Demons of the Past

Chapter II - To Death and beyond

By Sapfarah

You cannot kill what does not live...

"No, wait.

I mean, let me get that straight.

ugh... you know, it's not everyday you're told you have forgone twenty entire years...

You're sure?

You mean... I just fell asleep and when I woke, chaff, there went twenty years of my life?

Excuse me, Paul, this is too much for any imagination to take.

Of course you're only guessing. What other options do you have...

OK, you go on.

Fine. Call me as you wish. After all I could use a name. I only hope this Nina Williams is not too deep into trouble.


That must explain why bashing up comes so effortlessly to me...although... I feel a little rigid... yeah, I suppose a good stretching would mend it all... That good? Oh I guess... well, thank you!

An assassin?

Hold it. Are you~ no wait a minute. If you are some secret agent and try to frame me, then I should decline the identity you appoint me.

OK, so you are not an agent. Do I get the choice of doubt? But then, you don't look much like an agent either... you just don't. You look more like a tramp... I mean, you know how... more like a renegade...

There goes that smile again :) ...


One thing at a time. Who is Kazuya Mishima and why do I want to kill him?

Naturally someone must have paid me. Come on, I'm sure you can tell me more... don't know either...

...where does that leave me then?

No, I won't see a psychiatrist. If what you said is true, I shouldn't particularly want others to know, right?

No, I don't want to cure myself.

And how do I know you're not lying?

No, I have no reason to believe you. You could be making this out of your mind. For whatever reasons. I don't know.

Yes, give me...


She does indeed look like it is me...

...and you know? You look pretty charming yourself...


We have slept together... haven't we?

You are cute when you try to hide that smile..."

To Death and beyond

BRUTUS: Ha! who comes here?

I think it is the weakness of mine eyes
That shapes this monstrous apparition.
It comes upon me. Art thou any thing?
Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil,
That makest my blood cold and my hair to stare?
Speak to me what thou art.
GHOST: Thy evil spirit, Brutus.
BRUTUS: Why comest thou?
GHOST: To tell thee thou shalt see me at Philippi.
BRUTUS: Well; then I shall see thee again?
GHOST: Ay, at Philippi.
BRUTUS: Why, I will see thee at Philippi, then.

(Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act:4 Scene: 3)

It was only a dream. Yet it pursued his sleep repeatedly, greeting him with the constancy the night succeeds the day and every time the dream was the same, each time identically evolving just as it had the night before and the one previous to it. Each time, the same scenes danced before his eyes and he was a passive observer, fastened before the view of himself, being part of that dream and he didn't even have the voice to scream, he didn't have the strength to move a limb, as it always happens in the lair of nightmares. The voice is there, the move is there and it gets to be blocked just right at the brink of getting out, caught in an agonising suspension of that tense moment prolonged to eternity, fulfilled only in the isolated hope of the dreamer and the rest of the dream remains unaffected, cruelly continuing its anguishing existence.

He was having that dream lately and it was one of these dreams that persist even after waking up as some flashback of the memory, like those hazy images through the eyes of a drowning man who grasps for the surface, before leaving the mind for good with no traces of their passing, however one strives to recall. It was too one of very lively emotions, leaving behind it the taste of horror in that inexplicable sensation of the rapid unstoppable fall halting right as it begins, neither ending, nor continuing and perhaps, if for once only the fall was pulled through, even if it meant an utter smash upon coarse ground, the sensation of waking up from it would be a relief, instead of that agonising recess.

He was having that dream the last few days, weeks, months, he could not remember and each time it seemed he was having that dream for the first time but in his sleep, he knew it wasn't so. He knew he was going through it from the start once again and every time the torment was the same, if not worse for knowing what he was to expect, not able to change it to a slightest bit.

He dreamed he was in one of the large, decked in marble and luxury entertaining halls of his mansion, in a feast such as those he enjoyed in the years of his prime. The room was crowded with guests, his ears swarmed at the chatting and occasional roaring laughter of them. He had invited all the wealthy and important he knew of, almost none of them being more than a co-worker to him, some of them people he was hardly related to. Into that feast he found the faces of people he had long not seen or heard of, even his first late wife, the gentle Amiko Aouyama was among them, wearing her best gown and fluttering her parchment fan as she talked to somebody, saying something like "yes, we will most certainly have a good harvest this year..."

He himself was comfortably suited in the centre of the celebration among his closest co-operates in the company of beautiful whores, laughing, drinking and playing Yahtzee, the game of fortune. High straight of the ace and you ascend to heaven. High straight of six and you descend to hell. The cup with the dice changed hands and profane jokes were bartered. There was wild merriment in the company and he watched himself as he could vividly entangle in the conversations, ones he would forget when the dream was over but he knew he had been saying exactly the same things each time, or at least that he repeated the same parts of his words...

With estimated accuracy he would look up right as he came into the room, covered in a worn white cloak and it was weird since he didn't at all enjoy these kinds of celebrations, he loathed them too much to even be present in the house when they took place. Yet he was there among them and he was cloaked and Heihachi couldn't see his face, but he knew him. Who was he?

Walking towards his company, he sat cross-legged among them, right opposite of him, joining them without even asking. When the dice cup passed before him, he threw all five dice in the cup and stretched it towards him, without stirring.

"Roll" he ordered and Heihachi took the cup and did as he was told.

Shaking the dice a few times, he poured them out. Spinning for long, they looked like magically dancing cubes before settling down, revealing an utter nothingness. Astounded he was looking at completely blank cubes. He couldn't see their faces. The dice had no faces and he looked up at the hood.

"Roll" he insisted without raising his voice.

The laughter of a whore leaning on his shoulder sounded above the other noises and he was caught in a cold sweat. Gathering the dice in his cold hand, he threw them back into the cup. He eyed him inauspiciously as he stirred but nothing he could see of his face, nothing but an emotionless front below the hood of his cap. He threw again.

"Is that so? I've heard they are wearing them otherwise in Osaka" a woman said and Heihachi looked over his dice. He couldn't see their face.

He stooped unbelieving above the table. All dices were blank. And the feast went on regardless.

His eyes searched below the cap for the face but he could see it not, as though his face was too wiped out. He didn't order him to roll again. That disturbed him even worse.

"Aren't you going to tell me to roll?" he demanded, even more vexed.

He didn't even stir. Slowly the hooded head hoisted and he could see the lower face, up to the sealed lips.

"Answer me!" he had demanded but he didn't speak. Around him whores laughed, his visitors jeered among themselves, music and champagne went on. The ever consistent hum decreased as if a barrier of mildew was slowly growing denser within his ears.

"Show me your face!" he yelled again and the lips he could see, nearly stretched in a smile but that couldn't be. He would never smile, in his presence at least he would never have. He knew the lips were as firm as they had been before, the smile only existing in his astray apprehension.

He reached with his hand at the hood, touching upon the reef of the cloth but he never removed it, he didn't dare or just couldn't. He didn't need to. He could see. Who was he?

