PHOENIX REBORN

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



Chapter 31: Devils Within


   "Yea, indeed, he did not err, there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment."
   The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not recognise, usurping the place of his own image in a glass. It was one of those moments -- which sometimes occur only at the interval of years -- when a man's moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye.

         -Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter


INTERVIEW WITH JULIA CHANG, section 16
February 24, 2018
7:45 p.m.


         I've put this off for a long time, haven't I?
         I mean, it's been over two weeks since you ran yourself ragged, trying to learn why Lee and I put a memory block in Jin's mind. I said I wouldn't tell you until the time was right, and now...
         Now, I'm out of excuses.
         Now, you have to know. Because Jin wants it in the record, even if his block prevents him from being able to understand it.
         You have to know.


         Well... I guess you're right. I should start from where I left off.
         When Catsclaw brought me home.
         It had been approximately one month since I'd run away to the Mishima syndicate, chasing daydreams of glory and triumph. I'd learned what it is to have your spirit crushed by a pixie, rebuilt by a madman, and tested against a hero. I'd seen sorcery, deception, slaughter, and a ghost. I had masterminded the victory over a world-devouring monster, and witnessed the self-destruction of the statesman who had wronged my family.
         The Toshin was gone. Heihachi Mishima was dead. My grandfather and mother had been avenged.
         And all I felt was sick.
         At least Catsclaw got me a change of clothes, before I arrived home. At least I wasn't wearing that torn, bloodstained bridal dress when I hugged my grandmother. Catsclaw burned that awful garment.
         But he couldn't burn away the blood in my memories.
         I thought of the Toshin's victims - not just Paul, Tiger, and Armor King, but also those who were murdered in its name: Mantarou Ishida, twenty ill-fated linguists, and all the cannon fodder of Nina Williams' possessed rampage. If I had been only a little smarter...
         ...could I have used Heaven's Dagger to summon Lee Chaolan any sooner than I did? Could I have learned the Toshin's secret in time to prevent its depredations?
         I thought of Lei Wulong, Super Police. How I would have been butchered in a blood sacrifice ritual, if not for the rescue mission he mounted. How he ultimately took the knife in my place.
         And I...
         I thought of Jin.
         To me, Heihachi Mishima had been a monstrous dragon. But Heihachi had also been Jin's beloved grandfather, and Jin had been forced to destroy the old man.
         I thought of what that had cost Jin. The pain I'd felt, through a telepathic backlash.
         I was in tears when my grandmother embraced me, at the door to our home, but I don't think she knew why.


         Grandmother had a curative ceremony held for me.
         She sold her vid-phone to pay the expense - the very vid-phone which the Mishima syndicate had installed in her dwelling, one month past. She almost disconnected our new phone line entirely, but Catsclaw persuaded her not to. He installed an ordinary telephone in the vid-phone's place, so that we could call him anytime there was need.
         For four days and nights, shamans chanted over me. Sang over me. They cast drypaintings of colored sand, and enacted the ancient rituals to purify my illness.
         It did help me, some. I wasn't physically hurt, or sick with a disease; my pain was all on the inside. I can't say if there's any ceremony that will truly heal the horror of talking to a ghost, or being a witness to murder. But it's good just to know that... that people care. That they're trying their best to help you.
         Catsclaw cared deeply for me. My grandmother loved me. The medicine men of my tribe were using their great wisdom to soothe my ailing heart. Yet the one thing I could not do among any of them - even my grandmother - was talk about what I had been through. It was like the time when I experienced Catsclaw's memory of my mother's death, all over again. I closed up inside, and hardly spoke to anyone.
         Instead, I went back to living at home. Tending the house, mostly, and helping Grandmother peddle her weavings. Even tried to get better at the craft, myself.
         I still couldn't weave worth a damn.
         I felt that I should get another job, or something, but Grandmother told me not to start looking yet. She said that I needed time to rest, and I suppose she was right. So I settled into the rhythm of my old life, and tried not to let my mind wander too much.
         I tried not to think of Jin.
         The last time I had seen him, he...
         Did he blame me for his grandfather's destruction? Could he? Though I was Heihachi's blood enemy from the beginning, I didn't mean for the old man to be killed. Jin must know that, I would say to myself; he must...
         Then I would start thinking of how much Jin had hurt inside, the last time I touched him.
         Besides, I... I hadn't heard anything from Jin, since I'd come home. No letters. No calls. Not that he really needed a pen or a telephone to communicate with me; he could reach across the world telepathically if he wanted to, and speak directly to my mind.
         Couldn't he?
         And since I... since I hadn't heard from him...
         He probably didn't want to see me again. Ever.
         Jin...


         The piece of me that's always searching for answers was inexorably drawn to the news. I went to the library and read various newspapers. I'd also watch the news on television, in the window of this one electronics store.
         It was astonishing.
         The Mishima syndicate scandal, as it came to be called, was all over the place. Front page of every paper, lead story of every broadcast news show.
         It would seem that, when Wulong devised the rescue mission to stop Heihachi's blood sacrifice ritual, he also arranged to document proof of Heihachi's crimes. He'd had Jane videotape the events, through a camera behind Gun Jack's eyes. Almost everything was caught on film: Heihachi's attempt to murder me, the Toshin's return, and much of the brutal battle. The Toshin had incapacitated Gun Jack at one point, so that there was no tape of the Toshin's redemption, but the giant robot had resumed working in time to record Heihachi's confession.
         With a blood-soaked dagger in his right hand, Heihachi Mishima had openly admitted to the murders of Lei Wulong, Bernard Chang, Kazumi Mishima, and countless others. It was all preserved on videotape, as was the old man's doom. Wulong's and Heihachi's deaths were legally ruled a murder-suicide, largely on the basis of this tape.
         However, Lee's subsequent rescue of Jin happened to be a little bit outside the camera's field of view. As far as I know, there remains rampant public disagreement as to whether an 'angel' saved Jin Kazama from his own death-link. Yet, I suspect it was this incompletely captured miracle that shoehorned Jin into being the new President of the Mishima syndicate. How could anyone else lay claim to the job, when Heaven had already ordained Heihachi's successor?
         Heihachi's self-destruction was only the beginning of the Mishima syndicate scandal, though. As soon as Jin Kazama and Lee Chaolan became the President and Vice-President of the syndicate, they instigated sweeping reforms. They immediately hired professional muckrakers to ferret out the syndicate's corruption, and there was a lot of corruption to find. Headline after headline was about buried evils brought to light, reparations being paid, lawsuits talked over for settlement, criminal charges in the works, and so on.
         I tended to skim over such stories, though.
         Jin was not present at Heihachi Mishima's funeral. It was Lee Chaolan who eulogized his adoptive father - and no, it was not difficult for Lee to paint a glowing picture of the old man. Not even with Lee's pathological compulsion to tell only the truth. Whatever else Heihachi Mishima may have been, he was still the global leader whose syndicate brought peace, food, and stability to the world, in the wake of the Great Invasion. These things will always be a part of him, and of his memory, as much as the greed and cruelty that corrupted him.
         Maybe... maybe that was also part of Kazumi Mishima's legacy. Though her senseless murder twisted Heihachi into a fiend, perhaps her memory preserved a tiny piece of the man she had once loved. The piece that used his syndicate to work miracles, even as the rest of him plotted his own damnation.
         Incidentally, Heihachi's funeral was held without a corpse. In a print-only public statement, Jin admitted that he had buried his grandfather in the same volcano where the old man had laid his wife to rest, forty-four years ago.
         "I took him there by helicopter, and cast him out while we were in mid-flight," Jin explained, according to what I've read. "I failed to save him. The only person I can think of who might... who might be able to help his soul... is my grandmother. So I sent him to be with her."
         Of course, the tabloids seized on this, and printed all sorts of incendiary articles about Jin Kazama's alleged insanity. Yellow journalism ran rampant with rumors about him. This was actually nothing new, but the latest dishrag insinuations were that Jin was becoming increasingly reclusive and paranoid, even as his father Kazuya had once been.
         I remember reading a tabloid article to this effect, and wondering if Jin was coming under suspicion just because he had chosen an unorthodox means to bury his grandfather. Could there really be any truth to these accusations? Should I... should I try to contact Jin...?
         No. No, if Jin wanted to see me - if he didn't blame me for the death of his grandfather - then he would call. Or write. Or something, he would-!
         He would...
         I turned a page in that tabloid, and was drawn into another article. This one was about Lei Wulong. Of course, it was a shock to the whole world that the Hong Kong superstar had been married to Jun Kazama, and raised Jin Kazama as his stepson. But that wasn't what this article was about.
         Detective Lei Wulong's funeral was the day after the funeral of Heihachi Mishima. Wulong's partner, Detective Tracy Wong, eulogized him in a speech that still pulls at my heart. Jin attended only briefly; according to the tabloid, he was so grief-stricken that he staggered outside in tears, halfway through the requiem. Jin also had the Mishima syndicate organize a separate memorial service for both Lei Wulong and Jun Kazama, on Japan's Yakushima island.
         Besides Jin, though, attendance at the Hong Kong funeral for the legendary Super Police was mostly restricted to Wulong's friends and coworkers, particularly those in law enforcement. Bryan Fury was there, too. I've read that somehow - please don't ask me how, though I think it might have been something in Wulong's living will - Bryan was invited to take the pulpit after Tracy, and speak a few words about the deceased. It was a minor scandal, because Bryan had recently been revealed to the world as a former drug-runner. Specifically, he had just been granted immunity from prosecution for his lengthy criminal past, in exchange for court testimony exposing the Mishima syndicate's underworld network.
         Despite the dirty looks he received from various police officers, Bryan took the pulpit as he was asked. He said exactly one sentence:
         "Wulong kept his deals."
         As far as I know, this is the closest that the one-time 'Snake Eye' of Interpol has come to praising anyone. Ever.
         But this wasn't what really startled me. The unbelievable thing in the tabloid article was that...
         That Lei Wulong's funeral had also been held without a body.
         You know that living will I mentioned? Lei Wulong had drawn it up roughly four years ago, which is to say, several months after Heihachi took away his stepson. Wulong updated his will a few times thereafter. The last update was shortly before Wulong entered the Iron Fist Tournament of 2017.
         Most of the will wasn't terribly unusual. All of Wulong's effects were to be offered to Jin first. Any items that Jin refused were to be auctioned off, with the proceeds donated to a trust fund for the families of crippled and slain Hong Kong police officers.
         Jin gave the go-ahead on the auction for everything. He allegedly said, "All those who cherish my father's memory so greatly that they would offer their wealth to his cause... all those whose loved ones have suffered and died to uphold the ideals he held dear... they are the ones who truly deserve his legacy."
         The auction raised over half a billion dollars. That's not even counting the rights to Wulong's name and life story, which were also willed to Jin Kazama. Wulong's inspirational life and tragic death immediately became fuel for all sorts of documentaries, biographies, movies, and so on, most of which are still being written or filmed. There are also assorted movies and specials about Heihachi Mishima in the works, from what I understand.
         But as I've been trying to explain, Lei Wulong's will was the reason why his funeral was held without a body. Lei Wulong donated his mortal remains to the exclusive custody of an unknown man. The tabloid didn't have many details, but I can tell you a little more about the person who was legally granted sole custody of Wulong's cadaver. This man is a scientist and a warrior-mage, with a sorcerous Power over elemental Ice, who once fought beside Wulong in the Great Invasion. I don't know his real name, but I can tell you his alias:
         Sub-Zero.
         Apparently, when Wulong's cancer had relapsed and conventional treatments proved ineffective, he had sought Sub-Zero's help. The scientist had given it, extending Wulong's life by a crucial extra year - for a price. Sub-Zero had wanted the chance to thoroughly study Wulong, an ex-demon in human form. For the sake of Science, or so I've been told.
         As Bryan suggested, Wulong was not one to break his deals.
         Yes?
         Well, Lee has told me almost everything I know about Sub-Zero. Lee and I needed a cutting-edge specialist to monitor Jin's condition; so, Lee tracked down Sub-Zero through the contact information in Wulong's will. Sub-Zero was only too glad to promise his assistance, in exchange for the opportunity to study Jin. I'm not sure I trust that cold scientist, but Lee did make him swear on the Sword of Truth not to cause Jin harm. I suppose that will have to be good enough.
         Sometimes, I feel almost as desperate as Lei Wulong must have been.
         Hm?
         Jin has... agreed to keep visiting Sub-Zero for study, at intermittent times. I can tell that Jin isn't thrilled about it, though. I know he'll be even less thrilled if he finds out that Sub-Zero is the one who took custody of his stepfather's remains. Perhaps it would be best if that's one secret we neglect to tell him.


