Rayden sighed in frustration. He really needed to talk to Meimei about Hiko, but he couldn't do that with Lindara around. He loved his littlest sister, but she wasn't the best person to have around in a crisis.

Meimei was usually more reliable, and practical. Of course, even she seemed caught up with the news about Sonya and Thunder. What in the Creator's name was Sonya up to? He knew she was capable of it, but it seemed very extreme, even for her. The more he thought about, the more he wondered if it was as Logicalis and the others believed. Thunder had lied before, on more than one occasion...

That simple memory lead to a thought about Hiko, of course, and as he thought of Hiko, she began to appear, in the room with him. Right now, she was simply sitting on her arm chair, her legs tucked under her like always, she was staring out the window...

Rayden shook his head, forcibly thinking of something else, of Sonya and Turan and the Elders, anything but Hiko. Gradually, the vision faded, and he sighed again, with relief.

He started pacing, unsure of what to do with himself, when he suddenly realised that Meimei had teleported out from the Realm. She'd left again. Cursing under his breath, he started from his room. He have to go find her, he needed to talk to her, he was tired of waiting for her--

He stopped in his tracks. Someone else had just teleported in. But it wasn't Meimei. It was... Jikan Tai.

Jikan Tai. At the merest thought of the Guardian of Time, Rayden's powers began to crackle around him. His hands balled into fists. This was all Jikan Tai's fault. Nothing had happened before the Guardian took Rayden away to that horrible Wood...

"Lindara?" Jikan Tai called, the moment he transported in. "Lady Lindara? I need to ask you something--"

"Oh?" replied a voice behind him, suddenly.

He whirled, startled. "Lord Rayden," he said quietly. He didn't trust himself to say anything further. The Thunder God was pacing back and forth at the end of the corridor. Electricity was crackling around him.

Jikan Tai took a step backwards, unnerved. Rayden almost never seemed that upset. The only time he used his powers in such a fashion was when he was extremely angry, or frightened. And Rayden didn't seem particularly frightened at the moment.

"Lord Rayden," the mortal repeated, trying to remain calm. "I see you have recovered. Lady Lindara told me--"

"I'm sure Lindara told you a lot of things," Rayden growled, cutting him off. "But there's something we have to discuss before we have a talk about you and my sister."

The Guardian straightened up. So that's why Rayden was so upset. That's what this was about. "I had no idea--"

"Oh, I'm sure of that," the god snapped. "I should have known that this was no more than one of your half-brained rescue attempts."

Jikan Tai paled. "What--what are you talking about?" he said, his voice choked.

Rayden's eyes narrowed. "I should have listened to Meimei--there was something wrong with you, when you came to get me, to take me to that awful Wood."

"There was nothing wrong with me!" the Guardian blurted, growing angry, and confused. If this wasn't about Lindara...

"Oh no? If your plan was so well thought out, then why haven't you done it yet?" Rayden stopped and glared. "I might have been willing to help you, before. We were friends."

"Lord Rayden, we are friends--" the mortal stuttered. The electricity was building now, it was running across Jikan Tai's skin and hair. He shivered.

"Are we? I thought we were too. But friends don't use each other, and they certainly don't torment each other," Rayden replied, simply, although there was a wall of hostility behind his voice.

"I have never--" Jikan Tai's back hit the wall. He hadn't realised he had backed up so far. Rayden advanced a couple of feet, but had stopped. The gap was static, now, but the guardian wasn't sure how long it would stay that way. He wished he had his staff. "I have never done anything to hurt you--"

"Oh?" Rayden raised an eyebrow. "Really? You think so? Then why did you push me into the pool? You must have known what was on the other side, Guardian."

At the mention of the pool, Jikan Tai's defense deflated completely. The pool. That was what had upset Rayden. "I had thought--"

"No, see, I don't think you thought about it at all," Rayden snapped. He was playing with a ball of electricity, juggling it between his hands. "I think you just acted recklessly, like you always do."

The Guardian clenched his fists. "I don't act recklessly."

"You don't? That's strange. The Guardian I know is constantly charging off on a white horse to rescue a damsel in distress. Not that he has a very high success rate, though."

Jikan Tai felt as though the god had punched him. "I tried my hardest to save them, I tried-- "

"I know you tried. I'm very aware of the fact that if you hadn't tried your hardest, Hiko and Nova would be alive right now. Lightning would never have found out about our Omniverse. Yet another one of your attempts to right an imagined wrong." Rayden's voice had lowered into a growl. The energy was crackling around him fiercely, and the Guardian was dimly aware of thunder crashing outside.

"I didn't think that she would track me," Jikan Tai replied, his own voice growing hard with anger. Rayden had hit a sore spot. The mortal was keenly aware of his mistakes, and how they contributed the deaths of the two goddesses, and Liu Kang. He thought about that constantly. It was the reason he had to tried to change the flow of time. It was the reason he had taken Rayden to the Wood in the first place. To try and make up for his mistakes.

"You didn't think. It seems to come back to that, a lot, doesn't it? You didn't think. And now my Hiko, my Nova are dead. Are gone." Rayden trailed off.

"They weren't just yours!" Jikan Tai roared, the dam bursting. "I loved Nova too!"

"Yes, but you can see her any time you want to. All you have to do is go into one of your damned pools," Rayden snapped in return. "I don't have that luxury, Guardian. I simply have to try and carry on with a gaping hole in my life!"

Jikan Tai was barely aware of anything other than the thunder god that stood in front of him. There was a haze on his brain and his heart was loud in his ears. He leapt forward, furious. Unfortunately for him, he was too angry to think clearly; he forgot that he was not carrying his staff, as he had for so long, and so there was no staff to bring crashing down on Rayden's head. Jikan Tai was seriously off-balance by the mistake, and the god took full advantage of it.

The burst of energy threw the mortal off his feet, and he slammed into the stone wall of the corridor. He dropped the floor a moment later. Groaning, he tried to get to his feet, but Rayden beat him to it. He grabbed the mortal by the collar and heaved him up.

"I've had to relive what I saw in that pool over and over again," Rayden snarled. "Thanks to you, I can't even trust my own mind, any more."

Jikan Tai scowled and teleported out of the god's grasp. He immediately reappeared, in a defensive position. He wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.

"Rayden!" Lindara howled, banging her fists on the door. All of a sudden, she had found herself outside the Temple and unable to enter, while a thick storm roiled overhead. The monks were gathered around her, just as disturbed, but she barely noticed their presences. Something horrible must be happening to her brother. "Rayden! Let me in! Something's locked me out! Rayden!"

The Guardian's fist connected solidly with his jaw, but the god barely winced.

"You seem to have forgotten a few facts, Jikan Tai," Rayden smirked. "I'm in my own Realm, at the peak of my power. You, on the other hand, are a mortal. Do you honestly think you can hurt me? You must have an even looser grip on reality than I thought."

"You're right," the Guardian conceded, taking a few steps backwards. "You're right. I can't hit you. So I'll have to improvise." He held his hands out and a blast of energy hit the god square in the chest. He staggered backwards, stunned by the blow. Jikan Tai gathered his powers together and threw out another shot. This also hit Rayden, and the thunder god sank to one knee, weakened heavily.

The mortal stood for a moment. Scenes of earlier battles--Shao Khan, Cosmos, Lightning-- were playing and replaying through his head. He could barely think straight, but one thing was coming in loud and clear: the other times he failed because he couldn't bring himself to do what had to be done. He had always held back, at the crucial moment. He took a deep breath and raised his arms over his head.

"Time Stream--" he began, when Rayden looked up.

Lightning was crackling around his eyes and suddenly Jikan Tai couldn't move. He was frozen in motion, electricity playing up and down his arms and legs. Sparks were flying in front of him--

He woke up, his head pounding. He was on the floor--how had he gotten to the floor?--he couldn't see straight. Then his vision cleared and he could see the God of Thunder, Lord of Earth Realm, standing over him, looking down. Jikan Tai tried to gasp something to him, but his chest hurt horrendously. The entire fight came back to him in a rush and he realised what he had been trying to do.

His head was swimming, blackness was creeping into his field of vision. Now the world was swirling around him. The last thing he saw before he faded out completely was Rayden, as well as someone else standing beside him. He couldn't make out her face clearly, but she was dressed all in red...

Lindara gasped as the door suddenly gave way. She stumbled through into the darkened hallway. There was a terrible smell of ozone, and of something burning. Someone was standing at the end of the hall. It was Rayden.

"Rayden!" she cried, running to him. "What happened? What's been going on? I couldn't-- "

"I know," he replied simply. At first, he seemed back to his old self, but after a moment she realised he wasn't acting normally at all. His energy was off-the-wall and his eyes--they were completely dead. She started to cry.

"Rayden, Rayden, what happened?" she wailed, beside herself. "Tell me, you can tell me, please!"

"Nothing happened, really," he replied. The sentence sounded normal, for him, but the emotion behind it scared Lindara even more. It was a combination of guilt, anger, and a touch of glee. Of someone who had done something in the heat of the moment that they regretted, and yet at the same time revelled in what they had done.

"Rayden!" she wailed. "Tell me what happened!"

"Nothing happened!" he snapped. "Leave me alone, Lindara. I don't want to be bothered by this, right now." He created a portal.

"Where are you going?" she cried, bordering on hysteria, grabbing onto his sleeve. "Tell me, please, just tell me where you're going."

"I am going to the Omniversal Temple," he said, quietly, his anger broken. He gently shook her free. "Lindara, don't worry over this. I did something I'm not proud of, but as far as I was concerned, it had to be done. I just want to be alone for a little while." He stepped through the portal and vanished.

Lindara stood, sniffling, in the empty hall. She was very hard trying not to cry. She wished Meimei or her mother were here. They always seemed to know what to do. She on the other hand, never seemed to have any answers.

Sonya looked up. The portal formed a few feet off the ground. It was gray and very mist-like. Warily, she got to her feet. Meimei stepped out of it a moment later, tumbling to the ground.

"By the Creator!" she exclaimed, wide-eyed.

Sonya smiled and held out a hand to help her up. "Miscalculate?"

"Something like that," Meimei agreed. "I'm not very good at formal portals--but they're the only way to get in here. They've got you under tight lock and key."

