PHOENIX REBORN

written by Victar, e-mail vctr113062@aol.com
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Chapter 24: Indisposed Possession


   Head like a hole
   Black as your soul
   I'd rather die
   Than give you control

         -Devo, Head Like a Hole


AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Church of the Holy Trinity
July 3, 1996
11:55 p.m.


NINA WILLIAMS: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

FATHER MICHAELS: Blessed be in the eyes of the Lord, my daughter.

W: My... my father has passed away.

M: My condolences, daughter.

W: I... I accuse myself of my sins. My sister came to his final hour, and I did not. I failed to reach him in time. My sister told me of his last words. He begged her to save me...

M: From what sins do you need to be absolved, my daughter?

W: I am an agent of destruction.

M: My daughter?

W: I see their cruelty, everywhere. From the highest tier to the most miserable ghettoes, I see the evil they have wrought. They use their Power to ravage and murder; they use their ill-gotten spoils to hide from justice. I hate them, Father. I hate them for what they did to my mother, for what they do to the world around me, and I hate them because they deserve my hate.

M: My daughter, to whom do you refer?

W: I destroy them. I contract myself to their rivals, and use the blood money I earn to my advantage. But no matter how many of them I destroy, there are more. There are always more...

M: My daughter, are you referring to individual people? Or an entire social class?

W: I've entered the Iron Fist Tournament to destroy one of the worst. He is not human. He is a Devil, hell-bent on remaking the world in his vile image!

M: My daughter...?

W: His damned Tournament killed my mother, and he stole my only chance to avenge her death! He has to be destroyed. If he is not destroyed, he will spread the blight of his corruption. If my own soul were the only cost, I would give it freely, but my sister does not understand. My sister wants to stop me! I know our father would not want me to destroy her as well, but sometimes I hate her so much that I feel like I have no choice!

M: Daughter, there is always a choice. We may choose to embrace God, or turn away from Him.

W: Then I... I must turn away.

retreating footsteps

M: My daughter, wait! For the sake of your immortal soul-!

Comments are penned on the bottom of the transcript, in Lee Chaolan's handwriting.

         - Father Michaels has been an uncooperative informant of late. Troubles of conscience. Discontinue overt blackmail; keep the bugs, but let him believe he's off the hook.
         - Nina Williams almost certainly intends to assassinate Kazuya. Triple security.
         - Anna Williams may attempt to stop her sister, as in previous Iron First Tournament. Recruit her. Inform top-level security of her description, arrange for a personal audience.





INTERVIEW WITH ANNA WILLIAMS, section 4
February 18, 2018
4:45 p.m.


         On time again, I see.
         You're always on time...
         Yes, I'm ready. I even got myself an extra glass of water in advance. I'm ready to tell you... tell you how...
         How Jin Kazama granted me absolution.


