written by Victar, e-mail
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Chapter 21: Requiem Confessional

   "It's me God's going to judge."
   "You didn't do nothin' wrong."
   "He's going to judge that I didn't try hard enough to make anything right."
   "And you got some inside knowledge on His opinion? Why don't you hold off until He weighs in."

         -N.Y.P.D. Blue, "Show and Tell"

TRANSCRIPT: Files of Chief Detective Lei Wulong
Department of the Hong Kong Police Force
Classification Level: Omega
Section 202A-4
January 1, 2018
12:18 a.m.

         This is where I write my confession.
         I've lost count of how many times I've been on the other side of this. I'm Lei Wulong, Super Police; I've been on the job as a detective for well over twenty years. I can't remember how many times I've collared a crook, and then tricked him, threatened him, appealed to what remnants of decency he still had, or sometimes even lied to him. I've forgotten how often I've evaded lawyers, bent the rules, everything. Everything and anything to break down a criminal's mental defenses, and make him write a statement of what he did.
         I hate criminals.
         I never thought of myself as one.
         Am I?
         I don't know, I really don't know anymore. No matter what I did to Kazuya Mishima and Lee Chaolan, in hot blood or in cold, I'm still the so-called 'hero' of the Great Invasion. Kazuya and Chaolan certainly had their own crimes to answer for, as collaborators to the Invasion's genocide. I've confessed what I did to them, and if I believed in God, I'd pray that the truth will reach my son before the last of my time runs out. But just in case it doesn't, I'm writing my statement. Even if there's no God to judge me after the end, I'll have to answer to my wife's soul. I'll have to tell her what I did to the two people she loved most, outside her family and me.
         I knew Lee Chaolan carried an inextricable death-link, tying his life to that of his foster brother, Kazuya Mishima. Chaolan risked everything to betray Kazuya, and help turn the tide of the battle for the Mishima syndicate. Chaolan put his life on the line to give me, the good guys, and the whole goddamn world a fighting chance. Knowing all this, I seized advantage of Chaolan's treachery. I defeated Kazuya in single combat, and broke his necromantic Power.
         Then, when Kazuya was helpless... when I held his life in my hands... I...
         This isn't working.
         I can't explain it right, not like this. I have to start from the beginning.
         The beginning of my confessional.
         It started just a few hours ago, at Shingo Yabuki's apartment. Professor Shingo Yabuki, technically. And I do mean 'technically'; if he graduated from a real college, then I'm a freaking idol singer.
         I still don't trust him. Not completely.
         It isn't because he's handicapped. Actually, he's pretty good at compensating for the loss of his left arm and leg. His partial deafness isn't a problem, either. He can read lips perfectly, and he's trained his working ear pretty well. You'd never know you were talking to a guy who can't hear on one side, if he weren't missing his left ear. It's the lack of depth perception that gets him, sometimes. I think that having only one eye is part of why he's so disorganized - why he can't quite stack or arrange stuff as neatly as he'd like. The point is, though, that his physical disabilities aren't what bother me.
         Yabuki is barking mad.
         He's paranoid of mirrors. Just seeing one can make him cower in fright, or explode into violent rage. He's also delusional, and getting worse. He used to be pleasantly secure in the fantasy that his dead family members were alive and well. Then, shortly after he took me in... I don't remember exactly when, where, or how it started, but he's taken to calling me 'otou-san.'
         Sometimes he calls me 'tou-san.' Meaning, 'Dad.'
         It's not an honorific. He means it literally. Somewhere in his screwed-up wreck of a human brain, Yabuki has latched onto me as the father he lost twenty years ago, in the Orochi Blood Riots. He's forgotten who I really am; he thinks of my name as, I don't know, some kind of alias I like to use. Nothing I can say will get through to him. I don't even have the strength to try. Not anymore.
         I'm worried that he won't survive this.
         If Heihachi doesn't murder him, then I'm afraid he'll lose the last dregs of his sanity, and die on the inside. That he'll have to be tied in a one-armed straitjacket and locked in a padded cell, for the rest of his demented life.
         I've still had to exploit him.
         If I'd known of any other way, I would have taken it. Heihachi is plotting to murder my son, and probably also Ling Xiaoyu and Julia Chang, the other kids he's keeping as 'guests' in his damned syndicate. I needed to do something about it, which meant I had to get the weapons I'd once stashed around Tokyo. Since I'm too sick to travel, especially with the Mishima syndicate on the prowl for me, that meant I had to send Yabuki.
         For what it's worth, Yabuki isn't so far gone as to underestimate the danger of what he's been fetching. If anything, I find it all too easy to take on the role of 'Father,' and instruct him not to mess with any of the weapons. He seems to understand. So now I've got a small powder keg stashed in Yabuki's kitchen. Enough to get him and me both locked up for life, if the real police ever learned about it. Especially since the real police are squarely under Heihachi's thumb.
         Problem is, weapons alone aren't that much help against Heihachi. I needed people who could use those weapons, because I'm too weak to withstand the recoil of a gunshot. As for Yabuki - it's amazing how well he can get around with just a wooden leg and a claw cane, but he can't fight my war for me.
         He would in an instant, I know he would. That's not the problem. There's a limit to how much I can allow myself to manipulate him, as his 'father.' Having him run moderately perilous errands is one thing. Sending him against Heihachi Mishima is out of the question.
         Yabuki claims that he knows the risks he's taking, helping me. He claims that he knows how deadly 'Mishima-san' is. He also claims that his best friend is a freaking god, the benevolent 'Kusanagi-sama.'
         No. Yabuki isn't sane enough to make this kind of choice.
         Even if he were, though, I'd still be reluctant to enlist him. Somewhere, underneath all that dementia, Yabuki seems to be a good guy. What's left of one, anyway. He's been kind to me. In a way, he saved me. I almost died in that goddamn Tokyo Mishima General Hospital, before Yabuki took me in. If not for him, I'd probably be back in that antiseptic hellhole now. Or else I'd be in a morgue.
         Despite his delusions, Yabuki isn't truly my son. I have to put my real son first. I have to save Jin. Yet, if Jin manages to survive all this, and Yabuki doesn't... I think I'll feel almost as miserable.
         So. If I can't fight, and Yabuki can't fight, who does that leave?
         As destiny would have it, I got the answer when Yabuki informed me who had earned the 'honor' of facing me, in Heihachi's Iron Fist Tournament.
         "Are you sure?" I questioned, just in case. "Paul Phoenix? From America?"
         "That's what Ling-san told me," Yabuki confirmed, with a nod.
         "Hot-tempered, middle-aged drifter? Likes to ride a motorcycle? Blue eyes, stiff blond hair slicked straight up like a broom?"
         "As a matter of fact, Ling-san did call him 'broom-head.' I had no idea she meant it literally. Do you know him?"
         "From the last Iron Fist Tournament. And the Great Invasion."
         "Oh, I see. That must be why I don't recognize the name. Those all happened just before I started fighting in Tournaments."
         What can I say, about Paul Phoenix?
         There's one thing that he lives for, above all else. One thing, and that's the fight.
         Paul loves to fight.
         There's other things that he likes. Drinking in bars, riding his motorcycle - to Paul's credit, he knows better than to mix the two, but he drives like a maniac anyway - also hair gel and pizza, fried chicken and the smell of gasoline.
         Fighting is the one thing he truly loves, though.
         He's never held a steady job. He's just always drifting from state to state, or more rarely, country to country. He gets by as a temporary bouncer, a prizefighter, sometimes hired muscle or a short-term bodyguard. Always living on the ragged edge. I expect that's how he'll die one day, too. Beaten to a bloody pulp, and left to rot in some dirty sidestreet, because he picked a fistfight with one bad guy too many.
         That's assuming he doesn't crash his motorcycle first, and splatter his brains all over some dusty interstate. He doesn't wear a helmet; he's too vain about his screwed-up hairstyle.
         Oh, and I think he's gay.
         I could swear he was hitting on me, once. Twenty years ago, after the battle for the Mishima syndicate. After he got out of Kazuya's cryogenic suspension chambers. For the last couple weeks of the Great Invasion, Paul fought with us to save the Earth. There was this one lull between battles, when Paul was talking to me alone, and, what can I say. I guess I was a lot better looking, back then. I can't remember if I was flattered or panicked. Both, I think. Probably both.
         But, when I told Paul that I was in love with a woman - which was, by the way, true - he backed off. Just ended the conversation and walked away. Maybe he was never coming on to me in the first place; it could be nothing more than my ego, imagining that he did.
         Then again, I know Paul is ostracized from the rest of his family, in New York. The Phoenix clan are some of the wealthiest socialites you'll find in any country, but if Paul's ever had more than ten bucks to his name, it's only because he was saving for a full tank of gas. I'm not completely sure why Paul's relatives cut all ties with him, and I've certainly never asked him about it. I've wondered, though. I've wondered if they shun him because he's gay, and they couldn't accept it. Maybe Paul first took to the road when his own family threw him out of the house. Maybe that's part of why he's never cared to call any other place 'home.'
         Whatever Paul's personal life is, though, he's first and foremost a fighter. A brawler who never quits. A short-fused hothead, temperamental enough to take on Heihachi Mishima himself.
         It would be stretching the truth to call Paul a friend. I hadn't seen him in an age. He was once a comrade-in-arms, however, and he was a reliable one. Paul's not just any fighter; he's the type who lives for the good fight. He'll take on anyone in a fair match, but he especially loves to whale the tar out of bad guys. If there was anyone I could get to go up against Heihachi, it had damn well better be Paul.
         There was a problem. The Mishima syndicate had to be watching Paul, like it watched all the other Iron Fist participants. Sure, I would meet Paul at our fight, but there would also be another dozen syndicate suits on the premises. Every one of them would be eagerly waiting to ship me back to that damnable hospital, whether I won or lost.
         I remembered something about Paul, from the last Iron Fist Tournament. A certain personality quirk of his. He liked to case his Tournament fighting arenas at midnight, the night before his match.
         Nothing wrong with that. It's always good to know the ground you're going to fight on; I tried to case my own arenas in advance, too. When I wasn't drunk out of my mind, that is. What I'm getting at, though, is that Paul would almost certainly be looking over our arena, the midnight before our match. Unless he'd changed his habits over the past twenty years, but hey. He was still wearing his hair in that hideous vertical-slick style, wasn't he?
         Midnight before our match...
         The night of the new year.
         Thanks to Heihachi's machinations, my first battle in the Iron Fist had gotten put off until January 1st, 2018. I wasn't sure I'd live to see 2018, which might have been Heihachi's intention. But I can't die yet, not when my son's life is in danger, so here I am. When I learned I was going to fight Paul, I knew that on December 31st, I'd have to leave Yabuki's apartment. I'd have to go out to the arena at night, find Paul, and get his help.
         I didn't tell Yabuki about this plan of mine. Didn't want to upset him. He knows I'm terminally ill, but he frets over me like - well, like he's my son. So I tried to keep it a secret from him. It couldn't be helped, though. Yabuki didn't want to leave me alone on New Year's Eve, any more than he did on Christmas. Although I tried, I couldn't sneak out without him noticing. Just because he's deranged, it doesn't mean he's unobservant.