"What did you come here for!" he was almost yelling. Nobody turned at his abrupt demand for an answer. They were too busy celebrating. They did not notice him. The half face was not smiling. He had banned them out of their duel. He had asked them not to intrude and they had conformed... Then he raised his hand and he was holding the cup of the dice.

'Look...' a voice, not his, incited.

Heihachi bent over and as he did so, fire leapt up to his face, engulfing him in a massive explosion. Next he screamed in fierce rage, the singeing was tormenting on his skin as he was encircled by flames eating their way through him as they hauled him to the clear and most horrid realm of the dream. He rampaged about until the flames decided to let go of him and as they vanquished, he found himself alone. He was in the centre of a den of fire.

"YOU!" he yelped to the shadowy figure clad in that long hood, standing somewhere above, behind the huge flames.

He clenched his fists and the flames parted as he walked out of them without the hood and now he could clearly see his face. It was the face of a demon, a face he didn't know of, a ruby red face with two twisted alabaster horns on the temples and sanguine pupils, greeting him with a menacing, bloodthirsty stare. Not a soft smile resided upon his lips anymore, but a gnarling grimace of utmost hate, that which he had showed him to the last day of his life.

In a calamitous flap of bat wings, the repugnant creature leaped and landed on level with him. Unsure of whether he should step back, he watched the wings straightening and slowly be absorbed off into the hale back that had sprouted them.

"Now I am a true devil, thanks to you..." the freak gnarled with a voice swelling with malevolence as he walked towards him and the third gemstone of an eye glowered on his forehead among his brows. The claws on his hoofs clicked as he made his steps upon the flaming hard rocks, his skin all over his body was fiery red and so were his eyes. A two edged tail whipped the air, following his steps.

"You should have rotten in Hell!" Heihachi snarled as he pointed an outraged finger at him.

"And I do! Every single day I live through torture! But nothing, Nothing is worse than what I have experienced from you!" echoed in his voice the clamour of thousand doomed spirits entrapped in the furnace of desolation. In the centre of his chest a reddish glow erupted and the blot stretched upon his skin, spreading as a curse embedded through fallow flames.

Cold was the sweat that showered him at his vision, one he had believed to have banished even from his mind, but there he continuously advanced to the never ending pursuit. Gathering all of his courage, he laughed at his inhuman face.

"Whimpering imbecile!! You are only getting what you deserve!" he hollered.

The bat wings had dissipated and the glow of the jewel sunk into an abstemious flash under his skin, sealing the opening that hosted his third vision, but the wrathful face was no less menacing.

"Might so! But this hell is nothing to the Hell I see when my being roams in your world!"

Closer he was walking to him and the red tone vanished from his skin, as if it was merely the reflection of the blazes around them. Only the wide gorge across his chest ignited with bright red hellfire, having permanently stamped its mark upon him.

"You are not welcome in my world! Stay in Hell where abominations like you belong!" he shouted, taking a few steps behind.

"That is not much different than your house!"

He was entirely human as he said those words and more than before he was now afraid of his stare. His eyes had extinguished to the vacuum chaotic death wells he recalled, bubbling with cold hatred and even as it was in Hell, confronting his stare sent him freezing. They circled around each other and when he gnarled, he saw long canines in his mouth.

He grind his teeth and his fists clenched, speculating him, once again, in a reprise of their last fight.

In a fierce yell the demon lunged his paw into his face, crushing his nose and mangling his lips upon his teeth and his shout of pain was pushed back, drowned in a pool of his blood. Sparks of blood distorted his vision and a barrage of punches all over his wavering body pushed him aback, until a stormy kick was slammed into his paunch, throwing him face flat on the ground.

Pushing up with his hands, he looked up behind him. The devil was standing on his feet, a malignant smile upon his lips and the darkest gleam in his virulent eyes. Sweeping his chin with the back of his fist, he shook it once and blood dripped from it.

Growling, with his body and scull aching as he never had thought they would hurt again, he rushed upon the demon standing before him. Fast he pivoted to a back spinning roundhouse aiming for his head, fast and strong as he had always been, but he ducked it and the kick missed him by a fortunate breath. As his opponent was on both his feet, he had a clear stomach and came up with an uppercut to follow with repeated punches right into his scar.

He could swear the face had laughed, even though it was a tiny glimpse he took. He only landed two punches when the demon's cheeks buckled and for each he gushed a good mouthful of viscous, bitter blood upon his face. While he stepped away to whip his aching eyes, he was grabbed by the collar and was face to face with the gnarling demon.

"You haven't changed a bit, crooked old man! Your intend for destruction is as much as it has always been!"

"YOU are telling me about morality?" he said and grabbed the wrists holding him but there was no possible way to unlock them. Fangs jutted from the fingers holding him and dived into his flesh, slashing their way through his skin. He grunted his teeth, squeezing his eyes.

"I am guilty as sin but damned will I be if I permit you to bring doom upon the boy!"

Through the stabs of the fangs blood trickled down his body, the clawed fingers cut through him and grabbed his bones but he didn't lose consciousness. His awareness preserved him in the painful torment, one of endless pain he could not escape from, he could not break free, neither give an end to.

"Don't tell me you even care!" he groaned, struggling to free himself.

"Are you surprised I haven't become entirely like you?!?" his words boomed as a thunderbolt through his anguish and the hatred in his voice inflicted as much fright as the perception of the fangs plunged in his flesh.

"Don't be trying to lay the guilt on me!..." he coarsely grunted through aching lounges.

"Your regret is not of my desire..." he seethed and his face was seared by the demon's breath.

"You are a ghost! How can you stop me!" he yelled in an outburst of all his courage.

"WITH THIS!" came the racketing reply. And in response to the command, millions of screams of anguished souls rushed upon him, battering through his head. Voices that hollered in pain, screams of despair and longing for revenge, wails of the wronged charred through his head, filling up his mind with their horrible images and astringent calamity. He screamed in agony, helplessly shaking to the cursing of the doomed currents but the clawed grips didn't loosen for a tiny moment and when he unsealed his lids, he was blasted by the demon's abysmal eyes that scorched like those flames, if not worse, sweeping his mind away, leaving a gap that was filled with the tarry ebb of his stare.

"Look where you have pitted me! Look at the power you have placed on my hands!" his voice reverberated into his ears, filling every acre of his universe, roaming wildly inside his head but he wasn't sure whether he was breathing anymore.

"Your inane tricks cannot touch me!" he uttered, despite himself.

The devil tightened his grip, pulling him closer to his face.

"Not while you are up there, they cannot! But do not delude yourself, crooked old man! You will come here someday and there is no end to Hell! If you sacrifice him, after the first thousand years I might find contentment in your torturing but not for a single day will I stop! My Hell is a Lonely place and I can't wait to see you in it!"

At last the grips loosened around him, and as he let him, he realised he had been dangling above a cliff... one where the bottom of it was a boiling firth of molten lava...

