Demons of the Past
Chapter IV - Plays of Fate
Fate bring together all those who heed the call...
Sato Nakaraki pressed upon the last thumbnail and then checked the fastness of the rest once again before taking a step back to admire his accomplishment.
"I think that was the last one..." he contemplated aloud and sought for Jin. The young man smiled softly, regarding the last of the uphanged charted tables of the tournament schedule.
"So, hmm, yeah... are we going now?" he asked. Jin shrugged his shoulders.
"You go... I'll... stay around..."
"Are you sure, young master, oh, er... Jin?" mr Nakaraki corrected his accosting at Jin's almost unnoticed fretted stare that was afterwards succeeded by his ordinary, slightly absent gaze.
"Yeah... I'll see you later..." he confirmed.
"Fine... Shall I tell anything?" he asked but he had lost Jin's attention. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw what had distracted his eyes... A pretty girl of light brown silky hair done in a braid smiled at their direction, her grin obviously intended for Jin as she walked away.
"Oh em, yeah..." mr Nakaraki mumbled, looking nowhere in specific. "Well, I'm gone..." he uttered in some discomfort and was surprised to receive a reply from Jin.
"Yeah, sure..." he muttered, staring towards the way of the fleeting girl.
Sato Nakaraki left Jin on his own and headed for the exit, smiling as he walked away. For sure this wasn't any of his business but he found his young master's possibly first heartbeats amusing. Love... Didn't he too wish he had the leisure to fool around and stroll after beautiful girls under the first spring sun, instead of returning to his finely air-conditioned office in the building of the Mishima Financial Empire?
As he left the fighters' area, he found himself having to make his way through a crowd that was dangerously increasing, as the time for the beginning of the tournament was getting closer. Shouldering and apologising, he made his way. Perhaps the stillness of his office wasn't such a bad alternative after all.
Forest Law had no option but stare at Paul as he frantically searched his scattered belongings and further messed up his trunk, cursing below his breath, barely keeping himself from nervously hopping on his heels. He had known Paul's delays, due to his extreme disorder, to be putting those of the vainest woman to shame, but couldn't he at least make sure they didn't have to come only half an hour before the beginning of the Iron Fist tournament?
"If we go there and explain, I'm sure they will be able to help..." he tried to mutter but Paul didn't even honour him with a growl.
"Not again... It CAN'T be Happening AGAIN!" he went off as he threw shirts over his shoulders, mad with frustration.
"Just calm down and try to remember where you have last left them!" Forest tried to suggest but Paul was beyond reasoning. His limits of frenzy were only too short.
"Where's Nina! Where the hell could she have gone?"
Forest puffed out violently shaking his head. His match was due in a couple of hours and so was Paul's. How could he be so irresponsible as to lose his registration papers right on the time?
"Will you please stop bothering about her and get going?" he pressed only to get Paul throwing his hands in the air.
"Damn it, she took them. She's got my papers and now she's heading for the Iron Fist."
Forest shut his eyes, not wanting to think whether the prolonged delay meant he had to forfeit his participation too. Had he gone all that way through all those quarrels with his parents just to end up looking at Paul searching for his papers? Trying to calm down and repress the desire to walk away and leave his friend looking for his papers, he put up his hand in a gesture of pacification. Paul was never one very brilliant person but his stubbornness matched that of his father but at least, his father he could reason. With as few hurry as possible he managed to get Paul's notice.
"Now why would she want to take your registration papers?"
"I have no flaming idea! But I'll tell you. This woman's insane. I don't know what came over her but you can bet she wanted to contest in the tournament."
Somehow Forest's calmness worked. Paul was still upset but being one who seeks for resistance to put up a fight against, he turned very malleable when it came to reasoning. He looked around nervously and Forest considered the possibility of having to face Nina in a fight. Last time he did very bad and he could tell that was just a sample of what she was capable of doing. He still bared some bruises that worried him.
"You think she is fit to contest right now?" he asked hesitantly, entirely forgetting his rush.
"Forest, that woman is a dynamite. I'd like to tell you more but we have no time for this. Just bet you'll see her there in the next few days."
Forest cringed at the thought and for a little he forgot everything else. He didn't want to face her. Not her. Even Paul wasn't frightening before her.
"That's it!" Paul exclaimed, slapping his palms together, startling him.
"That's it! She's there already! She'll be there, with my papers, damn, let's get moving!" he ranted and in a burst of speed he rushed to the door, sweeping a stunned Forest along with him.
Hernando Garcia and Roberto Gonzales were carefully scanning the names of the battleplan tables to spot their own when a high pitched girlish shrill only too easily distracted them towards its way.
"That's me, that's me, over here!" Ling Xiaoyu shouted and hopped a few times at her tiny feet, her small yet thick-set, childish shaped palms, bonded together. One never believed that teenage girl with a face not even remotely mature and the twin springs of her sable hair, decorated with big red balls of 'Love in Tokyo' hairpins to be a fighting menace that had better been reckoned with and her whole attitude wasn't helping to the convincing, either.
Hwoarang chose to look away and protest with a tensed clicking of his tongue behind his teeth, his hair shaking with spirit of their own as he tossed his head with his personal mannered ease. Julia pretended not to take notice of it and neither would she later whisper it to Xiaoyu, whom she realised, had perhaps sensed her first real heartbeat for the young Korean. Instead she put on a smile and bent closer to take a look.
"Look Julia, here I am! See? Tyger Jackson? I'm fighting him in arena six, in two hours!"
Julia grinned. Her match was set for the next hour but what bothered her wasn't just the anxiety of what she was to face within the fighting grounds...
An equally crucial battle reared inside her heart. At once she didn't know if she blamed herself for blindly falling under her urges and they were strong, for how could she but hate one who bared the mark of all the curses that ever reached her family? Or perhaps she should blame herself for forgetting the reason she was here, that being the search for Michelle... Or maybe, blame herself for having discovered this reason which she never would if she didn't forfeit the indisputable fact she knew she longed to deny, even more as she forced herself to object to it.
Hwoarang was already walking ahead and Xiaoyu followed him, perhaps trying to find something to say when she decided to move on. She looked the fighting schedules one last time before moving on but a presence behind her halted her in a startle.
