Mortal Kombat - The Price of Chosen

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Description: In the darkest of places, two who have sacrificed everything to pursue their calling meet. In a time of utter desperation, alliances and friendships are formed of unbreakable steel, and hopeful plans are given a voice.

The moniker for this stretch of an island seems sardonic when considering that the Living Forest is rife with the stench of death and stagnant rot. In all directions, decay permeates the atmosphere, thick with fel mists and the groans of an ancient wood suffering. In most regions of the world, when nature is subjected to the abject horrors and abuse that this forest has seen, it simply withers and dies, becoming one of the foreboding dead spaces of the planet.

But the life here carries with it an ancient resilience, a defiant refusal to be rendered barren. The earth here has been salted with ages of spilt blood, yet still the timeworn trees stand, still the lethal vines creep, and still the monsters in the shadows lurk, one thousand eyes of seething hatred peering out from the black.

This is not a land that welcomes outsiders. It harbors no loyalty to Outworlders nor love for those who harken from Earth. Yet into its miasmic mists one lonely guardian continues to wander. The first time she ventured in, she was chased from the depths by the embodiment of all its animus - the Heart of the Forest, a living presence that would tolerate no interference from one who only means to help. The second time, she found herself in the company of the four armed sorcerer of chaos who tore a rift of madness into the forest where unnatural growth, carnivorous lichen, and malevolent spirits vie in unending battle. She... would not be able to return to that place.

This time, Nakoruru has tried a different approach, working her way deep into the woods until coming across a small, fetid lake. The ferns grow large here, the remains of past konquests scattered about, corpses resting against trees, entangled in vines that continue to twist and squeeze. The surface of the lake is opaque, making it impossible to see what thrives in its murky depths, but occasionally ripples will move across its surface as something moves unseen.

In stark contrast to the dim atmosphere of hate and atrophy is the Time Lost Priestess in white. The trip in has marred her robes and pants with green and brown, and traces of crimson that blend in with the red and blue geometric pattern that border them. She is presently in the act of kneeling near the lake's shore, hands pressed together, head bowed, eyes closed as her lips move with a whispered prayer. On the smooth rocks before her is a small, makeshift alter of stone and wood and jutting up out of it are seven small, thin sticks that have been whittled with intricate carvings - prayer sticks as taught to the Ainu by the ancient kamui, tokens of reverence expected before any appeal of worth.

The wary warden has not come alone, however. Perched on a nearby stone - for the trees are not to be trusted - is a great hawk, its brown feathered wings folded behind its back as it twists its head to and fro to keep a careful look out for threats to the patient priestess. And, sitting on his haunches, right behind her, giving her eyes at her back, is a mighty wolf, a Destroyer that radiates vigilance and righteous vindication. While his left eye is replaced with a cross shaped scar, his right eye searches the woods with unrelenting attention. No fiend of the dark wood will be ambushing the praying girl this day.

Another warden of nature heard that this year's tournament featured mere children participating.

He hoped that was not the case. The shaman, self proclaimed defender of Earthrealm and pupil of Lord Raiden had been busy organizing the defenders as best he could from the shadows. It was difficult to do so without Haokah's guidance, the Special Forces and Interpol were eager to participate but still preferred to operate independently instead of concentrating their efforts, and ultimately, the shaman could not in good conscience demand that any fighter from the Full Moon Society participated. Many of them had volunteered, they had all failed the test of overcoming Raiden's pupil. If they could not even get past the gate keeper then they would only come to the tournament to die and meaninglessly sacrifice themselves. They were all inexperienced, children or old men..

That is why Nightwolf was so greatly concerned to hear of the apparent age of some participants. Had Earthrealm grown so negligent that only the young and naive were willing to risk their lives to defend the world everyone lives in??

Nightwolf hoped that wasn't the case.

Despite his lack of success in the tournament thus far, the Apache Sin Eater had found some small comfort in not having seen any of these young defenders. There had been some loses for Earthrealm already which caused him great grief, but he knew that as long there was still one of them standing there was still hope. That small comfort of his was momentarily shaken when he saw that which he feared to see whilst venturing through the miasma covered Living Forest.

A young girl dressed in white kneeling by a fetid river offering a prayer.

The shaman who was currently in his guise wolf faltered. His paws shifting slightly when he thought that perhaps this could be an illusion presented to him by the angry spirits of the forest. An idea that was quickly dashed aside, this place had long ago forsaken any ability to produce something as innocent as this figure, only hatred, agony and sorrow remained in this forsaken place.

No, that girl was real, but there was something about her that felt awfully 'familiar' to Nightwolf. A presence that he had only felt among other shamans and guardians of nature - however few of them remained alive in the world.