Yelling and waving his limbs, he looked up at the desperately fast lessening figure, while he was falling down the crater of living blazes and from the top the demon's eyes followed him unmercifully, more intensely the deeper he fell...

"Noooorgh!" he growled and he woke up in his bed, in his dark room, soaking in sweat. His breath was fast and his heart ached...

Laying back on his pillow he tried to relax, puffing out, hoping he wouldn't get to sleep again... Never was he ever before afraid of dreams, until now...

Gazing at the roof, he tried to clear his mind... He padded upon his chest and he found no wounds such as claws might have inflicted. It was only a dream, this and that impression of the figure he believed to see, staring at him right opposite of him... That faintly discerned frame with the black eyes full of damnation, staring at him straight from the abyss of death, it was part of a harmless dream... One he should ignore... along with the murderous grin of the ghost...

Soft blue veil covered the bright sky. The golden morning sun set its caressing rays upon a peaceful land.

Into his mind, chaos, darkness, black distress.

Little birds chimed fluttering around, on distant trees and up the balconies.

Their joyous chime was lost in a whirring cyclone of devastation.

There was no light. Or rather there was. But what light is this when it illuminates gloom and bloodshed?

Everything he saw around him was black.


Fiery dark clouds aroused in the skies, Armageddon manifested in all power, congested in the inhuman form of a man.

He opened his eyes.

Nothing he could see. Nothing but the colossal monstrosity with the red eyes. And it was luck that nothing saw him. For should anyone have met his eyes, he would be rushed by a stream of frightful emotions... Searing images, such as those into his mind, images of death and destruction, blazes of hell... and nothingness.

His fists were clenched. He gnashed his teeth. Breath gathered deep inside his body and was extruded with determination, along with a powerful blow.

His fist went through thin air.

The same into his mind.

The monstrous creature stared at him with contemptuous blood red eyes. Always an inch away from his reach. Always beyond his power.

Strike after strike, he worked his form on his way to his rival with a set of punches followed by reversed spins, concluding to roundhouses and then, halt.

Peaceful was the courtyard and the sun gently showered him.

Into his mind rumbled the devastating echo of the swirling wind in accordance to his breath and along, the synchronous beating of his heart.


Nothing moved. Not even the faintest breath of air.

Woes of doomed spirits beset his head, wailing like the wind, swirling around the menacing War God. Demonic voices hailing powers of worlds unseen, calling upon and revelling at their dreadful glory. 'Fire'... 'Destruction'... 'Revenge'... 'Thunder'... 'Lightning'...

Gathering his spirit into the centre of himself, his eyes sparked with determination.

Beat after beat of his very heart, the Ghost was closing into him, standing in expectancy... Force gathered into his soul and in a snap admirable, he tossed with his fist clenched, spinning into a mighty uppercut.

The vision shattered into his mind and the upheaval around him exploded in a shower of sparks, darkness, clamour and nothingness. He landed on his feet, fists clenched at the height of his chest, power flowing through his limbs as he faced a complete and utter void...

Slowly his fists loosened. He shut his eyes and breathed in. He took a few slow, deep breaths and then he opened his eyes.

All he saw around him, was a calm, spring morning.

He resumed up to an eased posture. Birds fluttered upon distant trees and on the balconies, the sun was soft upon his shoulders. Everything was so calm... but somehow... he knew it wasn't.

Then his eyes turned towards a speck that mismatched in his perception. Next to one of the pillars of the archway, two of the geishas of the house had been standing, looking at him... smiling.

He looked at them as he transcended back from contemplation but he had no heart to reply to the ardent faces...

"Greetings, young master!..." said the first and bowed, always smiling as she looked up again. And the other followed her.


He hadn't moved as much as a step, looking at them. He faced the smiling faces almost ruefully as his chin lowered. Then, in a snapping movement, he bent with courtesy, bringing a hand to his chest and when he looked up, a sparkling approval had settled in his eyes, but that was all he managed to extract. Ignoring the expecting smiles, he turned around and left. He wanted to be alone.

Who said it was easy being the CEO of the Mishima Financial Empire? Heihachi grasped his burdened head as he shuffled through the paper sheets at his private office in his mansion, not really reading through them. Ahead of the desk, mr Nakaraki stood straight, awaiting the verdict.

"I'm not an accountant but the figures seem fine... Forward them." he commanded, handing them over to his officially dressed, now chief consultant, successor to Takashi Fujoka.

"Hai, Mishima-sama" said mr Nakaraki and as Heihachi regarded him, he cursed himself once again for not sacrificing him to Toshin instead... Sato Nakaraki lacked that certain value Takashi Fujoka possessed and he doubted Jin would be missing him as much... Personally, he wouldn't. But Toshin wanted selective prey and he ought to make the sacrifice... Yet, if he had sacrificed Nakaraki, he wouldn't be sitting there at that moment, handing him back the sheets illustrating the final budget behind the Iron Fist Tournament, due in one day... or would he?

As mr Nakaraki bowed and took his leave to travel downtown to the building housing the Mishima Corporation, Heihachi leaned back on his comfortable chair and looked out of the window at the pale blue sky, freshly washed after a refreshing rain, dressed in its faint spring veils, pondering. He alone knew what loads of money he had spent for that tournament, what meetings he had gone through and how much he had prayed to Toshin... Strangely the War God seemed equally pleased at the outcome of events. With all those fighters gathered at his disposal, it would be an open stall of pick and choose...

He realised then... Even if he had disposed Nakaraki, the mere fact of the War God's presence would have aroused Jin anyway... The War God was toying with him... and on the other end, a vengeful Jin was pulling his own strings... He had come to terms of a cat and mouse chase where he was the bouncing ball, unsure of how easy it was to maintain the slippery balance for much longer...

Faintly he heard a feminine voice coming from outside the window and it was this voice to drag him from his thoughts.

"Greetings, young master!" the voice said and a second one followed her. Knowing what he was to expect, he got up and paced towards the window. His view of the main courtyard had Jin in his training outfit, walking away and behind, two of the women working for him, staring towards his leaving figure and quietly giggling among them. Although he wasn't sure as to whether to censure or not his grandson, he still smiled faintly at such extreme simplicity... What was the matter with that boy? He was so steadfast when it came to the matter of training and Toshin and it seemed like he lost it all at the hopeful eyes of a woman... Sniggering to himself he walked away. No Mishima ever lost it before a woman... He certainly never did... even now...

He shook his head. Now... That horrible realisation of the flow of time! What on earth was the matter? Was he actually envying his grandson? What, that naļve youth who didn't even know a woman had her eyes on him? And there were many, damn it... Within the syndicate, at school, even on the streets... One of his female teachers would rather go all the way and speak to him about his progress, rather than telling the boy in person...

He shook his head. Naturally he couldn't deny Jin's exceptional looks but with such coyness, he shouldn't count much of a rival...

