written by Victar, e-mail
Victar's Archive:

Chapter 29: Closing the Wound

   Hatred kept him alive in the dark places. Five centuries, burning in emptiness. Hatred is all he has. And I have hatred, too. I have felt like him. We are the same.
   "No," he gasped, and groped inside himself for a solid place to stand and live. "I will... fear you, but I... will not hate you."

         -Tad Williams, To Green Angel Tower

February 22, 2018
7:45 p.m.

         Do you know what's going on?
         Jin was just asking me a favor. He said he needed to discuss something important with Lee Chaolan and me, tomorrow evening. He wouldn't specify what it was, only that it was a very serious and personal matter, and that he was giving me time to prepare myself beforehand.
         This is driving me crazy.
         What is going on?
         You know, you're almost as bad at lying as Jin.
         You are involved in this, I know you are. Up to your neck. Jin said you'd also be there.
         Um, you will be there, won't you?
         Actually, I'm glad. I think it's a good idea. Jin's emotions can get the better of him, sometimes. It will be nice to have both you and Lee as a calming influence on him.
         And maybe on me, too.

         So. Where were we?
         Oh, yes.
         The Toshin ruled supreme over a battlefield of fallen warriors. Some of the fighters were struggling to get back up, but in that one, soul-devouring moment, the God of War stood triumphant. It had claimed Heihachi Mishima for its own. When Jin tried to rescue his beloved grandfather, the Toshin swatted its young challenger like a gnat.
         Was Heihachi dead? Had Jin interfered too late to save his grandfather's soul?
         No. No, that wasn't possible, because Jin was death-linked to Heihachi, and Jin was still alive - still breathing - I couldn't give up hope yet, I couldn't-!
         The Toshin started to change.
         It grunted and doubled over, as if in pain. Its tremendous helmet-plume pitched over its head and disappeared. Its golden armor did not fall away; instead, the monster absorbed its armaments into itself, helmet, shield, and all. The only piece that did not vanish within the Toshin's boiling flesh was a large golden circlet around its left thigh.
         The Toshin's skin changed color from green to green-black. Its humanoid form blurred like a watercolor image, warping, molding.
         Reptilian wings sprouted from the changing monster's back.
         The wings extended broader than the Toshin was tall, with claws on their joints and hard, shingle-like scales on their spread. A protruding tail balanced the cumbersome wings; a tail with four spikes near its base, and a ridged undercovering like a snake. The head of the snake was the Toshin's right arm - I mean this literally, for its right arm metamorphosed into a red-eyed, flat-jawed, hissing viper. A dark sigil marked the top of the viper's head, almost like a third eye.
         The rest of the Toshin's body twisted into a misshapen beast, far removed from its humanoid alter ego. Its left arm became a massive, over-muscled appendage, with more dark sigils on the shoulder, a plume of shaggy fur about the forearm, and two finger-claws along with a thumb. Its feet became two-toed, digigrade claws; the ribbed scales beneath its shins resembled those of a bird, though the rest of its legs was as hairy as its two-clawed arm.
         The change in its face was perhaps the most grotesque. Its head widened, and it gained a tangled, furry mane about its cheeks and chin. Its teeth jutted in deadly fangs, with the lower jaw protruding. A thick carapace grew over the back of its neck. Curling buffalo horns sprouted from its brow.
         The Toshin threw back its transformed head and roared.
         It was a sound to strike terror in the soul. The Toshin's roar was so intense that it snuffed out the burning torches that had been the main source of light, in Heihachi's replica of an Aztec Temple. Darkness settled all around - darkness lit only by full moon above, and the infernal glare of the roaring behemoth.
         We had unwittingly summoned an underpowered, humanoid manifestation of the Toshin. Perhaps we had damaged its lesser form, but that advantage was lost. Now, it had reverted to the full Strength of its natural self. Nothing could stop it.
         Except for Heaven's Dagger.
         Except for the secret I knew.
         But I couldn't wake up. I'd been thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious; I was seeing all this through a dream that Heaven's Dagger fed into my sleeping mind, and I couldn't wake up-!
         The God of War surveyed the feast of strong souls, all spread out before it.
         Its fevered red eyes came to rest on Jin's crumpled body.
         +YOUR SOUL IS DEATH-LINKED. YOUR SOUL MUST BE ABSORBED FIRST,+ it observed, without remorse.
         It reached for Jin. I shouted, but Jin couldn't hear me. I was only a shadow in my own dream.
         It almost ended there.
         I couldn't wake myself up to save Jin. Though a few of the other Iron Fist warriors were struggling to get up and fight, not one of them could rise in time. Not even Lee Chaolan...
         ...and there was a noise in the background. It had been there for a while, I realized, only now it was getting louder.
         Helicopter blades.
         The whirring rhythm became so shrill that it overshadowed even the Toshin's imposing presence. When I looked up, through the vast opening in the Temple's roof, I saw a pair of Tekkenshu helicopters. They were the last two pilot craft belonging to the Tokyo division of Heihachi's private army.
         Rushing over hill and dale, the choppers swiftly closed in on the gigantic monster that threatened the world. They opened fire with mounted machine guns, strafing the Toshin's head and wings.
         The fevered red of the Toshin's eyes became an epidemic.
         The God of War rotated its beastly head in a great, clockwise circle. Around, down, and up, until its jutting lower jaw pointed to the enemies above.
         A volcano erupted from its throat.
         Hell's inferno poured from its slavering fangs, in a gout to pierce the sky. The Toshin's fire engulfed one helicopter, consumed it, ignited a horrendous midair detonation. More flames melted the second helicopter on one side, including its rotary blades. Tumbling out of control, it barreled toward the Toshin in a kamikaze collision course.
         The God of War swiped with its clawed left hand.
         The second helicopter exploded into flaming wreckage. Fire and smoke scorched the Temple's gilded stone. White-hot metal parts clattered on the floor. A broken propeller blade almost speared Jin-
         *Aegis of the Grey Kingdom-!*
         -but it bounced off a flickering white shield, which covered him in the nick of time. A shield just broad enough to protect all the fallen Iron Fist warriors from being burned or crushed, in the wake of fiery destruction.
         The Toshin fixed its eyes on the source of the beautiful white glow.
         Lee Chaolan.
         The angel had risen to hands and knees. His feather-shredded wings draped either side of his body. With one arm outstretched, he sustained his holy shield until the last piece of burning debris had settled. Only then did he allow his protective spell to drop.
         Lee slowly climbed to his feet. His wings drooped, like counterweights to help him keep his balance.
         *I... am a Guardian... of the Grey Kingdom,* the angel gasped. *These souls are under my protection!*

         There's something that I should point out, here.
         Although Lee recovered in time to battle the Toshin's natural form, he was almost too late. He almost failed to save Jin.
         He almost failed to save us all.
         Because you see, my insight wasn't enough to vanquish the Toshin's menace by itself. Even Heaven's Dagger was not enough. I needed Jin. We all needed Jin.
         It is coming for me, and it will come for you, because we are among the few people who have any chance of stopping it. Only purity within and purity without can close the wound that is Toshin. Jun Kazama had made this fateful prophecy to her son Jin, shortly before the Toshin murdered her.
         Her prophecy was right. She had been right all along.
         But it nearly ended in apocalypse, when the Toshin reached for Jin's soul. The ones who bought Jin the precious few seconds he needed to survive weren't warriors from the Iron Fist, or sorcerers from Kagura's Temple, or angels from Heaven. They were Mishima syndicate Tekkenshu. A pair of ordinary helicopter pilots, who inadvertently saved the world.
         I don't know their names, but they should not be forgotten. Nor should you forget why they sacrificed their lives.
         They died for their master, Heihachi Mishima.
         You may question Lei Wulong's wisdom in setting the corrupt world leader free, moments before the Toshin's attack. You know from experience, as surely as I, that Heihachi could not be trusted. Yet, it was Heihachi who had summoned the Tekkenshu. If Lei Wulong hadn't allied with the old man, then the resulting price would have been beyond measure.
         Releasing Heihachi was never a good idea. I just want you to understand that it was a lesser evil.
         And I do mean evil.
         And I don't mean much lesser.

