surely as if he'd been stabbed. He stiffened. His eyes widened with startled pain. The livewire energy on his fists flickered out.
         "What did you call me?" he breathed.
         "The same thing that everyone else calls you, and you know it! You're a-"
         "You are FIRED!" the young master howled, pointing to me as if to send a lightning bolt through my heart.
         What?
         "And so is Anna! For violating the fraternization policy! You - you should both be brought up on charges. You're not even acting sorry for what you've done! The ONLY reason I'm letting you off easy is that you're Xiaoyu's friend!"
         What...?
         "Get out of here. Get out of the syndicate, and don't come back. If you're not gone from the grounds of my home inside one hour, then I'll prove to you that Anna isn't the only Iron Fist contender who knows how to break bones!"
         But...
         "Get OUT!"
         I got out.


         I've been writing all this, while I wait for Anna.
         I'm at our restaurant, waiting for her. And waiting. She said she'd meet me here at eight o'clock, but now it's close to ten. It's not like Anna to be this late.
         She's not coming.
         I don't want to admit it, but I think it's true.
         I love her...
         Did she ever love me?


         When a woman did approach my table, it wasn't Anna.
         It was Taki.
         She was wearing a shapely bodysuit like always, with that mask hiding her entire face below the eyes. Tonight, the cloth that covered her was crimson red, instead of black.
         The color reminded me of Anna.
         Anna...
         "They are coming for you," Taki said, in her usual grating rasp.
         "Huh?" I mumbled, looking up from my journal.
         "Did you think they wouldn't be able to find you?" She gestured to the restaurant's late-night patrons. "They have spies everywhere. Even if Anna did love you, she would know better than to come for you here. She would only be walking into a trap. If this is where she told you to meet her, then you must know that she has abandoned you."
         It hurt, to hear Taki say that.
         It hurt, because it was true.
         "They are coming to destroy you," Taki warned. "This is your last chance to run."
         "Who are 'they'?"
         "The syndicate. Your misdeeds have come to the attention of 'Mishima-sama' himself."
         "You once told me that you couldn't help me escape from them."
         "You can still run."
         Could I?
         "Okay, let's say I run. Let's say I manage to get away from them. Let's say I even get out of Tokyo. Then what?"
         "Then you keep running."
         "So I run, and run, and keep running. When does it stop?"
         "When you are dead."
         I nodded. "So I live the rest of my life, however long or short that is, running from Mishima-sama. Always looking over my shoulder, in fear. Huddling in some distant fringe of the globe. Hiding from the noble leader who restored the barren Earth, in the wake of the Great Invasion."
         "Yes."
         "No," I decided, with a firm shake of my head.
         "Do you intend to kill yourself, then? Or go down fighting?"
         "Neither."
         I looked into her almond-brown eyes.
         "No," she denied, tremulously. "No, you don't want to-"
         "I've done wrong," I explained. "Ishida and Kimura trusted me, and I betrayed them. Mishima-sama gave me a chance to make something of myself, and I screwed it up. I have to face the consequences of that."
         "No crime of yours is worth the punishment you're going to suffer! How dare you pretend that you deserve - you don't know what they will do to you! You DON'T!"
         "What do you think they'll do? Kill me? Turn my dead body into another Cyborg Army prototype?"
         "If you're lucky!" She trembled; it was only for a moment, but I know I saw it. She was trembling like a frightened kitten. "If they show you mercy, then that is all they will do to you!"
         "You're wrong. I know they've suspended the Cyborg Army project. The young master told me himself."
         "The young master doesn't even know that he is a Devil; what makes you think he knows anything about what they are, or what they do?"
         "He oversaw the Cyborg Army project personally-"
         "Stop distracting yourself with trivia! If you let them take you - they - they will - I should kill you here and now! It would be a kindness!"
         "No, Taki. That would only get you in trouble. I've already put Ishida and Kimura at risk; I don't want you on my conscience, too."
         "You... you..."
         "I know what you are."
         I'm not sure why I decided to tell her that, just then.
         It worked, though. It interrupted her half-panicked tirade, and made her almond-brown eyes grow wide with astonishment.
         "Did the false Indian girl tell you?" she demanded.
         "Julia? No, she didn't. I wouldn't be surprised if she figured it out on her own, though. She strikes me as reasonably intelligent, for an over-prideful emotional cripple."
         "If she did not tell you, then who did?"
         I just remembered another reason why I was so sure that Anna loved me. She never talked to me like she thought I was a complete idiot.
         "Do you know, people have been underestimating me for as long as I can remember? Like they can't imagine I'd be capable of putting together anything on my own? I suppose I'm no genius, but in your case - it wasn't that hard to guess, after a little thinking.
         "You almost flat-out confessed it to me, once. When you explained why you were in danger from your reflected banishment spell, and I wasn't. Then there's your voice; normal women don't sound so harsh, and hoarse. Not unless they're chain-smokers, and you can't fit a cigarette through that mask of yours.
         "Speaking of which, I've never seen you take your mask off, even to eat or drink. I suppose you eat when no one is looking, but still, you can't be wearing it to hide your identity. Can you? Everyone in the syndicate already knows who you are. I'm sure anyone would recognize your voice, your eyes, and your body without it.