He sniggered. Yes, he felt fit to stand up against the uprising challenge of his grandson, even at his age. He was ready as ever and he knew better than to let Jin grow up much more... Bitter experience had taught him to follow his instincts such as nature had implied them into him. The elder male should disperse of all young male offspring while they still were young and harmless... This time he planned to follow his intuition... even though he knew it would be alike painful to him...

Did he nurture feelings for the boy or was he indeed growing senile and the hatred he felt was not as cold as iron any more? Once, he felt he was forcing himself to accept Jin as his kin and not any sort of relative, other than the straight descendant of his arched nemesis, his very own flesh and blood, the son from whom he had experienced dismay, disappointment and even sheer fear at times and whenever he associated Jin with all those, he hated the youngster bitterly. Into his memory resided one severe face and many times he even expected to see it upon Jin, but then, at looking at the juvenile, he found a face of kindness, an artless face that only regarded him in respect... that emotion he had never acquired from his son...

Jin was progressing fast and he was proud to see how his efforts on him went on a good side, but could it really be he has found the son he had always wished for? What if Jin someday realised he never really wanted to help him finish off Toshin, that he only wanted to subdue the god's powers to his plots, that fear of his powers instructed him he shouldn't indulge into him too much?

He had to kill Jin... or the Mishima dynasty would be wiped out for ever and there would be nothing left. Jin would certainly not take over from where he finished. He knew he would sooner distribute all of his wealth in good causes, this time for real. What's more, he knew Jin would surely disapprove of him, if he knew and his just nature would do all there was to prevent him... That definitely wasn't the end he was looking forward to. He couldn't let history repeat.

Reaching at his desk, he picked up the receiver and dialled his secretary. The tournament bracket was settled, so it could as well be put up. He took a little longer at the phone, just to assert the effect of his still husky voice before satisfied at it, hanging up. The clock on the wall stated eleven fifteen. Otherwise, he should have been training with Jin but, with the tournament pending, he had cancelled the day's training... The same didn't go for Jin as it seemed, who never neglected his training. By now he was surely away... where for this time? Yesterday, he had spent time in the public library. He didn't say much but he knew he would have looked for the Iron Fist past events...

A cold sweat showered him. He should at any cost find all those copies of facts and destroy them... or was it too late? How much did Jin learn yesterday? Lately he wasn't as earnest with him, as if he was hiding something... Was he indeed eyeing suspiciously or was it his own belief, being doubtful towards him? But then, if Jin knew the outcome of the last Iron Fist tournament, wouldn't his earnest nature have at least showed affliction? He certainly had no idea about his father and Heihachi preferred him to continue not knowing much about his death... or anything before it...

How long could he keep this mountain of memories occulted?

Jin and he never discussed the matter of his parents... and Heihachi was content to leave it this way. He realised that innocuous mother of his hadn't clarified the death of his father, or Jin would never have come to his 'assisting grandfather'... Neither did the subject ever come up, either because Jin was too shy to ask or because... at that he scoffed again... perhaps that witless child didn't want to bring up painful memories...

But how long before he found out?

One can't deceive people forever... He knew that. Jin was in the library yesterday, which proved he still wanted to learn, even if he never spoke about it. Perhaps he already knew... but then wouldn't he have shown something? Wouldn't he?

He clenched his fist, muttering a curse. Troubles never come one at a time... yet what he couldn't digest the most was that this was all coming from a child... one he had never thought to be any more harmful than the breeze of spring or the misty fog of dawn...

'Kill the young before it is too late...' rung into his mind... and he halted in a freezing fear.

This sarcastic phrase wasn't even his own thought...

Thanking the waitress, detective Lei Wu-Long sipped on his cup of coffee and looked through today's newspaper. Skimming through the Iron Fist articles, he scanned the sports section, before folding it and resting on his back to admire the overview he was presented with, from the roof cafeteria he was. The day was comfortable and strangely he was optimistic. He then opened his wallet. He knew what he was looking for.

It was a picture of four people. Jun Kazama, a beautiful kind girl with a simple yet lovely smile, Michelle Chang, a cheerful half asian, half navajo woman with brown eyes that were two fires one didn't know whether to trust or not, Marshal Law, a chinese young man with a flashing grin and deeply black fuzzy short hair and along them, himself... A shaggy youth with facial lines due to lack of sleep, fast food and risky life of a street cop... The Iron Fist had just begun. Michelle had her arms upon Jun and Law, he stood next to Jun with one hand on her shoulder and smiled.

Whatever happened to them? What happened to that faithful, fiery tempered Jeetkunedo master to whom pride mattered above everything? What happened to that brazen ethnic woman who knew of no boundaries and laughed at the face of misfortune? What happened to that innocent girl who carried the purest emotions of humanity and her abundant heart shared her compassion to everyone? As for himself... He was as ever a risky cop. After years in line of duty, with such few failure as it was divine for a policeman, especially in a city like Hong Kong, he ascended to the degree of chief constable... He had earned his own office with a label with his name embossed outside the door but he was insane as ever, throwing himself in the line of fire. Yet, his looks had definitely improved...

He smiled looking upon the old photograph once more. Things had changed dramatically all these years... He had lost touch with his friends, even though mailing was somewhat consistent. Michelle sent him a postcard once every now and then from any location he could picture. Jun never failed to send him a letter at his birthday, only the last years, she didn't write... perhaps she wanted to let go of every memory of the Iron Fist and she had every reason, as he recalled... Law always posted a card at new year's eve. He wrote back once every while but he had lost them. He looked the picture once again. Even he was not the same anymore... The circles around his eyes were reduced, thanks to plentiful sleep and the attention of Chin Hsien-Fei...

He put the photograph back into his wallet to take out another one, of a beautiful woman with a big smile upon her cheeks. Hsien-Fei, his fiancee. They had met in the police department two years ago and somehow they clicked. She was a detective herself and a fluent wing chun performer. They had worked together in a mission, by the end of which, they had fallen in love. He even offered her the engagement ring, he was wearing his one in the finger of his left hand. For the time being, they lived together. She had stormed a change to the better in his life. Initially he was afraid of losing his individuality... What he got was a loving woman who cared for him, enough to stay up all night when he would be late, enough to make sure he got sufficient sleep and good nutrition, transforming his house to what could be called a home. Really, he didn't miss his scantily resplendent apartment to that joyful, colourful one she had turned it to.

Lei sighed at the memory of their nest and her face. When he told her of his intention to enter the Iron Fist... it was perhaps one of the hardest moments of their relationship. She had looked at him with frightened eyes and protested. She forbade him to go. Even if he hadn't told her of his previous participation, she knew enough about the Iron Fist to be negative about it. Quite like her he too knew she was downright correct. Yet she understood. She solemnly lowered her lids and promised she would wait...

He closed his wallet and took one more sip of his almost cooled coffee, trying to calculate the time difference to know when Hsien-Fei would be at home. He had promised to call her everyday, and so he would. It was enough that he hadn't told her of the whole truth...