"That's it? Not even a 'hi'?" a voice reached for her before she even considered looking back. At the familiar tuneful sound of it, Julia stopped, flowers swirling in her heart. She turned around and there he was, the marvellous young man she had met in the library a few days ago, that one whom she didn't know whether to love or hate, or rather didn't dare to take the decision yet, but was into her mind ever since the first moment... even as a treasure she shouldn't have, especially after the last time when she kissed him... and he was much like kissing her back...
She saw him only minutes before and he had smiled in recognition but she never expected him to talk to her since boys with his charm are nearly every time too arrogant to admit to even a look, but he... She answered to his smile with one nervous grin. She still wasn't certain of how to act towards him... but whoever he was, she couldn't deny his kindness...
...or his good looks...
"I never thought you would talk..." she confessed and he flashed a charming yet shy smile at her. HE was the one being shy?
"Well, not that I had such a big reason, but so to say... Last time you sort of left me hanging... and..."
Julia blushed and as she did when she was nervous, she giggled, lingering about on her heels.
"Look, last night... that wasn't exactly myself..." she tried to mumble, even though she knew deep down that there was no need to explain herself, perhaps too scared to face this unexpected reality. The handsome young man smiled, a blush came as near as tinting his cheekbones.
"Well, she looked a lot like you..." he attempted and Julia rolled up her eyeballs.
"Oh God... Look... I mean..." she said as she giggled. "This isn't the way I go... I..."
Her giggling stopped and she directly met his eyes. They were heavenly beautiful, to tell the least and their evident magnificence wasn't the only reason of their radiance. Should she believe that the eyes are the windows of the soul, through his brilliant chestnut eyes she could see a world of exceptional beauty where she wished she could be lost in, as she was right now, while looking at him.
"Kazama, for that matter..." he broke the trance and she found her head jumping a little as she came around, deciding not to let her stare sink into his eyes again, saving herself from embarrassment. However his face was completely calm, beautiful in its serenity and brought her back firmly but in a gentle landing, answering to the tacit question that specked her emotions.
"Julia... Julia Chang..." she said and the smile came again to his face.
Who was he really? The name didn't tell her much, even though she had heard it, she knew she had but that wasn't the time for such questions. Whatever his reasons might have been, if he declared he wasn't related to the reason of her disturbance, she would accept it. She knew she might soon regret her trust but at that point, she didn't want to question her choice... so she smiled sweetly back at him.
Seeming hesitant, he took a breath.
"I don't know how to put this... but... can I hope to see you again, Julia? I mean..."
Nervously he rubbed his neck and smiled at her.
"I know you're probably very busy with your fights and all but... I want to talk some more with you."
Julia walked away with the promise of a meeting lingering in her heart, her steps almost flying in joy. Who was he? He had given her a name and how beautifully it chimed in her ears... Jin...
She had read a novel once, about a boy so handsome, girls just died from adoration of him. They just died. Or rather, faded. They wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep, just let the gentle death slip into their eyes and would surrender their soul with a loving smile... When she had read that novel, she didn't care much but now she knew... this boy should have looked just like him... and she would be happy to let death slip into her through his eyes and cradle her in his arms. It wouldn't hurt a tiny bit.
She was almost galloping when she reached her friends and though she wholly beamed, the two other didn't share her joy, specifically Xiaoyu was concerned, while Hwoarang glared at her as if betrayed.
"OK, what now?" she asked. Xiaoyu was about to say something when Hwoarang popped up.
"Oh, nothing! If little mrs perfect wishes to slobber around the Mishima bastard, what is it to us?"
Julia puffed out looking wearily at him.
"Look, he talked to me very nicely and I couldn't be rude, ok?"
Hwoarang's eyebrows elevated haughtily.
"Of course. Given a smile and let's all forget he's the enemy, right? Of course. What's more reasonable than that!"
He looked away as he finished and it was Julia's turn to go off.
"I'm not saying he's good, I'm only saying he might not be all that bad!"
"Like there was any difference!"
"Yeah, like you could tell it!..."
Hwoarang spread his arms with a wide eyed expression.
"Well, excUse me!"
An intense silence entwined them all. Julia knew he was probably right but why didn't things fall in the right place?
"Hey, what's with all you chicks and mr hotshot?" Hwoarang's wondrous shout alerted her. She turned to him with a threatening gaze, meeting his questioning frustration.
"Hey... Watch it. OK?"
He only huffed out disdainfully.
"Sure, no pro, honey!" he said with tawdry esteem but she began moving on. She had a schedule to follow.
"I think you are better than him..." she heard Xiaoyu trying to ease him with her high pitched compromise.
"Knock it of, Sailor Moon, willya?" he returned and Julia looked back at Hwoarang looking ahead and Xiaoyu's eyes round and wobbling.
"That's not a way to treat your allies..." she recommended and Hwoarang turned his anger at her.
"Oh, then perhaps you have a better to suggest?"
In a loud hiss she walked on, shaking her head.
"Like, SIDING WITH THE ENEMY?" Hwoarang shouted behind her and she stopped in anger.
"I'm siding with no one!" she shrilled and Hwoarang shook his head, waving carelessly, an angered laughter coming on his lips. As he walked away, Julia had no intention to argue anymore so she stuck with Xiaoyu who surely needed some comforting and both made it to the preparation halls. She had definitely expected a better start for her fights.
The guards were at a loss against Paul Phoenix and young Forest was considerate about handing his entry papers and leaving Paul behind. The middle aged man who hardly represented the phenomenal gladiator of his youth anymore, was only getting more furious.
"Look here you good-for-nothing piece of shit, do you know who I am? I am Paul Phoenix, world famous champion and it is Your honour that I am participating in your tournament so let me in and cut the yapping on me!"
"But sir..." the man tried obviously uncertain, "you need to present your papers to be admitted! The Mishima Empire has spent too much to afford a possible mistake..."
"The fuck with the Mishimas I say!" Paul was raving. "Lemme tell you, son. I know those Mishimas more than you precious ass knows and there ain't no stopping me now! So open those gates before I have to force my way!"
The man tried to bring up a protest, Forest prepared to intervene when a third party made it's presence.
"Let him in," said a voice. It was one of authority that spoke firmly but apparently not one to be safe when it would yell. Both Paul and Forest turned back to whence it came and found themselves face to face with Heihachi Mishima himself.
