The Quality of the Sword (is Determined by the Wielder of the Flame)

Chapter Four - White Hot Flame

By M. Mishima

Jin knelt within the confines of the Korean temple, his candle lit to no particular God. He had learned this from his Grandfather, the quiet meditation required of the Mishima ancestral art; something he took seriously after the utterance in passing long ago that Heihachi had taught Kazuya Mishima the same ritual. It was Jins way of holding on to a spirit he never knew. It was his way of connecting with his father.

Hwoarang had opted not to join Jin inside of the temple, waiting in the over run gardens, one arm braced over the head of a stone lion as the other drew a cigarette to his lips. They had arrived here separately to try and right the undoubtedly realized truth of Jin Kazamas temporary hideout. It might have been a little too late for that, but it was worth a shot in the Blood Talons mind. He was not used to being so lax in control, in securing those closest to him. But he was here now and ready to do whatever he had to in order to keep Jin safe and with him. What an odd turn of events. Rivals... friends... lovers. The hunt is over now, you realize. There will be no more of those wonderful one night stands, of those casual faces drifting in and out of the bedroom. Cant do that to Jin. Donít want to do that to Jin. At least not while I am here in Japan.

Jin left the candle burning as he drew up, taking his arm guards from the alter just behind it, slowly sliding them on. With a soft breath, he asked for strength in his victory, for guidance in his heart... for a direction of his life. There was a split moment when that prayer was sent to a face he had never seen, to Kazuya, rather than the Buddhist Guardians watching over the shrine. Jun, his mother, was always in his heart, his thoughts... but that yearning for a link with his father made the prayer to him, this morning.

Jin could hear the rustling of those gathering to the courtyard, where the fight would be officiated, where the next round of Tournament would be decided. He lingered a moment longer, gathering his Chi about him.

Hwoarang tossed his cigarette to the ground, crushing it beneath a spurred boot. He hated Temples. Even this native Korean structure built on Japanese soil. It reminded him of home, of the squalor and the splendor he both missed and found himself disgusted by. It wasnít an easy life in his homelands. But then again, the Blood Talon knew nothing of an easy life to begin with.

A strong hand steadied itself on Hwoarangs shoulder and the Korean youth turned quickly, only to feel a second hand from another assailant form over the left side. Two men, large, dressed in black suits kept the Blood Talon stable and unable to get off a round of kicks. They were in too close even if the Korean wanted to try. The only failing of the art the Blood Talon had studied to perfection.

Amber eyes narrowed when he realized where the orders were coming from... and why he had been grabbed so effectively. Pursing his lips, the Blood Talon refused to move his stare from the icy glare that met him.

"Hwoarang. Do-Sans little prodigy. Quite an upstart, as usual. I see you have not changed from our first meeting." Heihachi Mishima said in a voice as serrated and deadly as broken glass.

The Blood Talon was seething. "Call off your goons, olí man."

"Oh, dear boy, that is for your protection, not for mine. You see, I have come to claim something that belongs to me, something of which you have been harboring. I have come to take him home." Heihachi said with what, from the outside, would have been considered Grace. Until you knew this man.

"Over my dead body." Hwoarang hissed, feeling how the hands on his shoulders dug deeper into him. They were on a pressure point, each hand at the right angle. One squeeze and the Blood Talon would feel the agony that came with accessing such tender spots.

"That can be arranged." The Elder Mishima smiled, the exaggerated points of his severely upswept grey mane shivering as he folded his arms before his chest. "You know, Hwoarang. I had a son, adopted from that filthy stink hole you call Korea. Arrogance must run in veins of the country. But arrogance does not save your kind from Squalor does it? Perhaps, one by one, those arteries must be severed in order for your country to survive."

There was little love between the Japanese and the Koreans. Japan had all the wealth, the opulence, the answers. Korea was poor, left desolate from the wars, no economy anymore but the infamous rice paddies, the killing fields as some Americans had coined it. But there was Pride and Strength in the Korean soul, something Heihachi found to be endearing. How they loved to cling to a faded past.

"Fuck you, olí man." Hwoarang hissed, spitting at Heihachis feet as a smile crept over his lips.

Heihachi only smiled, watching how the sputum flew and spattered on the cracked cement of this ruined temple. "Not exactly the smartest thing to do, spitting on your own soil. But let us get to the point, shall we?"

Hwoarang looked from side to side before returning his attentions to Heihachi. The standard distraction. The moment amber eyes held the grey lifeless orbs of the Elder Mishima, the Blood Talon sprung into action... sweeping the legs of the attendant to the right, sending the suited guard to the floor. But that action cost him as his pressure point was dug, his arm grabbed as it went lifeless with the tortured pressure, brought behind his arm in a chicken wing.