         "Glory to Mishima-sama," muttered a voice behind me, in a darkly ironic tone.
         The speaker of that disillusioned comment was not a living person. Not anymore. He was the ghost of Ishida, one of Heihachi's former servants; a spirit murdered, bleeding, and bound in ethereal chains, as part of the ritual to summon the Toshin. He was also the only being that could communicate with me, while I lay unconscious. Though Heaven's Dagger let me see my surroundings in a dreamland border between life and death, it did me very little good. My real body slept peacefully, while my shadowy dream-self panicked. My dream-self was invisible to Jin, to all the people around me, and I couldn't make myself wake up. Perhaps Lee could have seen my dream-self, kneeling close to where my sleeping body lay, but the angel was far too distracted to look.
         "I've got to wake up," I babbled, frantically.
         "You'd just get killed if you did. You're better off staying asleep. Let the real fighters deal with that monster."
         "Shut up, Ishida!"
         "Please. I'm dead. You're dreaming. Call me Mantarou."
         I stared at him.
         "My first name," he said with a shrug. Then, "What? You think I don't have one?"
         I turned back to the havoc before me, in time to see more Iron Fist warriors slowly recovering for a renewed fight.
         King crawled to Armor King's prone body, and shook his teacher's shoulder. Ling Xiaoyu was also stirring. So was Lei Wulong, but he was too weak to stand. The ailing detective coughed, violently, and slumped flat on the ground.
         "I lied to you, once," Mantarou observed. "On Christmas Eve. Did you know that?"
         Paul Phoenix was dazed. Forest Law was moaning, and holding his head. Eddy Gordo and Tiger Jackson were moving, but had yet to rise. Gun Jack, the giant robot, was sitting up, though its mechanical torso twitched and showed electric streaks. Jane was working frantically on a circuit panel in the back of its head.
         Shingo Yabuki and Goro Daimon remained motionless. I think Daimon had passed out from the trauma of two broken legs. As for Shingo, I feared he was near death. I was too far away to see whether he was still breathing.
         What I did see was a shape that materialized out of nowhere, seized Shingo, and instantly disappeared with him. It reappeared, grabbed Daimon, and repeated its vanishing act. Then it manifested one more time, dropping out of midair; a nigh-invisible outline, swiftly filled by the moonlit sparkle of its full-body armor. In its left hand was a sword that glowed supernatural green. The weapon looked sharp enough to cleave souls in half, yet it was merely a natural part of its wielder.
         He was teleporting the grievously wounded to safety.
         "It wasn't a direct lie, though. Just an implied lie."
         Warping through space took a severe toll on Yoshimitsu, though. When he drew his sword, it was not a fully coordinated motion. It was jittery, weakened. His masked face turned my way; he was not looking at my dream-self, but rather at my sleeping body. When he tried to approach my insensate form, he stumbled.
         Before he could cross the rest of the distance to reach me, the Toshin closed in on him.
         "I lied when I pretended that... that I resented being set up for an arranged marriage. Because it wasn't really the idea of getting married that rankled me."
         Lee rushed to Yoshimitsu's defense, but this time, he didn't lead the rest of the Iron Fist warriors in an en masse attack. Even if they had all been at full strength, Lee probably remembered what had happened the last time he tried such a tactic against the God of War.
         "You've never seen how my cousin gets when he has leave coming, to go home to his wife. You probably don't know him well enough to tell the difference in him, but I do. I have."
         Yoshimitsu hit the Toshin with a quick punch and two slower, swinging uppercuts. The monster hardly flinched. When the masked swordsman performed a pair of spinning high kicks, the Toshin ducked underneath them-
         "He loves her. She loves him. They're so happy, when they're together."
         -but before it could retaliate, Lee charged its other side, lifting it out of its crouch with the mirror of Yoshimitsu's swinging uppercut. Yoshimitsu poked at the monster with a low kick, even as Lee hit it with a copy of Yoshimitsu's last two high kicks, down to the bizarre, full-body rotations after each blow.
         "I... I would have given anything, for happiness like that. Or even a chance at happiness."
         Yoshimitsu whipped his sword in a series of slashes. As did Lee, mimicking the masked warrior exactly two steps removed, as surely as if he had absorbed Yoshimitsu's style.
         As surely as if he had absorbed Yoshimitsu's soul.
         "But the House Ishida is duty-bound to the House Mishima. Every generation, we must give them a warrior servant. A servant who lives for the House Mishima, and dies for the House Mishima."
         Yoshimitsu ran the Toshin through with his glowing green sword. Lee's shining white Sword of Truth joined it - I didn't know the name of his weapon then, but even in darkness and mayhem, I could feel its reverberations affecting my mind. Lee and Yoshimitsu twisted their weapons, then yanked them back out, in stilted synchrony.
         "Last generation, it was my father. He died for Kazuya Mishima, when I was six years old."
         The God of War did not fall. It scarcely showed any blood. Its two-clawed arm shoved Lee away. Its snake-arm swung in an unbelievably fast overhead slap, as it crouched and lunged for Yoshimitsu. The Toshin's serpent hand crashed soundly on the masked swordsman's head. Yoshimitsu's skull might have been crushed, if not for his flat-topped helmet.
         As the Toshin rose from its thunderous slap, it kicked its left, two-toed leg vertically up and then down again, eerily reminiscent of a Mishima-style karate axe kick. The Toshin's foot-claws sliced through Yoshimitsu's armor like a ghastly can opener, gashing the dazed swordsman. Yoshimitsu fell back on the floor, bleeding profusely, and did not move. He was incapable of teleporting anyone else to safety.
         "I can hardly remember anything about my father, or what he was like. The worst part is that when other people remember him - if he's remembered at all - it's as a traitor of the Great Invasion. My father died for the monster that was Devil Kazuya; therefore, my father was a monster. Never mind that he had next to no choice. Never mind that refusing to serve Kazuya would have cost him his honor, his life, and probably the lives of his family. His doom was set by forces beyond his control, long before he was born, and his damnation stays to this day. His own widow - my mother - never speaks of him anymore. Never."
         Lee Chaolan spread his wings, and took to the sky.
         So did the Toshin.
         "It wasn't that I didn't want to get married. It was that if... if I took a wife, and we had a child... there was a good chance I'd end up leaving them, like my father left my mother and me. A woman who marries into the House Ishida knows she's likely to become a widow, but it's just not fair to abandon your own child like that. I remember. I know."
         The angel and the behemoth clashed in midair. The Toshin was larger and stronger, but Lee was faster and more agile. Lee swooped and dived, narrowly avoiding the Toshin's fiery breath. Slipping behind his enemy, he raked its back with his glowing white sword.
         "But even worse... if I were to take a wife, and we had a son, then he would be the next designated to pledge himself to the House Mishima. He would never be able to control his destiny, or pursue his dreams; he would have to sacrifice everything he had. His life. His freedom. Maybe even his own identity."
         The Toshin could not propel its entire bulk as swiftly as Lee flew. It was the monster's serpent arm that shot after the retreating angel, extending faster than wings of Heaven. Fevered red serpent-eyes blazed in the darkness. Venomous serpent-fangs plunged into Lee's chest, piercing his silver chainmail. Suspended in midair, the Toshin held the angel in its lethal grip.
         The Toshin's serpent-hand clenched its jaws. There came a crunching sound. Lee couldn't scream; the Toshin's poison robbed his voice.
         The Toshin retracted its serpent-hand.
         For the second time that night, the angel fell from the sky. For the second time that night, he no longer looked like a celestial being when he hit the ground. He had again reverted to the bullet-scarred form of Detective Bryan Fury, his mortal host.
         Bryan convulsed, on the floor. His mouth worked. His limbs contorted. He could fight no longer.
         "Hell, even if all I had were daughters, the House Mishima would still lay claim to at least one of them, and... and twist her like it twisted Taki. You don't know it, but that woman didn't start out spiteful. Her viciousness has nothing to do with her mutant blood; it was the House Mishima that sickened her. She's had to serve them ever since she was thirteen - she ages faster than human beings, and she looked like an adult even then, but she was only a child. Her contract with the House Mishima devoured her from inside out, before she could finish growing up."
         Aloft upon its mighty aerial vantage, the Toshin regurgitated fire on its enemies below. It targeted King and Armor King, the masked wrestlers who had humiliated it earlier. King barely helped his teacher out of the conflagration's path in time; their costumes still caught alight. They had to drop and roll on the floor, struggling to smother the flames. The Toshin settled back on the ground, folding its wings, even as a new challenger rushed to attack it.
         Forest Law.
         "I just couldn't do that, to my son or my daughter. I couldn't condemn a child to grow up like Taki. Or like me."
         It's so clear in my mind. I remember the youthful teacher-in-training, dressed in a spotless white shirt with a lithe Chinese dragon embroidered on the back. I remember his eager, bright-faced expression, as he nailed the Toshin with - oh, don't ask me how he did it. He just extended his left hand an inch less than the range of a normal punch, while his right hand retracted in a one-inch counterbalance motion close to his chest. It was as if he embedded the concentrated Power of all his life-force into that one inch.
         The Toshin buckled.
         Getting skewered by supernatural swords hadn't fazed it, yet it buckled from Forest's one-inch punch.
         "And now, my cousin's wife... Mariko... she's four months pregnant. It's a boy."
         Paul Phoenix seized advantage of the Toshin's weakness.
         I remember the glitter of the Toshin's malevolent light, reflected on the flame-decals of Paul's biker leathers. The battle-hardened veteran practically rammed his elbow down the Toshin's throat. With a deep-chested shout, he barreled into the monster again, twice as hard. He was practically squatting, with his knees like corners of a square, as he swept his muscular arm upwards. Paul's fist connected with the Toshin's jaw, and its buckle became a backwards reel. Paul Phoenix sprang away, as swiftly as he had struck.
         "He didn't know. He hasn't been allowed to see her for the past three months. She told him just last Christmas, when the young master let us use the vid-phones. It was why she had stopped sending letters to her husband, for a while. She was nervous of how he'd take the news."
         Forest Law leaped in Paul's place - no, more than that, he catapulted himself in a flip, just so he could land next to the reeling Toshin in time. Sparks of blue-white Chi danced on his fists as he followed up his mentor's attack. With a high-pitched battle shriek to peel away the Temple's gilding, Forest lunged at the God of War. He lashed it with his sparkling fist, hurling the monster backwards. Its wings billowed, and it slammed against one of the Temple's walls.
         The Toshin folded in on itself. Its head bowed down to its knees.