Forest had never seen the man from that near, nor had he heard much been said about him. He studied him briefly, a warning reaching him as he looked at his aged but boundlessly imposing figure. Such was his stupefaction before him that it was on the second look he inspected his escorts and along, a large brown bear behind him, unchained and taken good care of but growling, ready to tear them off, the command being given. He found no reason for that man to be accompanied by six armed guards, all looking very firm in their uniforms of navy blue. In the last look on this group he recognised among them the youth Paul had seen in the newspaper and was so excited about. He seemed to be somehow drifting into another dimension of his own thoughts and Forest was strangely startled when the youth fixed his eyes on him and he thought they were the weirdest eyes he had ever seen for in them he read soothing calmness and explosive violence flickering together in a deadly dance.
"Never thought I'd say I'm happy to see you!" Paul jeered and Heihachi Mishima only kept his firmness but anger was similarly glowing upon his features.
"Actually, I never thought you of all would be here once again..." he marked and by the growl that swirled behind Paul's gritting teeth, Forest realised a message was hidden in his words.
"How about one of the same for you?" Paul gnarled and the bear growled too but Heihachi's nod was enough to restrain it.
"Same old, same old..." Heihachi muttered as he waved his hand. The young man at his side only grew restless. His head moved slowly but his eyes danced madly.
"As it is, mr Phoenix, you cannot attain entrance without the right certificates..."
"You want certificates? See what I've got..." the brawler gnarled, clasping at his clamped fist, yet Heihachi didn't seem to be regarding Paul's rude remark.
"...but, since it seems to me your negligence has not improved at all,"
~and there Paul's tempers seemed to be rocketing again~
"I thought I'd give you the pass but, not without a tiny punishment as well..."
"Who the fuck do you think I am? You think I'm your son or something?" Paul yelled, nearly spitting out his words and Forest looked once at him and then at the calm elder.
"I happen to be the organiser of this tournament, mr Phoenix and I say that if you want to be granted the remaining of your participation, you must face one opponent I'll put you against."
Paul's eyes glimmered as he punched his palm in a display of resoluteness.
"I'm ready for him..." he leered but Heihachi shook his head from left to right.
"It's a 'her'," he declared and to his words, the bear lifted her torso to her back feet and roared. Paul's smile faded in apparent displeasure.
"You sonofa..." he started but held his words.
"...And, you are banned from the fighting grounds for today. Your fight is due for tomorrow, same hour, same place. Make sure you will be here this time..."
Paul merely braced himself from leaping upon them with spitting oaths and Forest didn't know why the elder Mishima's words were coloured so ironically even. At that time, he wished he had paid more attention when his father and Paul talked about their glorious days of youth and the Iron Fist tournaments they had taken part in.
"The first battles are about to begin," Heihachi declared. "I'd hate to miss them." he concluded and with that, he made his way ahead. The rest of the group began following him, as if they were programmed.
As Heihachi walked on, the bear behind him, the young man next to him and their escorts along, Forest and Paul stepped aside, as did the guards at the door. Before they disappeared inside the gate, Forest exchanged one more glance with the young man. It seemed like he might have tried to tell him something but he couldn't imagine what this might have been as he remained watching them going away, when Paul, yelling at his name frantically waved at him to follow inside.
"Sir, if you may, the battles are about to begin..." one of the guards told him and to that, he chased after Paul, the nervousness of his oncoming battle taking over.
Under the cheers of the spectators, King's mighty roar of victory echoed loud and fearsome, while his opponent, Yoshimitzu, a weird, robot-like creature lay immobile on the ground, a few steps from him. Even though that strange person was the only to combat with a weapon, his laser beaming sword wasn't much assistance against King's raw strength and competent in close fighting limbs. The ninja tricks of disappearance he tried hadn't very much helped him and the thick armor in which he was dressed was insufficient defence.
*King Wins!* the voice boomed through the loudspeakers and the weird combatant got to his feet to walk away in defeat. Still shaky he was when King walked to him and under the surprise of everyone, he offered his hand.
Yoshimitzu's atrocious scully head turned its alien eyes upon the leotard mask on the shoulders of the muscular wrestler. Yet he reached for the helping hand and to everybody's amazement, he placed his palm on King's shoulder. King tapped him in return, winning once more the crowd's affection with his generosity.
The fight being over, Hernando Garcia, who had been salvaged from rough life of homelessness and the misery of poverty and had grown up to humbleness and the glory saluting him was not of his desire, no longer needed the feline mask upon his head. The corridors leading to the preparation rooms were empty so he took it off and gratefully swept the sweat from his forehead and all the way down his face.
He walked into the preparation room with the mask at hand and found Roberto Gonzales, a middleaged man with tanned, bulging arms and body swelling with muscles, even below his loose track trousers and short sleeved T-shirt. Too tired to even nod, he sat on the opposite bench and greeted both eyes, the one still living and the false alike.
"Sounds like you did well" Gonzales said and Hernando nodded.
"Better than I have expected... Are you ready?"
Gonzales drifted at a glassed window ending up on the brim of the ceiling.
"Yeah..." he trailed almost indifferently. "Like I've always been..."
Hernando took a towel and whipped the sweat running upon him.
"By the by kid..." Gonzales started and waited to get his attention. His face was confident. "Good job on the fight."
Hernando dumped the towel on his knee.
"I wonder what father Mauricio would have done, had he been here..." he said, his eyes absent.
"I think... he'd be proud of you..." Gonzales said and met his eyes. Hernando breathed with difficulty as he saw a smile trying to hide behind the other man's big lips.
"I think he'd rush into the room and pick you up and give you a spin around then wrap your neck and mess your hair too... He was such an exciting man at times... So loud..."
Gonzales cast down his head.
"I can't believe I'll never hear his voice again..." the older man said.
Hernando shut his eyes.
"I hear it sometimes..." he confessed, still not looking up.
"What does he say?"
"Silly things... like 'full house' or 'flosh royal'... or talks to you..."
"What's he telling me?" Gonzales's eager voice sounded after some silence. Hernando left a breath of laughter escape him.
"Calls you a grumpy old man... argues with you..."
He looked ahead at Gonzales. One eye was glassy and solid. The other one was glazed wet.
"Yeah... that's him!" Gonzales uttered in a sorrowful smile.
A warning call came and a red light over the door started blinking.
"Better be on my way..." Gonzales said as he got up and placed his own feline mask over his head. There still was a long way to go.