Now, Heihachi had had enough. He grasped Hwoarang by the coppery tendrils, forcing the boys face to meet his own while the felled servant rose, taking hold of Hwoarang once more. "That was not very smart, Hwoarang. Its time to make my intentions completely clear. Jin is returning with me, back to where he belongs. This bit of insolence he has shown me will no longer due, and when I had heard the reports that he had befriended his former rival, that he had been seen with you during his absence, I knew it was to you, I must come and Jin would not be far behind. You have tried to corrupt the masterpiece I forged out of that weak mass of emotion and tenderness in his blood. Kazama blood tainting the Mishima line. Disgusting."

Heihachi tightened his hold on those coppery tendrils, Hwoarang forced to crane his neck at an odd angle as he remained in a strong hold by the two assailants behind him. One had even been smart enough to block off the extension of his legs. Clever. "You will have no further contact with Jin. You will vacate the suite I have provided for you, in the name of the Tournament and find yourself a squalid whole to cramp yourself within until you are needed to fight. Any attempts to use that hot headed way of yours to get to Jin will end with more than just the one Korean Martial Artist disappearing from the face of the planet. Do we understand each other?"

Hwoarang hissed, trying to well up the spit in his mouth to land on that aristocratic face of the Elder Mishima. "You donít scare me, Olí man."

"When Toshin comes... and he will come... I will make sure you are the first meal he encounters." Heihachi smiled with deadly charm.

Toshin. Jin had spoken of Toshin. But Hwoarang knew it only as a monster. The rumor of Baek Do Sans untimely disappearance had been chalked up to that beast. It all made sense now. This tournament was to draw Toshin... the creature that fed on the very essence of Chi. Heihachi was using Jin to hold the tournament, to draw Toshin to him. "You sick son of a bitch!"

Heihachi laughed, releasing Hwoarangs hair, giving his men the order to drop the Korean to the ground. An order they followed with extreme delight. "A word of advice, Hwoarang. When next you believe a small time hustler like yourself is holding all the cards, I would check your resources. Your scam to procure the Dojo in the hotel this morning... my dear boy, you were nothing but bait for me to assure Jin was in fact with you today and would show at the tournament. Do not cross hairs with me again, boy. " Heihachis icy glare kept Hwoarangs eyes.

"Heed my words, Hwoarang. Stay far away from Jin. If you know what is best for you. And for him." The connotation in Heihachis voice left little to Hwoarangs imagination. He would be helpless to aid Jin once he was back in Heihachis clutches. He was helpless to stop this. But he would find a way. He would find a way to do more than cross hairs with Heihachi, but to beat him at his own game.

With a wave of his fingers, Heihachi walked toward the ring where Jack was waiting, his pistons oiled as he executed a few sample hits to delight the small, authorized guest list. The two guards followed the Elder Mishima, their eyes ever vigilant on Hwoarang.

The Blood Talon rose from the ground, dusting off his chaps as he eyed down the two suits who had taken him down. Jin was walking from the temple now, a living breath among the dead stone of the temple. He was Hwoarangsí and nothing Heihachi could say or do would change it. He would not allow it. And seeing Jin, standing there, filled the Blood Talon with all the courage he was going to need to find a way out of this for both of them. Shit. It ainít going out like that. This isnít over, not by a long shot.

Jin stepped out from the temple, the cushioning of his leg guards stirrups sweeping the concrete as he walked. On the top plateau before the steps, the young Kazama looked about to see the gathered crowd. But his sight was set on a specific target. There, before the grey cloud filled sky, Jin saw the outline of copper, the body of his lover standing away from the others. Hwoarang was brushing off his chaps. Something was not right.

Jins eyes held the scene. It didnít take long to find the source of the problem. Heihachi Mishima had come to the round. The Japanese youth could have hit his head against the stone columns for not having realized it before. He had waltzed, in delirium, into a trap.

Strengthening his resolve, Jin slowly strode down from the steps of the Temple, his head held high, his jaw hardening. Anger was building itself inside of Jin, threatening to rip through him to manifest itself into a completely new entity. Heihachi Mishima would not have the last word. Not anymore.

Jin was still astraddle the remains of the JACK, wiring and oil from the machine clutched and dripping between his fingers. His fatal lightning had taken on a life of its own, his fists, bleeding and torn had pulverized the mechanical wonder. He had been declared the winner a moment before, but Jin could not bring himself to rise, could not bring himself to let go of the opponent he had decimated. He wanted the oil to be blood. He wanted the metal to be bone. He wanted to unleash all of the anger that remained in him on the fallen Robot.