         "I wanted to congratulate my cousin. I wanted to be happy for him."
         "Süp-fùn hó!" Forest laughed, stepping back in a wide-legged stance and thrusting his fist in the sky.
         "But all I could think of was... was how the House Kimura is bound by the same obligations as the House Ishida. How his son would never have a chance, or a choice - the House Mishima would claim the boy as its due, as soon as he was old enough to stand and fight."
         Forest's ebullience was misplaced.
         The Toshin hadn't bowed its head from pain. It was winding up for a new attack. I yelled a warning, not that anyone could hear me, not that it could have made a difference. The monster rushed Forest with blinding speed, bringing its horned head from down to up in a buffalo charge.
         Forest never saw it coming.
         It rammed him before his cheer died in his throat. Its horns gored both sides of his torso, tearing his white shirt and spattering it with blood. The beast scooped him into the air, and it wasn't content to let him land before it savaged him further. Its ribbed wings spread, propelling it into Forest's falling body; its clawed left leg kicked, pummeling him. The beast turned in midair, slicing Forest with another kick from its scaly right leg, and snapped its left leg again in an airborne repeat of that Mishima-style axe kick.
         The Toshin landed, with fresh blood staining its hind claws.
         Forest struggled to get up.
         His monstrous enemy could have eviscerated him, but it chose not to. Instead, it flapped its vast wings for renewed aerial lift.
         Forest made it to his knees, but pain and shock crippled him. He could not stand. He could not crawl. All he could do was stare, slack-jawed, at the leviathan above. Its chest cavity bulged outward, as it inhaled a tremendous breath.
         "But if a handful of years is all the boy has..."
         "Forest!" Paul screamed, in mortal terror. "NOOO!"
         "...then he should at least know happiness while he has them."
         Paul raced to reach the young man who had followed him into the Iron Fist Tournament. Who had disobeyed family and left behind friends, to risk life and limb in a corrupt blood-sport battlefield.
         "He should have the chance to grow up knowing his own father."
         Paul shoved his crippled protégé - just poured everything he had into a smashing punch with his right fist, so forceful it hurled the young martial artist across the room.
         The Toshin vomited fire from on high.
         "Mishima-sama... he almost destroyed my cousin along with me. I couldn't let that happen. I just couldn't. Mariko needs her husband. Their son needs a father."
         And Paul Phoenix became his namesake.
         At least Forest didn't see it. He lost consciousness when he landed from Paul's shove, I'm sure he did. But I saw. Caught in that dreamland horizon, I saw the pyre of the Phoenix. White-hot flames engulfed his body, melting his leathers, and consuming his vertical hair. He turned in a spastic reaction; his arms were like firebird wings, trailing burning plumes.
         I think... I think it was so horrible that I screamed. Yes, I'm certain of it. I screamed aloud, clawed at my hair, and shook with fright.
         "That's how my cousin's father died," Mantarou mentioned, detachedly observing the holocaust. "Incinerated by a were-dragon."
         +YOUR SOUL SHOULD HAVE BEEN MINE TO TAKE,+ the Toshin rumbled, alighting next to Paul's charred remains.
         I heard a roar of outrage from nearby.
         It was hardly a human sound. It was the Anger of the Beast that charged the Toshin, matching its monstrous bulk with animal strength.
         King. The jaguar-masked wrestler.
         The God of War was twice his size, and I can't estimate its mass. Yet King seized it as if it were a merry-go-round, one arm gripping its hairy shoulder, the other taking hold of a wing joint. With an extra burst of energy, King forced it to rush in a circle, hurling it away-
         -into the dark-skinned arms of Armor King, who defied the laws of Gravity to catch the monster, heave it off the ground, and slam its horned head on the floor.
         But something also gave way inside of Armor King.
         I don't know how old he was, or how healthy. Perhaps he was ill. Perhaps, beneath that black panther mask and spike-studded costume, he was as sickly as Lei Wulong. It would explain why Armor King never officially entered the Iron Fist Tournament of 2017.
         I make this speculation, because lifting the Toshin one last time mortally strained something in the mysterious older wrestler. His muscles tensed from pain. He leaned forward. A trickle of blood dripped from the mouth of his animal mask, forming tiny spatters on the floor.
         Whereas the God of War had already recovered; not a scratch on its scaly, fur-patched skin. King scrambled to his teacher's aid, but the Toshin got Armor King first.
         It got him from behind.
         Its fanged jaws closed on his neck. Its teeth ground together as it shook Armor King, like a dog worrying a chew toy; first one way, then the other, so viciously that the wrestler's mask loosened and his flailing body knocked King aside. The Toshin slammed its once-proud victim on the floor.
         Armor King's mask fell away from his face.
         The lighting was poor, so that I can't describe him very well. I just remember his dusky skin, his wavy black hair, and the scar over his left eye.
         And the blood.
         Streaming from the upper vertebrae of his spine, which was twisted at an unnatural angle to the rest of his splayed body.
         "That's how my father died," Mantarou noted. "An animal broke his neck."
         King's battle cry became a grief-stricken yowl, as he lurched for the Toshin. He brought his right fist in an uppercut, powered by his whole body, against the monster's blood-soaked mouth.
         The Toshin seized him in mid-swing.
         Its gargantuan arms, clawed-arm and snake-arm, grappled the wrestler's torso. Snake-arm fangs injected deadly venom into the wrestler's side. King gasped in pain, as the jaws of the Toshin's ogre-head crunched into his body cavity.
         "I always knew that one day I'd share their fate. I just didn't expect it to be for... for the sake of that girl."
         There came a squealing battle cry, far too high-pitched to be from King. My eyes widened when I saw the Toshin's latest adversary.
         "Mistress Ling Xiaoyu."
         The tiny fairy princess had regained enough strength to hit the Toshin from behind. I never saw her get close to the monster; I just recall her Art of the Phoenix. Her legs were in a wide stance, with her weight primarily on her back foot; her upper body bent practically to ground level, and she raised her arms like feathery wings.
         "She killed my friend Shiina, you know."
         Xiaoyu clasped her slender hands together, and guided them in a tremendous, rising hammer swing. thwack, right in the base of the Toshin's tail.
         "It was in self-defense, or so I hear. And what I hear is probably true. She's not ruthless enough to wantonly murder anybody, while Shiina always was a little too quick to play with his gun. But he was still my friend, and she destroyed him."
         Immediately after her speedy assault, Xiaoyu ducked back into the Art of the Phoenix, and then leaped straight up with a pair of scissor kicks - one, two, snapping the balls of her delicate feet. She booted the Toshin so hard that it dropped King; shreds of the wrestler's flesh remained dangling from its ogre-fangs, a gruesome remnant of its interrupted feast.
         King landed writhing, and clutching blood-soaked bite marks in his abdomen. His movements became less and less, as shock progressively sank in.
         "You'd think that I would hate her, wouldn't you? You'd think that I wouldn't give a damn what happened to her."
         Though Xiaoyu's courageous assault had staggered the Toshin, she had not toppled it. The monster stepped around her as she landed from her double kick, and its serpent-hand sank its fangs into her right leg.
         Xiaoyu shrieked as the Toshin picked her up, swung her, and slammed her against the stone floor.
         Because it had her by the foot, and not the neck... I think that's what saved her life. Barely. By the time the Toshin let her go, her shrieks had stopped. Her fight was over.
         "It would have made sense, to feel that way. But it wasn't how I actually felt, ever since I first saw her. Mistress Ling was so innocent. So childlike. She..."
         The God of War reached for Xiaoyu's soul.
         "She was the daughter I knew I would never have."
         There came the staccato blare of a gunshot. A bullet tore into the Toshin's snake-arm. The appendage healed almost instantly, but the Toshin still reacted, as it turned to confront the latest nuisance.
         Gun Jack.
         Jane had somehow gotten her giant robot operational again. It was bent on one knee, recoiling from a bullet fired out of its hand; apparently, at least one of its installed guns was working.
         +YOU HAVE NO SOUL!+
         The Toshin spread its arms and stiffened its back.
         Fire poured from its open jaws.
         "I couldn't be part of Mishima-sama's plan to murder her. Or you. Or even the young master. He may be a Devil, but he didn't ask for his damnation, any more than I did."
         The Toshin turned left and right, the better to sweep its flames. Jane screeched, and darted behind her mechanical friend.
         Gun Jack's arms crossed over its chest. There was a humming noise. A circular shield of blue energy protected the robot and its mistress from the Toshin's avalanche of flame.
         "So I turned my back on my duty. Lured my cousin away from you, when you were obviously putting together a half-baked escape plan. Let you try your best to get away."
         But the fire was relentless. Wave after wave of it surged from the Toshin's jaws, buffeting Gun Jack's shield.
         "I knew I would have to pay a price, for what I did."
         The blue globe of technological energy shrank. Gun Jack sputtered.
         The giant robot began to melt, a piece at a time. Jane could not escape. Fire washed over both sides of Gun Jack's shield; the only way out would have been through a curtain of flaming death.
         "I'm just sorry for the price my cousin had to pay. For what Mishima-sama put him through."
         A final surge of hellfire sent the half-melted robot toppling backwards. It made an oddly human cry as it fell on Jane, pinning her under its great weight. Electric streaks coursed over it, shocking the trapped young woman. She promptly passed out.
         "At least I don't... I don't have to worry about my mother. She'll be fine. Hell, she'll probably be proud. Because her son died for the House Mishima, carrying on the ancestral tradition..."
         "Will you SHUT UP!?" I screamed, turning around and yelling at him with all the wind in my dream-lungs.
         I fear ghosts. I've always feared ghosts, though I have a tighter rein on that fear than many of the Navajo tribe. I knew better than to look at this ghost, or howl at him - such rash actions could only bring me one step closer to becoming a ghost myself, whether through sickness or supernatural evil.
         But at the time, I was forced to be a witness to slaughter. Good people, noble fighters were falling prey to an abomination, and I was helpless to stop it. Until I just snapped, and screamed my hysterical distress at the wraith that had once been Mantarou Ishida.
         His teeth gritted, from a flash of anger.
         His ill temper required too much exertion to sustain for long, though. He bowed his head in despair. As if his strength was flowing out of him, along with the blood that dripped endlessly from his flayed wrists, bound in chains of bone.
         The ghost's snarl became a pained wince. He folded his bleeding arms on his drawn knees, shivering from the agony of the movement.
         "Americans," he muttered, as if it were a curse.
         Mantarou closed his eyes, and clenched his teeth.
         I realized something.