The first day of the battles had been over and everyone described the events as a feast that never had one alike. The crowd got what it wanted, violent and amazing spectacles, during which favorites won and favorites lost, both in the arena and the popularity rates.
Among the rank of the disliked had risen one fighter under the name of Brian Fury who stood against an impossible opponent, a mechanical android described as the Prototype Jack, a model robot designed to be the ultimate cybernetic weapon. Although the cyborg's efficiency might have been amazing in a field of battle, its bulletproof armor receded under the kickboxer's manic kicks and soon it was reduced to a useless pile of junk. The fighter didn't gain much sympathy to himself, even though his skill and strength were impressive but none of the spectators could reason why. Was it his odd appearance or his persistence to be wearing sunglasses wherever he went? Some acknowledged having felt an eerie cold aura reaching them, the one that accompanies the sense of death before the inhumanely pale skinned man came at reaching distance but nobody would admit it. His fight was the only one ending with shouts of disappointment but the strange man didn't seem to even hear them as he walked away from the arena.
Lei was among those who had closely watched over the silent man and the more he tried to figure out, the more he was getting confused. He had seen him dying, he couldn't have survived the wounds he received and then, he was there, alive and well and fighting effectively. Only days before, he had been watching him on a narrow street and although he knew he had recognised him and the spark of his hatred was the same, there was something really wrong with him. Either he was insane, sick or far more wicked than he could even imagine.
His thoughts troubling him, he walked to the exit and at a turn, his eyes skipped with wonderment. He would never have looked so intensely at the young man escorted by two tightly suited men, had he not been completely stunned by the extraordinary peak his raven hair formed on the back of his head. While he questioned if it had to do with Japanese hair or whether that was a play of fate, for the youth bared very similar poise to his broad expansion, his intense staring attracted his attention. In the moment they were face to face, Lei didn't know what he was facing but he could have sworn it was something he had once seen before.
The young man who in truth might not have been more than a boy, took hesitant yet stabile steps away from his escort and walked towards him in the way he would approach an unknown animal and halted at talking distance, undecided of what to say.
"And you are?" he ultimately questioned.
Lei had no words, for what was he to say to someone whom he had been watching, annoyingly too perhaps but alike was he surprised at the young man's apathetic calmness in a manner of someone who had managed to wrap himself into some weird solitude, upon which the touch of reality broke. Why was it all so familiar?
"Lei Wulong. I am a contestant." he finally uttered.
"Is there something I can do for you, mr Wulong?" the young man went on in an impersonal politeness he could bet he had met before.
"Do I know you?" he attempted but neither his very intrusive manner seemed to be getting to him.
He spoke with the calmness of someone who was used to be talked about and probably not always for the best reasons and Lei, the more he looked at him, the more he couldn't believe his eyes and yet, how was he to reason what he saw and knowing what it was in a term other than a play of fate?
"You are..." he murmured, hesitant to complete his question, not certain of what answer he wanted to take when the young man interrupted him.
"Jin Kazama. A contestant."
Lei didn't have to think further.
For a little he was speechless, just looking at the young man whom he had never expected to ever see.
"I just never thought..." he mused, while the young man still stood undetermined before him.
It ought to be him. He was the son of one kind woman and one condemned man, a boy he had seen so long before when visiting an old friend, baring on his face the evidence of a love genuine but fatal, the outcome of a union that could never have been, carrying the hopes and dreams of a life and a wish. It had been a long time since then but when he looked at the young man, he still saw the same things he had seen that distant day. Her and her kindness, her artless manners, her bold facing of the world, the beautiful gentleness of her bright eyes. Him and his firmness, his unresponsiveness and the steadfastness of his decisions and deep within the eyes, the spark of power, blended in perfect cohesion, in what must have been the togetherness they would have been searching for...
"You must be the son of Jun." he managed to say and in that phrase, the youth dropped his mien, giving way to surprise.
"You knew my mother..." he said perplexed.
Lei smiled cheerfully.
"I know you too, Jin!"
A curious frown knitted upon his brows and Lei took the lead once again.
"I had come to visit you when you were younger... remember? I was with your mother when she had come to pick you up from school..."
The eyes jumped in surprise and as the youth was searching his memories, a spark of recognition glimmered within them. He nearly flashed a smile and he was again the young boy he had seen so long before.
"I think I remember that..." he said and struggled against the smile.
Lei looked at the two men in the firm navy blue suits waiting at the distance. He turned his attention back at Jin who now seemed flustered, perhaps knowing at the questions that battered him.
"What are you doing here, son? How's your mother?" he inquired and he knew he didn't wish to see Jin's eyes lowering in sorrow, his breath not daring to come out. At that moment, a dark hand gripped around his heart and, as though it would make all the difference, he wished he could recall his question. However, Jin's lips close together, pressing upon each other and his eyes roved off before muttering his answer.
"My mother is regrettably dead." he said and took a deep breath he shielded deep within him.
Lei stood silent, not knowing what to say, what to feel or how to reason what he heard. Jun's memory was very distant now, just a sweet face with a smile, a person he had met once but earned a place in his heart, a kind woman who of all didn't deserve to die yet. He understood why Jun didn't contact him the past years and then again his attention came back to the boy...
Eyes facing down, Jin chose to maintain the silence.
"You're living with your grandfather now son?" Lei tried and his assumption was answered by a faint, almost unheard positive sound. He read the sorrow about him and decided to end the questioning. He realised discomfiture in the boy and in a moment he thought of how he ought to feel having lost his mother in such a tender age and coming after all these years to a relative that probably never knew about him and, knowing Heihachi, wouldn't provide the warmest greeting. He might have pleaded and given away much of himself, hoping for... probably no more than a new home...
Lei looked up at the bowing face. Chewing upon his lower lip with his brown eyes moving frantically about, he struggled not to recede.
"I have to go..." he muttered and Lei knew he was about to cry when he forced himself to hold on a little longer to utter a hasty goodbye.
Lei lingered at where he stood for a little more, vainly trying to put his thoughts in order. A distant face and long lost memories left with Jin as he went on his way, his escorts following closely. Jun was dead...
At such moments memories carried for the late departed emerge and Lei recalled the last time he had met the girl... She was living in a small house within the woods, twenty minutes of walk from the nearest village, in the solicitude of the nature she had always loved and she was a mother of a child, a sweet dear boy with healthy cheeks and an endless need to prattle, like children of this age are, once the initial perturbation is forgone, a lovely child she had introduced to him even with guilt as her son, and Lei heard her unspoken declaration of presenting with pride the son of the only man she had ever loved...