         "No, you're wearing that mask to hide something else. Something you don't want anyone to see, and I guess I can't blame you.
         "What really tipped me off, though, was your strength. You act tough, but you're usually holding back, aren't you? Except for that one time when you attacked me, the morning after my first date with Anna. Do you remember that? I saw you bury your sword in the wall, then rip it out again. Like spearing an appetizer with a toothpick, and I know it's more than just - just those hormones that make a person stronger, when they're under a strain. You're a lot more powerful, physically, than should be humanly possible.
         "You're from the Great Invasion, aren't you?"
         Taki closed her eyes and turned her head.
         "There's human blood in you too, isn't there? That's just a hunch, but it feels right. You have human feelings. You can cry human tears. And you hate the young master so much. That doesn't mean anything by itself, but when I think about it with everything else - well, the young master is really a half-Devil, isn't he? That's what I've heard, anyway. He had a Devil father and a human mother. I was wondering if maybe that's part of why you hate him. Because he's half a monster, like you."
         Taki said nothing. I couldn't tell whether the tears I had mentioned were gathering in her eyes, or if it was only a trick of the light.
         "Is it your monster half that hates Mishima-sama, because he healed the world after the Invasion was over? Or is it your human half that hates Mishima-sama, because his sons were part of the Invasion?"
         "My human side can't bear to witness his depravity," she croaked. "My other side instinctively fears his Strength."
         "I know you're wrong about Mishima-sama. A 'depraved' man could not have earned the respect of the entire world, like he has. It doesn't matter either way, though. I'm still not running."
         "Will you at least give me your journal?"
         "Uh, why?"
         "Because Heihachi Mishima will destroy it, even as he destroys you. He can permit no evidence of his crimes to survive. If you give it to me-"
         "Um, I've written some rather private thoughts in it."
         "About Anna?"
         "About everything." I shook my head. "It's a part of me, really. So whatever judgement Mishima-sama puts on me, he puts on my journal as well."
         "Then when he is done with you, there will be no trace of you remaining."
         "I'm sorry, Taki."
         "No. It is I who feels sorrow for you."
         "All I ever really wanted was to be an editor, you know."
         "Yes. I remember."
         She rubbed her eyes with one hand, and I guess I'll never know if she had been about to cry tears for me or not. When she left - well, for once she didn't just vanish. She simply walked out, like any ordinary person.
         I'm still waiting. Not for Anna, though. Not anymore.


         Taki was right. It's been barely half an hour since she left, and now they're coming for me. Mishima-sama is coming for me himself. I can't even bring myself to look directly at

scrawl

         Okay. I'm going to finish this real quick.
         When Mishima-sama came for me, there were a few people left in the restaurant. Not for long, though. His servants quickly cleared everyone away. Then they left, too. It was just Mishima-sama and I, in darkness and candlelight, at the last hour of Christmas Eve.
         Mishima-sama said, "Do you know why I am here?"
         "Because... because of what I did?" It was hard to speak to a man of such greatness. My stammer didn't give me any trouble, though; I don't know why. Maybe because I had resigned myself to facing Mishima-sama's justice, no matter how harsh it would be.
         "I cannot abide betrayal. What you have done is a disgrace to your uniform, and an insult to the House Mishima. Do you understand that?"
         "Yes, Mishima-sama," I whispered, in remorse.
         "Will you tell me where I can find Anna Williams?"
         I swallowed, hard.
         "I'm sorry, Mishima-sama. I'm... I'm sort of glad I don't know. Because I..."
         "You are still in love with her?"
         I nodded, without looking at him. I was unworthy to raise my head.
         "Did she tell you that she would meet you here? Has she deserted you?"
         I nodded again.
         "Raise your head. Look at me."
         Although I was still unworthy, neither could I refuse.
         Mishima-sama... he...
         He was great and powerful; his dominion covered a third of the world. His authority had virtually overwhelmed me, the first time I saw him. Yet now, as he confronted me - as I looked upon his wrinkled face, his grey hair, and his dry, brittle skin - I realized something. I'd known it about him all along, but I'd never truly understood it before.
         He was an old man.
         He had some years left to him; possibly as much as two decades. That was all, though. The end of his life was closing in on him, and as I looked into his jet black eyes, I could tell that he knew it. Perhaps he even feared it.
         I'm not sure what made me think that. It's hard to imagine such a noble leader being afraid of anything, even Death itself.
         I'm not noble, though. All of a sudden, I was very scared.
         "Are you going to kill me?" I squeaked. "Or - or use me for the Cyborg Army project?"
         "The Cyborg Army project has been suspended. Now, it shall be terminated. I cannot be served by empty vessels, waiting to be possessed by the vengeful spirits of all who have ever hated me. I must be served by living men."
         But, he didn't deny that he was going to kill me. My fear intensified; it must have been obvious on my face.
         Mishima-sama said, "Do you think I was never young?"
         Ummm... do I have to answer that?
         "You were driven to this by a woman. Do you think I have forgotten what it is, to be deceived by a woman's charms? To be seduced and betrayed for 'love'?"
