PHOENIX REBORN

written by Victar, e-mail vctr113062@aol.com
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PART VI: ABSOLUTION


Chapter 27: Angel of Treachery


   chao-lan (chóu-lan) n. A traitor, esp. one who betrays a brother or family member. [< Lee Chaolan, (1970-1997).]
         -Webster's Pocket English Dictionary © 2017


EXCERPT: private journal of Heishiro Mitsurugi
January 2, 2018


         Okay. Starting up a new journal, here.
         Mishima-sama still has my old one. I'm confident he hasn't destroyed it - he promised me that it would be kept 'inviolate,' and whatever else he may be, he is not a liar. Sometime in the near future, I intend to get it back.
         After Mishima-sama is stopped.
         After the young master and Julia Chang are saved.
         The young master... Jin Kazama...
         I owe him my life, and so much more.
         I will be fighting to save him, along with everyone else gathered in Chizuru Kagura's Temple. But before we all brave the fire, I want to try my hand at writing one more time.
         Time is something I'm pretty short of. Our rescue mission starts in another couple hours. So much has happened to me, since the last entry in my old journal, that I can't really explain all of it right now. I'm just going to write about what has happened today.
         And about Anna.
         I knew she was here, in Kagura's Temple. I knew that she wanted to see me; the caretaker told me so. But I couldn't bring myself to see her. Even though we both needed to set some closure, in order to clear our minds for the battle ahead.
         She's going to be fighting on our side, too. I wish she weren't; I'm afraid she could get killed. It's her choice to make, though. On the bright side, I know that Anna is a capable fighter. She can take care of herself, and I have to trust that's what she'll do.
         So, it's just as well that while I was working up the resolve to confront her again - practicing a sword kata that no one ever taught me - Anna took it upon herself to track me down. Now, at least everything's settled between us.
         I think.
         It isn't as if I can just turn a dial and shut off all the feelings I've ever had for her. The truth is, I was a little... afraid... to ask her if she ever had any feelings for me. Or if I really was nothing more than a tool, to her.
         Anna...
         I've been thinking about my relationship with her, these past two days.
         Not the same as before. Before she left me... before Mishima-sama made me into something unspeakable...
         Before everything went to the basement larder of Hell, I never really 'thought' about Anna. I idolized her, worshiped her, tumbled head-over-heels for her, and let my feelings rule me. It's only now that I have the... wisdom? Emotional distance? Cynicism? Whatever it is, it's changed me enough so that I can be a little more honest with myself.
         At first, I was asking myself, 'What went wrong?'
         Then I had to wonder if maybe I was assuming too much with that question. Maybe there was something wrong from the beginning.
         Taki did warn me about Anna, after all. More than once. I know I wrote those warnings down in my old journal, word for word. But I never actually sat down and thought about what Taki was saying.
         Well, I'm thinking now. I'm looking back at my relationship with Anna, and thinking about it, and searching for patterns.
         Except that I don't have a whole lot of stuff to draw any patterns from. I've never had a serious girlfriend before - just a couple low-intensity (read: platonic) dates in high school. That's it. I was practically a flunkout, after all; what sane girl would jinx herself by falling for a loser?
         Hm. Now that I think about it, the only 'serious' male-female relationship I've been exposed to for a prolonged time is...
         ...is...
         Mom and Dad, really.
         I've read somewhere that people have a tendency - often completely unconscious - to model their relationships on what they see in their family. In my case, that would pretty much be my parents. I don't have any siblings, not that I know of. I'm almost sure I do have uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents out there, but I've hardly ever seen any of them, even before Mom and Dad were divorced.
         Ten years ago.
         I was only ten years old...
         You'd think that I would find it difficult to remember. And if anyone had asked me about it before, I probably would've shrugged and said I could hardly remember. But after what I've been through...
         ...some things are clearer, now. Including my memories. I think I deliberately buried them deep in my head, because I didn't want to deal with them.
         Now, though, I remember.
         I remember how Mom and Dad used to argue.
         A lot.
         Usually late at night, when they thought I was asleep. I could hear, though. Sometimes I'd lie awake in bed, hearing their yells, and trying not to see their shadows through the thin paper screen.
         Dad...
         He never physically hurt my mother. Not that I know of. But he...
         He's native-born Japanese, and he's fairly old. Sixty-two. He was in his early forties when he got married. The point here being that Dad's pretty much from an older generation, and he's always been very traditional.
         He wanted to marry a traditional wife.
         He wanted someone who would cook for him, three meals a day. Who would keep our home immaculate at all times, who would run the household economics with exacting precision, who would never stay out past dark, who would always carry herself with the dignity of a noblewoman, who would center her entire purpose around being a wife and mother.
         Mom...
         She was - she is Japanese-American. Born and raised in America. She originally met Dad when she was studying abroad in Japan, as an exchange student. During the second semester of her high school senior year.
         She was only eighteen.
         It's strange. This is the first time I've seriously considered the implications of that. It's something I never wanted to think about before, I guess. Even though it affected her, and me, in ways I'm only beginning to understand.
         Mom must have really alienated her family, when she decided to stay in Japan and get married to a man over twice her age. Or perhaps, she was already estranged from them. Perhaps part of her motive to marry Dad was just being a rebellious teen.
         I know that Mom graduated from high school, because she used to hang her diploma on the wall, and Dad didn't like it; that was one of the many things they fought about. Anyway, once Mom's semester abroad was over, maybe she married Dad partly as a way to keep a whole ocean between herself and the overprotective parents who stifled her.
         This is half interpretation, because I really don't know much about my maternal grandparents. Never even met them. But I do remember Mom instructing me to write only 'happy thoughts' in letters and Christmas cards we sent back to America, because her parents were easily upset.
         I could have been part of the reason why Mom got married, too.
         I'm not sure. Perhaps after all this is over, I should look up the date of my parents' wedding. To check whether it's less than nine months before my own birth.
         This may not be giving the right impression. I know Dad loved Mom. It hurt him so much when she left, like part of him totally closed down; that's how I know he loved her. And I'm sure Mom loved Dad, or at least, she believed she did. It's just that there probably were a mess of problems pushing her to get married too early.
         And to the wrong person.
         It sounds so heartless when I say that, but I think it's true.
         Dad wanted a traditional wife. And Mom...
         I haven't seen her in ten years, so it's harder for me to guess what she wanted. However, I think - I'm pretty sure - that Mom wanted to believe she could be the perfect, traditional wife. That she could learn to cook, clean, entertain guests, take care of Dad and me, love her husband and love her son, and just blend into a completely fulfilled life, nurturing a happy home in the nation of her ancestors.
         If that really is what Mom believed, then she was wrong.
         I'm sure there are lots of women out there who are content and completely fulfilled, in the roles of wife, mother, and domestic homemaker. But my mom...
         She tried to learn Japanese cooking, she really tried. She was never all that good at it, though. It taxed her patience. Especially since she was expected to do it for the whole family, three meals a day.
         As for cleaning, well, Mom wasn't a lazy person. She was sort of disorganized, though. I remember how she made what she called a 'good-faith effort' to keep the house clean. I also remember how Dad would look over his bookshelf, find a spot that hadn't been dusted in months, and that would be the start of another all-night argument.
         As for money... household economics...
         I think I got my problems with numbers from Mom's side of the family.
         That was yet another thing Dad would argue with her about. Traditionally, she was supposed to be responsible for the family's financial planning, and, well, she tried. But I remember how, when she took me along for grocery shopping, she would struggle to mentally convert sums of yen into sums of American dollars. Just so she could have a concrete idea of how much she was spending. Keeping a total on a hand-held calculator wasn't so easy either; she had a tendency to drop them, or accidentally push the wrong buttons. Usually, her tallies would be inaccurate, and she wouldn't have enough money to buy all the things she had picked out. She'd have to ask the clerk to put some items back on the shelves.
         So, maybe it's not so surprising that when Mom and Dad were living together, certain problems with unpaid bills forced us to move a couple times. Even though Dad was earning a steady, lower-middle-class paycheck, as a small-company salaryman.
         Mom didn't realize her situation overnight, I think. It took her ten, hard years to learn that she couldn't live the life she had picked out for herself.
         And that's why she left. Got on a plane home to America, and never came back.
         I wonder where she is, right now. I wonder if she's doing okay.
         I'm sure I could find out, if I searched hard enough. It's just... it's just something that never occurred to me before; she hasn't been a part of my life for so long. I've never even received cards or letters from her.
         Although, I do wonder if that was for lack of trying.
         Because just a couple weeks after Mom left, Dad moved again. I'm pretty sure he didn't leave a forwarding address. What's more, he legally changed his family name, and mine.
         To 'Mitsurugi.'
         Dad and I really are descended from the legendary Heishiro Mitsurugi. I think. That's what he's told me, anyway. And I really was named after my ancestor - my first name, that is. But our family name used to be Satou. Because we're descended from the legendary Mitsurugi's granddaughter, or great-granddaughter, or something, and she married a guy with some other name, and in a few more generations another daughter married someone with some other name, and so on. So, our family name was Satou.
         Until Mom left, and Dad was so devastated that... that he wanted to break away from his old life, I guess.
         I can remember it now, clearly. I remember how I was only ten and didn't understand why Mom had gone away or where, or why she wasn't coming back. I'm pretty sure I was in tears. Dad didn't want to talk about it, or anything else; so he just took me by the shoulders and said, "You are Heishiro Mitsurugi now. You are the legend. Legends do not cry."
         It's very wistful to remember that, except for one thing. Between the name change, our sudden move, and the fact that we didn't keep in touch with the rest of our family, well... I can see how Mom might have had trouble contacting either of us.
         I don't know whether Mom tried me to mail me any letters, after she left. If she did, though, they all probably came back 'Return to Sender.'
         And then...
         After Mom left, Dad never remarried. He was in his fifties, nearing retirement in a low-paying, dead-end job, and saddled with a half-grown son - not exactly the most promising candidate for a husband. He probably didn't want to risk compromising on a less-than-perfect wife again, believing that was what led to his failed marriage. And in case I haven't made this clear yet, Dad is pretty hard to live with. So, I guess he just resigned himself to being single.
         But even though there wasn't a woman around to do the housework anymore, the work still had to be done. Dad certainly couldn't afford to hire a cook, or a maid.
         So, I sort of took over Mom's role. The cooking and the cleaning, anyway; Dad resumed control of the household economics.
         I like to think of myself as an okay cook, though it's not something I'd want to do as a profession. As for the cleaning, well, I've never been great at that. But if I couldn't keep the kitchens and bathrooms spotless, Dad would have me scrubbing them down with a toothbrush, so I more or less taught myself the art of being a neatnick.
         When I think about it, though...
         Maybe I absorbed Mom's role in more ways than I fully understood.
         Or maybe, it wasn't so much absorbing Mom's role, as not wanting to be like Dad.
         He's my father - there's no way to express it any more strongly than that - but he's so taciturn with me, sometimes. And indirect. And very, very sparing with his approval, though my lousy grades at school didn't help. Then again, maybe I could have gotten better grades if I hadn't been forced to spend hours cooking and cleaning each day, but I'm getting off track.
