Description: Solitude can be a difficult thing to appreciate when it has never truly been experienced. The price of victory over the Demon at the Pass is almost more than Asamiya can bear, one wiser than her sees a possible path forward.
And so it ended, the fight for her life, Asamiya falling to her knees and staring across the fractured abyss as the very gates of hell reclaim their own. It has been some time now since the deafening roar of the collapsing bridge, and longer still since she sprinted out onto the now collapsed edifice with a naive hope that she knew what it truly meant to fight.
The echo of the demon's final roar is the only sound she hears.
And she has been hearing it for over an hour now.
The cloud of pulverized stone is gone, carried away by the gale force winds that perpetually howl through the pass. Empty violet eyes, once so alive, have continued to stare across the gulf between ridges, arms hugging tightly around herself.
'Know the truth of despair.
'Embrace the freedom of rage.
And when you find the darkness...
You will find me.'
The most horrific edict she had ever heard, it should be rejected by all who walk the path of purity and restraint. But is there wisdom to be found in his final Epitaph? For that is what it must have been; nothing could have survived that fall, man or devil alike.
The star on the side of her crimson haircomb is still dim, devoid of the souls of the malcontents that she had to wrestle against in the midst of defending her right to live, to fight on another day. They were silent now, expended, destroyed? She didn't know what to expect. Every step forward on this forsaken island has been the sort of experience one could never prepare for.
Silently, the idol fighter had knelt the hour away, mouth slightly open, lips dried, scabbed. The pink blouse she wore beneath her tattered jacket is smeared with dust and blood to the point that its original color is almost indecipherable. Tears that had long since dried were evidenced by the streaks through the dust and blood on her cheeks.
She survived. But the price was more than she could comprehend. Occasionally, the sound of rocks tumbling against the sheer cliff walls can be heard. At times the howling wind relents enough to leave her sitting in peace, her hair coming to rest against her back rather than waving about her shoulders like a flag. But other than blinking occasionally, the so-called victor of the violent bout doesn't move at all.
All of her life had been a mystery to the fans of the rising star. Where had she come from? Who was her family? Why did all trace of her only start when she was twelve years old? She had always played coy in the interviews, teasing out non-answers with a wink and a smile that would win the interviewer over easily enough to drop the inquiry. But the truth was that the questions asked by millions were questions she too had wondered - questions she thought would never be answered.
But now she knew, beyond any doubt, that there had been something... someone along for the ride. The blackouts, the brief windows of violent fights she couldn't account for after the fact, they all made sense now that she knew. At last, she finally understood a fragment of the truth, a piece of the puzzle sliding in to fill an empty hole. Yet... in the hour of her comprehension, it was too late to even matter, too late to find answers to countless other questions that would remain unresolved. Someone else had been there - she had never realized it before, but in the absence she now endures, it was obvious.
Still, she survived a test of destiny. The slayer had fallen and she alone would be returning to the grand palace at her back, the gate in its wall rising high above her as she kneels on what used to be the bridge's landing.
Since when did victory ever feel like such loss?
Self delusion is one of man's great treasures. So tightly do men cling to these gems, these many facetted structures of perception, that they become blinded to the fact of their existence. So much of what drives ones life is smoke. Light, shining as a beacon to guide the mind gently around the harsh edges of reality. And when those fragile lights are extinguished, the world becomes cold and dark.
'Since when did victory ever feel like such loss?'
This single thought rings true, tolling like a bell into the empty abyss. It is not the thought of a young girl. It is not the regret of a champion. It has no place is the musings of an Idol. This singular question is an ancient one, passed most often through the lips of soldiers. Those who have seen battle. Those who have truly suffered.
From behind the kneeling girl , a soft purple glow washes forward, throwing her looming shadow out and down over the edge of the cliff. It is a brief thing, a foggy, insubstantial illumination that passes in moments. As the light retreats, however, it deposits a tall, quiet figure in the shadow of the palace gate.
Armored boots step with surprising softness over the jagged ground, doing very little to alert the staring vessel of the newcomer's approach. Carefully he picks his way forward, stepping with delicacy around the loose stone, created during the broken girl's struggle.
The shifting winds toss the newcomer's deep red coat about, fluttering its hem lightly across Athena's dust-stained back. It is accompanied by the gentle pressure of his presence, standing tall and composed at her right elbow.
There are no words.