"How convenient for them," Sonya snapped, irritatedly. "No doubt he had this is mind in the beginning."

"What?" Meimei stared at her confusedly. "What's going on?"

"Thunder is behind all of this," the goddess told her. "He's set the whole thing up."

"Set what up? I thought you attacked him!" Meimei blurted, now even more confused. "Logicalis told me that you attacked the Elders, that's why you were being held in Usirapi." She looked around the desolate plains. "This place gives me the creeps. Poor Hiko. Poor Nova, having to grow up here."

Sonya sighed, shaking her head. "I didn't attack Thunder. I might have--I sure was tempted to--but the Elders burst in the minute I made a move. I never touched any one."

Meimei was still looking out over the plain. She turned back. "Sorry?"

Sonya sighed again. "I never touched any one. I never even got near Thunder before his buddies popped in and hauled me away."

"Why would Logicalis lie?" Meimei asked. "I don't understand that. Thunder, I do, but Logicalis?"

Sonya paused. "I don't know. Maybe Logicalis is in on the plot."

"The plot to kill Johnny," Meimei clarified. "You think the Elders are behind this?"

Sonya nodded.

Meimei whistled. "That's a tough accusation. I know right now that Mother won't listen to a word of it. But Naturalis might; he's not as rigid as Mother is when it comes to traditions."

"You believe me?" Sonya asked, quietly.

Meimei took a moment to answer. "I've seen first hand the sort of things Thunder is capable of. He's my father, and I love him, but sometimes..." she trailed off. "Sometimes..."

Sonya waited quietly, while Meimei brought herself back to the present.

"I was just thinking," the goddess said, very quietly, "if Nova loved Cosmos. She did when she was small, but did she love him at the end? He did a lot of cruel things to her, and Hiko too, but they never left him. I often wonder why they didn't." She shrugged, sadly. "I suppose there really is no point in wondering that, any more." She shook her head, as if to free herself from that thought. "I'll talk to Naturalis. And Tai Hou, and Shimauma. The more support I have, the better chance I have of getting the Council to listen to me."

"Lindara will probably believe us," Sonya added. "And Johnny. Well... Johnny's not exactly impartial. On second thought, better leave him out of it. For now."

Meimei nodded. "I can talk to Kerlan, too. He's very well respected by the Council. And he's Celebria's brother; that will help get them listening." She put a hand on Sonya's shoulder. "I'll do what I can. We all will. Don't worry, everything will be fine."

"I'm not worrying," Sonya corrected. "I'm as frustrated as hell, but I'm not worried."

"I would be, if I was under house arrest on order of the Elders," Meimei told her. "But maybe that's just because I know exactly what Thunder's capable of."

Sonya looked at her thoughtfully. "I don't think you'd have as much to worry about, somehow."

Meimei started to ask a question when she stopped, puzzled. "It's Lindara," she explained, suddenly. Sonya was very used, by now, to the glassy-eyed look deities got when in mental communication. "Something's happened to Rayden." She held up a hand so that the other goddess could not interrupt. "Lin doesn't know what, but she says he's gone to the Omniversal Temple, and she's very worried about him."

"At least he's not on the hill, in the rain," Sonya quipped. She shook her head, tapping her temple. "Now I'm starting to sound like Johnny. Must be withdrawal." She paused. "Now I'm scaring myself."

Meimei sighed, wringing her hands, her communiqué with Lindara over. "Now I don't know what to do!" she wailed. "Lindara's really upset--Rayden has been like this for ages, after all, and if he's in the Temple he should be fine--but there's the Council to worry about, and then Mother--well, she's got Naturalis--"

"Meimei," Sonya interrupted, quickly, "go sort Lindara out. Once she's calm, she can either go check on Rayden or help you with the Council. Either way, she's more useful than if she's freaking out in Earth Realm."

"Are you sure?" Meimei said, hesitantly.

"Very sure. It's the most efficient way of doing everything." Sonya sighed. "That's better. I sound like me, again."

Meimei started to fret, still unsure of where to teleport. Finally she reached a decision. "Okay. I'm going to go to Earth, sort out Lindara, and then she can go to the Omniversal Temple, and I can get help. Okay." She took a deep breath. "I can do this."

There was a blurry portal forming behind her, that took several moments to complete itself. She stepped into it, waving behind her. Sonya waved back.

She sighed. Alone again.

She sat back down in the grass.

"Lindara? Lindara!" Meimei called, somewhat relieved to be back in Earth Realm after being in Usirapi. That Realm gave her the creeps. It only took her a few moments to find Lindara; the goddess was sitting in her room, one of the guest rooms, dejectedly. "Lin!"

"Meimei," she sniffled. Her eyes were red and the hem of her sleeves were wet; she had been crying for a while. "Go away. I don't want you to see me cry."

Meimei sat down on the end of the bed. "I've seen you cry lots of times. You cry whenever you scrape your knee, you cry over missing unimportant festivals, you cry--"

"Okay, I get the point," the goddess of plants replied irritatedly. "I just didn't want you to see me cry right now."

"Oh. Well, I can leave if you want..." Meimei trailed off, getting up as if to leave. The look on her baby sister's face convinced her to sit back down. She gave her a hug. "Rayden will be all right, I'm sure of it."

Lindara nodded meekly. "I've never seen him like this. He locked me out, and then did something horrible in the corridor--I don't know what exactly but the vibes were terrible. And then he told me to mind my own business, like I wasn't frightened to death for him. It's wearing me out, Meimei."

"I know," she said with a sigh. "It is for all of us. I'm going to go to the Temple, see if I can figure it all out. None of us have really tried sitting him down and making him see reason."

Lindara was aghast. "But... but that might make him worse! Sonya tried that, he exploded in her face and now he's becoming violent! It was better when he was just moping on the hill!"

Meimei shook her head. "I think he got upset because she touched a nerve. That's what we've got to do here, Lin--draw him back out. Something happened to bring this on, and I don't think it was the whole...battle. I think something else happened to him. I'm going to find out what."

"He does talk to you," Lindara admitted, getting out of the embrace and off the bed. She stood off the side, hugging herself. "He tells you things."

Meimei frowned. "Now what are you talking about?"

Lindara turned, sharply. "No one treats me like an adult! I'm always the baby, Little Lindara, who's playing at being a goddess. I have my own Realm, I have my own set of Mortals, I think I can be trusted to know what's going on!"

"Going on with what?" Meimei exclaimed.

Lin threw up her hands in anger. "With... with everything. I'm just always the last to know, and if I'm told, it's grudgingly, as though I should just simply know. Rayden never told me that he was going off to battle Cosmos, or Lightning, or Shao Khan. I had to find out third-hand how many times he's risked his life in the past few years! I still don't know what happened exactly with Lightning, and every time I ask, the person clams right up or changes the subject!"

"I don't know any more than you do!" Meimei retorted. "I found out from Naturalisabout Cosmos! Naturalis! Rayden doesn't tell anybody anything! That's just the way he is!"

Lindara sighed, and scowled. "I just wish, for once, I knew exactly what was happening."

"Then you'll have to find out like the rest of us." Meimei got to her feet. "Lin, I have so much stuff to do right now, I can't sit here and listen to you complain..."

"There! You're doing it too!" Lindara exclaimed with a brandished finger. "You're too busy, too tired, too involved to let me know!"

"Maybe if you started looking at what was going on around you, you might not have to be told everything!" Meimei snapped suddenly, at the end of her rope. "The reason you're the last to know is because you don't make any effort to find out! You just expect other people to tell you, just like you expect other people to take care of you when something goes wrong. It doesn't work that way, Lin, and you're going to have to find that out sooner or later."

With an angry flourish, the goddess disappeared. Lindara leaned against the wall, stunned. As hurtful as it was to hear it, she knew that her sister was right. She was very self-absorbed. She did expect people to bail her out...

"No I don't!" she exclaimed loudly, to the air. "I don't expect that at all! I take care of myself, and I'm doing a damned good job, too!"

But nobody answered. Not that she expect anyone to, of course.

She sniffled again, and wiped her eyes on her hem. The tips of her sleeves were already wet, and angrily, she willed them dry. There was a tiny flash, and the moisture disappeared. "There, see?" she said. "I can do it. I can take care of things."

She sniffled once more, fighting back another batch of tears. Now she was very depressed. She wasn't upset any more--if Meimei was going to talk to Rayden then he would be in good hands-- but she felt very down. She decided she would go back to the Forest, it always made her feel better. And she would see how Jikan Tai was doing.

At the thought of the Guardian, something unnerved her. It wasn't anything specific, just a tinge of anxiety. She closed her eyes and tried to reach out to him, to find out how he was doing back in the woods--

That was odd.

He wasn't in the Forest at all.

Lindara blinked in surprise. He was in the Temple, and he was hurt. That didn't make any sense at all, why would he be hurt? Unless someone attacked him, but--she got a tight feeling in her chest as she suddenly realised what Rayden had been doing in the corridor. She narrowed her search down on Jikan Tai and teleported to him.

The Temple was very quiet. There were two deities in the corner, praying silently. There was another by the candles, lighting one in memorial.

Rayden wasn't there.

Meimei looked around again, hoping to see him, perhaps in the shadows, when she saw someone else. Someone very familiar.

Turan was skulking around the back, waiting for someone. He was scowling and wearing a knife, that was strapped to his leg. Meimei ducked behind a pillar. Why would he wear a knife? she thought. Surely he doesn't need to. After all, he's got his powers to rely on, he doesn't need weapons.

The only other person she knew of who carried weapons on such a regular basis was Shao Khan, her brother. He was a Numina, like her, powerless, so he had needed something to do damage with. But Turan had powers.

Someone teleported in. For a moment, Meimei was sure she saw Nova, but in the dim light she wasn't sure. No, it wasn't, it was only Mizuno.


Goddess of Water? One of the most respected Elders ever? What was she doing skulking around in the shadows with Turan, God of Assassins?

Meimei frowned. Sonya's words were coming back to her, and this seemed to support them. Of course, it could be a coincidence. Of course, it could be anything at all...