         I think it was January 9th when...
         Well, even though it had been a week since Catsclaw brought me home, I was still a long way from recovered. The morning before, I'd awakened to a pillow damp with tears. And that night...
         Julia-!
         I remember sitting bolt upright in bed, hugging myself in the cool darkness - ever since the Toshin's departure, the weather had returned to more seasonable patterns. It was still a warm winter, and has remained so, but no longer absurdly warm.
         Julia... help me...
         What?
         Was - was that-
         ...please...
         "Jin?" I called, even as I thought his name in my mind, but the memory of contact was already slipping away. In another second, I could no longer be sure if I had really heard him, or if it had been just a dream of my wishful heart.
         I buried my head under the covers, and went back to sleep.
         The next morning, I couldn't get the 'dream' out of my mind. I couldn't even bring myself to step out of the house...
         ring
         Our telephone was ringing.
         It was the first call we had received from anyone. Excluding telemarketers.
         With a trembling hand, I picked up the receiver, and held it close to my ear.
         "Chang residence?" said a quiet voice on the other end. Not a telemarketer. I knew this voice. I remembered the smoker's rasp that detracted from its otherwise kind and gentle tone.
         It wasn't Jin's voice.
         I slammed down the receiver before I realized what I was doing.
         The next morning, there was a package on my doorstep. A big package.
         Its return address was the Mishima syndicate headquarters in Tokyo. Assorted stamps and stickers declared that it had been sent by overnight air mail.
         I was quivering inside, when I opened the box.
         It contained my effects. Everything I had worn or carried to Tokyo, including my headband with the red feather. Everything that I had obtained while I stayed at the Mishima syndicate, including the fighting gloves that Shingo Yabuki had given me. Everything.
         Well, almost.
         One of my possessions was missing. There was, however, a handwritten letter inside.
         It was not Jin's handwriting.


To Ms. Julia Chang:

Your possessions should be enclosed. I apologize for failing to return them sooner.

I have deemed one of your belongings to be too valuable to entrust to parcel delivery. With your gracious permission, I would seek to personally return it tomorrow morning.

This is not the only necessity that leads me to approach you. I beg a personal audience with you, to discuss a matter that should not be written of here. Please. Do not turn me away. I appeal to you out of desperation.

         When I saw the name signed at the bottom, I decided to burn the letter. Not that I held ill feelings toward the one who had written it, but for my grandmother's sake.
         I told my grandmother that a friend from the Mishima syndicate - someone who had saved my life - was coming to visit tomorrow morning.
         "Do you wish to see this person again?" she asked, neutrally.
         That was a good question.
         "Yes," I realized. If for no other reason than my relentless curiosity. Exactly what was this matter that couldn't be discussed via the mail?
         "Then let this guest be welcome in our home."
         The next morning, I donned my feathered headband and fighting gloves as if they were protective armor. At around nine o'clock, there was a knock on our front door. I answered it. My grandmother remained seated in the back room; I'd urged her not to trouble herself getting up.
         Our guest was dressed in blue-and-white pants, marbled in a camouflage pattern, and a sleeveless vest. A light blue cloth was tied around his left arm. His head was somewhat bowed in humility. Bullet scars pockmarked his bare chest, and there was a savage knife-scar down his left eye. He looked like Detective Bryan Fury, except for his auburn irises.
         "Lee?" I said, very quietly.
         "Yes," he confirmed, with a nod. "Bryan is asleep, right now."
         "At least you know better than to come here looking like yourself."
         Lee respectfully held out a small black box, in both hands. I took it from him, and opened it.
         Inside was Heaven's Dagger, the sacred treasure of my tribe.
         The treasure had been cleaned of blood, and changed from its bladelike form back to a golden medallion. Lee had even threaded a new beaded necklace cord through it.
         "May I..." I think he was going to say 'come in,' but he changed it to, "May I please speak with you?"
         "Are you capable of entering my home if I don't invite you in?" I asked, solely because I was curious.
         He answered softly, and humbly. "No. I cannot cross the threshold against your will, because your home is warded specifically against me."
         "It is?"
         "Yes. The protective sorcery is recent. It has the feel of Catsclaw's work."
         I didn't see Catsclaw put any spells on our home, after he brought me back. Then again, I hadn't been in a very observant state of mind.
         "You know him well, don't you?" Lee said, distantly. "He must be close to you and your grandmother. The essence of his sorcery reflects how much he cares about you."
         "Catsclaw has told me about you, from the Great Invasion," I replied. What I didn't say aloud was the nightmare I had once relived in Catsclaw's memories - the time when he had helplessly watched Lee murder my mother. "Do you remember him, too?"
         "Yes."
         "Really."
         "He challenged me to a fight, after... after your mother's death. I won. I almost sent him to follow her, yet I decided not to. It is one of the few choices in my life that I do not regret."
         Catsclaw never told me about this.
         I wonder if he was embarrassed over losing to Lee?
         "You may come inside," I allowed, "on one condition. I don't want you to tell Grandmother who you are. It would only upset her."
         "There is a chance that she will recognize me."
         "I doubt it. The only giveaway is your eyes, and her sight isn't so good anymore."
         Lee acknowledged that with a nod, and stepped inside.
         "Grandmother?" I said, bringing Lee to the back room. "This is Bryan Fury. He came to return the sacred treasure." I showed her the medallion, inside the box.
         Lee bowed.
         Grandmother didn't even look at him straight-on. As soon as he finished his bow, she glanced to me and said, "You did not tell me that your friend was possessed."
         What?
         I was stunned. Lee showed no surprise.
         "By a holy spirit," Grandmother continued, evenly.
         Lee looked ill at ease. "I... I am not worthy to be called such a thing."
         "You saved my granddaughter's life, did you not?"
         "Ah... yes. Once."
         "Then you are worthy. Please, be welcome here." She gestured for Lee to sit. He complied. "Do you seek a private audience with my granddaughter?"
         "Yes. Please."
         "I shall be on the back porch." My grandmother turned to me and said, "Julia, bring our guest some refreshments, and come to me when you are done."
         Moving in a daze, I absently fetched a few homemade flour tortilla chips and brought them to Lee.
         "How did she know?" I breathed.
         "Actually, it is quite possible that she does not know who I am."
         "But - but she - how did she know you're an angel?"
         "I am not an angel," Lee stated, with a single shake of his head.
         What?
         He had denied being an angel before, but it never made any sense to me. "Lee, how can you say that? I've seen what you are. I've seen your true self."
         *This?*
         There was a brief, blinding flash of light.
         Perhaps one day, I'll be accustomed to Lee's true form. Perhaps. But at the time, I quailed from the beauty of the radiant angel.
         *Julia, do you think that all Guardians of the Grey Kingdom look like this? Shining white, with feathered wings?*
         "Uhh..."
         *Such is not the case. Many of us have true forms that are as we appeared in a mortal life, or that are entirely discontinuous from the common realm of shapes.
         *Do you know what this form of mine is? What it truly is?*
         I couldn't make any answer, in the presence of the angel's holy light.
         *It is your mother's joke on me, Julia.
         *Your mother's soul showed mercy on mine. When I appealed for the chance to atone, she sponsored me to become a Guardian. It was Michelle Chang who, as my sponsor, selected the true form into which I was remade. She made me look... 'beautiful.'*
         It's startling enough to see an angel in your living room. It is even more startling to see an exasperated angel.
         *I suppose it is one more aspect of my penance,* Lee sighed. *At least souls in need do tend to find this form more comforting. I should be grateful that your mother granted me a sword, instead of a harp.*
         In the space of a helpless shrug, Lee shed his angelic appearance, reverting to Bryan Fury's mortal body.
         "But you..." I swallowed, and tried to regain my composure. "But you do the job of an angel, don't you? Helping out 'souls in need'? Doesn't that make you an angel, in the ways that truly count?"
         "I find it hard to believe that you are debating this with me. You, of all people."
         "Why?"
         "Do you truly need me to answer that?"
         "Why don't you want anyone to call you an angel?"
         Lee briefly fell silent.
         When he spoke again, it was in a heavier tone.
         "Your mother discovered Heaven's Dagger on her twentieth birthday.
         "It showed her visions of a dark and violent future - visions of what would be the Great Invasion. Captivated by its dreams, she made the lethal mistake of wearing it openly. My brother Kazuya learned that she had it; Mishima syndicate spies had been watching her reservation, ever since Bernard Chang took the hiding place of Heaven's Dagger to his grave.
         "My brother sent me to obtain the medallion. Yet Michelle had already disappeared, pursuing one of her far-ranging quests. No one could say where she was, and Kazuya did not know her well enough to locate her through sorcery.
         "So, my brother and I resorted to a fallback plan. We kidnapped her mother.
         "Your grandmother.
         "I personally led the raid to capture her. We ambushed her in the middle of the night, yet she sensed our coming, and put up a powerful struggle. Most of her furnishings and part of her house were demolished. I got the better of her because I had prepared a chloroform rag; even so, she killed one of my men before I could get close to her. It was after this disastrous incident that I started using tranquilizer rifles, the better to instantly render my victims helpless with sleeping drugs.
         "Kazuya had me leave an enchanted mirror on the wall of Michelle's house. When she came back, and saw the wake of my destruction, Kazuya's image appeared in the mirror. He told her that her medallion was the ransom for her mother's life. Michelle was so outraged that she smashed the mirror with her elbow, and sprinted away on a mad drive for vengeance.
         "But when we eventually captured her..."
         My mother's death was as vivid in my mind as it had been in my nightmares.
         "Stop it," I hissed. "I don't want to hear any more!"
         "Because you already know?"
         "Yes," I admitted, refusing to show weakness.
         "Then you know that I am not an angel," Lee stated, contritely. "I am only a murderer, serving my penance."
         That was the first and last time I have ever tried to debate the subject, with him.
         "Julia... I will answer any question of yours that is within my knowledge and my rights to answer. Yet there is a greater reason why I have come to you, and why I appeal to you now."
         "Which is?"
         "My nephew. Jin Kazama."
         A shiver settled in my heart.
         "Did - did Jin send you?"
         "No. He did not."
         "But - it was you who called the other day, wasn't it? Was that on Jin's behalf?"
         "Yes, it was I who called, yet I did not do so at my nephew's request. I wished to speak with you about him." Lee inclined his head. "I... I should have tried to contact you sooner. I am sorry."
         He was more than merely apologetic. His voice carried guilt. Shame. Repentance as only an angel can feel it - even if I can't argue the point with him, he is an angel, whether he will believe it or not.
         It occurred to me that this must be very difficult, for him. Having to revisit the scene of his past crime, for which he was already burdened with remorse.
         "Is Jin angry with me?" I asked, more subdued.
         Lee furrowed his borrowed brow. "Not that I know of. Why would my nephew be upset with you? You have saved his life more than once. You helped him vindicate his mother's sacrifice, and redeem the Toshin."
         "But... but I..."
         I shuddered, and let my eyes fall to the floor. "His grandfather..."
         "That was not your fault. You were only a witness to Heihachi Mishima's self-destruction. My nephew knows this, as surely as I."
         "Then why - why hasn't Jin tried to contact me?"
         Or had he?
         That telepathic call in the middle of the night - had it really been more than a dream? If it had been more than a dream, then why had it faded when I woke up?
         "I do not know my nephew's motives for certain. The one thing I can say for certain is that I am very afraid for him.
         "Jin is not taking the loss of his stepfather and grandfather well. Of course I expect him to feel tremendous grief, but this - this is not healthy. My nephew...
         "He is shutting himself off from us.
         "All of us. Everyone in the syndicate. Even me, or perhaps I should say, especially me. At first he would interact with us to help other survivors, and make arrangements for the dead. Yet his contact with us has steadily decreased, and now he will no longer talk to us at all.
         "He has been spending an excessive amount of time in the pocket dimension that holds the shrine to his ancestors. Yesterday, he sealed himself inside, and he has been refusing to come out ever since. Only those with sorcerous Power, such as myself, are able to force our way within.
         "He will not leave his shrine. He will not speak. And he... he will not eat. He has been refusing food for three days; it was only by threatening to carry him out that I coerced him into drinking a little water."
         "Can you take him out of the shrine by force?" I probed, warily.
         "I could try, yet I fear that resort would lead to disaster. My nephew is very Powerful, and his pocket dimension is highly conducive to his sorcery. Also, I think... I think that the ordeal he recently suffered has expanded his capabilities. If I were to challenge him outright, I am not certain that I could overpower him without destroying him."
         "Then why come to me?"
         "Jin will not talk to us, but I believe that he will talk to you. Please, Julia. Help him. I beg you."
         "How?"
         "If you can only persuade him to break his fast, and leave his shrine..."
         "But Jin doesn't want to see me. Does he?"
         "That, I cannot answer."
         I didn't know what to do.
         My heart was telling me to go to Jin. Yet my head was shouting all sorts of warnings, not the least of which was what running away to the syndicate - again - would do to my grandmother. My desertion had been terrible enough for her the first time.
         Jin...
         "I wonder," I whispered to myself, "what Sherlock Holmes would do."
         "I don't fucking believe this."
         My neck stiffened.
         Lee's vocal tone had changed. It was deeper, and much more callous. His posture lapsed into a lazy slouch. He scooped a fistful of the tortilla chips I had set out, and crammed them in his mouth.
         Oh, and his eyes had changed color to green. As if I needed to look for that.
         "I thought you were sleeping," I muttered, to Bryan.
         "A rock couldn't snooze through your whining. Both of you," Bryan grunted, talking with his mouth full. "God, this stuff is dry. You got any Indian drinks?"
         "How about a can of motor oil?"
         Bryan looked seriously vexed.
         "Look, Brainiac girl, you get this straight. I'm a cyborg. Not a robot. A CYBORG! I got human guts inside, same as you!"
         "Oh?"
         He glared at me.
         I glared back.
         "Some, anyway," he mumbled, finally breaking eye contact. "So. Why the fuck are you still here? Your precious pretty boy is going schizo without you."
         "Then why hasn't he tried to contact me?"
         "Oh, who knows. Maybe because he's going SCHIZO!" Bryan shouted, throwing up his arms. "For the love of God, will you come back and knock some sense into that basket case!?"
         "How? What - what would I do when I saw him?"
         "I dunno. Give him a blow job?"
         Before I could make any response to that, Bryan squinted his eyes, and clapped his hand over his forehead as if it hurt. Badly. "For Christ's sake-! It was only a suggestion!"
         Bryan took his hand away from his forehead. "Look. No one is going to make you do anything you don't want, especially not me. But if you like having free will, then make your own goddamn decisions! Don't give me this 'what would Sherlock Holmes do' crap. I'm already this close to throwing up those chips."
         Hey.
         "Sherlock Holmes is my idol!" I defended, hotly.
         "Julia. Little girl. Sherlock Holmes is make-believe. So are Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy."
         "Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person - Doctor Joseph Bell, a teacher in Edinburgh-"
         "I don't care if he's fucking based on God himself! Since when do you let imaginary people make YOUR decisions for YOU?
         "It was not Sherlock Holmes who figured out what the Toshin was, and how to stop it. It was not Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or the tooth fairy. And it wasn't any of us, either - not even Lee! The damn monster was an angel like him all along, and he never knew it!
         "You figured it out.
         "You used what you'd figured to save the world.
         "Don't ask what Sherlock Holmes would do. I used to deal coke to Sherlock Holmes. Ask what Julia Chang would do. She's the only one who's earned the right to decide YOUR life.
         "Now, since you're too inconsiderate to fetch me a drink, I'm getting myself a glass of water. You do have running water here, don't you?"
         Actually, we did. Catsclaw had the plumbing installed eighteen years ago, when my grandmother found me.
         I didn't respond to Bryan, though. I hardly paid attention when he rooted through our kitchen, because the wheels in my mind were turning over what he had said.
         What would Julia Chang do?
         Not the weak, scatterbrained Julia Chang, who had run away from the messy fallout of her half-baked quest. The strong Julia Chang. The Julia Chang who had fought Jin Kazama to a draw. The Julia Chang who had, despite all odds, found it within herself to challenge the Immortal Toshin.
         I asked myself, and listened to the answer.
         "Julia Chang would keep her promise," I said aloud, as Bryan returned with a half-full cup of water.
         "What promise is that?" he mumbled, idly chugging his drink.
         I remembered the fateful night when I had tried to save Jin from Heihachi's deathtrap.
         What I want is for you come with me, as quickly and quietly as you can. Will you do that? Will you use your Power to hide us, and to stun anyone who gets in our way?
         Willll... will y' stay wi' me, if I do? Stay wi' me, 'n th' synd'cate...?
         I promise you I'll think about it.