Normally, the Apache would offer a test first to see if those he seeks out are worthy of being spoken to by the herald of Raiden. He would appear in his wolf form and say nothing, awaiting their reaction if they paused or greeted him with violence.

Such wasn't needed in this case. Nightwolf could plainly see that this girl had two guardian spirits at her side already. The vigilant hawk and the wolf protector.

At first, it would appear to the two guardians that a monster is approaching, for Nightwolf's negative energy can sometimes appear as if it is monstrous. But there is that unmistakable aura beneath of a friend of all that is nature. A protector of the realm.

Nightwolf emerges from the woods in wolf form nonetheless and speaks though his snout moves not. "It is admirable that you are trying to cleanse this land, but I fear only the Elder Gods have the power for such feat."

"Trust me, I've tried."

It is difficult at first to perceive the man beneath the aura of darkness he has taken upon himself - a price paid to earn the appellation of Sin Eater. No one can swim through the muck of transgression and come away entirely free from stain. But that was the sacrifice he made, a burden perceived by all who can sense such things.

That might explain the large Siberian wolf standing up on all four legs and the pivot of the attentive hawk's head to observe, her wings extending out to her sides to flap a few times, as if working out any stiffness in preparation for having to take flight. He would feel the spike in tension among the guardians already on high alert - to be in a forest that hated them so was enough to stress the nerves of even the timeless trio now desperately trying to bless it. The singular eye of the large beast fixes on the Apache shaman who, like all Earthlings here, is so far away from home, his front legs bending slightly, rear legs tensing as he prepares to lunge if necessary, to rend flesh from bone with tooth and claw - a beast without mercy once kombat is invoked.

But the moment passes, the nature of the presence beneath the surface discerned by the all seeing eyes of the young girl's stalwart protectors, and the wolf at her back relaxes by a small degree, standing up straight now, thick, bushy tail lowering behind his haunches, mouth opening in a nonchalant yawn to show off his sharp teeth as a matter of posturing rather than outright threatening.

The white-robed girl continues throughout the exchange, though her lips are no longer moving, her eyes open, gazing toward the totems sticking out of her altar but not moving beyond that. If she needed to act, her companions would make it clear, and for right now, their spirits seem to indicate restraint is the better course.

He speaks, a voice originating from the kindred spirit even if his jaw moves not in the slightest. The raven-haired youth dips her head lower for a moment before finally lifting it. Lifting her hands from their praying position, she wipes her right arm across her face at about the level of her eyes before lowering them to the ground, delicate fingers pressing down to help her pivot around. She remains kneeling, not minding the dirt that smudges the lower portions of her clothing.

Facing him now, he would see that her cheeks bear evidence of tears shed for the plight of this forsaken land even if she has wiped her eyes clean. Blinking a few times, she pivots her torso forward, offering a very deep bow, "I understand. But the impossible nature of the task only makes it all the more necessary to pursue, to never give up." She pauses for a moment to sit up straight, her hands coming to rest in her lap, eyes blinking once as she glances to the murky water in thought. "I suppose it is not unlike... the great task with which we all find ourselves here." The determined if exhausted priestess offers a weary but sincere smile.

"In my first attempts, I tried too much, thinking myself above defeat if my cause was pure. This time, my approach is less direct as I simply hope to coax Waka-ush Kamui, the mist singer, to grace this lost place with but a single drop of her tears that this water might be rendered pure. As water is the fount of life, my hope is that it can spread from here. Even if it takes one thousand years for it to make a difference, it is an endeavor worth starting now."

The wolf that had been behind her has shifted around to her side, settling onto his haunches as he continues to keep an eye on things. On his haunches, he is larger than the kneeling girl - a worthy guardian to have indeed.

"Forgive me, my name is Nakoruru." Coming from a land where everyone knew one another, the practice of introductions still does not seem to come naturally for her.

No, there is really no need to test this girl any further than she has been already. Nightwolf's insightful nature has at the very least achieved the lofty heights of recognizing when someone is beyond reproach.

For there are those who can emerge from the murky swamps without being stained. Not like a Sin Eater such as Nightwolf, whose cause is surely to one day drive him mad if not outright kill him.

This girl on the other hand; she is pure.

Green mist surrounds the wolf with the black pelt, and where the large timber wolf once stood now stands a tall dark skinned man. He wears trappings somewhat similar to those of Nakoruru, a tribal people similar to the Ainu, but from a very distant land.

Nightwolf moves closer though he maintains a respectful distance away from the priestess. The shaman nods first to the Siberian wolf with one eye, as it is only fitting he'd speak to a fellow wolven warrior. "Peace, brother." The Sin Eater's words carry with them that unmistakable green sense of one who is attuned intimately with the spirits. Though his words are spoken with the language of humans, their meaning would be nonetheless understood by the children of the forest as well. To the hawk, he looks up and nods his head as well. "Sister."