         I, uh, really hope I don't have to answer that.
         "Understand this. I am prepared to show you mercy."
         Mercy?
         "What you have done is potentially a capital offense; yet I can plainly see your regret. That is why I give you this chance to atone."
         Am I - am I really hearing this?
         "I need a volunteer, for a special project. I need someone like you. There is a drawback. This is a dangerous undertaking; although I expect you to survive, I cannot guarantee it. Above all, I need you to accept this of your own free will.
         "Do not question me," Mishima-sama continued, sharpening his tone before I could draw breath to ask anything. "Just accept that this is so. You must choose to serve me freely. You must seek atonement with no constraints upon your body or soul, else you shall be useless to me. For this reason do I give you a choice.
         "If you are willing to accept your penance, then you shall be unconditionally exculpated of all the wrong you have done. Yet, if you refuse... if you carry even the least shadow of reservation... then you may go. Go, and expect no further retribution from me. You will remain terminated from my employ, and banished from all holdings of the House Mishima. However, that shall be your entire punishment.
         "That," Mishima-sama added, "and the knowledge that you have not the honor to hold yourself accountable for your own crime. You shall carry that bitter secret within you, to the end of your days."
         I still couldn't believe I was hearing this. I knew Mishima-sama was a great man, but I never dreamed he was capable of such... such amnesty.
         "Well?" he requested, gruffly. "What say you?"
         Part of me was tempted to accept his second offer, and just leave. I'd be out of a job, and maybe even a future, but my life would be safe. There was a problem with that, though.
         My own life wasn't the only thing I had put in jeopardy.
         "What about Ishida and Kimura?" I asked.
         That seemed to surprise Mishima-sama, a little. "Be more specific."
         "Are they in trouble, too? Will you also ask them to choose between losing their jobs, and, um, being part of something that could kill them?"
         "I have not decided what is to become of them, yet. They have faltered in their service to me before, and this - the way they allowed themselves to be tricked - it is beyond shameful. Even for them."
         "It wasn't their fault. I was the one who betrayed them."
         "We are all responsible for our own choices. Including our choice of whom we trust."
         "But you - you said I would be unconditionally forgiven. If I agreed to whatever it is that you want me to do. I'm not the one who deserves to be forgiven, though. They are. I'm the one who did wrong. Please, I'll do anything you ask, I'll volunteer, just don't make two innocent people suffer because of my crime. Please."
         Mishima-sama looked at me, in the most curious way. As if he were puzzled by what I was saying, uncertain of why Ishida's and Kimura's welfare would be so important to me.
         "You sound like my grandson," he sighed, at last. "He, too, has begged me to have mercy upon them. More than once in the past, he has begged me.
         "So be it," Mishima-sama decided, with the majesty of a royal proclamation. "You shall also take Ishida's and Kimura's penance entirely upon yourself."
         "You won't ask them to risk their lives for this project of yours?"
         A flicker of annoyance crossed the old man's jet black eyes.
         "Yes," he confirmed, evenly. "They shall share no part of it."
         "Uh - I'm sorry, Mishima-sama, I only have to ask you one more thing."
         "Do you?"
         "Yes. Are you - do you have to destroy my journal?"
         "Your journal?"
         I showed it to him. I didn't expect him to take it out of my hands and riffle through its pages, but of course I couldn't stop him.
         "You have written classified information in here," he observed. "Particularly with regard to Nina Williams, and the Cyborg Army project."
         "I'm sorry, Mishima-sama."
         "I cannot allow you to keep this. It could fall into the wrong hands. Yet, you do not want it destroyed?"
         "If there is any way - if there isn't, I understand, but..."
         "I require more than your understanding. I must have the complete, willing submission of your soul." He returned the journal to me. "It would seem your latest entry has been interrupted. You may finish it, while we are en route. Then, before you embrace your atonement, you must surrender your journal to me. I shall see that it is kept inviolate, until such a time as the information it contains is no longer classified. Then it shall be returned to you, if you are able to accept it; to your family, if you are not."
         I didn't know how to thank him. Getting on my knees and touching my head to the floor didn't seem like enough. I wonder how he intuitively understood that preserving this journal was so important to me. Maybe he keeps one of his own?
         So right now, I'm riding in the back of Mishima-sama's private limousine. We're just pulling up at - actually, I didn't pay much attention to where we were going, because I was busy getting all this down.
         I guess it'll be my last entry, for a while.





INTERVIEW WITH LEE CHAOLAN, section 4
February 15, 2018
5:30 p.m.


         It is good to see you, again.
         There is something you should know, before we start. Bryan has expressed his dissatisfaction with how our previous interviews have been conducted - 'behind his back,' as it were. In particular, he suspected you would talk to me about last Christmas Day, and he requested to be personally involved. So that he is awake a half-hour early even now, and he will be listening to us. Is that all right?
         Thank you for understanding.
         Bryan has, I am told, already explained how he and I were taking refuge at Taki's home. It took some persuading to make him agree to this, due to a curious antipathy he had for her. In exchange, he made me agree to avoid contact with her, so as not to put her in undue danger. This was easy to do, since I did not see her return to her home in the days before Christmas. Apparently, she was living entirely within the Mishima syndicate.