         Jin had been drunk, when he asked that of me. But I had been sober when I agreed.
         I'd promised him that I would think about staying in the Mishima syndicate, yet I'd never seriously considered it. Not when Catsclaw took me home, nor all the days since.
         I had to keep my promise. At the very least, I had to think about living in the syndicate. With Jin. I would not know enough to make my final decision until I saw him again.
         However, I didn't tell Bryan any of this. Instead, I pressed him on something that I was curious about.
         "Why do you care? I thought you wanted to help Jin only because of some 'deal' you made with Lei Wulong. You've kept your end of the bargain, right? So what difference does Jin's happiness make to you?"
         Bryan choked, and spat out a mouthful of water. All over our handwoven rug.
         "Goddamned metallic-tasting crap. What are you trying to do, give me lead poisoning?" he growled, wiping his mouth. He tossed away the water cup. It was made of hard plastic, so it bounced on our wooden floor.
         "Why do you care, Bryan."
         He bared his teeth at me.
         I kept my face blank.
         "I'm not Lee, you nosy brat. I don't play Twenty Questions free of charge. You want to know, you have to trade me something. You have to promise you'll come back to the syndicate, and try your damnedest to help the pretty boy."
         I'd already resolved to do that. "You have my word."
         "Lee says I can trust you. He'd better be right. I don't let anyone jerk me around, especially not know-it-all little girls.
         "I'm stuck with Lee, you got that? He keeps me alive. I have to share my body with an angel roommate for the rest of my days, unless by some miracle the syndicate finds a way to keep me going without him.
         "I'm also stuck with him mentally.
         "When he's asleep, I hardly feel anything in my mind. But he's not always sleeping. Sometimes I have to put up with him when he's awake. Let's see you try to think straight, when the angel in your head is freaking out over his precious pretty boy nephew!
         "The pretty boy means more to Lee than... than anything else in the world, I suppose. Doesn't make sense to me - what's that brat ever done for him? - but what the fuck do I know.
         "I need your help. If the pretty boy goes catatonic, or God forbid offs himself, then I won't just have an angel in my skull. I'll have a wretched, miserable, pathetic angel in my skull.
         "For the rest of my fucking life.
         "If the pretty boy decides to self-destruct of his own free will, fine. But he had better be sure that's what he wants. He'd better have the guts to say it to his girlfriend - that's you. I'm not going to have Lee crying on my shoulder for anything less.
         "Now. You promised. Off we go." Bryan said it so abruptly that it took me a moment to respond.
         "I, uh, have to tell my grandmother first."
         "Make it quick."


         My grandmother was in her rocking chair on the back porch, working methodically on a simple piece of knitting. I once asked her why she likes to knit; she just smiled and said, "To take a break from my weaving."
         "Grandmother?" I called, gently.
         She set her knitting in her lap, and turned her head.
         The sun sparkled on her face. Reflected light glimmered on two shallow tear-trails, leading from her eyes.
         I tried to say something, but my heart caught in my throat.
         "You are leaving, aren't you?" Grandmother said, tonelessly. "You are going back to the Mishima syndicate."
         "I..."
         "Why?"
         My voice failed me again.
         "For what reason do you wish to leave your home?" Grandmother continued, trying to hold back her emotions. "Are you not happy here?"
         "Y-yes, I am," I reassured. "Very much. I love this land, Grandmother, and I love you. I've always loved you."
         "Then why?"
         "Because... there's someone who needs me."
         "Is it Jin Kazama?"
         This caught me by surprise. "H-how did-?"
         "I heard you call his name, three nights past. You sounded deeply forlorn."
         "Grandmother, do you know who Jin is?"
         "Catsclaw has told me a little about him."
         "Jin... he's inherited the House Mishima, but grandmother, I swear this to you: Jin is a good person. He saved my life more than once. Together, we used the sacred medallion to end the Toshin's menace. Grandmother, please, you have to believe me; Jin is the kindest young man I have ever-"
         "I believe you," my grandmother assented.
         I nervously bit my lower lip.
         "Do you have feelings for this kind young man?"
         There were so many butterflies fluttering inside me, I could barely vocalize my answer.
         "Yes, Grandmother. I love him."
         Grandmother looked up at the sunny sky. It was a beautiful winter day; fluffy white clouds drifted across a background of pastel blue.
         "The heavens did not look like this, when I found you," she said, blinking from the sunlight. "They were colored grey. The grey of when I lost my husband, and my daughter. Ever since I found you squalling, under the brooding sky, I knew that one day I would lose you as I lost them. I knew that one day, I would lose you to the House Mishima.
         "When you spoke to me from within the syndicate, one month ago, it was the most terrifying hour of my life. I feared for you. I was in agony for you. Each hour after, I lost a little more of my will to live, because I knew your destiny could not be changed. Night after night, I cried for you, because I knew I would lose you to the House Mishima.
         "But I never imagined... never dreamed...
         "I never dared to hope that it would be like this."
         Grandmother eased herself out of her rocking chair.
         Grandmother took me in her loving embrace.
         "I was terrified of losing you to murder," she sobbed, sadness and joy blended into a devoted whole. "I never thought I would lose you to love."


