Meimei cried, holding on to her two boys, who had been brought in by Tai Hou, the minute the deity heard the news, which was, by now, spreading quickly throughout the Omniverse. Jih and Yueh whimpered in turn, each under one of their mother's arms, while their father paced backwards and forwards in the corridor.

Sonya leaned against the wall, lost in thought.

Suyuan wailed, clutching Naturalis for support, while he patted her back and murmured useless condolences.

Lindara sat on the carpeted floor, her back to the wall. She stared off into space, unable to cry any longer.

The door opened, and Kerlan slipped out. At his approach, all the deities stopped their mourning, wiping eyes and patting backs until they were roughly composed.

Kerlan was hunched over, worn down by the endless debates of the Council. "We have reached an agreement," he said, very quietly. Even though his voice was soft, it was the loudest sound in the hall, except for Yueh, sniffling. "Rayden will be stripped of his powers tomorrow, at sunset." He scowled. "The Council voted almost unanimously, the monsters."

"Tomorrow at sunset," Sonya repeated. "I hope that's enough time." She straightened up, stretching.

"Enough time for what?" Meimei exclaimed.

"To find out what's really going on," Sonya explained. She glared at all of them. "I don't actually believe Rayden's insane, and I can't believe any of you do."

"He admitted it," Suyuan whispered, her voice hoarse. "Before us, he admitted all of it!"

Sonya snorted. "He did. But that doesn't mean it actually happened."

Kerlan was the first to find his voice in the midst of the disbelief. "Sonya, I know exactly how you feel, but--"

"But what?" she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. "But you believe him? How about believing me, Kerlan. There was something else in that room with us. I don't think he's seeing ghosts any more than I am, right now."

The God of Communications had nothing to say. She harumphed to herself, and turned to leave.

"Sonya, wait--" he called, running after her. She looked back, questioningly. "You can't see him, not for a few hours. Medicalis is going over him, just in case he's under a spell, or something. Just in case."

She blinked, digesting that piece of information. "I see." She turned and started down the hall again.

"Sonya!" Meimei suddenly cried, getting to her feet, her boys protesting at being dislodged. "Sonya, wait for me."

"Meimei, don't you get caught up in this too," Suyuan snapped. "You've got the boys to take care of."

The goddess and her husband exchanged glances. Wordlessly, Tai Hou took the boys' hands. "I'll look after them," he said, softly. "Go help Sonya."

Meimei nodded, and got to her feet. "I think we should check out the Temple," the Goddess of Space said first, as she created a portal. "See if there are any clues there."

Meimei nodded again, taking one last look at her family before she stepped through. Sonya followed her a moment later, the portal closed.

Suyuan started shaking. Lindara sighed, closing her eyes, wishing it was all a dream, one that she would soon wake from.

The first place to check, obviously, was Rayden's (and Hiko's) room.

"I don't know what we're looking for," Meimei admitted, wiping the last trace of a tear away. Now that it was just her and the former Army Lieutenant, she didn't feel as comfortable crying. She still wanted to, very much, but she held it in.

"I don't know what we're looking for either, but there might be something..." Sonya trailed off. She was poking around near the end table, and she found a drawer. She opened it. "What's this? I didn't realise deities used photography."

Meimei frowned. "Used what?"

Sonya showed her the picture, in a simple wooden frame. It was Rayden and Hiko. They were outside, in the shade of a tree, Rayden's arms around his wife's waist and his chin on her shoulder. Her head was tilted so that they were touching cheeks. Both were smiling, Rayden broadly, and Hiko somewhat mystically.

"That's not a photograph," Meimei corrected. "That's a still."

"A still...?"

"A still memory. Hold it in both hands, and stare into it. Then you'll understand." Meimei demonstrated, a sad smile spreading over her face. Her eyes began to mist over, and she hurriedly handed the frame back.

Sonya frowned, not sure what was supposed to happen. She held it in both hands, and stared down at the image, their eyes seeming to stare back...

"Just one picture," Meimei pleaded. "You two look so sweet together. Just one."