         During this time frame, Bryan and I were able to rest and recuperate. Taki's larder was well-stocked with provisions, and her closet was filled with spare clothes. There were a few outfits in Bryan's size; they almost seemed tailored for him. Also upon the premises were a variety of talismans, weapons, and poisons. There were even some, ah, specially designed human restraints. I'd rather not speculate as to their purpose.
         The plan, if I can say that Bryan and I had one, was to wait for Lei Wulong's match in the Iron Fist Tournament. Then Wulong would come out from hiding to face his opponent, but first, he would have to deal with us. One way or another, I intended to force the truth out of Wulong. I would learn once and for all whether he murdered my brother Kazuya in cold blood, and then I would deliver that truth to my nephew, Jin Kazama.
         After that...
         I wasn't certain what I intended to do, after that. The Toshin was the greatest threat. Although it was not due to return from its banishment for several months, I could not free myself from restless worry.
         Perhaps it is only impatience, I thought. Impatience at having nothing to do save rest, replenish, exercise, and wait.
         And watch television.
         Bryan did seem to be quite the connoisseur. Of several shows.
         Then, roughly two weeks before Christmas, I had an idea.
         "What?" Bryan growled to me, when I suggested it. At the time, he was in control of his body.
         I remember Lei Wulong from the last Iron Fist Tournament. Even though he was caught in the throes of his alcohol addiction, he made time to thoroughly examine each one of his fighting arenas, before his actual battle took place. He will almost certainly try to gauge his latest arena, prior to his Iron Fist match.
         "Exactly what are you saying?" Bryan returned, skeptically. "Are you saying that we should fucking stake out Wulong's arena round the clock, waiting for him to show up?"
         Not at all.
         "Good."
         Wulong should know better than to venture outside in daylight, lest the Mishima syndicate find him and forcibly return him to their hospital. Furthermore, he does have flawless night vision, on account of his demon residue. We should stake out the arena only at night.
         "Uh-huh. Have you forgotten that the syndicate is also hunting for me? Besides, no way am I going to spend my every waking hour on this. I lived through enough crap with boring stakeouts when I was a cop."
         If you give me control during the nights, I believe I can solve both problems.
         "Oh, really?"
         You may sleep, while I remain conscious and aware during the night. I will protect you, in the unlikely chance that we are discovered.
         "Hey. If one of us is always using my body at every hour, day or night, won't that be bad for it?"
         You would suffer from sleep deprivation, if you were not possessed by a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. However, I have come to know your physical body well, and I have learned how to revitalize it with my Power. You will be subject to no ill effects.
         "Oh, really."
         If you mistrust my word, then can you trust that I need to keep your body in peak condition? You are the only means by which I can interact with the physical world.
         "Hmph."
         Your body is in good hands, I swear. It is your psyche that needs periodic rest.
         "No," Bryan flatly denied. "You just want me asleep and out of the way, so you can have your revenge on Wulong all to yourself."
         Then I give you my word. I shall awaken you when Wulong comes.
         "Really."
         Remember, he is a dangerous man, and we still don't know who has been shielding him from my location spells. I shall greatly appreciate your psychic assistance, when the time comes to confront Wulong.
         Bryan still seemed emotionally perturbed, but...
         "Say. If you're awake on your stakeouts all night, then does that mean you'll have to sleep during the day?"
         Most likely, yes.
         "All day?"
         I suppose.
         "So I'll have my body completely to myself? You won't be watching, or aware of what I do?"
         It would seem so. However, I will still hold you to the Oath of the Guardians: to serve and protect mortal souls. Even though you have refused to swear it, I will awaken if you try to break it.
         "Then I'll just have to lay off the drugs, the hookers, and the serial killing spree," Bryan retorted, venomously.
         He was, of course, being facetious.
         At least about the serial killing spree, I presume.
         "Fine," Bryan conceded. "You can use my body at night to fly around and stake out Wulong's arena, like you're perched on top of some Christmas tree. But if you try to cheat me out of my revenge on Wulong, I'm going to kick your angel ass."
         I am not an-
         "Oh, shut up."


         Fortunately, the arena for Wulong's forthcoming battle was a lonely place, at night. There was virtually no chance of my being discovered. The risk was greater that when Wulong arrived, he might spot and elude me before I became aware of him. So that I remained vigilant each night, keeping myself especially sensitive to any traces of demonic activity.
         I also left a minor integrity ward about Taki's home, in addition to the many wards that Taki herself used to protect it. In fact, I don't believe that the Mishima syndicate knew where her home was, or even that it existed. She used her sorcery to camouflage it that well. The only reason Bryan had been able to find it was that she'd made a deliberate exception in her warding spells, specifically for him. This was why Taki's home was the perfect place for Bryan and I to hide from the syndicate.
         But I digress.
         It was early morning on Christmas Day - perhaps one or two hours after midnight - when my integrity ward sent me a signal.
         Taki had come home.
         Bryan had made me promise to avoid contact with her, but...
         Something bothered me about this. Why had Taki returned now, and not in the weeks before? Was it just for Christmas? It would have made more sense if she were celebrating the holidays with friends or family, yet she was alone.