The man who now shadows her is familiar. His black hair is streaked grey, a tattered crimson bandana hides his sightless eyes, and many voices whisper from the sword sheathed behind his right shoulder.
Gently his left hand comes to rest against the back of the young woman's head, for she must be a woman now. No girl could truly comprehend the loss as she does. His careful fingers apply pressure, glove creaking, the wind tossing strands of her hair about his armored knuckles.
soft as an angel's breath, his mind touches hers. Slowly, carefully, he slides his mind around her. The raw edges of her wounded psyche are felt, skirted, gathered. By degrees they are folded in toward her center. Step by step he guides her backward into herself, drawing her extended awareness in. Brick by brick he builds a wall around her. Sheltering her.
There is a wound within her. A jagged tear that he can do nothing to heal. But he can retrieve what remains. Like a fisherman retrieving his lines, he can pack her away. He can bring her back.
She doesn't stir as he arrives, as if missing the flash of illumination that heralds his arrival, as if perhaps her eyes are closed. She doesn't move as he draws close, though nearly silent are his steps. But she doesn't flinch as the edge of his crimson coat brushes across her back.
But of course, the most damning is not what is observed with the physical senses at all. She should have felt him the instant his thoughts took him this way. He knew that to be her potential. But there is no reaching out, no responding to his approach, nor the gentle but firm touch of his hand upon her head. Instead he finds a psyche in disarray, scattered, wild and feral. With each step closer he took, he would feel the intensity of the storm build even as the fierce winds gradually abate, affording one of their periodic calms upon the stonework landing.
There is pressure pushing back as he lowers his hand, extending his own presence out, enveloping, aiding, collecting, and supporting - something that doesn't seem to want him, or anyone close. It is the paradox of anguish, that forlorn desire to be alone and that intense, insuppressible need for company, only amplified a hundred fold - such is the intensity he must navigate his way through when at first his thoughts move in to aid the suffering young woman.
If he were any less sure, if he were not already a veteran of abject torment himself, and if he had not already forged his own psychic potential on the anvil of adversity, he may have stood the risk of getting lost in the cyclone of confusion, finding himself drawn irrevocably in to the dark tear left in her soul, never to escape.
But he is the captain of his own soul, and he has stood the test of time and grief, and he is able to navigate the treacherous currents of thought swirling in the center of Asamiya's mind. It takes time, but his efforts bear fruit as first evidenced by the way her shoulders slouch slightly, released of some of the raw tension that kept them tight to the point of stiffening. A slow sigh slips through her slightly open mouth, her head bowing little by little.
Within, he finds a way to order the broken pieces, reinforcing where necessary, and mollifying at least where greater efforts will avail no great progress. But he finds something else - a kernel of something dark, something foreign, yet... so completely ingrained as to be immovable without causing greater harm. Whatever transpired in the savage battle at the collapsed bridge left behind a splinter of itself, imprinted, wedged deep.
Finally, under his ministrations, she begins to reach out to him, her own psychic energies slowly giving up the sullen battle. A gasp of breath, a lift and shake of her head, and then she finally lifts her own hand to grab hold of the wrist of his contact hand, holding onto it tightly as if clinging to a lifeline.
"To imagine you would be here, in this hell..." her voice softly whispers in the solemn moment quiet. Her fingers squeeze even tighter, arm trembling slightly, as if still trying to convince herself that the solemn psychic swordsman was in fact real and not simply a fabrication of a mind broken.
She doesn't even look up.
And she doesn't let go.
To rebuild a broken mind is a rare skill. something very few psychics have the deftness to accomplish. There may be one who could have served her better, healed her more completely. The fortune teller, perhaps.
But she is not here.
Though the young woman has begun to return, the swordsman does not pull away. His hand remains buried in her hair, providing a physical pressure to mirror that which touches her mind. As she accepts his touch, so he accepts her grip on his armored wrist. He does not break apart as a dream might. He is there beneath her fingers. Solid.
"I do not think that I am the one out of place." Kenshi replies, his tone light, words quiet. Only she can feel the true concern that hides behind the easy reply. The regret he feels in finding her here.
The leather joints of his armored clothing creak quietly as the aging psychic lowers himself into a crouch, weight settled back on his haunches in the stance of a much younger man. His deep red coat has fallen limp with the lull between gusts, crumpling against the stone behind his heels. It rustles softly as he shifts to direct his hidden gaze down toward the side of her face, lips pressing together in a firm line.