         Also, I got hit with another coughing spasm right when I reached his front door. That kind of tipped him off.
         "Otou-san, where are you going?" Yabuki asked, worriedly.
         I thought about making up a lie.
         "Do you want to ring in the new year? I'm sorry, otou-san, but you're in no condition to travel. Besides, it's raining out. You'd catch cold, and that would only make your cough worse."
         "I don't get sick from infectious diseases," I told him, truthfully. It's one of the nicer advantages of being partly a demon.
         "You still shouldn't go out."
         To hell with it. Yabuki may have been crazy as a loon, but he did have a right to know.
         "I've got to go. It's my one chance to get an ally on my side, without the Mishima syndicate catching me."
         "Do you - are you sure you have to leave now? Little sister is stopping by, tonight. I won't know what to tell her, if you're not here."
         "Your little sister is dead, Yabuki. She's been dead for twenty years."
         I may as well have been talking to the wall. That's how unshakeable Yabuki's dementia is.
         "Please, otou-san," he begged. "Can't you wait for her? Just a couple more hours?"
         "No, I can't. This has to be done."
         "Then, are you sure I can't go in your place?"
         Yabuki's been a good go-between for my stashes, and even for some trips to Chizuru Kagura's holy Temple - the acolytes there were nice enough to put some enchantments on a certain armband, which I passed along to Julia Chang. I don't know how much said armband will improve her chances of escaping from Heihachi Mishima, but I can hope.
         However, when I considered using Yabuki as an emissary to Paul Phoenix...
         Paul's a good guy, and he's not a total idiot. Like I said, though, he's not exactly a friend. I couldn't be sure that Paul would take Yabuki seriously. Paul just might figure Yabuki for the freaking loon he is, and completely ignore him.
         "Yes, I'm sure. I have to do this myself," I told Yabuki.
         "Then I should go with you."
         It was going to be hard enough to avoid Heihachi's Tekkenshu soldiers, keeping in the darkness, relying on my demon night vision to navigate tunnels, sewers, alleys. If Yabuki went with me - hindered as he was by his handicaps, not to mention his phobia of any remotely shiny surface - my chances of avoiding detection would be at least halved, at worst nil.
         "Not possible," I denied, shaking my head.
         "Just accept my word for it. I have to do this alone, and I'm not saying that lightly."
         "...what about the angel that's hunting you?"
         I don't know what made me tell Julia that, and I honestly wished she hadn't told Yabuki. For goodness' sake, the lunatic had even 'warded' his front door from angels, with a generous splash of lamb's blood.
         In the name of Sanctuary itself. If the Angel of Death really had sent one of her own after me - either to help me or to kill me - then I didn't see how animal blood would affect the situation. And I didn't really know that there was an angel out there, on my case. Death made me only one promise: that I'd return to her, in due time. It's the same promise she makes to all mortals, I suppose.
         "I can't hide in here for the rest of my life," I tried to explain. "Not even from angels."
         "You could be destroyed. No man can defeat an angel."
         "I'm a demon, remember?"
         "A weak one. A sick one."
         "I still have to do this."
         Another coughing fit took me just then, and I had to grip the door's knob to keep from slipping to my knees. When I looked up...
         Yabuki appeared stable on the surface, but I'm good enough at reading people to see that he was holding back his grief and fear. Keeping it in check with sheer will.
         "At least let me give you strength," he said, quietly.
         "I told you, you can't-"
         "Yes, I know. I should stay home and wait for little sister, anyway. What I mean is - well, could you just sit for a moment? This won't hurt. It could be your only chance of making it back alive. Please, trust me."
         Like hell.
         I did trust my instincts, however. They told me that trying to dodge the syndicate all through Tokyo would be massively hazardous, when I was so debilitated I could hardly stand. The risk of going along with Yabuki's request, whatever it was, paled in comparison. So I did as he said, though I watched him with a suspicious eye.
         Yabuki looked down at his hands, both real and wooden. At the fingerless fighting gloves he wore on them, gloves marked with the solar symbol of the House Kusanagi.
         He took a deep breath, and let it out.
         "Are you ready, otou-san?" he asked.
         "Uhh... sure."
         "Just relax. Clear your mind. It'll be okay; I know what I'm doing."
         All right, now I'm really worried.
         Yabuki gently cupped my cheek with his right hand.
         A deep green glow spread from his fingers.
         My eyes practically bugged out of my head. Even as I saw the aura, my skin tingled from - there could be no mistaking it, I know what sorcery feels like. Sorcery similar to my wife's Power of Healing, although not quite the same.
         Yabuki is not a sorcerer. He's never been a sorcerer, he-!
         It was the gloves.
         They were magical artifacts. Special ones. Deliberately designed to conceal their Power, when not in use. Otherwise, my demon sensitivity would have picked up on their true nature, right away.
         "There," Yabuki breathed, removing his hand from my face. "That should be..."
         He swayed.
         Tried to reach for his claw cane, and fumbled. Started to collapse completely. I sprang up and caught him, before he could hit the ground.
         "Yabuki. Yabuki! Are you all right?"
         "...fine..." he murmured. I helped him sit. He rested his head against the wall of his home, as if depending on the surface to prop him up.
         That was when I realized what I'd done.
         Yabuki is a little taller than I am, and around my weight. Fifteen seconds ago, I couldn't support my own mass without getting dizzy; now, I'd caught him like it was nothing.
         I could stand like it was nothing.
         I could even breathe like it was nothing. The heaviness in my lungs was gone. The cough-prone tickle in the back of my throat had faded.
         "What did you do?" I asked, and it was the strongest my voice had been in months.
         "I'm sorry, otou-san," Yabuki whispered. "I can't cure your sickness..."
         "Are you sure you'll be all right?"
         "Yes... in time..."
         I didn't know what to say. All I could think of was, "Thank you."
         "I'm listening."
         "Kusanagi-sama's blessing... limited."
         "How long?"
         "On your body... a few hours."
         It was currently around nine at night. I was leaving early, in order to be sure I made it to Paul's arena in time. The journey would normally take an hour on foot, but I needed to make allowances for dodging Mishima syndicate goons.
         "If it can just last until midnight, I'll be set. Either my ally can help me after that, or I'm dead in the water anyway."
         "But if..."
         Yabuki's eyelids started to flutter shut. He forced them back open, struggling as if they were lined with lead.
         "If you... strain yourself... it'll run out faster."
         "I'll remember that."
         Yabuki passed out.
         I carried him to his own bed, set him down, and thanked him one more time even though he couldn't hear me. Then I left.
         It was a good thing that I'd given myself as much time as I did, because Heihachi's Tekkenshu patrols were especially abundant in downtown Tokyo, on New Year's Eve. Dodging them was tricky. If not for my heightened senses, it might have been impossible. I stayed to darkness, though, and I'd dressed in dark colors, underneath a black cloak. The steady rain also helped, since it made for poor visibility. Perhaps most fortunate of all, my destination was in a part of Tokyo where Tekkenshu were sparse. I'm not an expert on Tokyo by any means, but I happened to know something about this area.
         It was in the heart of a burakumin ghetto.
         The burakumin...
         I've never fully understood the whole concept. My wife tried to explain it to me, once. Apparently, back in Japanese history - 16th century, I think it was - there weren't enough folks of outside blood to discriminate against. Even today, there's not many folks born in Japan who don't belong to the majority ethnic group. There's a few Ainu, who have lived here since prehistory; and some Koreans, who have lived here for generations. My wife had a bit of Ainu and Korean blood in her - the Ainu traceable through her father, the Korean through her mother. Because of this, Heihachi considered her an acceptable fiancée only for Lee Chaolan, his gaijin adopted son.
         Yet life doesn't always work out how you expected, does it? Instead of marrying Lee, my wife passed her heritage along to Jin Kazama, and I've no doubt that old man Heihachi hates her for it. The racist bastard probably can't stand that his only grandson, the last heir of Mishima blood, carries these 'impure' traces. It would make me laugh, if it weren't one more reason why I know Heihachi intends to murder Jin.
         Anyway, centuries ago, Japan didn't have enough foreign blood folks to pick on. So, the government declared a massive section of its own goddamn people to be a bottom-level caste. The burakumin. Completely indistinguishable from any other ethnic Japanese. They were just considered to be society's dregs, supposedly because they performed 'dirty' jobs. Jobs like butchering animals, or executing criminals. Jobs that the Buddhist and Shinto religions considered 'unclean,' even though most of the faithful still wanted the work taken care of.
         So the burakumin were 'unclean' because they did dirty jobs, and they could do only dirty jobs because they were 'unclean.' They were absolutely restricted in where they could live, what they could wear, and so on. They were called 'filth,' or 'nonhuman.' Sort of like the 'Untouchable' caste of East India. Because Heaven forbid all commoners start treating each other like human beings. If run-of-the-mill stiffs didn't have a 'nonhuman' subgroup to spit on, then they just might riot against the ruling class.
         Or something like that. I know I'm oversimplifying. A lot.
         It's supposed to be illegal to discriminate against the burakumin today. They were officially 'emancipated' over 140 years ago. They just happen to have a massively higher unemployment and illiteracy rate, compared to non-buraku Japanese. Their increased unemployment certainly has nothing to do with burakumin family blacklists, secretly composed, circulated, and sold to all sorts of companies. As for the idea of a burakumin marrying a non-burakumin - well, there's some non-buraku families who'd allow it. There's also a lot of families who would at least have reservations, and at worst outright forbid it, or even expel the young couple. It's still common today for families to hire private detectives, in order to investigate possible marriage partners. Detectives who carefully determine, among other things, whether a potential mate has any Korean or buraku background.
         When I think of such people having the same job title as mine - 'Detective' - I feel sick. And I don't mean from my freaking liver cancer.
         There is a reason for this rambling discourse, by the way. Heihachi had deliberately set my arena among Japan's shunned and scorned population. Like it was supposed to be an insult. Like he thinks I'm something nonhuman.
         The narrow-minded bigot.
         Oh, I know Kazuya made me into something no longer, in terms of literal biology, 'human.' What Heihachi doesn't get is the true meaning of humanity. It's not what you look like, or what family you're born into, or what country you're from, or anything that's naturally or forcibly stamped in your blood. Humanity is what you do with your body and soul. It's how you treat other people, and how you treat everything else. Heihachi doesn't get that.
         I'm honored that the folks living in the burakumin district would lend me a piece of their space, for my own struggle. But if I were to tell Heihachi that, he'd think it was just bravado. He wouldn't understand that it's the truth. If I also told him that, through his own crimes, he's become far more inhuman than any demon curse has made me - well, he wouldn't get that, either.
         The end of it is, Heihachi's own prejudice worked to my advantage. Since he didn't consider the burakumin district to be as worthy of his Tekkenshu's gracious honors, I had an easier time getting around once I reached it. So I made it to my forthcoming arena without being discovered, maybe an hour before midnight.