         You remember that I was in a shambles, when Jin found me. Collapsed on a pentagram of chicken blood, symbol of Hwoarang's sacrificial rite to summon my possessed sister from the void between worlds. I sobbed my heart out, surrounded by murder of my own making: Hwoarang's ashes to my left, Heishiro Mitsurugi's motionless body to my right.
         All I had wanted was to save my sister...
         So when the barred double doors into the room burst open, in a tremendous blast of indigo lightning, I didn't get up. The young Devil ran inside, followed by his zombie servant-
         Mm?
         Well, that is how I saw them, at the time. You know how much Jin looks like his father, Kazuya Mishima. You know what Devil Kazuya once was, and what he did to me. Jin has his father's terrible Power, multiplied. Anyone can feel it. So, I loathed Jin on sight, and cursed him as a young Devil. Nina hated him worse; she let the monstrous Toshin possess her, just so she could have revenge upon Kazuya's son. Because of this, I blamed Jin for 'driving' my sister into the Toshin's loathsome embrace, and detested him even more.
         No, it's not rational. Hatred rarely is.
         As for the other man with Jin - at the time, I didn't know who he truly was. I'd never met him before. But his leather jacket was hanging open, and I could see the lethal knife and bullet scars, on his bare chest. He could not be a living man. He had to be the young Devil's zombie servant, even if he lacked the solid red eyes of a bloodslave.
         Wait...
         I did know who this zombie was, or rather, who he used to be. The short silver hair in a widow's peak, the vicious scar down his left eye, the hawklike nose, the swirling tattoos on his neck - he was Bryan Fury. The undead Prototype Alpha of the Mishima syndicate's Cyborg Army project. He matched a description that Heishiro had once given me.
         Heishiro...
         Heishiro was dead. I killed him.
         I killed the one man who truly loved me.
         And because... because of what I'd done to Heishiro... when the young Devil and his zombie servant ran inside, I thought Satan himself had sent them. In my tear-stricken delirium, I feared they had come to drag my murdering soul to Hell.
         The young Devil gasped, "What happened here!?"
         The zombie answered, "It doesn't matter. You see to the man; I'll take care of Anna."
         Strange. That didn't sound like the humble voice of a servant, but rather a no-nonsense directive of authority. Had my first assumption been incorrect? Was the zombie the lord, and the young Devil its servant?         
         "Uh, right," said the young Devil, advancing on Heishiro's inert form. The zombie kneeled by me. Perhaps there was terror in my eyes, but there must have been even more hopelessness.
         I... I murdered...
         "It's Mitsurugi!" the young Devil exclaimed, turning Heishiro's body on its back.
         "Don't distract yourself with who he is, or how you know him!" the zombie barked, sharply. "Treat him as you would any other patient!"
         "Y-yes," the young Devil stammered, obviously shaken.
         It's funny. When Heishiro was alive, he was always so afraid of the young Devil. Terrified of him. Trembling and stuttering around him. But now that Heishiro was dead, he was the one inspiring fear.
         Isn't that funny?
         I thought it was so funny. Laughter and sobbing all in one.
         *Be at peace,* said the zombie, touching my shoulder, and for a moment his voice changed. It echoed on multiple levels, reaching past mere language to calm my heart.
         There was something else about that voice. Something that I felt I should recognize.
         I looked at the zombie. His kindly auburn eyes returned my gaze with pensive concern.
         I'd seen eyes like that, somewhere before.
         Where had I seen...?
         "Don't be afraid, Anna," the zombie reassured, gently. "We're here to help you. You're bleeding from several injuries; please, allow me to treat you. All right?"
         I couldn't bring myself to answer, let alone resist him.
         With a quiet apology, he peeled back enough of my torn evening dress to expose the deepest cut in my side. He turned his hand, and a slender needle appeared between his fingers, trailing a gossamer silver thread. I sensed the mild resonance of minor sorcery.
         Was he a healer?
         "I don't have the Power of Healing," he said - was he reading my mind? "However, I can stitch your wounds, so that you don't bleed too much before we get you to Kagura's Temple. Just hold still."
         When his needle pierced me, I didn't feel any pain. Rather, it took the pain of my wound away, leaving only a light, prickly sensation. As if the sewing tool were coated with an instantaneous, local anesthetic. My flesh-tailor worked quickly, and deftly.
         What kind of zombie was he?
         And what... where...
         "Where are you taking me?" I whispered. The place he had named certainly didn't sound like a province of Hell.
         "Chizuru Kagura's Temple," he confirmed, and mentioned a Tokyo address, all without interrupting his stitchery. "They're good people, Anna. They'll look after you."
         With a glance to the young Devil, the zombie requested, "How is Mitsurugi?"
         The youthful hellfiend bit his lower lip. He had undone Heishiro's shirt, exposing the red bullet hole in the security guard's bare chest.
         "He's been shot through the heart," said the young Devil.
         The zombie sighed, and sadly shook his head.
         "I killed him," I confessed, quivering. "Hwoarang tried to force Heishiro to kill me, and I had to kill Heishiro - and then I murdered Hwoarang, I executed him for revenge, I-!"
         "Ssh," soothed the zombie. "Don't cry for Hwoarang, at least. Death was all he longed for."
         Turning to the young Devil, the zombie instructed, "There's nothing you can do for Mitsurugi. Come here and help me with Anna."
         The youthful hellfiend placed both hands on Heishiro's chest. Palms crossed, directly over the hole in the heart.
         "Jin, what are you doing? Your sorcery can't heal-"
         Lightning spread from the young Devil's hands.
         It spilled in a flashing outpour of energy, colored deep indigo. The electricity crackled like logs in a fireplace, yet it did not singe a single thread of Heishiro's black suit. It encased his body in a blinding, self-contained thunderstorm of raw Power.
         I felt the overwhelming press of sorcery. Even through the anesthesia of my stitches, I could sense the electrifying tingle that spread my hair, and raised goose bumps on my skin.
         The young Devil closed his eyes, lifting his head up and back.
         Now the thunderstorm was so fierce that it kicked up a gale. Swirling winds whipped my hair about my face. At the center of the supernatural tempest, the young Devil remained on his knees. His hands were still over Heishiro's chest, only now the security guard's body hovered nearly two feet above the ground. Heishiro's head and limbs dangled limply, despite the whirlwind that snuffed out the pentagram's candles and almost extinguished the burning brazier. It was the lightning storm that allowed me to see, intermittent flashes piercing the darkness.
         There came one final, violent discharge of indigo Power.
         The gale receded into oblivion.
         For a moment, all was frozen as if in a perfect photograph: Jin kneeling, eyes closed, head back, his hands resting on Heishiro's suspended body. Then, the still frame rejoined the flow of Time.
         Heishiro's form slowly lowered to the floor. The young Devil swayed, collapsed on his side, and lost consciousness.
         Heishiro started to breathe.
         "How can this be possible?" murmured the zombie.
         I couldn't believe it either, but there it was. Heishiro was breathing on his own. The wound over his heart was gone, as if it had never been.
         The young Devil had resurrected-!
         No. Not a Devil.
         I had been wrong to judge. Allah have mercy on my soul, I had been wrong to judge.
         Jin Kazama was not a Devil. He had brought back Heishiro's life. He had saved me from damnation. For no other reason than to help souls in need, Jin had rescued us both.
         That is not the deed of a Devil. That is the deed of a virtuous man.
         Jin... his very name means 'virtue' or 'humanity'; did you know that?
         Jin had restored Heishiro's life-!
         "Heishiro?" I called, though he did not answer me. He had yet to open his eyes.
         "Heishiro!" I cried, staggering to my feet.
         "Wait!" called the zombie. "I'm not finished stitching your wounds-!"
         As I limped toward Heishiro's sleeping form, an uncomfortable pain tore through my side. From one of the sword gashes Heishiro had dealt me, when he was under Hwoarang's control. I weakly fell on my knees. Blood from my reopened wound soaked through my torn, flimsy dress, and pooled on the center of the floor-pentagram.
         The arcane symbol started to glow.
         Its star-shaped lines sizzled like neon lights, radiating an unholy, hellfire red. The evil illumination did not just blind my eyes; it burned them, made them water. Foul vapors clogged the air.
         Acting on a sudden influx of strength, I dragged Heishiro's unconscious body outside the pentagram. From the corner of my eye, I saw the zombie do the same with Jin. We got them both clear just in time, before a cataclysmic burst of blood-red energy erupted from the occult symbol.
         The cylindrical explosion started to reshape itself. It gained curves, slender limbs, a narrow face...
         "Anna!" insisted the zombie. "Take Mitsurugi and get out of here!"
         "I can't," I denied, as I became aware of the shocking truth. "I've come this far to rescue my sister. I'm not running away from her now."
         "Your sister? Grey Kingdom! Anna, you can't-"
         "I can't let her murder more innocent people in my place! Heishiro would feel the same way, if he were conscious. You go. Take Jin with you."
         "Not a chance, same reasons. Looks like we face her together."
         "Who are you? You can't be the 'Bryan Fury' that Heishiro described!"
         "I'm-"
         An inhuman roar drowned out his answer, as the figure in the center of the blood-red light cast away her surrounding radiance. She flung her arms to the sky and threw back her head. Overwhelming, omnipresent Power gushed from her, a Power even greater than Jin's.
         Darkness clung to her, shaping corporeal clothing. A sleeveless maroon vest with black leopard spots, stopping short above her midriff; a black, strapless bra that strained to suspend her heavy bosom; sleek black, skin-tight leather pants; stiletto heels matching my own. Her flaxen blond hair streamed with witchcraft. Her icicle blue eyes fixed us with the gaze of a Medusa.
         Nina!
         +I WANT THE BLOOD OF THE DEVIL'S SON!+ she thundered, in the Toshin's voice of doom. The voice of the monster that possessed her, body and soul.
         She saw Jin lying unconscious, and smiled.
         Then she saw me, and smiled even wider.
         +YOUR SOUL DEFINES ITSELF IN TERMS OF THIS VESSEL. THIS VESSEL'S SOUL DEFINES ITSELF IN TERMS OF YOURS. IT SUFFOCATES YOU BOTH!+
         The zombie - Bryan? - whoever or whatever he was, he stepped directly in front of me. In front of me, Heishiro, and Jin, shielding all three of us with his own body.
         And he changed.
         In a brilliant revelation of light and Power, he changed.
         Cascading, pure white radiance spilled from him. The holy antithesis to Toshin-Nina's unspeakable evil. The celestial embodiment of Purity. I stared with uncomprehending amazement, at his true self.
         At his medieval leggings, sleeveless chainmail shirt, and white surcoat with the sigil of a rearing unicorn. At the white fire sword in his hand, matching the unbroken, fiery essence that formed his eyes. At the great white wings that spread, protectively guarding us mere mortals from my sister's monstrous wrath.
         He was an angel.
         Allah had sent an angel to save us!
         And not just any angel, oh no. I knew this servant of Allah. I remembered his face, and his shining silver hair. He was the same angel who had saved my sister and me once before, twenty years ago.
         Mama... mama used to tell me that angels sometimes walked the Earth, in the guise of mortal men and women. I'd wanted to trust her wisdom, with all my youthful heart, but I'd - I'd never truly believed. Not until I saw it for myself.
         When the angel spoke, it was in that voice I'd heard before. The holy voice that reaches into your head, and reverberates in your heart. The voice that can only come from a divine servant of Allah.
         *In the name of the Grey Kingdom, you have no right to abuse the mortal vessel of Nina Williams! I deny you. I exorcize you. I banish you from her soul!*
         The angel cast his fiery sword at her. It hit her body in a beautiful flash of white.
         White radiance bathed her from head to toe, cleansing, purifying, redeeming-!
         As the light congealed about her, she became different. Her aura of vile Power lessened. The icicle blue of her eyes toned down to merely icy. She put one hand in front of her face, and shook her head. When she spoke again, it was not the Toshin talking, though its terrible corruption seeped through her voice. It was Nina. My sister.
         +Lee Chaolan?+ she breathed, in shock.
         *I am a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. These souls are under my protection.*
         Lee made a broad gesture with both hands, as if conducting a symphony.
         *In name of the Earth that repels your dark master, in name of Truth and Light, in name of the Love your sister has for you, I set you free. I release you, I emancipate you, I liberate you! I DELIVER YOU FROM EVIL!*
         Rancorous hatred twisted Nina's face into a sneer. She licked her lips, like a hungry cat.
         +This is a reunion,+ my sister laughed, mercilessly.
         "Nina?" I fearfully called. "Nina, wait!"
         +NOW I CAN HAVE REVENGE ON ALL THREE OF YOU!+
         And she threw the angel's own Power back at him.
         Just gathered the white light, as if scooping together a vast handful of shredded newspaper, and lunged forward. Her single step was so wide that her heel scuffed an outer line of the pentagram. She bent low on her square right leg, her left knee almost touching the ground, and cast out both arms full forward, one palm up and the other down, attacking the angel with his own Power.
         Her assault struck Lee at the peak of his symphony, and hurled him my way. His wings flailed as he crashed into me; their parachute effect combined with my brace softened the collision. Though the impact sandwiched me against the back wall, it was only a jarring hit, not a crippling one.
         *She is not resisting!* the angel exclaimed. *Anna, you must talk to her. If she will not resist the Toshin, then no Power can ever set her free!*
         Nina advanced upon us step by step, in a casual, sultry walk. She brought her hand up to her throat, and made an imperious, chest-level swipe with her palm. It was the gesticulation of a royal executioner.
         "Wh-what should I say?" I quailed, shrinking behind the angel.
         Tarnished gold electricity gathered on Nina's fingertips, coalescing into writhing coils.
         *Speak from your heart! Look into your soul! Do not be afraid. I shall protect you.*
         Nina sent her terrible Power at us. Or rather, at the angel and me. Heishiro and Jin remained unconscious, over to the side; she almost certainly intended to finish them off next.
         The angel protected me, as he said he would. Spreading his hands and extending his wings, he called a white barrier; it flashed, shined, and blunted the onslaught of her lethal energy. Lee's barricade wavered before the terrible flood, yet it did not break.
         +Cowering behind a man, sister?+ Nina taunted. +That is pathetic, even for you!+
         "Nina? Nina, stop this!" I shouted, over the torrent. "You can't defeat an angel!"
         +THAT THING IS NO ANGEL!+
         Nina's tarnished gold cascade tripled in fury.
         Lee made a strangled, wordless cry. I felt his hand take my wrist, and before I could react, an angel in flight suspended me above the ground. Below us, Nina's tarnished gold Power swallowed up the last remnants of Lee's shield.
         The angel set me down behind her, but when he tried to land, something went wrong. He stumbled, and gripped his silver hair, wings flexing as if in response to inner pain. I didn't know why. Nina's attacks hadn't hurt him that badly - had they?
         +Lee Chaolan. Mass-murderer of the Great Invasion; do you think I have forgotten who you are, and what you have done? I felt the souls of all your victims, screaming and tearing at me, while you kept me in a frozen TOMB!+
         The angel faltered.
         His legs shook, and he clutched his head as though it dearly hurt him. It was almost as if he were actually fighting two wars, one on the outside, one on the inside, though I could not begin to imagine why.
         *Do not use my crimes to justify your slaughter of more innocents!* the angel shouted, desperately. *Nothing can justify the murder of innocents!*
         +THERE ARE NO INNOCENTS HERE! Only the Devil's son, and the Devil's servants! ALL OF YOU!+
         "NINAAAA!" I wailed. "You can't let the Toshin keep your soul! You CAN'T!"
         When I tried to run up to her, a spike of pain ripped through my side. The wetness of my own blood dribbled down my leg. Feeling receded from my hip, and I sank in an uncontrollable collapse.
         Distress crossed Lee's expression. He turned toward me, yet before he could take a single step, he convulsed in a dreadful parody of my own wounding. Why was he so badly weakened? What nefarious force could be undercutting a divine servant of Allah?
         Injured or not, though, the angel was Nina's only opponent still standing. So, she targeted him first. I cried out a warning, but Lee could not even raise his guard before she struck. Perhaps he might have had a chance to resist, if not for the inner wrongness that crippled him as surely my wound crippled me.
         This time, Nina used no energy attack. That had only been to wear Lee down; she wanted the pleasure of taking revenge with her bare hands. She dashed up to him and repeatedly battered his face. Then she left the ground in a jumping kick, hitting the side of the angel's head so hard she whipped his face around. Landing in a crouch, she stabbed his shins twice more with her heels.
         Lee was collapsing now. He tried to flap his wings. She cracked him with an uppercut, then propelled him skyward with a turning heel-to-high kick. His would-be flight became a helpless, uncontrolled propulsion.
         Nina's knifelike hands and high heels had carved rents in Lee, tears in clothing and skin. He was 'bleeding,' if such a word can be applied to an angel. Not liquid, physical blood; it was white light that leaked through his wounds. A sparkling trail of glittering white followed him as he fell. Nina advanced, eager to brutalize him more-
         No, no! I can't let her do this to a holy servant of Allah!
         Blocking out the agony in my side, I sprang to Lee's defense. Leaped from the ground to grapple with my sister, before she could further hurt the plummeting angel. I threw myself on her, scissoring both my legs around her right, trying vainly to pull her to the ground.
         She hurled me off her body in an eyeblink.
         She scarcely had to put any effort into it; though her arms moved in a shove, it was her decadent Power that cast me away as one would flick off a clinging insect. I wailed when I hit the floor. More of my blood seeped through my sticky evening dress.
         Nina advanced upon the broken angel. His wings twitched, but he could not rise. With one hand, she grabbed his neck and lifted him above her own head.
         +You traitor to humanity,+ she spat. +You dare speak to me of Truth, Light, or Love?+
         Beams of escaping light filtered through the angel's wounds. His strength was seeping from him, as surely as mine was fast deserting me. He could not even flail uselessly against her. All he could do was offer one last, heartfelt plea.
         *Do not do this. Do not become what I was! Do not become what my brother was! For the sake of your own soul, as surely as the souls around you-!*
         +BEGONE FROM THIS MORTAL REALM!+
         Lee Chaolan screamed.
         It was horrifying to behold, the triumph of Evil over Purity. I wanted to hide my eyes, but I couldn't. I could only watch, transfixed by fright, as my sister channeled the Power of her false god into the angel's body. His despairing shriek cut short in a flare of luminous white, cast off like the discarded corona of a dying star-
         -and Nina was no longer holding an angel. Only a limp, battered, bullet-scarred zombie.
         +This was your corporeal vessel? This worthless, ugly husk!?+ she laughed, hysterical spasms bubbling through her voice. +IT ISN'T EVEN ALIVE!+
         Nina flung the zombie away. It flopped like a discarded doll, and did not move.
         +Your turn,+ Nina said, advancing on me with sadism in her eyes.
         I painfully tottered to my feet.
         She watched me sway, with a pleased smile curving her lips. +Go ahead. Take your best shot. You can't hurt me. Nothing can ever hurt me again!+
         I said, "I'm not going to fight you, Nina."
         Her look of pleasurable anticipation broke. +What?+
         "You're right. Nothing I can do will hurt you. Or save you. Not until you want to be saved. Not when you're so - you're so corrupt you can destroy an angel, and feel no remorse!"
         +If only I could destroy him,+ she glowered. +All I can do is return him to being a shadow. But you... you I can KILL!+
         She thrust her hand at me, like a dagger.
         I did not move. Did not block, did not sidestep. Not even on instinct. Just remained standing, and took the chest blow that made me reel-
         -and now Nina grabbed my right hand in her left, spinning me as if we were children playing 'Crack the Whip,' spinning me all the way around herself before casting me away with both arms. I voiced a single cry of pain when I hit the ground, close to the scattered ashes, bloody clothing, and diamond-studded crucifix of what had once been Hwoarang.
         Then I stood up again.
         Weak, openly shaking from pain, and nauseated by the blood I was losing, I stood. Not in a protective fighting stance; I let my arms fall, passively meeting Nina's glare.
         +What's the matter, sister dear? You can't have lost all your skills as easily as that!+
         "Neither have you," I returned, quietly. "You could have killed me just now, and you didn't. You're holding back. Deep inside, you know this is wrong, and you want to stop."
         +Your petty psychological tricks will not save you!+
         "No tricks," I told her, shaking my head. "No spite, no venom, and most of all, no fighting. It's over, Nina. It's all over."
         +For you.+
         "Not just for me. Don't you understand? The people you hated most are twenty years long gone! Kazuya is dead, Lee has pledged himself to Allah, and I - I don't want to fight you anymore! I only want my sister back. My real sister, not this horrible thing that uses her body to murder innocent people!"
         +You have no moral ground on which to judge me!+
         "It doesn't matter. I told you it's over, Nina. It ends here and now. If you really aren't Nina anymore... if the only thing left of my sister is this vengeful, murdering beast... then kill me. May Allah have mercy on your soul."
         +Don't you DARE speak any prayers for me!+ she roared, seizing me with both hands. Again, I did not resist; I let her hurl me over her back. She fell backwards on me, landing on me even as I hit the floor, then rolling and grabbing my left arm. Sitting next to me, she strained my bones until they cracked in a jerking shock of white-hot pain. I cried out once, briefly.
         Nina let me go. Again, I tried to stand up, but I couldn't do it this time. I could only push myself to my knees. Nerve-wracking agony coursed through my broken arm.
         Nina drew herself into the Hunting Swan.
         It is the special signature of her ruthless style. An unstoppable killing attack, powered as much by her own life-essence as with mere muscles and bone. Poising on the toe of her right foot, she bent her other knee and lifted both arms like avian wings. The Toshin's tarnished gold Power crackled on her downward-pointing hands, forming electric globes.
         The time for lesser battery was ended. Her impending strike would murder me.
         I looked at her, and saw not only my death. I saw the death of Heishiro, who loved me; of Jin Kazama, who had rendered himself helpless to save us; of everyone in the city, of everyone in the world. She was the slave of a false god, who wanted to eradicate all of Allah's creation, yet she was too lost in her own nightmares to realize it. How could I get through to her? How could I make her understand?
         Lee had told me to speak from my heart...
         So I did.
         I spoke the feeling that had driven me to re-enter the Iron Fist, after papa's death. The feeling that had made me beg Lee to preserve my sister in coldsleep, rather than kill her. The feeling that had induced me to ally with Heihachi Mishima, that had twisted me to misuse Heishiro, that had even made me walk into this horrible room of sacrifice, when I knew it was all a trap. I told her what was in my soul.
         I told her, "I love you, Nina."
         She stopped the windup for her attack. Her tarnished gold electricity sputtered out.
         +Not like this,+ she seethed, at once both hateful and uncomprehending. +You can't die like this! Not pretending that you're better than me. Not martyring yourself to 'save' me! I am not a victim. I am not a monster. I'm here to punish the guilty, and take revenge on the Devil's son!+
         "And then what?" I whispered.
         +What - what do you-?+
         "Let's say you kill all of us. I'm dead. Jin is dead. You have your revenge. Does it end there? Will the Toshin let you stop murdering people then?"
         +You...+
         "Don't you know the answer? You have that awful thing inside your body; you must know what it's like, and what it wants. It won't let you stop killing. You'll keep killing, and killing, slaying helpless victims in the Toshin's name, until it comes back and annihilates the whole world. It won't let you separate the innocent from the guilty, just like it wouldn't let you the last time!"
         +I DO NOT MURDER THE INNOCENT!+
         "I saw you, Nina. When you woke up from coldsleep, I saw what you did. You massacred those poor scientists, and those poor soldiers-"
         +THEY WERE NOT INNOCENT! The House Mishima is a family of Devils! Any mortal who serves them abets their Devil crimes, and deserves to share in their destruction!
         +As do you,+
she added, flexing her upraised fingers like deathly talons. +You prevented me from assassinating Kazuya. Every soul that he took, every life that he extinguished in his genocidal Invasion is on your head!+
         "I also persuaded Lee Chaolan to spare you," I forfeited, sadly. "So that all the victims you have since murdered are also on my head, aren't they?"
         +DO NOT CALL THEM 'VICTIMS'! They all deserved to die! ALL OF THEM!+
         My neck bowed from despair...
         ...and my eyes came to rest on a nearby, glittering sparkle.
         The sparkle of a silver cross, studded with beautiful diamonds.
         "Did Yukie deserve to die, too?" I asked, hardly daring to breathe.