Using his grip on Athena, he gives her a slight push away, attempting to sway her, before reversing the gesture to pull her lightly against his side with a little bump. The gesture is chiding, reproachful even, but gently so.
"What is it that brings you to this place, Athena Asamiya?"
Though the question is gentle and prodding, it is merely a distraction. something to guide the thoughts of the young woman, to keep her mind moving. The questing touch of his mind within hers has moved in a different direction entirely. Skirting the tear, that awful wound he can do nothing about, he returns to the splinter of darkness that he dare not remove. That spot of corruption seems darker still against a soul that had once been so pure. But he can not touch it. He can not mend it, and within his private self, tucked back in the secret places of his mind where the inexperienced girl can not see, he worries for her.
Of course, if she had been in the right frame of mind, she might have considered that of the two of them, it made far more sense for him to be in this place of death and suffering; if she knew of his past, the conclusion would have been more than obvious. But two emotions press to the surface of her thoughts as recognition settles in - relief and surprise. Relief that the veteran psychic is at her side in this moment of abject loss, and surprise that of all places, he would find her here, at the edge of her pit of suffering.
The jostling seems to do the trick for finally shaking her from her daze, eyes closing briefly, head shaking, hand slipping from his wrist to wipe across her face, perhaps suddenly self-conscious at what a mess she must justifiably appear to be in. "I-" she starts to answer his question, arm lowering from its ineffective effort of smearing grime around her face a little. She looks confused, lost for a moment, as if trying to figure out what could have possibly brought her to kneeling, a broken wreck at the edge of a vast canyon.
Retracing her steps takes a while and he would sense her questioning, doubting, and then accepting various details in her mind as she silently contemplates what should be a simple question. "It was an invitation... they said it was from being the winning team of the King of Fighters tournament - a second, exclusive tournament the idea as it was expressed."
Finally, she lifts her head, looking to the side, studying the man who has settled adjacent to her, focus settling on the wrap that keeps his eye sockets hidden from view. It was easy to forget at times that he was blind and as she is reminded, the realization that he found her without sight as most know it is even more a surprise. But then, she considers, he did find her at the library, their first encounter not long ago before she had accepted his remarkable offer.
"But I know that it is so much more now. I would not..." she glances forward toward the skeletal fingers of broken pillars jutting up out of the darkness, remains of the grand bridge. "I wouldn't participate in something like this if it wasn't important.' Her right hand clenches into a fist that she holds against her chest. "It seemed impossible, when it was explained, but I also felt that it was all true. What hangs in the balance of our actions here..." She glances back toward him then, studying the experienced warrior. That he is here, he must...
"Is that why you are here too?"
The sliver he found remains buried, recessed, and, for the moment, dormant. The vacuum on the other hand continues to be a strain, one endured thanks to his reinforcing presence, though for her sake, it is one she will also need to come to endure on her own. Looking back toward the chasm, she adds one more thought, "I think... that he died." There is fear in her voice and her thoughts, the idea that she participated in a fight that resulted in another's death - the concept may be regrettably familiar to the old swordsman, but for the young champion, it is anything but.
But then there is something else, a glimmer of hardening, "But he would have killed me." For the first time in her life, she truly understands what it means to kill or be killed. There may be no coming back from that."
the flow of words, slow as it may be in coming, washes over Kenshi as he lingers at the young woman's elbow. He is silent as she speaks, bearded face set in an expression of deep thought. However, these thoughts she can not read. Diminished as she is, struggling beneath the crushing weight of loss, the elder psychic's private contemplations are merely vibrations felt faintly through a wall. That section of his mind which supports hers has fallen silent.
"I have come to participate in Mortal Kombat." Kenshi replies to her final question, his tone quiet, contemplative. "Shao Kahn must not be allowed to unite the realms."
Lifting his hand from her person, the blind man's armored suit grinds softly against the stone as he settles down cross-legged. He is silent for a moment there after, his head bowed and sightless eyes aimed toward his lap. Idly, nimble fingers pluck at his coat, arranging the folds more artfully around him.
"It troubles me to find you here. At first, I had thought that they had seen what I had. Your power is, uniquely valuable to those who wish to invade. But..." Kenshi's words fade to silence before they can skirt too close to the void within her. it is too fresh to touch. Too painful. And there is still the matter of the darkness within her. That intent to kill. Even now he imagines he can feel it growing comfortable within her mind. Making clear the fragility of life. But no, that lesson need not be blamed on dormant corruption.