Jun ever cradled warm emotions for the father of her son... he couldn't blame her. She still loved him, even though she had suffered much contempt for her emotions for him. And hadn't they been unjust towards her... Why was she to blame if she had loved this man? Relatives and lovers cannot be picked. So how was she to blame if she had found love for him in her heart? When he last met her, after all that time she was still talking about him and with affection too. She never spoke his name, she only talked about 'him' and she had bared him a son, a sweet boy that remotely reminded of his father, as far as baring that inert detachment went, for the child had softened features, like his mother... Jun was fond of her little boy, in a love that perhaps was too indulgent but he understood there was no other way... She swelled with affection and her baby being his image and the fruit of her love for that man, received all her devotion...
He spent a day with them, most of it talking to the boy who developed a spontaneous interest to become a cop with guns when he would grow up, he played and run around with him and he was so excited to be carried on his back, Jun probably didn't play so extensively with him... and then, he pitied Kazuya once more... he pitied him for not having the opportunity to take his place within his family, even if only for a day, for not holding up his son in his hands and never look into the sun shining in his eyes, not listening to his wife's laughter as he would play with him... and there was such brightness in the face of the child when he laughed... He was holding him and he was holding a ray of happiness, such as dear children are to those whom they smile to and if he felt a tear aching into his eyes, he knew Kazuya would be crying when holding his son in his hands, even if only for one day...
But now Jun was dead and her son was gone away, lost as well, turned into something different than what he was before, drowning in sorrow and Lei found himself before one great realisation...
Much of that boy had also died.
The man handed a copy of the original participation sheets to Paul and mumbled an apology which Paul received with grunting silence. Once the papers were in his hands, he folded them in an improvised threefold and stuffed them in one of his leather jacket's internal pockets, right as he started to walk, causing young Forest's disapproving glance.
"...you were a little less disordered you wouldn't be here~"
"Shut up and follow, I swear I had them right into the top drawer!"
"But looks like you hadn't..."
At last, when both of them walked past her hide-out, only then did she come out. With lots of unneeded to the moment coquetry, she straightened her body, slightly inclining upon one hip and fixed the lustrous surface of her hair. With Paul and Law out of her concern, she could focus on her task.
The stadium was now empty and the cleaners begun appearing to pick up leftovers of junk food, tickets and other various trash the spectators had left from their passing. Nina begun walking. One thought alone was in her mind.
She had seen Jin Kazama during the fights. He was always being escorted by bodyguards in neat firm navy blue suits and non-transparent sunglasses, a handgun under their jackets, even though, had their protege not been the heir to the immense Mishima wealth, he didn't appear to be someone in need of protection. His build and the way he moved showed someone alert and ready to combat any time, effectively too. He did have a lovely face as well and she still didn't find a sufficient reason to kill him.
She headed for the exit, slapping a worker to the ground for his prurient remarks, surprised that she actually understood Japanese, even though she had no idea as to how she had learned it.
It was getting late. The time was right. She went ahead on her way.
Again that evening he was strolling in the garden like most every evening, his hands in his pockets. That was without doubt the nicest time of the day. The mansion's grounds were completely quiet, birds sung messages towards each other and the leaves on the trees rallied, whispering their soft tunes. That time, when he would lose himself into the plantation and the rest of the construction could not be seen, it seemed like he was once again back to Yakusima... if only mentally...
He walked slowly, endeavouring those lesser moments for as much as he could and in those moments he brought out of their case the gentle loving memories of his mother. Not her face, that never, because every time he tried to picture her, he could only see her sorrowful face, if not that pale, agonised one when she had screamed to him... He was trying to banish her face from his mind for it only weakened him in unavailing tears... but he recalled her mild voice, smooth as a misty drift as she talked to him, when she would take him for walks in the forest, showing him the beautiful patterns of thicketed hills and lakes clandestine to the human eye, introducing him to all the trees and plants by their name, not their scientific or even the actual ones, but names she had given them in a trivial but so touching affection... She loved the nature and trees had names, flowers had names, birds and insects had names...
'You are a human, not a Homo Sapiens and you like to have a name... Why can't the oak and the frog have one too?' she told him and in a smile he acquired her thoughts.
He almost felt her soft fingers stroking on his face and had to take a deep breath to hold back the tears. How kind she always was and so loving for everybody... Indeed she might have found it difficult to adjust to the rest of the 'modern' society, which must have been the reason she had chosen the seclusion of the forest they lived, that true paradise upon earth, humming with enchanted secrets and beauties, a shelter far away of all those that had harmed her...
How sad she must have been and still she always had a smile for him and a sweet word... How unaware he had been of her sorrow and how he had wished he had held her in his arms and comfort her, even if only once... She might have not prepared him adequately for the rest of the world, keeping him unaware of many of the benefits the 'modern' life provided, but never would he trade them with what he had learned thanks to her. In her simplicity, she was a person he could lay his troubles on and discreet as she seemed, he knew without her most of his world was only one big hallucination.
So kind... so gentle... how could evil ever target her, of all creatures in the world? Was it her pure emotions that angered such savage predator? If nothing else, how was he to ever comply to her undeserving death? And if it was so destined to be... why couldn't he have followed her?
'Mother... Even if I avenge you... how will things get better?
I know I'm too old to miss you... but I do...'
Would she have sought revenge had she been here? Was he ready to get it and was he right to want it? He really was a weak creature like her... Weak as he only wanted a simple life away from unnecessary struggles... but there come times that trouble finds everyone... and like she had said, at such times, you must be ready to raise your height against it...
Walking past a tree, his eyes spotted the roundly yellow pupils of an owl. He stopped for a while to look at the minuscule bird, knowing he was one of the very few human beings at who's sight birds wouldn't fly away. His mother had taught him to banish the load of cruelty people carry within them, lessening his breath to a low fluctuation, in accordance to that of the Nature... and there had been a time animals were not afraid of him... a time so long before, so irrevocably long gone by...
Just as then, he wanted to stretch his hand and stroke the fluffy creature as his mother had showed him how to... only...