         I didn't know for certain, of course. I was only guessing.
         When I killed Hwoarang, the last word on his lips had been a name. A woman's name. 'Yukie.' He never told me anything about who she was, or what happened to her.
         But...
         He had mentioned a gang, whom he presumably used to live with. He'd told me that my sister had murdered many of them, during her last rampage. And, his silver cross...
         Hwoarang was not a follower of any God. He had never said this to me, but his was the hopelessness of a lost soul. I can only imagine the horror of his vampyre curse, which must have led him to abandon all reverence for the divine. He would not have worn a cross out of worship.
         No, I can infer only one motive for him to don such a self-contradictory symbol. The cross was once the treasured possession of someone lost to him. Someone dear.
         Someone kind, pure, and innocent. Someone he loved so much that she was his last thought, before he died.
         I don't remember consciously figuring any of this out, though the clues were all in my recent memory. Perhaps it was the revelation of Allah himself, illuminating my darkest hour.


         I took the silver cross in both hands, and showed it to my sister. Its diamonds refracted the light from her tarnished gold electricity.
         "Do you remember Yukie?" I asked her. "If you don't know her name, then do you remember this, and where it came from?"
         Nina's eyes changed shape from narrow to wide. She took a step back.
         "You murdered her, didn't you? Nina?"
         +I was tracking the Devil's son - they were in my way, they were all in my way-!+
         "Was she even an adult, Nina? Did the Toshin make you kill a young girl?"
         +I DON'T KILL CHILDREN! I assassinate the rich and depraved; tyrants and monsters and those who serve their unjust Power!+
         "That is how Devil Kazuya started."
         I held the cross over my heart.
         "Kazuya tore apart my mind just like he did yours, did you know that? He enslaved me with his magic, and when he did this, I learned what drove him.
         "Kazuya also wanted to execute the depraved, without chance of redemption. He gave himself to the Devil for the same reason you have given yourself to the Toshin: so that he could spread his murderous 'justice' to the whole world. Kazuya dedicated himself, body and soul, to the same purpose that you claim to serve!"
         +I am not like him!+
         "Think of what Kazuya was! Think of what the Devil made him do! The same things that you're doing now!"
         +I AM NOT LIKE HIM!+
         "You don't have to tell me, Nina; I'm your sister and I love you. Tell the Toshin that's inside of you. Ask what it plans, not just for me and Jin, not just for innocent bystanders like Yukie, but for all the billions of people in the whole world! Ask it!"
         Nina's mouth worked, silently. Tarnished gold electricity shined about her, so brightly that I could not read her lips. All I could see was her reaction.
         +No,+ she whimpered, covering her face with both hands.
         Then she wailed, +NOOO!+ and her whole body spasmed. Her tarnished gold electricity flickered on and off, like a lightbulb that is nearly burned out.
         "Nina!" I cried.
         She fell to her hands and knees.
         +Anna - get out of here,+ she begged, through windy, heavy breaths. +Get out! Run! Don't look back!+
         "Nina, no! I'm not leaving you!"
         +You must! It won't - I can't hold it back for much longer. You're too great a threat to it, you know too much-!+
         "I'm not losing my only sister!"
         I crawled to Nina, and I... I hugged her.
         It was the first time.
         The first time I'd ever embraced her, in something other than a limb-twisting, bone-crunching hold. The first time I cried real tears in front of her, tears that weren't from the mortification of a brutal beating. Tarnished gold static burned my skin, but I didn't care. I was so close to having my sister back!
         "Fight the Toshin, Nina. Fight it!" I draped the chain of Yukie's cross around her neck. "You can resist the monster inside you. You can drive it out of your soul!"
         Nina shivered. As if she were so cold.
         +Anna, it won't let me go. It's stronger than I am. It's a god, I can't stop it, you can't stop it - I can't even die, it won't let me be destroyed! You have to run. You have to- aaaaAAAAAH!+
         Nina's hands closed around my throat.
         All in one motion, she choked me and stood, lifting me off the floor. I couldn't say anything to her, couldn't breathe, could only look down at my sister's eyes as she strangled me.
         Eyes the blue of a melting icicle. Eyes brimming with watery tears, which evaporated from the heat of her tarnished energy as soon as they touched her face.
         +No,+ Nina sobbed.
         Her hands tightened their grip on my windpipe. Spots flashed before my eyes. My lungs were screaming for air; I hadn't taken a breath before Nina seized me.
         There was a stifling, horrible thickness. Numb sensation seeping into my body, from my furthest extremities upward. I couldn't see anymore; it was all growing dark, except for the frozen view of Nina's tearful eyes.
         The darkness became complete.
         That's all I remember.