         I wonder about myself, when I look back at my memories of Mom and Dad arguing. How Dad would verbally dress her down, and how she would threaten to leave again and again, until she finally shocked him by doing it. Maybe, on some level so deep I was never aware of it, something became locked in my head. Maybe I started thinking to myself, 'When I fall in love with a woman, I'm never going to drive her away like that!'
         Ten years later, there's my relationship with Anna.
         The one where I never stood up for myself. The one where, when Anna was pressuring me to do things that felt wrong - such as interrogating my friends or betraying the syndicate - I never had the spine to look her in the eye and say, 'No.'
         For ten years, I saw my mom try to please my dad. For another ten years, I tried to win his approval, and hardly got a sign of it. Right up to when he threw me out of the house, as a characteristically indirect way of saying, 'The Mishima syndicate is your last chance. Don't screw this up.'
         Maybe I take after my mother in more ways than I've ever thought of, before. Maybe that's part of why I threw myself into a dysfunctional relationship with Anna. A relationship where I wanted to please her so much, wanted her approval so much, that it blinded me to how I was being used.
         Mom's relationship with Dad suffered from an imbalance of Power. He had it, she didn't.
         My relationship with Anna had the same imbalance, except that she had all the Power.
         What I think I've come to realize... is that maybe love needs balance. Perhaps not necessarily a strict fifty-fifty balance, every second of every day; I'm sure there's got to be room for give and take. But if there isn't balance, then there isn't respect. And if there isn't respect...
         ...then love becomes destructive.
         It damn near destroyed me, anyway.


         I didn't tell Anna any of this, when she sought me out. I mean, what was I going to say? 'Oh, by the way, I figured out part of why I was such a wimp around you. It goes back to my childhood, but maybe you already guessed that? Seeing as how you originally zeroed in on me as potential putty in your hands.'
         Such an assertion might have a certain Truth, but voicing it would serve no good purpose. Especially not hours before the upcoming battle.
         Besides, I... don't want to hurt Anna like that.
         I still have feelings for her. Some.
         I'm not sorry I loved her.
         It's strange. After she broke my heart, after the nightmare I went through because of the fallout, after she almost killed me... I should wish I'd never met her, shouldn't I? And if I had to do it all over again, knowing what I do now, I think I'd make different choices.
         But I'm not sorry I loved her.
         Make what you will of that.
         So, when Anna found me, I was able to settle things with her. She appeared genuinely worried, because I had fainted on the Temple steps yesterday. She needed some reassurance that I wasn't going to drop dead anytime soon. It's kind of touching, I guess.
         Then, Anna and I were called to a 'private meeting,' i.e. a war council. My spirits began to sink the moment I heard the names of the people summoning us:
         Taki.
         Lee Chaolan.
         Detective Lei Wulong.
         This could not be good.
         Taki deserted the Temple, yesterday. By the time I learned she'd been brought here, she had already left. Otherwise, I would have asked to see her.
         I'm told she tried to kill herself, and almost succeeded. I'm glad Doctor Boskonovitch was able to save her. She may not be the kindest person in the world, but she was my teacher, and she taught me more than I think she herself knows.
         In any case, no one told me where Taki had gone, or why she was back now. I had a good guess, though. My guess was that Taki had decided to fight the Mishima syndicate. That she tried to rescue the young master and Julia Chang.
         And my guess was, Taki had failed.
         I mean, if she had succeeded, then the good news would have spread through the Temple. Right? Taiyou and Tsuki would have informed Anna and me, when they delivered our summons. So, Taki was most likely a harbinger of bad news.
         Then, there's Lee Chaolan.
         The angel.
         As far as I know, he really is Lee Chaolan. Kazuya Mishima's foster brother. The infamous war criminal of the Great Invasion. His first name - 'Chaolan' - has come to mean 'traitor.' Because Chaolan betrayed the human race to serve Devil Kazuya, and then betrayed Kazuya in a last-ditch attempt to redeem himself.
         I guess that last-ditch attempt worked.
         Lee Chaolan, dead these twenty years, is an angel now. It sounds unbelievable, I know, but I've seen it with my own eyes. He helped me break free from the curse of Hwoarang's blood. He carried me to Kagura's Temple, flying across Tokyo on angel wings.
         I'm kind of sorry that I kept my eyes closed for the trip. It's not every day you soar with an angel, and live to tell about it.
         There's something about Lee, though. Something foreboding. He's not, literally speaking, alive; he possesses Bryan Fury's body to interact with our world.
         I don't think it's always a good thing, to see an angel. Is it? I'm not really versed on what all the assorted religions say about the matter. I guess seeing an angel can be a good thing, maybe. Or, it can mean that either you or someone you love is at death's door.
         And then, there's Detective Lei Wulong.
         Just the fact that he's Super Police was a bad omen.
         Think about it. If any kind of police officer has to talk with you, let alone Super Police, then what does it mean? What does it really mean?
         I'll tell you what it usually means. At best, it means that something horrible has happened to someone you know. At worst, it means that something horrible is happening to you.
         By the way, I'd heard that Lei Wulong is the young master's stepfather. And that Wulong is in charge of the operation to rescue the young master and Julia Chang. I'd also heard rumors that Wulong is a demon, but I resolved not to judge him like I'd mistakenly judged his stepson.
         Whatever else he is, though, Wulong is a detective and a father. As such, I could think of only one reason why he had to personally interrogate Anna and me. Because he had to know everything we knew, about something only we would know about.
         When Anna and I reached the private meeting hall, three people were seated and waiting for us. The center one was Detective Lei Wulong.
         Did I mention that this was the first time I'd met him? Oh, I'd watched a couple of his movies before, so I did recognize him. Even though he was deathly sick from liver cancer. His body was wasted, and his skin was pale. He rested in a wheelchair, with a tube running under his nose to help him breathe.
         There was something else I noticed about him, immediately. It was the way he dressed.
         It wasn't anything remarkable in and of itself. Just a loose, azure top, with a white inner lining on its partly rolled-up sleeves, a black sash, black slacks, and flat-soled slip-on shoes. Common enough day clothes in ancient China, at least according to the movies.
         However, I'd also seen this outfit in another movie. A movie about Lei Wulong.
         It was one of many feature films about the Great Invasion. It's funny; even though Wulong starred in lots of action movies since he was hailed as a war hero, he never agreed to do any movies about the Invasion he helped turn back. All the Great Invasion movies ever made had other actors playing his part. I think they cast Jackie Chan as Lei Wulong, for the one that I saw.
         Anyway, in this one movie of the Great Invasion, that's what the actor playing Wulong wore to his big final fight against Kazuya. A loose azure top with white inner lining, a black sash, black slacks, and flat-soled slip-on shoes.
         I don't think it's an accident that Detective Lei Wulong chose to dress as he once did, twenty years ago. It's just a feeling, but I think he was preparing to relive that titanic battle. Only this time, instead of fighting to destroy Kazuya, he would fight to save Kazuya's son.
         I introduced myself with a bow.
         Then, I dared to look into the detective's eyes.
         Wulong held himself steady with the calm of a seasoned veteran, and the spirit of a leader. I don't mean the overwhelming, dictatorial authority of Heihachi Mishima-sama; I mean a true leader. Where Mishima-sama demanded absolute subservience, Wulong impressed me as a different kind of captain: one who works closely with his subordinates, and who never lets the pursuit of Power interfere with the pursuit of Justice.
         There was also a trace of misery in Wulong's eyes. It was not obvious, but it was undeniably there. Heartbroken anguish for the suffering of his beloved stepson.
         That was when I knew my worst suspicion was true.
         "The young master is a bloodslave, isn't he?" I softly asked.
         Wulong's head fell forward, tiredly. The thought occurred to me that he really should be bedridden; at the very least, I doubted that he could get up from his wheelchair.
         Next to me, Anna let out an audible gasp. I can't say for certain whether she was shocked by my inference, or Detective Lei Wulong's deteriorating condition.
         "Shut up, rookie," Taki directed. "We'll tell you what you need to know."
         Taki... my teacher...
         Like me, she had also relinquished the solid black syndicate security uniform for something more symbolic of a noble cause. She was clad in a revealing fighting dress, but she still hid her face behind a mask, and she still hid her true feelings behind an abrasive attitude.
         "Calm down, Taki," Wulong croaked. "Mitsurugi. Anna. We'll need both of you to talk freely, about everything."
         "But you'd better not waste our time with worthless shit," Bryan Fury growled.
         Bryan Fury?
         I'd expected the third person in the room to be Lee Chaolan. Of course, I knew that Lee shared control of Bryan's body, but-
         "Um, is Lee here?" I tentatively asked the cyborg ex-cop.
         "He can hear every fucking word you say," Bryan grumbled, absently rubbing his temples. As if he had a headache.
         Hm. Maybe Lee was listening inside Bryan's mind?
         I wonder how that works.
         I wonder how two radically different personalities can timeshare the same body, and not drive each other insane.
         "Take a seat, both of you," Wulong coughed. "We'll start as soon as the others arrive, which should be any second now."
         Anna and I sat in two conveniently placed chairs. I noticed that there were two additional empty chairs, waiting. Sure enough, in less than a minute two more people came to fill those seats: Nina Williams and Goro Daimon.
         What can I say about Nina Williams, former possessed vassal of the Toshin?
         She was actually wearing clothes, this time, and her hair had turned stark white. I wonder if she remembers me. Did she recognize me from when she was a naked Ogre-woman, and I had to fight her with little more than a paper spirit ward?
         Maybe not. It's just as well; given a choice, I'd rather not be recognized by Anna's homicidal maniac half-sister. There's a reason why Nina is called the 'Silent Assassin.'
         Nina stiffened when she saw Anna. The professional killer spat, "What is she doing here!?"
         Goro Daimon, the gargantuan caretaker of Kagura's Temple, fixed Nina with a warning glance. She glared back at him, but didn't make any more protests. She just sat down, as did he.
         I wouldn't have made any protests either. Daimon isn't just huge, and muscled like grizzly bear. There's something about him; I can feel it. Strength. Fluidity. Discipline.
         Because of what Mishima-sama did to me, I have the fighting skills of a 400-year-old vampyre hardwired into my blood and brain. I still wouldn't be in any hurry to test those skills against Goro Daimon.
         Just as I was thinking this, someone else limped into the meeting room. He carried himself as if everyone should have been expecting him.
         "Yabuki?" Wulong rasped, sounding puzzled.
         There's not much that I know about Professor Shingo Yabuki. I met him when I first arrived at Kagura's Temple, and asked a little about him later. I learned that he is, technically, a professor, even though he's spent the last twenty years in a mental institution. Other than that, the one thing I can say for certain about him is that his appearance is deceptive.
         He looks like a crippled beggar. He's got wooden prosthetics replacing his left arm and leg, a black patch over his missing left eye, and he's typically dressed in a ragged high school uniform. The first time I saw him, though, I suspected that he was more than what he seemed.
         Everyone I've met in the past month has been more than what they seemed...