"It's supposed to be your wedding album," Hiko said with a resigned sigh and smile.

"Yeah, but..." Meimei pouted. She pulled Lux over. "Just one, please."

"Come on," Rayden teased, pulling her towards him. "Just one."

Hiko smiled, accepting. "Just one. But I always look terrible in stills."

"I find that hard to believe," he whispered, kissing her under her ear, which made her giggle. He slipped his arms around her waist and waited for Lux to work his magic.

The god frowned. "The light isn't very good here. Move under the trees."

"Oh, come on," Hiko griped, good-naturedly, but Rayden pulled her over.

"I want a copy of this one," he called to Meimei.

"Rayden!" Hiko exclaimed.

"I'm going to put it on my bedside table, so that I get to look at you no matter which way I'm facing when I wake up," he said with a grin. She smacked his shoulder, an awkward movement considering he was behind her, but she managed it.

"Stop it, you two," Meimei called. She patted Lux on the shoulder. "Take it now."

The image faded from Sonya's mind, and all she was left with was a rosy glow of happiness, of utter contentment and the joy of being together on a warm summer's day.

She snapped out of the reverie to find that something wet had dropped on the glass cover. Hastily, she wiped it away, and looked up to see Meimei staring at her. "I see what you mean," the goddess said abruptly, setting the frame back in the drawer and closing it tightly.

Meimei nodded, sadly, and started poking through Hiko's collection of personal junk, mostly clothes and dried flowers. "There's some more over here," she said, discovering a cache underneath a pile of Hiko's old robes. "Older ones. Oh, here's Rayden and Kerlan when they were young." She giggled, then stopped as she came across another. "By the Creator."

"What is it?" Sonya asked. Meimei held it up. It showed two young boys, one white-haired and smiling; the other dark-haired and scowling.

"It's Rayden and Raimei. They must only be only be about twelve and ten, or so." Meimei cradled the picture in her hands. "Rayden must have kept this one when Mother threw the others out."

"I didn't realise he was so sentimental," Sonya observed, heading back to her side of the room.

"He had a definite streak in him," Meimei replied. "He's the only one in the family like that."

Sonya got up, and sighed, frustrated, her hands on her hips. "I can understand why he would want to see Hiko," she said, quietly, "but I can't figure out why he would."

"Maybe he is insane," Meimei offered, her voice barely above a whisper. She was tracing her finger over the glass of the still that showed her two brothers. "So much has happened to him. Maybe this is the price."

"I refuse to accept that," Sonya snapped. "He's not insane. I know he isn't." She took a step to the side and her foot crunched something. Horrified, she dove down, to see what she had stepped on. "Glass?"

A tiny shred of glass lay on the stone floor. She looked a few inches over, closer to the headboard, and found another sliver. And another.

"I think one of the stills fell down, and shattered," she said to Meimei. "I think it's still wedged down there." With the goddess' help, Sonya pulled the bed away from the wall. There was a thunk, and she bent down and reached under, managing to pull out another picture. This frame was made of a silvery metal, and it was mangled. One corner was bent. There were a few shards of glass still clinging to it.

"What is it?" asked Meimei, leaning over.

It showed a young deity, a young woman, holding a small child wrapped in a red and blue blanket. The woman was dressed in red herself, her coppery hair shoulder-length although obviously growing out. She cradled the child in her arms as though she couldn't believe that it had happened, that the baby was hers. She was smiling, slightly, and looking shyly at who ever was taking the picture.

"Hiko and Nova," Sonya breathed, unable to say anything else.

Meimei didn't reply. "Why?" she said after a moment. "Why would he let it fall behind the bed like that? It would have been important--"

"It didn't fall," Sonya replied, quickly. "He threw it." Meimei just stared at her, in disbelief. Sonya mimed the action, of a savage side-ways toss that would result in the picture striking the wall, the frame bending, the glass shattering, before it came to a rest behind the bed.

"Why...?" Meimei breathed again, taking the picture for herself, to stroke the image lightly with a fingertip.

"A moment of anger," Sonya replied simply.