She gritted her teeth. No, Sonya was right, she was sure of it. Should she risk going closer, find out what they were planning? Better not. They'd both be able to sense her if she tried. The best course of action would be to go to the Council now, before Turan tried anything else. Meimei wanted to find Rayden, and talk to him, but this was more important. Sonya and Johnny could be at risk.

Meimei teleported away.

Mizuno looked over her shoulder. "You are sure no one is following us?" she asked Turan, very quietly.

"I am sure no one followed me, Lady. I don't know about you." He scowled at her. "Don't worry. This is the Temple; why would anyone suspect anything?"

She got a shiver along her back. Close to them, a tapestry suddenly fell down; the resulting crash startled everyone around them.

Mizuno hurried past Turan to hastily fix the broken decoration. With dismay, she noticed that the tapestry that had fallen down depicted the dedication of the Omniversal Temple, the First Temple, by Hisan, Numina and Animus. She started to shake as she fixed the hanging back upon the wall. It was said that strange things happened when the Creator was displeased.

She walked back, as nonchalantly as she could, back to Turan. He was using his blend ability to make sure no one else saw him. "I don't like this," she whispered to him. "Let's leave."

"I don't think so," Turan replied, under his breath. "I want your assurance that the Elders will not allow the Council to intervene."

"I told you, it's done," Mizuno snapped, quickly lowering her voice back down. "The Elders meet with the Council, tonight. We will make sure no one interferes with you."

"Good." Turan replied. "Then we are done. Good day, Lady. I hope you are as confident as you are trying to sound."

He disappeared as a wisp of smoke. Mizuno coughed and tried to wave the smell away. She disliked Turan intensely, but he was the only one willing to work for them, that they could trust. He would be trusted, if He was willing to work with the Elders for the sake of the Omniverse, but like always, He had his own agenda.

Mizuno sighed, and teleported out. She had a few errands to run before this evening.

Sonya stood up, every nerve at attention. "Who's there?" she demanded. "I can sense you-- show yourself!"

There was a wisp of mist, and Rayden appeared. She gaped, startled. "Rayden--what--?" Slightly ashamed that she had been ready to do battle with one of her closest friends, she dropped her arms. "Sorry about that. I didn't know."

"It's all right," he said, very sadly. He seemed so worn, and so weary, that Sonya couldn't think of anything to say to him. Actually, she could think of one thing...

"I'm sorry about what I said earlier," she admitted, the words hard for her. "I snapped. I talked first, thought second." He smiled a little at the statement, which caught her off-guard. "What's so funny?"

"I was just thinking about how much we've all changed," he said sadly. "The Sonya I met at the Tournament would have never apologised for anything she said. Never."

Sonya felt a blush spreading over her cheeks. "It's a special occasion."

"Oh." The god looked out over the desolate plain. "I just thought I'd pop in."

"For a visit," Sonya agreed, sarcastically, crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, at least-- "

"At least I'm not moping around on the hill-side?" He finished the thought for her, avoiding her gaze. "I got tired of the scenery."

"And if it's one thing that Usirapi is famous for, it's the scenery," Sonya answered, dryly. He closed his eyes. "Rayden? What--?"

"I miss them," he answered, simply. "I thought... that if I came here, I might... I don't know. I can't think clearly, any more." He rubbed his temples, scrunching his eyes. "I can't focus, or I..."

He looked up, suddenly, at something over Sonya's shoulder. She whirled, but faced only the empty horizon. However, she could almost feel a familiar presence, just out of her range. "Rayden? Did you bring any one here with you?"

"No," he replied, after a moment's hesitation.

She whirled back towards him. He was staring at the ground. "Rayden? Who is here with us?"

"I don't know," he answered, finally, his voice tight. "But I didn't bring her."

"Bring her?" Sonya snapped. This was getting too weird, too out of control, "Bring who, Rayden? Answer me?"

"I don't know!" he cried. "I don't know who she is, but she won't leave me alone!"

He disappeared in a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder. Sonya tried to follow him, but was blocked by the shield. "Dammit! Damn it all!" She looked up to the sky. "Let me out of here, damn you! Let me out!"

"Why?" She whirled again to face the Elder, the one dressed in a long, blue gown.

"What do you mean, why?" Sonya snapped. "I want to help Rayden, that's why. I want to get to the bottom of this, that's why."

Mizuno, goddess of water, frowned. "You should have thought about that before you attacked Thunder."

"I didn't--" Sonya paused, exasperated. She narrowed her eyes at the goddess. "You're in on it too?"

"In on what?" Mizuno stuttered. She was trying to remain calm and composed, but something had knocked her off-kilter.

Bingo. "The plot against me and Johnny," Sonya replied, watching the other deity's response carefully. "You know about it, don't you? About Turan, about his murder attempts."

"What are you talking about?" Mizuno stuttered, now badly frightened. "You must be insane! That's why you attacked us! Insanity!"

"I didn't attack you and you know it," Sonya snarled, taking a step forward. "You knew I was going to approach Thunder, didn't you? You set it all up, to get me out of the way, to keep me from interfering with Turan, is that it?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, and I resent these groundless accusations--" Mizuno realized she wasn't winning any awards for her "innocent" routine, so she switched mid-stream to Indignant Deity.

"Why do Johnny and I bother you so much? What is it that you can't stand? Is it just tradition? Is that all it is?" Sonya continued, taking another step forward.

Mizuno just opened her mouth and closed it, a fish out of water. "I thought visiting you would be a mistake," she snapped, finally. "Enjoy the rest of your stay, Space."

She disappeared in a mist.

Logicalis blinked in confusion. "What was Sonya talking about?"

"Groundless accusations," Thunder supplied, getting up from the communal scry. "You heard Mizuno. Sonya's been driven insane, from her powers. Her mortal mind can't handle them. This is useless." He waved his hands over it, darkening the image. "Mizuno should never have gone there, tried to reason with her. She's clearly unbalanced."

"I don't think so," Celebria, leader of the Council, and Goddess of Truth, replied, slowly. "And I don't like Mizuno's reaction to those 'groundless accusations' either. I want to talk to Sonya. Myself."

"No!" Thunder boomed, a little too quickly. "No, that's not wise. She's dangerous."

"She hasn't really attacked any one," Logicalis volunteered, unnerved by what he saw in the scry, and trying to organise his own jumbled thoughts. "She threatened us, yes, but..."

"She has always been counted on, before," Kerlan, God of Communication, stepped forward, nodding towards his sister, Celebria. "You know she is reliable."

Celebria nodded. "I know Sonya to always be truthful. Blunt, tactless, often, but always truthful. Why she would suddenly make something up now--"

Mizuno appeared, still ruffled and looking very ashamed. "Rayden has left again. Council, Elders, I would like to vote--"

"No, I don't think so," Amai, Goddess of Justice, snapped. "This is not an Elder meeting, Mizuno. It's a Council meeting." The other deities stared at her in disbelief. She stared them down. "Sonya was right. We rely too much on tradition. Just because we've relied on the Elders in the past does not mean we have to rely on them now. This is a Council meeting."

"Well put," Kerlan replied. His sister waved him quiet.

"I think there is more to this than either sides are saying," Celebria mused. "But what disturbs me most, at the moment, is the mention of Turan. Where is the Assassin God?"

The Elders all looked away from her, with the exception of Logicalis and He Who Has No Name, a fact which Celebria and the others noted, and noted well. "I see. You do not know where he is, or you do not wish to divulge the information?"

"He is on Elder business," Thunder growled.

Celebria fumed, her fingers griping the edge of her chair. "There is no Elder business! There is only the Council. We are the power in the Omniverse, ever since the Second Scroll."

"Feel free to believe that," Thunder snapped. "It doesn't change anything."

Celebria was silent. She turned to Kerlan. "Find Turan. Bring him here, as soon as you can."

"How dare you--" Mizuno began, but she thought better of it, and shut up.

He shifted slightly in his chair. "I can narrow your search down, if you would like," He said, with a weary smile. "You will find Turan in Maresium, with a knife and a half-dead god of fire by his side." He sighed, and turned away, his aura of power, a blue-green with a grayish tinge, flared into being around him. It was a sight that all deities, all the deities in the room included, grew sick at the sight of. "It's not too late, not yet," He continued. "Johnny could still make it."

Jikan Tai leaned against the wall for support. He could barely breathe from the pain. He started to slide down, gasping for air while stars sparkled in front of his eyes. He had to get up again, to keep moving, but he was getting so tired. As he braced himself against the wall, he wondered why he was still alive. It seemed so useless, and yet...

"Guardian!" cried a voice, from farther down the hall. The sound of footsteps. A hand cradling his face.

He looked up into the eyes of Lindara. "What happened?" she cried, upset. "You've been hurt by--" She trailed off, her eyes growing wider. "Thunderbolts--Rayden did this to you?!"

He nodded, feeling as though his lungs were on fire.

She gasped, drawing away for a moment, in shock and confusion; but then she put them out of her mind for the time being and placed both hands around his face and closed her eyes, concentrating.

Her touch was cool against his skin, and immediately, his wounds began to heal, as she sent energy through him. He could breathe again without sharp daggers stabbing him over and over. Lindara opened her eyes. "We need to get you to your room," she said quietly. "You need to rest. I can deal with Rayden."

"No!" Jikan Tai exclaimed, grabbing her wrist as she started to stand up. "No, leave him alone."

"Jikan Tai!" she blurted, her voice nearly a sob, "he's tried to kill you!"

"No," the Guardian replied slowly, "No, he didn't. I got what I deserved, Lady Lindara. Nothing more."

"I don't understand." She came back to a crouch and Jikan Tai let go of her wrist.

He looked down at the floor, unable to meet her gaze. "It doesn't matter, any way. Just leave him be. I'll leave, I won't be any more trouble."

"You're not any trouble at all," she insisted. "No one thinks that. I know that I like having you around."

He looked up at her, surprised.

"I miss having mortals," she continued. "The monks don't really count, we're not supposed to talk to them, really."

Lindara was very confused as Jikan Tai's face began to redden in anger. "You don't understand anything, do you!" he shouted, struggling to get to his feet. She tried to help him but he pushed her away.

"I don't understand why you're upset--" she admitted, bewildered. He glared at her.

"What, it's too hard to understand mortals?" he spat at her. "You're just like all the others."