         I swiftly flew back to her house. Tried to look in on her through the window, without being seen myself. I caught only a fleeting glimpse of Taki's silhouette, but it told me that something was wrong with her. There was a listless melancholy to the way she staggered, and sank on her sofa. The same, overstuffed couch from which Bryan liked to watch television.
         Bryan, I thought, sharply. Wake up.
         With a small amount of effort, I rousted him from his slumber.
         Ehh... what? Is Wulong-?
         No. Taki is home.
         WHAT!?

         His reaction bothered me. It wasn't exactly fear, or rancor, or mortification, yet it was similar to a combination of the three. I felt that I should understand what his emotion was, and what it meant; perhaps I had experienced it myself, a lifetime ago. It's hard to remember, when you've been dead for twenty years.
         WHAT are we hanging around here for!? You promised we'd stay AWAY from her!
         In order to avoid putting her in danger, yes. I fear she may already be in danger.
         What the hell?
         I am a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. It is my duty to serve and protect souls in distress, and her soul is in terrible distress indeed. Can you not tell? Look at her.
         It - it doesn't matter what she's feeling, it's still none of your business!
         You know her better than I. If you talk to her-
         No!
         Bryan, please. She is in pain. If you could only-
         I said NO!
         Then I shall talk to her.
         Oh, no. Oh no you don't - you can't-!

         I walked to Taki's doorstep, and rang the bell.
         AAAH! Bryan cried.
         Then he turned dark. Resentful. Vicious.
         Fine. Talk to her. Talk as much as you fucking want. But don't you dare get fresh with her, you got that? If you so much as touch her, I'll-
         Do not worry. I have no intention of misusing your body in any such manner. Still, I wish you would reconsider talking to her yourself.

         The only response he gave was a psychological slam. Door pulled shut, blocking out the world.
         Taki wasn't answering her doorbell.
         With a deep breath, I pushed open the door.
         I hoped that seeing me in Bryan's body wouldn't disconcert Taki too much, especially if her reaction to him was anywhere near as antagonistic as his was to her. It was necessary to stay in Bryan's form, though. Her wards only allowed for Bryan's passage; I couldn't shape-change his body into a version of my own appearance until I'd crossed her threshold. By then it was too late. She had already seen me.
         Taki had turned out the lights. She was half-sprawled on her couch, with her head down. She had undone her hair; it spilled a short ways down her shoulders. In one hand, she clutched a piece of fabric. It looked like a face mask. Its crimson color matched her cloth bodysuit.
         Taki's eyes flickered up and down my shape, through the tangles of her hair. Despair consumed her, dragging her arms, her eyebrows, everything about her into unmitigated depression. I couldn't get a good look at her face, but I could tell she had recently been shedding tears.
         She whispered, "Bryan?"
         I wasn't sure what to do.
         I've offered counsel to many mortal souls, done my best to comfort and guide them, since I became a Guardian. This was different, though. Taki was a living woman, not a lost spirit; I was uncertain of how to so much as introduce myself.
         "No," she softly realized. "You are not Bryan. You don't have his eyes."
         My eyes?
         Oh, that.
         For want of knowing what else to say, I explained, "You're right. I'm not Bryan; however, I am sharing his body and keeping him alive. When I'm in control, his eyes change color to what mine used to be. I'm Lee Chaolan. Please don't be afraid. I'm grateful for the use of your home - Bryan should be grateful too, even though he might not admit it - and I only want to help you."
         Taki's head drooped.
         "You're in pain. Would you like to talk about it? Would you - would you feel more comfortable if I shape-changed into another appearance?"
         "No. Stay that way. It reminds me of happier times." There was a weakness to her raspy voice, like something was gathering and catching up in her.
         "Are you in danger? Is someone threatening you, or-?"
         "They did not come for me, tonight. It was someone else that they took, a confused and helpless young fool, and I cannot bear to think of what they are doing to him even now. They will not come for me tomorrow, or the day after that; first, they will take the children. The full moon is coming. On that night, they will sacrifice all the children who still survive. I can't stop them. I can't do anything."
         "Who are 'they'?"
         "Heihachi Mishima, and his many servants."
         Heihachi Mishima?
         My father.
         "I should have known," I sighed. "I'd wanted to believe that he had truly reformed, but if he is still pursuing an evil destiny, then I shall have to stop him."
         "He will destroy you."
         "He can't. I'm already dead."
         "Then he will destroy Bryan."
         "That risk is for Bryan and me to confront. It is not too late, Taki. Don't give up hope. I'll protect you."
         "And Bryan won't?"
         Ahh...
         Bryan? Are you sure you don't want to talk-?
         There was the psychological equivalent of a click sound, as if he were locking the mental door that he had slammed shut.
         "When I say that you don't have his eyes," Taki continued, "I'm not referring to their color. I mean that you don't look at me with his loathing. He won't even talk to me, will he? If he really is alive. I was so sure that he was dead and gone forever..."
         "He is alive," I reassured. "He's just - ahh..."
         "Do you know what we were?"
         "You used to work together, didn't you? He was a Mishima syndicate liaison, and you brought him coded messages."
         "We were lovers."