         It was still raining. Although my demon side keeps me from getting sick, it doesn't do much to protect me from being wet or cold. My cloak helped, but still, it was with a certain amount of relief that I finally took shelter under an overhead set of rail tracks. As I waited for Paul to show up, I surveyed our arena.
         It was a vacant lot. Broad billboards poked above the tracks I've mentioned. Another side showed the backs of several closed stores, another had an even-topped wooden fence, and a giant, brick-covered apartment building formed the last side. I think the structure may have been condemned, because there were no lights coming from it. For that matter, there were no signs of late-night activity anywhere in the immediate area. I was, it would appear, alone.
         The lot itself was pretty clean. I've got to hand it to whoever owned this specific piece of property; he or she kept it in good shape. No broken glass on the concrete, no piles of trash overdue to be hauled away. There was some graffiti, scrawled on the fence's grey wooden boards, but none of it was derogatory or obscene.
         Nothing more to do, except settle down and wait for Paul.
         Nothing to do...
         I never saw him in time to run away.
         Not Paul. It definitely wasn't Paul. It was a different man, waiting for me. Who had been waiting for me all this time, concealed in his own nook under the rail tracks.
         I should have known he was there.
         My demon side is sensitive to people's auras, dammit. I can't see their souls, or life-force, or whatever it is, like a sorcerer can. I can't read their thoughts, like my telepathic son. But I can feel them, like hearing an undertone rhythm to a piece of music. Or reading the subtext between the lines of a book. Sometimes, I can even get an idea of how shadowy they are - I don't mean physical appearance, it's something that's hard to translate into words. Like a rough estimate of how ruthless they are, how little they care for anything other than themselves.
         It's not a completely natural ability. I've had to train myself to get good at it, ever since the Great Invasion. Hell, I don't know how much of it really is my demon side, and how much is just street smarts, from being a detective for so long.
         It doesn't always work that well, either. Especially not if I'm weakened or distracted. One of my biggest failures was just last September, when I freaking walked right into a Hong Kong mob ambush, set up to execute a crooked Interpol cop named Bryan Fury. I still curse myself for that. If I'd stopped for even a minute, tried to use my own miserable senses on that deathtrap of a condemned building - eh, damn. I was the Chief Detective, and the job expected me to delegate, and I did. The resulting bloodbath probably should be on my head.
         This is going well.
         I start writing my confession for what I did in the Great Invasion, and I end up admitting my guilt for something entirely unrelated. Still... I can't guarantee that one shootout would have turned out differently, if I had been more cautious. Detective Fury's mob rivals had been one second away from blowing out his brains, when the rest of us barged in. What were we supposed to do, let it happen?
         Anyway, about sensing the presence of other people...
         It's a damn useful skill, for a cop. Tonight, it helped me dodge a hell of a lot of Tekkenshu. Most of Heihachi's private soldiers are cold-hearted at best; at worst, you don't want to know. I'd trusted my senses to guide me, to Paul's arena. I'd trusted them to warn me, if I was being set up.
         They failed.
         They completely and utterly failed.
         There was a man before me, and I'd never noticed him. Never picked up a hint of his aura. Admittedly, the rainy downpour did somewhat dampen my physical senses; otherwise, I might have been better able to see or hear him. Psychically, though...
         I felt nothing.
         I was still feeling nothing.
         There might have been a residue of sorcery about him. That was all. If I ignored his breathing, ignored his heartbeat, ignored everything about him that looked and acted human, he'd feel about as alive as a kitchen table. Or a computer. Or maybe a Jack-2 robot.
         This was beginning to rattle me. A lot.
         "Who are you?" I rasped. Didn't back away from him, not yet, but I intended to keep that option open.
         "Is your memory that short?" he said, stopping squarely in my line of sight. With demon night vision, I got a good, hard look at him.
         He was dressed like a mercenary.
         His black leather, sleeveless vest hung open. It wasn't the kind of vest that's meant to close. It's the kind that you can shrug off in a hurry, if your enemy happens to grab it. Uneven, black-on-white horizontal stripes circled the legs of his pants. The striped pants sported durable black kneepads, and had their ankle cuffs securely tucked into his heavy boots. I spotted a fighting knife in a deep blue sheath, strapped to his right hip. Fingerless black fighting gloves protected his knuckles. There was something tied around the thick muscles of his left arm, midway between shoulder and elbow. It was a scrap of fabric dyed deep crimson; the only splash of color in that gloomy darkness.
         I knew someone who used to dress like that, once. Who was partial to fake SWAT-team clothes, especially when he was working undercover. Never saw him tie bandannas around his arm before, but...
         I didn't want to look at his face.
         I'd have to look at his face, in order to know what I was dealing with. I already feared the answer, but it had to be confirmed. I had to look at his face, and I can't put into words how hard it was. Even for a police veteran of what, almost thirty years? Perhaps I wouldn't have worked up the nerve at all, if not for the fact that looking at his exposed chest was almost as bad.
         He had scars.
         Bullet wounds.
         Lots of them. And a vicious, brutal knife-mark, twining a lethal trail down his left side, from ribcage to gut.
         I've got a couple scars myself. Mostly from before Kazuya gave me a demon side that heals most damage inside a day. I've been shot and stabbed in the line of duty, but not like this. Never like this. The damage that this man had taken wasn't anything a human being could live through, not to my reckoning. It probably wasn't even anything a demon could live through.
         It was all my worst fears, and more.
         I looked at his face.
         Another, ghastly scar there, carving straight down over his left eye. Hell, I'd bet that wasn't his original left eye anymore. Although it did seem to track me, unlike Shingo's glass eye. As for the rest of my adversary's face - the swirling black tattoos on either side of his neck were new. His angular, hawk-nosed features weren't. Nor was his wiry, buzz-cut silver hair, smoothed back in a stiff widow's peak.
         No, my memory isn't that short.
         I knew this man. I knew him all too well. More to the point, I knew he was dead. I'd seen him die, in that September debacle of a Hong Kong shootout.
         Then again, I'd also seen Hong Kong Tekkenshu pack this man's bloody corpse into a portable cryo chamber, and haul it away. They said that their victim had signed a contract, willing his mortal remains to the Mishima syndicate. I've heard a few nasty rumors about Heihachi's interest in fresh cadavers, so perhaps it wasn't a complete shock to see this particular dead man up and moving. It still would have been a lot easier if I hadn't known him. Or owed him.
         He saved my life, and then some.
         Warned us all of the impending mob ambush, killed my would-be murderer in single combat, and then took seven Glaser Safety Slugs, any one of which could have been my death knell. I've sometimes wondered if he meant to throw himself in the line of fire, between those bullets and me.
         My final guess is, probably not.
         He was a dirty cop, a drug dealer and a drug user, a tool of the murderous Mishima syndicate, and a self-righteous prick. He never appeared to have one shred of fondness for me, or the ideals I believed in. My demon senses had told me that he was nearly dead, on the inside. Still, I hadn't wanted to give up hope on him, because he was once a good cop. I knew that from his record, and I'd seen traces of that side in him, when he helped me eradicate the Ivory Claw from Hong Kong. Even if he was just helping the Mishima syndicate clear away their nastier, drug-running competition. Even if we both were.
         Whatever his intentions may have been, though, the fact is that he freaking died to save my life. What few months were left to it, anyway.
         His full name was Detective Bryan Fury, of Interpol. But on the job, and especially undercover, he was called-
         "Snake Eye," I breathed, and now I felt justified in taking a step back.
         His silver eyebrows came down, in mild confusion.
         He didn't understand what I was saying.
         "Snake Eye?" I repeated, carefully, and still saw no signs of comprehension on his face. Or in his eyes. When I looked into those eyes-
         In the name of Sanctuary.
         It wasn't obvious, in the near-midnight rain, especially since my night vision isn't that great for making out color. I could still tell. Bryan's eyes - the Bryan I had known, the Bryan who had worked with me, argued with me, and spilled his lifeblood in a dirty warehouse - his eyes used to be green. The green of slick, slimy moss, clinging to the underside of an ocean rock.
         This man's eyes were a different color. They were auburn.
         I'd seen eyes that color, once. That exact shade. A long time ago. Over twenty years ago. I'd seen...
         The instant that shadow of a thought flickered through my head, a larger, stronger part of me shut it down. Barricaded it, locked it away, bricked up the trap door and buried it all in darkness. It was unconscious, automatic. An ingrained, self-perpetuated brainwashing. There were certain things that I did not talk or think about, and the color of this dead man's eyes was high on the list.
         So all I said was, "You are not Detective Bryan Fury."
         "Ah?" He blinked, and then nodded to himself, as if acknowledging something that had briefly slipped his mind. "Of course. Sometimes I do lose track."
         "Who are you? What have you done to his remains?"
         "They are not, technically speaking, his 'remains.' Not yet. Bryan's still in here, and right now, he's awake. I didn't want to roust him, especially not for this confrontation, but I gave him my word."
         "Did you." I wasn't sure whether I believed any of this.
         "'Snake Eye.' Is that Bryan's nickname? It suits him."
         Bryan - I knew he wasn't really Bryan, but for the sake of convenience that's what I'll call him - he folded his arms, and fixed me with the piercing glare of an inquisitor. "Are you sure you don't know who I am? Look into my eyes. Ask that question of your soul."
         "No," I snarled. "No."
         "I can see you've found a way to compensate for your sickness," Bryan continued, dangerously. "Whatever dark Power is fueling you, I am not going to squander my own against it, especially not by shape-changing on a whim. My own identity is, in any case, a side matter. If you would not confess your secret to your own stepson, then I have little reason to believe you'd hold any sympathy for me."
         Confess my...?
         A memory came back to me, before I could suppress it. A memory of a note, which Yabuki had brought me. The note had been from Julia Chang, who in turn said she was speaking for my son, Jin Kazama.

Jin wanted me to give you a message. He can't bring himself to contact you telepathically. But he knows, and I believe he wants you to know, that he has come to understand the truth of his mother's death. He knows that Jun Kazama tricked you, and sent you away. He knows that you never would have willingly left her to the Toshin. He's finally admitted that he has no cause and no right to hate you, not for that. Because I found proof that Heihachi Mishima was the one who unwittingly unleashed the Toshin on our world, through his Tekkenshu minions.

Jin still can't forgive you, though. Not yet. Not while you continue to deny the cold-blooded executioner's guilt you feel, for the death of his father Kazuya. Jin needs to know what really happened. For your own sake, I pray to the Great Spirit that you can find it in yourself to tell him.

In Jin's own words: if you insist on taking your secret to your grave, then he will forgive you at your grave. Not before.

         The first thing I felt, upon reading that note, was outrage. Blind, vengeful outrage. Not at the kids, of course. At Heihachi Mishima.
         At the murdering bastard who freed the Toshin, and sealed my wife's fate.
         The second thing I felt was relief.