         Something that didn't make sense, on any logical level. The part of me that is always, always figuring out puzzles kicked into gear again, breaking through shock and terror, overriding my fear of the ghost.
         "Are... are you in pain?"
         Mantarou opened his eyes.
         "H-how can - you're dead, how can you feel pain? Y-you don't have a body to feel pain with-!"
         +YOUR SOUL IS OBSESSED WITH ARTIFICE.+ From the corner of my eye, I saw the Toshin advance on Jane. And I saw the pair of men who used its distraction to double-team it.
         Eddy Gordo and Tiger Jackson.
         They flanked the Toshin with a set of elaborate leaping, dancing, and kicking attacks. Jumping in the air, turning, battering it with both feet and the full mass of their bodies.
         "What the hell do you care what I feel, or how I feel it?" Mantarou's question wasn't as spiteful as you might think. He was too drained to put any real bitterness into the words.
         I flinched.
         His countenance reverted to weary despair.
         "Lee says it's because I'm trapped," the ghost sighed, looking at his chains soaked with spirit-blood. "Like Kazuya used to trap souls in the Mishima syndicate. The rest is just a metaphor."
         My flinch became a shudder.
         My shudder became a memory.
         I remembered my mother's death, as I had once seen it through Catsclaw's eyes. And I remembered what had happened to her after she died.
         For two weeks after Lee Chaolan murdered her, Michelle Chang was one of Kazuya's three thousand captive souls. One of the victims whose torture fueled his vile necromancy.
         This ghost was a victim, too. His death was only the first part of his suffering.
         Like my mother had suffered...
         "Hey," Mantarou curtly interjected. "Stop it. Stop it now."
         I couldn't help myself. I was crying.
         A single tear brimmed from my eye, and coursed down my cheek.
         "I mean it!" the ghost demanded, and for a wavering moment, he regained a little of the bad temper he once had in life. "I don't want any damned pity from the likes of you, you got that? You cut that out!"
         I turned my face away from the ghost, in time to see Eddy Gordo restraining the Toshin from behind. The capoeira master in dreadlocks had lashed his burly legs around the monster's neck; it boomed its judgement to him, and thrashed so hard that it slammed Gordo into an adjacent wall. Golden bricks smacked Gordo's head. He slipped, unconscious, from the beast.
         Gordo's efforts had bought Tiger Jackson a precious extra second, though. The retro-style capoeira master turned in a clockwise spiral. He folded as he spun, concentrating his essence in a pair of deadly leaping kicks - right-left, one immediately after the other, while keeping his upper body flatly parallel to the ground. The Toshin staggered, and howled.
         I stifled a sob, and whispered to Mantarou's ghost.
         "I said we'll free you!" I exclaimed, injury and passion seeping into my voice. "We're going to set you free - you won't have to suffer like this for much longer-!"
         "Didn't anyone teach you not to promise things you can't give?"
         Tiger Jackson screamed.
         All I remember of it is the blood. The Toshin's ogre-head and snake-arm had each dug their fangs into Jackson's body, and...
         I didn't watch the Toshin rend Jackson apart. I'd turned my face away in horror. Even talking to a ghost was better than the living nightmare before me.
         "We're going to free you," I repeated to Mantarou, hoarsely. "We'll make a Guardian of Paradise break you out of those chains-"
         The shadow of living ire dissipated from his miserable face. "Yeah, I heard. You think you can hunt down the remains of some long-dead angel, Vivaldi or Vivacoca or something-"
         "Vivarexis, the Dragon Eternal."
         "Crazy girl. Even if you could find this thing's grave, you have no idea how to resurrect it, do you?"
         +YOUR SOUL IS NEXT.+
         I did not want to see this.
         I knew in my heart to whom the Toshin spoke, and I didn't know what to do. No matter how much I tried, I couldn't wake up. I couldn't fight, couldn't communicate, all I could do was watch and I didn't want to see. I didn't want to see the fate of the Toshin's next victim.
         My neck turned in spite of myself. My heart caught in my throat; emotion choked my breath, and renewed tears gathered in my eyes. I saw the person upon whom the God of War fixed its insatiable gaze. I saw him shuddering, barely recovered enough to stand.
         Jin Kazama.
         My love for him was useless. It could not save him from the monster. Nothing could save him, except for the secret I had no way to share.
         Jin! I thought, as hard as I could. JIN!
         No answer. Either he couldn't hear my thoughts while I was in this dream-state, or he wasn't listening. He couldn't respond with a telepathic link to my mind. And I'm not a telepath; awake or asleep, I couldn't link my mind to his.
         "You," Jin said to the Toshin. "You killed my mother."
         "I'll send you to HELL!" Jin raged, lurching to attack the beast.
         But he would lose.
         I knew he would lose to the monster. Perhaps he could hurt it, like the other Iron Fist warriors had hurt it, but not for long. The Toshin was Immortal. Indestructible. Eternal.
         I could not watch this.
         There was only one way for this fight to end, and it would be with Jin's death. To see him burning like Paul, or broken like Armor King, or pulled apart like Tiger...
         I couldn't face that. I just couldn't.
         "Look here, girl. If you really want to help me, then... then you talk to the young master, when you have the chance. Ask him to take care of my cousin, and his family."
         "Jin would do that anyway," I whispered. "But the Toshin is going to kill him."
         "Nothing you can do about that."
         "Yes, there is!" I cried. "I know how to stop the Toshin, except I - I can't wake up! I can't wake up!" For perhaps the tenth time, I vainly tried to shake my sleeping body. My dream-self could not touch it.
         The ghost's eyebrows rose, a little.
         Jin cried out in pain.
         As hard as I tried not to look, I still caught a glimpse of the Toshin's snake-arm curled around his throat. The beast hurled him to the stone floor, so hard his body turned heels over head. Jin came to rest face-down.
         "WHEAAAAH-!" wailed a desperate, sickness-ravaged voice.
         Detective Lei Wulong.
         He was in no condition to fight. He shouldn't have been able to stand; he had to keep his legs spread wide and his shoulders square to avoid toppling over, as surely as to match the form of his Phoenix Style. Yet he charged the monster, with a succession of razor-fast punches, just as I had once seen him use in a fight against Jin - was it only three weeks ago?
         Lei Wulong's spirit did not fail him. It was his dying body that robbed his blows of all strength. The legendary Super Police was reduced to little more than a tsetse fly. Yet, even an insect can sting.
         The Toshin turned its brutish head.
         Wulong assumed the Art of the Tiger.
         Retracting his last punch, he brought his fists up, just below the level of his face, with his arms pointing forward. His elbows bent slightly down, and his hands opened, fingers together and upraised. His legs curved, back leg bent and resting on the ball of his foot, front leg with the knee one-quarter folded and resting on a flat foot. He was the crouching great cat, that stalks its prey in solitude.
         "You murdered my wife," growled the Tiger.
         The Toshin sucked in its breath. Sparks and flamelets whistled about its mouth, in preparation for another blazing inferno.
         The Tiger swiped with its vengeful claws.
         Wulong raked his flexed fingers across the Toshin's right eye. The God of War towered so tall that the detective had to use an overhead strike, mauling the Toshin's fevered orb like a great cat batting its prey.
         The Toshin bellowed - from pain, frustration, or outrage, I could not tell.
         Wulong's own eyes flashed blood-red. Hellfire eyes. Demon eyes.
         Wulong swayed backwards. Far back. His spine curved with feline flexibility. At first, I thought the Toshin's roar had overwhelmed him; then the detective channeled his entire body into a full-force headbutt. Right in the Toshin's midsection.
         The God of War actually wobbled. Its wings flexed, steadying it.
         Wulong tried to follow up his self-made opening with another attack, but his sickness returned to wrack him with coughs. His kick became a feet-first slide; he literally fell backward as he scuffed the monster with his right heel. Wulong refused to let his illness stop his fight; still coughing, he skidded forward on his back, stabbing the beast with his other heel. Then he turned stomach-down, using his hands to brace against the floor while he kicked high with his left leg, so fierce as to make the Toshin stagger.
         Not bad for a dying man, wouldn't you say?
         But it wasn't good enough. Nothing would have been good enough.
         The Toshin turned in a circle, whipping its scaly tail close to the floor. Its sinuous appendage struck Wulong with gargantuan strength, slapping him several yards across the stone.
         Wulong's coughing became so thick that it utterly crippled him. He could not get up a second time.
         It was Jin who rose to his feet.
         Drained of blood from the sacrifice ritual, he rose. Bruised and battered, he rose. His legs wobbled; blood dribbled from his mouth; claw-rents and bleeding gashes scored his navy blue dress suit. Perhaps worst of all, his left arm hung limp and unresponsive, as if it were dislocated. Yet despite his anguish, he rose.
         He rose to challenge the God of War.
         "You," he said to the Toshin. "You killed my mother."
         The monster turned its repulsive face.
         Jin seized his own left arm with his right hand...
         Great Spirit.
         It took me by surprise. Jin just set his teeth in a ferocious grimace, held his numb arm, and slammed his own shoulder into the Temple wall.
         Indigo electricity flared about his limb.
         Then, slowly, Jin raised a defensive guard with both hands. Right and left.
         His arm wasn't dislocated anymore.
         "I'LL SEND YOU TO HELL!" Jin repeated, consumed by his own fury.
         Mantarou snapped, "Hey! Pay attention!"
         "Wh-what?" I stammered, looking back to him.
         "I said, here's the deal. I wake you up, you get rid of that ugly monster, and you make sure the young master looks after my cousin. Got that?"
         "Y-you can do that? You can wake me up?"
         "Do we have a deal or not!?"
         He leaned close to my dream-self, adjusting his posture to rest on one knee. I cringed, wanting to hide from his pallid, bloodless face, but I was too frightened to move. And too desperate to refuse.
         "Okay," I whimpered.
         "On the count of three, you hear? One..."
         I cast my eyes down, to the sacrificial pit filled with Mantarou's blood.
         "Two... look at me, girl. Look at me."
         I raised my head.
         And he slapped me.
         Open-handed blow, on the left cheek of my dream-face. Spirit-blood flew from his savaged wrist, and his bone-chains rattled in a hideous cacophony. It was so fast I had no time to react, and so jarring that it made me dizzy. My head spun. My teeth hurt.
         My eyes whisked open.
         A sticky sensation permeated my hair. Heaven's Dagger throbbed in my right hand.
         I was awake.
         Lying in the sacrificial pit where I had fallen. Aching, shaken, and biting my tongue from the aftershock of being slapped. But I was awake, and Jin needed my help.
         I didn't stop to thank the ghost that I could no longer see. There was no time, and any platitudes would have been valueless. The only way I could truly thank him would be to keep my promise.
         And to release him from his prison.
         This I vowed I would do.