         Mm?
         I'm sorry, darling. That really is all I remember.
         Well, of course I'm not dead, or I wouldn't be able to tell you any of this. It's just that I had something of a blackout. I truly do wish I could help you more with your record.
         Mm-hm?
         Mm-hm. So, you already know who to interview next?
         Is it Lee? Did Allah's angel come back in time to save my life?
         Oh.
         Then, is it Jin? Did he wake up and rescue me? Not that he's ever mentioned anything like that to me before, but-
         No?
         Then who...?
         You're kidding.
         You have got to be kidding.





INTERVIEW WITH BRYAN FURY, section 6
February 18, 2018
6:03 p.m.


         What do you mean, Anna thought you were kidding?
         What's so fucking hard to believe about it?
         I've been waiting for this. Waiting while you wasted useless weeks on pretty boy Kazama's unbelievable stupidity, and Indian girl Chang's teen angst. It's about time you got back to me!
         Now. I'm going to tell you how I saved everyone's ass.
         You get this straight, too - I saved EVERYONE'S ass! Not just everyone in that Son of Sam room. Everyone in the whole world, dammit!
         Hey. I saved pretty boy Kazama, didn't I? He's the one who got rid of the Toshin, isn't he? He couldn't have done that if I'd let the Toshin's pet psycho-bitch waste him - and you know she would have wasted him, as soon as she was done with her sister. So before you start praising him for saving the world, make sure you slice off a piece of that credit for me!
         Oh, shut up.
         So the Indian girl has saved his life, too. So more idiots had to gang up and save him again. Is it my fault the pretty boy is such an easy target? Does that make what I did worth any less?
         Damn straight it doesn't. This is my story, and you're getting this part right if it kills you. Again. You got any other questions, you better ask them now, because you won't like what happens to you if you screw this up.
         What? You really don't know that?
         YES, I was fighting against Lee.
         The whole time. Every second of it, since long before he burst in on that murder scene with Anna bawling her eyes out.
         And don't you judge me for giving Lee all Hell on a platter. Lee had tied me up in my own body. He was using me like a puppet, same as the Toshin was using Nina Williams. He wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't even listen to me!
         Not that I was telling him anything particularly nice.
         Bastard holier-than-thou angel was mad at me because I'd stood up to him. For Taki. She'd wanted to die, and he didn't want to let her. I was the only one who could fight for her rights, and he fucking sentenced me to a fate worse than death for it!
         So, I freaked out. Completely.
         I struggled against his chains of silk. Bit by bit, I wore at him. When he fought the demon cop Lei Wulong, I actually tore rips in the damn mental prison. By the time Lee was up against Nina Williams, I'd frayed my way free, in psychic space. Free to curse him, claw at him, throw myself at him. I rejected and hated everything about him, and tried my damnedest to make him feel a piece of what he was putting me through. I HAD to get rid of him, even if he decided to kill me as a parting revenge.
         What?
         Ahh... I don't know. Maybe three hours, total. I woke up a few minutes before Lee took on Lei Wulong. After that, Lee flew the demon cop to Kagura's Temple, went looking for pretty boy Kazama, found Kazama, then flew Kazama to the top of a syndicate skyscraper to chase down Anna, and the rest she told you. It was definitely no more than three hours.
         Huh?
         Damn. I never thought about that.
         I'll ask him. He's usually asleep after six, but he wanted to stay up for this. He has Sundays off from work now - just whose idea was that, anyway?


         No shit.
         Lee says you're right. He deliberately woke me up just before his fight with Lei Wulong, because he'd promised me he would. Lee knew that he wouldn't be able to put me back into a virtual coma, that I'd resist him tooth and nail until I forced him out of my body, but he woke me up anyway. Even though he'd turned on me, he still had to keep his word.
         That's angels for you.


         So, let's see. Where to pick up...
         Oh, yeah. When Toshin-Nina-psycho-bitch ripped Lee out of me.
         Just like that. No fancy mumbo-jumbo rituals or anything, she just yelled +BEGONE FROM THIS MORTAL REALM!+ and Lee was gone.
         Not sleeping. Not a featherweight in the back of my mind, or a ghost connected to me by silver strands. Gone. Completely gone.
         You want to know how I knew? How I really knew?
         I wanted a hit.
         I hadn't seriously thought of getting high in a while; it wasn't really an option, with that angel in my body. Now that he was gone, though...
         ...I wasn't literally in withdrawal. One of the things Lee did for me, when he was still pretending to be nice, was clean out the junk left in my system - you remember that Abel used to keep my body on methadone maintenance, right? Back when I was the remote-controlled Prototype Alpha of the Cyborg Army project? Lee's treatment had to be the most painless junkie detox ever, because I never felt a thing.
         Until he was gone, and this possessed assassin psycho-bitch was holding me by the neck, like I'm her fucking inflatable doll or something.
         This is the kind of situation that makes you want to get high, just to tune it out. Your typical drug-induced nightmare has got nothing on psycho-bitch.
         I knew better than to lose it, though. All my instincts told me: play dead. So I did. Let my muscles go slack and kept my eyes closed. Didn't move, didn't breathe. Didn't flinch when psycho-bitch called me 'ugly,' the obnoxious whore. Didn't even break my fall when she tossed me.
         Then I stayed very still, and waited for her to go away.
         I had an advantage over the rest of the idiots in that blood-soaked room - Anna, Mitsurugi, and pretty boy Kazama. Psycho-bitch didn't think I was alive. Just like the pretty boy never thought I was alive. Maybe because the Toshin possessing her had the same Power as the pretty boy: the Power to look inside people's minds, and read their souls.
         Only, neither of them could do that to me. I was psychically invisible to both of them. Maybe it really is because of the circuits Abel strung through my brain, I don't know. That's the best explanation anybody's come up with so far, who cares.
         So there I was, not moving, almost not breathing, while psycho-bitch was beating the shit out of her sister, only I was hardly aware of that because I'd just realized something.
         I was alive.
         The angel was gone from me, and I was still alive.
         Lee had said he was sustaining my life. Lee had said that if he ever left my body, I'd kick it. Now he was history, and I was very much alive.
         The angel had lied to me.
         Lee Chaolan LIED! To ME!
         Pretty screwed up, huh?
         I mean, I knew all along that Lee was lying. He never fooled me for a second. His whole line about being my only life support had to be a total crock, meant to scare me into letting him stay in my body. I knew this, I knew this from the get-go, but...
         ...it hurt, to learn that it was true. It actually hurt.
         I felt used. Betrayed. Even worse than before.
         Told you it was screwed up, didn't I?
         It didn't matter, though. All that mattered was that I was free now. I had my life back, and I could do anything I wanted. Just as soon as this homicidal psycho-bitch satisfied herself, I could walk out of here and...
         ...and...
         This is about when I started paying attention to what was going on around me. I didn't look, but I could hear Anna Williams pleading with her sister. Anna's begging failed.
         There was nothing I could do, though. Psycho-bitch was too strong. She'd had the Power to get rid of Lee, for Christ's sake. There was no way I could stop her from murdering anybody. If I tried, she'd only kill me, too. Sure, it sucked, but it wasn't my fault.
         Then, psycho-bitch screamed, something awful. I knew that scream. I'd used it a hundred times against Lee if I ever used it once, fruitlessly railing against him.
         My eyes opened. I knew I shouldn't open them, my best chance of survival was to play dead, but I couldn't help it, I had to see.
         I saw psycho-bitch strangling her sister to death.


         This is the part where Time breaks down.
         It all took place in a couple seconds. Flashbacks coming together; past, present, and future, all in one. It was almost an out-of-body experience, watching psycho-bitch throttle Anna, because it was just like the last time.
         The time when I damn near choked the life out of Julia Chang.
         I remembered how it felt, when Abel controlled me as his goddamn Prototype Alpha. When I was completely helpless, watching murder with my own two hands. I remembered how I'd begged inside for someone, anyone to stop me.
         Now, I heard voices.
         Not real voices, you get that straight. Not even voices in my head. They were voices in my memories, floating to the surface.
         When Bryan Fury wants to talk to me - the real Bryan Fury, the good cop who cares - I'll be here to listen to him. I promise.
         Shut up, Wulong. I AM the real Bryan Fury; you deal with me, or you go fuck yourself!
         This man - this man is dead!
         Mitsurugi, what are you doing in my mind? You're just a brainless syndicate suit.
         Bryan Fury is that body's donor. He is also dead.
         Kazama, you don't know what you're babbling about! Don't act like you're such an expert!
         There is a glimmer of light left within you, a memory of the good soul you used to be. You can resolve to build upon that light, or you can bury yourself in darkness.
         Lee - you ESPECIALLY have no business talking to me like that! You lying BASTARD slaver angel!
         He won't even talk to me, will he? If he really is alive. I was so sure that he was dead and gone forever...
         No. Not you too, Taki. Not...
         That's when it reached me.
         That's when I understood what the voices were saying. What my own head was trying to tell me, in its classically screwed-up way.
         Nothing had changed.
         Nothing had changed, from when I was a drug-running syndicate flunky. Or a remote-controlled zombie slave, ordered to kill as if acting out a bad TV show. The only difference now was a change in the camera's perspective: third-person view, instead of first-person.
         Abel might not have any more control over me, and Lee might be gone, but nothing had really changed. Not if I played possum now. Not if I just let the psycho-bitch murder her own sister, and everyone else she could get her hands on. If I did nothing to stop her...
         ...then it would be no different from when I'd been helpless inside my own skull, wringing Julia's neck. It wasn't my hands killing a young woman this time, but I was still watching, and still doing nothing. I might as well be a dead man all over again, nothing more than a reanimated Cyborg Army corpse.
         No.
         No, dammit, no! I'm not dead. I'm alive. I am Bryan Fury, and I don't fucking care what everyone says about me, I am alive and I'm going to PROVE IT!
         Psycho-bitch never noticed me.
         She was too busy killing her sister. She didn't see me get up, and she didn't see me grab this discarded sword, lying next to a bullet-pockmarked set of punk gang clothes-
         Oh? You don't say.
         It was Mitsurugi's sword? That Anna had used to kill Hwoarang?
         That sword hadn't drunk its fill of blood yet.
         I had to kill psycho-bitch. Nothing else could stop her. I'm no sorcerer, I can't do an exorcism, and even if I could - hey, I'll let you in on something. Did Anna tell you how Lee tried to drive the Toshin out of psycho-bitch? Well, I could feel his emotions the whole time, and the angel didn't know if he could do it. He had major doubts. He was not sure, not one little bit, that he was strong enough to save psycho-bitch. Not even if she had been resisting the Toshin, not even if I hadn't been giving Lee bloody murder Hell.
         So, I had to kill Nina Williams. She was a psycho-bitch homicidal maniac assassin, after all. Even before the Toshin took her over. I wasn't thrilled at having to murder her, but I wouldn't cry any fake tears over doing it.
         Besides, she called me ugly. The slut.
         I didn't warn her, didn't make a sound. Just slipped behind her and chopped with that sword. Chopped with the strength of a Cyborg Army soldier, which is a damn sight more than your average slob, and she never saw it coming.
         I cut off her head.
         One stroke. That's all it took, and I'd never really handled a sword before. I was absurdly proud of myself.
         It was weird, though. Even though her head flew off her shoulders, psycho-bitch was still standing there. Her body didn't fall down. Oh, she dropped Anna, who flopped in an unconscious heap. Anna started breathing again, thank God. She'd probably be pissed off when she woke up, because I had to kill her sister, but that was her own...
         ...damn...
         ...problem?
         Psycho-bitch's headless body still wouldn't fall down.
         Instead, it turned toward me.
         There wasn't any blood gushing from her severed neck. All her red fluid stayed nicely pooled inside her; not one drop of it spilled on the diamond-studded silver cross she wore around the stump of her throat.
         What - what the-?
         Psycho-bitch's head was floating.
         Just suspended in air, levitating upward, no blood dripping from it. Her ice-blue eyes were alive and dancing, as her head hovered directly over the gaping hole between her shoulders. She used her hands to steady her head in place, and the wound in her neck sealed.
         I dropped the sword. It went right through my numb fingers, and clattered on the floor.
         This... this was...
         This was IMPOSSIBLE-!
         I know what I'm talking about, here. Absolutely fucking impossible. I knew Lee was able to heal my body, when he possessed me, but not like this. Nothing like this. He'd explained it to me, once. He could only help my body fix itself more quickly than normal, or in a pinch, work on me like he was a surgeon. He could NOT heal damage to organs like my heart or brain, which don't have the natural ability to regenerate, and decapitation was definitely out of his league. Way, WAY out of his league.
         This was not possible. You can't heal decapitation, no one can heal decapitation, this could not be possible-!
         Unless.
         Unless that thing possessing psycho-bitch... unless the Toshin...
         Unless the Toshin was stronger than Lee. A lot stronger. We're talking a MUCH bigger order of magnitude, here. We're comparing a pound of dynamite to a tactical nuke.
         Oh, shit.
         Oh, shit.
         +I CAST YOU OUT OF THAT EMPTY SHELL!+ Toshin-Nina raged. It sounded like it was the Toshin more than Nina talking this time, I don't know. +HOW HAVE YOU RETURNED TO PLAGUE ME!?+
         Oh, shiiiiit-!
         Psycho-bitch pointed at me with her finger. Like I'd seen her do several times before. She was going to zap me with a deadly blast, and send me to my grave for good.
         I couldn't run away. I can't move faster than a lightning bolt.
         Couldn't fight her, either. If chopping her head off wouldn't kill her, then nothing would. Nothing that I could do.
         I really was as good as dead, now. She was going to murder me. My death, my final death crackled on her hands. The diamonds of her silver cross reflected the bright light of my doom, in a dazzling, dirty gold sparkle. Reflected it all, straight in my eyes.
         I hate bright light...
         ...reflected in my eyes...