         Shingo is also a lot more mobile than I'd imagine, for a double amputee. He 'walks' by bracing his weight between his artificial left leg and a clawed cane in his right hand, long enough for his right leg to hop a step forward.
         Shingo responded to Detective Lei Wulong with, "You're calling together everyone who might know how to save Kazama-san and Chang-san, aren't you Lei-san?"
         Wulong's eyes widened. Just a little, but I'm sure I saw it. He straightened in his wheelchair.
         He was surprised.
         Not because Shingo had deduced the purpose of his war council, I think. No, Wulong became startled at the precise moment when Shingo addressed him by name.
         I'm not sure why that would startle him, but...
         "I hear you've been cured of your dementia," said the detective. "Is it true?"
         Shingo hesitated before answering.
         "I know it's the year 2018," he sighed. "I know what happened to my family and me, and I know who you really are. Aside from that, though, I don't see how a statement of mine could prove anything. You'll just have to decide for yourself, won't you?"
         Wulong closed his eyes.
         Daimon rose, stepped back, and silently gestured to the chair he had vacated.
         "Doomo arigato," Shingo murmured, sitting. Daimon folded his arms, and watched over the meeting like a burly security guard.
         I found this reassuring, in a way. Everyone else appeared to have at least as much respect for Daimon's great strength as I did, which was a nice buffer against any acts of random violence. After all, I was trapped in an enclosed space with a psychopathic assassin, a former asylum inmate, a half-mutant who used to beat the tar out of me, the Cyborg Army prototype that nearly killed me once, an invisible angel, and an alleged demon cop.
         And Anna.
         I don't mean this as a slight, but it was harder to be around her than any of the others.
         "The war council begins now," Wulong declared, opening his eyes. "As Yabuki said, you've been called here to pool information. If we don't all know each other, then I'm sure we will soon.
         "Now. Taki, you start. Tell everyone what you told us, in your own words, and don't leave any details out."
         Taki began talking.
         It was as bad as I feared. No, worse.
         Taki had indeed braved Mishima-sama's hidden retreat to rescue the young master and Julia Chang. She had also been careful to leave behind instructions for piercing the camouflage sorcery that cloaked Mishima-sama's secret base. Taki had wanted to be sure Kagura's Temple had that information, just in case she didn't make it back.
         During her rescue attempt, Taki saw that Mishima-sama had made the young master into a bloodslave. He hadn't done the same to Julia Chang, though, presumably because he needed her blood untainted. Julia was to be the 'virgin innocent' blood sacrifice, in an occult ritual to summon the Immortal Toshin, God of War. Mishima-sama planned to make his enslaved grandson murder Julia. Mishima-sama had also wanted to use Ling Xiaoyu as a preparatory sacrifice; I thank the gods that Xiao-chan escaped the night before. But her absence hadn't slowed Mishima-sama's schemes any. He'd allegedly found a replacement for her.
         This was not even the worst part.
         Taki had tried to rescue Mishima-sama's hostages. She failed. Not on account of their guards, or Mishima-sama himself, but because the young master had prevented her. He did break out of a bloodslave's mindless, zombie-like natural state, but...
         The young master had failed to resist the remainder of the curse, even though Hwoarang's death had already weakened it. And the things the young master had said - the things he did - he laughed maniacally at Taki, taunted her, and even choked poor Julia at one point-!
         The person Taki described was not Jin Kazama, the young master. He could not be Jin Kazama. Not the Jin Kazama I knew. Not the Jin Kazama who saved my life.
         There was another problem. Mishima-sama had forced the young master to put a death-link inside himself. Meaning that if Mishima-sama died for any reason, the young master would die with him. This had not stopped the young master from urging Taki to destroy his grandfather.
         "Wait a minute," Anna interrupted, worriedly. "I assume we'll try to capture Heihachi alive, but what if we can't? What if he's killed? Is there anything we can do to save Jin?"
         Bryan looked to Wulong. "Twenty years ago, you cheated a death-link that Kazuya Mishima put in you. Lee wants to know if you've taught your cheat to the pretty boy."
         Wulong shook his head. "I tried. My son... he's never been that good at my Phoenix Style, or its advanced meditation techniques. Slowing your own heart rate enough to burn out a death-link is about as advanced as meditation gets."
         "What about coldsleep?" Anna questioned. "Could we bring along a portable cryo unit for Jin, just in case?"
         "Lee says you can't fool a death-link that way," Bryan answered. "Just like you can't trick it by putting its host in stasis; a death-link can tell if something external is trying to deceive it. We could stick old man Heihachi in cryo, though. That wouldn't set off the pretty boy's death-link, and it would buy him time to learn Wulong's cheat. Or time to grow old and die normally, take your pick."
         "We are taking Heihachi Mishima alive," Wulong stated, in a brook-no-argument tone. "He is not going to destroy my son. Not even with his last breath. Bryan, is there something more you'd like to add?"
         The cyborg had been rolling his eyes. He shrugged and said, "Lee thinks there might be another way to help the pretty boy survive, if his death-link goes boom. Maybe. But Lee doesn't want you to depend on his idea."
         "What is his idea?"
         "Lee doesn't want to talk about it."
         "Are you all quite finished?" Taki hissed, petulantly.
         They were. So, she concluded her tale by explaining how she had kidnapped Heihachi's loyal servant Kimura, as a 'consolation prize.' Kimura was currently in the Temple's care. They needed to awaken him as soon as possible for questioning, but first they had to tend to his injuries. Taki had struck him a nasty head blow, not that she'd had much choice; he almost killed her. He probably would have killed her, if she hadn't distracted him with a taunt about Ishida, his seemingly identical cousin. The taunt had so unbalanced Kimura that he'd dropped his own gun.
         "Any more questions?" Wulong requested, when Taki's story was complete.
         One immediately sprang to mind.
         "Uh, you didn't see Ishida anywhere?" I asked Taki.
         She shook her head. "No. I didn't."
         "But Ishida and Kimura are almost inseparable..."
         "Ishida's dead," Bryan muttered, narrowing his snakelike eyes.
         What?
         "YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!" I cried out, springing to my feet.
         Anna and Shingo stared at me.
         Taki looked away.
         Nina's lips curled in a wicked sneer.
         "Sit down, kid," Wulong commanded, neutrally.
         "But-!" I protested.
         Daimon turned his terrible, peacekeeping glare on me.
         "You still don't know that Ishida's dead," I insisted to Bryan, sinking back in my chair. "You're just guessing, aren't you?"
         "Of course I am, idiot," he snorted. "I've only been a detective for eight fucking years."
         There was a short, uncomfortable silence.
         Then, Wulong coughed and addressed me. "Heishiro Mitsurugi. It's your turn, now. You're the only person we know who has resisted the curse of the bloodslave, and lived to tell about it. We need you to start telling us."
         I knew this was going to happen.
         I'd tried to prepare myself for this, but I still felt sick. And scared. And-
         "Where should I start?" I whispered, hoarsely. This was for the young master. They needed to know this so that they could help the young master. I had to tell them for the young master's sake, don't think about it, don't let the fear take over, just tell them.
         "Start with... with what it's like to be a bloodslave."
         What it's like?
         If you really want to know what it's like, take a sharp object and carve out your own guts. And then give thanks, because once you're dead you will never know what it's like.
         "Everything is in red and black," I mumbled, dully. "The whole world is in red and black, no shades, no other colors. There's a... a net hooked in your brain. It twitches and you move. You can see and hear everything, but you can't control it. You can't think, you can't feel. Only the net reacts..."
         I'm not going to write the rest of this. Not tonight.
         They questioned me about what happened when I was a bloodslave, including everything I overheard. When I mentioned that Mishima-sama had made Doctor Abel work on a weapon to use against Prototype Alpha of the Cyborg Army, Bryan grilled me like a cheese sandwich, but I didn't have any details for him. So I just kept explaining everything I did as a bloodslave, how I got my emotions back when Hwoarang ordered me to murder Anna, and how Lee had helped me break the curse by finding my own purpose.
         Anna also answered a few of their questions. I suppose that's why they summoned her in the first place: to get her insight on the horrific ordeal. Reliving it seemed to be almost as traumatic for her as it was for me. I had to do most of the talking, though.
         There was only one thing I didn't tell them.
         My secret fear.
         The bloodslave curse is broken now, or so the Temple healers tell me. It should stay broken forever, or so I keep telling myself. But I still have a secret fear. Deep down inside, I'm scared out of my wits that I'll fall asleep one night, and wake up the next morning as I was.
         It didn't happen last night, though, and I have no reason to believe that it will ever happen. So I kept my secret fear to myself, and told them everything else. I had to avoid making eye contact with anyone, especially Anna, but I did get it all out. With only a minimum of stammering.
         One of the last questions came from Nina Williams.
         "This doesn't make sense," she commented, idly. "You say that for the curse to be irresistible, the bloodslave poison has to be consumed willingly?"
         "Yeah," I confirmed, without looking up.
         "Then how did the son of Devil Kazuya become a bloodslave? Doesn't he know a poison when he tastes it?"
         I wasn't aware of thinking the answer; my voice spoke of its own accord.
         "The young master is unconscious. Drained from the effort of saving my life, and who knows what else. Mishima-sama finds him on the top floor of the syndicate, and wakes him up. The young master doesn't feel well. He's dizzy, and very weak.
         "The young master's beloved grandfather... the one person he trusts with all his heart... offers him a liquid in a covered container. It has a mild, milky smell.
         "Mishima-sama says, 'Here. Drink this. It will make you feel better.'"
         Wulong looked a question at me.
         "I wasn't there," I clarified, shaking my head. "But I... I can see it as clearly as if I were."
         I hunched my shoulders.
         Anna shuddered.
         Wulong gritted his teeth. It was the only visible sign of the terrible pain he must have been feeling, inside.
         Nina smiled like a cat.
         I don't think she cared about the answer to her question. The only reason she asked, I think, was to hurt us.
         "Mitsurugi," Wulong coughed. "Got any insight why you were able to break free of the curse, and my son wasn't?"
         Actually, yes.
         "The young master can't free himself until... until he commits to a stronger purpose than what he has been enslaved for," I said, speaking slowly in order to keep my stammer in check. "But Mishima-sama has enslaved him specifically to conquer the Toshin, and conquering the Toshin is the young master's purpose. It's the one thing he's dedicated himself to doing, ever since the Toshin murdered his mother - uh, that is right, isn't it?"
         I broke off, looking to Taki for corroboration. "At least, I think Xiaoyu told me something like that about the young master, once..."
         Taki's eyes were coldly expressionless, but Wulong said, "Go on."
         "The young master can't break free. His grandfather's purpose is his purpose, and he doesn't have anything to supersede it. He's trapped. It's driving him insane.
         "That's why he was acting so crazy, when you confronted him," I told Taki. "He knows he'll be forced to murder an innocent young woman who loves him, but he can't stop it. That's why he urged you to destroy Mishima-sama, knowing that such a deed would trigger his own death-link. Death is the only way out that he can see."
         "You're wrong," Taki stated, flatly.
         What?