         Oh.
         I should have known. I truly should have known.
         I've been dead for too long. That's my only excuse.
         "I'm sorry," I apologized.
         "Do you know why he ended it?"
         "No, I don't."
         "Because I deceived him. I deceived him from the day we met. The very first thing he said to me was, 'You're beautiful. I want you.' No one had ever said that to me, before. No one had said anything like that to me.
         "So I lied to him, without saying a word. I let him think I was human. He didn't know what I was; he didn't ask. It wasn't supposed to be a relationship where he would ask anything about me. Or where I would ask anything about him. I never expected him to have any feelings for me. I never thought I would start loving him."
         Taki shuddered.
         "There was one rule. One rule that he promised not to break. He was never to take off my mask. It was to always stay on, whenever we were together; he could never see my face. But no rule... no rule could have hidden the truth about me forever. By accident or purpose, it makes no difference; the truth will always become known, in the end."
         Taki looked up.
         She called a dim, lilac-white flame to her hand, illuminating her bare face.
         Grey Kingdom.
         From the nose and above, she looked like a human woman. A rather attractive woman, as far as I could tell. It was her mouth that was different. Her lips were pulled back in what would be a smile, for an ordinary person. She was not expressing mirth; it was simply the default shape of her face. Her teeth were metallic grey, needle-sharp, and packed in double rows.
         I'd seen creatures with faces similar to that, before. They were called 'mutants.' They were humanoids from another world, one poisoned to virtual wasteland by unspeakable corruption. The mutants had served the Shao Kahn, even as my brother and I had; we were all pawns of the Evil behind the Great Invasion.
         However, Taki did not look completely like the mutants I remembered. Their natural smiles had been far wider. They had also possessed clammier skin, of a dingy yellow color. Even though Taki resembled them, she was also different from them.
         "You are half-mutant," I observed.
         The lilac-white flame on Taki's hand sputtered out.
         "Was your human parent a... victim of the Great Invasion?"
         "My mother was raped by a mutant." Taki's head fell again, as if she had run out of strength to hold it up. "I never knew why she kept me. Why she didn't drown me at birth. I still don't know. The Mishima syndicate... they take care of her. They promised to provide for her, always. In exchange for my loyalty. That's why I can't betray them. That's why I have no other way out."
         No other...?
         Taki choked. Her muscles convulsed, in a brief spasm.
         "It shouldn't have taken this long to work," she croaked. "Bryan wasn't supposed to see this... I knew he was leaving my home every night, all night..."
         "What have you done?" I gasped.
         She didn't answer, directly. Another convulsion twisted her hands into pained claws.
         "You - no! What have you done to yourself?" I took her by the shoulders, trying to get a response out of her. She didn't say anything, yet my Power detected traces of a substance upon her lips.
         Nightshade.
         "Taki - listen to me, you have to tell me this. How much poison did you take? How long ago was it?"
         "I thought it was enough. Enough to... to get this over with before you came back..."
         Two tears left her eyes, spilling down her face.
         "I'm sorry, Bryan..."
         "No," I insisted, strenuously. "No, don't give up yet. Stay with me, I'll get you to a doctor, just hang on!"
         Yet when I moved to pick her up, something blocked me.
         A human soul.
         A soul that resisted me with a hundred times more strength than it ever had before.
         No, Bryan said. This time, it was not furious shout, or a petulant child's whine. It was absolute, unyielding, utterly inflexible. It took control of my hands, forcing them to drop Taki's crumpling form. Forcing me to step away from her.
         "What are you DOING!?" I screamed, too startled to address him psychically.
         You have no right to interfere with this.
         "I'm NOT going to let her DIE!"
         Yes, you are.
         I didn't understand.
         Whatever past acrimony he may have had for her, I could not begin to fathom why - why he would be so ruthless, so merciless. Why he could hate her so much as to-
         Ah, sorry.
         Bryan is protesting. He would like to continue this from his point of view. I assume that you already understand my own perspective, at the time. As for Bryan's motives, I believe that he can best explain them himself.


INTERVIEW WITH BRYAN FURY section 5
February 15, 2018
6:05 p.m.


         'Ruthless'? 'Merciless'?
         Shit.
         Lee still doesn't get it. Not completely. Intellectually, he can comprehend the principle, grasp the basic idea. But deep inside, where it counts - heart, soul, true feelings, whatever the fuck you want to call it - he doesn't really understand.
         People have the right to do what they want, with their own lives.
         Even if what they want is to end their lives.
         Lee doesn't fucking understand that. I don't know if it's because he tried to kill himself once, or in spite of it. Or maybe that has nothing to do with his problem.
         I'm not even sure it's his fault, not anymore. Maybe he can't help it. Maybe the ability to understand got burned out of him, when he was made into an angel. Who knows. He just doesn't get that not only do people have the right to do what they want, people WILL do what they want, whether you try to stop them or not.
         I'll give you an example. A quick one. From when I was a street cop.