         My own son still hated me, as he had ever since he turned fifteen. But at least he wouldn't hate me forever. He'd promised to forgive me, and at the rate I was sinking, I'd be receiving his absolution pretty soon.
         It was more than I'd dared to hope for, from him. I'd already told my son about Kazuya's death. It was a suicide. Kazuya killed himself. That was it. That was all.
         That was the lie I had been living, for the last twenty years.
         It was a special type of lie, mind. Not an ordinary, false lie. Not even a half-truth, half-lie. No. This particular lie was completely, wholly true.
         Because you see, true lies are the most powerful kind. The most insidious kind. The most cherished kind. No other lie can better control your thoughts, corrupt your honor, or corrode your soul from the inside out. No other lie, better than a true lie.
         Shingo Yabuki lives in a demented shadow world, believing that I am his father. I lived in a shadow world of my own, believing that I had no cause to feel guilt for Kazuya's death.
         My demon side embraced the lie, embodied it, became it. But my human side... the side that people call Super Police; the side that lives to serve and protect the innocent; the side that believes ALL people are innocent until proven guilty... my human side knew the truth behind the lie. The truth that manifested itself as metaphorical blood on my hands, murderer's guilt on my conscience, despite my demon side's damnedest tries to lock it all away.
         I'd burned Julia's note within minutes of reading it, and shut it out of my mind. Stuffed its memory into the darkest recess of my own head, bound and padlocked by chain upon chain of lies. Lies that were all unquestionably true.
         "I have no idea what you're talking about," I lied, to Bryan.
         "Yes, you do," he returned, without a second's hesitation. "And you're going to tell me."
         "Tell you what?"
         "You're going to tell me exactly how Kazuya Mishima died. You're going to tell me your precise role in his death. Above all, you're going to tell me why you feel like you murdered him."
         Click. Snap. Lock.
         This is the sound of chaining your own mind, with your demon lies.
         "I didn't kill Kazuya."
         "Didn't you?"
         "He committed suicide."
         "You are holding something back."
         "You can go to HELL!"
         There was a vivid flash of brilliant white, on Bryan's right hand. I cringed from the glare.
         Then I cowered and hissed.
         I haven't hissed like that since the Great Invasion. Since when Kazuya's demon curse used to take me over, and turn me into a mindless killing machine.
         Because of how I got that curse - because of when Devil Kazuya once paralyzed me with a blinding beam of golden energy, in preparation to making me a living horror - I picked up a phobia. An intense, unreasoning fear of bright light. Any kind of bright light. It would send me into a weak-willed panic; I'd want to flee, curl up, or lie down and die. My phobia is mostly under control, now. Behavioral therapy. Haven't had any real trouble from it in years.
         Then I saw the flaming white sword in Bryan's hand, and hissed like a pit viper.
         Bryan's weapon wasn't a material object. It was a radiating spike of pure white energy. The worst thing about it, though, wasn't just that it drove away the shadows, or evaporated falling droplets of rain before they could touch its blade. No, the worst thing was that its light dispelled more than nighttime darkness.
         It burned through darkness of the soul.
         This was no typical energy weapon. This was Truth. The cruel, unmitigated, merciless reality of Truth itself, forced on you. You see it and you know. All your lies are stripped away. Every word you speak from here on will be the Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Nothing less is possible, in the light of that sword.
         "I need no Power," Bryan said, holding the sword in both hands, "to perceive your shame. Jin was right about you, at least in part. You carry blood on your hands, from the death of Kazuya Mishima. You will confess to the reason for that blood, and the Sword of Truth will ensure that you do not dissemble."
         I thought about going for my gun.
         It was strapped to my left side, under my cloak. Along with a pair of stainless-steel handcuffs. I'd also clipped my gold detective's badge to my pocket on the other side, for all the good it might do me.
         "Put that away," I demanded, and if not for lack of sibilants I would have hissed it. "Don't make me kill you."
         "Is that how Kazuya committed suicide? Did he 'make' you kill him?"
         "He was at your mercy, was he not?"
         "Yesss," I spat, and this time my hiss got the better of me. "Yes, he was."
         "Broken, beaten, and helpless?"
         "He damn near killed me!"
         "But he didn't."
         "No. He didn't."
         "It was you who triumphed. You who remained standing, when Kazuya fell and could not rise."
         "Oh, yes."
         "You who advanced upon him."
         "Definitely yes."
         "You who were by his side, at the moment of his death."
         "Yes, damn you! Yes!"
         "Did you want to kill him?"
         I can't answer that.
         I can't answer that, because I know what I'll say. The Truth is burning into me, searing at the locks, threatening to shatter the darkness, and I can't let that happen. If I do, I will have to see myself for the demon I am.
         "Did you want to murder Kazuya?" Bryan repeats, undeniable as Truth itself.
         "I wanted to save the WORLD!" I shout, and the shining sword allows me to say it. Because it is, strictly speaking, true.
         "From the Great Invasion?"
         "And the Shao Kahn?"
         "Yes, damn you! YES!"
         "Did you want any of these things more than you wanted to see Kazuya dead?"
         I can't answer that-!
         "You were given a warning, weren't you? You were warned that if you or the Chosen Ones murdered Kazuya, it could condemn the world to eternal darkness. Though you may not have understood the reason for this warning, you agreed to respect it. It was your plan to capture Kazuya alive."
         "Yesss," I admit, the irresistible Truth pulling the hiss through my teeth. "That was the plan."
         "Yet even though this was your plan, you wanted Kazuya dead. You wanted him dead so badly that you failed to keep the plan; it is through no efforts of yours that Kazuya's demise did not bring the prophesied disaster."
         "You wanted Kazuya dead, didn't you? You wanted him dead even more than you wanted to save the world, is that not right?"
         I CAN'T answer that-!
         "Did you want Kazuya dead!?" Bryan demands, raising his sword overhead. Its fiery blade points to me in a direct line, horizontal and high, on level with my eyes. The inexorable light of Truth must have its answer, though the cost be my own soul.
         "YES!" I scream, the vile Truth torn out of me, even as a lightning flash precipitates a heavy, booming rumble of thunder. Thunder is the name of my family line; it is only fitting that my element merges with darkness that I speak. "I WANTED HIM DEAD MORE THAN I WANTED TO SAVE THE WORLD!"
         Bryan straightens, and rests his terrible weapon on his own shoulder. "Well. Now we're getting somewhere."
         "You can't condemn me for a thought!" I howl to him, the cry of a mad dog. "You CAN'T!"
         "No. Neither can you condemn yourself for a thought. Neither would you condemn yourself for a thought." He brings his weapon back in both hands, holding it ready like a Japanese katana. "Now for the rest of it. What did you do to Kazuya? Why do you have his blood on your hands?"
         "I've warned you once to put that sword away. If you try to kill me, I'll defend myself!"
         "No. It is not that easy for you to get out of this." He advances on me. I step back, and I'm shaking. "You cannot prevaricate. You cannot run. You cannot hide, you cannot escape, and most of all you cannot die. I will not let you die, not until I have the Truth. Then, and only then, will I decide what next to do with you."
         When I take another step back, I'm up against the grey fence. He is closing in on me. If that shining sword touches me, it will sear the final lock and I can't let that happen.
         "What did you do to Kazuya?"
         I can't let that happen.
         "Why do you have his blood on your hands?"
         I CAN'T let that happen-!
         "Why do you remain silent?" Bryan cries, and for the first time he seems genuinely agitated. "Why will you not speak the Truth?"
         I attack.
         It is instinct that drives me to lash out; demon instinct, animal instinct. Lightning flashes, thunder roars, and the downpour becomes a torrent. I care nothing for the feel of the deluge; if anything, I am thankful for the elemental chaos that overwhelms my own, hoarse cry. Ripping off my cloak, I hurl it at this false Bryan, who somehow knows so much about me, my damnation, and the Chosen Ones' plan to take Kazuya alive. My enemy is startled. He recovers in time to respond, but my soaking wet cloak entangles him. He slashes with his sword, severing it. Its torn pieces flutter to the ground-
         -but it was only a distraction.
         I'm nothing, if not good with distractions.
         In the precious instant that he wastes, battling a harmless piece of cloth, I dodge to his right side. On the periphery of his view, I have him. Before he can turn to face my true threat, before he can think to escape it, I have him in the folds of the Closing Fan. Locking his dread sword arm with both my own - I must keep that sword away from me, I can't let it touch me - I kick my right leg as the edge of the paper fan. The fan opens its sharp-edged swipe, cutting at his knee, driving into his chest, and I accelerate the motion into a leaping crescent. Letting go of his sword arm - he has the pain to distract him for a split-second now, and that pain is all I need - I turn full-revolution in midair. I whip my flying heel against his face, the paper fan folding itself shut. The false Bryan is hurled away. He twists as he flips over, but he can't stop himself from landing hurtfully on his back.
         "AAH!" Bryan cries, and his sword vanishes from his hand. Thank every Demon Lord of Hell, that damnable sword is gone from his hand. When he struggles to get up, he can't make it past his knees. He looks like he is in agony. Gripping his head with both hands, he declares, "No, you - damn you, no! I deny you. I imprison you. I deny you!"
         He is no longer talking to me. That much is clear.
         Something is wrong with him. Something far worse than what I have done.
         I can't see or know what it is. The sole remaining piece of my rational mind suspects that it has nothing to do with me, not directly. It was not so much that I hurt him, as that I confused him. Disoriented him. Undercut his rigid self-control, if only for a moment, and that lack of control is spreading to battlefields I do not comprehend.
         If I could still think like a human being, I might deduce who he is talking to, and why he is helpless now, when an instant ago he was my worst nightmare. Yet my human side is all but subsumed. It is my demon side that coldly draws my gun, and points it at the inviting target of his head.
         One shot.
         Though he is incapacitated now, he will not stay that way for long. I can see him winning his internal struggle; his will is more fierce, his soul is stronger. My opportunity is running out, and then he will be after me again. Escape is not an option. Any creature capable of summoning that sword has the Power to track a demon across seven continents. My only chance is to kill him now. A head shot. One pull of the trigger, and he will never threaten me again.
         Because there won't be anything left of me to threaten.
         I've been here before.
         Both times, during the Great Invasion.
         The first time was against Bruce Irvin. Against the bastard hit man Kazuya sent to assassinate my former police partner. Irvin crashed her airplane, killing everyone on it except himself. When I finally caught up with Irvin, he fought me to protect his master Kazuya. During the fight, I tricked Irvin into confessing his crimes, and then he tried to finish me off. That was when I drew my gun and coldly executed him, like the demon I was.
         It was self-defense. Irvin had been trying to kill me, and he came closer to succeeding than I'd ever want to admit. Even so, it was demon hate, demon vengeance that drove me to empty my entire bullet clip into him, long after his life was gone. In this way, killing Bruce Irvin was not the same as the other times I've had to kill, in the line of duty.
         The second time I have been here was against Kazuya Mishima. After I crushed him in single combat. After he fell, and did not rise; he was on the ground, helpless, and at my mercy.