         "It's a pretty theory," the half-mutant woman growled. "It just happens to be excrement. The young master is a Devil. He has always been a Devil. It is only now that his false 'human' persona has been stripped away."
         Wulong said, "What?"
         I said, "No!"
         Anna looked bewildered. Nina looked smug. Bryan just looked bored. Daimon was unreadable.
         "A personality camouflage program?" Shingo mused.
         "Great," Taki snorted, pessimistically. "The only one who believes me is the nutcase."
         "I've seen this sort of thing before," Shingo reflected, ignoring Taki's aspersion. "Shermie appeared to be nothing more than a chatty, fun-loving fashion designer, until she awakened to her true nature as a Lightning Devil-"
         "This is my son you're talking about!" Wulong snapped, gripping the armrests of his wheelchair. He lapsed into a coughing fit.
         Everyone fell quiet, until the dying detective's breath settled into a more regular rhythm.
         "I've told you everything your stepson said and did," Taki charged. "I can't help it if you refuse to believe. Jin Kazama is a Devil, and he could break free of the bloodslave curse at any time. He chooses not to do so now, because he is playing both sides against the middle. Us against Heihachi; may the strongest win. He doesn't care who suffers or dies, whether it's his girlfriend, his grandfather, or any of us. As long as he gets the most Powerful allies to use against the Toshin. As long as it is destroyed before it can threaten his own life. That's all he cares about."
         "You're the one who's wrong, and I'll prove it!" I retorted, before Wulong could hurt himself with another outburst. "If the young master really does care for nothing but his own life, then why did he encourage you to kill Mishima-sama, and trigger his own death-link?"
         "Maybe he didn't put a real death-link inside himself."
         "No. As long as the curse is in effect, he has to strictly obey Mishima-sama's commands."
         "Then maybe he isn't capable of casting a real death-link."
         Bryan cleared his throat.
         "Lee wants to point out," he said, still appearing rather bored, "that the basic death-link is a simple spell. The reason why it's rarely used isn't that it's hard to do. The reason is that a death-link ties up a massive chunk of its caster's Power until it's triggered, or until the victim dies of other causes. Since pretty boy Kazama has Power to spare, Lee thinks we can all assume that his death-link is the real thing."
         "See?" I insisted, doggedly.
         "Lee also wants to point out," Bryan monotonously added, "that pretty boy Kazama can't be a Devil, or half-Devil, or whatever. Everyone knows that his mother was human. What you don't seem to get is that his biological father, Kazuya Mishima, was human too. Kazuya was not a Devil. Kazuya was possessed by a Devil. Lee wants to make sure you all realize the difference."
         Taki did not look convinced.
         "All right," I challenged of her. "If you're so sure that the young master is sane, then tell us this. When he laughed at you, did he sound like he was sane?"
         "No," she huffed. "But that proves nothing."
         "I know my own son," Wulong stressed. "I've been in his mind. I've seen his soul."
         "That doesn't prove anything, either," Taki denounced. Wulong didn't act as though he heard her.
         Instead, the detective looked back to me. "Like I said before, Mitsurugi, you're the only person who's broken free of the bloodslave curse. If you have any ideas how to help my son do the same, we want to hear them now."
         Ummm...
         I really didn't know what to say.
         It was Anna who spoke for me.
         "Is Jin in love with Julia Chang?" she asked.
         I saw several perplexed expressions, in response to her apparent non sequitur.
         "Looked that way to me," Wulong acknowledged, with a shrug.
         "And me," Shingo added.
         Bryan muttered, "Too bad he never loved his sweet little 'virgin innocent' enough to get her in the sack - ahh!" He pressed his hand over his forehead, warding off a renewed headache.
         "I don't know the young master very well," I stated. "But Xiaoyu has been his telepathic reagent, and she's speculated that he has, uh, 'fallen for' Julia."
         "Well," Anna continued, "Heishiro, you were just saying that Jin needs to find a purpose in order to break free. A purpose more important than revenge on the Toshin. I can think of only one such dedication. Love. If he truly loves Julia, more than he hates the Toshin..."
         Anna shrank from the skeptical looks of Bryan, Taki, and especially Nina. "It was just an idea."
         "No, you're right," I concurred. "That's the only way the young master can break the curse. When he realizes that he loves Julia more than he hates the Toshin, he can resist Mishima-sama's command to murder her, and take his free will back."
         "Then why hasn't he already?" Taki countered.
         "Because he hasn't had the choice forced on him yet. Mishima-sama hasn't given the command to murder Julia. It won't be until the young master hears the command that he'll have to confront his feelings, once and for all."
         "What are you saying?" Wulong requested. "Are you saying we should let Heihachi go ahead with his blood sacrifice ritual, and expect it to make my son free himself from the curse?"
         Something changed in me, when I answered him. I couldn't have said what it was at the time, but the fear left me, and my tone became more confident.
         "It's our best bet. If we launch an attack before the young master has a chance to break free, then Mishima-sama can use the young master's Power against us. Our odds of success will be much higher if the young master reclaims his free will first."
         "What if you're wrong?" Taki insisted, darkly. "What if he doesn't break free during the sacrifice, because he is a Devil? Are you prepared to let his girlfriend die?"
         "Never," I returned, matching her darkness and raising her a starless night. "That's why we'll hedge our bets. We'll have a sniper infiltrate the ritual, with help from your concealment magic. If the young master can't break free for any reason, the sniper will shoot him before he can murder Julia."
         "What?" Wulong gasped.
         "Not fatally," I explained. "Just to take out both the young master's hands. That will cripple his ability to wield sorcery against us, as we attack Mishima-sama. The young master can always heal himself later."
         "My son knows the sorcery to reflect bullets. I taught it to him."
         "Normal bullets? Maybe. But we have the resources of Chizuru Kagura's Temple to help us. They must be able to enchant bullets with the proper counterspells. Right?"
         I directed that inquiry to Shingo Yabuki and Goro Daimon. Daimon gave a single nod. Shingo cupped his chin in his hand and said, "It should be within our Power. Kazama-san is young, and he isn't a necromancer; he hasn't enslaved any souls to magnify his own strength. If we put the strongest possible blessings on our ammunition..."
         "Not my ammunition," Wulong sadly denied. "I can't shoot my own son."
         "No one would expect you to," I consoled, tactfully leaving out that he looked too sick to fire a gun anyway. "Nina Williams will be the sniper."
         Wulong's eyebrows darted up with apprehension. He probably knew that Nina had tried to murder Jin, when she was under the Toshin's control. I knew it too, but...
         ...but we needed a master sniper to fall back on. It had to be nothing less than an expert, a professional; too many lives were at stake. It had to be Nina Williams, the Silent Assassin.
         "You can't afford my fee," Nina sneered. "None of you can."
         "Aren't you here because you want to help?" I challenged.
         "I am here for my own entertainment. After you all destroy yourselves, I'll have plenty of time to take revenge on the House Mishima. But if you insist on making me aim a rifle at the Devil that is Jin Kazama, then don't be surprised when I blow out his brains."
         "You will do no such thing," Bryan Fury said, coldly.
         He didn't sound like Lee's bored interpreter anymore. He sounded like a Cyborg Army prototype, built to pulverize anything in its path.
         "You will do exactly as we say. You will not question, you will not argue, you will not twist the spirit of what you are told; you'll just do it. You will not assassinate either pretty boy Kazama or old man Heihachi. And after all this is over, you will leave the entire House Mishima alone. That means the pretty boy, his girlfriend, the grandfather he's death-linked to, Lei Wulong, Lee Chaolan, and anybody else associated with them, including me. You will not ply your murder trade on any of us, ever again!"
         Nina summed up her contempt in a single word.
         "Why?"
         Bryan clenched his fist.
         "Because you owe me."
         "I do not."
         "Oh yes you do, you psycho-bitch! You owe me your soul, not that it's worth much - I don't need Lee's angel sight to get a feel for how sick you are, on the inside. But it's still your soul, and the only reason it's your soul is because of ME!"
         Nina recoiled. Like a cornered pit viper.
         "Has your memory gone soft, psycho-bitch? Do you need me to remind you, in front of everyone here, why you owe me your soul?"
         "I don't understand," Anna piped up, helplessly. "Nina, did Bryan do something for y-"
         "SHUT UP!" Nina screamed.
         She sprang from her chair. I swear she was about to slap her sister, hard enough to do more than just hurt. I almost jumped out of my own chair to protect Anna, but someone even faster had already wrapped his hand around Nina's wrist.
         Goro Daimon.
         He didn't say a single word. It was Wulong who told Nina, "Sit down, kid," in the same, neutral tone he had previously bidden me.
         Nina bared her teeth at Daimon.
         Daimon's naturally narrow eyes remained unreadable. There could be no mistaking the determination in his flexed muscles and towering frame, though.
         Nina sat down. Daimon let go of her wrist, but kept a wary eye on her.
         Nina was breathing hard. She controlled herself with an effort, and glared at Bryan. If looks could kill...
         "You don't care about the young Devil any more than I do," she accused.
         "What I do or don't care about," Bryan returned, "is none of your fucking business. All you need to know is that you owe me, and this is how you will pay off the debt. Because you are the Silent Assassin, you are a professional, and once you're paid you always keep your contract.
         "Unless," the cyborg contemplated, "you're no different from dope-fiend street punks who'll murder anyone for a fancy pair of shoes. Then you can do whatever the fuck you want."
         If looks could kill, he wouldn't just be dead. He'd be torn into a thousand pieces.
         "I do what you want. Once. That cancels the debt."
         "No. You do what we want, exactly as we say, no screw-ups and no tricks, and then you leave everyone connected to the House Mishima alone, for the rest of your miserable life. THAT cancels the debt. I didn't get your soul back for just a few weeks, psycho-bitch. Likewise, you don't call a truce on the House Mishima for just a few weeks. You stay away from them forever; I don't care if you resell your soul to Satan himself!"
         Anna begged, "Please, Nina. I'm sorry for what Kazuya once did to you, but I swear, Jin isn't like his father. He's a good-"
         "Will someone SHUT that woman UP!?" Nina shrieked, and Anna hid her tears with both hands.
         Nina looked Bryan straight in the eye, and said, "I accept your contract."
         That was when Taiyou Kagura and Tsuki Kagura interrupted.
         Daimon's fourteen-year-old twin daughters just teleported right in, without any warning. I think they startled everyone except their father, who must have been used to this sort of thing, and Wulong, who I guess had been expecting them. Tsuki, the twin dressed in blue with black trim, whispered something in Wulong's ear.
         "I'm calling a recess," Wulong declared. "Anyone who wants a break is welcome to take one."
         Nina Williams stormed out at once.
         "Nina, wait-!" Anna cried, anxiously trailing after her sister.
         Taki said to Wulong, "I've told you everything I know. Don't call me again unless you have instructions for me," and took her leave.
         Daimon asked his kids, "Is it Kimura? Has he regained consciousness?"
         "Yes, Father," confirmed Taiyou, the twin dressed in white with red trim.
         "Then come. Both of you."
         "But..." protested Tsuki.