"But why this one? Was it because it was taken by Cosmos?" Meimei continued, musing.

"No..." Sonya trailed off, uncertain of what to say. Rayden didn't want the truth to be known, for whatever reason, but surely it made no difference now. "No, I think it was because it was the only picture he had of his daughter."

Meimei's head flipped up, questioning, then ducked back down to the still. She was starting to cry again, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "I think you're right," was all she said in response.

The teleported back to the corridor, but it was empty. Sonya sighed. "They must have gone back to Earth," she said to Meimei.

There was a slight scuffle noise, and someone stepped out from around the corner. It was Celebria. "They've actually gone to Officina," she replied, wiping the corner of her eye. "You missed them by about half-an-hour."

"Ah," Meimei replied. She looked to Sonya. "Are you coming?"

"In a few moments," the goddess replied, looking to Celebria, although the goddess avoided her gaze. Meimei touched her hand to Sonya's shoulder, briefly, and then disappeared from the corridor, the flash of light tinged with purple and black.

"Is there something you would like to ask me?" Celebria inquired, crossing her own arms over her chest, mirroring Sonya. The goddess nodded. "Because I don't know if I can answer it," the leader continued, before Sonya had a chance to interrupt. "I don't know if I have the answers to anything."

"You have the answer to this question," Sonya insisted. "Why? Where did this Law come from? Meimei said that most Laws come about in response to problems that arise within the Omniverse."

Celebria nodded. "She's right. This Law comes from the story of Aldric the Mad."

She stopped there, and Sonya sighed in frustration. "I don't know the story of Aldric the Mad. If I knew it, I wouldn't be asking, would I?"

Celebria blinked in surprise. "Right--sorry." She took a starting breath. "He was the God of Caves, two generations ago. He claimed to be seeing the ghost of his first wife, the Lady Jadezia, a Numina. Everyone around him, including his second wife, the Lady Paece, also a Numina, humoured him. They took him to the Hospital, but no spell was affecting him, and so nothing could be done. No one had ever claimed to see the dead before. They all knew the story of Numina and Animus." She paused, looking to Sonya, who nodded. She knew that story, at least. The goddess continued, with a heavy sigh.

"They were content to let Aldric live in his Realm. He was no harm to anyone. He continued to play with his children, to talk to his wife, as though nothing was wrong, even though he said that the ghost of the Lady Jadezia followed him, continuously, weeping.

It was only a few months after he had been released to Paece's care, that he awoke one night, and proceeded to slaughter his family, including Paece's parents who lived in the Realm with them. Seven people were killed as they slept; four of them were children. He claimed that Jadezia had goaded him to do it; he claimed that even as his powers left him, even as he lay dying. That is why the Law was created, to make sure that never happens again."

Sonya stared in horror. "Do you honestly think Rayden is capable of that?"

"By all accounts, Aldric was a gentle man, a peaceful god, a joyful father. But he did what he did. And he was not Thunder, either. He was a minor god. What happens if Rayden snaps? Violence runs in his family--"

"You're going to kill him because you think Shao Khan might have rubbed off?" Sonya snapped. "Celebria, this is Rayden we're talking about. He's saved this Omniverse, and you, more times than I can count. Than I know of. Did you forget that?"

"No!" Celebria snapped. "Do you think I would choose this, Sonya? Do you? I wouldn't. But it's not up to me. It's the Law, and the Law cannot be broken."

"And what if the Law is wrong?" Sonya asked quietly, before teleporting away.

The Goddess of Truth took a deep, shuddering breath. And another, trying to calm herself. Her fists clenched and unclenched, until finally, she too disappeared, leaving the Hall empty.

Jikan Tai appeared, silently, on the grounds outside the Omniversal Bar. His cape, newly recreated, swirled around his ankles in the fierce wind that whistled through the Realm. There was a thick tension that hung in the air, heavy and damp. He took a deep breath, and started towards the doors.

Inside the Bar, there were only two deities. One was behind the bar, and the other leaning heavily on it.