         I did not bring a gun to bear, but I had the Power of Life or Death over him, just the same. What I did with that Power cost me a piece of my humanity. It left a darkness on my soul, the very soul that I had fought to win back from Kazuya's clutches. Perhaps it is why I remained partly a demon, deep on the inside, in all the years that followed.
         Now, I had this 'Bryan' in my sights. I had the Power of Life or Death over him, and my demon side was screaming for Death.
         Killing Bryan would not be self-defense. It would not be to protect my life. It would be to protect the Lie that embodied my life, to keep the Truth from being forced out of my tainted soul. If I pulled the trigger, I wouldn't just have demon residue in my blood, the unwanted remnant of a curse long dispelled. I would be a demon, in every meaningful sense of the word. I would truly be the cold-blooded murderer my own son thought I was.
         I ripped the ammunition clip out of my gun and threw it away, because at that moment, I could not trust myself to carry a loaded weapon. Holstering the empty gun, I drew my handcuffs instead, and clapped them on Bryan's right wrist. If I could just cuff both his arms behind his back, then at least he might not be able to recall his damned sword-
         Bryan's other fist shot up, smashing me in the face.
         He moved fast. Really fast. Faster than me, faster than the Bryan I once knew. I'd hesitated for too long. Now my enemy was back in control of himself, and his punch was enough of a shock that I couldn't react to what he was doing.
         I felt the cold press of wet metal, encircling my left wrist.
         Bryan had chained my hand to his.
         Cuff to cuff, he held me; though I had the key to the stainless steel lock, reaching for it cross-body would take too long. I had to-
         Bryan yanked me forward, dragging apart my train of thought. He used the chain to pull me right in his face, and worse, right into his punch. It wasn't just the speed of his attack that overwhelmed my guard.
         He was stronger than me.
         A lot stronger.
         His raw, physical power pushed the limits of human, while Yabuki's gift had brought my own strength up to merely normal levels. In a direct contest of brawn against brawn, Bryan had me. He knew this, and he used it; it was why he seized advantage of the cuffs to chain us this way. With a short metal tether forcibly keeping me in line, I was at every disadvantage.
         I think he had seen me point my gun at him, a couple seconds ago. He knew that it wasn't safe to reason with me, not yet. First, he had to wear me down. His left fist hammered my face, while I was staggering forward from his tug.
         Then his right hand snapped in a backfist, battering me for more. And again; I might have had a chance of deflecting it, if not for the chain that dragged my arm to follow his, practically wrenched it out of its socket. By the time of his next punch, I'm in no condition to do anything except cry out in pain-
         No, dammit, no!
         Somewhere in there he kicked me, a high, ringing blow to the side of my head, and pain merged with the rainwater splashing my face. Yet a piece of me remained just cognizant enough to realize something:
         This is not Bryan's fighting style.
         Bryan practiced Muay Thai kickboxing. This is different. I know what it is, and I could think its name, if not for the last, shadow lock chaining my own mind. Not only do I know of this style, I used to study someone who used it; I studied him like I studied everyone in the Iron Fist Tournament. I remember enough to anticipate his next kick. He is going to strike low; it's in his eyes, in the movements of his body. I must be prepared for it, prepared to retake the advantage. If I can just hurt him long enough to get my key, and free myself from this trap of my own damned making-
         My guess is right.
         Bryan knows I'm right. He knows that I'm aware of what he'll do, and in that instant, he thrusts his right arm straight up, vertical like a flagpole, pulling me up with it. Like a floppy ragdoll puppet, I'm almost yanked off the ground, and only then does he stab at my knee with his low kick, pain leading irresistibly to more pain, three more kicks to my chest and face. He spins all the way around for the third kick, twining the chain of the cuffs above his head, manipulating the string like a puppet master, and then he sails from the ground in a backwards flip. His insteps connect with my ribcage one final time. Brilliant white light flares, and I am catapulted away by his spectacular flipping kick, the hallmark of a style I can't let myself name.
         Now, it's me who hits my head against the concrete, and the impact is not gentle. I am, however, free of the handcuff-chain that bound me to Bryan. Before I can open my eyes, I sense the reason why, sawing viciously at my consciousness.
         He has recalled his sword.
         Its horrendous, Truth-burning Power envelops his right arm, then settles into its familiar, bladelike shape. It is that terrible energy which has severed the chain of the cuffs, which breaks apart the stainless-steel bracelet on his wrist even now. My own metal shackle remains, like the final chain protecting my lies.
         I cough.
         The soreness in my throat has returned, and with it the weight in my lungs, the weakness in my muscles, the dizziness in my head and the queasy sickness in my gut.
         Yabuki warned me that this would happen.
         His gift of strength is gone, squandered to the four winds. Yet still, I... I have to get up.
         I have to get up.
         I have to keep fighting. Have to fight to the end.
         Have to fight to my death, if that's what it takes.
         Bryan sees this in my eyes. He sees that I will not give up, will not give in to the throbbing pain, the shock, or the blood. He sees that my demon side is driving me to battle, though the cost may destroy me.
         It incites him into bewildered wrath.
         "Why do you resist me?" he screams, in time to a vivid streak of lightning that paints the world in white and black. "WHY will you not talk? WHAT ARE YOU HIDING!?"
         I take a step toward him. My knee quivers, where he has kicked it. It won't anchor my weight, and my labored breathing rasps in my ears, but I still have to fight.
         "Did you murder Kazuya, is that it? Is that your secret? Did you declare yourself judge, jury, and executioner for his crimes!?"
         I have to fight, have to make myself run at him, despite the tearing agony of my tendons and joints, have to hurl myself at him in a jumping side kick. Only he is already aloft, having leaped far higher than any mortal man; he sails above my side kick, and-
         I see him.
         In an unconscious explosion of light and Power, I see my antagonist as he really is. A final streak of lightning crosses the natural luminescence of his true form. I see his shining silver hair. I see the silhouette of the rearing unicorn, emblazoned on his surcoat. I see the pools of white fire that are his eyes. And I see his great white wings, wings of freedom and purity, spreading from his shoulder blades, guiding his downward strike.
         It was him. It was him all along.
         He was the angel sent to help me.
         Or to kill me.
         Death chose her emissary well. She chose the one angel against whom my demon side could not fight. Not once his identity was laid bare to my soul.
         Lee Chaolan.
         My victim, dead these twenty years. Slain by the death-link that tied his life to that of Kazuya Mishima.
         There could be no more resisting. No more struggle. There was nothing left to do but let my arms drop, and accept the vengeance of the silver-haired angel. Accept the brilliant sword that descended from the skies above, and pierced my heart.
         There was no pain.
         It's strange that there was no pain. The energy spike leapt through me, and into me, electrifying my soul with its Truth. It encased my body in a brilliant white glow. I was falling, falling, and still there was no pain. Only the mix of light and darkness, brightness and shadows, sunset fading, night's concealing embrace, and in that moment of transition, I saw my wife.
         I saw her, as a young woman. Innocent and graceful, loving and pure, in my own memory. A memory from before the battle for the Mishima syndicate.
         Her voice drifts clear and compassionate, a song of incomparable beauty.
         Lei, I swear to you, that is not why I had to spare Kazuya's life. The wind spirits warned me that if I destroyed him, it would be our ruin. We must break Kazuya's power through single combat. We must not kill him.
         The song of the most beautiful woman in the world.
         Lei, please-
         No. Don't beg for his life. I don't think I could stand it.
That is the memory of my own demon growl, hateful and miserable, in constant pain from Kazuya's theft of my soul.
         I'm sorry.
         Whatever. Fine. I'll do everything I can to see that Kazuya is taken alive.
         Um... by 'everything you can,' you mean...?
         I'm not going to repeat myself! I know you have no good reason to trust my word, but that's the best I can give you!

         The memory fades, leaving only hard cement, and the steady stream of rain.
         "Jun..." I whimper, and my own tears join the heaven's weeping.
         I'm on the ground, clawing at the rainwater puddles, as if looking for one deep enough to drown myself in. I can't crawl, or sit up, or raise my head. I'm left as broken, beaten, and helpless as Kazuya once was. Crushed by despair, paralyzed with lamentation. Terrified of facing the consequences of what I have done.
         Was this how he felt, when he killed himself?
         The Sword of Truth taps my left wrist, causing the metal handcuff fastened around it to break apart.
         *No,* the silver-haired angel whispers, through rain that has now faded to a drizzle. *You cannot go to her yet. Do you not understand?*
         The angel crouches next to me. I bury my face in the crook of my arm.
         *If you cannot bring yourself to admit the Truth... if you keep this darkness in your soul, to your grave and beyond... they will not let you in. They will allow no place for you. You will not be reunited with Jun-chan, beyond the gates watched by the Guardians of Paradise. And that... that would be wrong beyond all expression. She loves you. Even as you love her.*
         The angel's hand rests gently on my shoulder.
         *I have asked you whether you murdered my brother Kazuya. Why do you not answer? Is the Truth that terrible to say aloud?*
         "Yes," I sob. "Yes, it is. Because I... I didn't kill Kazuya, but I..."
         The last lock shatters. The last chain comes undone.
         "I... let... him... die!"
         And that is the Truth, behind, within, and beyond all the lies.
         "I knew he was going to kill himself. It was in his eyes, his voice, he told me, threatened me, and I knew he would do it! I knew that when a necromancer's Power is broken, trying to hold on to the souls that he has enslaved will cost him his life. It was clear to me, that was what Kazuya would do. I knew he would kill himself, and I didn't stop him, because - because I WANTED HIM DEAD!"
         The confession gathers force; it is the opening of the floodgate, to all my most despicable shame.
         "I wanted him dead, and not for what he did to humanity. I knew it wasn't completely his fault, I knew he was possessed by a Devil; the fiend controlling him had warped his own ideas of right and wrong. I wanted him dead for what he did to ME! For stealing and hoarding my soul, for ravaging my body with his sorcery, for making me into a murderous demon! And I wanted YOU dead!
         "Do you think I've forgotten? Do you think I don't remember what you did to Jun and me, when you captured us? You - you locked me in a room with her, chained her, and set off my demon curse! I almost KILLED her! I woke up to see her weak and bleeding, her own blood and gore on my hands! THAT IS WHAT YOU DID TO ME! I HATED you for what you did to me, and for what you made me do to HER! I LOVED HER!"
         Another sob chokes my throat. The rain lessens to an intermittent mist; with it fades the rage that has held me, leaving only the grief.
         "I loved her more than anything in the world...
         "When I challenged Kazuya, he almost crushed me with his sorcery. And then - then you betrayed him. You weakened his Power. You gave me a chance, and you gave the whole world a chance. Without you, the battle for the Mishima syndicate would have been lost; without you, I would have suffered a fate worse than death! But when I heard Kazuya denounce your betrayal - when I saw him conjure your image in his mirrors - you were with Jun. I knew that you were once her fiancé, that you loved her, and I was afraid she still loved you. I was afraid, and jealous, because I could see that she had forgiven you. She had forgiven you for all you ever did to her.
         "I could not forgive you!