He was a cop and he had learned how straightforwardness wasn't necessarily a good choice. Certain situations demanded certain manoeuvre that would bring less harm. For instance, what was the reason of telling her of what was his real motivation of entering? Had she known Heihachi Mishima had himself stated the invitation, she would have definitely gone berserk and justifiably too. But then, he couldn't trust the result of his denial. In cases of blackmailing, especially by someone as powerful as Heihachi was, he'd better believe his words to be right...

He would surely decline the invitation, but there was no option the way it was posed. He had worked quite a lot over the business of the Mishima Financial Empire for as long as he remembered himself to be a cop and all these years their activities showed no limitation in ruthlessness. Alike he was well accustomed to the notorious family of bloodsuckers, as they were often named. In the last tournament, Marshal Law had his dojo levelled in a bid to enter their contest and as for himself, he had lost his best friend and patron to one of their barrels... was that to the unfortunate Lee Chaolan, the so called silver hared devil who had been a slave to the Mishimas since childhood? And what about Michelle, who's mother was kidnapped to force her participation? Or how about...

He knew, if he would start thinking back, he would probably go on thinking for continuous days in a row.

His participation in the tournament had been successful, despite even his own disbelief, taking him to the challengers of the current King of the Iron Fist, the infamous Kazuya Mishima. However, the official match was never meant to be. A slick manipulation of the settings had him facing Heihachi instead and this twisting was meant to further bring him before more strange discoveries later on.

From his fight against Heihachi he got away with his life and a nearly dislocated shoulder but in dignity. He stayed to witness Kazuya's death at his father's hands and even if he wasn't directly concerned, he too had many controversial memories of that day, most of them though in complete confusion and ones he didn't especially desire to prick and meddle with. One of them certainly was a deep despise for the elder of the Mishima dynasty. Whoever Kazuya might have been, he was still his son. He had no doubts that, had it been the other way round, Kazuya would have sent his father to a trip of no return but even so... To say Heihachi had no choice would be wrong. Kazuya was giving him a hard time in that battle but when he had his head in his lock, he could have let him live. He should have let him live. Bringing him to the face of death was on its own adequate...

Easing his back on his chair, while the moist air rose the goose pimples on his arms, he wandered his sleepy eyes over his view, pondering over one contradiction that had been following him ever since he had left Tokyo that distant time. It was a dilemma that had followed him like a runaway dog, gleefully and without any expectation but determined to stay at his track, awaiting for him to eventually halt and gently tap upon it, one thought he couldn't banish, however silently it resided in the back of his mind.

He should have let him live...

He didn't know where the deeply felt esteem for Kazuya emerged from but he knew that somehow the man had the power to inflict respect and even compassion, an ability he couldn't reason from what he was supposed to be, the only thing verifying his apprehension being that he shared the same feelings with others who happened to come close to him and survive him... From a such meeting resulted the only memories he had of Kazuya, one brief meeting that had told him more than all his investigations and reports could ever have.

He had demanded to see him, after learning he would fight Heihachi instead of him in the semi-finals of the Iron Fist and he had himself granted him an unofficial match, a duel of honour. In his remembrance of that day he had preserved the iron-like hardness of his voice, and the menace in his stare, the most foreboding stare he had ever seen, one that only read of immense destruction and uncontrollable force, one that would not permit anyone to get a glimpse of what might be lying behind, propelling such force outwards. He remembered the cruelty in his fighting, a mere execution of the devastation his entire being consisted of...

Alike he remembered one different image of him, one he had seen after their battle he thought he wouldn't survive... There was magnificent splendour in his distant expression, yet he could see that faint flicker along with it, such as it comes to those of noble spirit when they need to speak of something of deepest concern, a nuance almost entreating... He must have been about to tell him something, but what would it have been? Could he really have been trying to transmit to him his awareness of how he only had hours left of life? Could it be that he had been experiencing weakness, was that really a last desperate signal for help? But that expression went off as swift as the flash of a lightning and he was facing the same cold, impenetrable face once again... If only he could pick out sentiments, but he had never been sensitive, that being the reason many of his friends and women would desert him. He never had insight and he never spoke of his mind, until it was too late...

He was convinced there was something Kazuya wanted to have told him then... only he never knew what it might have been. It could have been something that might have dramatically changed the outcome of the events and therefore he sometimes beat himself for not having figured, his only consolation being that perhaps no one else could either, not even Jun... And he realised how miserable Kazuya really was... He had the power to inflict his thoughts and will on others but he couldn't communicate with them and though he could see through others, he had no way of making others share what he had seen...

When Kazuya died, nothing was left from him. It was as though he had been but a wave in the ocean that just dissipated into nothing, a storm that was absorbed in the air... Nothing was said anymore about him, as if he had never existed... Yet Lei, somehow thought this was for the best... Perhaps, this man to whom fate had broken all this cruelty upon had ultimately found peace in forgetfulness... or that was the only consolation he could give himself. Then a few weeks after the end of the tournament, having finished all other investigation, when he left Tokyo, he had believed he wouldn't come to face those memories or any of the Mishima correlation ever again. But he was wrong and old demons never stop their pursuit, his case not being an exception, as it seemed.

He always had an open eye for the Mishima Financial empire. He didn't expect Heihachi to change it anymore than anyone else thought but nobody shared his assumptions. They refused or wouldn't dare. As the years passed by, the name of the Mishima Financial Empire reached further and further into the corners of the world, this time associated with bright acts of good will and on the other side, a mysterious dire organisation operated in foul actions that had nothing to do with the bright face it showed. Nobody could believe there were two faces in the Corporation, nobody would dare speak it either. But he was convinced and continued his quest for answers, even on his own.

Then one day, the unpredictable came to his door. Well, almost. He was going through rough times in his job, it was one of these periods when the world seems to keep running away from reach and everything is pitted just to be in the way. On a such day he walked into his office to find the visitor, or rather the intruder, to be no other than Heihachi Mishima, CEO of the Mishima Financial Empire himself.

He was annoyed to see him, to tell the least. The abhorrent elder had already made himself at home, exploring everything on his desk. Lei took a look at his excessive costume, perfect to the detail and the face on top of the shoulders that now, even as it had aged and lost its vitality, it was no less cruel, if not more. Indeed, age had placed more distaste upon him.

He didn't talk, he only looked at him with his narrow, venomous eyes and Lei, not only from the memory of having suffered at his hands in the semi-finals of the last Iron Fist tournament where they last met, but wondering what could it be he wanted to tell him that he had to come in person, decided to take the lead. If Heihachi wanted to do away with him, since, no doubt he knew he was tracing his conglomerate, awaiting for the wrong move to betray their true missions, he wouldn't come himself to do it. He knew the old crock better to know he had such aggravating feints, as to have others doing his illicit business, so his name would in no way be associated with it.

"What do you want?" he said curtly, immediately as he closed the door. He didn't care to hide his loathe towards him.

"Let's just say I wanted to pay an old friend a visit..." the elder said and put down a pen he was toying with, back where it was.