Guardian spirits acknowledged, the shaman's white, dead looking eyes turn to stare at the kneeling girl. She has been crying and whether or not it may be part of the ritual to help cleanse these waters, it still makes Nightwolf's tired heart ache. To think that he has sacrificed the entirety of his life so that others like Nakoruru do not have to suffer.. and yet he still sees someone like her here! Risking everything in the tournament for the sake of others.

It's not fair.

The shaman steels himself though. Long ago he learned that sentimentalism is the first step to defeat. If he falters now everything he, Raiden and the Society had done would be meaningless.

"Sounds like the story of my life." The shaman says as Nakoruru explains her strategy for purging these lands from the evil that afflicts them. "I too pushed too hard in the beginning and burnt out because of it." Was knocked out for nearly a year-- though that is perhaps a story better saved for another time. "But now, I believe that you may be right in taking the more subtle approach." No one can carry the weight of their shoulders alone- this had been a hard learned lesson for the Apache brave.

"I am Nightwolf." Responds the shaman to the introduction with a gentle incline of his head. "A fellow fighter of Earthrealm." Though he senses a kindred spirit with this girl, Nightwolf would perhaps be surprised to know of her origins. For now though, that truly doesn't matter. Because if you're here, it doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, or what your ideals may be.

All it matters is how well you fight.

"It pains me to see one as young as you participating in this tournament. I hoped that I could spare these trials to others by entering myself.. but I see that once again, my efforts are not enough."

For a moment there is a stillness in Nightwolf's face. Disappointed with himself that he does not have yet posses the strength to protect all that deserves to be protected. It is a brief sadness that gives way to new found resolution. A tactic that has seen Nightwolf come this far. He doesn't focus on what it could have been, only in the task at hand.

"Would you mind if I join you in your prayer, sister?" Although of different religions and cultures, Nightwolf has always respected holy people from other civilizations and would be remiss to not participate in their cleansing rituals.

Whether she is witnessing a wolf take on the form of a man or a man shed the guise of a wolf is not immediately obvious to Kamui's Chosen - in her experience, either could be possible. The trappings of his attire merit immediate notice either way. She had, in her day, traveled far and wide across the world, pursuing the call of nature wherever it might take her. The smile of remembrance that crosses her lips harkens back to a time spent among a people as in tune with nature as her own.

As he nods and greets the brother wolf, the grey black beast dips his head in return, his single eye closing but for the quickest of moments. The gesture provokes a blink of surprise on the young maiden's face - it was very rare for Shikuru, the Destroyer to pay respects to any who walked the Earth. Even the lessor gods would often receive nothing but a neutral stare from the guardian animal. The stone-perched hawk bows her head toward him as well, flapping her wings twice while staying put before settling them behind her back and lifting her head proud once more.

Another pass at wiping her face clean of residual tears is made by the gentle spirit. He offers his name and her smile warms, a thoughtful look on her face. "A noble name, from a noble people. My home is on the island of Hokkaido. You would always be welcome there."

He gives words to the pain of his heart and her expression softens, eyes losing their focus as she glances to the side slightly, as if letting the magnitude of his remorse sink in for a moment. Finally, her steel-blue eyes snap back to meet his own, seemingly lifeless eyes, "Please... do not hold my presence here as a failing on your part. To answer the call of the spirits was a choice I made so very long ago and it is to this end that I have come here. On this island are many from our world who would no doubt wish they had never been chosen for such a fate, but I do not number among them. Rather, I humbly ask that see me as an ally, ready and able to fight at your side."

He inquires as to joining her in the solemn attempt to bring even the smallest spark of life to this forsaken land and Nakoruru gestures, pivoting back around to face the altar of wood and stone. "Please." The wolf gets up to move around to her other side, leaving a space next to the small shrine for the fellow shaman.

Pressing her hands together, she lifts them in front of her in the form of fervent prayer once more, she begins the whispered verses she had been uttering when he approached.

Closer, now, he would notice how intricately carved each of the seven prayer sticks are. He would also notice the shavings and woodchips left as the priestess whittled away the wood into the small symbols, idols, and totems - miniature versions of the grand totems of his own people, with different yet similar gods and spirits.

"Aa kando ott an Waka-Ush Kamui;"
"Chi utara irammakaka okai kuni ne,"
"samata, Kamui eoripak an kuni ne,"
"toitoi wano hetuku kuni ibehe"
"shipiraspare gusu upak no an apto"
"ashte wa un kore."