"All the other what?" she cried, as he started down the corridor. She followed him. "Guardian, please, just tell me what I did wrong."

"What you did wrong," he began, slowly, turning to face her, still flushed, "is nothing at all."

He pushed his way through the door, letting it slam in her face. She looked shocked at the door, as though it was personally responsible for the insult, and then turned and marched down the hall.

She was so annoyed by the Guardian's bizarre comments and turn-coat behaviour that she failed to realise Meimei was trying to get in touch with her until her sister fairly had to shout.


"What? Who?" The goddess snapped out of her mental loop. Regaining her composure, she realised what was going on. Meimei. About time you noticed. Rayden's not at the Temple.

He was...

Well he isn't now. But that's not the worst of it. The Council is in session, right?

Right. Pause. As far as I know...

Meimei grumbled telepathically. Lin, I have to tell you something. This is because I trust you. You can't tell anyone. The Elder Gods are the ones after Johnny. And Sonya.

Lindara paled, staggering at the news. You have to be wrong.

I don't think I am. Meimei's mental voice admitted some doubt, but the confidence behind her accusation shone through. Rayden has got to take care of himself for a little while. We have to get this sorted out.

Oh, Meimei, what can we possibly do? The Elder Gods... Are just like the rest of us, Meimei answered firmly. They're just like us.

Lindara leaned against the wall for support, gathering her strength together. What...what do you want me to do?

Come to the Council with me. We'll pull a "Sonya" and break in, if we have to. The plant goddess could almost see her sister smiling as she thought it. We'll demand that they release Sonya--or at least, hear her side--and stop Turan from harming anyone.

Sounds like a plan. Lindara paused, her thoughts drifting off, and she hastily reined them back in, hoping her sister didn't notice.

Too late. Jikan Tai? That's a brilliant idea, Lin! The Council will listen to him. Bring him along.

I can't, Lindara admitted. At least, I don't think I can. We, uh, had a fight, or something. I'm not too sure, actually. But he's not talking to me any more.

Meimei took a moment to respond. Oh. And then: Bring him anyway. He'll do it for Sonya, and Johnny, at least.

Lindara sighed. Okay. I'll do my best. I'll meet you at the Council Hall?

See you there, Lin.

Meimei's voice faded from her head and her presence disappeared. Lindara sighed. "I guess I had better find him," she said out loud, to herself.

Rayden appeared in his room, back at the Temple. It was the first place he thought of, it was the place he felt most comfortable in. He took a moment to sit on the edge of the bed. His hands were shaking. He held his head for a moment, trying to calm himself, to regain composure.

"Why does it bother you so much?" Hiko asked, worried, sitting next to him. "Rayden, tell me. Please, you're frightening me."

"I'm frightening you?" he repeated, incredulous, inching away. He could see her, her expression of pain, and yet he could see through her, he could see the shadowy impression of the walls, of the paintings. "Where did you come from? Why are you here?" he demanded, suddenly, his patience starting to snap.

"I'm here to be with you," she cried, beginning to weep. "I want to be with you."

"Leave me alone," he yelled, leaping from the bed. "Leave me alone!"

"Rayden," she sobbed, reaching for him. "I've been without you for so long, I can't bear it any more!"

"Leave me alone!" he roared, his lightning crackling into existence. "Leave me alone!"

There was a crackle of thunder, a flash of light, and she was gone. He fell to his knees, shaking. He couldn't keep this up. He couldn't go on like this any more. He wished he could find Meimei, tell her what was happening to him, he had to tell someone. The Temple had been no solace, the Creator was silent. But he knew he could count on his sister.

He reached out for her, wondering where she was. He found her almost immediately. She was at the Council, and very upset. Sonya, and Johnny. She was worried for them; that came through immediately. And angry. She was furious, at the same time.

He got to his feet, determined to help her. If he couldn't save himself, he'd at least help his little sister.

"Jikan Tai!" Lindara called. "Guardian--I need to talk to you, please!" There was no answer to her cry. "It's very important, Guardian!"

"I'm sure it is," came a dry response, quietly. She followed the voice, and it led her to the door outside. She opened it. Sitting cross-legged on the grass, praying, was the mortal Guardian. His eyes were closed, and he didn't bother looking at her.

"Guardian, I am asking for your help." Lindara took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders, tossing her hair back. "I know you're upset with me. I don't know why, but..." She took another deep breath. "But this isn't about me. This is about Johnny, and Sonya. They need your help."

Finally, she got a response out of the mortal. He opened his eyes, and looked up at her, questioningly.

"The Elders are behind Turan," she explained. "Meimei thinks so, anyway. And Sonya's innocent."

"Innocent of what?" he asked, confused.

She blinked. "You didn't hear? Oh, of course not. Sonya was arrested by the Elders, and trapped in Usirapi. They say she tried to attack them."

Jikan Tai leapt to his feet in one fluid motion. "Then let's go," he replied solemnly. "I owe her that much."

The plant goddess nodded, and opened a portal, that led to the Council chambers. She waited for Jikan Tai to enter first, but he seemed to be waiting for her to. Finally, as the moment grew more awkward, she took it upon herself to sail through.

"Kerlan!" Celebria cried, getting to her feet. "Get to Maresium, at once!" The tall, black god of Communications nodded, and disappeared in a flash. The other deities looked at each other in confusion and horror. Except for two. Thunder looked vaguely self-satisfied, and He simply looked tired. Neither reaction was unusual for the pair.

"What have you done?" Amai blurted at the Elders. "You had him killed?" The horror, and cold fury in her voice seemed to linger in the air.

"He is not dead yet," He replied, solemnly, his sickening aura flickering around him, as Johnny Cage, God of Fire, fought to remain alive. "There is still time."

Celebria whirled to Amai. "Get Medicalis, and the other healers. Make sure they're ready to receive him."

The tall, blonde goddess nodded and disappeared. The leader of the Council then turned to the Elders. "I want to know, exactly, who is behind this."

They remained silent.

"I will say it once more," Celebria growled, "who is behind this?"

Again, no answer was forthcoming; her eyes narrowed, and she sat back down.

"What are you going to do?" asked Logicalis, worried and frightened, for Johnny's sake.

"We will stay here until I hear from Kerlan," Celebria answered, "And then I will know whether to accuse you of murder, or simply treachery."

There was a loud bang on the doors. All the deities turned, en masse, to see who was disturbing a closed meeting of the Council. The door slightly opened and Adiutor poked his head around the edge. "Madame Celebria, I tried to stop--"

A hand yanked him back by the collar, and then Meimei pushed her way past him and into the chamber. She was followed by her sister, Lindara, and the Guardian of Time.

"Meimei!" Thunder exclaimed, standing up. "What are you doing here?"

"Exactly my question," Celebria growled. "This is not a good time, Numina."

Meimei bristled at the slight insult; but she stood her ground. She was glaring at Thunder. "Madame Celebria, I have come to--"

Jikan Tai suddenly reached forward and grabbed her by the arm. "Meimei," he said quietly, "I think they already know."

She closed her mouth, mid-sentence.

Celebria and the others exchanged looks. "You know of the plot, of the murder attempt?"

"We do," Lindara piped up, trying not to make eye-contact with her uncle. "We're here to plead for Sonya's freedom."

"Sonya's the least of our problems," Logicalis informed her, distressed that his niece was including him with the other, treacherous Elders. "Johnny's been wounded."

"What?" All three of the new deities stared at him, in shock.

"What are you talking about?" Meimei demanded, as Lindara still would not address her uncle. "Where is he?"

"He's still in Maresium--" Celebria began, before Jikan Tai made a low sound in his throat and teleported from the room.

"Guardian!" Lindara cried, following him a split-second later.

Johnny coughed, the blood catching behind his teeth. Turan was on one knee, the fire god's kick having caught him off guard. Johnny had rolled away, and was now trying to get to his feet, to keep fighting.

He had no idea how many times the knife had gone in. Pain burned throughout his body, his nerves screamed and the blood in his mouth tasted metallic and salty. He spat it onto the white sand, and struggled to get up.

Turan was on his feet first, the bloody knife still in his hand, when a portal opened up. The god that came through, Johnny recognised immediately.

"Kerlan!" he croaked. "Watch out for--"

Kerlan, the moment his feet touched the sand, cried out, and staggered backwards, hitting one of the palm trees. He clutched his temple.

"I declare my Realm friendly to Kerlan!" Johnny cried, quickly. He tried to, at least, but the liquid in his mouth and throat made it hard. He hoped the Creator counted mental pleas, as well.

Apparently so. Kerlan, breathing heavily, straightened up, none the worse for wear. Turan, crouched, shifted the knife to his other hand.

"Get out of here, Kerlan," he snarled. "This doesn't concern you."

"That's what you think," Kerlan retorted. He moved as fast as he could to put himself between the two deities. "We know about the plot, Turan. It's over."

"It's not nearly over yet," Turan snapped. "I have a job to do, and I plan to do it."

Kerlan frowned, gathering his strength together. But something was wrong. He couldn't feel his powers. "What? By the Creator--!"

"He declared a mystic calm," Johnny exclaimed. "It cut off my powers, some how--"

"That's how you did it," Kerlan snarled. "Very inventive, Turan. I always figured you for a dumb brute, but maybe you do have a shred of intelligence." He paused. "Or did the Elders help you with this one, too?"

"Shut up," the God of Assassins growled, "Or I'll throw you in as a bonus."

"Oh no, Turan, don't threaten me," Kerlan mocked. "Unlike your other targets, I'm not ignorant enough to believe your threats."

"I didn't believe him either," Johnny offered, using a tree as a prop, to climb his way to his feet.

"You have no powers, Communications," Turan reminded him. He smiled, a thin, rarely-seen phenomenon. "You're all talk."

Before the deity could retort with a witty rejoinder (and there were several that came to mind), Johnny toppled forward, unable to keep his balance. Kerlan dove to catch him, and Turan leapt towards the two, the knife flashing in the tropical sun.

Kerlan shoved Johnny with all his might, rolling the injured god out of the reach of Turan's weapon, which slammed down into the sand.

The god of assassins rolled with the blow, easily getting to his feet. "You're only delaying the inevitable," he snarled.