         "For one moment, when I was fighting Kazuya - for one instant, so far away I can hardly remember it - I was free. I was free of the hate and the pain, I knew Jun loved me and because of that I could rise above my curse, and Kazuya couldn't control me anymore. But he fought so hard he nearly killed me, and I had to be cruel to defeat him - I had to tear at his greatest wound, his fear and hatred of his own father. I had to accuse him of being like Heihachi Mishima, and I had to reflect all his scorn and pain and Devil sorcery upon him.
         "He was broken. Beaten. Helpless, at my mercy.
         "I kneeled by his side, and I watched him die. He tried to hang on to the souls his defeat had liberated, and I watched him. He was - he called himself the brother of my soul, because we were so alike, and I watched him kill himself. I watched him kill both of you, because I didn't want to dirty my own hands with your execution! And I..."
         The last darkness. The foulest taste in my mouth. The most hateful curse on my soul.
         "I broke my promise to Jun.
         "She had begged me to take Kazuya alive. She had pleaded with me, for the sake of the world more than for her own feelings. So 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.
         "It would have taken so little to keep that promise.
         "I remember holding Kazuya by the shoulders, shouting something to him, but I knew that would have no effect. He was too determined to kill himself, I could see it. Kazuya was in no condition to resist me. I could have put him in a sleeper hold; it would have been so easy. Or I could have given him a hard rap on the head. There were a dozen different ways I could have knocked him out, could have stopped him from hanging on to the souls; there were a dozen different ways I could have saved him, and I didn't. I watched him die, knowing that you would die with him. Kazuya had put a death-link in me, too, but I could work around it. I could put myself into a trance, hibernate so deeply that the link would be tricked into burning itself out. That's what I did, because more than anything else, I wanted to wake up to a world where Kazuya was dead, where you were dead, where neither of you would ever have anything more to do with Jun!
         "I broke my promise to Jun... I watched Kazuya kill you in a murder-suicide... not for justice. Not to save the world. For revenge. For revenge, for jealousy, and for hate.
         "I may as well have murdered Kazuya in cold blood," I gasp, weakened to the verge of total collapse. "And I may as well have murdered you. You risked everything to betray your brother, to save the whole world, and to save me, and I as good as murdered you for it.
         "Then I lied about it.
         "All I ever told my wife, all I ever told my son, all I ever told anybody was that Kazuya had committed suicide. The rest I kept secret. For twenty years, I kept it secret. And...
         "I knew Kazuya had made me into a genetic carrier of the House Mishima. That if Jun and I had a kid, our child would be of Mishima blood. I knew this, but Jun wanted a kid, and I wanted a kid, so we had our son. She named him Jin Kazama. I've watched him grow, tried to raise him right, tried to be a good father. I love my son, I've always loved him, but he...
         "He has Kazuya's face.
         "It wasn't - it wasn't obvious at first, I'd never seen what Kazuya looked like as a young boy, but as my son grew older, it became plain. He has Kazuya's face, just like he has Kazuya's Power. He has the face of my victim. The face of the man I watched die, in violation of everything I believed in, in violation of the promise I made to my wife.
         "I locked the secret away, deeper.
         "I sealed it where not even my telepathic son could reach it, not without destroying me first. The lie was that Kazuya had committed suicide, and nothing more. The lie became my life, and now, it may cost my son his life. Heihachi used a twisted version of the truth to make Jin hate me, to lure Jin into the Mishima syndicate. It's because of my lies that Heihachi has such Power over my son's heart... because of the lies I've told for twenty years, about what I did to Kazuya.
         "And what I did to you.
         The rain has stopped.
         I'm not aware of when it stopped, for there is still water in my eyes, bitter tears of remorse blurring the world.
         "I'm sorry, Chaolan... I'm so sorry."
         There is a flutter of light in motion. A softness touching me, feathers bushing against my cheek. Strong, gentle arms take my body and help me sit upright, as the angel embraces me.
         *I forgive you.*
         The resonance of his absolution remains, after he lets me go.
         What is this feeling?
         How can it be real?
         "You can't forgive me," I deny, in unbelieving wonder. "How can you forgive me?"
         *As you are the brother of Kazuya's soul, then so, too, are you the brother of my soul.*
         *Know this, Wulong. Before you condemn yourself for all Time, know this. It is not a certainty that you could have saved my brother from himself. I also failed to save him.*
         "I could have tried," I whisper. "I could have tried so much harder than I did."
         *If there cannot be forgiveness, then there cannot be an end to the cycle of hate and pain. If the cycle cannot end, then there is nothing. Kazuya could not forgive himself, and his despair drove his soul to walk into the Black Abyss.*
         The angel brushes my rain-soaked hair away from my eyes.
         *Please. Do not follow in Kazuya's footsteps. I have lost one brother already.*
         My tears have changed.
         They had flowed from acrid self-loathing. Though they do not stop now, their nature has transformed. They are the tears of a convict freed. There remain no words to fully express this feeling.
         The feeling of being forgiven.
         Forgiven of the hate. Forgiven of the pain. Forgiven of the darkness, jealousy, and cold-blooded revenge. I could be ready to face the end of my life, knowing that the one person I wronged the most has forgiven me. I could be ready, if not for a final burden.
         "Thank you," I said to the angel, as my weeping finally drew to a close. "Thank you for... for everything. I've no right to ask anything more of you, but I... I need your help. Desperately. Heihachi Mishima is going to murder my son."
         That seemed to surprise him, a little. Only a little, though.
         *Are you sure of this?*
         "Aren't you? You know how much the old man hated Kazuya. You know how much he feared Kazuya's Power. My son has the same Power, only greater. You know what that means."
         *Yes,* Chaolan sadly assented. *Yes, I do.*
         "There isn't much time left."
         *If there is as little time as someone has warned me, then my father will strike on the night of the full moon.*
         "Two days?"
         *That is, allegedly, when he plans to sacrifice the children in his care.*
         "My son. Julia Chang. Ling Xiaoyu."
         *You cannot stop him on your own. You will need allies, as many as you can gather.*
         "Can't you stop him? You're an angel."
         *I am not an-*
         Even as Chaolan started to refute his own true nature, he saw my bewildered disbelief. He sighed, and left his denial unfinished.
         *Let me tell you story.*
         "A story?"
         *Yes. Listen.
         *Once upon a time, there was a virtuous Queen, of a world called Edenia. She was Queen Sindel, and her soul was so pure that even the Guardians of Paradise felt humble, in her presence. Then the Shao Kahn invaded and plundered Edenia. He made it into a wasteland called Outworld, murdered Sindel's husband, and claimed her as his own Queen. She fled into the embrace of Death. Sindel knew that the Kahn had the Power to enslave souls, but she also knew that her own soul was pure, and as she died she prayed for Heaven itself to intervene.
         *A Guardian of Paradise answered her prayer.
         *He was the greatest Guardian there has ever been, or I assume, ever will be. He was Vivarexis, the Dragon Eternal. Vivarexis himself came to rescue Sindel's soul, and happiness gladdened her heart, for she dearly longed to be reunited with her husband in the Paradise.
         *But the Shao Kahn had other ideas.
         *The Kahn, a manifestation of Entropy itself, wrapped Vivarexis within the decay of the Universe. Not even the strongest Guardian of Paradise could triumph over the Shao Kahn's vile corruption. Vivarexis, the Dragon Eternal, fell to Entropy. He was never seen again.
         *The Shao Kahn's hooks seized Sindel's soul, though she struggled to reach the Paradise. The Kahn dragged her from its shining gates, tainted her with his evil, and with the assistance of his minions, sent her to be reborn on Earth. When the Kahn's Queen was brought into this world, it enabled the Kahn himself to follow. This was the genesis of the Great Invasion. The Invasion claimed over a billion lives, before Sindel regained her memory and fought her own battles.
         *In the end, Queen Sindel allied with the Earth's defenders, banished the Shao Kahn to the ends of Time, and embarked on the laborious task of healing Edenia. She rules Edenia now, with more than purity and love. She rules with wisdom, and the Strength of her own heart.*
         Chaolan fell silent.
         "Uhh..." I muttered. "Does this story have a point?"
         *Don't count on 'angels' to solve all your problems.*
         *I will do what I can, for tonight. Afterward, if it is still possible to aid you, I shall. It may not be possible.*
         Before I could finish asking the question, I realized that I already knew the answer.
         "It's Snake Eye, isn't it? He really is inside that body you've got."
         *It is worse than that.*
         "I'll bet."
         *Bryan is... irrational. He has been listening to us all this time, sometimes laughing in hysterics, sometimes shrieking in mania, and I shall not repeat what he has been calling you. He carries great personal rancor for you, and craves revenge - could you tell me what that is about?*
         "I had to arrest him, for being a dirty cop. Botched it. Snake Eye saved my life, got killed, and ended up like that."
         *I fear he may have suffered some brain damage, as well. I cannot trust him to keep the Oath of the Guardians. Furthermore, Bryan does not understand that I am sustaining his life. He does not believe me when I tell him that. More than anything else, he wants to drive me out of his body. Though I have imprisoned him for now, I cannot keep him bound for much longer. His will is too strong. At this rate, it is only a matter of time before he drives me out, and then dies within minutes. The harshest irony is that I doubt he wants to die.*
         "If there's anything I can do... I owe him, Chaolan."
         *I do not believe this matter is in your hands. One way or another, I shall have to confront him by dawn. If we cannot reconcile, then it will be the last you see of us in this life.*
         "Can't you transfer to someone else? If it'll save my son, then you can take over my body."
         *Your offer is generous, yet almost certainly impossible. The circumstances that have allowed me to spiritually possess Bryan are virtually unique.*
         *What I can do,* Chaolan assured, *is transport you to the Temple of Chizuru Kagura, and then take your confession to Jin.*
         Kagura's Temple...?
         "I can't go there," I wheezed, lapsing into a brief coughing fit. "It's warded against demons. I'd drop dead before I reached the front steps."
         *I shall protect you. They will invite you in, once I vouch for you. They know me.*
         "Eh?" I grunted, in mild surprise.
         Then again, it's hard to believe that a truly holy Temple could say no to an angel.
         *Yes. Since Kagura's Temple is also warded against my father's Tekkenshu, I can think of no better gathering place for you to recruit your allies. The Temple acolytes themselves may be willing to join your cause, as may Doctor Boskonovitch.*
         "Well, it's a start."
         *Are you ready for me to fly you there?*
         "Not yet. I, uh, dropped my bullet clip somewhere around here."
         *This one?* He proffered the clip to me - when had he picked it up?
         "Uh, yeah," I said, loading it back into my gun. "And I still have to meet..."
         I trailed off as I heard a rumbling noise, coming closer. It was the discordant blare of a motorcycle engine.
         The source of the noise wheeled into sight, tires skidding, sparks flying, luminous gauges glowing in the darkness. A man shut off the churning engine, and flipped his bike's kickstand.
         Paul Phoenix.