The official touched his shoulder and Jin whirled around, coming to a stand with incredible speed and agility. "Kazama Jin. You have won the match." The official stated again, struck with fear at the seething visage before him. But it was not the official that Jin saw. It was Heihachi standing behind the smaller Japanese man. His arms were folded, bulky burgundy and fur from his jacket crossed together, making him look twice as thick and opposing. But it was the look in the Elder Mishimas eyes that made Jin want to rage like a captured beast.

"Come, boy. Its time to return to the Estate." Heihachi said in a low tone, not wishing to bring a bad reputation to himself by showing off his anger in the here and now. He had ordered the on lookers to disperse and only a few stragglers remained now and were being quickly ushered away.

"I am not leaving here with you." Jin said as he straightened his back, refusing to avert his eyes from his grandfather.

"You will do as your told, Jin. You will return to the Compound with me and there will be no discussion of it." Heihachis voice was barely managing to cloak the anger within. It seemed he had failed again, it seemed he had raised another Kazuya.

"I will not!" Jin hissed this time, eyes daring Heihachi to move in and make this physical.

Heihachi cocked an arrogant smile. "As you wish, Jin. Though it is a shame that your actions will not only hurt you... but your friend, Hwoarang. The Blood Talon, they call him? What is it about Korea that makes their sons wish to take on such alias? Blood Talon, Silver Devil... a pirates Galleon." Heihachi looked over his shoulder, though one eye remained focused on Jin from the side. "I have but to bow my head, Jin, and we both know there will be an empty slot in the tournament. Tae Kwon Do is an art of Kicks, hard soft, they deem it. A practitioner of that art, if he can not kick, he can not fight."

Jins eyes widened. He had not expected, not in all his wildest wondering, that Heihachi Mishima would threaten Hwoarang, an innocent to the twisted world he found himself the center of. Lei Wulongs words were coming back to him now. You donít know Heihachi Mishima, Jin. The only man who ever really did, is dead by his hand. Donít end up like your father. Donít let him pull that wealthy wool over your eyes. Kazuya knew it was coming, Kazuya knew what was on the line.

Heihachi began to drop his head down and a host of men, some dressed in normal garb, some in suits began to look up. Hwoarang did not know it but he was damn near surrounded. "Grandfather... " Jin said breathlessly, his hands clenched into fists. "Your quarrel is with me, settle this..with me."

Heihachi continued the agonizing roll of his head in a downward position. "There is no quarrel with you, Jin. None but saving you the dishonor of losing your word, of disrespecting your blood and ancestors, all for this Korean street trash. A shame, really."

Jins mouth fell agape, he turned to see Hwoarang, standing with his arms folded some distance away. He could not stand to see the Blood Talon hurt and even together, they could not take out as many as there were that threatened them. No Martial Art was effective against a gun. And Jin was sure each of Heihachiís men were loaded to the teeth. It was too risky. "I..I will return with you."

Heihachi looked up now and the sea of faces returned to their business. "Excellent decision, Jin. Come, the compound is awaiting you. Your favorite dinner tonight, perhaps? Something to celebrate your advancement into the next round?"

Jin took a deep breath holding his head down. He had nothing to say as Heihachi placed his hand on the small of the young Kazamas spine, leading him away from the tournament grounds.

"Kazama!" Hwoarang yelled out, starting at a pace toward Jin as Heihachi escorted his lover away. "Jin!" He called again.

Jin looked up, his eyes connecting with the amber of Hwoarangs, just as three innocently dressed by standers came in the path between them. "It is no longer appropriate for you to be here, kid. Kazama Jin and Mishima Heihachi thank you for coming to witness this round. Your next match will be posted in the lobby of the hotel next week. You are reminded to vacate your belongings from your suite." The tallest, thickest of the three said, his hand clasped to an ear piece, repeating what was said to him from the guard closest to Heihachi.

Hwoarang might have been paused in his intention to get to Jin, but he would not be stopped. Not when it counted most. He said nothing more, standing with complete still, so unbecoming of the Blood Talon who was never stoic for long. He kept the eye contact with Jin until the Japanese youth was ushered into a sleek black Limo and whisked away.

The ride back to the Mishima Estate was somber, quiet. Jin knew there was going to be hell to pay, he just did not know when..or how it would come. "You did not have to throw him out of his suite. Where do you expect him to go?" He said with bitterness.

"It is not my concern what the hood rat does for shelter. I am sure he will locate a burrow to keep him until next he fights." Heihachi said with self satisfaction. "And what should your care be for this new friend of yours? What allegiance do you owe him that you would obey his law over my own."