Lindara leaned her head onto the counter-top, closing her eyes. "So this is it," she said, softly. "The end."

Kerlan started to say something, but thought better of it, and contented himself to wipe up imaginary specks of dirt left by earlier patrons.

"I didn't think it would ever come to this," she continued. "I never knew I'd kill my own brother."

"Lindara!" Kerlan exclaimed, shocked. "You had nothing to do with this!"

"Didn't I?" she demanded, lifting her head. "If I had kept my mouth shut, he wouldn't be in Medicalis' ward, waiting for the axe to fall. It's my fault."

"It's not," Kerlan insisted. "All you did was tell the truth."

"The truth," she sneered. "Who gives a damn about the truth, any more? Elders plotting to kill us, Rayden seeing ghosts, mortals killing gods--"

"What?" he blurted, surprised. "When did that happen?"

"Lightning," she informed him. "Liu Kang. He was a mortal, and he killed Hiko and Nova."

Kerlan went ashen. "That was an entirely different thing," he replied.

"I'm so sure," she snarled, getting up from her seat, taking her glass with her. "Only I wouldn't know, would I? I'm the only deity that doesn't know what the hell is going on. And the one time that I do, I get my brother killed over it." She finished the glass in the gulp, then threw it against the wood of the bar. It impacted dully and dropped to the ground. She laughed, all together too loudly. "I can't even do that properly!" She cackled like a maniac, her powers blazing around her, a rare occurrence.

"Lindara," Kerlan said, firmly, "you need to sit down. You're drunk."

"Am I?" she asked him, pointedly.


She blinked. "Oh, well. That doesn't change anything." She wove her way back to her stool and sat down. "Nothing changes around here, does it? Life just always goes on."

"That's not true," Kerlan insisted.

"It is. It is. Admit it. In a few years, no one will remember Lightning, or Rayden, or Hiko or Nova. Or you, or me. We'll be like those stupid deities we had to learn about, when we were growing up. Aldric the Obviously Loopy and Numina the Twit Who Threw Himself Off A Cliff." She smacked her palm down on the counter. "Kerlan, The God Who Could Do No Wrong. Lindara The Goddess Who Couldn't Be Counted On To Do Anything Right." She whacked her palm against the boards again, enjoying the sound, and the pain. "Lindara The Murderess. Lindara The Traitor."

"Lindara," Kerlan said firmly, taking her by the shoulders, "Pull yourself together."

"Why? What difference does it make?" she asked, her voice starting to strain. "What difference does it make at all? Nova had herself together. She was the most together person I ever knew, and all it took was a single moment, and boom!" Lindara nearly toppled backwards with the gesture, or would have, if Kerlan had not been holding on to her. "She's gone. Just like that."

"No," Kerlan insisted, growing angry. "Not 'just like that'. Nova helped save us all from Lightning, nothing she did was in vain."

"Really?" she sneered, pulling away and wobbling back to her feet. "How do I know that?"

"What?" Kerlan demanded, his voice low.

"How do I know what really happened there?" she sneered. "You wouldn't tell anybody, not even the Council. Why is that, Kerlan? Did you screw up? Did Nova? Is that why she died? Tell me again how she saved everyone."

The barkeeper's face seemed to crumple. He opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't manage it. He turned away, shaking his head.

Lindara snorted, leaning against the counter. It was then that she noticed Jikan Tai standing in the doorway. She squinted, trying to remember something.

"Guardian?" she frowned. "What--wait a second." She seemed to be having problems trusting her own memory. She tried to stand up straight, but her knees gave out and she was forced to lean against the bar again.

Jikan Tai was glaring at her, his eyes narrowed, his hands in fists.

"What?" she demanded, angrily. "What is the matter with you?"

"I was just going to ask you the same thing," he replied, coldly.

Kerlan seemed to know what was going on. "Leave her alone, Guardian--she's completely out of her head."

"I don't think so," the mortal replied, slowly, watching her. She glared at him back, confused by his sudden hostility. "I think she's just gotten around to saying something she's wanted to for a while."

"Exactly!" she cried, triumphantly, wavering.