The words whispered, she falls quiet, bowing her body lower toward the prayer sticks, or inau. The words may be foreign, but their heartfelt intent would resonate with the soul of the Native American spirit walker.

Sitting up straight, head bowed, hands fall to her lap as a soft sigh escapes her lips as she waits in silence for the Sin Eater to add his own earnest plea to the desperate, perhaps hopeless endeavor.

Nakoruru's uncertainty is not entirely without merit. There is no known living person that remembers the shaman's birth. If questioned, the Jicarilla Apache Kommunity at large would deny having a ritual to make a Sin Eater. To doom a single individual to sacrifice for the sake abhorrent would be abhorrent to people as it rightly should. Therefore, it would be impossible to tell if the shaman in question was a wolf that was made man or a man capable of shifting into a wolf.

As Nightwolf himself has said when people ask him whether he is a human or a Darkstalker;

He is both and neither.

As a fellow wolf, the shaman appreciates the sign of respect from the Destroyer. He would understand perfectly if the priestess' guardian were to hold some animosity towards him. Wolves are fiercely territorial and they defend their pack to their last breath. In the wolf's remaining eye, Nightwolf can see himself, as he too acts the same way towards his charges of the Full Moon Society. If Nakoruru were his charge, he'd too guard her with equal fervor.

But a brother wolf recognizes another, their nod is not a nod between a man and an animal. It is a sign of respect between warriors.

Proud Hawk and gallant lady is treated with equal respect, the shaman doesn't seem to view Nakoruru's guardians as animals at all, almost as if some hidden language was spoken between them all. Nevertheless, as intrigued as the Sin Eater is by these two warriors of nature, his focus is on their charge. She must indeed be someone of great renown to have such powerful protectors by her side. Nature only blesses those who prove to be her fiercest most loyal allies.

Things start to become a little more clear when Nakoruru reveals where she hails from. "Ah, one of the Ainu." He nods, a ghost of a smile showing on his otherwise somber lips. "Now I see. Your braves have always been known to be stalwart allies of nature. I am honored by your presence." He says while giving another, more formal, bow. His hand touches his chest where his heart is and he lowers his gaze, eyes looking downward as a clear sign of trust. For a warrior to avert his gaze is a deep sign of respect.

"I hail from the western lands." The shaman explains himself so that there are no secrets between the two of them. "My people are the Jicarilla Apache. You too would be welcome amongst us."

Nakoruru's comforting words to the shaman draw an expression of restrained regret. "Of course." The Brave closes his eyes momentarily and agrees, however reluctantly. "My apologies. I realize that I dishonored you by implying you shouldn't be here. I can see that you are a warrior deserving if this opportunity just as I am."

"It was wrong of me to try and coddle you." Of course, what Nightwolf means is that it was wrong to try and coddle Nakoruru based on her age and gender, but he doesn't say any of that considering it would further dishonor the Ainu priestess.

Nightwolf is relieved when Nakoruru accepts his request and is then shown further sign of respect by the Destroyer who gives him his sitting spot. For Nightwolf, being treated with respect outside of the Hidden Village is greatly refreshing. The modern world so full of prejudice and judgements too often views him as a crazed hippie at best and worthless trash at worst. His heart feels light by Nakoruru's polite attitude, and he suspects that this girl is also all too familiar to the woes of following the old ways in the Earthrealm of today.

Or so he thinks, he might be surprised to learn that this girl is older than she appears.

The offer accepted, Nightwolf takes a seat next to Nakoruru in a similar position. He adopts the more Oriental sitting position by getting on his knees and resting his rear on the back of his feet.

Quietly, he listens to the priestess chant to her Kamui. Such ancient words which the shaman doesn't understand, despite the fact that they sound so very familiar. Much like his words to Nakoruru's guardian animals, the chant transcends verbal meaning, it is the -feeling- of the chant that is all too well understood by the shaman.

When Nakoruru ends her prayer, the shaman too bows along with her whilst giving a respectful silence for the spirits to compose themselves. Though the priestess and the shaman are from cultures set far apart by sea and land, all of this feels very natural to the Sin Eater. He sets upon the ceremony as comfortable as he would be inside a lodge in Arizona surrounded by fellow medicine men and braves. The Apache draws a breath and gives a prayer of his own.
"Ate Wankantanka, Mitawa ki"
"Wazi ya tanhan, ka te na Wa ska ki u ya ye ki,"
"Hena un taku ya kage ki, ya glu ska kta, he ca nu,
"He iye cel, Wakantanka, Anpetu ki le,"
"Micante Ki Mi ci yu ska ye,"
"He cel tohanl, nitokab woyasu ki el, wahinajin ki, ima ya cu kta."
The prayer whispered, he falls silent for a moment before giving a similar bow to the foul waters. May their prayers spoken from all corners of Earthrealm give some glimmer of peace to this forsaken place.