"I've heard that before," Kerlan commented, in a defensive position. Rayden had taught him a few moves, back when the two gods were both younger and had grander ideas about such things. He was trying to remember them, now. He'd never been a fighter, that was for sure.

Turan was approaching, the knife held high. Kerlan backed up a few paces, keeping Johnny in his side-vision, just in case Turan tried anything. Johnny was Kerlan's first priority. He had to get him out of here, out--

There was a flash of green at the corner of his eye. Someone else was here. He turned, startled.

It was Lindara, Goddess of Plants. She had Johnny's head in her arms, she was trying to heal him, help him stay with them. Kerlan sighed, relieved, until he heard the snap of a twig underfoot--

Turan was bearing down on him, furious and goaded into quick action by the arrival of Rayden's sister. Kerlan stumbled backwards, when suddenly someone appeared in between them. It was the Guardian.

He held Turan back, a hand wrapped around each of the deity's wrists. "Drop it," he hissed, pushing.

The god scowled and started pushing back. The strain on the Guardian's face was evident; he wasn't nearly as strong as he needed to be to fight off the deity. But he was determined to try.

"Lindara, get Johnny out of here," he yelled at her, bracing himself in the sand as Turan was pushing against him.

"I can't!" the goddess cried. "I can't use my powers!"

"I invoked the great calm," Turan replied smugly. "Try and stop me now, mortal."

"If you insist..." Jikan Tai trailed off. His eyes flashed and there was a flash of light as his aura exploded around him. "Time Stream Memories Flood!"

Turan screamed, rearing backwards. The Guardian leapt out of the way--or was thrown, Kerlan couldn't tell--but landed on his feet and still in fighting condition. The god of assassins was not so fortunate. The knife dropped to the sandy ground. He clutched his temples, screaming, and fell to his knees.

Jikan Tai gestured, and the deity keeled over, unconscious.

At that moment, Kerlan could feel his powers returning. Of course: once the original declarant of the calm was unconscious, the spell was broken. The god got to his feet. Lindara was crying with joy, her powers already starting to come into effect. She wrapped her hands around Johnny's face.

There were several portals that opened up. Amai stepped out, as did Medicalis, God of Doctors. There were several other healers, and at once, they all spread out. The majority went to Johnny; but a few checked out Kerlan.

"I'm fine," he said, waving them away. He looked over to the Guardian, so many questions on the tip of his tongue. But the Guardian did not return the glance; he was staring at Lindara sadly, before he turned, and bent down to pick up the knife that Turan had dropped.

He turned it over in his hands, and then rammed it into the closest palm tree, as deep as it could go, all the way to the hilt.

Celebria sat bolt upright. "It's Kerlan," she announced, growing glassy-eyed from the communication. "Johnny's badly wounded--Turan's been stopped--Mystic Calm--The Guardian fought him off." She shook her head slightly, a bit overwhelmed by the message. "That was a jumble." She took a deep breath, and began anew. "Johnny's been badly wounded. Turan declared a Mystic Calm, but Jikan Tai saved them all, some how."

Meimei sighed with relief, sagging with a strain. "Thank the Creator," she breathed, audibly.

Mizuno and Thunder exchanged glances. Ariel sat, fuming, in his chair, not looking at any one. Logicalis seemed as relieved as Meimei.

He sighed, and stared out one of the windows. "All's well that ends well," He said, gently. His aura was fading away, shimmering back into dormancy. As it did, the air of tension in the chamber wisped away as well.

Mizuno fidgeted in her chair, playing with the edge of her cuffs. Thunder sat impassively, fingers steepled and a cold gaze fixed firmly in the distance. The goddess of water glanced at him, and started to say something, but he shook his head, ever so slightly, and she stopped her comment.

Celebria was pacing. "I don't know what is to be done," she admitted, her voice loud. "But I know that you are lucky Johnny was not killed."

"We're all lucky Johnny wasn't," Meimei interrupted, suddenly, earnestly. "Celebria, let Sonya go. She should know what happened to him, at least."

Celebria watched her for a moment, then nodded. "I am sure that the reports were false, knowing now as I do that the Elders cannot be trusted."

"That is unfair!" Logicalis leapt to his feet, indignant. "I have had nothing to do with this! This is the first I've heard of anything!"

Mizuno sighed. "He is right, Celebria. He had no idea what we were planning."

"Mizuno!" Thunder hissed. "Remain silent!"

"I will not!" she snapped. "We followed your advice before, and look where it's gotten us! If we had followed my idea in the beginning--"

"Your idea!" Ariel laughed, his first sentence since the meeting began. "Your ideas were foolish hopes! You've never been a thinker, Miz, just a follower."

"How dare you!" she exclaimed, furious.

"Silence!" Celebria roared, her voice echoing throughout the room. The squabbling deities hushed themselves instantly. She glared at them with undisguised contempt. "I often wondered why deities such as Shao Khan and Cosmos seemed to proliferate among us. I see now why that is."

She stepped backwards, sitting down in her chair, keeping the peace with a furious gaze. Indeed, the only sounds that were audible were His raspy breathing, and Meimei shuffling back and forth on her feet, in anxiety.

Until there was a sudden creak, as the heavy oaken door was pushed open. All the deities in the room whirled to face the intruder.

"I should have known," Thunder remarked sourly. "Where trouble goes, Rayden follows."

Rayden glared, clearly unhappy about seeing his father again.

"Rayden!" Meimei exclaimed, running up to him. He returned the embrace awkwardly.

"Rayden." Celebria smiled delicately. "I have not seen you since... the great battle. You are well?"

"Thanks to the Creator," he replied, the standard response. In truth, any one with eyes could see he was not doing well at all; he was gaunt and tired looking and Celebria was more than a little disturbed by the sight.

Thunder shifted around in his chair. "Come to upbraid me, boy? For old times' sake?"

Rayden ignored the provocation. "I came to see Meimei," he replied, tiredly. He turned to his sister. "I need to talk to you."

"Okay," she replied, hesitantly. "But--Johnny and Sonya--"

He looked at her quizzically. "What about them?"

Her hand flew to her mouth. She seemed unable to start, so Celebria did her a favour and picked up the conversation.

"Johnny has been badly wounded by Turan," she said, softly. "He is safe now, but nearly died." She dipped her head in respect. "He is very lucky. The Creator protects him."

Rayden just stared at her. "When did this happen?"

"Just now." Celebria's gaze hardened and she turned to gesture at the assembled Elders. "And I'm afraid the Elders are behind it. With the notable exception of Logicalis, of course."

To her shock, Rayden did not seem at all surprised by this revelation. He turned to his father. "Retirement get too boring?"

Thunder grumbled. "It is your fault, those miscreants getting Elemental powers."

Rayden didn't say anything. Meimei, her arms still around his waist, could feel him tensing up. "Rayden," she murmured, frightened. "Don't..."

Her brother wasn't listening. "What do you mean by that?" he asked, very lowly.

Thunder sneered. "If you had done a better job of protecting Hiko and Nova, this never would have happened."

"Rayden," Meimei cried, holding him back as he tried to go forward. She held on to him tightly. "Rayden, don't, please."

There was a abrupt rumble of thunder outside. All the sitting deities jumped. Thunder smiled. "You would attack someone inside the Hall? How very daring. How very stupid."

"I... don't... care," Rayden growled. He tried to shove Meimei away, but she held fast.

"Rayden, don't," she wailed, starting to sob. "Please, Rayden... he's not worth it."

There was silence in the Hall. The thunder eased off and Thunder himself went dead white. "Meimei," he whispered, heart-broken, but she wasn't paying any attention to him.

"Rayden, please," she repeated, until he relaxed enough that she wasn't tugging on him.

He looked at her sadly. "I need to talk to you, after."

She nodded, her cheeks streaked with tears. "I'll come back to the Temple, with Sonya, and Johnny, if he's up to it. I'll be there soon, okay?"

He nodded, tiredly, and teleported away.

Meimei wiped one eye on the cuff of her robe, and as she was doing so she caught a glance at Thunder's stricken face. She wiped the other eye, turning so that she didn't have to look at him any longer.

Jikan Tai felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Lindara. She was bleary-eyed, and her green robes were streaked with red blood--Johnny's.

"Medicalis is taking care of him," she whispered, out of breath. He wasn't sure what the matter was until he realised that she had been fighting to save Johnny's life while in a hostile Realm, and it had taken much out of her. "I want to go home..." She trailed off as she fainted from the strain. She tipped forwards and Jikan Tai caught her, lowering her gently down to the sand.

One of the healers bounded over. He checked her energy. "She's weak, she just needs rest," he replied, sweat beading on his forehead. They couldn't teleport Johnny until they stabilized him, but they were having a hard time due to Maresium being closed off to all but Fire. And Communications.

"I'll take her to Earth Realm," Jikan Tai promised, holding her very gently. She seemed just to be asleep, and she clutched a tiny part of his jacket, as though, even unconscious, she was worried he might drop her.

Kerlan came over. "She's all right?"

"Just weak," the healer answered. "She may be what saved Johnny--if he pulls through. There's a great risk, but I think she'll make it."

"Lin's talented that way," Kerlan agreed. He was crouching by the Guardian and the goddess. He slapped her cheeks slightly, a soft tap. She groaned and snuggled towards Jikan Tai, griping his tunic tighter. Kerlan caught his eye and he blushed.

Several deities sudden teleported in, all staggering under the sudden strain of being cut off from their power base. Kerlan got to his feet. "Gentlemen, ladies," he greeted them, as one by one they recovered. "I assume you're here to get Turan?"

The head of the group, Lars, God of Police, stepped forward, nodding. "Where is he?" the god asked, in his deep voice.

Kerlan pointed.

All of the group were astounded to see Turan, face down, lying in the sand. "How in seven hells did you manage that?" Lars exclaimed, wide-eyed. He looked at Kerlan with awe.

"As much as I like the respect, it really belongs to Jikan Tai," the deity admitted. "He's the one that brought Turan down."

The entire force stared at the Guardian, who was still recovering from his previous blush.

"Never underestimate mortals, that's my motto," Kerlan said, cheerfully.

Sonya flew through the doors, knocking over an apprentice healer. She didn't notice. The healer pretended not to.