         'Reflected'?
         Reflected!
         That was it. That was my chance. The one and only chance I had against her, and in the name of God it was a small chance, but-!
         I've got to make this work. I've got to say it right, got to do it right, can't screw up, can't break character. This is the act of a lifetime. It's going to take all the skills, ALL the skills I ever used as an undercover detective, and then some. It's got to be perfect, or else I'm dead and so is everybody else.
         There used to be a writer called Hemingway, who said that courage is 'grace under pressure.'
         What can I say? I got it. I flaunt it. Believe me, it's a requirement, if you're going to be undercover on the job. If you're going to be any kind of good cop.
         And I was a good cop, once. I was a damned good cop.
         Here's the proof.


         I erased all the fear from my face, all the shock and all the hate, and stared psycho-bitch down like I was Lee. I took on an almost full-forward fighting stance, like I was Lee. When I spoke, I used Lee's sanctimonious tone of voice, and Lee's hyper-formal speech patterns - his talk tends to go from laid back to stiff whenever his angel side shows through, you ever notice that?
         "Your Power cannot destroy me!" I declared, with the fortitude of God's holy angel. "I have retaken spiritual possession of this vessel. As long as I control it, there is nothing you can do to cease its function!"
         It worked.
         It was a bald-ass lie, but it worked. Psycho-bitch lowered her hand, and didn't blast me.
         She thought I was Lee Chaolan. She really thought I was God's holy angel, who could block her death-zap with sheer willpower.
         "I am a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. These souls are under my protection." Steady, now. Don't say it like it's the dumbest line you ever heard. Say it like you're Lee. Say it like you really believe it.
         +YOUR SOUL IS UNWORTHY TO HAVE BEEN MADE A GUARDIAN!+
         "I deny you. I repel you. I oppose all you stand for!"
         Psycho-bitch roared.
         Psycho-bitch rushed me.
         Okay. I've got to make this look good.
         I can't beat her, I can't kill her, I don't have a chance in Hell against her, but I've still got to put up a fight. A real one. If I go down too easy, she could get suspicious. So, I have to make this tough for her, and I have to make sure that she doesn't kill me before she gets her hands on me.
         What do you mean, that doesn't make sense? Shut up. I'm talking, here.
         I had another problem. Although I had to fight psycho-bitch, I couldn't fight her like I was me. Couldn't use my own Muay Thai kickboxing. I had to fight like Lee would. Because I'll bet you anything that psycho-bitch knew Lee's style, from some Iron Fist Tournament or whatever, and I can't give away that I'm not Lee!
         Okay, I can do this. I've got at least one advantage; psycho-bitch can't read my mind. I've also had Lee in my body for weeks. He's practiced his style in my body; he's even fought with my body. I can mimic his moves, I can-
         -I can fucking get my ass kicked.
         Because while I was rehearsing all this, psycho-bitch grabbed me. She hooked my arms and stabbed me with her sharp-as-a-stake high heel - hey, wasn't she naked when she got banished? Figures the Toshin would give her some kind of clothes for her return, making this both less fun and more painful, because you don't want to know how much a heel spike can hurt. She wrenched me closer, trying to get me in a good grip to crack my spine-
         Like I'm going to let her!
         I twisted out of her hold, stepping and turning and yanking my arm, and barely managed to pull free. Not that it slowed her; she wanted to grab me again. I tried to clear some distance with a back handspring; Lee used to exercise my body with those. I never actually did one all on my own before, but how hard can it be? Just go with the flow, let my muscles remember the movements, and-
         Ha! Got it! Absolute perfect, first try. When you're good, you're good. This was easier than I thought it would-
         Whoa.
         Psycho-bitch closed the distance between us just like that, and sicced me with a side kick to the midsection. I blocked that damn spike heel on crossed arms - you want to fucking tell me how she keeps her balance in those things, anyway? - so she angled her next kick up, over my guard and at my face. I took one look at that godawful tent stake coming for my mouth, and ducked before I had to eat it. Her foot whooshed over my head.
         Now's my chance to strike back!
         If I could fight with my own damn moves, I would have belted psycho-bitch in the gut and tossed her over my head, but I was stuck imitating Lee's style. The important thing wasn't to hurt her, because she wouldn't stay down; the important thing was to make her believe I was Lee Chaolan, putting up my damnedest fight. No matter how badly I wanted to just forget everything, and beat her skinny ass.
         Fucking streetwalker would've lost her supermodel good looks in another ten, twenty years anyway. Who is she to judge!?
         So I stood up with one of Lee's kicks, a basic drill he used to practice in the morning, claiming that he was 'exercising' or 'becoming more familiar with' my body. A rising axe kick, I think it's called. Pivot on your supporting leg, and bring your flexed heel straight up and straight down, cracking your enemy twice. What can I tell you? It worked again, first try. I just remembered what it felt like when Lee did it, went through the same motions, and wham.
         Now for more of Lee's kicks - what's his style called, anyway? 'Mishima-school karate'? That's a laugh; just about the only move he uses as often as the rest of the Mishima family IS that stupid axe kick, but never mind. I followed it up with three more kicks like Lee used to do, hopping forward on one leg like I'm some killer pink flamingo, booting psycho-bitch low, middle, high-
         -only the high kick missed her.
         What the hell?
         I did it right, I know I did it right; she just reeled back so far that the high kick whiffed in front of her face, dammit. Okay, better stop kicking and regain my balance before she-
         -dodges to my left-
         -and smacks me in the head.
          Did I mention that psycho-bitch packs a wallop?
         For one second after she hit me, I was good for absolutely nothing, and she knew it. A serial killer smile twisted her face as she stabbed my one leg with a low kick - I was still recovering from hopping around - and down I went. But she wasn't going to let me fall as easily as that, oh no. She spun around and dealt my chest a backhand chop, then finally lunged forward, both hands outstretched, slamming me with an explosion of dirty gold force. Then I hit the floor, in no condition to even try breaking my fall.
         I hurt.
         I really hurt.
         Psycho-bitch didn't even look winded. I'd fucking kicked her four times, and she didn't have one hair out of place-!
         But then, what am I supposed to expect? If losing her head didn't faze her...
         Dammit, don't think about it. Thinking won't help, except for concentrating on Lee's style. Think like Lee, act like Lee, kick to your feet like you're Lee. Except I wonder if Lee would wince and limp, because his right leg has come this close to getting its shinbone shattered.
         While I staggered, psycho-bitch charged herself up. Squatted with her legs far apart and bellowed, focusing her dirty gold energy until it glittered from her hands and feet. Now at full power, she spotted my weakness, and came at me with another crouching kick.
         Not this time, tramp!
         She pivoted on her right leg, and stabbed low with her left, parallel to the ground. I was ready for it. Thrust both my hands straight down, catching her shapely calf and shoving it off-course - what? - oh, fuck Lee's style, if Lee didn't know how to do this then he should have.
         My hands felt like I'd put them on a pile of red-hot coals.
         With psycho-bitch powered up like this, even touching her hurt, and made all the pain everywhere else hurt worse. But now, I had another opening, and I had to use it while I could. Only, I had to use it like Lee would, had to attack like Lee-
         So, I catapulted myself in one of Lee's flip kicks.
         He loves doing those, too. Like they're the next best thing to flying. Flip kicks are the fucking trademark of his style. I used to get dizzy and nauseous in psychic space, while he did flip kicks with my body, but hell. No better move to make psycho-bitch think I'm Lee, right?
         My injured leg screamed at the abuse I was heaping on it, but I mentally told it to shut up. Just threw myself up and back, clipping psycho-bitch with both insteps, flipping in midair-
         I'm not doing this right.
         I'm not going all the way around, I don't know, didn't put enough lift into it, my bad leg fucked up or something. My arms started flailing and it didn't help-
         -oh, SHIT!         
         The floor smacked me in the face.
         Almost as hard as psycho-bitch.
         That was the end of my fight. After the way I hit the ground, my odds of getting up again would have been pathetic, even if I had felt like it.
         Lee's style fucking sucks, anyway. No wonder Kazuya wasted him in the Iron Fist Tournament.
         Psycho-bitch laughed at me, clutched my neck - hey Elvira, you want to get your nails trimmed? - and hoisted me over her head, easy and effortless as you please. She almost cut off my air supply, but I had just enough breath left to whisper a line, in a mockery of Lee's angel voice:
         "You cannot destroy this vessel, so long as a servant of the Grey Kingdom controls it!"
         Psycho-bitch got her nastiest look yet.
         +FIRST I DRIVE YOU OUT OF THAT SHELL,+ she countered. +THEN I SHALL EVISCERATE IT, ORGAN BY ORGAN! LET US SEE A GUARDIAN OF YOUR INFERIOR ORDER RECONSTITUTE IT FROM THAT!+
         Shit. This had better work...!
         +BEGONE FROM THIS MORTAL REALM!+