"Yeah, so what do you want?" he cut him off. Heihachi didn't appear to be affected.

"Indeed, I didn't expect you to be thrilled at seeing me..."

"Oh, just as I thought I would have to write it down for you."

Heihachi's stare chilled at his words and then drifted away.

"I see you want to talk straight... Ah, what is it with people? Don't they like to elaborate to a little beautifully posed innuendo? Oh well. Mr Wu-Long. I have come to hand you an invitation", he said and Lei found himself stifling a chuckle at considering to ask him whether he was getting married. He rubbed his nose with the back of his index finger instead.

"Well?" he asked as Heihachi didn't speak on.

Standing before the window, the sunlight made it painful looking at his still imposing frame and the spiky hair at either temple that as ever inferred to a demon. Lei surmised him briefly, squinting his eyes a little to decrease the amount of light impacting on them. He might have been dressed in an expensive costume, befitting the president of a corporation, his face might still have been stern and resolute but he lacked this certain refinement, the one even he had respected upon his late son and by which he personally ranked them apart. While Kazuya Mishima was still alive and his reign over the Mishima property was paralleled with that of his father only to be found more cruel, at least he could respect the latter owner. No matter how imposing Heihachi would look, he lacked this certain nobility. Should he take all his feints off, he had nothing but a crooked old man before him and a pretty unpleasant one too.

"As you might have already heard, I'm hosting anew the Iron Fist tournament."

"I have..." he said.

"I want you to compete in it."

As his words were projected, Lei could only gape at him and he couldn't help the unintentional drop of his jaw. 'OK, he's losing it.' he thought to himself, not yet confident he had actually heard those words.

"... Pardon me?" he finally uttered and a sign of irritation showed in the elder's face.

"Which part wasn't clear enough for you?"

"If I were you mr Mishima, I would have chosen an easier way to do away with me."

"I assure you I am working on that as well, mr Wu-Long. Do you think you are fit to take the challenge?"

'HE is asking ME?' he thought, in amazement. He surely knew his visitor would preserve a good condition and perhaps he would still suffer at his hands, had he attempted anything against him, but to be regarded by an older man as unfit to endure was beyond him. Besides, he preserved the agility he had at his youth as much as ever, something he couldn't guarantee for the rigid yet stout elder before him.

"I reckon there hasn't been a tournament for nearly... twenty years..." he tried inquisitively to avert from a possible revealing of his thoughts. "How all of a sudden you decide to bring back the constitution?"

A stormy cloud shadowed the elder's widening eyes as his bushy brows were slightly dragged to clash above the nose.

"Am I being interrogated?" he lowly spelled out.

A gleam passed from Lei's eyes. He didn't hesitate to flash a cheeky grin to the face of the great Mishima, as he took the handle.

"I'm working on that, mr Mishima, I assure you..." he worded slowly and was rewarded with Heihachi's grievous yet defeated silence. If that wouldn't be something to talk about later... should that time ever come.

"I'm not telling you how to do your business, mr Mishima," he went on to say, "but have you considered the impact of the announcement of the event to the Mishima Financial Empire, that is known to support UNICEF and World Peace?"

The ever vexed elder eyed him menacingly.

"Participation in the Iron Fist has never been compulsory." he said dryly.

Lei chose to humph.

"So why should I be interested in accepting your challenge?" he went to a last attempt.

Heihachi's face was covered by an unreadable dark shadow.

"When you come, you will know."

At that, with an almost unnoticed nod he confirmed he had said all he had to and walked at his pace around the desk and to the door. As he passed by him, he paused for a moment.

"I have left all the forms and papers on your desk. The choice is yours." he said and with his words said, he walked out.

Lei was rooted to where he stood, facing towards the opened door. For that short time, he had completely transcended place and time and he relieved twenty years before. The stress and confused emotions rushed into his head and he couldn't get himself to walk to his desk where he knew exactly what he would find.

He couldn't ignore Heihachi's invitation unless he could turn invisible, nor did he wish to find out what he might have to lose and he knew Hsien-Fei would be it, being perhaps the closest person to him and among the very few he loved. But why would Heihachi choose to invite him if he so much wanted him dealt with? Why was his participation of such significance that the organiser of the tournament had to come himself to ensure it? And what was this he would know when he came?

And here he was. He was officially a contestant and the tournament was about to begin. He was investigating as ever (what else was he supposed to be doing anyway?) and he expected. He wasn't contacted by Heihachi again, even though he knew the old bastard knew he had come. But his last words bugged him as ever. What was he supposed to know? Indeed, how much more could he expect the foul Mishima Conglomerate to be linked with?

Breathing through his nose, his stare drifted far to the horizon. Just like the sky was the same as it was twenty years before, so was he convinced the tournament hadn't changed either. The Iron Fist was but yet another tournament of good against evil, where innocent people like Jun, Law, Michelle and that priest, King, were put against die-hard aggressors of the kind of Paul Phoenix, Bruce Irvin and most every Mishima alive. Only, when the last tournament ended with Kazuya's death, it wasn't certain good had triumphed.

Forest twitched his thumbs with his index fingers in discomfort, while waiting for Paul's return in their hotel room. All he tried to deny, Nina's presence was disturbing him, especially as she seemed to understand it. Each time she would look up at him, he smiled sheepishly and she returned a faint smile, perhaps similarly anxious, yet he couldn't know whether she felt alike discomfort in his presence, so he silently expected Paul's return.

It was soon that Paul was back with a newspaper and a pack of cigarettes. Law turned his eyes almost too hopefully on him.

"I need a moment with the paper and then we can go..." he said as he sunk onto a settee. Spreading his newspaper, he crossed one heavy booted leg over the other and Law hopelessly found himself in more silence, watching him read.

The impatient youth leaned over his knees that started bouncing nervously. If only he could engage into some conversation... His moods were downcast. He had called at home earlier, a long distance call that was and his father declined to talk to him. His mother was somewhat bitter at his rash decision to leave and he hung up short, without getting to tell them what he had intended to. He hoped they would understand... but they insisted in preserving their stubbornness. How was he to ever let them se he had grown to be a man of his own, that they had no more authority over him... The reason he had joined the tournament was not just to get the money that would enable him to start his own dojo but mostly his last desperate outcry for independence. All his life he had been a loyal son, one every parent would be proud of having. He had been scrupulous to his father, faithfully taking his words, be it in life or martial arts and he exalted in either. He was by far the best student his father ever had and his school marks had been nowhere beyond exceptional. What more did they want to see before they would realise he was capable and ready to start on his own?

Ever since he finished school, he was working at his father's dojo as the second master, while studying in college. He had spoken with his father about his plans to open a dojo of his own and he had agreed, after all, the expansion of the 'Flaming Dragon' dojo was inevitable, telling by his popularity. He was granted his dojo. His father would lay the initial capital...