"Grandfather, that is not.." Jin began but was cut off by the icy glare of his grandfather.

"Do not add lying to the list of your offenses, boy. I can see you have been far too spoiled now, to become so insolent to the hand that feeds you. We will right this issue, Jin. You will be a Mishima, if it kills you." Heihachi emphasized his words before turning back to the window, the road to the estate dragging on as Jin sat in complete silence now, his mind on Hwoarang... .

The Blood Talon found his belongings in the lobby of the hotel. A meager duffle of his own next to Jins. The guards mistakenly believed the larger one to have been Hwoarangs. He would take it anyway, knowing he would see Jin again.

Hwoarang loaded his bike, tossing the burnt out end of a cigarette from his lips and onto oncoming traffic. He had some calls to make, some friends to get in touch with. They would bring him all the provisions he needed from Korea. Japanese soil would become the new turf the Blood Talon would call home. Anywhere Jin was, Hwoarang was prepared to stay for as long as it took.

Heihachi was extremely quiet, his smile broad to know he had won the war, as far as he was concerned. Jin, the prize, was back where he belonged and his plans to draw Toshin with the boys powerful Chi had been rescued and would proceed. Hwoarang was not a concern of his, not any longer. There was no way contact could be forged or maintained beneath his scrutinizing eyes. And Jin himself was now solemn and withdrawn, his spirit injured, powerless. Precisely how Heihachi wanted him. He would beat the insolence out of him, or rather, Toshin would, should the God of Fighting take the bait Heihachi was banking on.

All was going according to plan. All was right in the Elder Mishimas world now. He was unstoppable.

Jin ate his dinner in quiet, still unchanged from the tournament. He kept his eyes downcast to his plate, even though he was not hungry.

"Do you not like your supper, Jin?" Heihachi asked, quizzically. The Elder Mishima was taking some joy in seeing the dwindled spirit of his grandson. How easily Jin showed emotion compared to Kazuya. How much more gratifying that breaking spirit was when Heihachi could see it.

"It is fine, Grandfather." Jin replied, blankly, pushing the seaweed roll, steeped in ginger along his plate with his silver chopsticks.

"Your concerning yourself with that Korean street trash?" Heihachi said with matter of fact arrogance as he hefted a piece of sliced pork to his eager lips.

Jins eyes burned as he looked up, catching Heihachis gaze and once more quelching the fire that burned within him. The situation was tender, precarious and Jin could not afford to let the depth of his need for Hwoarang show before his grandfather. "May I be excused?"

Heihachi placed the cloth napkin, that had been on his lap, on the table. "For what purpose?"

"I would like to walk in the gardens." Jin said, mimicking his grandfathers actions with the napkin.

"Very well. I do not need to remind you that the borders of the estate are well guarded. I trust you will not be disappearing, once again?" Heihachi said, lifting the white wine to his lips now, his words barely holding back the deadly meaning in his mind.

"No, Sir." Jin sighed softly, rising from the table.

"Oh, Jin. Your presence will be required at the Dojo in the morning. Sunrise. I expect that Mishima fire in your blood, boy." Heihachi said with a wicked glint in his eye. The kind of gleam that turned Jins stomach.

"Yes, Grandfather." Jin replied with a heavy sigh and bowed his head in respect to Heihachi before leaving the lavish dining area for the comfort of the outdoors.

Jin left his shoes inside, wanting to feel the blades of spring grass beneath his feet. He walked the line of the opulent, manicured gardens, his head heavy with thoughts, fears. The weight of the world was crashing down on him, injuring his already fragile soul. Had Kazama Jun wanted this for her only son? When her last wish was made to Jin before the monster, Toshin had ended her life prematurely, Jun had asked Jin to seek refuge with his grandfather in Tokyo, far from the world he knew in Yakushima. He had gone, run scared, too young and under skilled to have taken on what he knew as the God of Fighting.

But every moment of his training had been leading up to this. Every moment had been leading in to vindicating his mothers death at the hand of the Ogre and Heihachi had sworn Toshin would make itself known. But not yet, nothing yet.

Jin found himself drawing toward the unkempt woods at the line of the estates manicured lawn. He knew he was being watched by security, he could feel it as he sought refuge within the wooded confines. He walked for a long while, several acres until he came to a place he felt safe within. A small spot that was cleared, as though another had used it before him to escape the heavy presence and solitude of the Mishima Estate. Jin imagined his father, Kazuya, as a young boy had come here, had found happiness here. Perhaps, later in his days, Kazuya had brought his mother here to show her the beauty held in the wilderness. Jin would never know, but he could imagine.