She was so kind... so gentle, birds would not only remain where they laid but also flew on their own and sit upon her shoulders... She liked all creatures... Vicious poodles didn't bark at her, untamed cats let her stroke their fur, squirrels ate from her palm and the birds just rested upon her... She had helped him hold little birds into his hands as well... only lately he couldn't do that anymore...
'Animals have no pretensions and through your eyes they can read your heart... if your heart is clear, they are not afraid of you...'
He reached for the owl and as his fingers were almost upon it, the bewildered bird flew to a higher branch and worried it looked back at him.
He retracted lowering his eyes in sorrow. How strong was his intend to vindicate?
'But it wasn't right... it wasn't right, damn it... you were murdered... you Should be avenged... mother...'
He walked on but his moods were not calm. The tournament had begun and he felt ready to leap into the fighting arena, not because he desired to get into fights that would exalt him as a fighter or even as a challenge worthy to invoke the War God, although that was his desire. He wasn't sure how Toshin would come to him this time but he knew... this tournament was perhaps his only way... and he wished it over and done with, soon.
Perhaps Heihachi was right, he was too impatient.
...Heihachi as well.
He couldn't find it in his heart to call him 'grandfather'. Neither did he consider him as family. Still not. When the tournament would be over and he would get his chance against Toshin, he would ultimately leave the Mishima residence and not be obliged to them anymore. If he was even a part of this family... he certainly didn't feel belonging among them.
'Toshin... why didn't he ever come to me?'
He was here... Takashi's death had proven it... If he was right about it, then the War God wouldn't be far either... Perhaps it was a matter of time before he would meet with him...
He closed his eyes in a sickening faint breath. All that he wanted to rectify the injustice, he had to defeat his own fear first. The memory he carried was ever an agonising one, one that paralysed his entire being. He had to find the courage to stand up to the challenge but somehow... he wished there was some other way...
Somehow to get things back to what they were...
...or even die...
When the load of sad memories of his life was so heavy upon his chest... there were times he had really questioned whether he would rather...
It was only the memory of his mother and how she always told him to always do his best that preserved him. That alone.
He opened his eyes and clenched his fist. Someone else deserved that sorrow. And if there was any chance at all to...
He wasn't sure how he had come before the door of the mansion's private dojo. Before the building he halted and gazed, blank for a while, with precaution and hesitancy, as he always did when his steps lead him in there. It was a fear directed from memories past, so very recent. His first few training sessions against Heihachi...
How had he suffered at the elder's hands... He had believed his confrontation with Toshin to have hardened him enough to face anything... but he was so wrong...
His meeting with the phantom of the War God was a brief one and pain that comes by quick, however hard it digs into the soul, soon expires from the intense memory. It had nothing to do with the constant torment he received in this room, halted at the exact limit between consciousness and loss of the senses, in the tormenting prolonging between continuing and ending. Not to happen.
He knew the elder to still be a warrior of prime condition but he never suspected that a mere yell would have been enough to nail him against the wall, melting down in cold sweat. He never had pictured punches like cannonades plunging into his soft middle section, strong enough to force him retch his soul up to his teeth then force it been swallowed back into his lounges for more and more. He suffered. He thought he wouldn't go through one more strike and every night he felt like he had no limbs under his command. He was watching himself walk away as though he wasn't him but someone he followed up closely, a breath away from his staggering body, not sensing the breath he drew into his lounges, not feeling the pressure of the ground upon his feet. Day after day, each like the one before.
'Move to the side, damn it!' he heard Heihachi's yelp, and while Takashi shoved both fists as one below his ribcage, folding him in two, he caught Heihachi waving angrily with his arm, as he supervised their fight.
'Shift, Jin-san, concentrate! I've told you about a million times to keep shifting your position! Get up!' he commanded and although the pain was already too much, he didn't dare remaining a second more down.
Sucking at his lips, he would snap on his feet, dripping from so much sweat it blinded him. Once again he resumed his fighting stance against Takashi. He remembered his friend with nostalgia too, as he regarded him firmly but considerate as well. He used up all his strength not to admit into exhaustion. He had to survive.
'I want you to concentrate!' Heihachi commanded. 'I want you circling around him! And you!' he referred to Takashi. 'Don't spare him again!'
It took continuous days of battles in rows. Soon he could stand up against Takashi but the elder would always remain a hurdle. Once as he thought he had reached to his level, he would withdraw and make him lose his awareness of his skill, only to come back with more tricks at hand, new attacks that were even less predicted and even more destructive... Heihachi would in no way relent to giving a proper blow...
Could he hate Heihachi for treating him like that? As deeply as he searched into his mind, he didn't. He knew the elder did it for his own good. He gave him the best training that would harden him for the ultimate confrontation laying ahead. How could he scorn him? He knew Heihachi wouldn't truly harm him, why would he want to? He knew the derision in his growling voice was not real. He was employing his best to bring out the warrior in him. The fearless warrior that would stand up against something bigger than Toshin...
'Fear does not belong in the heart of the Karateka!' he insisted as his back was blocked by the wall. His eyes trembled and couldn't release themselves from the elder's hard as black marble glare.
That was so long ago. That was before. And after. After the Failure. Before the day of the reckoning. Soon...
He had banished fear from his heart, replaced by an empty indifference, or rather, fear didn't disturb him anymore. He had learned to cope with it but there were lapses. At those times, his stomach was tied in a spiky knot... Fear of Toshin, of failing Heihachi and his instructions, ultimately himself and his mother, once again... and there was this bitter other thing he tried so hard to ignore, one that came to life with his mother's death.
Hating. Resentment. That thirst for vengeance he had never felt in his life ever before.
But then, before then, what did he have to hate? Or had he been that blind he couldn't see the truth of the world?
The dojo was dark but even if he was blindfolded, he could find his way in it. In fact, he had actually done as much, for Heihachi had taught him how to use the rest of his senses for orientation as well as countering unseen blows. Slowly he was learning how the skin can sense the surrounding, even the air's drift and the ears have their way of maintaining perfect balance and he came very closely to scenting his opponents, only now he was all by himself as he took his steps inside.
The serenity was magical and the air so cool... The wood gave off its distinctive fine scent and the soft last rays of light lined their path inside. He took a deep breath and smoothly slipped into the first pattern of his favorite kata.
Imaginary opponent attacked him in an imaginary blow and he retaliated, guarding his hind from another. A knock was heard and he halted in a startle. He hadn't made that sound...