         I'm not sure why this time, and not the last one... maybe because my mind wasn't pushed back by Lee's will, I don't know... but this time, when psycho-bitch tried her exorcism, I got a look in her head. At the thing controlling her.
         The Toshin.
         For one, sickening moment, I felt it. Felt what it was like, how it thought, and how it used her.
         Felt like sticking myself with the nearest sharp object.
         Look, I know I bitch about Lee, all right? I bitch about him, and most of my bitching is justified. Most of it. He's preachy, he's literal-minded, he forces his self-righteous moral code down my throat, he's a fucking puritan - even now, he won't let me drink or smoke, and keeps me on this miserable health-food diet, it's dull enough to gag a horse, but...
         Oh...
         Lee's not that bad. There, I said it, and I'm sorry he's awake to hear it, but what the fuck, it's true. Lee is not that bad. As aggravating as the angel is, you can still reason with him, most of the time. If you've got a complaint, he'll usually hear you out, maybe even offer a compromise. You can strike deals with him, and he always keeps his end of the bargain. He gets tired and falls asleep, and when he passes out it's pretty much the same as if he's not possessing you at all. Even when he's awake, his presence isn't all that overwhelming. Like a feather balanced on your head. Hell, even when he turned on me, he just roped me in a cocoon of silk.
         Lee is not into torture, murder, or self-destruction, not anymore. As screwed up as he is... he cares. He gives a damn about other people. Actually including me.
         While this... this THING possessing psycho-bitch...
         The Toshin did not sleep. The Toshin did not listen to deals. The Toshin did not take complaints, and the Toshin did not compromise. You can't reason with it, you can't fight with it, you can't do anything but writhe in the grip of this - this sick, slimy, rotting - it's like being infested with those worms that burrow under your skin, and you can feel every worm eating through you. You do NOT have a choice, you can NOT argue, you are NOT going to deny it what it wants, and what it wants is blood and souls.
         The souls of the strongest people in the world.
         Then the souls of everyone in the world.
         Then it'll finish with your soul. What's left of it.
         I'm going to be sick, now. I'm going to be sick and I can't throw up because psycho-bitch is still holding my throat-!
         My feet were on the floor before I was aware of being let go. I swayed a bit, choking and clutching at my neck, but I stayed upright.
         Psycho-bitch screamed.
         Different from before. All the times before, it was the bitch screaming. Now it was the psycho screaming. The deep, beast-like roar of an Ogre.
         +RRRUAAAAAAAAGH!+
         Psycho-bitch threw apart both arms, and leaned back like she was doing the limbo. All her dirty gold energy burst from her eyes, ears, nose, and wide-open mouth. Her whole body shook like she was in extreme pain, her blue eyes rolled back in her head, and her blond hair split apart with static. As the roar faded, I saw the ghostly shape of the Toshin, hanging over her head.
         It was this green-black thing with long, curving horns like an ox, fevered red eyes, fangs jutting from its lower lip, and a shaggy head. Sort of like the monster from "Beauty and the Beast," only with dragon-like wings, tail, and two-toed feet. Its left arm also had two fingers, but instead of a right arm, it had a red-eyed snake. A snake whose poisonous fangs reached for me.
         I thrust my knee at the Toshin, and shook my fist. Hey, ox-boy! Eat this.
         Oh, it was so pissed off! But it couldn't touch me, couldn't touch its pet psycho-bitch, couldn't do anything but fade away and disappear.
         Psycho-bitch reeled.
         The dirty gold disappeared from her body, her eyes, and her hair. I mean, all the color went out of her hair, draining it to stark white.
         She slumped to her knees, then on her hip. Her hand covered her eyes, and she shook her head back and forth.
         Her mouth worked in a windy, wheezy voice. Weak and pitiful-like. A human voice. No more soul-shaking godly thunder, just a whimpering trollop.
         "Wh-what... h-how...?"
         "The Law of Reflection," I announced, talking to her like she was retarded. Hell, I think she is retarded. Why else would she let a THING like the Toshin take her over in the first place!?
         "What...?"
         I wasn't telling her because I wanted her to know. I was telling her because I wanted to gloat.
         "The Law of Reflection, psycho-bitch! If you target a spell, and your target isn't there, your sorcery turns on you instead. Any sorcery. Divination, mind-probe..."
         I soundly smacked my fist into my open hand.
         "...exorcism!"
         "I..." she whispered. "I..."
         "I'm Bryan Fury. Only Bryan Fury. You tried to drive out Lee when he was already gone, and now guess what? It's just you and me! No more gods. No more angels. No more hiding behind that THING - if I cut off your head again, it stays cut off!"
         "...I won't..."
         "So, you want to try round two, now? Just say the word. Tell me how 'ugly' I am, I dare you. C'mon, 'Silent Assassin.' Let's see how good you really are, when you got nothing but your own skinny ass to back your shit up!"
         "I WON'T LET YOU HURT MY SISTER!"
         What?
         What the hell?
         Psycho-bitch scrambled to a half-crouch, and skittered like a frightened silverfish to where Anna was. The white-haired assassin didn't take her eyes off me for a split-second as she insisted, "Anna? Anna, wake up!"
         "Nnngh...?" Anna murmured, not really conscious.
         "It's all right, I've got you," psycho-bitch reassured, half-panicky, half-consoling, as she took Anna in both arms. "We're getting out of here. I won't let him hurt you, I-"
         "HEY!" I yelled. "Which one of us was strangling the life out of her five minutes ago? Was that me? Did that fucking LOOK like me!?"
         "You keep away from my sister or I'll KILL you!"
         Like I said. Retarded.


         Lee's bugging me again.
         He's got a comment to make, about psycho-bitch's attitude. He calls it 'reaction formation.' When people have urges they don't like, sometimes they overcompensate the other way, and project their unacceptable feelings on everybody else. Or something like that.
         Lee's also a little miffed at my language. You know he doesn't like being called an 'angel.' He's never cared for my swearing, either; he doesn't think it sets a good example. He might have a point if I were a fucking kindergarten teacher, but I'm not, so he usually doesn't whine about it too much. What's bothering him right now is the way I keep using the term 'psycho-bitch.' He doesn't think it's very responsible of me to call Nina Williams that.
         Maybe he's right.
         Maybe it's an insult to psychos and bitches everywhere.


         Without the help of angel psychoanalysis, I just stared in confusion while Nina retreated, clutching her semiconscious sister. Anna's neck lolled way back on Nina's left arm, while her legs dangled over Nina's right arm. Anna mumbled something, without opening her eyes.
         "Yeah, that's it," I taunted Nina. "Run away. You just run away, psycho-bitch! Turn your fluffy white tail and run! You're outclassed, you haven't got any other chance, and you know it! YOU KNOW IT!"
         Nina didn't bother saying anything back. She retreated out the room's double doors, and was gone. Escaping the syndicate with her sister, I assumed.
         Oh, damn!
         I should've at least stripped that diamond-studded cross off Nina's neck! Now that I had my life back, I'd need to raise some quick cash while I figured out what to do next. I dashed after Nina, but when I poked my head out the double doors, there was no sign of her. Not even a blood trail; Anna's cuts must have clotted, or something.
         Shit.
         Well, I did have a fallback. Mitsurugi and pretty boy Kazama were still down for the count. Mitsurugi didn't have spit on him, but Kazama was another matter.
         Ha!
         I was in luck. The pretty boy had a wallet, and was it ever loaded. Lots of big bills; also an IdentiCard, which I decided to keep just in case. I slipped the wallet in my own pocket-
         Hey. What did I tell you about judging me?
         I saved the pretty boy's life, didn't I? He's fucking RICH, isn't he? You think he'd care to give up a little something for his rescue? Especially since I needed it a lot more than he did!
         Okay, I thought to myself. Anything else of value, around here?
         Just a sword, an empty gun, and a pendant on a cut ribbon. The gun might've been Mitsurugi's; it was the model used by Mishima syndicate security goons. The pendant was probably Anna's; it looked like women's jewelry. Well, they both owed me for their rescue, too.
         I snatched the gun and the pendant, figuring they might be worth something on the black market. The sword was too bulky to haul around, so I left it where it was.
         It was time to make my own escape. I turned to walk out the room's double doors-
         I couldn't walk. Couldn't take a step.
         Something was wrong with my leg. Nina had given me a workover, yeah, but this was nastier. More than just throbbing pain. It felt so jittery and unresponsive, like I'd come down with cerebral palsy.
         It was getting worse.
         The feeling spread to my other leg, and now I couldn't stand. I felt it in my hands, too; they were shaking like I was hyped on caffeine. I coughed. Heavy, throaty sound. Sort of like Wulong, and I felt like he must have, too - like there's something thick taking up space in my lungs, not leaving me enough air to breathe.
         The palsy traveled up through my legs and arms, and started to constrict my chest.
         It hurt.
         Worse than the leftovers of Toshin-Nina's beating. Much worse. Hell, it wasn't even the same kind of pain; more like a progressive squeezing, tighter, tighter-
         I leaned against the wall. Put my hands flat on it, but couldn't stop myself from sinking the rest of the way to the floor. Strength was fading from my body. Also my head.
         A convulsion jerked me. When it was over, my arms and legs continued twitching.
         Oh, no.
         Oh, shit, no.
         I remembered this sensation - this shroud that was putting pressure on my heart and lungs. I'd felt it once before, in the wake of a Hong Kong shootout. When I was spilling my blood and innards on a dirty patch of stone.
         I was dying.
         But how-? Why!? Toshin-Nina didn't hurt me that badly, I know she didn't! Why am I dying? This can't be real, I don't understand, this CAN'T be real, WHY is this real-!?
         A sharp flash of pain went through my neck.
         I remembered.