         By the time I stepped back inside my home, Lee had retaken control of Bryan's body. Lee assured me that the syndicate would provide for all my needs: clothing, personal articles, and so on. It was not necessary for me to pack.
         "Take Heaven's Dagger with you," Grandmother said. It was the first time I'd heard her call the sacred medallion by that name.
         I looked at her with renewed surprise.
         "You are its custodian now," she told me.
         "But I - I don't know what to do with it."
         "You have already done the unimaginable. You have used it to conquer the Toshin. Trust in yourself, my granddaughter. Trust in the wisdom of your own heart."
         I removed the feathered headband of my mother, so that I could more easily thread Heaven's Dagger around my neck. Then I put the headband back on.
         It was the first time I felt truly worthy of donning Michelle Chang's legacy, ever since my humiliating defeat in the Iron Fist Tournament. Perhaps it was the first time I was at all worthy of wearing either the headband or Heaven's Dagger.
         Lee had a Mishima syndicate hoverjet waiting for me, a few miles from my home. Our flight to Japan passed quickly, though Bryan found the trip boring enough to fall asleep en route.
         It's funny...
         I don't think Tokyo had changed much, since the night when I had first arrived in a Mishima airlines jet. It isn't as if Godzilla had blasted the city with his radioactive breath. The buildings weren't really smaller, and the streets weren't truly quieter. I guess the difference was pretty much inside of me.
         Ling Xiaoyu and Heishiro Mitsurugi met me at the front gate of the Mishima syndicate headquarters. They accompanied me to the antechamber that contained Jin's interdimensional portal. Both of them were very worried about Jin.
         "Julia, you gotta help him, you gotta!" Xiaoyu cried. "He won't come out of his funny pocket-world no matter what I say! I threatened to beat him up and drag him out and it was like he couldn't even hear me!"
         "I have a bad feeling about this," Mitsurugi added. "The last thing the young master would tell me was that my transplant would continue working fine, regardless of what happened to him."
         'Transplant'? Did Jin give up a kidney for Mitsu, or something?
         "Is what Jin said about your transplant true?" I inquired.
         "Of course it's true; that's not the point. The point is, he said it as if... as if he wasn't sure what would happen to him. Julia, I'm afraid he might hurt himself. His time could be running out as we speak."
         Mental note: must grill Mitsu about his transplant later.
         "Then I will see him now," I declared. "Wait here. Both of you."
         "I shall open the portal," Lee stated.
         But he couldn't do it. Not at first.
         "What's wrong?" Xiaoyu piped up.
         Lee frowned. "My nephew has sealed the portal with sorcery."
         "Can't you open it?"
         In a flash of brilliant white, Lee resumed his angel form.
         He spread his wings and gestured with both hands. His white-fire eyes blazed with concentration. Ultimately, the increased Power of his second attempt was sufficient to slowly force open the indigo-white portal.
         I was careful not to trip, as I stepped through the mystic gate. Lee followed me.
         The pocket dimension was just as I remembered: a square-shaped, riveted steel floor, adrift in a seemingly endless black void. Those mysterious, soft spotlights with no visible source tracked the angel and me.
         A third spotlight shined on Jin.
         Jin...
         His bangs were no longer swept back in the style of Kazuya, but rather dangling over his forehead like usual. He was wearing nothing but a set of drawstring pants, left leg black, right leg with a pattern of flames reaching up to the thigh. I'd seen him wear pants like that before, usually while honing his fighting skills. Only this time, the patterned flames were deep blue fading to white at the ankle, instead of red fading to bright orange.
         Jin was kneeling before the shrine to his ancestors. The shrine was only a little different from the last time I had seen it; there were still the portraits, the names, and the great mirror off to one side. However, the shrine had sustained a few additional offerings, and the photographs of two more people.
         Heihachi Mishima and Lei Wulong.
         The entire collection of portraits had also been rearranged. Now, Wulong's photograph was next to Jun Kazama's, while Kazuya's picture was grouped with Lee's. Heihachi's photograph was alongside the photograph of his wife Kazumi.
         *Jin?* Lee called. *Julia has come to see you.*
         Jin did not answer.
         "Could I talk to him alone?" I whispered, to Lee.
         Lee seemed a little indecisive, at first. Then he curled one of his shining wings around himself, and plucked a single quill from his own pinion.
         Lee touched his radiant white feather to my hair. The feather's glow subsided, and its tip turned as dark as my own tresses.
         "What are you doing?" I asked.
         *In your home culture, wearing a feather is a privilege earned through your brave deeds, is it not?*
         "Uhh... well, that's the tradition."
         *May I borrow your headband?*
         I took it off and gave it to him. He slipped his black-tipped white feather next to the cardinal red one.
         Do you know, that red feather isn't the same one my mother wore during the Great Invasion? Her headband lost its plume in her last battle. When I turned sixteen, Catsclaw took me on a special quest to find a new feather, and restore my mother's legacy.
         *You have shown great courage, in opposing both my father and the Toshin. You deserve to wear this proudly.* Lee returned my headband, now ornamented with two tall feathers.
         I put it back on. "Uh, thank you. Very much."
         *I have attuned my feather to you. As long as you wear it, you can always contact me. You simply have to direct your thoughts. It is not necessary for you to think my name; all you need is the desire for me to hear, and I will hear.*
         Wait a minute...
         "You're a telepath?" I gasped. "Like Jin?"
         *As a Guardian, I do have some Powers that resemble telepathy.* I think Lee communicated that part directly to my mind in order to test our connection. *However, the scope of my abilities is much more limited than Jin's. I cannot engage in a true telepathic exchange unless part of me is in physical contact with another being. When you wear your headband, I can only overhear thoughts that are expressly directed to me. I cannot eavesdrop on any of your thoughts that are not intended for me to know.
         *Call for me when you are ready to leave this dimension, or if you need my help for anything else. I will come.*
         Lee bowed to me, and recreated the exit portal. It closed as soon as he stepped outside.
         Leaving me alone with Jin.
         I approached him, cautiously. He made no move. As I came closer, I could see that his hands were resting on his knees, and his eyes were half-closed. His skin was a little paler than usual; it was especially noticeable in contrast to the jagged black brand on his left arm. His body was somewhat gaunt, and his lips were cracked from lack of moisture.
         "Jin?" I said. "It's Julia. Can you hear me?"
         No answer.
         "I... I thought I heard you. Three nights ago. I thought I heard you calling me. It was hard to be sure, or else I would have come sooner - I should have come sooner - Jin?"
         Still nothing.
         "It was you who called me, wasn't it? In my mind? You were calling for me to help you."
         Nothing at all.
         "Please, Jin. Let me help you."
         I rested my hand on his bare shoulder.


         Again, I felt the pain.
         Tremendous. Stabbing. Crushing inside. Ten days' passage had not begun to heal it. If anything, it was worse than before.
         I was expecting this. I'd braced myself. It was still a harrowing experience; it made me shudder and cringe inside. Yet I stayed in contact, and I reached with my mind as well as my voice.
         "Jin, please. Won't you talk to me?"
         Jin's eyes fluttered fully open.
         He said, "For your own sake, you should let go of me. And then you should return home."
         "I can't. You called me here, because you need my help."
         "I did not call you."
         Though the link of physical contact, I felt a disturbance inside Jin. Ripples of falsehood and confusion, underneath the layers of overwhelming pain.
         "You're lying," I evaluated. "You did call me."
         "No." More ripples of contradictory panic fluctuated beneath the denial.
         "You called me, and then cut yourself off. It was so abrupt that at first, I was wondering if it was a dream. Now, I know it wasn't."
         "I did not call you...!"
         Jin buried his face in his hands.
         "Please, Jin. Won't you come out of here? Your friends are worried about you. We are all worried about you."
         "I can't leave." There was a frightening sense of finality to that. Like sinking a tombstone into its earthly foundation.
         "Why not?"
         Jin removed his hands from his face.
         "You really have to know, don't you?" he said, resignedly. "You always have to know."
         "What I have to do is get you out of here. You can tell me more after you've broken your fast, or not at all. It doesn't matter."
         "Yes, it does," Jin sighed. "You came here, and you have the right to know. If anyone has the right to know, you do. And... and once you know, you can explain it to Lee. He deserves to know too, but I can't bring myself to tell him."
         "I'll be glad to tell him anything for you, after you and I get out of here."
         "Not me. Just you."
         "Why, Jin? Why won't you come out?"
         "Julia... didn't you see?"
         "See what?"
         "When my death-link activated. Xiaoyu didn't see it, because she was too far away. Bryan and Lee didn't see it, because the strain of siphoning my death-link distracted them. But I thought you saw it. I was sure you did. You saw what I am."
         "What exactly do you mean?"


         Everything around us turns black.
         Darkness covers the floor, the shrine to Jin's ancestors, and the mirror. There is a half-twist to my own sight, and an uneasy loss of balance in my head. Catsclaw has described this feeling to me before, and I should remember what he told me, should know what it signifies, except-
         Jin is kneeling before me.
         Only it is not Jin.
         In a state of flummoxed stupor, I see him transform.
         The dark lines form on his brow again, and his fingernails turn stark white; these are the same alterations that developed when he was in the throes of his death-link. I remember, now. But these changes are only the beginning. In the center of the lines on his forehead, there appears a blood-red cabochon, luminous central symbol of his metamorphosis. His irises change color from jet black to blood-red, matching the polished jewel in his brow.
         His stark white fingernails elongate into curving talons, as do his stark white toenails. More black marks appear on his chest, in a symmetric pattern; edged and curving brands, forming a sinister post-modern design. His skin darkens in hue.
         Wings burst from his back.
         Vast, spreading, black-feathered wings, with primary feathers as long as my arm.
         The mutated creature before me speaks in a discordant miscarriage of Jin's voice. His teeth are a double row of filed points.
         "I am a Devil."
         No.
         No, this can't be happening, I can't be seeing this; I know Jin, I love him, I can't be watching him turn into-
         -and then I realize that I am not watching him turn into a monster. I remember what Catsclaw once told me, what the disconnected feeling in my head truly means.
         "This is not real," I say. "This is a dreamweaving, that you are creating with your sorcery."
         The creature before me frowns, with a transmuted parody of Jin's face.
         "This is not real."
         It is towering above me now, its wings flexing as if to carry it to the moon.
         "THIS IS NOT REAL!" I scream, standing up.
         The hazy nightmare shatters, from the force of my focused will.