He looked around. There was nobody there.
It took him a while to regain his concentration for a rapid sequence of blocks and hits when he glimpsed a move with the corner of his eye. Snapping to that direction, he knew the shadow he saw was one of a human being.
He halted to his position, alerted by the second presence. Who was it and why was he being spied?
Senses alert, he arched his waist back and avoided a blade that flew whirling for his throat. Just as he was about to look back, he realised this had been intended for a distraction when, out of the shadow, swift as a viper, one woman leaped upon him, the coldness of the venomous snake upon her cold but also beautiful face. Two long fingered hands forming blades extended for his face and he was only fast to grab them and fall down along with her and while he banged his back on the floor, she flipped above him, landing at her feet and turned her wrists free from his clutch, reversing it to a twist of his own arm. Despite his will, he hollered in pain.
His elbow was killing him and she was trying to topple him with the face flat. His mind worked into one of his mother's lessons, when she was teaching him her personalised art of Judo. Following the force of his attacker, he came to his knees and threw his body to the direction she pulled it and sliding below her hold, he pushed himself free.
He didn't have time to halt and ask who she was and why she surely intended to kill him as the mad woman attacked him again in a blind resolute manner, her opalescent blue eyes being umbrageously focused on him. She attempted one more knife hand for his throat which he blocked before it would either crack his throat if her nails didn't tear it but he never saw that kick flicking at his crotch. Once again he collapsed, folding over himself, crying out in anguish.
He looked up and was just on time to avoid a kick in his face.
"The hell is the matter with you!" he cried as he forced himself up. Backing off as she advanced, he saw her trying a kick that should have slashed him but he evaded, stepping behind and when she attempted one more knife for his neck, he only grabbed her wrist and twisted it behind her back. At the pressure, she bent and pushing it further lower, he had her face flat on the ground. He ought to have stomped upon her spine and finish her off but he hesitated and she managed to roll free and he released before being pulled along.
He stepped away and met her eyes. Cold as ice and only spoke of death as she looked at him and viciously passed a swift hand vertically to her neck signalling a cut throat, spitting out in frenzy. Jin stood gaping, his eyes open wide. Who was she and why did she want to kill him?
The sound of footsteps upon the outside porch reached him but he didn't take his eyes from the woman. She was too looking at him and her eyes widened at her fast thoughts. She was far for a swift deadly blow which he might have been prepared to deflect and the newcomer was right outside the door. In a sprint she chose the exit of the window.
Jin nearly leaped back in a startle as the woman vanished outside and into the night, his heart drumming in wild fear, his arm killing him. The footsteps of Heihachi's geta didn't attract his notice.
His name being pronounced, he looked at him.
"Is everything all right?" the elder said but he still couldn't form any words.
It was bed time and anyone who cared to maintain good efficiency in the fighting grounds next morning had already been into bed. Yet Julia was walking alone through the hotel corridors, to appease a disturbing thought. She wasn't a person who preserved grudge, so she sacrificed a few minutes of her sleep to take the walk to Hwoarang's room. Thinking that the time was not the best to make more enemies and that an attempt of reconciliation was surely better than remaining with the silent acceptance of the spite, she rapped the door a couple of times, then waited.
Shortly afterwards the door opened and Hwoarang appeared. He seemed annoyed.
"Care to walk?" she said before he would speak, neither sounding aloof but not promising either. Michelle had told her it's always better to preserve some things concealed from people, lest they make abuse of it. Brave Michelle... her guidance had been priceless at so many times and once again she would use it to fix the harm done.
Hwoarang nodded after some time standing there wondering and came out, shutting the door behind him to join her.
The hotel was fairly quiet as they paced along.
"I came in this place because... someone I cared for vanished." Julia begun, without looking at him. His silence only urged her to talk.
"She was a good friend... A dear friend... She was the best friend I ever had..."
"Why are you telling me?" Hwoarang muttered.
"Because I want you to know that I'm on your side." she concluded rigidly and Hwoarang halted, looking at her, a question mark written across his face.
"She was coming here... to meet the infamous Heihachi Mishima... but she never arrived. I know something has happened to her. Something bad. The Mishimas are my enemies as well."
Hwoarang shrugged his shoulders.
"Whatever." he said indifferently on the outside but the boiling in his head was too obvious.
"So what's your story?"
"What do you want?" he demanded after an uneasy breath.
Julia briefly rolled her eyes below the arches of her delicate brows as she exhaled.
"To see if we're on the same camp." she said, very near to exasperation.
"If it is about the boyfriend, I don't want to talk about it." Hwoarang said bitterly.
"You like being alone?" she said and this time she turned to him, forcing his attention on her. He was angry and his thin brows were snared to his nose.
"What's your point?"
"My point is, if you don't want me to talk to you, just save me the effort and tell me!"
Hwoarang appeared considered at her outburst. His annoyed expression as his lips found no word of his choice appropriate, ebbed and lowered his head. His thoughts were curtained behind his crimson slick hair.
"If I tell you, you promise you'll keep it to yourself."
"No, because I don't know what it'll be. If you don't feel safe, don't say it."
Silence came again between them as Hwoarang moved on, making sure she would understand he wanted her to come along. Julia tried to remain patient. She had come very near to give up now.
Indeed very soon Hwoarang revealed from his hindpocket a suppressed dark man's wallet folded in two, one that was worn off from mishandling. With the ease of someone knowing what he did, he emerged a picture and handed it to her, while inserting the wallet back in the pocket.
Julia brought the picture close to her face. From the four people, seated around a small table in a night club, she only recognised Hwoarang. He appeared a little drunk and his eyes glistered to his smile. On his left he had his arm around the neck of a black youth with rave sunglasses and on his right leaned another guy of his age, drunk as well, laughing. Next to this guy, a man with polished dark hair gathered in a short ponytail leaned towards them to fit in the margin, a man who's appearance was of a perfect condition, that making it almost impossible to believe he was in his middle ages. His asian eyes were almost sealed and a jaunty smile faintly showed on his smooth skinned face, one that read firmness and determination.
"Baek Doo San..." Hwoarang muttered. "They called him the killing hawk... His kicks were said to be only rivalled by those of Mileena... and yet... in a very close comparison..."