Brambles clung to the hem of Jins Gi pants. He felt no cold breeze from the still damp spring night. Every breath of nature that caressed him recalled to him Hwoarangs touches, the heat and fire the Koreansí skin could inflict upon him. He felt incomplete without the Blood Talon near him and it was enough to want to bring tears to his eyes.

Kazama Jin.

The Japanese youth turned, violently, hearing the whisper of the wind call to him. Nothing was near him, nothing in his immediate sight but a cool, chilled feeling rushed up his naked spine.

Long have I waited got ehst your Kazama blood has prevented for all this time.

Jin whirled around, searching both ground and sky with limited visibility in the darkness. "Who is there?"

Your heritage. Your blood.

Jin felt the shiver more violently up his back, eyes wide as he turned in a circle to find where the voice was coming from. No nature was disturbed, no delicate bird songs halting in recognition of another person. The Voice. It was not without him, but within him.

"Show yourself!" Jin said, trying to grasp the situation, swearing he was beginning to lose his mind.

A faint vapor moved against the moons light, an incorporeal thing with the swiftness of the breeze. I will do one better, Kazama Jin. I will show you who you truly are.

The vapor shifted in violent motion and lurched forward, slamming into Jins body with the heat of a thousand suns. Jin fell to his knee, releasing a stunted scream as fire burned his flesh. One hand grasped the offended upper arm, covering over where the flesh felt as though it was being seared from the bone.

And then it was gone.

Jin stood, panting, his hand bracing a tree to give him strength and support. Tears misted his eyes and through that blurry vision, the Japanese youth saw the work of the unknown hand. Seared black flesh swirled in an odd shape, burned into his forearm. It was tender to his inspection and sizzled when his tears fell over it. "What is happening to me?"

Hwoarang leaned against the building that housed the oldest Punk Club venue in Tokyo, the East Shinjuku district. It was a place that buzzed with the same vibe of the back alleys of Korea, a neatly trimmed neighborhood with a dark history and even darker present. It was right where the Blood Talon and two of his best men, Saatchi and Han, had decided to call home. There had been rivalry that first night. Something the infamous Korean Blood Talon was eager for. It didnít take long and certainly did not take much, considering how the strongest of Japanese fighter in this area could not even begin to compare with the experience Hwoarang carried. Having challenged and won the dispute, this is where the three had decided to set up, had decided to hustle for cash. With the relatively anti Korean sentiment that swept through Tokyo, the Blood Talon and his soldiers were in high demand. As a result, Hwoarangs wallet was already damn near unable to close.

It had been five nights and four days since last he had seen Jin. And Kazama was thick in his thoughts at this moment, as he had been every moment since their brusque parting. The Blood Talon lifted the slim rolled cigarette to his lips, vaguely listening to Saatchi and Han bickering amongst themselves to his side.

The two were his best soldiers on the street and had come as soon as they hustled enough money to heed the Blood Talons call. Hwoarang had promised them the chance to make big time money out here, Japanese money. He had not lied. More were coming, more of the Blood Talons soldiers would run wild through these streets. It was all a matter of time.

In the meantime, between thoughts of Jin, Hwoarang had set himself up in a small, abandoned dwelling not far from Maru-ichi, a gothic style museum of failed subcultures. It was a dead end area in town, a place the street soldiers could come and go without too much notice or interference. It was a two story building, dilapidated, but with enough rooms to leave some privacy. And of course, Hwoarang had chosen the upper level as his own and bought only three things he really needed in that abandoned building. A mattress, a mirror and a sand kick bag.

"Its dead tonight. You want to hit out?" Han asked in native Korean. Saatchi already seemed in agreement.

"I have something I have to do. Go ahead. Keep your phone on you, incase." Hwoarang said, pushing off of the building, the thrum of the live punk music too brash for his state of mind right now.

Han raised a brow, not used to Hwoarang being so enigmatic. "You want us to pick something up?"

Hwoarang nodded, tossing the smoked down joint to the street. "Yeah, tap a keg. I will be back in awhile. See if you can make any money on the way, try the train station. Someoneís always looking for a fight there."

With that, Saatchi and Han traded shoulder shrugs, muttering utterances the Blood Talon only barely caught and could not care less about. "Somethingís different about him? Something is not right... "

The Blood Talon revved the engine of the cycle between his thighs, lowering his goggles over his amber eyes, keeping the remainder of his two friends words from assailing him. Something wasnít right. He had questions and only one person had the answers. And Hwoarang knew just how to get them.

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