Unlike the Sin Eater's tale, her own story is sung by the few old women who weave stories from Ainu history for the villages. Mentioned alongside myths of creation, legends of ancient heroes, and adventurous tales of Ainu that did their own small part to shape the world in whatever way they could. A tale of sacrifice, of a young life set aside to answer a divine call, she is still trying to wrap her head around the idea that her name is spoken by the old mothers to their children to this day.

How similar yet different their origins may be, their paths have crossed here at the Great and Abominable Tournament to determine the fate of all things. The spiritual warrior would find an immediate inclusion into the fold of the trio, as if here, in the depths of a fel wood, they gather as four kindred spirits rather than disparate cultures and creatures.

As he utters the name of her people, he pulls a quiet smile to her lips. In her day, her people were almost unheard of outside of the island nation they had originally inhabited. To think that people would know of them at all in this day... It speaks to the unusual acumen possessed the lonely wanderer that he can speak of the dwindling Ainu race at all. She had responded to his formal bow with another dip of her head, remaining kneeling at the altar for it would be rude to turn her back to the gods she was so fervently petitioning.

Even his apology is accepted without comment, merely another smile - this one supportive, a quiet suggestion that while they may both often walk dusty, lonesome roads, here, on the prison island of the damned, they need not continue down the blood soaked path to perdition's end alone.

As the stalwart guardian takes his place at her side, she studies the trappings of his attire with a sidelong glance. Other than a brief run in with a pair of vicious cowards in a forest, she has seen nothing of the modern world except that which bleeds into this island, and most of it has left her ill informed of the changing of the times. For a moment, there is a hope that maybe things have not changed so much after all, if men like him still walk the Earth doing good. Some... surprises are best saved until after they save the planet from Outworld.

Together they pray, the priestess in white with her Ainu words, heartfelt and personal to her, and the Apache shaman with his equally beautiful yet, for her, foreign language. A quiet calm lingers in the air as the last words fall from reverent lips, the rite of appeal made to powers greater than their won - for what use is faith if it is not extended to the action of calling upon beings who claim interest in the fate of the land?

If they do nothing here and now, at the sincere entreaty of the two wardens kneeling by the lake, then it is either because they simply do not care after all, or... because they cannot. Is this realm beyond their touch? Or are they weakened to the point of being unable to act at all due the loss of faith throughout the world? The Scarlet Dahlia had warned her that even the Ainu are slow to perform the rites and offer the expected gifts to the gods in this modern day...

Waiting expectantly, Nakoruru opens her eyes to glance to the wise man at her side, a brief moment of quiet communion between two who keep the old ways close to heart. What exactly was she expecting to happen? The water is still foul, the forest still living yet dead. A slow look skyward is offered, barely visible through the thick canopy that thins only slightly over the small lake, but there are no clouds to be found in the grey slate sky overhead.

Nothing at all seems to have changed for their effort, their prayers... or has it? The stale air that clings to them seems to relent slightly, a gentle breeze moving past that smells of something other than rank decay and rot, a cool, lively thing that comes and goes subtly enough to almost be easily missed. The Ainu warrior maiden looks contemplative for a moment, taking in the slightest shift of air for as long as it lasts. But it passes, the breeze dying, the smells of the forest slowly returning.

A sign? A token of acknowledgement for their efforts? Or a mere coincidence? Lowering her hands to her lap, she exhales softly, closing her eyes. "If only Kamui Kanna were here, the Stormbringer Dragon, He Who Speaks With Lightning. His insights and council would be a great boon to us all in this ultimate test." A look to the side to study Nightwolf once more, thoughts of his mysterious eyes causing her to contemplate his own nature - is he lost in time as she? What path has he taken to become what he has? She can sense the darkness he has had to consume for the sake of the world. How great must be his suffering and pain.

"He would not willingly abandon us, leave Earth to stand alone. I believe something must have happened and I suspect the sorcerer is to blame. The edicts of Kombat protect him for now, but we must consider those who work underneath him, his conspirators... some may not be within the tournament itself and thus not under its protection."

Eyes stray back to the altar before she leans forward to retrieve the seven prayer sticks, one at a time, cradling them in her right hand. "Shang Tsung has always manipulated Mortal Kombat to the benefit of his agenda. We have to find a way to maneuver outside of his control or else we continue to dance to his whims."

Perhaps the silence of the Gods itself is a sign.