"And I think it's about time someone answered her questions," he continued, stepping towards her. He grabbed her by the wrist, an act which she seemed to have problems interpreting.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, trying to break his grip, even though she was in no position to stand on her own. "Let go!"

"You and I are going to take a little trip," Jikan Tai announced, pulling her away from the bar. His voice was completely flat, but the deities could feel the anger emanating out from him.

"Guardian..." Kerlan trailed off, growing angry himself. "Leave her alone."

"I promise to return her in one piece," the Guardian retorted, creating a portal. This portal was unlike his others. Both deities could tell that it did not lead to another place, but another time.

Lindara backed up suddenly, fear ebbing away at her inebriation. "No," she gasped, a hidden memory surfacing, of a terrible Wood and a great loneliness. "No, I don't want to go back there!"

"We're not going there," he corrected, grabbing her by the wrist again and pushing her through the portal, which sealed behind them.

The first thing that Lindara was aware was the rain biting into her skin. It was whipping at her so fiercely that she thought it was hail.

Jikan Tai was no where to be seen. She whirled around, frantically trying to figure out where she was, when she was, what was happening--

There were buildings, in the distance. She could make out their shapes, outlined by the sheets of rain. It was--it was the Temple of Light--

Lindara squeezed her eyes together, and tried to use her powers to shield herself from the ferocious storm. But she couldn't. Something was blocking her use of them. Then she remembered, that at this point in time she was losing her powers over her Realm, thanks to the thoughtless actions of her Agricolae. She fell to one knee, very tired and very cold.

Suddenly, she was aware that she was not alone.

There was someone with her. A presence, unlike anything she had experienced, wait. She had felt like this before, just nowhere near as powerfully.


She got to her feet, very frightened now, unsure more than ever of what was happening.

A bright flash of light, a few meters down the hill from her.

"Rayden!" she called, frantically, as her brother, Kerlan, Sonya, Johnny and someone she didn't recognise teleported in. They couldn't hear her over the storm. "It's me, Lindara!" She waved her arms at them, but they had their backs to her.

The storm overhead was clearing, as though an eye was opening up over their heads. Rayden must have been doing something to ease the weather. Now she could hear them, though she had to strain.

"The first thing we need to do is find Lightning," Rayden was saying. Lindara missed the next sentence as she scrambled down over the slick grass, to catch up to them.

There was a sudden burst of laughter from behind her. She whirled. A shape was beginning to form, it was Liu Kang, Lightning's ghostly image superimposed over him. Lindara froze, terrified.

"Surprise," Lightning/Liu said with a smirk. "You found me."

Lindara shuddered, and got to her feet, trying to gather every scrap of energy together. She didn't have much, but she hoped it would do. Liu Kang gestured with his hand, and a wave of energy exploded around her. She staggered under the blast, gasping, trying to shield herself.

There was a pause, and then another blast, and this one rocked Lindara off her feet completely, flinging her a few feet away from her brother, and his friends. She lay in the grass, trying to get to her feet, trying to get up. She wasn't going to die like this.

Johnny was attacking with his fire powers. He must have just gotten them, Lindara thought to herself. That means Nova is still alive. That means--

She got to her feet, growing sick with dread. That means this is where Nova dies--

She could see her, now. She was firing her arrows at Liu, adding to Johnny's fire powers, and Rayden's thunder shocks. Lindara's head was pounding. "Nova!" she cried, starting to run forward. If she could just change this moment, Nova might still live...

Lindara tripped as the ground began to shake violently. She smashed into the dirt, scraping her arms and hands. Light was glowing, it was Lightning, she was becoming too bright to look at--Lindara buried her face in the ground. So this is how she was going to die, useless to defend herself or those around her, the people she cared about.

The explosion of energy that washed over her lasted only a second before it faded. She frowned, and lifted her head. "I'm supposed to be dead," she muttered.

She could see Jikan Tai, holding the energy at bay with his staff. So that's where he had gone. The unfamiliar mortal--was it Jax?--was helping the Guardian contain Lightning's death-blow. They still had a chance. She got to her feet, again, her legs stiffening from the cold.