         What do you mean, our time is up? There was a time limit? Do you have another appointment to keep?
         With whom?
         So. Jin finally caught up with you.
         Mm-hm. Have your interviews been going all right? You... you haven't been triggering his memory block too much, have you?
         I see.
         You should be able to talk to him about the Toshin. I think. It shouldn't trip his memory block. The worst part didn't happen to him until after the monster was gone.
         Because even though the Toshin almost killed Jin, it attacked him only from without. Lee had to black out Jin's memories as a last resort against an even deadlier enemy. An enemy that neither logic, nor love, nor Heaven's Dagger could exorcize.
         The enemy within.

February 22, 2018
9:15 p.m.

         Thank you for coming.
         I was half afraid you'd skip out on me. I know you're reluctant to interview me anymore, and I'm finally beginning to figure out why. The real reason why.
         And the reason behind the reason.
         There's an emptiness in my mind. Whenever I try to think too hard about certain things... usually, I just get a blank slate. Lately, though, bits and pieces have begun to filter through. Sometimes they're enough to get a general idea, but so many parts are missing. Gone. Even though I'm sure they used to be there, once.
         I have to talk to Lee and Julia about this, and it has to be videotaped in case I black out. Can you get the equipment set up by tomorrow evening?
         Thank you.
         Have you decided whether you'd be willing to mediate? Or just observe? It would be helpful to have your input. At the very least, someone has to work the cameras.
         Um. I didn't think about that.
         All... all right. You have my tentative permission to include tomorrow's discussion in your record, providing that Lee and Julia agree. I don't think they'd have any reason to refuse, though.

         Okay. Now for my interview. What do you need me to talk about?
         I see.
         No, it's all right. I was just thinking...
         This is one part of the record that I want to set straight. Above all.
         Because you see, I've been hailed as the hero who vanquished the God of War. I've even been credited with saving the world. The truth is, I've been getting more credit than I deserve.
         I want to let the world know what really happened. Who they should really thank. I'm honored to have my contribution recognized, but you have to understand, that's all it was. A contribution.
         Because if it had just been me against the Toshin - or Grandfather and me against the Toshin, as we had originally planned - then I would have failed. We would have failed. Perhaps we would have doomed the Earth.
         Has Julia already told you about this?
         It's just as well. I know that she saw everything around her in a dream-state. Her account of the battle against the Toshin is probably a lot more accurate than mine would be. After all, I'd lost a lot of blood right before the monster showed up, and I hovered in and out of consciousness during parts of its murderous rampage.
         What I remember most clearly is the second time I took its true form on in single combat. After my father Wulong pushed his dying body past its limits, to buy me a little more time.
         My father...
         It was his cancer that felled him, more than anything the Toshin did. Leaving me to face the God of War alone.
         I was the last person standing. Everyone else was injured, dying, or dead.
         I attacked.
         I remember screaming that I would send the Toshin to Hell. Here was the monster that had murdered my mother, and destroyed my life; I hated it with a vengeance that can't be aptly put into words. It wasn't just that I wanted it dead. I wanted it to suffer; I wanted to make it hurt like it hurt me. Like it hurt my mother.
         My mother...
         The need to avenge her fueled me, invigorating my body and galvanizing my soul. It didn't matter that this beast had crushed practically everyone else in the Iron Fist. It didn't matter that I'd failed against the monster before. I wanted to hurt it, and I wanted to kill it, and that was all that mattered.
         So I charged the Toshin with brute force, channeling my hatred into my Ki, just like Grandfather had taught me to do. Stepping far forward, I speared the Toshin's gut with my right fist. Hitting it once was not enough to slake my thirst for vengeance; it wasn't even enough to wet my throat. I alternated hands, punching the Toshin's scaled underbelly twice more, each time more intense than the last.
         The God of War retaliated with the mirror of my own move.
         A precise reflection of my form, my stance, and my swing - better than precise, it was an improvement. Effortlessly compensating for the differences in its inhuman body. Concentrating its force more severely than I ever could have. The Toshin struck me in the solar plexus, just as I had struck it.
         That put a stop to my fight.
         The shock on my system was too great. I cried out in reflex, and clutched at my tormented intestines. My legs were no longer functioning. They folded, leaving me on my knees before the monster that yearned to devour my soul.
         This was when Julia hit it from behind.
         I didn't get an extended look at her, because I was too busy collapsing, but I do have a freeze-frame image in my mind. I remember Julia in her white bridal dress, spattered with blood, poised with her right arm lifted high. She clutched Heaven's Dagger in her right hand; the artifact gleamed luminous gold, with flashes of inset ruby-red. And I remember the courage on her face; raw determination equal to my own, yet with a crucial difference.
         She was free of hatred.
         It was not rage, revenge, or even pride that led her to ambush the Toshin. Only one desire flared in her soul, and that was to protect those most dear to her. She was not fighting to settle a personal score. She was fighting to save the world.
         With her purpose guiding her hand, she buried Heaven's Dagger in the Toshin's back.
         The result was cataclysmic.
         All of our other attacks - fists, feet, weapons, and sorcery - had done little more than annoy the monster. Its rate of self-healing was phenomenal; even when a few Iron Fist warriors succeeded in injuring the beast, it reconstituted the damage within seconds. Yet when Julia attacked the Toshin, it was not merely hurt. It was flailing in agony. A fiery glow surrounded it, as bright as the radiance from Heaven's Dagger.
         I struggled to get back up. To take advantage while the Toshin was helpless.
         I wasn't quite fast enough.
         The monster spasmed, wildly. Its heavy reptilian tail collided with Julia, hurling her away. She hit the wall of the Toshin's Temple.
         She hit the wall so hard...
         It was a miracle she didn't lose consciousness. Or perhaps it wasn't completely a miracle; perhaps Professor Yabuki's training had taught her how to weather the impact.
         She was still hurt.
         The Toshin raged and flapped its wings, without summoning enough leverage to fly. Its fiery coating burned, but the flames were becoming dimmer. The source of the Toshin's pain - Heaven's Dagger - had been ripped out of its body, and the damage would soon heal. Julia clutched her weapon in a tremulous grip, as she slumped to the floor.
         I raced to her side. I think her vision was blurry, and she couldn't quite focus on me.
         "Jin..." she murmured.
         "Hold still. I'll heal you," I whispered, touching her head - she had an awful concussion, and her back had taken a hard jolt-
         No time.
         It wasn't that I consciously established a telepathic rapport with her. The moment I touched her, she concentrated her will into a singleness of thought. Her determination was so great that I would have been hard-pressed to ignore it, even with my strongest mental barrier.
         Julia's hand shook, as if with a palsy. She held out Heaven's Dagger to me, hilt first.
         I'm not leaving you like this, I thought back, through our link. I can heal her, I know I can heal her, I just - just have to focus - have to summon up the strength-
         If you don't stop the Toshin now, we are all dead!
         Again, it wasn't just that she thought it through the link. The emotional drive behind her words was so intense, so riveting, that I had to stop and listen. I had to accept that she was right.
         Then lie still, I thought back, accepting her gift of Heaven's Dagger. I'll heal you as soon as I destroy that monster!
         Jin, wait! Before you can use Heaven's Dagger, you have to know that the Toshin is really-

         A wave of pain from Julia's injuries unbalanced her, interrupting her center of thought. Ripples of her suffering affected me too, though I did my best to get past it and face the God of War.
         The fire on its body had gone out.
         Its fevered red eyes fixated on Julia.
         That was all the distraction I needed. Lunging for the Toshin, I screamed "I'll send you to HELL!"
         I plunged Heaven's Dagger into its shaggy throat...
         ...and I may as well have nicked it with a pocket knife.
         There was no golden fire. No backlash of injury from the monster. There was nothing. It registered me as little more than an irritating flicker, just as it had when I'd fought it with my bare hands.
         The beast jerked its shaggy head back, withdrawing its neck from the knife, and now it was swinging its massive tail at me. It spun its whole body around, using centripetal force to accelerate the blow that crashed me into the wall, next to Julia.
         This hurt.
         It was hardly the first pain I'd felt, or the most intense, but it still hurt. On top of everything else.
         The Toshin spun its body in another revolution. Its tail slammed me a second time, sandwiching me between demon scales and hard stone.
         This hurt more.
         I was close to passing out again. Dangerously close. I knew that I was dead if I lost consciousness, but in the time it took for me to have that thought, I was already on one knee. Whereas the Toshin was rapidly healing its cut throat; in a few more seconds, it would attack me again, and I...
         ...I didn't know how to fight it...
         Why wasn't Heaven's Dagger working!? It worked for Julia; why wasn't it working for-
         Jin. You need the Toshin's true name.
         I know its name.
         Julia clasped my free hand in her own.
         Her touch, combined with her raw willpower, did more than just strengthen our telepathic link. It deepened the bond, interlaced our feelings. I was thinking her thoughts almost as much as hearing them.
         Julia showed me the Toshin's name.