As Nightwolf had told Nakoruru before, he tried to cleanse the so aptly named Living Woods himself when he first came to the island. Woodlands and all things nature are as close to his heart as they are to the Ainu warrior maiden and thus he at least attempted to rip the damned souls stuck within the trees into his own. It would be no different than what he did to pry the foulness of the Butcher's brand from the souls of his victims. Likely, it would have been at a great cost, one that would perhaps cost him his life at last as he would not be able to fight properly whilst also carrying such a heavy burden.

Perhaps it is better that he was unable to do so then. Something beyond the shaman's power was definitely keeping these tormented souls bound within the woods of the trees. It was the event that made him realize that he truly was without a guide here. Raiden surely would have shed some insight as what to do to purify the forest, but the shaman had seen no trace nor sign of the Thunder God ever since he awoke from his coma. No one in the Hidden Village had seen him and his shrine at the temple remained empty, no matter how hard he tried to call upon him.

Eventually, Nightwolf had accepted that perhaps Raiden had gone off to some great mission back to the leylines, and so accustomed he was to do everything by his lonesome that he did not protest his circumstances. He would participate in the tournament even if his rag tag band of defenders were in complete disarray. Better an unorganized defense than no defense at all thought Nightwolf.

But here, in the presence of the enormity of the powers the face, in the wake of his fight against Vega, who even if he's supposed to be on his side is as evil as any creature of Outworld. Nightwolf truly thought that Raiden's presence was sorely needed.

Such a fact was clear when wise beyond her years Nakoruru brought to his attention the distinct lack of a Thunder God.

The shaman kept his gaze down to the still foul waters, untouched by greater begins, whilst he contemplated the maiden's words. As he usually did, Nightwolf paused briefly before responding to anything, being one who thought deeply about his words before reacting.

"I know." The Apache Brave eventually said breaking the silence. "Haokah is not here." A small smile of amusement crossed Nightwolf's otherwise somber lips when he spoke of Raiden with the name that his people had given him. A sign that Nightwolf had always taken to prove that no matter the cultural distinctions, everyone was united here in Earthrealm.

The god protector of Earthrealm was called by many names, Haokah, Raiden, Kamui Kana, Tlaloc. He was still the same greater being watching over them all.

The amused smile doesn't last very long. The lack of Raiden has now turned into a very serious issue if Nakoruru is pointing out and this draws a regretful sigh from the Apache Brave. "Blindly had I put my faith in Lord Raiden. I thought that he might had some greater duty that kept him from being here to guide us. I thought.. that we had to be strong ourselves, that this may be his way of telling us that our destiny has always been on our hands.."

"But you are right.." Nightwolf's blank dead eyes slowly turn towards the maiden. It would be a sight that would perhaps terrify most, particularly if they were capable of sensing the swirling evil spirits within the Sin Eater. Nakoruru on the other hand would be able to see the shaman's true feelings.

He is worried.

"In my blind faith I forgot that Raiden too is capable of mishaps." Nightwolf should know this better than anybody else actually since he actually lived with the god for a good long while. Outside of his divine duty, Raiden can be quite a klutz when he takes mortal form. "He would not abandon us like this.. something surely must have happened."

Then comes what Nightwolf dreaded the most; Nakoruru mentioning that Shang Tsung may be tampering with the tournament by keeping Raiden trapped somehow.

Nightwolf clenches his jaw and glances back to the waters of the river. Mortal Kombat has never been a simple endeavor to tackle, but it becomes even more complicated when it goes beyond simply being a tournament.

"Outworld is notorious for cheating." He states as he remembers reading the chronicles of the past nine tournaments. "But there is very little we can do outside of bringing their foul play to light. Any move that may be perceived dishonorable in the part of Earthrealm would surely be punished by the Elder Gods."

The shaman rubs his chin thoughtfully as he tries to figure what to make of this situation. "It is not unlike Pro Wrestling now that I think of it. The heel is allowed to do all manner of cheap tactics whilst the face can only rely on their skill and strength to carry them through." Oh, the things Nakoruru would get to see if she survives this deadly tournament. Surely not even Mortal Kombat would prepare her for the chaos that is Pro Wrestling.

"We will have to confront one of his minions that is not participating in the tournament. Unfortunately, I really do not know of any, Outworld seems to have brought in the brunt of their representatives if even someone like Reptile is fighting who's better known for being a spy."

"Do you have any ideas of who we can interrogate?"

His brief smile is met with a quiet one of her own as she continues to kneel, the seven prayer sticks gathered in her hand. Haokah - another name to add to the titles earned by the Thunder God. How vast his influence must truly be and, conversely, how painful his absence. The Sin Eater continues to speak of him, providing another name immediately recognizable to her: Lord Raiden, the name Kamui Kanna used when manifesting during previous Mortal Kombat tournaments.