I won't give in, like this, she told herself sternly. They need my help. I won't let them down now.

Suddenly, Sonya pulled Kerlan to her, whispering something. Lindara recognised the glass- eyed look that appeared on all their faces. They were communicating telepathically. But Lightning could hear, unless someone did something.

Lindara took a deep breath, and reached towards the grass that was growing underneath Liu's boots. He was hovering, raised off the ground, but if she could just get the plants to respond to her, she could create a diversion.

It wasn't working. Frantically, Lindara strained herself, trying to do anything that would distract the goddess, draw her away from the mental communication, but she couldn't do anything. Lightning did not seem to be bothered by the split-second of her enemies' pause. She seemed to be waiting calmly for their attempts to destroy her with an uncanny patience.

"Go!" Johnny suddenly yelled, startling both Lindara and Lightning. He charged ahead, leaping into a flying kick that caught his possessed friend unawares. Sonya was joining him.

Rayden and Nova had linked hands. They were both concentrating on something, Lindara didn't know what, while Kerlan helped Jax and Jikan Tai contain the energy from the earlier blast.

Johnny was hurt. Lindara had missed the action, but she could feel the pain from him. She could feel nothing from Lightning, it was as though the goddess wasn't there at all, but she could sense her friends clearly. She sent him healing energy, drawing on her nearly depleted reserves.

"Johnny! Come here!" Sonya Blade suddenly yelled. Startled, the new god of fire teleported away from Lightning. Lindara uttered a prayer of thanks to the Creator, when suddenly Nova charged forward, breaking away from Rayden, and unleased a front of fire that washed over Liu Kang. He screamed, but Nova didn't falter. Her energy began to change, the longer she used it. To Lindara it began to resemble a sheet of lightning, which was very curious indeed--

"No!" Lindara screamed, jolted out of the momentary distraction as Lightning teleported to beside Nova, sending the goddess flying with a barrage of kicks and other blows. He leapt forward, and soon had her by the neck.

"Give me your energy," he was saying, through clenched teeth. Lightning was starting to change bodies, Lindara realised with a flash of insight. She ran forward, intending to throw herself at the deity. She had to save Nova, she had to do something to help her friend. She wasn't sure what she could do, but she would do something.

Sonya blasted the duelling deities with her new Space powers, but it had no effect, except to hurt Nova. Lindara reached out, again, with her healing powers, trying to shield her friend from the attack. Then time seemed to slow all around her.

There was a sharp crack. Liu Kang, before Lindara reached him, twitched backwards, blood covering one half of his face. Nova gasped and fell to her knees.

The ground rumbled, and Lindara was caught in tidal wave of the brightest light she had ever known.

She came to suddenly. She was in the grass. It was cold. The storm was abating. They had won. They had--

"No!" she cried, distraught. Nova was dead, she had lost the chance to save her--

Lindara rolled herself over and got to her knees. She was roughly in the same location that she had been when the energy had hit her. Lightning was gone. Liu Kang was gone. Nova was--Nova was lying in Rayden's arms.

Lindara caught a sob half-way in her throat. Nova was dying. And there was nothing that Lindara could do about it.

"Wake up," Rayden was urging his fallen friend. "Wake up."

Nova stirred. She smiled--smiled!--at him. "We won?"

"Yes, we did," was all he said. Lindara crawled towards them, sending Nova all the energy she could muster.

"Hold on," Lindara told her. Her brother didn't notice her presence, he was too wrapped up in Nova. "Nova, just hold on, I can get Medicalis--"

"Good," Nova whispered. She looked up at Rayden. "I have to tell you something."

"I have to tell you something, too," Lindara replied, trying to help support her friend, but Rayden couldn't shift over, so she settled for wrapping her hands around Nova's limp one.

"I have to tell you, I don't know if Hiko did or not--"

"She tried to tell me something, but I couldn't hear her," Rayden was saying. He took Nova's other hand, holding it tightly. "What was it that was so important?"