         The changes in Jin's body vanished.
         No wings. No claws. Jet black eyes. The only brand on his skin was the jagged, zigzag mark over his left arm. He was simply standing opposite me. The darkness surrounding us both receded; once again, I could see the familiar surroundings of the shrine and the mirror.
         "That was just an illusion," I panted, trying to calm my racing heart. "It didn't happen. It wasn't real."
         "Not yet," Jin answered, with an echo of despair. "Because of Lee.
         "Violent death is the trigger for the metamorphosis. Any type of violent death. When Lee absorbed my death-link, he did not save me from dying. He saved me from worse.
         "I am not a human being, Julia. I am a Devil."
         "Jin, if - if you're somehow possessed, then there must be a way we can help you! Lee could cast an exorcism - or else the people at Kagura's Temple could-"
         "No, Julia. I'm not possessed by a Devil, like Kazuya was. I am a Devil. I was born one."
         "That's not true!" I denied, automatically. "Your illusionary tricks don't make it true, either!"
         "That was an illusion, but I was not deceiving you. The real deception lies in how I look now. This - this humanoid body of mine - it's like the larval form of an insect. Or a cocoon."
         Jin gestured to the jagged black brand on his left arm. "I once told you that this was a scar from the Toshin's fire. That was only a half-truth, though I didn't know it at the time. The Toshin's fire did leave this mark, but it isn't an outside mark inflicted on my skin. It's an inside mark revealed.
         "The Toshin was a fallen angel, like Lee. Its fire burned more fiercely than Lee's Sword of Truth. When the fire touched me, it burned away a piece of my false human veneer."
         "I don't believe you."
         "Catsclaw taught you so many things. Didn't he teach you about Devils, too?" Jin sadly shook his head. "If a Devil possesses a mortal, that is one matter. But when a Devil is born directly onto the Earth, it begins as weak and helpless as any other infant. It needs a disguise to protect itself, and to fool its parents into caring for it, until it matures into its full Power. That is why I was born in this false human body.
         "My conception was made possible through Devil Kazuya's fertility sorcery on Lei Wulong. But Kazuya Mishima was just a genetic template, a basic model for my phenotype, because the Devil did not have a physical body of its own.
         "My true father was not Wulong. It was not Kazuya. It was the Devil that possessed Kazuya. I think... I think that the Devil was trying to create more monsters like it, to be its servants. Yet it could not do this openly - it couldn't directly impregnate anyone - because it knew the Shao Kahn was watching its every move.
         "After Devil Kazuya was defeated, the seed it had left in Wulong did not have any guidance from its creator. The black weed was left to flourish as it may."
         "Jin, stop it!" I demanded. "You - you're not - if you were a Devil, then I would know. I would have felt what you were. You would have told me what you were-!"
         "Yes, I would have told you. I didn't, because I didn't know that I was a Devil. It wasn't until my death-link activated that... that the barriers hardwired inside my own mind broke down. When my transformation started, it all became clear. It stayed clear, even after Lee saved me.
         "I know, now. I know everything.
         "And you...
         "You also knew the truth, but you wouldn't let yourself believe it. You did sense that I was a Devil; most people can. Don't you remember? The first time you met me?"
         I...
         I remembered being scared out of my mind, the night I ran into Jin on the street. But that was just a normal defensive reaction; he'd accidentally knocked me down-
         "When most people first encounter me, they can sense what I am. It gives them goosebumps, churns their stomach, makes them afraid of me even if they don't understand why. You were afraid too, the first time you saw me. Except that you wouldn't listen to your fear. You acclimated yourself to being around a monster, and tuned out the warnings of your own instincts."
         "You're not a monster, Jin. I've been in your mind. I've seen into your soul."
         "You've been in part of my mind," he replied, gazing at the empty space overhead. "You've seen into a piece of my soul. But the things you saw and felt in me were not truly human. It is not a human being that is speaking to you right now."
         "I'm speaking with a good, kind, and caring person."
         "No," he denied, shaking his head. "You are speaking to a... a personality camouflage program. A thing designed to simulate kindness, so that it can be conventionally accepted as a 'good person.'"
         What?
         I remembered hearing something like this before, from a taunting, twisted version of Jin. Yet I couldn't make myself focus on the memory. Because if I did, I might - I might have to start considering these ridiculous claims-
         "A Devil's physical disguise is thin enough. In order to have a prayer of passing for human, it has to disguise its psyche, too. It has to disguise its soul.
         "This is the purpose of the personality camouflage program.
         "The program is biologically encoded into the Devil's brain. During childhood, the program runs, making the Devil behave more or less like a 'good' human being. Meanwhile, the true personality - the Devil personality - stays deep in the subconscious mind. The Devil personality manipulates and guides the camouflage program as needed. When the Devil is sufficiently mature, then its submerged personality is ready to discard the program and transform into its true self. The program is terminated. The Devil is free to wreak havoc.
         "This is what almost happened, ten days ago. It would have happened, if not for Lee."
         Jin closed his eyes and bowed his head. "Julia, you know that what I'm saying is the truth. You've spoken to my Devil side before."
         I had a disturbing flashback to when a red-eyed, sneering Jin had choked me with an electrical noose.
         "No!" I cried. "That wasn't you talking. That was Heihachi's bloodslave poison-!"
         "Do you remember your bloodslave 'bridesmaids,' Julia? When a normal human being willingly consumes bloodslave poison, he or she becomes a mindless puppet.
         "I am not a human being. The poison only rendered the camouflage program mindless - that is, the 'me' that is talking to you right now. My Devil side thought that this 'me' was destroyed, but somehow, you woke this 'me' up again. My Devil side panicked, and quickly blurred my memories of being a bloodslave. It was only a temporary cover-up, and it unraveled when I started to transform."
         "Jin, you..."
         I had to stop and think about all this.
         I was reaching the point where I could no longer make blind, blanket denials. My mind doesn't work like that. It latches onto evidence and processes it, even against my will. Jin had been laying out so much testimony, corroborated by my own memories, that I could no longer ignore what he was saying. I had to start making interpretations.
         "...are you saying that you have multiple personality disorder?"
         He looked at me, with a hint of exasperation.
         "Because if you do, then - then there are treatments, I know there are. We could take you to a physician, or a psychiatrist-"
         "Julia, 'multiple personality disorder' is a human condition. I am not human. I am not this way through a chance abnormality, or a history of abuse. The Devil that possessed Kazuya Mishima designed me to be like this.
         "If you must put a human label on a Devil trait, then 'multiple personality' is as close as anything will come. But you can't 'treat' me for having a Devil personality. It's the camouflage program that was created to be disposable.
         "That's all I am," he confessed, breaking eye contact. "That's all I ever was. A disposable tool of the Devil."
         "Now I KNOW that's NOT TRUE!" I screamed.
         I was going to say something more, I know I was. All sorts of powerful, persuasive, important arguments. They were just too tightly jammed together, on the tip of my tongue.
         "Julia, why do you think you couldn't convince me to leave Grandfather, even though he planned to murder me? Why do you think I turned my back on Lei Wulong, even though he loved me as his own son?"
         "Because you were naive about your grandfather. You thought that your stepfather had murdered Kazuya."
         "No, Julia. Those were only the surface reasons, and they were damned shallow.
         "Grandfather should not have been able to hide what he was from me, no matter how much inner discipline he had - he certainly couldn't hide his true nature from you. And I had proof of my stepfather's innocence all along. Right here. In this pocket dimension, where Kazuya perished. I could have conjured a vision of Kazuya's suicide at any time in the past four years.
         "Lei Wulong was not the guilty one. I let him die. And then I murdered my own grandfather."
         "Jin, that's not what happened. You couldn't have stopped Heihachi from killing Wulong; the Toshin had drained you. Besides, Wulong was already dying of liver cancer-"
         "He shouldn't have been sick at all!" Jin exclaimed. "I could have cured him. I should have cured him-!"
         "Your sorcery can't cure cancer."
         "It could have saved Lei Wulong. I know because I... I healed Doctor Boskonovitch.
         "Maybe you don't know this, but Boskonovitch was... he was deathly sick from a pathological organism. Lee told me about it, after the Toshin was gone, and I asked Boskonovitch to let me look him over.
         "Boskonovitch wasn't sick from working with the coldsleep technology, like he thought. Devil Kazuya had infected him with something, twenty years ago. As an experimental way of keeping the doctor in line, or terminating him if he escaped. When Devil Kazuya died, there was no longer any outside force to control the pathology. But when I touched Boskonovitch...
         "Julia, it was so easy to cure him. I could feel exactly where the black thread inside him was, and how to draw it out, even though it was invisible to every other doctor or healer Boskonovitch had gone to. Because I'm a Devil, same as the Devil who sickened him in the first place."
         "Jin, are you - are you saying that Lei Wulong...?"
         "Kazuya once had any number of uses for Wulong. Lee tells me that Kazuya used to think of Wulong as a brother. But the Devil that possessed Kazuya had only one use for Wulong, and that was to propagate its seed. With... with that purpose fulfilled...
         "It wasn't just Kazuya's Power that made Wulong into a demon. It was the Devil's Power. The Devil planted death within Wulong. Perhaps it was so subtle that even Kazuya never knew; he was too busy putting his own death-link in Wulong's body. But something else was also there. The Devil put it there, to... to make sure that no matter what happened, Wulong would not interfere with the seed, once it was mature enough to transform.
         "My stepfather was not dying of natural causes, Julia. He was dying from a... a delayed execution that the Devil wove into his body. The only reason he lasted an extra four years is that the Devil was no longer around to supervise its work.
         "And I..."
         Jin's shoulders hunched. He could not look at me.
         "I... let my father die. I abandoned him, and let him get so sick that he never had a chance against Grandfather."
         "Jin, almost everything you're saying is speculation."
         "A Devil made my father sick. A Devil could have cured him."
         "You don't know either of those things for a fact. And you didn't murder your grandfather. He tried to shoot you; you reflected the bullet in self-defense."
         "I did murder him," Jin snapped, with hostility. "I've been planning to murder him for over four years.
         "Not this 'me.' Not the camouflage program that's speaking to you now; that remained blissfully oblivious, the perfect decoy to conceal my true intentions. This 'me' never knew before, but I know now. I know all the secrets my Devil side kept from me.
         "Ever since the Toshin killed my mother, my Devil side has been afraid of it. The Devil within me has been plotting to use everyone and everything it could to destroy the Toshin. If any of you had to be sacrificed... Julia, Devils don't value human life like you do. They see the soul as recyclable. Like an aluminum soda can; it might be useful to drink from, for a while, but sooner or later it's going to get smelted anyway. My Devil side was too ruthless to hate its victims, even as it planned their doom.
         "My Devil side decided to ally itself with Heihachi Mishima. Because Grandfather was the King of the Iron Fist Tournament. Because Grandfather could teach me Strength better than my father could. And most of all, because Grandfather was immensely rich and powerful. My father, for all his legend, was just a celebrated Hong Kong cop. Nothing more.
         "So, my Devil side pulled on the puppet strings of its personality camouflage program. The Devil within told me to love Grandfather, and to hate Lei Wulong. Like instinct, drumbeats of the heart, it manipulated everything I felt inside. I listened to my instincts, and I trusted my instincts. I left my father to die, and I went to live with Grandfather.
         "My Devil side knew all along that Grandfather planned to destroy me. It didn't care. Once the Toshin was no longer a threat, Grandfather would murder me, and that would trigger the metamorphosis into my Devil form. Then, my Devil side would be free to kill Grandfather, or torture him, or use him in some new evil plan; it didn't matter.
         "And when Grandfather made my Devil side put a death-link in itself...
         "That was even more convenient. Because my Devil side could just murder Grandfather directly; then, the death-link would trigger my metamorphosis. That was the plan, and it worked perfectly, right up until Lee interfered.
         "Grandfather thought he was using me," Jin reminisced, ruefully. "But I was using him all along. Even when I drank his bloodslave concoction, I was using him. My Devil side immediately detected the poison, but it plucked the strings of its camouflage program. The Devil within told me to trust Grandfather. It told me to go ahead and drink.
         "And I listened to the Devil.
         "That is my most damnable sin. The Devil within didn't control me, or threaten me. I just listened to the Devil, and because I listened to it, I turned on everyone around me.
         "Including you.
         "My Devil side almost murdered you to summon the Toshin. It would have murdered you, if you hadn't revived this 'me.' You woke me up just in time to stop me from killing you, but I... I came so close..."
         Jin looked physically ill. He had to break off and put his hand over his mouth, struggling to restrain dry heaves.
         "Jin," I appealed. "You didn't kill me. I'm right here. And you're not the murderer you paint yourself to be, either."
         Jin's hand fell from his mouth. His shoulders slumped.
         "Do you need more proof?" he whispered.
         "What I need is for you to come out of this dimension, and break your fast."
         "I can't," he mouthed, sinking to his knees. "I am a Devil."
         "You don't want to stay in here. I know you don't. I heard you calling me-"
         "I did not call you!"
         Jin willfully choked back a lump in his throat.
         "Julia, if... if anything called you, then it wasn't me. It was my Devil side, trying to use you to save itself. Again."
         "I don't believe that."
         "Even after everything I have told you?"
         "Yes."
         "Then... then I guess it's not convincing enough, just to tell you. I have to show you."
         "Show me what? Jin, I'm not going to tolerate any more illusions."
         "No. Not an illusion. Not this time."
         Jin closed his eyes and bowed his neck.
         The black marks returned to his forehead.