"Where is he?" she demanded, seeing Medicalis. "Where's Johnny? Is he all right?"

"Sonya!" Meimei cried, coming through the door, also knocking down the apprentice healer, who was only just getting to his feet. "Sorry."

Medicalis frowned. "I see Rayden's rubbing off on you. This is a Hospital, not a wrestling ring."

"I'll show you wrestling," Sonya snapped, grabbing him by the collar and yanking him towards her. "Now, where is Johnny Cage?"

"Sonya!" Meimei exclaimed again, flustered, but Medicalis seemed on top of the situation.

Very methodically, he removed himself from the goddess' grip. "He's still unconscious. Turan stabbed him five times, two in vital areas. On top of that, they were fighting, he's badly bruised. He has a fractured arm. Oh, and lest I forget, a punctured lung."

Sonya paled, taking a step back. "Is he..."

"He's still unconscious," Medicalis repeated. "The only reason that he's alive at all is because Lindara managed to pull him back from the brink. She nearly wiped herself out to do it, I might add." He seemed very proud of his niece. "I honestly don't know how you mortals manage to survive. But all we can do right now is pray the Creator doesn't miss him."

He turned, and started off down the hall, checking various notes and diagrams.

Sonya leaned against a wall, sighing with relief. "Oh my god."

Meimei nodded, wiping the hair of her eyes. "At least he's all right."

The goddess of space nodded as well, and closed her eyes. Then she opened them, confused. "What did he mean, 'pray the Creator doesn't miss him'?"

Meimei blinked in surprise. "It's an expression. If the Creator misses Johnny too much, the Creator may take him back."

"Take him back?" Sonya continued.

"Back into the Beginning. Into the Creator, where we all come from," Meimei replied. She looked confused herself. "You were never taught this?"

"A version of it," Sonya admitted. "So... with deities... dying is final?"

"Isn't dying always final?" Meimei asked.

"Some humans don't believe so. I don't know what I believe, any more." Sonya snorted. "That was even before I became a goddess myself."

"How strange," Meimei murmured. Her bun was starting to come undone and she hastily fixed it. "I never thought about how Mortals might view death. After all, they've never seen Him."

"I've seen death on a few occasions," Sonya admitted, starting to walk down the hall just for something to do, turning around after a few paces. "But I never bothered to think about it. I figured it would come soon enough."

Meimei shuddered. "I don't like thinking about it at all. And now that I've got the boys to take care of, it makes it so much more... I can't even begin to describe it."

"I know what you're talking about," Sonya agreed. A Healer stuck her head around the corner of the hall.

"Ah! Lady Sonya, Meimei, there you are," the Healer said. She was unfamiliar to the goddess, but seemed friendly. She had little bells for earrings, that tinkled when she dipped her head in respect. "Medicalis said that you could see Johnny if you wanted. You have to be quiet--he's still out--but it's okay to visit him now."

Sonya straightened up. She exchanged a look with Meimei, who nodded. They both started forward.

Lindara came to, abruptly, looking up into the face of Jikan Tai. He was smiling down at her. "You're awake," he said, simply.

She blinked. "Where...?"

"Maresium," he replied. "I didn't want to teleport you, and wake you up."

She struggled to sit upright, and he helped her up. He was leaning against one of the palm trees, its leaves tossing gently over head in the ever-present sea breeze. She rubbed her head. The beach was deserted, although she could see where Turan had lain, where Johnny had fallen.

"They left," he said, finishing her thought. "You've been out for a while."

"Why did you stay here?" she asked, sitting up and pulling away from him, confused. "I thought you didn't like me."

He blinked in bewilderment. "What would give you that idea?" he said, quietly.

"When you got mad at me," she explained. "When you said I was just like all the others--the scorn in your voice..." She got to her feet, and unsteadily started away from him. He touched her arm, holding her back.

"Lady Lindara," he replied, softly, "I was mad. I am sorry if I offended you."

She looked up at him. "You didn't mean it?"

"Oh, I did; but I do not, any more." He let go of her hand and leaned against the trunk of the tree. "It is hard to explain."

She watched him, not sure what she was feeling. "Try me."

He sighed. "I have... taken a lot of abuse from deities, for being 'just another mortal'. When you said it to me... it touched a nerve." He seemed uncomfortable saying it. She knew he disliked conversations in general.

"I didn't mean to," she admitted. "Sometimes I say things, without thinking. Usually I manage to say things without thinking. Occasionally I manage to think first, but..." she trailed off, smiling.

He chuckled. "I have noticed that about you, Lady Lindara."

"I suppose most of the Omniverse has, by now," she admitted. "It's not a secret."

He smiled, and flipped his bangs out of his eyes, although they merely slid back again.

"So have we mutually forgiven each other?" she asked, playfully. He nodded, solemnly, and she frowned, until she realised he was joking back at her. It was a feeble joke, but she appreciated it, nonetheless.

There was a lapse in the conversation, as the wind momentarily whipped up. Lindara feared it would grow too cold, but it was deliciously cool, instead. She realised just how warm it was in this Realm.

The wind managed to dislodge the remainder of Jikan Tai's bangs. He sighed, and started to push them back again, but Lindara did it for him, sweeping them backwards very gently, her fingertips tracing the ghost of a line across his skin.

He stared at her, unblinking. She managed to stare back at him, until he leaned forward suddenly, to kiss her. Once the shock wore off, she closed her eyes and leaned into him as well, returning the affection.

Finally, they drew apart, Lindara's heart in her throat. "Guardian."

"Lady Lindara." He smiled, and took her hand.

"I suppose sometimes it is easier not to say anything," she murmured, smiling.

He grinned at her, and raised the tips of her fingers to his lips, to kiss them. "I wish I could stay, but I must go," he replied, sadly.

"Go? Go?" she exclaimed. "Why?"

"I have business I must attend to," he answered.

"Take me with you," she pleaded.

"I... cannot." He seemed reluctant to discuss it. "It would not be... good for you."

"So?" she demanded. "I'm a big goddess, I can handle myself."

"I know," he agreed quickly, "But this is different. Please, trust me."

"Trust you?" she repeated, her feeling hurt. "Why should I?"

He blinked in confusion. "You like me, but you do not trust me?"

"Apparently the two are not mutually exclusive," she huffed, pulling her hands away from him. "You were the one person I thought was treating me like an adult."

"I do--I mean, I have--" he stuttered, completely lost. "Nothing has changed--"

"A lot has changed," she corrected. "I won't be kissed by someone who doesn't think I can understand anything!"

He stepped backwards, shocked. "I never said--where is this coming from? When have I ever said--"

"Just now!" she exclaimed. "You think I won't understand your 'business'."

Now he was starting to grow angry. "I didn't want to confuse you."

"Oh? You didn't? Isn't that the same as thinking I wouldn't understand?"

"It's very complicated--"

"It always is," she replied, turning and starting to walk away. She expected him to say something further, but he didn't. Curiosity gradually got the better of her, and she turned around. He was standing on the sand, just as he had been a few moments ago, watching her with his dark green, glittery eyes.

"Do you wish to come?" he asked, quietly.

"Yes," she replied, surprised. He held out his hand, and she took it.

There was a shudder, and for a split second, Lindara thought she had died. She felt so lost, so alone, that she could barely keep herself from screaming.

Then she found herself in a Wood, in a thick Wood, a horrid, dead Wood, and she lost her shredded self-control, and screamed out loud.

"Lindara!" Jikan Tai cried, taking her by the shoulders, frightened. "What's the matter?"

"I can't feel anything!" she wailed. "Where is everyone? Everything? I'm numb, I can't feel anything!" Her speech gave way into a wordless scream, that ended only when she fainted.

He gasped, and caught her before she had a chance to fall. He tried not to think about how sweet she smelled, like flowers and green grass. He touched her forehead gently, suppressing the memories of the Wood, and of their encounter in Maresium. She would wake up believing she had fainted there.

But he didn't want to leave her in that Realm, as it was still hostile towards her. Making up his mind, he pulled her back up, draping her arms across his shoulder, and he stepped into the pool.

Sonya stepped into the room. Like the others in the Hospital, it was sparsely furnished. A bed and a small table, to set personal belongings on. A chair, or two.

Johnny lay on the bed. Two healers stood over him, holding each other's hand, their free hands holding Johnny's. He was asleep, his eyes not even moving behind his lids.

Sonya paled, and tried to back out of the room, but Meimei, bringing up the rear, blocked her path. The goddess gave her a little push, misunderstanding.

"I shouldn't be in here," Sonya muttered. Again, Meimei misunderstood.

"It's all right, the Healers are almost done," she said, in a soft whisper. "I'm going to stay outside. Let me know when you're done."

Sonya didn't say anything in return.

After a moment, the two Healers broke their link. Both looked exhausted. They exchanged glances with each other and with Sonya. She nodded, slightly, and stepped out of the way to let them leave.

Now she was alone, alone with Johnny. She took a chair, skidding it closer to the bedside. He was so pale, and she could barely feel his energy. She took his hand.

"You had better not die," she said fiercely. "We've been through too much for you to die on me, Johnny Cage."

She imagined that he squeezed her hand back.

"If you die," she continued, blinking back sudden tears, "then it'll just be me to save the Omniverse." She paused, the words hard to say. "I can't do it on my own, Cage. Do you hear me?"

She imagined she could see him nod in reply.

"Good," she finished, her throat closing up. "I'm glad we got this sorted out."

She held his hand tightly, willing him to get better. She took a deep breath, and bent over, so that her forehead was touching the bed. She was so tired. She'd spent the last few days so tense, so riled up, that it was hard to unwind, finally. And now this...

Meimei was leaning against the wall, when Sonya came out. The goddess didn't say anything.

"Sonya?" she asked.

"If I ever catch that son of a bitch, he's going to wish he'd never been created," Sonya growled, as she stormed down the corridor.

Meimei frowned, not catching on. "Sonya! Wait up!"

Rayden paced. He was in the courtyard at the Temple. He had tried waiting in the halls, but the great stone walls seemed to bear down on him. He needed fresh air.

The monks were gone. Some how, they knew he needed to be alone, so they left the courtyard free of their presence. He was glad of it.