"She loved us so much, that's why she did it. To save you, and me." Nova's eyes were growing weak, and she had problems holding them open.

Lindara squeezed her hand so hard it hurt.

"Save us from what?" Rayden asked.

"Save your strength," she interrupted, fiercely, to the goddess, but Nova continued on regardless.

"Rayden...I'm your daughter, not Cosmos'."

Lindara dropped Nova's hand in shock. Rayden had gone a shade that rivalled his hair.

"Mother never told anyone but me, to protect us all. But it's all right now. You deserve to know." Nova sighed, glad to be rid of the secret.

Lindara put a hand on her brother's shoulder. He was having problems breathing. She didn't blame him. "By the Creator--Rayden, I was right, I was--" Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Sonya Blade sharply look up from her fallen comrade.

"What?" he breathed, stunned.

Nova coughed, and Lindara gasped. The goddess' energy was nearly gone. Panicked, Lindara tried to send her more healing energy, more of her strength but there was simply no more to give. She turned to Sonya, who was tending Johnny. "Get Medicalis!" she cried, as loudly as she could, before she turned back to her friend.

"Nova, I wanted to tell you about my mortals," Lindara told her. I wanted to tell you about my solution, you can't die, you can't, I won't let you--"

"I--" Nova began. Rayden held her tighter, cradling her against him, shutting Lindara out, but the goddess was too frantic to care. Her friend, her childhood companion, her niece, was disappearing, a smattering of sparkles in the night air, until there was nothing left.

Lindara leaned back, her head tilted up to the sky, her eyes closed. Her world was whirling around, spinning around her, she couldn't look at anything any more, it was all spiralling by too fast...

Overhead, thunder roared again as Rayden vented his grief. He dug his fingers into the earth as the rain seem to explode down over them. Lindara welcomed it as it splashed onto her face. It served to remind her that she was still alive, that she still existed. She wasn't sure. Nothing seemed quite right, any more.

There was a touch on her shoulder. She looked up to see Jikan Tai standing over her.

"Now you know," he said, softly. There were tear streaks running down his face, though the rain was washing them away. "Now you understand why no one wants to talk about it."

Lindara blinked at him in surprise. She looked to her brother, who was kneeling, his head touched the ground, mourning his new daughter. "Rayden--" she cried, but he didn't respond. She touched him, and he didn't look up. Didn't make any response. She screamed, and pushed hard against his shoulder. He didn't even register the blow.

She lashed out again, striking at the Guardian who was behind her. "It's not real!" she roared. "It's not real, none of it was real!" Jikan Tai staggered as she pounded his knee. He stepped backwards, out of range, and her arms dropped to her sides. "It didn't happen."

"It did," he replied, wincing. "It is happening. But we're not in it. We're on the outside, outside reality."

"Why did you do this to me?" she screamed, getting her voice again. "Why did you put me though this, knowing that I wouldn't be able to help?"

The Guardian didn't reply, he looked away from her.

"Answer me, Jikan Tai!" she cried, getting to her feet. "Tell me why!"

"I don't know!" he suddenly shouted at her. "I don't know why I did! I heard you yelling at Kerlan, I was so mad, I couldn't think, I just--" He waved his arms around him. "I did it again. I leapt without looking. Lady Lindara--"

"Don't," she said, fiercely, wiping the raindrops from her eyelashes. "Don't you dare tell me that you're sorry. Nothing you can say can ever, ever make up for what you did to me."

He nodded, sadly, closing his eyes and dropping his head.

"I saw her die," Lindara continued, choking back a sob, "and I couldn't do anything about it. And she's Rayden's daughter, and he never told us, and now she's dead--" She took a deep breath, shaking. She tried to calm herself down. She didn't want to rage out of control, not now, not ever again.

"I tried to change it," Jikan Tai said suddenly, looking up, forlornly. "I tried to do everything that I could, differently. But every time something changed, Lightning won. No matter how hard I tried, she won." He waved toward Rayden. "Nova--she was what turned the tide. If it wasn't for her, we'd all be dead right now. You wouldn't be able to mourn her. Rayden would never have known."