         There was this jumper girl, you see? Real young, like fourteen. She was going to plunge off a ten-story building. The negotiators were on their way, but I just happened to be the first cop on the scene; even my lazy-ass partner was off on some personal screw-up. So I scrambled up to the roof and talked to this girl. Consoled her, listened to her problems, offered sympathy, all that shit. Talked to her, and got her to come away from the edge, into my arms. A reporter took our picture, and put it in the news. I was a big 'hero' for that. Even got a commendation.
         Three weeks later, I see the girl again. In a bathtub. She'd taken a razor blade up and down her forearms, along with the vein instead of across it. She'd known what she was doing. She had intentionally looked up how to kill herself, and went about it in such a way that no 911 call would ever make it in time to save her wretched life.
         Must've hurt like hell, too. A lot more than hitting the ground would have.
         I still got to keep my fucking commendation.
         Lee's listening to this even as I tell you, by the way. Not that it gets through to him. He calls the whole story 'anecdotal evidence.'
         And, in Taki's case...
         What?
         You shut up.
         Don't you dare ask what I felt for Taki. That's none of your fucking business, and it wasn't any of Lee's, either. Just shut up and listen.
         She wanted out. She wanted it over with, and whatever I felt or didn't feel for her, I had no right to stop her. Lee had no right to stop her, either. I believed that, I knew it, and because my feeling was so strong, I was able to make Lee back off.
         The feeling was real. My will was real. I had another advantage, though.
         I'd been practicing.
         During the past two weeks, when Lee was asleep, I'd practiced honing my will. Focusing my desire. Preparing for the inevitable day when it would come down to a war between me and him. I still intended to get him out of my body; I wanted to be free of him even more than I wanted revenge on Lei Wulong. So I worked on making myself ready. Eventually, I planned to challenge him outright, and get rid of him with sheer inner strength.
         I didn't think I was ready to take him on yet, though. Taki forced my hand. I could NOT allow Lee to go against her will, do you at least understand that? He had no right. And what if - what if he really did take her to, say, Tokyo Mishima General Hospital? What if they managed to save her? Then she'd be in the Mishima syndicate's clutches again, and her horrible fears of a fate worse than death would probably come true. I should know. I've lived a fate worse than death, as 'Prototype Alpha' of the Cyborg Army project.
         It was bad enough for Taki, when she saw me like that.
         You think it would be any easier on me, if they did the same to her?
         Don't answer that, you idiot. Just keep listening.
         Lee screeched, "Stop fighting me! There's still time-"
         Why don't you use your precious Power to heal her? I jeered. There was no point in reasoning with him, and I knew it. So instead, I played a role. Acted like the vindictive bastard he thought I was. It worked. It stalled him, flustered him, kept him distracted, buying Taki precious time to get her wish and die.
         "I DON'T HAVE THE POWER TO HEAL!"
         Could have fooled me.
         "I can make YOUR body heal itself because I'm POSSESSING it! I can't transfer to her!"
         Are you sure? Maybe you should give it a try. Go on, get out of my body and try to take over hers. It was a taunt. I wouldn't have said it if I thought he could actually do it, or if I thought he would. He wouldn't, of course; getting rid of him could never be that easy.
         "You- you-!"
         That's when Lee figured out that I was trying to distract him. He has trouble understanding certain things, but he's not stupid.
         "There is no time to argue with you. I'm retaking full control, now!"
         No, you are not. I am retaking full control.
         And I did.
         All that practice honing my will turned out to be good for something.
         Hey. Don't look at me like that. What did you think I'd been doing for the past two weeks, while Lee was asleep and out of it? Jerking off?
         Don't even think of answering that.
         I shoved Lee right out of my body, with pure resolution. He staggered away from me, a scarred, semi-translucent, silver-haired ghost. He remained connected to me, though; those damnable silver threads were still growing out of his left hand, feeding into my neck.
         I'll never forget the look of total surprise on his face.
         He'd thought I was completely under his thumb. A convenient, corporeal butler, put here exclusively to serve his idea of God.
         Well, his God as good as told me to fuck off a long time ago. I returned the sentiment.
         "NO!" Lee shouted, in that ghost-voice only I could hear. Righting himself, he closed in on me with one of the fastest punches humanly possible, or spiritually possible. It would have been so fast that I could never stop it in time, if I hadn't already known he was going to attack.
         Because, if you remember, he had warned me. In his foolish overconfidence, he had once shown me that he could make himself solid. Not to the rest of the world, mind you. Only to me. Since he was possessing me, he could make himself tangible to me, and even attack me. I knew this, and I was prepared for it, so that I launched my kick long before he started his punch.
         He wasn't thinking right, by the way. In no frame of mind for a real battle. While I was ready, I'd been waiting, and what's more, I wasn't just fighting for myself. I was fighting to give Taki what she wanted. So I swung my left leg in a horizontal full-circle slash, with enough force to drive back a thousand ghosts, and he ran right into it.
         He could make himself solid to me, yes. He could try to hit me. But making himself solid also left him vulnerable to being hit, and my kick bowled him like he was sailing into tenpins. Those damn silver strands were the only thing that kept him from flying out of Taki's house; they stretched out to, I don't know, maybe ten meters.
         "Get out of my body," I told him. "Get out and stay out!"
         "You..." he wheezed, shakily climbing to his feet.