         He was twenty years older; middle age had caught up with him, even as it had caught up with me. He'd grown hairy sideburns and a short beard. He walked a little slower than he used to. But he was still Paul, in his black, biker's leathers with the orange-red flames on the outside thighs. A skull-and-crossbones motif marked the back of his metal-studded jacket.
         Paul meandered up to me, taking his time, his heavy boots treading the concrete like he owned it. In the course of his drifter life, he'd probably declared a thousand similar vacant lots to be home for a day. He came to a stop before us, smacked his fists together at chest level, and lolled his head to either side, as if stretching the bones in his neck.
         "You're early," I observed.
         "What are you doing here at all?" Paul grunted back. "Our fight is tomorrow. There's a rumor that you're gonna forfeit on me. It better not be true."
         "Sorry," I coughed. "Haven't been feeling too good, lately."
         "What the-?" He squatted next to me, looking at me hard. "You sick?"
         "HEIHACHI PUT ME UP AGAINST A SICK GUY!?" Paul roared, snapping to his feet.
         "Your concern for my welfare is touching."
         "I'M GOING TO KICK THE OLD MAN'S ASS!" he shouted, shaking his fist as if daring me to deny it.
         "Can you help me save my son, too?"
         "You got a son?"
         "Jin Kazama."
         "He's not your - wait. Jun Kazama's boy?"
         Paul nodded. "You still in love with that woman?"
         "I'm her widower."
         "That's not what I asked."
         "I love her with all my heart."
         "Figures," Paul muttered, rolling his eyes.
         "Please. I need your help. Can you come to Chizuru Kagura's Temple?"
         "Can you fix a ticket for me?"
         "It's these goddamn Japanese freeways. The trucks move like they're harnessed to giant turtles, but when I tried to pass one-"
         "You still drive like a freaking menace to society, don't you?"
         "Do you want my help or not?"
         "I can pay for your ticket. The rest stays on your record."
         "I'm not taking money away from a sick guy."
         "What, do you think I'm planning to take it with me?"
         "Ah, forget it. If Forest wants to check out this Temple, then I'll bring him there tomorrow, but I'm not making you any promises. You hear me?"
         Lound and clear. Except-
         "Forest Law? Marshall Law's son?"
         "Yeah. You know him?"
         "Not personally, no. Does Marshall know his kid is, um... traveling with you?"
         "Forest is twenty-five. He ain't a kid anymore, and he never whines about my driving."
         "You're not answering my question."
         "We left a note," Paul mumbled, looking away.
         "A note?"
         "Look, Forest's got potential, all right?" he snapped, stabbing his index finger down at me. "He could be a better fighter than his father - maybe even in my league."
         "Your humility is even more impressive than your compassion."
         "Yeah, sure. Forest still needs to learn how to fight. He's gonna inherit his family dojo one day, and there's only so much he can get from ordinary training. Marshall's a good dad, but he's overprotective as all hell. He won't let his son fight anywhere outside the family school. Forest has to learn what a real fight is, and how to handle himself in one, and that's why he decided to enter the Iron Fist with me. He - why the HELL am I justifying myself to YOU!?"
         I unclipped my police badge from my pocket, and showed it to him.
         "As if," Paul snorted.
         "So, how has Forest done in the Iron Fist?" I asked, putting away my badge.
         "He went up against Anna Williams."
         "On his first match?"
         "Luck of the draw."
         "Just how badly did she thrash him?"
         "She broke his bones pretty cleanly. They'll knit."
         "Perhaps the acolytes of Kagura's Temple can speed his recovery," Chaolan said, speaking for the first time since Paul's arrival. "A few of them are blessed with the Power of Healing."
         I should have realized that Chaolan had changed, when Paul talked to me straight off. An angel is not usually something to be ignored. Yet now, when I turned my head, Chaolan was no longer his angel self. He sounded like any other mortal, and looked as he had on the last day of his life: a scarred, silver-haired young man, dressed like a punk.
         "Huh?" Paul blinked, noticing Chaolan. Then, "You-! You ASSHOLE!"
         "I beg your pardon?"
         "YOU AMBUSHED ME! Your goddamn soldiers trapped me with a rockslide, shot me up with sleeping drugs, and then you stuck me in Kazuya's freezer! I WAS SUPPOSED TO FIGHT HIM, DAMMIT!"
         "Oh, that. My apologies."
         "Apologies be damned! Give me one good reason why I shouldn't pound you into the dirt, now!"
         "I'm already dead."
         "Like I haven't heard that one before."
         "Wulong needs my help."
         "Ahh..." Paul looked down on me, and raised an eyebrow. "That right?"
         "You sure you can trust this treacherous bastard?"
         "If I can't, I may as well eat my gun."
         He shrugged. "It's your funeral."
         "Your heartfelt commiseration brings tears to my eyes."
         "You know, if I hadn't been stuck in that goddamn freezer, it would've been me who kicked Kazuya's ass and not you. You know that."
         "It is the secret shame of my soul," I confessed, bowing my head.

         I'm writing this in Kagura's Temple, now.
         True to his word, Chaolan got them to invite me in. They know I'm a demon, but Kagura's students are a lot more tolerant than I ever could have imagined. The Temple caretaker says it goes back to the Orochi Blood Riots. Chizuru Kagura had to ally with the House Kusanagi on one side, and a tormented Devil on the other, in order to banish the dread Orochi himself.
         Or something like that.
         Point is, they've been good to me. They seem to outright revere Chaolan, and since he's asked them to help me, I've got my first set of allies. Doctor Boskonovitch recognized me too, although we didn't have much to say to each other. I've also asked the Temple folks to bring Yabuki here, for his own safety. Oh, and the weapons stashed in Yabuki's apartment should come in handy. The Temple caretaker isn't thrilled at the idea of heavy armaments being moved in here, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
         Finally, I've asked the Temple to reach out to the other fighters in the Iron Fist Tournament. I don't know how many Iron Fist warriors I can get to join my cause, but I do know that more than a few of them have reason to distrust Heihachi. That'll be a start.
         I've finally got a chance of saving my son.
         Jun... wherever you are...
         I'm going to save our son.

February 16, 2018
8:45 p.m.

         Hello again.
         Now. From when do you want me to-?
         The week after Christmas Day?
         I'm sorry. I'm sort of drawing a blank, here.
         Very little especially stands out, in my mind. Classes resumed at Jin's high school, on the day after Christmas. For one more week, Monday through Saturday, all our lives were as usual.
         This is not to say that nothing was wrong.
         Anna Williams was still missing. She did not appear for her Iron Fist match against Jin; he won by forfeit.
         Mitsurugi was still missing. Despite Jin's assurances that he was alive, serving Heihachi Mishima in a secret project, I felt worried. Xiaoyu fretted even more.
         Taki was still missing. Jin assumed that she had simply fled the syndicate, using her own sorcery to hide herself. On one hand, I wanted to believe that. On the other, I feared that something worse could have happened to her, even though she had seemed to be one of the deadliest people I'd ever met.
         Shingo was still getting worse. I asked him to pass Jin's message to Lei Wulong, and I continued to take fighting lessons from him. His sanity gradually declined further. He talked to me a lot about his mother, and his father. In particular, he'd mention that 'Dad' worried about me, because I was living in the dangerous Mishima syndicate. Shingo was, I suspected, referring to Lei Wulong. I knew that Shingo had mentally adopted Wulong as the father he had lost, just like Shingo had mentally adopted me as the little sister he had lost. I also knew that Wulong wanted me to leave the syndicate and go home, but I couldn't.
         Not until the dual menace of Heihachi and the Toshin was dealt with.
         Not until I knew Jin would be safe.
         He was still dating Ling Xiaoyu. Taking her on trips, and sometimes 'disappearing' with her. Despite how my heart felt about Jin, I couldn't bring myself to ask him out, not while he was involved with another woman. How could I confess my feelings for him, when he wouldn't say anything about his feelings for her? He was mortally embarrassed to even talk about her.
         I'm a firm believer in monogamous relationships, anyway. And I...
         I remembered something like this, from high school.
         There was this one student. A very handsome guy, a little older than me. I did not have a crush on him. Sure, I thought he was gorgeous, maybe even indulged in a few daydreams, but I was not one of those drooling, airhead groupies who relentlessly harassed the poor fellow. I didn't stalk him, or fill his locker with love notes, or call him at home. I just thought he was cute. If it's a crime to look at a guy and think, 'Mm, you're cute,' then I want all the men who have ever ogled me locked up for life.
         Not that this would overcrowd any prisons, mind.
         Back in high school, I didn't have time to worry about looking good for cute guys, anyway. So, when this extremely attractive person once drew me aside, in private conversation...
         I won't repeat his whole speech for you. It was, however, something along the lines of, "There's been some rumors going around about your feelings for me."
         And, "I'm very flattered, you're really a sweet person."
         And, "I don't mean to upset you, but-"
         Do you need to hear another word?
         Oh, I cut him off. Reassured him that he was only a friend, which was true. Doubly reassured him that I thought of him only as a friend, which was stretching the truth. Although, it was true in the sense that I never had any serious fantasies about him. I knew he preferred extroverts. Sexually active extroverts.
         Are you getting the general idea, here?
         Incidentally, I don't mean to tar and feather this guy. He was a nice enough friend. I did appreciate that he told me all this in private; he certainly never humiliated me in public, or anything like that. Still, the experience stayed with me, in a most uncomfortable way.
         And if I ever, ever were to live through something like that with Jin... being very gently and kindly rejected, whether I actually made any advances on him or not...
         No. There are other, far less painful ways to die.
         That reminds me, by the way - in the last week after Christmas, my crusade against Heihachi pretty much petered out.
         My plan had been to obtain proof of Heihachi's evil, use it to turn Jin against his grandfather, and then, um, wing it from there. But the only way I had found proof was with Taki's help, and now Taki was gone, and the proof still hadn't been enough to convince Jin. So instead of mindlessly spinning my wheels, I decided to just settle down and wait. It wouldn't be for long, I reasoned. Taki had told me that Heihachi planned to strike on the night of the full moon.
         January 2nd.
         No, I wouldn't have to wait long at all.
         There was one more event of note, in the last week of December. That was the Mishima syndicate's New Years' Eve party.
         It was to be a major celebration, right in the syndicate headquarters, and exclusively for the syndicate's many employees. It was planned as a late-night affair, starting at eleven. Jin and Xiaoyu would show up at eleven-thirty, as guests of honor. Heihachi was supposed to deliver a keynote speech after midnight. Jin invited me to attend as well.
         "I don't know," I balked, suspiciously. "Will I have to sit through Heihachi's speech?"
         "Julia," Jin said, and he looked so disappointed that I had to promise I'd be there.
         Mm, I believe this was on Saturday morning. December 30th, as Jin and I walked to our half-day of school. I remember thinking it odd that I was being informed of this party scarcely a day before it would happen. Heihachi struck me as the type of scoundrel who would meticulously plan all his manipulative schemes well in advance.
         Oh, well.
         After school let out, though, Shingo wanted to speak with me in private.