         It may sound simple to you. After all, a name is just a label, isn't it? Nothing more than a collection of spoken or written syllables. So that all Julia had to do was tell me the correct label, and with that collection of syllables in mind, I could use Heaven's Dagger to vanquish the Toshin. Right?
         A real name... a true name...
         In matters of sorcery and the soul, a true name is more than a spoken word. It is what you are. It is your essence, your definition; the values that shape you, the drives that move you, and the vices you succumb to.
         A true name isn't merely a label applied to you. A true name is you, just as you are your true name. And if I do not have some idea of what you actually are, inside and out... then as far as my sorcery is concerned, your name may as well be a string of nonsense syllables.

         My mother taught me all this, a long time ago. She taught me how name-specific spells, or even normal means of persuasion, are always stronger if you know the true nature of what you are trying to influence. Julia knew this too; I think Catsclaw taught her. And so, Julia showed me what she had to, in order to make me understand. In a consolidated eyeblink, she showed me a collage of her memories, and foremost among them were her very recent memories of Lee Chaolan.
         The angel.
         I saw him through Julia's eyes, heard him through her ears, remembered him as if her memories were my own. They were my own. They always would be.
         I listened to what Lee had told her, and I understood the Truth.
         Only I didn't understand.
         It was not on any rational level that I resisted what Julia was showing me. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have realized that she had to be right, because she had just used her knowledge to damage the Toshin.
         No, I did not deny the Truth out of logic. It was blind emotion - rage, grief, and madness - that made me refute what was real.
         The Toshin had murdered my mother. It destroyed my happiness, my whole world. It left me helpless and angry and crying inside, because I failed to save my mother, I was too weak to save her. This beast was a foul thing, an unholy abomination. It could not be what Julia claimed it was!
         This could not be true!
         I was staring at the monstrosity even now; at its grotesque body, and at the black vortex of hunger inside it. I could not believe - I refused to believe-
         The knife-wound in the Toshin's throat was gone, by that time. Fully healed. The monster was closing in on us.
         It was going to murder us and take our souls. Heaven's Dagger, the only weapon that could hurt it, rested in my hand. But I could not believe, could not accept the knowledge I needed to use the artifact.
         Again, Julia took control of the link. In the time it takes to inhale, she showed me the evidence for what she knew.
         I heard the Toshin's true voice, resonating its message deeper than thought.
         I heard Lee Chaolan's true voice, resonating its message deeper than thought.
         I saw the Toshin copying the attack of Anna Williams.
         I saw Lee copying the shield spell of Professor Yabuki.
         I saw the Toshin recovering from mortal wounds.
         I saw Lee recovering from an explosion that had left Professor Yabuki near death.
         I saw the Toshin possessing Nina Williams, channeling incredible Power through the assassin's mortal form.
         I saw Lee Chaolan possessing Bryan Fury, channeling incredible Power through the detective's mortal form.
         Jin, think! Think about what you know! The Toshin is deathless and powerful; it can mimic people's moves, regenerate its injuries, control mortal vassals, and it has an abiding interest in souls! Who else is that like?
         Yet it was Julia's strength of will, even more than her logic, that forced me to consider the Truth. To actually hold and contemplate it, rather than dismiss it out of hand.
         It still seemed unbelievable. So unbelievable that if it were true-
         -if it really were true-
         Then Heaven had committed an unspeakable crime.
         Though I understood why Julia might be correct, it was so hard for me to accept - so hard to believe that this was what had killed my mother - that I needed to confirm it. Personally.
         Raising my head, I matched the Toshin's fevered stare.
         I said, "Is this true?"
         I knew that the God of War was sensing our thoughts. It was telepathic like me, and it constantly used its Power to read the souls of its enemies. So that I did not have to explain what I meant. The Toshin knew.
         The jaws of its snake-arm distended, wide enough to swallow a man.
         "Is this true?" I repeated, stronger. "Are you the same as Lee Chaolan!?"
         The Toshin roared.
         Not like before. Not out of pain, or animal reflex.
         Spreading its wings their full width, it roared. Throwing back its shaggy head and dropping its fanged lower jaw, it roared. Bracing its legs and lashing its tail, it roared. Shooting a skyward gout of flame, it roared.
         It was insulted.
         It was mortally insulted. When I compared it to Lee, it reacted with such contempt - such outrage - that I knew Julia was right. She had been right all along.
         Now, I knew what Julia knew. I knew what the Toshin was. I knew its true name.
         Knowledge is Power.
         Power even greater than the God of War.
         And so, in that timeless moment... in that moment between worlds and lives, birth and death... in that moment when the Toshin vomited fire to the full moon above... I plunged Heaven's Dagger into its exposed chest.
         Into its very heart.
         A brilliant gold conflagration sprang from the point of contact.
         Again, the golden glow enveloped the Toshin. Flame, its wings; flame, its limbs; flame, its fur; and flame, its fevered eyes. The fire burned, and seared, and held it to my will. Though it thrashed like the speared game animal it was, I held my ground, and I focused my Power.
         My sorcery - normal sorcery - was useless against the Toshin. But not the sorcery of Heaven's Dagger.
         "By your victims' blood do I bind you," I told it, absolute and irrefutable. "By the Strength of my soul do I bind you."
         +NO,+ it boomed, flailing its wings without lift, contorting its limbs without being able to pull free. +NO, YOUR SOUL CANNOT DARE TO HOLD MINE-!+
         "By your own true name do I bind you!"
         The Toshin howled an ululating cry.
         "VIVAREXIS!" I screamed, and the fire consumed all.

         The Toshin was mine.
         Bound to me. Under my control. Imprisoned in flaming agony, slave to my will.
         For a time.
         I could hold it for long enough, though. Long enough to have what I wanted. Anything I wanted.
         What I wanted was for it to feel pain.
         This monster had destroyed my mother. I wanted it to hurt, the way it hurt her. The way it hurt me. I wanted it to suffer, I wanted it to burn, and I was glad it burned.
         Then, I wanted it to die.
         But it wouldn't die.
         It burned before me, the fire of Heaven's Dagger holding it in excruciating torment, but it would not die.
         It would not die!
         Why wasn't it dying? Why couldn't I kill it?
         "WHAT is wrong!?" I shrieked, to the monster I'd been too weak to save my mother from. "WHY WON'T YOU DIE!?"
         +I... CAN... NOT...+
         Julia took my free hand.
         She must have crawled to my side. I could feel the affliction in her, the pins and needles running through her back; she was incapable of standing upright. Yet she had resisted the hurt, and the shock, and the strain; she'd overcome all of it to drag herself on her elbows. She reached for my hand, and clasped my hand, and only then did I realize she was calling me.
         Vivarexis is Word-bound to Eternity. He can't be destroyed.
         "No," I sobbed.
         I was crying, I think. No, I'm sure of it. I'd devoted myself to this. Ever since the Toshin murdered my mother, four and a half years ago, I had dedicated my life to destroying it. My body and soul had been trained, honed, focused on one goal: revenge. I had to kill the Toshin, killing it was what I lived for, I had to-
         The Toshin was railing against its cage of fire. But it wasn't the monster's strength that eroded the prison; it was my own weakness. Holding the Toshin bound exacted a monumental strain, fast depleting my final reserves.
         Jin. You can't destroy the Toshin, but you can end its menace. You're the only one who can save us from it. You're the only one who can save the whole world.
         If I couldn't kill it - if it couldn't be killed - then how? How could I...?
         Heal it.
         Again, it was not reason that prompted me to think that - I was well past any rational frame of mind, perhaps even pushing the limits of sanity.
         Vivarexis is sick. An eon ago, he fell to the Entropy of the Shao Kahn, and it corrupted him. You need to heal him. You have to heal him.
         This thing had murdered my mother! How could I - how could Julia expect me to-
         To reward it?
         To repay its slaughter with kindness?
         Jin, look. Look at it.
         I looked at the horrific monstrosity, burning in a cage of fire.
         No. Not with your eyes. Look with your mind. Look with your Power.
         I can't...
         Look beneath the surface. this...
         Look into its soul.
         ...can I?
         I looked.