Julia seemed to remember having heard that name in the past. Michelle had talked about a Korean TaeKwonDo champion by that name and perhaps she had something personal about him too but she had never asked her. What would she gain from knowing, anyway?
"He had participated in lots of tournaments..." Hwoarang spoke, "no slacked moves... He played fancy and finished many matches with knockouts... After a few years, it was pointless for him to fight on... he said. I think... he was disqualified..."
Julia looked at him again.
"Must have injured someone mortally, I guess..." he said as he took the returned picture back in his hands.
"His methods were revolutionary..." he continued. "He had a voluntarily lesson for every class, in which students went in street clothing... he even encouraged girls to go dressed up in high heels and stretch skirts... because, as he said, he wanted us to learn street situations, where we wouldn't be warmed up or in our workout clothes... he was right wasn't he?"
"Uhum..." Julia could only manage. It was among her weaknesses as she called it that an emotional narration found the way to her.
"Master Baek had us face nearly real life situations... knifed attackers, multiple attacks, other styles... he himself knew a lot of fighting against many arts... He taught me all I know and... don't ask, it's too complicated to explain but I know the answer to his death lies here... Maybe behind your mister perfect even... So please. Don't ask me to act with courtesy."
His eyes were staring ahead, firm like the eyes of a bird of prey and Julia shared his emotions. Hers were similarly intense about the Mishima family but now...
She shook her head. She would deal with this some other time.
"It's reasonable that you are angered, Hwoarang and I hope you'll find your answers. Just remember, nothing at all will stand in my way when it comes to finding justice!" she emphasised, every word she said being meant. Finally Hwoarang looked at her and she was glad to read agreement in his face.
"And as for Xiaoyu... You are unnecessarily hard on her..." she reminded him, her eyes strictly looking at him.
His head turned forward again, he felt uneasy facing so many charges.
"Look I know, I feel kinda like a jerk, but I can't help it! I don't hate the girl or anything, it's just~"
But Julia stopped his jumble.
"Look here. You are making abuse of her emotions. I won't do anything about it but just warn you. Don't push it too far. Even the kindest person turns the personification of hell when wronged."
Hwoarang breathed out once with tiredness and then looked assuredly ahead.
"I know... I'll make up to her. I promise."
"Don't. Just do it." she said, although she recognised the understanding in his voice. As Hwoarang ruffled his lips with the task he had accepted, she begun walking away, without uttering a good night. She knew he wasn't the sort of person to endeavour such social details, so she stated her farewell with a last nod.
Julia left with an inferring last stare but she knew as well it was only a truce for the sake of keeping in a form of team. Hwoarang winced as he walked away, not willing to sleep yet, knowing that unlike her, he would never see things in any way other than the one he maintained. Could he change his mind when that would mean disrespect to the memory of his master?
Julia might be all foolish as she wanted but not him. Even if she was right and this guy had nothing to do with their plague, which he certainly did not believe, he didn't want to hear it. Someone was to blame and he was the right person, even if only in his angered mind. But he had no other way of looking at things when on his mind loaded the death of master Baek...
For him, he had been a teacher and even a father when his own was no more around, then later a friend and they would have become even closer in due time... In his eyes he was the absolute finest man, the noblest warrior and above, the example that helped him overcome himself, the man who showed him the way to bring out the strength in him, from the very beginning.
He couldn't tell before but now that he knew, he would say with certainty that an incident of his first year learning TaeKwonDo with Baek was where the bonding had really started...
It was the day he would learn the leaping kick. He was a skinny little boy that was more words and speedy escapes, baring a name unfitting to the society he struggled to mix with. A time so distant but always within him, the base stone of his character, that would keep reminding him who he was and what he has achieved and what not to become ever again, a reminder of where he started as well as how much more he could achieve...
'Bob' was not his name anymore and whoever considered arguing about it was greatly welcomed. He was called Hwoarang and pronounced with esteem and correct intonation as well, the only reminder of this era being a greatly exercised skill for verbal arguments and fast, strong legs, but not for running away. Chasing perhaps, if his opponents were fast enough to run away from him and he considered necessary to finish them off.
He owed this all to master Baek, be it with his lessons, be it with his long lectures he enjoyed giving, as every martial arts teacher frolics once every now and then, narrations that had him completely swept from mentioning of Power and Spirit... He was somewhere towards the green tip in the rear lines and hardly kept from gaping at his trusted teacher's words, a beginner among trained fully grown youths who he feared they mocked at him, at the turning point where a trainee either gives up or goes on to awake the warrior within.
'The power of your Spirit is limitless! If you can picture it, then it will happen and there is nothing you cannot do!' master Baek was saying, trying to encourage them and he was staggering on the back. One after the other the students yelled as they rushed to jump kick at the big black target held by Jon, master Baek's second in command, a youth of eighteen, first dan black belt. His turn soon came along and he only stood looking ahead.
'Come on, Bob!' one shouted at him and some incoherent shouts dictated him to make it quick.
He looked unto the large black padded target and nearby, at master Baek. He had his arms crossed before him and an unreadable stare on his hard face, speaking of all he had said before, looking at him. His gaze was intense and specific upon him, demanding but encouraging, the way it is for a child's first steps. Hwoarang had closed his eyes and concentrated on the target.
'The power of the Spirit can bring out miracles...'
He focused so hard he didn't hear the shouts of the others around him in their ambiguous encouragement, the anxiety possessing him became a warm flow that boiled through his veins in a stimulating beat.
He summoned all of it in his rattling heart.
'They want to see a miracle...' said one determined voice in his head. But before it finished another came. One stricter.
'And what do you want to see? Forget about the others! What do YOU want to see?'
'A miracle...' he answered to himself. He clenched his fists.
All of his spirit was gathered in his lounges as he was triggered with a mighty, ear piercing yell that was too strong to have been his own... he rushed upon the target, his feet flew off the ground as he dashed upon it. In through his maze, he saw Jon's anguished face and when he leapt into the air, with the power of a tiger, his leg dived through the obstacle. After that day, they had told him, he had dashed upon it like a hunting hawk.
After that, he landed on his feet. Staggering but on both feet. As he recovered from the daze, he heard the loud shouting coming from everyone. They were not jeering anymore. They were amazed and cheered at him only with astounded surprise... He looked around, still not believing he had forced Jon on his back, him being perhaps the strongest of the class... but the real miracle he saw when he looked up, before him.
Master Baek was smiling.
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