         "What's this about?" I asked, when we were alone in our usual clearing.
         "Ssh," he said. He glanced nervously around, as if searching for spies.
         Was his phobia of mirrors generalizing into a broader paranoia...?
         "Listen," he said, urgently. "Do you know about the New Year's Eve party that Mishima-san is planning to give? Tomorrow night?"
         "Yes. How do you know about it?"
         "That's not important. Are you planning to attend?"
         Hm. He probably knew about it because either Jin or Xiaoyu had told him, and if I were to guess, I'd say it was Xiaoyu. She was much more openly talkative than Jin, as long as she wasn't expressly sworn to secrecy. Then again, it was possible that Shingo had learned through one of Wulong's contacts, since he was still sheltering Wulong. Maybe-
         I flinched from being addressed as 'little sister.' "Uh, yes. Yes, I'm planning to attend."
         "You're sure?"
         "I promised Jin."
         Shingo nodded, as if that statement had etched my commitment in stone.
         "What's going on?" I questioned. "Do you know something about this party that I don't?"
         "Yes, I do," Shingo warned, darkly. "Imouto - I know you like living at the syndicate, but tomorrow night, you need to come home."
         "Don't you remember where Dad and I live?"
         I stared, blankly, as he gave me directions to his apartment.
         "Wait a minute," I denied, shaking my head. "I can't-"
         "It's important. Dad needs to see you."
         Lei Wulong?
         "Do you have a message from Lei Wulong?" I asked.
         "Not exactly. He doesn't - I can't tell you what I know, just yet. Can you at least stop by home? And you have to come by yourself. Don't tell anyone else where you're going, and make sure you're not followed. Don't wear Kazama-san's armband, the one that lets the syndicate track you. Wear the armband Dad gave you, so Kazama-san can't find you with his spells."
         That made sense. I didn't want to accidentally tip off the syndicate to Wulong's hiding place.
         "Can you stop by tomorrow night? At eleven?"
         "I'll miss the start of the party if I do."
         "I know. I wouldn't ask if it weren't the only way."
         Well, Shingo did live fairly close to the syndicate headquarters. If my visit with him and Wulong was brief, then I could probably make it back to the party, in time to see Jin and Xiaoyu.
         "Okay, I'll come to your apartment. Then you'll tell me this secret of yours, all right?"
         "Thank you, imouto," Shingo gratefully returned, embracing me with his one good arm.

         I knew something wasn't right.
         There was a wrongness to how Shingo was speaking to me, that one time. An uneasy discomfort, bordering on guilt. Like he wasn't certain how to talk to me. Like he was holding something back, forced to contradict his own nature as a fundamentally honest man.
         On more than one level, his invitation had a suspicious ring to it.
         At the same time, though, I was concerned about Lei Wulong. I looked up to and respected Lei Wulong. Perhaps the noble Super Police needed me to act as a message courier, one more time. In any case, the side of me that is always searching for secrets, always scrambling to solve the puzzle, had to go. Shingo had said that he knew something about the Mishima syndicate party, and I had to learn what that was.
         When I contemplated going to Shingo's apartment, alone, I had mixed feelings. Though I reconciled my head to the idea, my heart remained uncertain. I decided to bring a weapon with me, just in case.
         I should have no need to use this, I told myself, looking at the small, simple item in my hand. Shingo may be crazy, but he is a friend, and I trust him almost as much as I would trust Wulong or Jin. Besides, even if I were to use this on Shingo, it wouldn't really hurt him. It's not a gun or a knife.
         In the end, I stowed my weapon away, secure in my rationalizations.
         Never you mind what it was, not yet. Just listen.
         On December 31st, the night of New Year's Eve, it was raining. A constant, steady downpour. This was a good thing, I figured. Made it that much harder for anyone to follow me. Indeed, it appeared as though no one was bothering to do so. I left the syndicate early, wearing Wulong's armband to shield me from any location spells. Crept, wandered, and dodged about Tokyo. It was a ridiculously convoluted journey, but it seemed to work; I could swear that no one managed to tail me. I sneaked into Shingo's apartment building right around eleven at night, as promised.
         There was blood, on the outside of Shingo's front door.
         It was long since dried into a dull, brackish smear, but it was definitely blood.
         This boded ill. I feared the worst, and almost backed away in panic, but summoned my courage and knocked.
         No answer.
         I knocked again.
         Was Shingo not home?
         I tried the doorknob. It was unlocked.
         I went in. It was hardly courteous of me, and I didn't even remove my shoes, but I was worried.
         "Shingo?" I called, looking around.
         I'm not sure what I expected, entering the front room of a lunatic. It was tidier than I thought it would be. There was only a limited amount of clutter scattered about. There was nothing particularly abnormal at first glance, and thank the Great Spirit, there was no more blood anywhere.
         "Shingo?" I repeated. This time, I heard something in response: an arrhythmic thumping, scraping noise. I knew that sound.
         It was Shingo, limping on his claw cane and his wooden leg. Fumbling to keep himself upright, he hobbled through an adjacent doorway, into the front room.
         Great Spirit, he looked like hell.
         I don't mean that he appeared sick, or physically hurt. He looked... well, like he hadn't gotten any rest in the past twenty-four hours. At least. His clothes were rumpled, as if he'd been sleeping in them. Dark hollows ringed his eyes, and there was an unsteady, dreamlike weariness to how he moved.
         "Imouto?" Shingo said, groggily. He rubbed his eyes, clearly displaying the sun-sign symbol on the back of his right-hand, fingerless fighting glove.
         "What happened to you?" I asked.
         "Ah? Oh, sorry. I was going to let you in, but I just... dozed off, I guess. Is Dad back yet?"
         "I haven't seen Lei Wulong, and you haven't answered my question."
         "Ahh... right, right, sorry. Excuse me." As if stumbling underwater, he limped by me, and closed the door to his apartment. Closed it, and locked it. Then, he put his hand on the wooden portal.
         A deep green glow spread from his fingers.
         I recognized the feel of sorcery.
         "What are you doing?" I gasped. "How are you - you're not a sorcerer, you can't-!"
         Then, "Is it the gloves?"
         Shingo removed his hand from the wooden finish. His door glowed green for a second longer, then returned to looking like an ordinary door.
         "Kusanagi-sama invested them with his divine blessing, yes," he acknowledged, absently.
         "What did you do to that door?"
         "Warding seal. Only until Dad comes back."
         "I thought Wulong was too sick to go out on his own. He could barely walk the last time I saw him."
         "You know how stubborn Dad is. You always did take after him, that way."
         Wait a minute.
         "Can you use those gloves to transfer your life-force to another person? Did you do something like that, in order to help Wulong? Is that why you're so... drained?"
         Shingo managed a lopsided grin, and abashedly scratched the back of his head. "Sorry, imouto. I guess I pushed it a little further than I should have. He's so sick that it took a lot out of me, just to give him a few hours of normal strength. I hope he comes back soon."
         "What did he want to tell me, about the Mishima syndicate New Year's Eve celebration?"
         "Ahh... actually, he doesn't know anything about it."
         "I couldn't tell him, imouto. If I had, he would have gone straight there, and Mishima-san would have killed him."
         "Mm-hm. Then what do you know? What's the big secret, here?"
         "About the party?"
         "Yes, about the party," I clarified, patiently. I couldn't blame Shingo for being a little befuddled, not in his current state of health.
         "Ah, well, it's a deathtrap."
         "Mishima-san wants to use it to trap you and kill you."
         "What makes you believe-?"
         "Kusanagi-sama warned me. I'm sorry, imouto, but you can't go there. You have to stay here, where it's safe. For your own good, you have to stay."
         "That's it? That's the ONLY reason why you told me to come here!?"
         "I can't let you go, imouto. It's way past your bedtime, anyway."
         "What do you mean, you can't-"
         Oh, no.
          Pushing past Shingo, I tried to open the door. And tried. And tried. It wasn't just locked. Sorcery fastened it, with the tightness of a vacuum.
         I dashed to a nearby window, and tried to force it open. Then I tried to break it.
         "Ah, those have permanent wards on them," Shingo called, still sounding weary.
         "Are you KIDNAPPING me?" I shouted back.
         Shingo looked hurt, but he only said, "The whole place is soundproof, too. Just wait until Dad comes home. I know he's worried about you. I'm sure he'll-"
         "No, imouto."
         I raced to another window, in the kitchen-
         -and saw the weapons.
         Lei Wulong's weapons, I presumed. From his 'stashes' all around Tokyo. Guns, handcuffs, knives, swords, flak jackets, electric tasers, concussion grenades, even some explosives.
         "You mustn't touch those!" Shingo exclaimed, catching up with me. "They're dangerous."
         "Not as dangerous as you," I growled.
         That seemed to hurt him even more, but he showed no signs of relenting.
         "Shingo, I think you're right," I realized, in a terrible dawn of insight. "The party is a deathtrap. Not for me, though. It's a trap set for Jin. It's the perfect setup; he's always at his weakest in a large crowd. Heihachi will use this party to ambush his own grandson, won't he?"
         "Imouto, there's nothing you or I could do to keep Kazama-san from going. He's too Powerful to contain with ordinary wards."
         "I have to save Jin."
         "You would only get yourself killed. I can't let that happen."
         "Shingo, let me out of here. Now."
         "No, imouto."
         I reached for a taser, atop the pile of weapons-
         My hand was on fire. Not literally - my skin wasn't red, or bleeding, or burning - but it felt like violent flames were searing my flesh. The pain shocked me, forcing me to stagger back and collapse against the kitchen counter. The agony slowly receded from my hand, leaving my skin numb and tingling.
         "Imouto, I warned you. These are dangerous. That's why I warded the whole pile." Shingo limped past where I had been, and picked up the taser I had been reaching for.
         "Is this what you were looking at?" He flicked it on, and a visible sparkle of electricity ran between its metal prongs. "Hm. Yes, it's much too unsafe for you to handle."
         "Let me out of here, damn you! LET ME OUT!"
         "No, imouto. I'm sorry. You'll understand one day, when you're older."
         I need to stop here, and explain something to you.
         I need to explain my fear.
         Jin was in danger. He was in terrible danger for his life; the jaws of his grandfather's trap were folding shut. Time was running out. Time had already run out. If I were to sprint from Shingo's apartment to the syndicate headquarters, I might just barely reach Jin and Xiaoyu before they walked into Heihachi's trap. If I waited even another five minutes, I would be too late.
         As much as I cared about Shingo - as much as I respected and owed him, for being my teacher - I didn't love him. I loved Jin, and if brutal reality required me to choose, then I had to put Jin's life first. No matter what the cost, I had to force Shingo to release me from his trap, because I was deathly afraid for Jin.
         I want you to think about that fear, pounding in my heart.
         It's important, please. Take the night and think about it. You have to comprehend how all-consuming my terror was. It's the only way you can understand why I acted as cruelly as I did. Tomorrow morning, I'll tell you the rest.
         I'll tell you what I did to Shingo.

End of Chapter 21: Requiem Confessional