         But it wasn't just that I looked.
         Julia's link with me was so strong - so close - that I saw the Toshin through her eyes. Through her soul. And her soul was...
         Free of hatred.
         I... I hated the Toshin for killing my mother, but Julia...
         Julia had also lost her mother. Her mother Michelle Chang, who died at the hands of Kazuya Mishima and Lee Chaolan. At the hands of my family. Yet Julia had learned not to hate my family. She had learned to forgive Kazuya, for being possessed by the Devil. She had learned to forgive Lee Chaolan, for living in fear of the Devil. And she learned to forgive me, for having the blood of...
         ...of..., I'm fine. Damn. Although, I guess I'm lucky I went for this long, without losing my train of thought.
         What I'm trying to say, is that Julia knew how to let go of her hatred. And she tried to show me how to let go. She showed me...
         She showed me the Toshin.
         Guided my own Power, and helped me peer into its soul.
         Into its damnation.
         Into the boiling black vortex that contaminated it. Into the Entropy that defiled its flesh and strangled its spirit.
         She showed me its Hell.
         This was the Truth behind the Toshin - the real Truth, above and beyond all others. The Truth about the thing that had once been Vivarexis, strongest of all the Guardians of Paradise.
         The Truth, and the irony.
         I had suffered. My mother had suffered. All the Toshin's victims, dead and alive, had suffered terribly. But the real Truth - the ultimate irony - was that the Toshin had suffered most cruelly of all.
         Unable to escape. Unable to die. Poisoned and enslaved for thousands of years, by the sickening touch of Entropy itself.
         Jin, please, Julia begged, a plea of heartfelt love and mercy. Won't you heal it?

         Blinking away the last of my tears, I summoned my Power of Healing.
         It wasn't enough.
         The Toshin's contamination was too deeply entrenched. Far beneath the surface of its scaly skin, Entropy festered. Trying to cure it was like polishing the outside of a rotten piece of fruit.
         I redoubled my efforts.
         My Power seeped through the outer layers of the Toshin's essence. Heaven's Dagger amplified my will, and Julia gave freely of her own life-force. She was my reagent, fueling my struggle against the void of Entropy.
         It still wasn't enough.
         I strained, and I strained. Reached with my Power, my heart, and my soul. For Julia. Because I loved her, and her love for me had shown me the Truth. I gave everything, and when that was gone, I reached into the store of my own life support, striving to heal the Toshin.
         It still wasn't enough...
         ...until I heard the singing.
         It came from inside the destructive vortex I was trying to heal. Had it been there all along? Or did it just begin when I...
         ...I knew this song. I knew the voice that was singing it. Her melody was as clear, beautiful, and loving as it had been over four years ago.
         As it had been a lifetime ago.
         This was her favorite song to focus her Power of Healing. It was the first spell she ever taught me.
         Julia heard the song, too. She was so deeply linked to me that she felt it through my mind.
         And then...
         Julia started singing in harmony.
         Where did Julia learn to sing? I... I've been meaning to ask her that for the longest time... you don't know, do you?
         I'll have to ask her later, then.
         It didn't matter where she learned, though. Technically, I don't think it really mattered that she was singing. What made the difference was her strength. The nobility, kindness, and love in her soul, supporting me. Just as my mother's soul was supporting me.
         Only purity within and purity without could close the wound that was Toshin.

         Now, I hope you can understand why I wanted you to make this record. And to make it public.
         I'm popularly credited with defeating the God of War, and ending its menace forever. That's not completely accurate, though. Yes, it was my hand that felled the Toshin, and my Power that healed the Toshin, but I didn't cure it by myself. I couldn't have.
         Julia Chang deserves the credit.
         My mother deserves the credit.
         I was just... the middleman.

         The Toshin started to change.
         It grew in size, doubling, tripling, expanding further. The snake's head of its right arm split and lost its eyes; its fangs transformed into elegant claws. More claws sprouted from the Toshin's left arm, and from its feet. The hair on its body fell away, except for a lion's mane around its neck. Its midsection warped, becoming longer, more sinuous, with powerful coils. Most of all, its face changed. Its horns bent backward. Its maxilla and mandible protruded, while its skull flattened and became longer.
         The sigils on the Toshin's snake-hand and left upper shoulder started glowing. The green-black scales underneath the sigils flaked away, dissolving into nothingness. Underneath the Toshin's grimy old covering shined the gleam of fresh scales, scales that were a different color.
         Purest white.
         The white radiance spread, coating the beast's skin, stretching from elongated jaws to reptilian tail. The holy glow reached its burning eyes...
         ...and at long last, the fever was gone.
         Its eyes burned with pure white fire. Same as Lee Chaolan.
         It was the Toshin no more.
         I remember being on my knees. I'm not sure if I had collapsed out of exhaustion or adulation, but I remember looking above me, and being struck dumb with wonder.
         Wonder for the vision on high.
         Its shining white coils twined over my head - over us all, for it gained effortless lift with its gigantic, white-feathered wings. Wings that did not flap to keep it aloft. Wings that simply spread, and let it float with the divinity of its Power.
         Angel wings.
         Its form was tremendous, yet graceful. Powerful, yet exquisite. Long, slender jaws adorning its lithe crocodile head. Holy radiance, humbling us before a servant of the divine. And eyes... eyes of resplendence everlasting.
         This was a Guardian of Paradise.
         This was Vivarexis, the Dragon Eternal.
         "It..." Julia mouthed, in a whisper. "It's beautiful..."
         The voice of Vivarexis had changed.
         It was as omnipresent as ever, but no longer programmed and sickened. Its reverberations were like a symphony. A symphony that would play to the ends of Time, and beyond.
         *AT LAST, I CAN GO...*
         Vivarexis ascended, rising toward the full moon above.
         I said, "No."
         The Dragon Eternal paid me no heed.
         I screamed, "NO!"
         Heaven's Dagger pulsed in my hand.
         The cage of fire returned.
         It seemed so insignificant, stretching around the shining scales of Vivarexis. Little more than a collection of loose threads. I doubt that I truly held the Guardian captive. More as if I tugged on its tail.
         "You can't leave," I breathed. I was weak, trembling, thoroughly drained from healing the leviathan, but my determination was my strength.
         My determination, and my pain.
         "You can't just leave!" I yelled, to the endless being above. "You've murdered hundreds of people, maybe thousands! Maybe more!"
         The dragon's white fire eyes blazed.
         It could have destroyed me, as easily as listened to me. I suspect it was tempted to do just that. But it refrained.
         I did not hesitate with my answer.
         "I want them back.
         "All of them. All the people you murdered, or that Nina Williams murdered under your control, or that other people murdered in your name! I want you to restore all of them to life, starting with my mother!"
         "No!" I cried. "NO! You're the strongest Guardian there is! You MUST have the ability to bring them back! To bring them ALL back!
         "To bring my mother back..."
         "But you've already violated the Sanctions! You've spread murder and destruction as the Toshin! How can you hide behind the rules you've broken, instead of making amends?"
         The white fire of Vivarexis' eyes became a revelation.

         Once upon a time... once, an indefinable eon ago... the Divine Sanctions were not absolute Law. They were merely suggestions, guidelines.
         Guidelines that were frequently ignored.
         Gods, angels, and Devils walked the Earth - no, not just the Earth. They walked the surface of countless living worlds, endless alternate dimensions.
         And they interfered.
         Some fought their private wars. Some experimented on whole societies. Some tried to 'help' living beings, while others enjoyed tormenting them.
         Even back before it was expressly prohibited, Vivarexis did not interfere with living mortals often. Only rarely.
         Very rarely.
         And yet...
         There was once a petty lord, who will remain nameless. A good and noble lord, of a faraway world called Edenia. The petty lord cared deeply for his people. So virtuous was this lord - so pure was his soul - that when an assassin's dagger cut him down, Vivarexis dared to interfere. He granted the dying wish of a true and honorable man.
         He made the petty lord Immortal.
         Vivarexis also made the murder weapon into Heaven's Dagger, a holy artifact innately connected to the Dragon Eternal.
         The petty lord did not die. Vivarexis' gift made him indestructible for Eternity. The lord lived, ruled wisely and well, and was much beloved by his people.
         For millennia, he lived, and he was an exemplary ruler.
         The years stretched on and on...
         ...and the petty lord started to feel ennui.
         Boredom encroached on him. Not all at once. It was step by step, as countless days passed and he remained Immortal. He started to look further and further for diversions that could amuse him.
         Then, he started to look for Power.
         He reached the point where only Power could interest him. Could alleviate the tedious monotony of his eternal Life. He did not want to die, for he feared that Death would only prove to be more boring than Immortality. The petty lord became a warmonger, conquering his neighbors with battle tactics honed by centuries. Still, he could not amass enough Power.
         Until he used Heaven's Dagger to reach a new source of Power. A source that promised to end his boredom for all time.
         The petty lord became the living vassal for Entropy itself. He became the Shao Kahn.
         Queen Sindel of Edenia learned this too late to save anyone, least of all herself. The Shao Kahn conquered her world, murdered her husband, and claimed her as his bride. She took her own life to escape. She killed herself with Heaven's Dagger, and as she died, she prayed for Vivarexis to rescue her soul.
         Vivarexis tried.
         And failed.
         The Shao Kahn ambushed the Dragon Eternal. Entropy engulfed Eternity, corrupting it inside and out. Vivarexis was reforged into the hideous Toshin, a programmed weapon designed expressly to slaughter worlds and absorb souls.
         Yet, as weapons go, the Toshin was a little too effective. The Shao Kahn didn't want to eradicate worlds all at once; he wanted to savor their annihilation. He wanted to give the pathetic mortals a sporting chance, the better to assuage his eternal boredom. So that when a courageous band of Earth's inhabitants used Heaven's Dagger to seal the Toshin away, the Shao Kahn only watched, and laughed.
         The Shao Kahn turned the paradise of Edenia into the wastelands of Outworld. Then, he became the source of the Great Invasion, as his Entropy threatened to consume the Earth. His murderous onslaught claimed over a billion human lives, until the resurrected Queen Sindel banished him to the ends of Time.
         While the Toshin remained behind its hidden seal. Waiting. Hungering. Suffering.
         The rest you know.