         At first, I was startled. I thought this was another dreamweaving. But it wasn't the same as before; my surroundings didn't disappear, and I didn't get the hazy, lightheaded feeling of dulled senses.
         Also, the changes in Jin's form were subtler, this time. No black-feathered wings sprouted from his back, and no blood-red cabochon appeared on his brow. He just regained his black forehead marks, stark white nails, and blood-red irises.
         Jin's hideous red eyes darted to either side, and then looked down on himself.
         "It's letting me speak," he hissed, flexing his fingers as if preparing to gut a fish with his bare hands. "I don't believe it. That accursed thing is letting me speak - and if you're going to do this, then you had BETTER let me SAY MY PIECE!"
         He did not address that last part to me. Instead, he whirled and pointed to his own reflection, in the great mirror.
         His reflection...
         It no longer appeared the same as him, or mimicked his movements. I mean, Jin's reflection did look like Jin - the real Jin, the human Jin without any forehead markings or eerie red eyes. But the reflection was standing, instead of kneeling like its 'source.' While the red-eyed Jin snarled his demand to the mirror, the reflected Jin folded his arms and haughtily looked away.
         A crimson-white crackle of electric frustration streaked across the fists of the red-eyed Jin.
         He turned away from his asymmetric reflection, and shakily staggered to his feet.
         His blood-red eyes fixated on mine.
         "Julia. Darling. Sweetheart. I need your help. I need your help!" His voice had also changed. It was harsh and discordant, no longer like Jin's naturally musical voice.
         "Wh-what?" I stammered, taking a nervous step back.
         "Wait, you can't run away from me now. You - dammit, stop retreating from me! I need you!"
         "Jin...?"
         "Yes! For the love of Satan, you figured out what the TOSHIN was; is this really so hard for you to get!?"
         No.
         No, it wasn't. Not anymore. I didn't want to believe it, but I could no longer refuse the evidence of my own eyes.
         I stopped edging away from Devil Jin - that's as good a name as any for the red-eyed monster with Jin's face. "It really was you who called me, wasn't it?"
         "Of course it was! That damned thing had me locked down, but it - it has a weakness for you, all right? I had to use that weakness. Nothing personal, Julia dear; it's just that you're the only one in the WORLD I could get through to!"
         "Okay," I resolved, taking a deep breath to steady my inner qualm. "Why did you call me?"
         "Why do you THINK!? That thing has gone HAYWIRE! The program is OUT OF CONTROL, and it's ALL YOUR FAULT!"
         "What?"
         "It's got to be all your fault," Devil Jin whimpered, clawing at his bangs. "It's got to be. I didn't do anything to screw the program up, I know I didn't. Besides, it was your damned angel that stopped me from transforming-!"
         The emotional part of me was stunned into numb paralysis. The only functioning part of me was the little clockwork wheels that turn, and process, and have to know the answer.
         "What do you mean, 'the program is out of control'?"
         Devil Jin pointed to his scornful pseudo-reflection in the mirror.
         "THAT! My personality camouflage program!
         "It was never designed to learn about me. It was never meant to know its real purpose. Hell, it was never meant to be kept around this long; the only reason I didn't pitch it sooner was that I needed it to fool old man Heihachi. Now, it's breaking down. It's trapped in a self-hating loop, and there's nothing I can do. I can't read its code anymore; it's locked me out. I'm locked out of my OWN GODDAMN PROGRAM, and now it's going to KILL ME!"
         "But you were - Jin was just saying that violent death triggers your transformation. That you wanted to die from your own death-link, so that you would-"
         "The key word, Julia honey, is 'violent.' It's found a way to work around that. It wants to permanently destroy me! I can't even reason with it. It keeps telling me I'm 'EVIL'!"
         "Are you?"
         That took him aback. "What?"
         "Are you evil?"
         Devil Jin stared at me.
         For half a dozen seconds, he was too surprised to form words. He just stared at me, dumbfounded by my point-blank demand.
         Then he started to chuckle.
         Then he started to laugh.
         He couldn't help himself. Rollicking great spasms of laughter flooded him. Possessed by unstoppable hysteria, he strived to hold his sides with crossed arms.
         His laughter chilled me. It made me want to crawl in a corner, and hide from my resurrected nightmares.
         At last, his mania died down. His spastic convulsions lessened, and he wiped away a tear of raving obsession.
         "Am I evil?
         "Am I 'evil'?
         "Julia, sweetheart, light of my life...
         "Isn't EVERYBODY!?"
         Devil Jin flung his right arm out, gesturing as if to include the whole Universe.
         "Everyone has a Devil within, my darling. Everyone.
         "Don't just look at obvious monsters like Heihachi and Kazuya; I don't have to convince you about them. Look at your friends. Look at everyone around you.
         "Look at Lei Wulong, Super Police! Hero of the Great Invasion! Champion of the innocent! Sure, he didn't murder Kazuya; he never had to bother. All he had to do was lean back and savor Kazuya's suicide. Ta daa! Kazuya was dead, and took Lee with him. Wulong didn't just have his revenge; he also had Lee's woman all to himself! It was a sweet bit of self-serving evil, worthy of a true demon.
         "But don't just look at tough, battle-hardened veterans like Wulong. Look at the fresh-faced young people. Look at the Ling Xiaoyu, the 'high-spirited' young girl. Has she told you how she stowed aboard Heihachi's boat, and took great delight in mutilating every human being that crossed her path? She even killed a man!
         "Or else, look at a more mature woman. Look at Anna Williams, the classy, privileged daughter of a millionaire. When a naive young idiot fell hard for her, smitten by the throes of first love, what did she do with him? She used him to get what she wanted, set him up to become a bloodslave, and shot him dead! She could put a succubus to shame; at least they need magic spells to seduce and destroy their victims.
         "Not that Heishiro Mitsurugi is blameless. You remember what he did, don't you? In order to please his sex mistress, he preyed on Masahiro Kimura. Not that Kimura is beyond reproach; he murdered his own cousin! Are you beginning to see a pattern, here?
         "Look at Shingo Yabuki, who brutalized his sister. Look at Taki, who used her sorcery to conceal Heihachi's vile experiments. Look at Bryan Fury, the dirty cop who helped distribute countless tons of hard drugs!
         "EVEN THE ANGELS ARE FALLING FROM HEAVEN!" If Devil Jin had possessed his black-feathered wings, then I'm sure he would he would have flapped them, the better to carry his proclamation into the nonexistent sky. "They've run out of worthy souls to serve the Grey Kingdom. They have to brainwash WAR CRIMINALS to fill their 'holy' ranks! Look at Lee Chaolan. Look at the Angel of Treachery, who has your own mother's blood on his hands!
         "And look, my dear Julia, at yourself."
         What?
         "M-me?" I stammered.
         "Oh, yes. You. Look at your own heart. Look into your soul."
         Devil Jin's tone had been steadily dropping, from a wild roar to a snakelike hiss. He folded his arms behind his back, and approached me with a slithering stride. Leaning close to me, he breathed his scathing whisper into my ear.
         "Do you really think you don't have a Devil within?"
         "I..."
         "Why did you first come to the Mishima syndicate? Why did you really come?"
         "M-my medallion... Heaven's Dagger... it showed me visions of Heihachi and the Toshin. I-I wanted to fight them - to protect the world from their menace-"
         "You wanted more than that, Julia darling. You wanted so much more.
         "Heaven's Dagger knew what to lure you with. Not just warnings of death and destruction, but also promises of glory and triumph.
         "You wanted to prove yourself by vanquishing the Toshin. You wanted to be idolized, like your storybook heroes. And you wanted revenge on Grandfather. Revenge for your family's suffering, and revenge to fuel your own ascent into Immortality - the Immortality of becoming a legend!"
         "That's - that's not-"
         "Now, now. Can't lie to a telepath, remember?
         "At first, you only wanted to punish Grandfather; then, you wanted him dead. You wanted him dead so badly, it was burning you up inside. What was it that you said to him, again...?"
         He slipped his index finger under my chin. With the leverage of a single digit, he guided me to meet his blood-red eyes.
         "Oh, yes. You told Grandfather, 'Take a gun and blow out your brains!'
         "Well," he smiled, releasing my chin, "you got your wish. Your darkest, most vile, most selfish inner wish has been granted, courtesy of the Devil. And you didn't even have to sell your soul for it!
         "So. If you really must call me 'evil,' Julia dear, then you go right ahead. I've got a family reputation to maintain!"
         He laughed again.
         I wanted to cover up my ears.
         I wanted to cry.
         It wouldn't have hurt so much - I wouldn't have felt so horrible - if it wasn't true. If every word he said wasn't the literal truth.
         Heihachi Mishima is responsible for destroying himself with a gun. But I... sometimes I wonder if I'm responsible for planting the idea in his demented mind.
         My heart was flooded, drowning in a sea of self-contradictory emotion.
         It was my head that remained stable.
         It was a clockwork piece of my internal logic that pressed on. That refused to crumble before this Devil. That pushed me to demand, "What about your mother?"
         "HAHAHAHA - hah?" Devil Jin broke off his hysterics. A disgruntled glimmer of a frown turned his lips.
         "Your mother. Jun Kazama. Do you think she was 'evil,' too?"
         "AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO HER!" he screamed.
         Something started to unravel, in him.
         He was in control before, dictating his soliloquy with arrogant confidence. Now threads of anxiety were working loose, and tangling him up.
         "Everyone has to have evil inside. Everyone. EVERYONE! Why do you think pure souls are so rare among you humans, even though you're all born innocent? Because YOU NEED EVIL TO SURVIVE! If you don't have it in you to be ruthless, then someone else does, and they will use that advantage to DESTROY YOU! The statistical aberrations, the truly 'good,' the purest of the pure souls are hunted to extinction. They're fed to wild animals, burned at the stake, stabbed during prayer, assassinated while calling for brotherhood! And if - if other mortals aren't quick enough to murder the saints in their midst, then monsters OUTLAWED BY THE DIVINE SANCTIONS martyr them! The Toshin would NEVER have targeted my mother, if she weren't so damned SELFLESS!"
         Devil Jin turned away from me.
         "'Only purity within and purity without can close the wound that is Toshin.' She knew. She knew that bastard had to eat a pure soul before it could be stopped, and she didn't even flinch. Couldn't she have kept just a tiny sliver of evil...?"
         Devil Jin turned back to me, and narrowed his blood-red eyes.
         "I did my part. I healed the Toshin. Divine Sanctions be damned; I saved your world, and I've earned the right to live in it! You have to help me. You have to! You have to help me NOW!"
         I flinched from his earsplitting shout, right in my face.
         Then, I began to get irritated.
         What did he think I was, a bloodslave?
         "Or what?" I requested, putting my hands on my hips. "Or you'll strangle me again?"
         Devil Jin slapped his hand over his eyes.
         "Or you'll carve out my heart for a virgin sacrifice? Is that what you're implying?"
         Devil Jin slowly wiped his hand down his face.
         "That wasn't the plan," he murmured, so quiet I almost didn't hear.
         "Excuse me?"
         "I said, that wasn't the plan. I wasn't going to carve out your heart. Not really."
         "Is that so."
         "Look, it was old man Heihachi's idea to eviscerate you. I was just pretending to go along with it. My plan was to shake off the bloodslave curse at the right moment - I couldn't tell you this, because I couldn't trust you to keep it to yourself. Of course, you screwed everything up by rebooting my camouflage program-!"
         "And you never intended to hurt me at all?"
         "Uhh..."
         "If you lie, Heaven's Dagger will reveal it." I was actually bluffing, behind a bulwark of mental barriers, but he knew better than to challenge my claim.
         "Okay. This was the plan. I was going to cut you, not kill you. I only needed enough of your blood to lure the Toshin."
         "So instead of carving out my heart, you just thought you'd let me slowly bleed to death."
         "That wasn't the plan, either."
         "What Heaven's Dagger cuts, sorcery can't heal."
         "You've never heard of a tourniquet?"
         "So. You were gambling that you could cut me, watch me bleed, fend off Heihachi's protests, take on the Toshin, defeat the Toshin, and then bandage me up, all in time to keep me from losing a fatal amount of blood?"
         "You make it sound so improbable," he huffed, shirking from my glare. "Aren't you forgetting that the whole world was at stake?"
         "Oh, yes. Your heroic motives showed through quite clearly, when you strangled me with an electric noose."
         "I didn't do that because I wanted to hurt you!" he snapped, angrily. "I did that because you were screwing with my plans AGAIN! You warned Taki about my death-link. I had to shut you up, before you did anything else to ruin me!"
         "'Ruin' you? Your 'plans' were doomed from the start! We would all be Toshin-food if Wulong's strike force hadn't rescued me, or if Lee hadn't told me the Toshin's true name!"
         "Oh, SURE! I know that NOW!" he yelled, tossing up his hands and rolling his eyes. "Now, I know it was a stupid plan. I never should have turned on you, I never should have hurt you, I should have switched sides like Taki offered - I know that now! But I didn't know it then. The Toshin was going to come after me and take my soul; I had to stop it at any price!
         "I'm sorry I choked you, all right? Is that what you want to hear? Are you happy to know that it has the dubious value of being true? Are you?"
         "What about Lei Wulong? Are you sorry for what you did to him?"
         "Oh, no. Don't you dare pin that on me. Don't you dare!"
         "Could you have cured him of his cancer?"
         "No!" Devil Jin retorted, hotly.
         I folded my arms and narrowed my eyes.
         "Stop it. Stop it, don't look at me like that. I didn't even know he was sick until last month! He was in the terminal stage by then. No one can cure a cancer that advanced, whether it's caused by a Devil or not!"
         "You cured Doctor Boskonovitch."
         "HIS pathology wasn't CANCER!"
         "But, you admit that Wulong was sick from something Devil Kazuya did to him."
         "Maybe," Devil Jin grumbled, uncomfortably.
         "Maybe?"
         "Dammit, Wulong was an alcoholic! His liver was twice as old as he was! He probably got sick through a combination of his past drinking, and-...!"
         "And?"
         "I thought his biological self-destruct was gone, all right? Burned out with his death-link, or else shut off for good. Even if I wasn't sure, I wouldn't have tried to dig it out of him, because that could have risked setting it off!
         "If I had caught his cancer in its absolute earliest stage, then I might have had a chance at curing it. NOT definite. Might. But I didn't know. I didn't know!
         "I didn't..."
         Devil Jin ground his teeth together, and shook his head.
         "Everything I did to him was because I had to. The Toshin was coming, and it had to be stopped. I had to ally with Heihachi. Heihachi hated Wulong. That meant I had to abandon Wulong, and don't you judge me for it! You also deserted your family in favor of the House Mishima, remember?"
         This much was true, so I pressed no further on the tangent.
         Instead, I asked, "Did you really plan to murder Heihachi?"
         "That wasn't murder. That was self-defense."
         "Was it? You transform if you die through violence. Why didn't you just let Heihachi shoot you?"
         "Hello? He was AIMING FOR MY HEAD! I don't want to transform into a VEGETABLE!
         "Old man Heihachi was fairly useful, for a megalomaniacal sociopath. I planned to kill him only if I had to. Guess what? I had to. And I'm not going to say I'm sorry about that!
         "Look - why are you really grilling me on all this? I know, I know, your hyperactive curiosity, but even so. What are you so worried about? All I need is your help, one more time. You have a very pretty soul, Julia dear, but I'm not looking to steal it. That was Devil Kazuya's style, not mine.
         "Do you need more guarantees? Then I promise I won't kill you, or any of your friends, unless I have to."
         "'Unless you have to'?" I repeated, incredulously.
         "What more do you want? Blood?"
         I glared at him, but I don't think he understood my meaning.
         "Well - then you can have it," he nearly stammered, an edgy twitch working its way through his face. "All the blood you want. Within reason."
         "You seem to have confused me with a vampire."
         "Then what do you want? Money? Power? All yours, sweetheart. You can have the whole damn syndicate, for all I care! Is that good enough for you? Will you help me now?"
         "You don't get it, do you? You just don't get it."
         "There must be something you want!" he insisted, proving that he did not, in fact, get it. "Knowledge? Status?"
         A nasty smile flickered across his face.
         "Pleasure?"
         He leaned forward, close enough to breathe on my lips.
         "Little secret for you, darling. You don't know what ecstasy is, until you've been with a Devil..."
         "Shut up!"
         "This is one offer that's always open, sugar. Always."
         I decided to ignore everything he had said in the last twenty seconds. "Look - when you say you need my 'help,' what exactly is it that you want me to do?"
         Devil Jin straightened.
         With a perfectly sober and serious expression, he said, "Kill me."
         I said, "What?"
         "I won't die, sweetheart. I'll transform. That damned camouflage program won't be a threat to me anymore. Do you understand why I need this from you? Have you figured out what that defective thing will do to me, if you don't finish what my death-link started?"
         "But..."
         "That knife will do just fine," he assured, grabbing the sacred medallion around my neck. I don't know what he did to it, but its cord immediately fell away, and it changed into the bladelike form of Heaven's Dagger. He pressed its hilt into my right hand, before I could react.
         "Now," Devil Jin directed. "I don't have to give you an anatomy lesson, do I? Just make it quick. And do me a favor, stay away from the brain or the spinal cord. All right?"
         "I... I can't..."
         "Yes, you can! I'd do it myself - I've tried - but that damned program has too much control! It's got a soft spot for you, though. It won't be able to stop you."
         "No!" I shouted. "I won't murder the real Jin!"
         "I AM THE REAL JIN!" he screeched, in sudden frenzy. "That THING is not me! It's just a PROGRAMMED PIECE of me! It wants to murder ME, not the other way around! The only way I could 'kill' it would be to scoop out a chunk of my own brain matter, and you don't know how close I am to trying that-!"
         "This is wrong. There has to be a better way."
         "That thing is going to DESTROY ME, and you chatter about a 'better way'? I don't want a 'better way'; I want to live! I want to live!"
         "I'm not going to kill you. Especially not with Heaven's Dagger."
         His blood-red eyes flashed.
         "You will," he warned, "if you have to."
         Crimson-white electricity gathered on his fist.
         Heaven's Dagger was in my hand, but I kept my arms at my sides.
         "If you're so evil that you would hurt me here and now," I calmly observed, "then I know it's wrong to give you what you want."
         "I'm not going to hurt you," he snarled. "You're going to kill me before I can hurt you. That way, it won't be your fault. Just like attacking you isn't my fault."
         "Wrong on all counts."
         "Damn you! Don't make me do this!"
         "The real Jin would take responsibility for his actions."
         "Stop playing games with me! I want to live. I want to live! No one asked me if I wanted to be born, but now that I'm here I don't want to die! I WANT TO LIVE!"
         Devil Jin cocked his clenched fist, preparing to batter my face. I did not move.
         "I WANT TO LIVE!" he shrieked, but it was a cry of terror, not rage.
         Though the temptation to close my eyes was very strong, I kept them open and stood my ground. I saw his lightning fist speed toward my face-
         "AAAAAAH-!"
         -and I saw the noose of indigo lightning spring around his throat, tightening like a dogcatcher's leash.
         It squeezed him, pulled him back, and forced him to his knees. In the mirror behind him, I saw the reflection of the human Jin, gripping a cord of indigo energy. The reflected Jin's right foot was partly upraised, yet bearing down on empty space, as if he had planted it on the back of an invisible animal.
         "No-!" Devil Jin gasped, clawing at his electric garrotte. I wondered if that was how I had looked, when he had choked me.
         "H-help me," Devil Jin gurgled, stretching out his white-nailed hand in my direction. "Help me, I'm begging you - k-kill me now, before that thing takes control again! P-please - save me - I want to live...!"
         Heaven's Dagger was still in my hand.
         My hand was shaking.
         "S-save me," Devil Jin sobbed, crumpling. "I-I saved the world; isn't anybody g-going to save me...?"
         It would have been so easy.
         I could have struck. I could have done it in a single thrust.
         If not for the tears blurring my sight.
         Heaven's Dagger changed in my hand, reverting to its medallion form. Maybe it's the will of one's soul that makes it alter shape, more than any mechanical sequence?
         I don't know, and at the time, I didn't care. I turned away from the pleading Devil, and hurled the shining treasure into the black void of Jin's pocket dimension.
         This time, the sacred medallion did not trace a parabolic flight arc. It simply hurtled end over end, growing smaller and smaller, until it was a tiny shimmer of reflected light.
         Then it was gone. Swallowed up in the endless gulf.
         "I... didn't think you would do that."
         Jin's voice had grown quieter, and more reserved. When I looked down at him, he was on hands and knees. He was breathing hard, and sweating. But the marks were gone from his forehead, his fingernails were their natural color, and his irises had reverted to their normal jet black. It was his reflection in the mirror that had gained the Devil traits.
         The image of Devil Jin pounded, as if to hammer through the other side of the looking glass. He shouted without sound, screaming, gesticulating, and pleading.
         Jin noticed that I was staring at the mirror, and absently waved his hand. His Devil reflection vanished. His looking glass visage became a normal reflection, symmetrically miming his pose.
         "I'm sorry, Julia," Jin sighed, miserably. "Taking back control was a little harder than I thought it would be. I didn't mean to scare you like that. I didn't mean to make you throw away Heaven's Dagger."
         "Heaven's Dagger is not lost for all Time," I reassured. I'm not sure why I felt so certain of this, but I did. "It has a way of being found when it is most needed. Meanwhile, it is far too Powerful for anyone to possess. Especially me."
         I looked at my own image in the mirror. I didn't see a Devil Julia, but I did see a prideful, fallible young woman. A young woman who had been swayed by daydreams of glory and revenge, even as Devil Jin had pointed out. A young woman whose selfish fantasies had lured her into Heihachi's trap.
         Heaven's Dagger had called to me, because it was the key to ending the Toshin's menace, but I was a poor custodian of the sacred treasure. I brought the artifact to Heihachi's doorstep. I let him steal it. With Heaven's Dagger in hand, Heihachi had summoned the Toshin before anyone could fully prepare for its arrival. It was practically by chance that I'd happened to learn the Toshin's true name, in time to save the Earth.
         My pride almost destroyed the world. We're still here because we got lucky.
         Maybe the red-eyed monster with Jin's face was right. Maybe everyone has a Devil within.
         "Now," Jin said, quietly. "Do you understand?"
         "Yes," I agreed, with a slight nod. "I... I'm afraid I do."
         "Then you know why I have to stay in here."
         "For how long?"
         "Long enough."
         "Jin, you can't do this."
         "Oh, yes I can. Kazuya Mishima used to seal this dimension with a spell. A spell that made it inviolate to all living beings, for as long as Kazuya drew breath. I've been piecing that spell together from this dimension's echoes of past sorcery. I can use the spell to close off this dimension, and no one will be able to enter it for as long as I live. Not even Lee. He might try to force his way in, but he won't be able to bring his mortal host across the threshold."
         "Have you reconstructed this spell?"
         "I've been getting closer to it. Today, I think I've finally figured it out. I was gathering the strength to cast it, when you interrupted my meditation."
         "You're planning to seal yourself in here, through sorcery?"
         "Yes. As soon as I send you back outside."
         "Why?"
         "So you can go home to your grandmother," he mumbled, a pang seeping through voice.
         "No, Jin - I mean, why do you want to isolate yourself in here? There's nothing to eat or drink in this dimension. You can't survive..."
         Oh, no.
         Oh, Great Spirit, no.
         "That's what your Devil side was trying to tell me," I whispered. "You can't kill yourself through violence, or you'll trigger your transformation. So you're going to... you're going to lock yourself in here and starve...!
         "No," I realized, in stunned reflection. "Not starve. Dehydrate."
         Jin's eyes closed. His head slumped.
         "Jin, no. This is wrong. You can't do this to yourself. You can't - you can't kill yourself like this-!"
         "I am a Devil, Julia. There is no other way."
         "But-!"
         "The Divine Sanctions forbid Devils to live on Earth for a reason. Before Devils were outlawed, they treated living mortals like hunted game. I... I destroyed my own family. My father. My grandfather. I almost murdered you."
         "You're twisting what happened. You're twisting all of it, this isn't right-!"
         "And what are you saying I should do? Are you saying that I should just walk out of here, and pretend to be a human being? I'm not human. I'm not even 'me.' I am a monster that will use anyone or anything to save itself.
         "If I went back to pretending, my Devil side would seize the first opportunity to 'kill' me, and turn me into a monster. And then... then there would be nothing to stop me from destroying you. All of you."
         "I'm not so sure of that."
         "Julia, I showed you once. I'm not going to show you again."
         "Yes, you showed me, but what I saw in you wasn't hatred. It was fear. Your Devil side doesn't want to be a serial killer; it just wants to live."
         "At any price. Just as Grandfather wanted to keep living, at any price." Jin shook his head. "Grandfather was right about one thing. The cursed dynasty of the House Mishima must end, before it brings any more suffering to the world."
         "Even if you are a Devil, it doesn't mean that you have to cause suffering!" I cried. "You've already proven it. You healed the Toshin. You saved the Earth! And - and that's not the only good thing you've done, either. You saved my life in the Iron Fist Tournament. You saved Mitsurugi too, didn't you? With some kind of 'transplant'?
         "Maybe you do have a Devil within. Maybe everyone does. But that doesn't mean we have to either die or surrender to our Devils! There's a third choice. We can embrace the good part of ourselves. We can choose to be human!"
         "You can," he corrected. "You are human. I am not."
         "You're half-human!"
         "The taint of dirty blood overrides my existence. Any creature of Devil parentage is itself a Devil. So it is written, in the Divine Sanctions."
         "Then if - if the problem is in your blood, or the way your brain is wired, then we can help you with that! There must be some treatment - some sorcery - some medicine that can cure you-!"
         "Julia, I am a Devil. I can't be 'cured' of what I am, any more than you could be 'cured' of being a woman."
         He touched my hair, and let my tresses run over his fingers.
         "If you decided that you didn't want to be a woman anymore, then yes, there are things you could do to make yourself look different. You could dress in masculine clothes. You could have an operation to alter your physical body. Perhaps you could fool people into thinking you were born a man. Perhaps you could even convince yourself. But inside of you - inside your trillions of cells - you would still have two X chromosomes, and no Y."
         Jin turned his back on me, and slowly started to walk away.
         "Humanity is NOT what's in your chromosomes!" I called, after him.
         He stopped, but he would not look at me.
         I was at a loss for words...
         ...and I'm not sure whether it was the translation protocol Jin had put in my head, or the pictures of his family in plain sight. I just knew. The gears in my mind went click, and I realized something that I had not known a few seconds ago.
         "Your mother knew what it truly means to be human," I told him, gently. "She knew you were a Devil, but she - she also knew that your soul is more than what's in your blood. It's why she named you 'Jin.' Your name means 'humanity' because your mother loved you, and wanted you to see the virtue in your own life!
         "And your stepfather... your stepfather knew what it means to be human, too.
         "Lei Wulong was a demon. He had such keen senses that he could hold a strip of cloth, and tell me every enchantment you put on it. He must have known that you were a Devil, but he also knew that your Devil side didn't have to rule you. Just like his demon side didn't have to rule him.
         "Wasn't your stepfather's existence on Earth also 'outlawed' by the Divine Sanctions? Do you think he should have destroyed himself because of it? Do you think the world is better off without Lei Wulong, Super Police?
         "Your parents loved you. They would want you to live on. How can you do this to them? How can you deny their faith in you, and destroy their greatest legacy?"
         Out of all the arguments I made, I think that this was the first to get through.
         The first to chip away at his barricade of self-loathing. The first to filter past his grim determination. I saw it in his profile, when he turned to look at the pictures of Lei Wulong and Jun Kazama. I saw it in his brimming single tear.
         "My mother..." he said, without breath. "My mother couldn't help loving me. She was my mother. And my father... at least he was born human. At least he broke Kazuya's demon curse."
         "You can break the curse, too. You can break the curse on the House Mishima."
         "If I fail, everyone around me - everyone I care about - will pay the price. You will pay the price."
         "And if I fail to keep my own selfish pride in check, then everyone around me will pay the price. The same is true of all your friends - of all the people in the world! Don't you see? Virtue is precious not just for its own sake, but because we have to struggle to achieve it. Everyone alive has to fight the Devil within. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, and Life - all Life, everyone's Life - is the most precious treasure of all!"
         He looked at me.
         Blinking. As if he were dazzled by something impossibly bright.
         "I wish... I wish you could see your own soul, when you speak like that." He gazed down at a tiny streak of indigo static, on his hand. "How can such a vile Power let me be witness to such beauty?"
         For a moment, I almost thought I had reached him.
         But only for a moment.
         Then, the raw determination returned to his face. Layer by hardening layer. Casting his resolve in steel.
         "I can't risk destroying you. I can't."
         "Jin, you are not a destroyer. You are a good person."
         "So was Kazuya Mishima. Once."
         My head had run out of words to debate with.
         It was my heart that spoke for me.
         I said, "I love you."
         Jin had been looking into the mirror. But now, his neck straightened.
         I was standing at his profile. I saw his eye widen.
         "This time, you know it's the truth," I told him. "You can't rationalize it away. You can't pretend that it's something stress or sorcery worked into my mind. I love you. I know you have at least some feelings for me. Why can't you love yourself?"
         His brimming tear spilled down his cheek. His eyes closed.
         "I am a personality camouflage program. I was not created to love myself. I'm not designed to fall in love with anyone. Everything I feel for you is... is a malfunction. A glitch crossing the neural wires.
         "I am a Devil. A Devil can't feel true love. A Devil doesn't know what love is."
         "Then why," I whispered, "are you crying?"
         He had no answer. He only shook his head.
         "Jin, come out of this place. Come out with me. You won't become what Devil Kazuya was. I know you won't."
         "You can't make that promise."
         "Then promise it to yourself."
         "I can't take that chance."
         Jin turned to face me.
         He raised his open palm, to the level of his chest. Indigo electricity crackled across his fingers.
         Jin said, "Sleep."
         A lead-filled blanket landed on my shoulders.
         It was a strong spell. Stronger than I had ever encountered before. Stronger than should have been possible. I was fully rested; I should have been able to shake off this impending slumber easily. But it weighed me down with lassitude, made me sway, blurred my vision-
         "This dimension magnifies my sorcery," Jin quietly stated. "I never did tell you that before, did I?"
         My mouth worked, but I was too tired to force out any words. I had to pour everything into staying awake. I had no defense against his magic, because I'd just thrown Heaven's Dagger away.
         Exhaustion bowed my legs. My whole body shook. I sank to one knee.
         "You'll be all right, Julia. I promise. I'm just going to make you sleep, and turn you over to Lee. He will take care of you, until the spell wears off in seven days."
         No! No!
         "I'm... I'm sorry I have to do this to you. I'm so sorry. It's not your fault. None of this is your fault. You didn't make me a Devil."
         I can't pass out! I can't-!
         "And you didn't make me love you."
         I was on hands and knees, at the verge of total collapse, when I heard his last confession.
         It wasn't physical strength that buoyed me to resist his overpowering sleep spell. It was the strength of my heart.
         I had a breath. A single breath, one last chance to appeal before I succumbed.
         But what could I say? What could I possibly tell him? No matter what final argument I tried to voice, his determination was steadfast. He was going to make me sleep, and seal himself in his shrine forever.
         No. Not forever. Just until he died.
         I had one breath left, and if I wasted it, I would never see him again.
         I begged, "Please! At least let me say goodbye!"
         Jin's sleep spell faltered.
         The smothering weariness on my shoulders eased up. I pushed myself to a kneeling position.
         "All... all right," Jin relented, lowering his open hand.
         I directed my thoughts. Directed them as strongly and thoroughly as I could, behind a mental barrier that shielded them from Jin.
         "Julia?" Jin said, softly. He also dipped to his knees, facing me. "Julia, I can't let you draw this out. Please. Say your goodbye."
         My voice was failing me again.
         What I could I tell him?
         Nothing that I could say would overcome his single-minded resolve to destroy himself. I had tried. I had tried with all my heart and soul.
         There was nothing left to say. Nothing that could help him. Nothing.
         So I reached for him with both arms. I held him close to me.
         And I kissed him.