"Death is not so permanent a thing as you may think." Having chosen the path of his words, the older psychic rests both forearms on his thighs. "The power granted us by the elder gods has more uses than you might think. Power enough to raise a devil..." He trails off then, gently urging her to grasp the implications of this. He is not sure how much energy it would take to return that which was lost to her. A great deal, perhaps. But can a price be put on ones purpose?
Quietly the swordsman sits, ignoring the wind as it begins to blow once more about them, tugging at his coat and causing moats of dust to swirl between them.
"As have I, it seems," she replies concerning participation in the tournament. While he may have come willingly and her attendance came about due to false pretenses, in the end, they find themselves in the same situation - trapped on the island of the damned, locked into a fight for their lives and for the fate of the world. It is a lot to take in, and the magnitude of the stakes are steel something that she reels at whenever her thoughts stray in that direction. And the costs... the subject matter of the void within is something she speaks nothing of, and is the one area of her psyche that she has walled off entirely other than that it exists, for that is impossible to hide - one need only glance at her with the hidden eye to see the loss from what she was before.
"In a way, this is... the very kind of thing I thought I had been training for all my life. But now that the moment is here, I feel... woefully unprepared." She glances back out over the great canyon - he would detect regret, remorse, the thought that maybe if she had done something different, trained harder, been more diligent, maybe things would have gone differently. Maybe her unknown companion would not have died so that she can take another breath.
He mentions her power and she bows her head, quiet for a moment, hands clasped in her lap, still listening. And then he continues, sharing with her insight that she had not been privy to before, and she glances up. The impermanence of death in this place, the boon of the Elder Gods mentioned by the self-proclaimed host of the event, Shang Tsung. Her right hand lifts, resting on the golden star affixed to her crimson haircomb that she is always wearing. It is a polished, opaque stone at the moment of no special import, but he would sense evidence of something else, traces of life lingering.
He would easily notice the gears in her head turning, her mouth a faint frown of concentration. Lowering her right hand back to her lap, eyes searching the rough stone beneath her knees, she slowly glances toward Kenshi out of the corner of her peripheral vision. "How much did you... how much did you already sense, when we met before? About me?" She finally looks toward him fully then, a quiet wonder at the potential of his perception.
He settles down amid the return of the wind that haunts this pass. "You should know, Momoko is here too. I-... Of course I had no idea or I would have done anything to prevent it." Asamiya's violet eyes blink, a sudden spark returning to them as she starts to look around, "Momoko- I- I better find her. What if she is facing something like I-" She leans forward, starting to push herself up, only to gasp in the effort, right hand going to rest against her chest as she cringes, falling back to her knees. The spirit might be willing, but she is far from being fit to move about.
"Keeping her safe..." she swallows, mind racing at the revelation his gentle council had given her and what it might mean for her own future. "Please, I know it is a lot to ask and that you must bear the burden of this war's importance, but... I'm asking you, if you ever have to chose between saving me or her, that you will see to it that she survives this horrible place."
Trapped on the island, fighting for the fait of the world. Champions of the elder gods. But still, how much does she truly know about the enigmatic swordsman at her side? What is required of a champion? Must they be good people?
%As Athena's gaze turns upon him, she finds the aging man's lips quirked up just faintly at the corners. It is a difficult smile to read. Mysterious? Wry? Perhaps a touch mischievous? Even while she watches he grins a bit more, the expression almost paternal. The walls that had been separating his thoughts fall, and once more she can feel him there. Apologetic, amused, and understanding.
"Your secret will be safe with me." Kenshi assures her, and it appears that he means it. "I think that the Elder Gods will allow you to return what has been lost. She is not dead, only misplaced. It will be difficult, but you are yet strong. Had you any less training you likely would not have survived at all."
With those words spoken, moving with deliberate care, the older psychic begins to withdraw the mental support he had leant her up to this point. Gradually, alert for sudden cracks in her psyche, he allows her to accept the new burden of her existence. The weight settles within her, crushing, horrible. But would he have withdrawn if she were not strong enough to hold it? Surely she is. Surely his very belief in her is proof that she has the ability.
A faint purple glow intrudes upon the young woman's vision as the blind man removes himself completely from her mind. It seems to radiate out from his body, banishing the darkness and giving him an oddly ethereal property. There are no scrapes or clatters from his armor as he levitates to his feet, one softly glowing hand extended down in support to the still kneeling girl.