"Where are you?" he muttered, to the air, as he waited for his sister to arrive. His tension was translating into a cloud cover; the sky was darkening overhead. Almost at once, he felt someone teleport in. It was Meimei, and Sonya.

They came out the door a moment later. "Rayden!" his sister cried, running towards him. She wrapped her arms around him, tightly. "I came as soon as I could. We checked on Johnny. He's still badly hurt, but Medicalis believes he'll pull through."

"That's good," he replied, hugging her in return. He looked at Sonya warily. "I need to talk to Meimei, by herself."

The goddess shrugged. "I think I need a rest, anyway," she agreed, heading back towards the door. "I'll be going back to the Hospital, later. You two are welcome to join me."

Rayden nodded. He took Meimei by the arm, and led her to one of the benches that lined the inside of the courtyard. He sat down. She sat down next to him, curious.

"Meimei, do you remember how we were talking, a few days ago? Before Jikan Tai showed up?"

"About what?" she asked, confused, although the mention of the Guardian made her tense up.

He paused, unsure. Maybe this wasn't the right course of action, but he had to do something. "About... ghosts."

"Ghosts?" she repeated. He nodded. She frowned, trying to think. "I don't remember--wait-- were we in the kitchen? Is that what you're talking about?"

He nodded. "Meimei, you said that ghosts of Immortals are impossible. Why did you say that? What makes you believe that?"

"Rayden..." She trailed off, unnerved by his questions and the look on his face.

"Just tell me, please."

She took a deep breath. "It says in the scrolls. When deities die, they disappear, and become one with the Creator again. That is what happens. And if what mortals call ghosts are the spirits of the dead, then there can't be ghosts of deities, because there's nothing left."

"You're sure?" he asked again.

"It says that in the scrolls of the Creator!" she cried, exasperated. "If it's not true, then I have no way of knowing!"

He sighed, shifting away from her, his head heavy. "I know. I'm sorry, Meimei. I didn't mean to get you upset." He was looking off into the distance, at something only he could see. "I didn't mean for a lot of things to happen."

She rubbed a hand over his shoulder. "It's all right," she soothed, growing concerned. "Rayden... I have to know something. Are you..." She had to take deep breath, to continue. "Are you seeing ghosts? Visions of the dead? Is that why you're asking me?"

He didn't answer.

She gasped, a hand flying to her mouth. Lightning flashed in the clouds overhead. A crackling halo seemed to glow around her. "Rayden, answer me!"

"I--" He stopped, shaking his head. "Yes, Meimei."

She was shaking. "Rayden," she said, trying to sound calm, and collected, the static disappearing as thought it had never been there--"Rayden, I want you to come with me, have a rest. You're just tired, that's all. We're all under a lot of stress, we have been for ages, it'll pass--"

"It's been happening for a while," her brother replied, his voice dead. "I thought I was just tired, but I'm not. It's not that at all, she speaks to me, I can touch her--"

"Rayden!" Meimei exclaimed, distraught, "There has to be another answer to this!"

"There is," someone exclaimed, startled. They both turned to see Celebria, and Lindara emerge from one of the doors. Lindara was pale, her eyes welling with tears. Celebria was pale, as well, but not frightened. She seemed determined.

Meimei got to her feet, coming between her brother and the others. "Celebria--"

The Goddess of Truth ignored her, and stepped around to face Rayden. "Have you been seeing visions of the dead? Is that what you have claimed?"

He made no response.

"Answer me!" she demanded. "Do you claim to see ghosts of Immortals?"

He sighed, and got to his feet. "Yes."

Lindara gasped, and tottered backwards. Meimei wrung her hands in distress.

Celebria sighed, and closed her eyes for a second. "Then I have no choice, Rayden. I must take you to the Hall."

"Surely, he can just stay here?" Meimei pleaded.

Celebria shook her head. "It is for his own good, Meimei." She reached out and took Rayden by the sleeve. He didn't resist.

"Stop right there," demanded Sonya Blade, teleporting in. She strode over, and insinuated herself between the two deities, breaking the link. "What's going on?"

Celebria fumed. "Do you always interfere, Blade?"

"I do when it upsets everyone within a five-mile radius," the goddess snapped in return. "Meimei and Lindara are giving off enough bad energy to kill a cow at fifty paces."

Celebria blinked, taken off-guard by the metaphor; but she recovered quickly. "Rayden is... not well. He needs help. He will be taken to the Hospital."

"He seems all right to me," Sonya replied.

"This is not your call," Celebria insisted.

"Rayden's not going anywhere," Sonya retorted, just as fiercely.

"Sonya," the god interrupted, stepping out from behind her, "It's okay."

"I don't think so--" she tried to reply, but he waved her silent.

"Celebria's right," he said, quietly. Lindara gasped again, and Meimei whimpered.

Sonya glared at both of them, and then at Celebria. "What the hell has been going on out here?"

A portal opened up, formed by the Goddess of Truth. She gestured towards it, and Rayden stepped through, although Meimei tried to hold him back. He stopped only to touch her arm briefly.

Celebria walked through the portal herself and it closed behind her.

Lindara started to wail, running to Meimei for support.

"We've got to tell Mother," she sniffled. "She'll be so upset, but she's got to know--"

"What the hell is going on!" roared Sonya, nearly at her wits end. The sudden exclamation had the desired effect; both goddesses stopped weeping and stared at her.

"Oh, Sonya," Meimei, cried. "It's Rayden. He's gone insane."

Sonya glared at them. "What?"

"He's seeing visions of the dead," the goddess continued. "No one sees visions of the dead. It's not possible."

"He's seeing ghosts, so Celebria's locking him up?" Sonya asked, incredulous. "You're kidding."

"There are no ghosts, not of deities," Lindara argued, sobbing. "It must have been the strain of Hiko's death, it was too much for him--"

"Stop it right there," Sonya replied, sternly. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this. Rayden's not crazy. Stressed-out by grief, yes, but not crazy."

"I hope you're right," Meimei finished. "For Rayden's sake."

Lindara had woken to find herself lying on one of the couches in the Hall, outside the Council chambers. Disoriented, she tried to remember what had happened when Celebria came across her.

Filling in the gaps in the goddess' memory, the deity said she'd take Lindara back to Earth.

"I want to visit Rayden," she had said. She meant it, Lindara could tell that, but there was something else behind the sentiment that she couldn't describe. Not longing; something different...

They teleported into the Temple. Lindara led her through the halls, chattering about all that's happened in Earth Realm in the last few days. They made it to the door, to hear snatches of voices. Meimei demanding an answer to a horrible question. Rayden replying.

A stricken look on Celebria's face, right before she pushed open the door to the outside.

Lindara shook her head, to clear it. She was sitting on one of the Temple benches, while Meimei brought Sonya up to speed with Omniversal Lore. Her sister had always taken a fascination with it; Lindara was glad she was here to explain it. She knew she herself couldn't, even under better circumstances.

"--and Numina, so fraught with despair, threw himself off the Great Cliff; Animus wept for his brother, but did not truly believe in his death. So he walked, for many days, until he reached the End of the First Realm. There, he believed, he would meet the Creator, as his sister Mizusama had so many years before, and could find out where Numina was." Meimei took a deep breath, trying to remember the words to the story.

Sonya sat in front of her, listening intently. It was not the concentration of one enjoying the story for the story's sake, but of someone taking it apart to find all it means. Meimei continued. "Animus found the that the Realm ended in the Void, as Mizusama had said. And there, he met an old man.

"I am journeying to meet the Creator," Animus told him. "I have never seen you before; you are not among my brothers and sisters, nor among the Second Group. Is it that the Creator has made more deities, that we did not know about?"

The old man tapped the staff he was carrying. "No, you and your siblings and the Second Group are all that exist. It is your job to populate this Realm, now."

"Then what are you?" asked Animus, before the truth lit his eyes and he fell to the ground, bowing. "Oh, Creator, I am sorry! I did not know!"

The old man laughed. "Animus, you must never be sorry before me. All is forgiven, always."

"Then please, Creator, forgive my brother as well," Animus pleaded. "Let him return from his banishment."

The old man was silent. "Your brother cannot return to this Realm."

"Why, oh, why?" cried Animus, distraught. "Is your anger that great with him?"

The old man pointed with his staff to the Great Void that rolled like a cloud, yet remained clear. "He is part of me, now, Animus. He has returned to the Void, and all that it is. He cannot return."

For three days and three nights, Animus begged with the Creator, to let him see his brother one last time, to say goodbye. The Creator refused. Finally, on the last day, the old man stood, and tapped his staff on the ground, the dust swirling around it. "Animus," the Creator said solemnly, "You must stop this begging. What is done is done, and cannot be undone. It is a fate that befalls all; all the deities shall return to the Void when their time is over. But it is a joyous occasion; they shall return to me. Weep not for Numina; he is happy where he now resides."

The old man stood, and walked purposely towards the Void. He walked into it, past it; and Animus could no longer see him.

"Wait!" he cried, getting to his feet, and running towards the great Nothing. But instead of running through it, he seemed to strike something solid and unyielding. The blow knocked him unconscious, and he fell to the ground. When he awoke, he was back at the First Temple, and all his sisters and brothers and children gathered at his feet. He told them his story, and they agreed at once to honour the Creator, and so the mourning for Numina was stopped."

Meimei sighed, rearranging her robes, the story finished.

"So?" Sonya asked.

Meimei glared at her. "So? What do you mean?"

"What has that got to do with Rayden?" the goddess demanded. "So far, you've been telling me some very interesting myths, but I don't see--"

"Myths!" Meimei roared, leaping to her feet. "Myths! They are the story of the deities, of the Immortals! They are history, not yarns told by mortals to amuse themselves!"

Sonya sighed. "Meimei, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

Meimei, still flustered, sat back down. She tried to explain, tried to put into words concepts she had known since she was a small child. "The story explains why we cannot have visions of those who have journeyed on. Why we cannot have ghosts, spirits of the dead. Those who claim to see them are violating the will of the Creator."

Sonya stared. "You're kidding." Meimei huffed, and the goddess quickly held up her hands. "Okay, you're not kidding. I'm just trying to get a handle on this."

"It is a little too much to take in, all at once," Meimei finally agreed.