         I think it was my psychological resistance that weakened him, a lot more than the physical. He didn't expect it, he didn't know how to deal with it, and my kick was the icing on the cake. I'd almost triumphed over him; he knew it, and I knew it. That was why he didn't just rush me with another attack.
         Instead, he fixed me with his ice-cold, auburn eyes. Eyes like he must have had, back when he was a mass-murdering war criminal.
         "You had the most precious of all human treasures," he seethed. "You had... love. And you threw it away! You turn your head from it, even now! For what? For PREJUDICE!?"
         That...
         That cut a lot deeper than I could afford to show.
         I still had to fight him, I couldn't give up now. Not when I was so close to being rid of him forever. But something in me slipped, dammit. Something faltered. A crack in my fortress of iron will, a piece of my guard torn down. Even as the rest of me struggled to rebuild it, I didn't know what to say back. I couldn't think of anything to say back, but if I gave up and said nothing he'd win, I had to be defiant, I had to say something, no matter how inane or meaningless or whatever...
         I yelled, "I didn't know she was a freak when I was fucking her!"
         That sent him over the edge.
         He was still shaking, but not with pain or shock. Not anymore. It was rage that had him; righteous, vengeful rage. The light of sanity was going out of his eyes, and it was with the mounting fury of a solar flare that he said, "You - you-!"
         *I CANNOT FORGIVE YOU!*
         And he changed.
         In a brilliant explosion of light and Power, he changed.
         He became his angel self.
         I'd seen him like this before, when he was passed out. Medieval chainmail shirt, surcoat with the silhouette of a rearing unicorn, giant white wings, shining silver hair, pits of fiery white light for eyes. I'd seen it all, and I'd seen the intensely blazing white sword in his hand, too. He called it the Sword of Truth. I knew his 'true form' really looked like this, but... I can't describe it. It wasn't the same, when he was awake and challenging me.
         You remember what it's like, don't you?
         The first time you saw the angel?
         The Power of God flows through his body. Celestial authority radiates from him; you look at him and you feel it. You feel it on every possible level. You're in the presence of something sacred. You're confronted by a warrior from the Kingdom of Heaven. Right here, before your eyes, is the personal incarnation of Light, Virtue, and Righteousness.
         Here is Justice.
         Here is Divine Retribution.
         Here is the Messenger of God himself, sent to eradicate your evil ways.
         That was when I knew I didn't have a chance. That was when I realized how futile my attempts to resist him were, all along. Whatever else Lee Chaolan was, or may have once been, he was an angel.
         He really was one of God's holy angels.
         No man can defeat an angel. No man can defy the will of God.
         Not even me.
         Especially not me.
         Don't ask me to go on about what happened after that. I can hardly remember any of it. All I know is that Lee hit me with something - his sword, I think - and I blacked out.
         The next clear scene in my head wasn't of Taki's home. I saw a vacant lot, between a railway and a set of disused apartments. It was night, and it was raining. A steady, miserable stream of rain.
         How much time had passed? Hours? Days?
         I tried to speak and couldn't, because I wasn't in control of my own goddamn body. It huddled in a concealed nook, poorly sheltered from the driving rain, waiting for Lei Wulong.
         Lee? I thought, somewhat groggily.
         No answer.
         I could feel his emotional background, but he didn't answer me.
         What happened?
         Nothing. No response.
         Taki... is she dead?
         What am I feeling, when I ask that question?
         I don't know. It doesn't matter. I just want to know the answer, and I want to know it very badly.
         Lee still wouldn't say anything.
         I felt something from him, though. Scorn. Contempt. He didn't spare me any words, but his emotions... if I were to crudely paste them into mere language, it would be something like, 'What do you care? You wanted to be rid of her, didn't you?'
         Lee, TALK to me dammit! Tell me! Is Taki - is she-?
         Lee moved my head. Like following the pan of a TV camera, I had no choice but to see what he was staring at. He focused on my left upper arm, long enough for me to get a good look.
         There was something tied around my arm. Something colored deep crimson.
         Taki's mask.
         Lee returned my gaze to the vacant lot.
         I...
         All of a sudden, I desperately wanted to explain things to him.
         I wanted to tell him about the girl who'd slit her wrists to spite me, about why carrying Taki to the Mishima hospital would have been the worst thing he could have done to her, I wanted to tell him everything. In psychic space, I wanted to stand up and tell him.
         I couldn't stand. Not even in psychic space.
         Something stopped me from expressing my will. Metaphorically, it was like being bound in chains of silk. Trapped in a cocoon where you can't feel pain, or much of anything else. Tied up and sealed away. As completely helpless as when Heihachi and Abel had controlled me, as their 'Prototype Alpha.'
         God's angel had judged me, and found me wanting. The sentence: life imprisonment.
         No, I denied, with rising panic. Not this. Anything but this. I won't be - I won't be a remote-controlled slave! NOT AGAIN!
         No answer from the silent angel.
         You can't do this to me. You can't keep me locked up like this forever! Get me out of here, damn you! Get me out! GET ME OUT!
         I might as well have been rattling a tin cup against the bars of my jail.
         Get me out of here...
         Rattle, rattle, rattle.
         ...get me out...


End of Chapter 20: Season's Evils