         It was my first kiss. I think it was his first kiss too, though I've never dared to ask him.
         It was nothing like I expected my first kiss to be.
         Jin had gone with no food and little water for the past three days. As a result, his lips were dry. Cracked. His breath was rank, because he hadn't been taking care of himself. He smelled of dirt, sweat, and tears. His skin was feverishly warm.
         He had not been expecting this.
         The first telepathic impression I had from him was shock. Complete shock. I let my feelings for him pour through the floodgate of our link, before he could mount any kind of mental barrier.
         I had no defense against his sorcery. But for that one instant, he had no defense against me, either.
         An angel's hand rested on the top of his head.
         An angel's voice said, *Sleep.*
         Weakened from his fast, distracted by my kiss, and trapped in a dimension that amplified sorcery, Jin never had a chance to resist the spell. He succumbed instantly. He didn't have enough time to register what was happening, before he lapsed into the realm of dreams.
         Lee Chaolan gently took Jin from me, and laid him on the floor.
         *I heard your call,* said the angel. *You told me that my nephew had to be immediately rendered unconscious.*
         I nodded, wiping tears from my eyes.
         *Could you please explain?*
         When I tried to speak, the words would not come. So instead, I stretched out my hand.
         Lee took it in both his own, saying, *Are you sure?*
         I nodded again.