         "But-!" squeaked Taiyou.
         "Your skills are greatly needed. You must help the other sorcerers lay enchantments on the weaponry to be used."
         "Yes, Father," they chimed in unison. They followed him out, for once walking instead of teleporting.
         That left Wulong, Lee/Bryan, Shingo, and me.
         "Okay," Bryan snorted. "Now that we've gotten rid of the women, we can get down to business - making Kimura talk." He smacked his fist into his open palm.
         "I don't know what you're implying, Fury-san," Shingo cautioned, "but this Temple is holy ground. Torture of any kind is strictly forbidden here."
         "So let me work on him in a ditch fifty feet away from the Temple. I'll have him babbling in no ti- argh." Bryan cupped his hand over his forehead. I assume his headache had come back.
         "You know that would be just as unacceptable. Neither Daimon-san nor I will allow any such abuse of human rights."
         Wulong rasped, "Ishida and Kimura are Heihachi's chief lackeys. Their security clearance is top level. If anyone knows the old man's weak spots, it's Kimura."
         "That does not justify-"
         "We've got only a few hours before the full moon peaks and Heihachi's ritual begins. We need Kimura's information to plan our counterstrike. We have to break him, and we have to break him now."
         "You're talking about a human being, not a piece of wood!" I cried out.
         Wulong appraised me, like a jeweler evaluating a 'diamond' that's really just a cubic zirconium. "Back to your human self, kid?"
         "What?"
         "Never mind. Do you know Kimura well?"
         "Umm..."
         "Is there anything we can use against him? Anything old man Heihachi could be holding over him, other than his cousin?"
         "Kimura... uh, he's a pretty quiet guy. He's more likely to open up if you talk quiet, too. He's married, and h-he dearly loves his wife Mariko, but Mishima-sama won't let him see her until after the Iron Fist Tournament... I don't know, I really don't know. Taki probably knows more about him than I do."
         "Bryan and I have already debriefed her. From what she's told us, Kimura will be tough to crack. His family has been loyal to the House Mishima for generations. I suppose we could resort to drugging him with sodium pentothal - or does the Temple prohibit the use of truth serum, too?" Wulong requested of Shingo.
         The handicapped professor appeared very uncomfortable. "I'm not sure. I would defer to Daimon-san's judgement."
         Bryan hissed, "Shut the fuck UP!" through his teeth, clutching at his head as if it were about to explode.
         "Snake Eye?" Wulong questioned, addressing the cyborg ex-cop. "Is Lee trying to tell us something?"
         "He's not making any sense!"
         "How about if we talk to him directly, eh? Then we can interpret for ourselves."
         Bryan looked insulted.
         "Come on, Snake Eye," Wulong coaxed. "You promised your cooperation."
         "I fucking know what I promised!"
         All of a sudden, I had a better idea of what was going on.
         When Bryan and I arrived at Kagura's Temple, we learned that the Toshin no longer possessed Nina. Only, Bryan hadn't acted surprised. Maybe that was because he was the one who dispossessed her?
         It would explain why Nina owed him her soul. And maybe, Bryan was in debt to Lei Wulong or Lee Chaolan. Maybe that was why Bryan made Nina help them. Debts paying off debts.
         Bryan... Nina... Anna... me...
         Does anyone do anything for reasons other than paying off what they owe, or fulfilling their own wants?
         Anyone other than the young master, that is?
         Bryan ground his teeth together, then closed his eyes and bowed his head. When he straightened...
         He still looked like Bryan Fury, the Cyborg Army prototype. But he was different, in every other possible way. He held himself with textbook posture, and his facial expression softened. The tension left his muscles, and a hard-to-describe serenity settled on his bearing.
         When he talked, his voice was much gentler than before. And his eye color had changed from green to auburn, as if I needed that extra detail to know Lee Chaolan was speaking now.
         "Please, allow me a private audience with Kimura. I shall obtain the information you need."
         "What makes you think you'd be any more likely to break him than a pair of trained detectives?" Wulong asked. His tone was reasonable; he wasn't trying to belittle Lee, or anything like that. He was just weighing options.
         "Kimura is one of mine," Lee stated.
         Huh?
         "Huh?" Wulong grunted, echoing my thought. "Lee, this isn't the Kimura who worked for you twenty years ago. That was this Kimura's father, who died in the Great Invasion."
         "As did Ishida's father, yes. I am aware of that."
         "So, it's not like you know this Kimura at all."
         "Do not be so sure."
         "W-wait a minute," I stammered. "Lee..."
         "Yes?" he prompted, looking at me steadily.
         "Y-you're not going to hurt Kimura, are you? A-are you...?"
         "Yes, I am." Lee sadly inclined his head. "I am going to hurt him terribly."
         "But..."
         "Are you concerned for him because he is your friend?"
         I didn't want to answer that honestly, but I couldn't make excuses to an angel.
         "I'm no friend of his," I confessed, hanging my head. "I betrayed his trust."
         "Then you are also one of mine."
         Lee stood up. With a glance to Lei Wulong, he said, "I do not need to convince you of my ability to extract the Truth, do I?"
         Wulong broke eye contact. After a few seconds of silence, he croaked, "No. You don't."
         "Then it is settled." Lee turned to Shingo and me. "Yabuki, Mitsurugi, if you would be so kind. Please go to Kimura's holding cell now. Yabuki, I need you to invoke your authority within the Temple; please dampen the holding cell lights to near-darkness, send away the interior guards, and wait outside. Mitsurugi, I need you to be my herald. Tell Kimura that I am coming, and stay with him until I am there. When I arrive, you may remain if you wish; or you may depart. Just do not interfere."
         "All - all right," I agreed, swallowing a lump in my throat.
         Shingo looked distrustful of Lee Chaolan. He didn't make any objections, though. He just said, "As you wish."
         Maybe he was uneasy about Lee's threat to hurt Kimura 'terribly'?
         Then again, maybe not. I didn't think that Lee intended to physically brutalize Kimura.
         Did he?
         I wondered about all this, as Shingo led me to Kimura's - they called it a 'holding cell,' but it was really a prison. It was a dank, drab-looking room with no windows, and only a single door in or out. There were four guards, two outside, and two inside.
         Kimura...
         He was still wearing the black, formal suit that is the Mishima syndicate security uniform. Thick cords tied him to a metal chair. His hands were bound to the chair's back, and his legs were roped to the chair's legs.
         Kimura looked drained and haggard. No broken bones, as far as I could see, but there were bruises on his face. A thick trail of dried blood traced a line from the corner of his mouth, down the length of his chin. He didn't have his dark shades anymore; his dull brown eyes darted in our direction, and narrowed with loathing.
         "Is this really necessary?" Shingo asked the guards, gesturing to how Kimura was bound.
         "Fought us when he woke up," said one guard.
         "Damn near killed me," added the other, massaging a crick in his neck. "Lucky we had help from the sorcerers."
         "Did the sorcerers 'help' you beat him?" Shingo demanded.
         "Not like that," denied the first guard. "Had to take out his tooth with a cyanide capsule. S'why there's a little blood."
         "And the bruises?"
         "You hear me the first time? Bastard fought us."
         "Wouldn't let the sorcerers heal him, either," shrugged the second guard.
         "Is that true?" Shingo asked Kimura, kindly. "Did you consciously resist the ministrations of our healers?"
         Kimura's brow furrowed. As if he were straining his eyes, finding it hard to focus.
         "The young master's teacher-!" he whispered, almost in complete silence. "The other I expect, but you? You were Mishima-sama's enemy all along?"
         "Kimura-san... hold still. Let me ease the pain." A greenish glow flared about Shingo's gloved right hand. He reached for Kimura's face.
         The bodyguard jerked his head away. "Monsters. Traitors. Murderers. All of you! You will suffer for this treachery. Mishima-sama will have revenge on you all! Glory to Mishima-sama!"
         Shingo let his hand drop. I guess he couldn't use sorcery to heal someone who rejected his help.
         The professor drew me to one side, and asked, "Will you be all right, alone with him?"
         "Uh, yeah, I think so. But I don't think we can untie him yet. He is pretty dangerous; Mishima-sama wouldn't have made him a high-ranking bodyguard if he weren't."
         Shingo nodded, reluctantly. He gave the orders to clear out the inner guards and dim the lights. Then he left, too. It was just Kimura and me, in near-total darkness.
         "Lee Chaolan is coming to see you," I told the bodyguard.
         I'm not sure what reaction I expected, from him. Scorn, maybe. Mocking derision. Or else more hatred. What I got was different.
         Kimura stiffened. His eyes widened a little as he exhaled, "Lee Chaolan is dead."
         "Yeah."
         Kimura turned his face away.
         The thought came to me that, maybe, I sounded like I was threatening to kill him. "No, really. Lee Chaolan is dead, but he's come back to save the young master, and-"
         Wait a minute.
         "Do you know Lee, somehow?" I queried. "Have you met him before?"
         "Chaolan suffered the punishment of all traitors," the bodyguard breathed. "As will you. There is a special Hell reserved for you, who spurned Mishima-sama's redemption!"
         I couldn't tell if Kimura was serious, or trying to provoke me into hurting him. Maybe both?
         "Do you - do you know what that 'redemption' was!?" I sputtered. "Do you know what Mishima-sama did to me?"
         "Did you believe," the bodyguard coldly returned, "that you were doing my cousin and me a favor, when you forced Mishima-sama to deny us the same mercy he gave you?"
         'Mercy'?
         I had Mishima-sama promise never to make Ishida or Kimura into bloodslaves - and that was denying them 'mercy'?
         "A favor?" I repeated. "I saved your souls."
         "You saved no one's soul!"
         The vehemence with which he hissed that...
         The hatred... the pain... the grief...
         "Is Ishida really dead?" I asked, with trepidation. "Did Mishima-sama execute him?"
         Kimura bowed his head, squeezed his eyes shut, and tightly clenched his teeth.
         "Are you - are you going to let his murder go unavenged? I know how close you were to your cousin, Kimura. He was always there for you, wasn't he? You can't-"
         "You saved no one's soul," Kimura repeated, resignedly. "Not his, and not mine. Put me through whatever tortures you will, and send me to damnation when you are done. Glory to Mishima-sama."
         I had no response for that. There was nothing I could do but wait in silence, until I heard a click sound from the latch of the prison door.
         A crease of light spilled on Kimura, as the portal gradually opened.
         I saw Lee Chaolan.
         He looked different from before, during the war council. He'd shape-shifted Bryan's body into his true self.
         The angel.
         I will never get used to him, like that. Never.
         It's more than just how he looks. More than the radiance that glows on his heraldic garb with the sigil of a rearing unicorn. More than his white-feathered wings, or his silver hair. It's more than his eyes of endless white fire, or his dazzling sword of pure energy. You feel something deep within, way past what you can put into words.
         You're in the presence of a divine spirit.
         It's incredible. It leaves you breathless with awe. But it's also excruciating; it makes you shrink inside. Because the holy light of his sword penetrates you, shining on the darkest corners of your soul. It forces you to be painfully aware of all your selfish flaws and failings.