         The vision faded to sheer, starry white, the white-fire stars that were the Dragon Eternal's eyes.
         "You created the Shao Kahn?" I whispered. "You were responsible for the Great Invasion...?"
         "But I - I'm not asking you to make anyone Immortal!"
         At this point, I think I remember hearing a distant background voice. Gruff, strained, and desperate. The voice of an old man, nearing the end of his allotted years.
         "Make me Immortal..."
         It was so far away - so removed from the wondrous vision overhead - that I hardly registered the voice's drifting plea. I didn't really listen to it at all. It was just there.
         "Give me... Immortality..."
         But even if I had been paying attention to the voice, I wouldn't have wanted Vivarexis to grant any such request. The Shao Kahn's origin was vibrantly fresh in my mind.
         Gazing on the shining white dragon above, I cried, "I just want you to return the lives that you took! Can't you see the difference? Lee Chaolan broke the Sanctions to save people's lives! If he hadn't come back to the world of the living, he couldn't have told us your name, and we wouldn't have been able to heal you!"
         *IT IS OUR WAY.*
         "NO!" I screamed, in a last, despairing appeal. "You can't fly away from all the destruction you've created! You CAN'T!"
         My murder?
         Was Vivarexis predicting that I would be murdered, or that I would murder someone else? I... I must have understood at the time; his true voice communicated all. But I can't remember anymore...
         Jin, please - listen to me-!
         Julia was calling me, through our telepathic link.
         She showed me a picture in her mind. An unconscionable wrong, for which the House Mishima was responsible. A promise she had made to her own heart.
         I gazed upon the Dragon Eternal, and I spoke the words that she lacked the strength to say.
         "If you can't bring the dead back to life, then you will still help them. You will serve and protect the souls of all your victims - all of them! All the souls you've killed, all the people Nina Williams assassinated while under your control, and all the others murdered in your name! You will guide, defend, and provide for ALL the souls who have suffered because of you, for as long as they need you! And you will start by freeing the soul of Mantarou Ishida!"
         That provoked a reaction.
         Vivarexis had indulged my presumption before. But now...
         Now, it was insulted.
         But I was not going to back down.
         "You do NOW!" I screamed. "I've bound you with Heaven's Dagger! I'm NOT letting you go until you GIVE ME YOUR WORD!"
         The Dragon Eternal roared its wrath. Its opalescent scales glowed so brightly as to make me snowblind.
         Yes. I did.
         Julia cleared her throat.
         She was too weak to speak audibly; she was practically mouthing the words. Yet I could still hear her, even as Vivarexis heard.
         "That would be interfering with the living domain, remember?"
         Julia raised her brown-black eyes to the shimmering dragon above.
         "Heaven itself allowed you to fall. And then, Heaven concealed your fate. Rather than let it be known that you had become a thing of darkness, Heaven neglected to inform its own about you. Lee Chaolan told us your true name, but he did not know what had happened to you. He could not think of a Guardian of Paradise as fallible, or corruptible. What Lee did to help us - what we all did save you - wasn't in accordance with the ways of Heaven. It was in spite of them.
         "Pride caused your downfall. Pride caused Heaven to deny that you fell.
         "You are the most Powerful of all Guardians. If you can't let go of your Pride - if you can't humble yourself enough to help the souls you have hurt - then you won't just be condemning them. You will condemn all Heaven by your example, and you will condemn yourself.
         "Because if you won't lift a claw to set Mantarou Ishida free... then you are no better than you were as the Toshin."
         Vivarexis roared again.
         It was the dragon's wrath made manifest. A sound to shake the walls, and crumble the foundation under our feet. Yet Julia's will remained firm.
         As did mine.
         The dragon's roar faded to resounding echoes.
         *YOUR SOUL IS STRONG AND PURE,* Vivarexis told Julia. It had once said the same thing to my mother, moments before it killed her.
         "And what about your soul?" I demanded, of the lofty Dragon Eternal. "You're so quick to judge the souls of everyone else; what verdict do you put on yourself?"
         Vivarexis fanned his sparkling white wings.
         The sparkle became a meteor shower.
         The meteor shower became a supernova.
         *I CAN GO... HOME.*
         Everything went white. The blinding white of Eternal purity.
         Somewhere, in a place beyond physical senses, I felt an impression. Heard a faint noise that wasn't.
         The snap of breaking chains.
         An uncharacteristically quiet thought addressed me, through the dreamland expanse of boundless white.
         Thank you, young master.
         I didn't have any response to make. Inadequate apologies died hollow in my throat.
         You will look after my cousin and his family, right?
         "Yes," I whispered, closing my eyes. "I promise."
         I'm holding you to that.
         When I opened my eyes, the overwhelming white radiance had faded. All that remained of it was a distant, floating star. A star that grew smaller and smaller, until it disappeared in the midnight sky.
         Vivarexis, the Dragon Eternal, was gone from this world.

         I suppose you think it all ends there?
         I wish I could think that, too.
         If only it had ended there.
         But it didn't. I know it didn't, except...
         This is where my memories start to break down.

         One thing I do remember, though, was the voice.
         "No, come back! Come back!"
         It wasn't Ishida's soul, this time. It was a living voice. The voice of an old man, approaching the end of his years.
         I knew that voice. Knew it very well.
         Grandfather howled like a wounded wolf.
         He had recovered enough from his injuries to sit up, and vainly stretch out his hands to the full moon. Nothing answered him. Vivarexis was long since gone.
         "My immortality..."
         Grandfather stood. Slowly. Unsteadily. His swords dangled at his hip.
         Grandfather looked down on me.
         I remember feeling his emotional state. He was beyond shock. His greatest hope, his greatest dream, the one thing he had dedicated himself to, had been shown to him. Shown, and then denied.
         "You took it away... you took it away forever..."
         Grandfather wasn't just enraged. He was far past the natural limits of frustration, or hate. Only one thought burned in him. Only one thought was left to consume his soul.
         I had no strength left to reason with him.
         Fighting the Toshin had battered me. Healing the Toshin had sapped even more vitality. Convincing it to help souls in need had swallowed up the rest.
         I had nothing left with which to face Grandfather. I could barely raise my head.
         "Grandfather?" I mouthed, without comprehension.
         Because you see, I still didn't understand.
         I didn't understand that Grandfather was... sick.
         I'd thought that he had been under the Toshin's sway. I'd thought that he had done terrible things to Julia and me because the God of War was controlling him. Now that the Toshin was healed and gone, I didn't understand what was wrong with him, or why he had such monumental hatred for me.
         Julia understood, though.
         She tried to defend me, but she couldn't make it to her knees. She was as drained as I was. Grandfather knocked her aside with a single kick.
         Then he turned on me.
         Though I raised Heaven's Dagger, I was not trying to use it against Grandfather. I was making an incognizant gesture with both hands, pleading with him.
         His fist crashed into my face.
         His other hand seized Heaven's Dagger, and pried it from my grasp.
         "Grandfather, no!" I begged, and through flashing red and black spots before my eyes, I saw him.
         This, I remember most clearly of all.
         I remember Grandfather, with Heaven's Dagger in his upraised hand. He rocked back on one leg; the deadly weapon gleamed overhead. Streaks of his indigo Ki crackled about his knife-hand. His jet black eyes were dual pits of endless hatred.
         Hatred for me.
         He was going to murder me. There could be no mistake.
         And there was nothing I could do about it.
         I had no energy left. I could barely move, much less fight. My Power was useless. Even if I had been able to summon it, Heaven's Dagger made Grandfather immune to my sorcery. And when he used Heaven's Dagger to stab me, my Power would not save my life. What Heaven's Dagger cuts, sorcery can't heal.
         I tried to get up. To restrain Grandfather. To roll out of the way. To do something, anything, I tried to get up, I swear I tried.
         I couldn't do it.
         All my strength had been sacrificed. I couldn't get off my hands and knees. I could hardly keep my eyes open.
         Grandfather was going to murder me, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Nothing.

         That's the last clear image I have.
         Then, it really starts to break down.
         It's only recently that I've become fully aware of it. There is a gaping emptiness in my mind, traceable back to this point. When I try to remember further, it...
         ...bits and pieces...
         I have to talk to Lee and Julia about this.
         I have to know what happened.
         Not just for the record. For myself, too.


Subject: For your eyes only
To: [name withheld]
From: Vice-president Lee Chaolan
Date: February 23, 2018

It has recently come to my attention that you will record a discussion between my nephew, Julia Chang, and myself this evening. I know what this truly concerns, and what is at stake. Julia does not know, though I believe that she suspects, and is in denial of her suspicion.

Regardless of what is to come, you have my permission and Julia's permission to monitor the discourse. We also give you leave to include a tape or transcript of the confrontation in your record, if you see fit.

I pray that it will not be the last time any of us see Jin Kazama alive.

[signed] Lee Chaolan

End of Chapter 29: Closing the Wound