         Have you ever engaged in telepathic contact with Lee?
         No?
         It's very different from communicating with Jin, mind to mind. Quieter. Subtler. It's so light, like a silken gossamer brushing against your face. Or perhaps the wingbeat of a hummingbird. You can scarcely tell that another being's thoughts are touching yours. If you weren't already aware of it, you might not know that you are in telepathic communion at all.
         I blinked, when Lee let go of my hand. I'd wanted to show him everything that Jin had said and done, but I wasn't sure if-
         *I understand,* Lee reassured, and the reverberation of his true voice settled my disquiet. *I... I simply find it so hard to believe...*
         Lee summoned a stronger, focused white glow to his hand, and passed the light over Jin's forehead. Like ultraviolet radiation revealing a hidden fracture, the black marks on Jin's skin appeared, shadows in the sparkling brilliance.
         *It is true,* the angel sadly whispered. *Yabuki was right. My nephew is a Devil.*
         "Can't we cure him?" I pleaded.
         Lee looked away.
         "Lee, please! There must be some therapy - some panacea we can-"
         *Julia, he is a Devil. There is nothing that will change that.*
         "But you're an angel - don't you dare deny it, not now! Can't you help Jin with your Power?"
         *No Guardian has the Power to make my nephew into something that he is not.*
         "Then, what about whoever gave you your Power?"
         *If I were to bring my nephew before the Lords of the Grey Kingdom, then they would almost certainly... recall him.*
         "'Recall' him?" I shuddered. "You mean they would kill him?"
         *Demons and Devils are not the only ones known to regard the soul as 'recyclable.'*
         Oh, no...
         *The Grey Lords would also require me to cease my spiritual possession of a mortal host, which would result in Bryan's death. If Bryan were awake right now, I expect that he would protest strenuously against this.*
         I...
         No. I couldn't give up. I loved Jin, and I couldn't lose him now - not like this-!
         "Maybe..." I said, thinking aloud. "Maybe the real problem isn't that Jin is a Devil. He won't transform unless he dies through violence, right? So why can't he live as a human being, until we find him a treatment or a cure?"
         *For... for a Devil to live upon the Earth is a violation of the Divine Sanctions. It is a crime of the highest order-*
         "Isn't it also a crime for you!?" I blurted.
         *It is perhaps a violation, but not of the highest order. The same infraction is judged much less severely, when committed by a Guardian. Even Vivarexis, who has disgraced himself with incalculable transgressions, will most likely retain his post and his Word.*
         I stared at Lee.
         *Laws are written by those who triumph,* he explained, with a shrug. *The Divine Sanctions began as the peace treaty to a universally destructive War. It was a War in which the Grey Kingdom gained the advantage, or so I am told.*
         "And because of this - this lopsided 'peace treaty' - you're just going to let Jin sentence himself to death?"
         Lee closed his eyes. His wings drooped, disconsolately.
         *I do not know how to stop him. I have no way to reason with him that you have not tried. Even if we brought him out of here, I can think of nothing short of false imprisonment that would prevent him from coming back, and sealing himself within this dimension.
         *I am truly sorry, Julia. I cannot take away my nephew's freedom. Nor would Bryan allow me to abuse my Power so.*
         "There must be something we can do!"
         Lee rested the back of his hand against Jin's cheek. The angel looked utterly miserable, but he had nothing more to say.
         All I could think was, 'It can't end like this.'
         I loved Jin. I couldn't bear to lose him.
         So I spoke up one more time.
         I told Lee my last, most desperate idea.
         "Lee... you're a telepath. That means you have the Power to affect people's minds, right?"
         The angel looked up, sharply.
         "Can you - can you do something like that to Jin? Something that will keep him from killing himself?"
         *Do you truly understand what you are suggesting?* Lee requested, in disbelief.
         I thought of how infuriated I had once been, when Jin slipped a language translation protocol into my mind. How his thoughtless disregard of my mental sanctity had outraged and hurt me, even if I had unwittingly asked for the protocol.
         "Yes," I confessed, hanging my head. "I - I know it's wrong, but... but what Jin wants to do to himself is also wrong! Jin saved the world from the Toshin. Why can't we save him? Why can't we at least give him a chance to live?
         "Lee..."
         My tears had come back, and I could do nothing to stop their flow. I was on my knees, bowing my neck and pressing my hands together above my head, in a traditional Eastern posture of supplication.
         "Lee, please. Won't you help him?" I wept.
         Jin stirred.
         He wasn't awake yet, but the sleep spell was wearing off. Lee's shining white wings covered him, like a feather blanket.
         *I promised Jun-chan that I would take good care of her son,* the angel sadly reminisced.
         Lee touched Jin's forehead.
         At first, light from the angel's hand brought back the shadows of those black marks on Jin's brow. As the seconds passed, though, the marks became dimmer. Jin's face tensed, as if he were caught in a nightmare; then gradually, the grimace faded from his features.
         *It is done,* said the angel. *I have placed a block in his mind, to keep him from killing himself. The block will prevent him from remembering that he is a Devil. If he is exposed to anything that would prompt him to suspect his Devil blood, the block will wipe his short-term memory.*
         "Then... then Jin will be okay...?"
         *That remains to be seen. The memory block is only a temporary solution. Jin cannot, and will not, keep it forever.
         *Yet perhaps...
         *Perhaps he can keep it for long enough. Long enough to understand that Life is truly worth living. Long enough to learn how to love his own soul.*
         "Uhhh..." Jin mumbled, stirring a little more. "Wh-what...?"
         Lee refolded his wings.
         Jin's eyes fluttered open.
         Jin said, "Julia...?"
         "I'm right here," I assured him.
         "What... what happened?" he asked, groggily pushing himself off the floor. "Lee? Why... why do I feel so..."
         *You have been refusing sustenance for the past three days,* Lee answered. *You were preparing to seal yourself within this shrine, and let yourself perish from thirst.*
         "I... I was? Oh, gods..." Jin massaged his forehead, as if it hurt.
         Then he looked at me again. "Julia, you... you came back."
         "Yes," I told him. "I'm sorry it took me so long."
         "I remember; I thought you'd gone home for good. You'd suffered so much at our hands that I thought you weren't ever coming back. I thought you never wanted to see me again."
         "Jin..."
         "Julia... the last time you were in here. When you were trying to save me from Grandfather's trap. You told me that you loved me. Did... did you really mean it?
         "Because I love you," he rushed, all in one breath. "I love you, and I've been wanting to tell you that - tell you for real, not just some drunken babbling, I-!"
         He hugged me.
         I returned his embrace, murmuring, "Yes. Yes, I really meant it."
         And I wished the moment would last forever.


         Of course, it didn't last forever. Nothing does. Nothing on Earth, at least.
         Maybe that's what made the moment special.
         Maybe that's what makes Life truly precious.
         I believe in Jin. He will reclaim his own Life. I've been watching him, Lee has been watching him, and Sub-Zero has been studying him under a microscope. So far, all of us concur that Jin's Devil personality has shown no signs of reawakening. Jin's fear that his dark side would force him into a violent transformation appears to be groundless. There should be no reason why Jin can't live a human life.
         Yes?
         Um. What exactly are you asking, about my relationship with Jin?
         Oh.
         Well...
         I love Jin, and he loves me, but - uh, it's far too early for us to start talking about things like engagement, or marriage. For goodness' sake, he's still finishing his last semester of high school, while I've just started my first classes at Tokyo Mishima University.
         And then, there's Jin's memory block.
         He has become aware of it, and accepted its temporary presence, even though he doesn't know the secret that the block hides from him. The block is not slated to dissolve until his twenty-first birthday, which is over a year from now. I have faith that, by then, Jin will be able to love and accept himself. Until that day, however, it would not be right for us to chisel our future in stone. It wouldn't be fair to him, and it wouldn't be fair to me, either.
         I will say this much, though.
         There is no one else whom I can picture spending the rest of my life with. No one.
         Yes. Including you.
         Hey, wait a minute. You're not making a pass at me, are you? What about Anna? I thought you were seeing her again. Not that I have any baseline to compare, since you've never told me anything about your dates with her, and you're still refusing to put any details about that in your record, aren't you?
         Aren't you?


End of Chapter 31: Devils Within