Then this man knows of him, not just as a name, but personally. A new look of appreciation for the wanderer's history washes over her as she realizes she is speaking with someone who walks with the gods, a chosen one. That detail alone reveals far more about the mystic than anything she was able to observe visually or spiritually, knowing full well that to be a chosen one requires a grave price... and rare is it that the price does not take everything. For him, a history, a name within his tribe, a life as a mortal man, coupled with the crushing weight of transgressions he must consume from tormented spirits. For her, a peaceful existence, a family, a blossoming love, a culture, and the disorienting fate to always be out of step with the ebb and flow of time.

Each at one point faced the choice of laying aside all they were to rise to the calling or to retreat back to the life they were born to, to leave another to shoulder the burden in their stead. And when the time came, each chose to bear the mantle of divine responsibility.

Thus it is that he finds no revulsion in her eyes when his dead eyes settle on her directly, no recoiling or drawing back - only acceptance, understanding, and sympathy that can only be born of shared experience.

A soft nod is given as he considers that for Raiden, no priority could be greater than the events transpiring on this prison island of violence and death. If he is not present, providing them with much needed council, it cannot be by choice. Another nod as he touches upon Outworld's propensity to cheat, to slip through any loopholes, and manipulate events to their favor, coming just shy of drawing the wrath of the Elder Gods.

He speaks of Pro Wrestling and she thinks she has a vague idea of what he means - after all, the concept of professional wrestlers is not a foreign thought... if only she knew how much further the basic premise has been taken in the modern world.

There will be... a lot to learn should her story not end on this island, and should she not be called away once more by the eternal nature spirits.

On the subject of Shang Tsung's minions, she muses, lowering her eyes for a moment, left hand lifting to rest at the base of her neck in a loosely closed fist. "The edicts protect those within the tournament, but not those who have been eliminated from it. We must pay attention to what happens now that kombat has begun in earnest. We must find those closest to the sorcerer that are no longer protected by the Elder God edicts and go after them... to turn the tide against them for a change, to go on the offense..."

She falls quiet for a long moment before lifting her eyes to meet his - there is a certain realization reflected there, an idea coming together in her mind. "The scaled chameleon... his name was pronounced in The Divinement, matched against the fallen Earth Witch. Yet his name was not included among those participating in the first round of the tournament proper. He must have fallen to her."

Moving her left hand away from her neckline to drop back into her lap, Nakoruru leans forward a little, as if sharing a conspiratorial secret. "In the Warrior Shrine within Shang Tsung's Palace, the veil between life and death is thinner than anywhere else I have ever found. It is possible to commune with those who have fallen in Kombat within that place. If Syzoth has truly fallen, his soul might be reachable there, his loyalty tested, even in death. It is possible he could betray his master's secrets now that the threat of death for betrayal no longer hangs over him."

She sits back up straighter then, eyes blinking slowly. "That is only one possible avenue. If we keep looking out, others will surely present themselves. I have discussed these concerns with the one called Skarlet Dahlia as well..."

A weary but present smile turns the corners of her mouth as she exhales softly, as if sharing these thoughts has relieved her own burden even if to a slight degree. Shifting the seven prayer sticks to her left hand, she reaches into the collection to retrieve one with her right and holds it out for Nightwolf. The small totem bears etched runes, glyphs, and a tribal dragon snout with sharp teeth on the end. "The inau for Lord Raiden, the Stormbringer Dragon. For you, a token of our meeting this day."

As if sensing her intention, both Shikuru and Mamahaha begin to stir, the great wolf on his feet, body tensing in preparation for the perilous journey ahead, and the grand hawk extending her wings, working out stiffness from sitting idle for too long for her tastes.

"It is dangerous to linger here any longer. I know you can navigate these forests in the guise of a noble wolf, but beware the Heart of the Forest... a presence of seething rage, it aches with all the hurt, all the betrayal, and all the wrath of nature twisted by pure animosity and neglect."

Nakoruru pushes herself to her feet, pausing to brush at her dusty knees while tucking the remaining six prayer sticks into a pocket in her robe. The small altar of stone and wood will be left, a lasting sign of their encounter here, and a symbol of unbroken hope that in spite all odd, the impossible must be accomplished if Earthrealm is to survive.

"While often our lives are as a wayfarer travelling an eternally lonesome road, it is at times like this that our paths must cross if we are to succeed. I am glad to have met you this day, Nightwolf." she finishes with a bow of her head, hands clasped in front of her.

"May we meet again in the days ahead."