         I couldn't say anything, in the presence of the angel. The prison door closed without a sound, leaving Lee Chaolan the main source of light within the pervasive darkness.
         Kimura raised his head. The surprise he had evidenced in response to Lee's name came flooding back, many times stronger.
         "No..." he mouthed, in silence.
         *Masahiro,* called the angel. *Masahiro, do you remember me?*
         Masahiro?
         I might have been confused, except that Lee said it in his angel voice - the true voice that delivers its message to the depths of your being. Translating an angel's voice into words on paper doesn't do it justice. It doesn't explain how I knew, just knew in my head, that 'Masahiro' really was Kimura's name.
         His first name, I realized.
         I'd never heard it before.
         *I remember you,* the angel continued, approaching Kimura until he was directly across from the tied-up bodyguard. *You and Mantarou both.*
         Kimura looked like he wanted to close his eyes, and couldn't. "No... nn-no, this can't..."
         The angel lightly touched Kimura's shoulder with the white fire sword. All the ropes binding Kimura to the chair fell away, but he couldn't get up. He couldn't do anything except stare, petrified.
         The white fire sword faded from Lee's hand.
         *How old were you, Masahiro?* asked the angel, compassionately. *Five? Six?*
         "This can't be real," the bodyguard mouthed. "This... this c-can't..."
         *Mantarou was so frightened. Stricken, shaken, and crying. You were frightened too, weren't you? But you did not cry. You just stayed quiet.
         *You had to sleep. The children of Kazuya Mishima's loyal retainers all had to sleep, to safeguard their lives and souls from the coming Invasion. But I dared not sedate Mantarou and you, before taking you to the coldsleep machines. Your bodies were too small; the sleeping drug could fatally poison you. I had to coax you into your icy capsules.
         *Mantarou was crying for his father. He knew he would never see his father again, I think. You also knew that you would never see your father again, didn't you? I am sorry for that. I am so sorry.
         *You did not cry, but Mantarou was crying, and I could see how afraid you were. I tried to comfort you, with one of Jun-chan's favorite melodies...*
         Lee started to sing.
         His music was haunting, and wordless. I felt a pang, listening to his celestial voice resurrect it from the grave of lost regrets.
         The angel's song ended on a fading echo.
         *Now, Masahiro... do you remember me?*
         Kimura closed his eyes.
         "I thought you were a dream," he whispered. "He said you were real, that it really happened, but you... y-you and Devil Kazuya were both monsters, traitors to Mishima-sama, it had to be a dream... it had to be only a dream, nn-no matter what he said..."
         *Mantarou? Does he remember me, too?*
         Kimura's hands started to tremble. He shuddered. Uncontrollably.
         *Masahiro, where is your cousin? Where is Mantarou Ishida?*
         No answer.
         *Is he hurt? Does he need our help?*
         "You can't help him," Kimura mouthed. "No one can."
         The angel's wings unfurled, as he bent to one knee. His hand tenderly brushed the side of Kimura's head. Lee's serene face was on level with Kimura's, and the white fire in the angel's eyes ebbed from empathy. *You are in pain, because of what has happened to Mantarou.*
         "I'm nothing without him." It almost wasn't words. The thickness in Kimura's throat was too great. His hands shook so much that he had to clasp them together, to stifle the tremors. I saw that his right hand was shaking a little more than his left.
         *Mantarou would disagree with that, I think.*
         "He disagreed with me on everything..."
         Something crumbled in Kimura. He whispered rapidly, desperately, as if he were afraid he couldn't get it all out before his voice died forever.
         "He never listened to me. Why wouldn't he listen to me? I told him to be quiet, if I told him once I told him a hundred thousand times, don't argue, don't judge, don't ever talk back, just be quiet and do your duty. He didn't understand, he never understood, he never listened to me, I tried to warn him and he never listened to me...
         "I...
         "I shouldn't have listened to him... I-I never should have listened to him... I nn-never should have let him say..."
         Kimura's strength was running out. His breath came in slow, miserable gasps.
         *What did he say?* questioned the somber angel.
         "He... h-he told Mishima-sama that the child's escape was his fault... th-that he stopped me from doing my duty, forced me to let her go... th-that's not what happened. I d-deserted my post with him, b-because I was trying to make him see reason...
         "We are only servants. We were born to serve Mishima-sama; it is not our place to question him! If he gives us an order, we carry it out! E-even if there is a child involved... wh-why couldn't he see that...?"
         *A child,* the angel solemnly repeated. *Ling Xiaoyu?*
         "H-he lied to Mishima-sama. Said it was all his fault, and that's not true, th-that's not what happened... a-and he said to me... h-he said one of us had to go on... h-he said...
         "Mariko...
         "A-all I ever wanted was to see her again. He knew. H-he knew the one thing to tell me that would... th-that would..."
         Kimura heaved as if he were violently ill.
         He crumpled and gasped, falling forward. Lee braced him with both hands. The angel spread his radiant wings to ward away the darkness.
         *That would what?*
         "Mishima-sama needed a sacrifice... to replace the child... the blood and soul of a warrior...
         "He needed...
         "He said... h-he said he would kill us both... I should have accepted that. I shouldn't have let Mantarou lie for me... I sh-shouldn't have listened to him... I shouldn't-!"
         Kimura stared in horror, at his shaking hands.
         Lee took the bodyguard's right hand, the one that was trembling a little more out of control. The angel gently spread out Kimura's fingers, and looked at them. The soft light of Lee's presence revealed something that I had failed to notice before.
         Blood.
         A small, dusky reddish crease, on the tip of Kimura's index finger.
         The last of his composure disintegrated.
         He sobbed in silence, tears of grief and self-loathing, and collapsed like a mortally wounded animal. Lee caught him as he fell out of the chair, and circled him with shining white angel wings.
         "Kill me," the bodyguard mouthed. "Please..."
         *That is not what Mantarou would want,* Lee soothed, cradling Kimura as if he were the terrified little boy from twenty years ago. *We need to set him free. We need your help to set his soul free.*
         "Mishima-sama should have killed me... h-he should have destroyed us both..."
         *Your master is very sick. He has a sickness of the spirit; it drives him to do terrible things. Delusions plague him. He believes he can control the Toshin, but it cannot be controlled. If we let him complete the ritual that began with Mantarou's death, he will destroy himself, and perhaps the whole world as well.
         *Please, Masahiro. Help us save your master. Help us save Mantarou's soul.
         *Help us...*
         I couldn't watch anymore.
         I had to get out of there. Absolutely had to. It was all I could do to stumble away without calling any attention to myself.
         As soon as I was on the other side of the prison door, I fell on my knees. Sick. Retching without throwing anything up. Trying to repress the flashbacks.
         It's not happening all over again, I told myself. The world is not in red and black. I'm in control. I know where I am going.
         I know where I am going.
         I know where...
         ...how did I get here?
         As I staggered into the war council room, I nearly collapsed in a pile, but held myself steady. Detective Lei Wulong was there, as was Shingo Yabuki. They appeared to be in an intense discussion.
         "-hasn't even told you what he is, has he?" Shingo demanded.
         "Sure he has. A Guardian of the Grey Kingdom. He doesn't like being called an angel," Wulong responded, calmly.
         "And that's all he told you? All he ever told any of you?"
         "His war crimes are a matter of public record."
         "This is not directly about his mortal life, though mass-murder does make for a poor character reference. This is about how you take his allegiance for granted-"
         "Yabuki, what's with the sudden attitude problem? Have you got something personal against Lee?"
         "Not in the sense that you intend. Lee-san and I are of opposite alignments. I did not realize it at first, in part because he hasn't told anyone. I had to figure it out for myself."
         "Wait, wait. You and Lee are what?"
         "Opposite alignments, Lei-san. Contrary aspects shape our respective Powers. As a lifelong follower of Kusanagi-sama, mine is the aspect of Loyalty."
         "I see we're back to your best-friend-turned-god again."
         "Kyo Kusanagi-sama is not a product of my dementia, Lei-san. He is real. He is the god of courageous fighting souls. Yuki-sama is his beloved, the goddess of those who love courageous fighting souls."
         "Uh-huh. And what's the rest supposed to mean? Are you saying we can't trust Lee?"
         "That depends on your definition of 'trust.' I fear that your definition is too generous."
         "Do you have any doubt that Lee will do what he said he would?"
         "Oh, no. No doubt at all." Shingo shook his head. "If anything can subvert the Loyalty of the House Mishima's most steadfast retainer, it is that angel."
         "Yabuki, that is not a bad thing. That is what we want, remember?"
         "I realize it is necessary, Lei-san. What bothers me is that you don't seem to understand the true nature of the cosmic forces you are casually enlisting-"
         "Then let's not stay in the dark, eh?" Wulong cut off, noticing me. "Let's find out about what I don't understand. Mitsurugi, why don't you fill us both in on how Lee ran his interview with Kimura?"
         I shuddered, and had to swallow before I could speak.
         "Kimura... he..."
         "Eh, kid? Could you speak up or come closer?"
         I obliged, limping to a chair that was near them. "Wh-when Xiaoyu escaped, Mishima-sama used Ishida as the replacement sacrifice. But he didn't kill Ishida himself. H-he made Kimura murder his own cousin... threatened to kill them both of them if Kimura refused."
         I had to breathe deeply to stay calm, as I sank into the chair.
         "Figures," Wulong grunted. "Blood sacrifice is always more Powerful if someone the victim loves is involved. Hell, the 'inseparable' cousins were probably Heihachi's first choice, before he happened across Xiaoyu. Their failure to guard her was just an excuse to fall back on his original plan."
         I stared at Wulong in horror.
         It wasn't only his deduction. It was the dry, casual way in which he observed it. Discussing premeditated murder as if it were a perfectly rational idea.
         "You really are a demon!" I exclaimed, clenching both fists at my sides.
         Wulong chuckled. It was a low sound, ending in a cough.
         "And you really are human, for now," he wheezed, wryly. "I know it's hard on you, kid, but we'll need the vampyre back soon. At least for a little while. Can you do that for us?"
         "Wh-what?"
         "Take it easy, Mitsurugi-san," Shingo cautioned, with a sharp glance to Wulong. "You don't have to do what he says."
         "Wait, I don't understand what you're talking about-"
         "Now, now," Wulong cajoled. "I know you're smarter than that."
         I am?
         "I'm familiar with your psyche profile," the detective continued. "You're just an ordinary kid, who took a job with Heihachi's syndicate in hope of getting into college. You're not a strategist of any kind. And you hate guns with a passion, don't you? Can't stand holding one, or even the sight of one. Yet you were awfully quick to pounce on the idea of using a sniper.
         "It reminded me of something.
         "Half a dozen years ago, my men in Hong Kong had this problem with a nasty new gang, stirring up a turf war. Their leader was a smart one. His only weakness was that the rest of his gang were a lot dumber than he was. We finally shut 'em down, but it was a close match, and the leader just barely escaped. He got away because he had a sniper in waiting. Damn targeting scope rifle shot out both my hands.
         "The leader was a young Korean punk, with a rep for being hard to kill. His street name was 'Hwoarang.'"