There is no smile on his bearded face as he offers her a hand up. Now is not a time for smiling. The request she has made of him is a serious one. A thing not to be taken lightly. If he were a different man he might not consider it at all, choosing instead to berate Athena for bringing her young friend along.
"I will protect her if I can." he states. it is not an outright answer to her question. Not the promise she requested. But it is the best that he can do. "I can take you to her, but then I must depart. Even now I expose myself to the wandering eyes of the sorcerer's slaves. It is unsafe, and you need time to heal."
"Secret," Asamiya echoes softly as the man who has seen perhaps too much pain, too much bloodshed, offers support to the novice being abruptly introduced to the truth of the concepts for the very first time. The word is heavy on her lips, her tone contemplative. She had thought she had harbored secrets before, but this time, the enigma was a mystery even to her until now. How can she even believe it? Yet even as her conscious mind reels at the very idea that all these years she had a passenger of light at her side, her heart knows it to be true.
Who was she, in the time before her memories reach? Did she have another name? A family? Why did she find herself host to another? Perhaps she should be revolted at the idea, but all she feels now is the longing anguish associated with the loss of one close. Lowering her head slightly, she nods as the psi sage gives her council. She must move forward, she can't be broken by this.
Prudently, he begins to withdraw. Linger too long and she could become dependent, her psyche unable to sustain itself. Too short and she might collapse back into the state he found her. But his keen insight selects the right moment to pull back his active, enveloping support. There is a precarious moment where the transition seems unsure, her left hand lifting to rest against her temple, eyes wincing close as she is forced to shoulder the weight of loss, pain, and fear.
But Asamiya is made of stern stuff. Gentsai's training was not for nothing even if she never really understood what she was being prepared for at the time. Was it for this? How could he possibly know? Perhaps it is with another future war in mind that the Kung Fu master had raised the Psycho Soldiers to the path of justice.
Lifting her right hand, she grips the glowing hand, pulling hard as she uses it for leverage to get back to shaky feet. Clinging for a moment, she looks away from the great pit at last, far less sure about being near it now that she's on her feet. The dark shadows of the palace may not be safer in practice than the open chasm, but at least there is the illusion of security within the walls.
"Thank you," she answers at his commitment to do what he can. Could she possibly ask for any more? The rest of his words register a moment later, the young champion looking up to Kenshi as she finally stands surely on her own. Glancing around as if to double check that they are indeed alone on the shattered landing, she glances back toward him, "Then your mission here is... different than mine?" Was he not invited to this violent kontest?
Violet eyes blink, brow, smudged by dirt and blood, furrowing a little as she looks back toward the palace gates. "If there is anything more I can do... Once I am stronger, know that you have an ally in me."
Standing upon the edge of the chasm, abyss below and palace behind, the aging warrior keeps his long fingers wrapped firmly about Athena's. The tone of the light rising from his body seems to sway, drifting between shades of purple. AT times it appears almost purely blue, only to then flicker toward red.
Were his powers not originally blue?
"My mission. It is the same, and it is different. Long have I awaited for the opportunity before me." Kenshi's reply is typically composed, but the faintest flicker of emotion can be heard. A soft tremble of craving that reveals the solitary crack in his otherwise stoic manner. Still, his presence is solid, and the energy that washes out from him is steady despite its shift in color.
"I never doubted that you would aid me. But, it would be best if you kept my arrival here to yourself. Tell Momoko if you wish, but no others. I would like my appearance to be, a surprise."
One corner of the blind man's lips twists up at that, sightly gazed focused downward toward the young woman before him. it is not a joyful smile by any means. if anything it is sad, pained, a grimace containing only the barest hint of wry humor.
"Rest well, and remain alert. Things are not as they should be."
With his final bit of wisdom granted, the psychic swordsman focuses his power into a swirling purple vortex. The tiny burst of soul power washes over himself and Athena, thrusting them free of reality and through the place between.
For a moment thereafter there remains an image. A glowing purple facsimile of a tall armored man holding the hand of a bedraggled girl, both standing at the edge of the cliff. But soon even that vanishes, bursting apart in a swirl of souls.
Athena will find herself appearing as she was, weak and covered in filth, just around the corner from her cheerful young team member.
Where Kenshi has gone is known by only him, and perhaps those with the skill to follow.
Log created on 23:21:10 09/26/2016 by Athena, and last modified on 11:05:01 09/29/2016.