For someone like Nightwolf who is so closely in touch with the spirits, it is easy to speak of the gods as if they were present next to him. Though yes, he did spend a long amount of time living side by side with Lord Raiden and it was with his assistance that the Society of the Full Moon was created, Nightwolf sees the mystic realm as clearly as anyone would do the living realm. He can hear the little voices of the earth, the murmurs of the animals, the whispers of the trees. He can feel their suffering and their joy as one would feel the sun or the wind upon their skin. If the shaman at one point guarded his words about the hidden realm of the spirits among regular people, he has definitely stopped trying. It was the gift for his utter sacrifice to forsake the world of materialism. Perhaps a reason why he so readily disclosed his familiarity with Lord Raiden with Nakoruru. If he spoke of the spirits and the gods with the common person, then of course he would have no qualms to speak of such with a fellow guardian of nature. It felt liberating to do so.. to finally talk of the hidden world with one who could see it just as he could.

When Nightwolf notices the small smile that Nakoruru gives him, he in turn gives him a more genuine one. A brief moment where his dead looking eyes stare at the maiden of the Ainu and with no words needed can express 'Yes, I know the path you walk'. A rare moment of joy in the life of the Sin Eater. Though he has briefly known of loves and friendship, they always end abruptly due to the weight of his responsibility. A harsh reminder of how difficult it is to live something that even vaguely resembles a normal life, even amongst Darkstalkers-- fellow exiles of society.

Who would have thought that he would have such a pleasant encounter in the pit of utter darkness? In the Great and Abominable Tournament were the lives of billions hang in the balance.

Guess that what Lord Raiden told him once is true after all..

Mortal Kombat is not about death.. but life.

As he suspected, this maiden is far wiser than her age might appear. Not only does she have a solid idea where they can start in their investigation but some prospective targets to boot. To think that without her Nightwolf would have simply kept on fighting, holding on tightly on his beliefs that Lord Raiden was watching over him somewhere. Instead he is presented with a far more profitable plan; find out what Outworld's schemes are. It is a sobering reminder of how powerful team work can really be, and a welcomed one.

When Nakoruru leans forward to bind him his ear, the shaman complies and gently dips his head towards her so that her words may only be his to hear. "Of course." He whispers in kind. "If Reptile truly fell in battle then a statue of him would have been erected at the shrine already. It will be a simple matter of communing with the link of his spirit." The shaman reaches for his own chest to grasp the green arrow head necklace where his Soul Shard rests. "Perhaps he can be offered a new beginning in exchange for the information." Already Nightwolf's quick mind is planning out paths and strategies of what to do. Even if it's been a long time since he has engaged in battle plans his mind falls comfortably back into the role of tactician.

The shaman's eyebrows furrows at the mention of the Skarlet Dahlia, a name he has not heard before but still sounds like something he should know. Was that not the surname for one of the Butcher's alleged victims? He guesses he'll find out soon enough.

The Apache was deep in his thought when Nakoruru suddenly offered him a most impressive gift. One of her prayer sticks with the Ainu symbol for Haokah. "You honor me greatly, my friend." The shaman says with white eyes widened. Gladly does he accept the gift and holds it softly in his open palm whilst staring at it. After a moment, he grips it tightly with renewed resolution and stores it in one of the many pockets of his vest. Perhaps with this he will be able to sense the presence of Lord Raiden closer. "I will put it to good use."

As the priestess and her guardians stir to stand, so does the Apache Brave moves from his kneeling position to get back on his feet. He faces the priestess whilst listening to her words of warning but of good fortune as well. Though his facial features remain as stoic as ever, he has been clearly moved within.

"It too gladdens me to have met your acquaintance, Nakoruru. I've traveled the roads of a protector of Earthrealm for so long, and though I have met worthwhile allies in my journeys it is the first time I see one as blessed by the spirits such as you."

"I wish you the best in the tournament." The shaman spares a look to the great wolf and the hawk. "Brother, Sister, protect the priestess well. Earthrealm is counting on you."

The shaman's blank eyes fall upon the young Ainu maiden again and he reluctantly moves to go. However, he hesitates and glances back to Nakoruru.

"Hm, I also have a gift for you." Says the Sin Eater as he pulls an eagle feather from his vest pocket. "In the event that we were not to meet again in the island.. for whatever reason." He of course leaves out the possibility of their journeys ending very violently. "I wish you to have this."

"After the tournament ends, head towards the inland of Japan. In the outskirts of the city called Southtown lies a forest where I make my home along others of similar disposition."

"The feather will guide you towards Bastion Village. You will be more than welcome there, my friend."

Handing the feather to Nakoruru, the shaman takes a few steps backwards before the green mist surrounds him turning him back into a black pelted wolf.

Equally blank eyes stare towards Nakoruru. The shaman marked as a Sin Eater even when he is in his more comfortable form of a wolf.

"Until our paths converge."

Log created on 16:02:46 10/02/2016 by Nakoruru, and last modified on 23:33:13 10/06/2016.