         Would you rather be buried or cremated? Lee's simple, matter-of-fact question, presented for my consideration a few weeks ago.
         What? My irritated answer.
         I'd recommend cremation. That way, no one will be able to recover Cyborg Army data from your remains.
         Shut your mouth, you-
         Or perhaps you'd prefer to stagger around for ten minutes and drop dead in the street? Let whoever finds your body worry about its disposal?



         Lee hadn't lied to me.
         He'd said that I'd die without him, yeah. But he never claimed that I would instantly keel over. He specifically suggested that I'd last for around ten minutes, on my own.
         My ten minutes were up.
         "No," I whimpered. My legs went completely limp, and I flopped, sitting stiffly with my back to the wall. "No - not like this! This can't - I can't-!"
         I can't even fight. I'd rather be ripped to shreds by Toshin-Nina; at least she was an enemy I could punch and kick. This - this falling apart on the inside - there was nothing I could do to stop it, no way I could-
         "I don't want to die," I gurgled, reaching vainly toward Kazama and Mitsurugi. "One of you - get up - do something - I don't want to die!"
         Pretty boy Kazama didn't hear me. He was still in dreamland. Mitsurugi actually stirred, a little, but he couldn't raise his head yet. When I tried to say more, my voice failed me.
         After all I'd fought, all I'd won, I was going to die in a room full of blood. Full circle. I might as well be back in the Hong Kong warehouse again, because I...
         ...I'd never gotten even with old man Heihachi, for turning me into his Cyborg Army slave...
         ...I'd never gotten revenge on Abel, for trying to make me kill an innocent girl...
         ...shit, I hadn't even avenged myself on Lei Wulong-!
         That's when I saw the angel, kneeling in front of me. A translucent, ghostly shape.
         He looked pretty ragged.
         His surcoat was torn. He had cuts on his arms and legs - not bleeding, exactly, but slivers of white light leaked through where he'd been sliced. His silver hair was messed up, and his wings were all patchy, with whole clumps of feathers torn out. I guess getting exorcized is no picnic.
         "Lee?" I mouthed. Couldn't put any sound into it.
         *Can you see me?* he mused, like an idiot. Of course I could see him; I was looking right at him, wasn't I?
         He touched my shoulder. The pain I was feeling went away, but the godawful constriction stayed - I was still dying-!
         *It won't be long now,* he evaluated, quietly.
         "Lee," I said without voice. It didn't matter; either he could read my lips or his angel Power let him know. "Do something!"
         His silver eyebrows flattened, slightly.
         *I am,* he confirmed. *I am waiting for you to die, so that I may escort your soul to the Grey Kingdom.*
         "But I... I can't die like this...!"
         Something flickered past Lee's eyes of white light. Impatience? Exasperation? Alarm? Whatever it was, he let it go with a resigned sigh.
         Why wasn't he doing anything to save me?
         Was it out of spite? Was he so pissed off that he wanted to watch me die? It was the most obvious explanation, but it didn't fit. He didn't look like he was gloating.
         Then why-?
         "Why are you 'waiting'?" I exhaled. With my last breath, I gasped, "Do whatever you have to - possess my body if that's what it takes, just save my life!"
         A wry smile flickered across the angel's lips.
         *I thought you would never ask,* Lee confided, touching my neck with the five fingers of his left hand.


         I'm not completely sure what happened, after that. I think I blacked out for a while.
         Hang on...
         Oh, right.
         Lee says my body had degenerated to a lousy state, by the time he took it over again, and he wasn't in the best shape either. He had to make me sleep, and then focus exclusively on fixing me. So for maybe an hour, he wasn't any more aware of what was going on around us than I was.
         When I woke up, my surroundings had changed. Completely.
         I was lying in an alley. Don't ask me where, just some dark, wet, dirty Tokyo sidestreet. Rainwater puddles were soaking through my clothes. I was shivering and freezing, but I was alive.
         I was alive!
         Lee was there, too. A rather tired Lee.
         He kneeled next to me, in his punk outfit with the unicorn vest. Those silver threads connected his left hand to my neck again. He still looked pretty messed up, but I noticed that his cuts were gone.
         "Lee?" I mumbled.
         "I'm addressing you face-to-face because I hope it will make you less inclined to ignore me," he replied. "Before we consider any courses of action, immediate or long-term, there is something that you must understand. You must hear my words, and accept them to be true."
         Oh?
         "You still claim to be a 'pathological truth-teller,' right?"
         "Yes. All Guardians are. We do not have the ability to lie."
         "Uh-huh."
         "It is why you were able to deceive the Toshin so readily. It thought that you were I. Therefore, it automatically accepted your claim that it could not destroy your body, so long as I possessed you. A claim which is, by the way, patently false."
         "Okay. Okay, if you say you can't lie, then tell me this: what do you really think of me?"
         Lee raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you wish to ask me that?"
         "Answer the fucking question. Now."
         "On the one hand, your daring rescue of the Toshin's intended victims is an admirable act of personal redemption. On the other hand, you continue to behave like a petty, overbearing, ill-tempered, vengeful, foul-mouthed, arrogant, thieving ingrate, who I presume is too self-absorbed to even consider offering such words as 'Thank you Lee Chaolan, for saving my life.'"
         "Why should I give you any thanks? You're getting something out of this, too. You get to live through my body."
         "Is that a promise?"
         Uhh...
         "Before we concern ourselves with such questions, however, there is the initial Truth that I must impress upon you. Have I now convinced you that I am unable to lie, or would you like to hear more of my honest opinions?"
         "Okay," I snorted. "You really are a pathological truth-teller. So. What do you have to truth-tell me that's so damn important?"
         "Don't exorcize me again unless you're ready to die."
         "Is that a threat?"
         "Not exactly. The first time I possessed you, Heihachi Mishima activated your self-destruct, and you nearly perished. This time, it was even closer. If I am forced out of you again, you won't linger on the Power of my residue. You will literally fall down dead, and I will most likely be unable to repossess you in time to resuscitate your life. Do you understand my meaning?"
         "Yeah, yeah. I'm stuck with you."
         "No, you are not 'stuck' with me. You may dismiss me at any time, provided that you are willing to forfeit the price. This has to be absolutely clear to your comprehension. You must not exorcize me again, unless you are prepared to meet your death!"
         "All right, all right! I get it!"
         "Very well."
         "Why are you on my case for this, anyway? I didn't get rid of you. The Toshin did."
         "It was able to do so only because you were already resisting me."
         "No shit."
         "Similarly, the Toshin's reflected exorcism drove it out of Nina Williams only because Anna had already persuaded her sister to resist. So, before you start feeling too smug about your victory, please do remember to give Nina and Anna their due."
         "Why are you lecturing me like this?"
         "Because I assume that you are ignorant. Why else did you take so long to invite me back?"
         "What?"
         "As a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom, I can't possess your body without your invitation. I can't even ask you to invite me; the solicitation must come wholly from your free will."
         "What the-? I never invited you the first time!"
         "Yes, you did."
         "When?"
         "You were, as I remember, being forced to strangle Julia Chang. You called for someone, anyone to stop you."
         "That was an invitation for some random angel to possess me?"
         "I am not an angel, and I doubt it was a wholly random turn of events, but the rest is close enough. I believe that Julia's medallion amplified your plea, and sent it to the Crossroads, where I could hear it and respond."
         When I was, oh, maybe eight years old, Mother used to tell me to be careful what I prayed for. I just might get it.
         So, I prayed for a whole lot of crap. Toys, games, candy. Food, clothing, heat. The usual.
         Didn't see any of it.
         I'm still not sure if God sent me this angel to pay me back for all the prayers He used to ignore, or just to tip some bet He made with Satan.
         "Now," Lee continued, "Tell me: do you remain unwilling to swear the Oath of Guardians? The Oath to serve and protect mortal souls?"
         "Not this shit again."
         "And you still won't give any reason for your refusal?"
         "What do you care?"
         "Because I will not tolerate a repetition of what you did to Taki. If you attempt anything like that again, I shall have no choice but to-"
         "What I did? What about what YOU tried to do!?"
         "I beg your pardon?"
         "She wanted to die, and you didn't want to let her! It was her decision. Her choice, not yours. You had no right to play God with her free will!"
         Lee tilted his head. Confusion crossed his face.
         "Is that why you fought me so fiercely? Because you were trying to protect her 'free will'?" He said it very slowly, struggling with a near-incomprehensible idea. High school geometry flunkout tries to get a handle on advanced calculus.
         "Yeah," I admitted, looking away.
         "I see."
         "Lee, you... you gave her a decent burial, right?" My eyes drifted to Taki's mask, which he had tied around my left arm.
         Lee didn't answer.
         "Hey. Hey, don't you start with this silent treatment shit again!"
         Lee started to say something, stopped, and looked at the ground.
         Wait. It wasn't so much that he was refusing to tell me. More like he was at a loss for words.
         "Is Taki dead?" I questioned, more carefully. "If she's not, then why did you put her mask on me like a mourning flag?"
         "Once our immediate situation is dealt with, I believe I can present you with answers."
         'Immediate situation'?
         "You're not hell-bent on chasing after pretty boy Kazama again, are you?"
         "I do not know where to look for him. I tried a location spell moments before you awoke, to no avail. All I know is that Jin is no longer in the skyscraper where we last saw him. It is my fear that Heihachi Mishima has entrapped him while he was unconscious, and sequestered him in a place immune to my detection.
         "Incidentally," Lee continued, "I saw you appropriate Jin's billfold, among other items. Rest assured that you are going to return them all."
         "You're a real prick, you know that?"
         "If you desire wealth, then I have no doubt that Jin will gladly and generously provide for you, once we rescue him from his grandfather."
         "I'm not jumping hoops for circus dog handouts from a spoiled pretty boy!"
         "You find it ethical to steal, yet abhorrent to earn an honest reward?"
         "Shut up, just shut up. What's this 'immediate situation' you were blabbing about, anyway?" I grumbled, wanting to steer this conversation away from me.
         Lee pointed.
         Wouldn't you know, we weren't alone in that alley. Another guy was also there. His black suit blended into the darkness, making him almost invisible.
         He didn't look so good.
         Shaking all over. On his hands and knees, head down. I couldn't see his face. I recognized his profile, though - from that blood-covered room, and from when I was once being 'tested' as Prototype Alpha. His sword dragged in a sheath at his hip; he must have retrieved it or something.
         "Mitsurugi?" I addressed, up-front.
         No answer, not directly. Just a shudder.
         "Hey! I'm talking to you, idiot! Is your name 'Mitsurugi' or not?"
         "Y-yes," he stuttered. There was something screwy with his voice, like he could barely make it work. Like he had a noose around his neck, stifling him.
         "Where are we?" I demanded.
         "Nn-not sure. Outside the syndicate. Nn-not far, nnnot too far-!"
         There was something real familiar about the messed-up way he was acting.
         "Did you bring me here?" I asked the syndicate flunky.
         "Y-you said you d-didn't want to die... I-I heard you..."
         He clawed at his hair, like there were bugs in it.
         "Mm-my master was coming. Mishima-sama was c-closing in, I could feel it. Mishima-sama said he w-was going to terminate the Cyborg Army project. I-I knew Mishima-sama would d-destroy you, if he found you..."
         "What the fuck is wrong with you, anyway?"
         "Anna shot me..."
         He wasn't exactly answering my question, I think. More like he was getting into a tangent.
         "Anna sh-shot me... wh-what happened after that? Wh-where is she? Is she okay?"
         Does being in the care of Nina the Psycho-Bitch count as 'okay'?
         "Anna probably got out of the syndicate in one piece," I said, with a shrug.
         "She shot me - I remember - she..." He tried to take a deep breath to calm himself, and ended up hyperventilating. "Am I - am I still alive? At all? Or am I like you...?"
         I wonder if I should punch him?
         Nah. The spindly wimp's not worth it.
         "He is alive," Lee said, crouching next to the flunky. "I can detect the resonance of his pulse and respiration. But..."
         "Lee says you're alive," I announced, since the flunky probably couldn't hear him.
         "Wh-who?"
         "Never mind."
         "H-how... wh-what happened after Anna shot me...?"
         "Pretty boy Kazama healed you. The rest would take too long to explain."
         "B-but how...? Anna shot me-!"
         I take it this flunky has never seen ER.
         "Oh, for Christ's sake, get over it! You were down for only a couple minutes. They bring people back from longer than that all the time, in trauma centers everywhere. The pretty boy just put on a flashier light show."
         "It is a little more complex than that," Lee corrected, studying the flunky through a shining white fingertip lens. "Mitsurugi was pierced through the heart. I've never heard of any human sorcery capable of healing such a wound. I'm still not certain what Jin did to save him."
         "The y-young master saved my life...?" the flunky stuttered, like a moron. "I-I left him behind... I c-could only carry one of you... Mishima-sama w-wouldn't hurt his own g-grandson, would he? W-would he?"
         What was I going to do with this flunky, anyway?
         Walk away and leave him, cowering in some dirty street? It was an option. But if he really had hauled me out of the syndicate, moments before old man Heihachi could get his greedy hands on me, then...
         Then I owed this suit. Owed him some advice, at least.
         "Look. Idiot. You've probably pissed old man Heihachi off by leaving. You can't go back to the syndicate now, or God knows what he'll do to you. You got anywhere you can hide?"
         "I h-have to go back..."
         "Didn't you fucking hear me? You can't!"
         Lee said, "I have a bad feeling about this. Anna indicated that Mitsurugi had been forced to serve Hwoarang's will."
         The flunky convulsed all over.
         Shit. Now I remembered what was so familiar, about the way he was acting.
         He was like a junkie in detox. And he didn't have any angel to make it easier.
         "Tell you what," I muttered, to the suit. "You're lucky I'm in a good mood, right now. I'm going to let you come with me, to Kagura's Temple."
         It wasn't until the words fell out of my mouth that I realized: Yeah. Yeah, this is what I am going to do. My next stop is Kagura's Temple.
         Why? Because Lei Wulong was there.
         I wanted revenge on three major players: Heihachi, Abel, and Wulong. Heihachi and Abel could keep for a while, but Wulong was dying. This was my last chance to get even with that phony oiler bastard glory hound of a demon cop. Lee would never let me kill him, dammit, but I still needed some sort of revenge!
         Even if it was only to spit in his face.
         And, since I was headed for Kagura's Temple, I might as well take Mitsurugi with me. Even a worthless syndicate flunky deserved better than old man Heihachi's tender mercies.
         I stood up. Mitsurugi stayed on his knees, with his head down.
         "What are you waiting for?" I snapped. "Get up. We're going to Kagura's Temple."
         "I c-can't..."
         "You fucking expect me to carry you? Uh-uh. Get up!"
         "M-my master... Mishima-sama... I-I have to go back to him..."
         "I said get UP!" I shouted, grabbing the flunky's arm and hauling him half-upright.
         He raised his head and looked at me.
         Jesus H. Christ.
         His eyes were blood-red. I don't mean albino, I don't mean lined with hay-fever red streaks; I mean solid red, all the way through. Even the pupils.
         "What the HELL!?" I yelped, dropping the flunky like a hot piece. He went back to cowering and clawing at his hair.
         Lee bowed his head, real sorry-like, and faded from view. I felt his presence settle down in the back of my mind. The weight of single feather, lightly balanced on my brain.
         Lee, what the fuck is going on? I thought, because I suddenly didn't want to say anything out loud around this - this - what kind of monsters did old man Heihachi have working for him, anyway!?
         He is a bloodslave, Lee solemnly returned.
         A what?
         A mortal bound to serve the will of a vampyre. And Heihachi Mishima's will, it would seem, in this particular case. Hwoarang's death must have weakened the curse, else Mitsurugi would not have been able to deliver you from the syndicate.
         Is he going to get better, once he's had enough time to detox?
         I have grave doubts. Vampyre poison contaminates the soul, as surely as the body. Corruption such as this can't be purged in the same way that natural poisons can. Even if a modern hospital were to cleanse every cubic centimeter of his blood, it wouldn't help.