Lindara got to her feet, tired and wanting to stretch. "Meimei, perhaps we should be going. Mother still has to be told, and then there is the hearing."

Meimei started to explain something to Sonya, but Sonya held up her hands again. "Hearing, that I understand. I'll come with you."

The goddesses nodded. "I'll tell Mother," Meimei volunteered. "Then I'll meet you both at the Hall. Lin, do you know where Jikan Tai went?"

The Plant Goddess shook her head.

Meimei sighed. "He should be told as well, but there's not enough time to track him down. Maybe you could just pop into the Bar, see if he's there, before you make your way to the Hall."

"Will do," Sonya answered, for Lindara.

Meimei sighed again, fussing with her hair. "I'm going to go to Officina, then. I'll see you in a little while." She disappeared, her flash of light seeming distinctly green, although Sonya was the only one who noticed.

The Bar smelled exactly the same as she remembered it. Why Lindara thought it would be any different, she didn't really know; she was just taking comfort in something unchanged.

There were a few deities, scattered throughout the Bar. She didn't recognise any. At any rate, there was no one she felt the need to greet. Sonya followed behind her, looking around, taking everything in.

"Lindara!" Kerlan exclaimed, as she entered, and then he hopped over the bar top. This startled all the patrons, not just the two goddesses; no one had ever seen him do that before. "Have you heard what's happened?"

"I have," she agreed, sadly, taking his hand. "It's terrible. The hearing is to be shortly--are you going?"

He shook his head. "I haven't been invited--and I think I'm not going to overstep my bounds here."

"You're Rayden's closest friend," Lindara persisted. "You should come. You should be there."

"Maybe I am missing something," Sonya interrupted. "But this isn't the end of the world."

Lindara and Kerlan stared at her. Lindara's face drained of all colour. "I thought you understood!" she cried. Kerlan put an arm around her, and she sobbed on his shoulder.

This stopped Sonya in her tracks. She opened her mouth to say something, but Kerlan held up his hand. He waved her over to one of the corners, that was deserted, as he pulled Lindara along, and down to one of the stools.

"If Rayden is found to be insane," Kerlan said, very lowly, very solemnly, "he'll have his powers stripped from him."

Sonya blinked in surprise. "Whoa. Isn't that a little extreme?"

"Would you want an insane deity tearing around with the power of Thunder?"

"Good point," she conceded. Lindara lapsed into fresh sobs, and Kerlan allowed her to drape herself over him, crying onto his shoulder. "On the other hand..." Sonya continued, gesturing at the distraught goddess, "is it really that bad...?"

Kerlan stared at her. "You don't know, do you?"

She shook her head.

"If a deity is stripped of their powers, they survive a few days, tops," Kerlan replied, softly. "The transition is too hard to make."

Sonya blinked in surprise. "You're kidding."

He shook his head. "I wouldn't, not about something like this." She started to say something, but he continued, cutting her off. "I know what you're thinking: that Thunder doesn't have his powers any more. But that's not the same thing. There's a ceremony, designed with the sanction of the Creator, to help the deity survive the process. But with something like this..." He shook his head. "Even if Rayden was at top form, he would last a week, tops. Weakened like he is, the spell itself might kill him."

Lindara wailed, and he patted her back awkwardly.

Sonya got up.

"Where are you going?" Kerlan asked, startled.

"I'm going to the hearing. I'm not going to let this happen. Lindara, Jikan Tai's not here, we can leave." The goddess pulled Lindara to her feet.

Kerlan stood up as well. "Sonya, you're not...?"

"I don't know what I'm going to do, yet," Sonya admitted, steering Lindara towards the door. "We'll just have to see what happens."

The god took a look at the Bar. "I suppose it can manage itself for a few hours," he admitted, following behind them.

Jikan Tai closed his eyes, so that he didn't have to see the image in the pool any longer.

He wished there could be a breath of wind, a cricket, anything that would disrupt the damned silence of the Wood. But there was nothing, until he heard a slight sound of a droplet striking the water. He opened his blurry eyes to see the ripples spreading through the pool of his home.

Celebria stood, her heart heavy. She was at the head of a long, wooden table, lined with saddened deities, Rayden's family on one side, his close friends and the two officials on the other. The foot of the table was empty. A few feet away, Rayden himself sat in a chair, his hands in his lap, his head bowed. He wouldn't look at any of them. "This hearing is going to commence. May the Creator illuminate our minds."

"By the Creator," the assembled panel whispered. The god of thunder was silent.

Celebria sat down. "Announce yourself."

Rayden looked up. "I am Rayden, son of Suyuan and Thor, God of Thunder, Lord of Earth."

Celebria continued. "This hearing has been called to discuss your mental state. It has been said that you are not well. Specifically, it has been said that you see the spirits of the dead. Do you deny this?"

Meimei gripped her mother's hand, while her mother took Lindara's. Lindara tried to take Sonya's hand as well, but the goddess refused her. She was gripping the arms of her chair tightly, and wouldn't loosen her grip.

"I do not deny it," he said, quietly.

Suyuan gasped, dropping her daughters' hands to cover her eyes. She was shaking, and both of her children leaned in to support her. Kerlan, on the other side of the table, was shocked, as was Amai and Naturalis, next to him. Even Celebria seemed shaken by the simple affirmative.

She had both of her hands on the table to steady herself. "Rayden, God of Thunder, please think about your answer. Do you believe that you are seeing the spirits of the dead?"

Rayden looked up her. He seemed unbelievably tired. "I have."

He Who Should Not Be Named leaned forward, towards the accused deity, curiosity written across his features. "Who have you seen?"

"That hardly matters!" Amai snapped.

"It matters to me," He replied. "It means I haven't done my job properly." There was a tiniest hint of a smile on His lips, something which disgusted most of the other deities surrounding Him. He turned back to Rayden. "Who?"

"Hiko," Rayden answered, dully.

Just then, Sonya got a terrible feeling that ran along her shoulders and down her arms. She jumped, startled, and stared around the room in confusion.

As she was doing so, Rayden very slowly lifted his arm and pointed, to a spot right behind her.

There was a stunned silence. "You are seeing her even now?" He asked, startled, Himself. The thunder god nodded.

"She follows me," he continued, as though he was discussing the weather. "I can't get her to leave me alone." He closed his eyes. "She follows me everywhere."

Lindara and Suyuan started to cry, again, soundlessly, while Meimei sat, stone-still, only her breathing showing she was still alive. Naturalis had his eyes closed, and he was shaking his head slightly.

Celebria was the first to regain her voice. "Rayden, you do know that you cannot see the ghosts of deities?"

"I know," he replied, sadly. "It's impossible."

"Do you know that means?" she continued, dreading every word. He took a moment to consider this.

"I do," he answered.

Amai turned away. Kerlan ducked his head. Even He seemed downcast. Celebria bit her lip. She wasn't sure if she could bring herself to say it. It had to be done, but she couldn't--she faltered--

"This is wrong!" Sonya leapt to her feet, staring around behind her. She was darting around as if an insect was tormenting her. "There's something else here, I can feel it!"

Rayden looked up at her, just as surprised as the others. "You can feel her?" he asked, a touch of regret colouring his words. It took the panel a moment to realise what he meant. He meant that he was sorry she was insane, too.

"Do you have any proof?" Celebria demanded, grasping for a straw, any straw.

Sonya shook her head. "How can you not feel it?" she asked, imploring them. "It's like...a shiver--I can't describe it. But there's something else in here."

"I can't feel anything," Kerlan admitted, after long moment had stretched by. He looked to the others in turn. Either they shook their heads or they avoided his gaze.

Sonya sat down, defeated, the feeling passing.

Rayden looked across the table to Celebria.

She cleared her throat. "It must now be determined the severity of the... condition."

"Rayden is not insane," Sonya insisted, fiercely. "How many times have you owed him your life, any of you? Do you honestly think--"

"That is not the issue any more," Meimei whispered, her eyes red-rimmed. "He has admitted it, he has admitted he sees the dead."

"Lady Sonya has a point," Kerlan said suddenly. "The Law is only concerned with dangerous deities. Rayden, even in this state, is far from dangerous. Perhaps discretion is called for."

There were nods of acceptance to this idea.

Celebria nodded, herself. "That is not without precedence. Pomona, Goddess of Fall, was released from the sentence due to the fact that she never harmed anyone. Since Rayden has not acted in violence while--"

Lindara coughed, nervously.

Celebria stopped, stunned, while the Goddess of Plants looked horrified. "Do you have something to add, Lady Lindara?"

"No," she blurted, too quickly for any one's liking. "No, nothing!"

Celebria, Amai and Kerlan exchanged a glance. Meimei looked to her sister, confused, as did Suyuan, Sonya and Naturalis. Lindara got to her feet in a panic. "I didn't mean anything by it!"

"Didn't mean anything by what?" Celebria demanded. "Do not withhold information from this hearing, Lindara!"

The goddess was shaking, clearly disturbed. Her mother took her by the arm and pulled her downwards. "Lin," Suyuan said, gently, "Tell them what you know."

"I--Rayden--" Lindara sobbed. Finally, it seemed as though she couldn't cry any longer, and just blurted it out. "He attacked Jikan Tai. The Guardian told me, I didn't see it myself, but--" She trailed off, ashamed of herself.

They looked to Rayden, who had his head bowed.

"Lord Rayden? Do you dispute this?" Celebria asked. "Did you attack the Guardian of Time?"

He bowed his head. "Yes."

"Rayden," Celebria repeated, "You have the option of denying this. You can go back. A plea of innocence will delay judgement, sentencing--"

"I appreciate the thought, Celebria," he replied, "But my answer remains the same."

The silence that hung over the room was thick, and tense. It was up to Celebria to break it. She sighed. "Rayden, God of Thunder, Lord of Earth Realm," she said, determined to keep her voice from wavering, "It is said that you see the ghosts of the dead. You do not deny it, even though it contradicts the will of the Creator."

She took a deep breath. She had to do it. It was Law. "As well, you have admitted to acts of violence, during this period. You have attacked another while unbalanced. Therefore, I have no choice but to sentence you to have your powers removed, so that you may never be a threat to the Omniverse. Such is Law. Such..." her voice trembled but she carried on, "Such is the will of the Creator."

On To Part Five