         Wulong had to pause for a protracted coughing fit.
         "Uh..." I mumbled, eyeing him. "Your hands don't have any scars."
         "Demon healing." His eyes briefly glittered blood-red, with a malicious twinkle.
         "What Lei-san means," Shingo patiently explained, "is that we know Hwoarang-san was talking for you, during part of the war council. It would appear that you have inherited the vampyre's essence. But you must be true to yourself first; if activating that essence brings you any discomfort-"
         "Nn-no, it's not like that, I swear it's not. I-I don't have Hwoarang's soul trapped inside me, or in my sword, or anything like that! I just have his fighting skills..."
         Shingo raised an eyebrow.
         "...and maybe his tactical skills," I added. "Maybe other skills too, I don't know. B-but not his memories, or his 'essence,' or - I'd know if I did, I really do think I'd know."
         "Then you don't mind calling up Hwoarang's help?" Wulong requested, leaning forward. "We could use a 400-year-old tactical genius."
         "However, it is not required," Shingo stressed, looking sternly at the ailing detective.
         "It's all right," I acquiesced, dropping my eyes. "I'll try my best. I promise."
         "Thanks, kid," Wulong said, and for the first time a hint of weakness - real weakness, weakness of the spirit instead of just the rasp of his dying lungs - showed through his voice. "You have my gratitude."
         "Your stepson saved my life."
         "Good for him. He's lucky to have a friend like you."
         I thought about telling Detective Lei Wulong the truth.
         I thought about confessing that I was never the young master's friend. That I feared him as a Devil ever since the day I first met him. That I hated him with unthinking prejudice, until his compassion saved me. And even then, I let the young master fall into Mishima-sama's clutches. When I could carry only one person out of the syndicate, I chose to rescue Bryan Fury instead.
         I'm not sure if I stayed quiet because the truth would serve no good purpose, or because an echo of Hwoarang's remorseless thought patterns warned me not to be a damned idiot.
         Lee Chaolan rejoined us then, saving me from having to make any reply.
         Thank the gods, he was no longer in his angel form. I definitely wasn't ready to deal with that again. He was in another shape-shifted version of Bryan's body. This time, Lee looked human. Like he used to be when he was alive, maybe. A thin, delicate-boned Chinese man in his late twenties, with silver hair, auburn eyes, and horrendous burn-scars on his face. He was wearing a formal tuxedo, of solid black cloth.
         The color of mourning.
         Lee's head slumped, wearily, as he entered the war council room. He dragged his feet as he eased into a chair near Wulong, and across from Shingo.
         "Well?" Wulong rasped.
         "Your suspicions proved correct."
         "Yeah, the kid already filled us in on that. And?"
         "Kimura opened his thoughts to me. I have what we need to plan our assault."
         "Good."
         Lee looked to Shingo. "I have put Kimura in a deep sleep. The spell will wear off in twelve hours. When it does, he should be kept on a constant suicide watch, until he can be provided with the help he needs."
         "Talk to Daimon-san. I'm sure he will grant your request."
         There was something odd about the way Shingo responded to Lee. Shingo was as polite as usual, except...
         ...except he wasn't acting quite as friendly as he had been with me, I noticed. There was a definite reservation in his voice. And the way he held himself spoke volumes: sitting up straighter in his chair, with his right hand curled expectantly around the handle of his claw cane. There was a wary readiness to his attitude. He didn't look like he wanted a fight, but-
         "You okay, Lee?" Wulong inquired, interrupting my train of thought. I guess the detective had also noticed Lee's dejected state.
         The angel sighed. "Ishida, Kimura, Yamada, Satake, Shiina... twenty years ago, I put them all to sleep in the syndicate's cryogenic vaults, promising them a better world when the New Era dawned. Did all the children I tried to protect grow up to be victims, or killers?"
         "It's not your fault old man Heihachi picked up where Devil Kazuya left off."
         The angel still looked rather depressed.
         "Uh, Lee," I humbly interjected. "Could you, um, tell me..."
         "Yes?"
         I wasn't sure what I was going to ask. Until my mouth worked for me, and spilled a question I'd been wondering about. "What did you mean when you told me, 'you are one of mine'?"
         "He meant that you are a betrayer," Shingo stated, flatly. "As is Kimura-san, who has the blood of his own kin on his hands. Lee Chaolan-san is the Angel of Treachery."
         That certainly made me sit up.
         Wulong lifted an eyebrow.
         Lee raised his head. There was antagonism in his auburn eyes. "If you are going to tell them that..."
         "You should have been the one to tell them."
         "I am not your enemy."
         "Of course not. It is not your enemies to whom you are the most dangerous. Your first name has come to mean 'traitor' for a reason, has it not? It is the reflection of your Word. Treachery is your core aspect; as you are Word-bound to it, so is it Word-bound to you."
         "I did not choose my Word."
         "That could be debated."
         "It was assigned to me."
         "Because it was appropriate to your soul. The most crucial moments of your mortal life were your acts of treachery, and so you are the Angel of Treachery."
         "I am not an angel, as well you know. I am a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom."
         "Word-bound to Treachery."
         "At least have the grace to put that in context! Yes, Treachery is my Word. This does not mean that I endorse Treachery for its own sake. It means that among mortal souls, I am particularly close to the souls of betrayers - whether they are servants of Darkness questioning their allegiance to an evil code, or fallen servants of Light striving to redeem themselves."
         "Such as Fury-san, the ex-detective who is your mortal vessel? You are 'particularly close' to him because he betrayed his duty as a police officer, are you not?"
         "Do you realize that Bryan can hear you?"
         "You should have told him what you were. And you should have told the others, too."
         "It did not occur to me."
         "Not even to warn them? If you are not careful to balance your Word of Treachery with your secondary commitment to Honor, your Power will escalate into corruption and betrayal."
         "And if you are not careful to balance your aspect of Loyalty with your secondary commitment to Tolerance, your worship of Kyo Kusanagi will escalate into fanaticism and madness. I believe you have spent approximately twenty years in a mental institution?"
         "Stay cool, Shingo," the handicapped professor muttered to himself. Looking at Lee, he insisted, "My Loyalty to Kusanagi-sama did not cause my delusions."
         "I doubt that it helped. Kusanagi's reckless disdain of the Divine Sanctions has threatened to drive me insane."
         "Uh, guys?" Wulong coughed. "This is all very interesting, but-"
         "Lee-san," and now Shingo was beginning to sound upset, "as an entity not meant to exist in this world, you really aren't one to speak of 'reckless disdain' for the Divine Sanctions."
         "I am as surprised to be here as you are to see me, and I am not here to bring harm. Whereas Kusanagi's deliberate incursions on the Sanctions' boundaries have threatened untold chaos to the Grey Kingdom-"
         "'Untold chaos'? He is trying to reform the Grey Kingdom!"
         "Easy for you to say. You haven't had to clean up after his messes. If he didn't have the goddess Yuki to keep him in check, who knows how much destruction he could cause?"
         "Guys?" Wulong rasped, more insistently. "You need to save this for later-"
         "Kusanagi-sama is not an agent of Destruction; he seeks to bring change! He is the first god of Light who dares to champion the rights of demons and Devils! Given your own family, I should think you would be more supportive-"
         "A Devil destroyed my brother!"
         "A rogue Devil, and I was referring to your nephew."
         "Jin Kazama is NOT a Devil!"
         "Oh, yes he is! I know a Devil when I see one, and you should know it too. The longer you stay in denial, the harder it will be for you to help Kazama-san, when the time of his Awakening is upon-"
         "Will both of you SHUT UP!?" Wulong bellowed, loud enough to shake the walls.
         His cough returned. This time it was so bad his breathing tube worked free from his face. He wrenched it off, and tossed it away in disgust.
         "Uh, Wulong," Lee hesitantly addressed, "you really shouldn't - let me get that for you-"
         "I said, stay right there and shut up. Both of you."
         Wulong coughed some more. His voice had deteriorated so much that he had to continue in a whisper.
         "We're working together. We have to stop Heihachi and save the kids. I don't give a damn what your 'aspects' are, and I don't give a damn about your personal quarrels-"
         "You will soon," Shingo dryly claimed. "If your soul is judged unjustly because you are a demon, seek out Kusanagi-sama and tell him that I sent you."
         "You were - cough - easier to deal with when you were barking mad," Wulong groused. "It ends now, Yabuki. You are setting aside your differences with Lee. No more gripes, no more bickering, and no undermining group morale about Lee being 'Word-bound to Treachery.' If you have to denounce Lee, do it on your own time, after the kids are rescued!
         "And Lee, that goes double for you. You are setting aside your differences with Yabuki. If you have to attack his religion, do it on your own time!
         "Got that? Both of you?"
         Lee nodded, and hung his head.
         "Yes, Lei-san," Shingo relented.
         Wulong tried to say something more, but he had too much trouble breathing.
         Attempting to be unobtrusive, I fetched his breathing tube for him, and helped him put it back on. He still didn't look ready to talk yet, so I broke the silence with, "We're lucky to have both of you on our side. Your combined Power will be a big advantage-"
         "Our combined what?" Shingo interrupted, incredulously.
         "I thought you assimilated Hwoarang's knowledge?" Lee questioned. "Or is it inaccessible to you, when you're in your human frame of mind?"
         "Uhh..." Since I wasn't sure myself, I decided the best way to deal with that question would be to ignore it. "Why can't you two combine your Power?"
         "We can," Shingo corrected. "It would not be a good idea."
         "Definitely not," Lee agreed. "We would have to be extremely desperate before-"
         "Do you hate each other that much?"
         "That's not what we mean," Shingo denied, holding up his right hand, palm out. "Lee-san and I are of opposite alignments, Mitsurugi-san. I am Loyalty; he is Treachery. Our sorcery is not compatible. Our combined Power would cause an explosion."
         "How big an explosion?"
         Shingo looked to Lee. "Have you ever tested your Power against an agent of Loyalty, before?"
         Lee shook his head. "I make it a point to stay well away from Kusanagi's band of zealots. Have you ever tested your Power against-"
         "I've been locked up for twenty years; what do you think?"
         "Is there any way you could find out?" I requested. Or maybe it wasn't me, maybe it was Hwoarang talking again. "We might be able to use a good explosion, against Mishima-sama."
         Lee and Shingo exchanged glances again. Both of them narrowed their eyes.
         Well, Lee narrowed his eyes. Shingo narrowed his eye.
         "Too dangerous," Lee said, evenly. "I'd hate to accidentally destroy a Loyal disciple of Kyo Kusanagi. He's reputed to be a vengeful god."
         "And I would hate to accidentally destroy an emissary of the Grey Kingdom, no matter how Treacherous," Shingo returned, just as evenly. "It would undermine Kusanagi-sama's crusade to bring about equal rights for all souls."
         "You can't destroy me."
         "Your host is mortal, or have you forgotten about him?"
         "I wish. Bryan has been urging me to hit you, ever since you thoughtlessly disparaged him."
         "Was my inference about him incorrect?"