Blast it! How was he to get his message through? He didn't want to 'buy' a dojo, he didn't want to obtain the 'extension' of a dojo! He wanted his own dojo, one where He would be the master, one that He would own from the least of the foundations. He declined his father's proposal to fund it, starting a series of bumps in the course of their coalition, not to mention getting Paul's contumely. But he did not regret. If he accepted the offer, then he would never consider the dojo as his own possession... It would still be under his father's command and influence. It would be run by him, as many of the classes that even though they were in his responsibility, they were students of his father nonetheless, as would the dojo be if he accepted. No, he wanted his OWN dojo. One that would have come out of His efforts and the fruits of HIS efforts it would yield. If there was no way other than the Iron Fist to cut their protective strings, then so be it. He had spent too much of his life being obedient when all he wanted was to rage out wild. He did not regret. Instead, they would, when he would come back as a winner.

That phone call had vanquished much of his initial enthusiasm though and compelled by solicitude, for the first time he reconsidered his chances. From what he had learned, most of those countless other fighters probably had nothing to envy from him, as he ought to have expected naturally. With his otherwise fiery spirit and audacity that stood no objection now ceased at just one phone call, like the fire of his element when left without fuel, he wasn't fit to compete in as much as a street fight. He still had a long way to go and perhaps his father knew better to be over protective, he thought bitterly, if he couldn't find the strength to speak his mind while he could... He was always like that, full of indomitable spirit but never letting it out, until the pressure went too much. What was worse, he couldn't flush it out to anyone either...

"Well, I'll be damned!"

Snapping his head up towards Paul who distanced the newspaper from his face in a doubtful look, he awaited. Paul puffed out to what could ensue to a laugh and Nina too stretched her long neck towards him.

"Well what?" he asked, mostly in hope Paul had found something actually interesting enough to get his thoughts away from the strife. As Paul spread the paper down on the bed, he leaned towards it.

"That!" he said and dipped his finger upon it.

Both he and Nina bowed above the pointed article. «Iron Fist» it read and among the other pictures, one of a young man wearing the black trousers of his training outfit and protective gear, executing a fluid sidekick.

Law read the subscription, identifying the person to be Jin Kazama, who at his young age was already a phenomenal Karateka but he had no idea as to why Paul might be so excited at seeing him. Before asking though, Nina's slender finger was also pointing at him.

"That's the one I'm supposed to kill!..." she uttered in perplexity and to that both looked at her.

"Wrong again, miss." Paul affirmed. "He looks like the one you should have killed... but he is not..."

To that Nina only focused her glacial stare upon his own and retracted to sit on her knees. Law found Paul looking at the paper again.

"...neither is he the one I was hoping to find... but he will do..." he said to himself, a smirk curving the ends of his lips.

"Who is he?" Law questioned, only to find Paul neglecting to reply to one more of his questions. He bowed over the paper, trying to read something that might give him any at all indication.

"Looks like your papa was wrong, Forest... There is something for me here afterall..." Paul muttered below his beard and as he looked upon his friend's face, he saw a glowing smile.

Paul and Law had left the room and she had come up with an excuse to stay behind. She was alone and then she looked for the newspaper.

She found it and immediately she spread it over the bead. In a heartbeat, she looked for the page and when she reached it, her eyes fell upon the photograph. Even if she was suffering from amnesia and she lived into a state of her own, she knew she wasn't wrong. That was the man she was ordered to kill and she would wager her head upon it. Paul didn't believe her as neither would she believe someone who claimed to have a vision of someone and had a supernatural order to kill him... But then Paul seemed to know enough, still he insisted in acting protectively against her. But then perhaps Paul was even lying. Perhaps he knew the truth and he was trying to manipulate her...

Damn, if only she could remember! Even if for a precious moment, if only she could bring anything at all in her recollection... It couldn't be that she had been sleeping twenty years... How could this be?

True, she had awakened in a deserted laboratory, inside what seemed to be a life supporting machine. The room wasn't ventilated for a long period, but years? It couldn't be... And how did she get there in the first place?

She clasped her head. Inside her mind, mingled voices from distant forgotten dreams, struggled to get her notice.

'...the good doctor will see to it...'

A voice deep and hollow, yet vague as it briefly emerged to the surface, among a buzzing distortion, mingled with footsteps and blips... some other voices... harsh and incomprehensible...

'...I'm sorry... please, if it matters at all...' came the pleading voice of a woman, somewhere nearby... a voice that stroke hatred in her soul... but why?

Sounds of machinery working and steady tones, much like a pulsation mixed in the distortion...

'...doom will come upon me...' ...whining and tremble was in this weak high pitched masculine voice... Wait, she saw. A face such of the scientists she could only picture in movies, glasses, white apron, then...

"Come on... you must think more..." she grunted.

All images, were gone and she snivelled in frustration.

"Come on, Nina, Nina!" she urged her appointed self but neither could she find that name in her recollection.

"Goddamn!" she nearly yelped and pounded her fist on her knee.

She shook her eyes open and found herself kneeling before the newspaper. Looking at the picture she had been searching, even though it was offset to black and white, she recognised the room to be the dojo she had seen in her vision and she was certain this was the one she had seen training and was commissioned to execute. She looked at him, a complete stranger to her and her head hurt as she fell over it. What was that ghost? What was that voice which dictated that appalling deed to her?

Damn, he was just a boy... an innocent boy she could think of no reason anyone might wish for his death... neither did she...

'Kill him!' echoed in her head a grotesque voice and she clasped at either temple, rearing up with her eyes shut.

The will scorched through her brain, extinguishing her will. Every other sense was obliterated and all there was inside her mind was the insubstantial doomed voice, flooding her thoughts with its command, however she tried to resist it. She wailed but she couldn't even hear her own scream...

Then, all of it abated, or rather, it became the coating of her brain, being one with her and she was absolutely calm, as are those who have no thoughts into their mind. Her eyes were the cool, indifferent ones of what she was ordered to be - an assassin. They showed nothing, because nothing there was left to show. Alike tranquil was her heart. It followed a steady pace of casual, uncaring existence. When she snapped to conscience, she was zestfully set to her assignment.

She bent over the newspaper in a swift scan of the article. Jin Kazama then... heir to the Mishima house...

Mishima... Where did she hear that name before? It seemed there was a connection of that name with the so much talked about oncoming tournament of the Iron Fist... was that the one Paul claimed she had taken part?

She took a hold of her forearm and pressing her thumb along it, she discovered the muscles to be of a prime condition. Twenty years or not, that machinery had preserved her to excellent condition. She lied on her back and tried the flexibility of her legs. Excellent. In a snap, she arched her back and landed gracefully on her feet like a cat, alike silently and agilely. Even if all the rest of which Paul spoke of were a fraud, he couldn't be entirely wrong to her sporting abilities. Now if there was someone to practice...