         "I-I have to go back," Mitsurugi stammered, turning as if to crawl away. "H-have to serve Mishima-sama... I... aaaAAAGH-!"
         I knew that scream. Made it once or twice myself, when I went for too long without a fix.
         Lee, I thought. Do something.
         There is nothing that I can do for him.
         Don't give me that shit! What if we take him to Kagura's Temple?
         I don't have enough strength left to protect his tainted body from the Temple's wards. He would probably be destroyed.

         Damn.
         "Lee," I said out loud. "Give me your sword."
         What?
         "I'm not going to leave him like this."
         Bryan, no.
         "Then I'll do it with my bare hands," I growled through my teeth.
         "Wh-what-?" Mitsurugi gasped.
         Is death the only answer you have for everything?
         "You think it's any kinder to leave him twisting in Heihachi's grip?"
         I have murdered under a similar rationale before, and lived to regret it. Not again. Never again.
         "Then do something, damn you!"
         There is nothing I can do, for now. Once we return to Kagura's Temple, and I have had a chance to rest, I can confer with the caretaker about possible-
         "I told you, I am NOT going to let this wretch suffer!"
         "Wh-what's going on...?" Mitsurugi whimpered, looking up at me like a dog about to be put to sleep.
         I am deeply sorry. If I knew of any way-
         "Lee, you're a goddamn ANGEL! There must be SOMETHING you can do!"
         That got to him.
         I don't know if it was my choice of words or what, but it really got to him. He was so unnerved that he didn't even deny being an angel. I could feel him fretting, in psychic space.
         Very well, Lee relented. Give me control.
         "What?"
         Give me control. I have an idea.
         "Wait a minute..."
         Lee waited, patiently.
         "Okay, okay. You can have control for a little while. No tricks, now."
         It is not my wish to deceive you.
         As soon as I allowed Lee to take over, he shape-shifted my body into his angel form.
         Mitsurugi's blood-red eyes got wide as shotgun barrels.
         I've seen a lot of people react to the first time they see Lee, as an angel. It's always fun to watch. Their jaws drop, their faces drain of color. Sometimes they get on their knees and pray. Sometimes they even faint.
         Mitsurugi didn't pass out, but he looked damn close to it. His shaking got worse, in the light of God's holy angel.
         Then Lee called the Sword of Truth to his right hand, and pointed it at the terrified flunky.
         Lee said, *State your purpose.*
         "Wha- wh-wh-what-?"
         *State your purpose,* the angel repeated, strong and sepulchral.
         "I-I d-don't understand..."
         *Have you no will of your own? Have you no mission? Have you no quest?*
         "I... I-I..." Mitsurugi looked down at himself, and clutched at his open shirt. "A-all I ever w-wanted was to be an editor..."
         *A purpose is more than what you want. It is what you strive for, though the cost be your own life! If you have no purpose of your own, then you may as well crawl back to the service of Heihachi Mishima. You may as well serve him for all eternity!*
         "I-I don't understand. I don't understand any of this! What's going on? Wh-why...?"
         Something tripped in the flunky. A piece of the dam worked loose; the floodgates in his head slammed open, and all the confusion came spilling out.
         "This doesn't make sense NONE of this makes any sense why is this happening what went wrong I thought Bryan Fury was dead and he talks like he's alive I thought Taki was mean and she cried for me I thought Xiaoyu was a monster and she's my best friend I thought Julia was jealous and she was right about everything I thought the young master was a Devil and he saved my life I loved Anna and she betrayed me I revered Mishima-sama and he did this to me-!"
         His rant abruptly cut off.
         "I revered Mishima-sama, and he did this to me," the bloodslave repeated, slower. "Mishima-sama... he... I'm only the first one, he wants to make more. More bloodslaves. He's stockpiled Hwoarang's blood, he wants more slaves to replace his failed Cyborg Army-!"
         Mitsurugi drew his sword. Holding it in trembling hands, he hobbled to one knee.
         "I..."
         Mitsurugi raised his weapon overhead, and with a scream to split the sky in half, he declared, "I HAVE TO STOP HIM!"
         His hands became steady.
         He blinked, and rubbed his eyes.
         Normal eyes.
         The solid red was gone. Though he still looked wasted, he could stand. He sheathed his sword without looking at the scabbard; he was too busy staring at everything around him. When he talked, it was in a normal voice. Bewildered as all hell, but normal.
         "I... I can see colors again. What did you do?"
         *It was not I. It was the strength of your soul.* Lee dispelled his own sword. *Please, let me fly you to Kagura's Temple. You will find allies there, who can help you fulfill your purpose.*
         "Ummm... Lee? Is that who you are?"
         *Lee Chaolan, yes.*
         "Thank you. For saving me," the ex-bloodslave whispered, with a grateful bow.
         *You are quite welcome for any minor assistance I have been able to provide.*


         But, did the flunky thank me?
         I mean, come on. Lee wouldn't have been bright enough to try anything, if I hadn't pushed him into it. Did Mitsurugi ever thank me? Did the thought so much as enter his head?
         Well?
         All right, then.
         Look - I'll pick this up tomorrow night, you got that? After Lee's gone to sleep. Because the next part of what happened, once he flew us to Kagura's Temple...
         I'd rather he doesn't overhear it. Not while I'm telling it to you.
         Lee understands.


End of Chapter 24: Indisposed Possession