         "That is not the point-"
         "Don't make me come over there," Wulong threatened, as if to a pair of squabbling little kids.


         Uh-oh, it's almost time to leave. I'll have to wrap this up quick.
         We hashed out a battle plan, taking Kimura's information into account, along with every trick that I could think of - or that Hwoarang could think of, depending on your point of view. We're not just going to save the young master and Julia Chang. We're going to use Mishima-sama's blood sacrifice ritual as evidence to indict him. Detective Lei Wulong is calling in favors from Interpol, and something known as the Outworld Investigation Agency. They will show up and arrest Mishima-sama, after we're done. Neither organization can fight with us, though, because of some international law thing.
         I guess it's a solid enough plan, overall. There's only one down side.
         Mishima-sama's secret base is hidden by spells, and guarded by his Tekkenshu. The good news is, Kagura's Temple will help us overcome that. The bad news is, it will take all of the Temple's sorcerers and warriors just to keep Mishima-sama's troops in check. Our core strike force will have just a band of fighters from the Iron Fist Tournament, plus Goro Daimon and me. The only magic-users we can spare to back up the strike force will be Lee, Taki, and maybe Shingo. Maybe. Wulong was still talking things over with him when they said I could go. I walked out, asked the Temple personnel for something to write in, and I've been penning this ever since.
         Hm.
         Part of the reason why I wanted to start a new journal was that I was wondering. About Hwoarang's legacy, that is. All these powerful new skills I have. I even know some languages that I didn't before, and I think my English vocabulary is much bigger than it used to be. I wondered if my ability to put all these languages together has changed, too.
         From what I've written here, I'd say it hasn't.
         When I look back at these pages, they're just me, as far as I can tell. Writing wasn't one of Hwoarang's special talents, I guess. Which is actually a relief.
         Okay. Got to finish up, for now.
         I remember the conclusion of my old journal. I said I'd written my last entry, and the prophecy almost fulfilled itself. I'm not going to tempt fate twice. I'm making it clear, right now: it doesn't matter what dangers I face. It doesn't matter who I fight, or what I have to risk.
         I am coming out of this alive.
         I am going to write more.
         I am going to be an editor, like I always wanted.
         This is my commitment. This is what I will do. After Mishima-sama is stopped, after the young master and Julia Chang are saved, I'm going to fulfill my dream. I'm going to take charge of my life, and make it into something I can be proud of.
         And I'm... I'm also going to find my mother.
         At least for a visit, anyway. A quick visit, if she doesn't want to see me again, but I won't know until I meet her.
         I wonder if it's too late to get her a Christmas present?





TRANSCRIPT: Files of Chief Detective Lei Wulong
Department of the Hong Kong Police Force
Classification Level: Omega
Section 202A-5
January 2, 2018
5:47 p.m.


         I don't have much time, right now. Certainly not enough to record everything, and I wouldn't if I could. I'm superstitious about having a meticulous written detail of my own plans, because I strongly suspect that at some point, I'll have to improvise.
         A lot.
         We are going to catch Heihachi Mishima in the act. We're going to stop him from murdering my son and Julia Chang, and we're going to bring him to justice for his crimes. That's the plan. I have faith in it, and in the people who are working together to achieve it. Even Nina Williams. She may be an assassin, but my instincts tell me that Bryan is dead right about her. She is honor-bound to pay him back for something - I assume he had a hand in freeing her from the Toshin, though I didn't ask - and that's what she's going to do.
         There's just one thing that bothers me. After the main plan was worked out, my voice was almost gone, so I sent Lee to present it to the others. He promised to make sure everyone would know their parts. That was when Shingo Yabuki requested one more private talk with me.
         Yabuki has got some kind of rivalry with Lee Chaolan. Something about being 'opposite alignments,' Loyalty versus Treachery, I don't know and I don't care. So that once Yabuki and I were alone, I started with, "If you're going to bash Lee again-"
         "This isn't entirely about him," he placated, holding up his one hand. "This is about your tactics. I didn't want to upset you with any more public dissention, but there is something about your plan that I find unacceptable."
         "Which is?"
         "I'm not in it."
         I suppose I should have seen this coming.
         "Yabuki, I have to be in the fight to save my son. For that, I'll need one more loan of your life-force to get me up to normal strength. You won't be in any shape to join the battle."
         "The life-force you need doesn't have to come from me. Daimon-san's daughters should be the ones to help you, since they're too young to risk their lives in battle. I think Daimon-san will let them share their life-force with you, under close supervision, if we ask nicely. Very nicely."
         "You're still not coming."
         The old Yabuki, the crazy-as-a-loon Yabuki, saw me as his father. He always deferred to me. At most, he would have made a weak protest and given up.
         The new Yabuki, the sane Yabuki, is a freaking pain in the ass.
         "Oh, yes I am," he forcefully insisted. "You need me."
         "No, we don't, and I'll tell you why. You're missing two of your limbs. Our fighters will have to be highly mobile, and you can't run. You'd be a liability."
         "I think you are underestimating me, but that's irrelevant. When I say that you need me, I don't mean as a fighter." He clenched his right hand, displaying the sun-sign on his fingerless fighting glove.
         "Yabuki, we've already talked this through. You can only use your gloves for defensive and healing sorcery, right? Your god didn't bother to enchant them with any attack spells."
         "That was not Kusanagi-sama's fault, Lei-san. The Divine Sanctions forbid gods to create weapons for mortal use."
         "It doesn't matter who's at fault. The upshot is that your sorcery is more limited than Lee's. It's also weaker than Lee's, because you've got only your life-force to put into it, while Lee has his own essence plus Bryan's. Worst of all, your sorcery is incompatible with Lee's. If your Power mixes with his in any way, there's no telling how big a bang it'll cause. Right?"
         "Yes, Lei-san."
         "Then, if we can have only one of you shielding the core strike force, it's going to be Lee."
         "Yes, Lei-san, I understand your logic. But you still need me."
         "How?"
         "As a backup, in case Lee-san forsakes you."
         Rrrgh.
         "Yabuki, I've had enough of this 'Angel of Treachery' rant."
         "It is not a rant, Lei-san. Lee-san has admitted that Treachery is his Word. And it was no accident that he was originally sent after you, was it? You are also one of his. You have betrayed someone or something dear to you."
         My wife. My promise to her. When I swore I'd do everything I could to take Kazuya alive.
         Maybe... maybe only the Angel of Treachery could set me on the road to redeeming myself, for what I did. Maybe.
         It still wasn't any of Yabuki's damned business.
         "For the last time Yabuki, drop it. This is almost as bad as calling my son a Devil."
         "Lei-san..."
         Yabuki's hard-line attitude faltered.
         "Lei-san, you have very keen senses. And I noticed that you never actually denied any of Taki-san's allegations, or mine..."
         "Get to the point."
         "You know that Kazama-san is a Devil, don't you?"
         That would be the point, all right.
         My throat went dry. Swallowing didn't help moisten it.
         "He is my son," I whispered, and Yabuki didn't press for more. He didn't have to.
         "Did his mother know?"
         Good question. There used to be certain things that I never talked about, not even with my wife. This was one of them.
         On the other hand, Jun's senses were at least as keen as mine...
         I don't know, I just don't know. The only answer I could make was, "She knew I was a demon. Didn't stop her from loving me."
         Yabuki nodded. "Don't worry. When your son's Awakening comes, his friends will help him. Including Lee-san, I'm sure of it."
         "So, you don't really think that Lee intends to stick a knife in anyone's back."
         "No, of course he does not 'intend' to betray us. Lei-san, you still haven't thought about what you are dealing with."
         "That's no reason to doubt our most Powerful ally. If you can't come up with a better argument-"
         "You're making him fight his own father!"
         That stopped me.
         Because for once, Yabuki was right. I hadn't thought about that.
         Heihachi Mishima adopted Lee Chaolan as a child. Old man Heihachi is the only father - the only parent - that Lee has ever known. Why the hell didn't I take that into account?
         Must be this damn terminal illness. That's the only excuse I have.
         "Lei-san," Yabuki continued. "You had a father once, didn't you?"
         "Yeah," I muttered. "Long time ago."
         "Did you look up to him? Do you remember how much he influenced you?"
         Well, I grew up to be a drunk like him.
         I'm not so sure that was the fault of his lousy example, though; he died when I was a kid. It was the fault of his lousy genes. I'm pretty certain I got the 'alcohol-is-poison' gene from him. I had to hit rock bottom - I was living in a sewer for months - before I learned how to straighten out and stay sober, with help.
         Lots of help.
         "You've made your point," I conceded, to Yabuki. "It won't be easy for Lee to go up against his old man."
         "That is an understatement."
         "You know what I mean. We need him, Yabuki. We need his Power on our side."
         "Yes, you do. But you also need me."
         "It's too dangerous."
         Something caught in me, when I said that.
         "I won't mix my sorcery with his," Yabuki reassured. "There should be no risk of-"
         Yabuki stopped himself, and squinted at me with his one good eye.
         "Lei-san, is this really about the incompatibility of our respective Powers?"
         Instead of answering, I looked away.
         "It's only... for a moment there, you almost sounded like..."
         "Holding back a cough," I lied. "That's all."
         "Is there another reason why you don't want me to fight for you?"
         "Nah." Another lie.
         "Is it the same reason why you didn't invite me to the war council?"
         "Didn't want to risk any setbacks to your mental health." That was a half-truth.
         Yabuki lapsed into a brief silence. He took a deep breath, and let it out.
         In a calm, understanding tone, he said, "I'm not your son, Lei-san."
         "I know."
         "You're not my father. That was just a delusion I projected on you. I'm sorry."
         "No need to apologize. Really." He only rescued me from dying in a gutter, after all.
         "You can't shelter me from this mission. My students' lives are at stake. I have to protect them, as surely as you do."
         What I said next wasn't the whole truth, but it was a close enough approximation.
         "I... don't want to tell your sister that I got her little brother killed, before she had a chance to know him again. The real him."
         "That's not your problem, Lei-san. You can't afford to worry about it. Too many other people are depending on you."
         "Yabuki..."
         He touched my hand, compassionately. "I will leave this world when Kusanagi-sama says it is my time. Not before, and not after. All right?"
         I have to trust him on that.
         I have to trust him, because we do need a defensive sorcerer on standby, in case Lee can't fight his old man. And the defensive standby can't be Taki, because she has no talent for shield spells.
         It still bothers me, though. More than all the countless other things I could or should be worrying about. I feel like I'm sacrificing one son to save another.
         Here's hoping the 'vengeful' Kusanagi-sama doesn't hold it against me.


         One more thing. I expect this to be the last record I make.
         Only two possible outcomes from here. If we succeed against old man Heihachi, I'll want to spend the time I have left with my son, so I won't be typing any more files.
         If we lose to Heihachi...
         No. I'm not coming out of this without my son.
         Twenty years ago, I defeated Kazuya Mishima, but I failed to save him. I'm not going to fail again. I'm going to save my son.
         No matter what it takes. No matter what the price.
         I'm going to save my son.


End of Chapter 27: Angel of Treachery