There was few space in the room yet, moves came into her mind and she pivoted harmonious yet lethal swings with such speed as it amazed even herself. She tried cartwheels back and forth. Not a flaw in her moves. She moved to patterns. Elegant steps of a deadly dance, fingers of hands forming slender blades that would chop off the throat of anyone to dare cross her path. Sweat issued on her forehead and a gleam rested on her eyes. She was indeed a martial artist. In fact, she felt she was one fit to be a contestant in the Iron Fist...

She halted. The Iron Fist.

Rushing to the newspaper, she grabbed it and run her eyes over the article. 'Jin Kazama, one of the youngest ever contestants to the Iron Fist'...

The door was rapped twice making her head turn anxiously towards it.


Hastily she folded the newspaper.

"Give me a second!" she shouted as she went to freshen herself. Now where had Paul hidden the verification of his participation? It would hold all the information she would need to get one for herself... Probably on his person though, she had heard him complain about a chance lost the last time... Consistency was definitely not his name.

The door opened and Paul came in. His pale eyes met her almost shyly and she understood, however he tried to hide it, he had feelings for her. He acted tough on the outside but when it came to her, he was as coy as a teenager. She accepted his stare, uncertain of how to respond to it but she didn't ban it. Perhaps she could make use of it, if there was need to...

"Ready yet?" he asked in his scraped monotonous voice but even though she had been caught at searching his personal things, her external apathy concealed her anxiety very well.

"I was looking for my earrings..." she lied.

In a brief scan of the room, Paul's trained to disorder eyes, spotted them on the commode and gathered them in his fist.

"There you go, miss", he said and when he handed them, she stretched her deeply ruddy painted lips to a smile. Even if she didn't care much, she was sincerely moved by his interest. She really wished to avoid using him, if there was a way.

She followed Paul out of the room, putting on her earrings, her mind working in a brisk pace. Paul walked next to her on their way down to the lobby, where Forest would most certainly be waiting and he had no idea of how, even if she could not remember what he had been telling her, right now she had adopted it. He was walking next to an assassin with a target in mind. But she wouldn't tell him. Actually, it might have been for the best if she could lessen the time spent with him, which wouldn't be easy, considering the concern with which he tried to be around her. But she would find a way. She had to find a way... or that Voice might come again into her head...

Working on her plot, she made up her mind. She would enlist in the Iron Fist tournament to keep a close watch over the flow of the events and ultimately her target. If he was a contestant, the Iron Fist fighting grounds would be the place where she could most easily contact him... She had been lucky to meet Paul. She had started from scrapes and now she had enough to start her pursuit.

As they reached the lobby, Forest was there and smiled nervously at her. She returned his smile, almost genuinely, as though she still was the grateful rescued woman who suffered from amnesia.

Struggling with the chopsticks, Lei managed to successfully lead the noodles from the cardboard container in his hand to his mouth, chewing at them while they were still hot. It might have been spring but the evening was chilly and right now he longed of Hsien Fei's company and home-made chow mein even more but he had no choice. He had called her a little before and she had just came back from work. If only he could have brought her along, he wouldn't be so lonely...

Strolling through the fairly crammed streets, observing the other passers by, chiefly youths dressed in their finest for their night out and hopefully getting the attention of their targeted one, he recalled the previous tournament. He, Jun, Michelle and Law were out, only then they too were among the cheery crowd of fancy youths, in the quest to find a disco... It was Michelle's birthday, as he recalled. Michelle... Where on earth would she be now? Last postcard came from Panama, no telling as to how she was found there. In his memory, there she was, the dancing queen of the evening, her and Law paring up since the lithe man was a fluent dancer himself and he, being more timid due to the inadequate dancing skill of his feet, was with Jun in their less flashy moves. They had a hell of a time then... They had partied all night and when they left, at the small hours of the night, they had vowed everlasting friendship. They were sober and honest as they could be...

Even if only because of his loneliness, he missed his friends. Ever since the last tournament, he had lost touch with them. He had visited Jun in one occasion to find her a mother of a son... one more complicated story he was glad to be a stranger to. He met Michelle too, or rather she had found him. She was cheery as ever and had herself a daughter but he couldn't even guess who the father could be. He never met Law ever after or any other of the contestants. He had only heard about some of them but nothing more. The last Iron Fist was a dream gone by but he still remembered its glamour... that same brilliance he couldn't feel for that tournament...

He strolled a little more. On a high building, featured a large advertisement. Some wacko in a stunned expression was falling to the face of the viewers and on his hind fell boulders, a portable Sony camera followed his fall as it was tied on his waving wrist. Bowing his head, he trailed past it, declining to recognise himself in that daring advertising campaign that demanded more of his time and physical endurance than he had suspected and, although it paid well, had caused little children pointing at him in the streets shouting to their parents trying to stifle them, "Hey, it's the guy whom..." well, boulders fell on his head, alligators chewed him, volcanoes erupted beneath his feet leaving the legendary Sony PS820 intact, nevertheless. So, the advertisement was a success but he had about enough of it. Next time Sony wanted an ape for their commercials, they'd better seek for someone else. Not that he minded the cash, but.

He finished off his dinner and discarded the package in a nearby bin, hoping he wouldn't have to content on his single life, relying on ready made food for long, when his astute alertness warned him of someone watching him. He would have dismissed the sensation otherwise, thinking it was in the worst of the cases someone who recognised him from the poster, but the intensity of the stare was so sharp it could pursue him even through a concrete wall. He turned around and however proud he was of the strength of his stomach, the vision was so revolting, it could have caused him to throw up.

He was a cop and he had seen a lot disgusting sights but nothing stirred him as much as this one. Not even the wildest imagination could have conceived the existence of an atrocity like this, standing in the shadows of a corner, watching menacingly over him with a stare carrying the entity of its very being. Death and if not it, certainly lack of life. Looking upon that sight of sickening demeanour, Lei couldn't distinguish how far his abhorrence was based on his awful looks or the fact that this thing, for he wasn't human, this creation was something best defined as undead.

He inspected the drained paleness of the skin, the uncoloured from lack of life hair on his head and he almost sensed a tinged taste of mouldered soil in his palate. His stomach hobbled as though he would throw up and the creature looked upon him with his faded eyes in the grey colour of turbid smoke, having almost as much insubstantiality in them. His stare was one of stripped sentiments from where consciousness seemed to be absent, leaving nothing but unconcealed hatred.

Straightening his back, he returned the stare inquisitively but the other person showed no notice of it, if any. His stare was as if planted in his face and then, he turned around to leave. His walk was somewhat perfunctory, much like it was caused by invisible strings but steady and firm at the same time, as someone who followed a predestined route that was inscribed in his existence like the beating of the heart and the ebbing of the breath, supposing this thing still breathed and had a heartbeat.

As Lei studied his capable distancing frame, it was only then that he noticed he was dressed in the uniform of Interpol's special forces and on the back of his black bullet-proof vest figured the word POLICE in block white letters. It was then when he recognised him and he was surprised he hadn't had earlier... Only then, the last time he had seen him, his skin wasn't as pale, his hair were bleached to a yolky blonde shade and he was alive...

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