Lindara covered her face with her hands. "I've been so stupid." She looked up, sighing deeply. "Take me back, Guardian. I want to go see Rayden."

He nodded, casting a final look towards himself, the version of himself that was leaning on Kerlan for support, weakened after the strain. She caught his eye and looked as well.

"I thought at the time I was doing the right thing," he said, softly. "And then Liu and Nova died, and I thought that I had made a mistake. So I tried to fix it, and found that I was right in the first place." He turned to face her, his eyes shining green in the dim light. "I don't know which is harder to bear."

A portal opened, and he stepped through it.

The transition from one time to another took barely a second, relatively speaking. It was an eye-blink. And so, when Jikan Tai stepped out of the portal, he wasn't sure whether he had felt the strange presence, or not. There wasn't really any time to think about it.

The door opened, almost silently. Medicalis' voice rang out. "I'm keeping an eye on you. Don't try anything."

"Don't worry," Sonya snapped back, as she entered the room. She seemed to falter. "Hi, Rayden."

The deity was lying on a cot. At first, she thought he was asleep, but no, he was awake. "Sonya." His voice was very dull, and very quiet.

She looked for a chair, but there wasn't one; the only furniture was his cot, and that was taken. She sat down on the floor instead. For a moment, her mind went blank. She couldn't remember why she was here, but then her hand when to her black supply bag. "I brought something for you," she said, simply.

He looked at her, curious.

She reached in, and brought out the silver frame. She held it out to him. He sat up, frowning, and took it very carefully. "Meimei and I found it," Sonya said, "and I thought you might like it fixed."

He looked at it, and gave no indication that he'd heard her. The silence in the cell was thick. Finally, he set the picture, face-down, on the floor. He looked up at her. "You're not one for casual conversation, Sonya."

"It's usually Johnny's department," she agreed, "but he won't be up for another few days. And by then--" She stopped herself, but he picked it up.

"By then it will be too late." He was staring at the back of the still, as though wishing it wasn't there. Or that he had the nerve to pick it back up again.

"I'm going to get you out of this," Sonya said fiercely. He laughed.

"I don't see how," he admitted, running a hand through his hair. "I'm not under a spell; I admitted to being insane; and if you broke me out they'd find me, no matter where I could go, unless I-- " He stopped. "Well, that's not going to happen anyway."

"Unless?" she prompted. "Rayden, what is it?"

"Nothing," he insisted, lying back down and looking at the ceiling.

"Jikan Tai," she finished.

His head snapped over to look at her. "You're getting better at that."

"I didn't have to read your mind, I just put two and two together," Sonya replied, getting up, and starting to pace. "He's the only person that can do something that I can't, who also happens to be someone that you can't have a pleasant conversation with, at the moment."

"I was so stupid," Rayden agreed, with a heavy sigh. "I don't know what came over me."

"You got mad. It happens."

"Not with me, it doesn't."

"It does. Shao Khan ring a bell? Don't give me that look. I've seen you and your temper, and it wasn't just after your family got wiped out in a single night."

Rayden sat up, staring. "What did you just say?"

She sighed, and ran a hand through her hair. "I know, Rayden. About you, Hiko and Nova."

"How did you find out?" he demanded, getting to his feet. "You can't tell any one--"

"I already told Meimei," Sonya interrupted. "And I found out myself, that night. I was still in a mind-link, I couldn't turn it off."

"You should have told me you knew," he growled.

"And you should have told everyone else," she retorted.

He rolled his eyes. "You don't understand. Nova was technically illegitimate, and that means big trouble--"

"For who?" Sonya demanded, fiercely. He stopped, stunned. "All the major players are going to be out of the picture come sunset. The least you could have done was tell your mother that she had a granddaughter, that Meimei and Lindara had a niece."

"I don't want her going down in history that way," Rayden said, very quietly, after Sonya had wound down. "I wanted her and Hiko to be remembered as heroes, not as members of a scandal. That's why I didn't tell anybody."

"That'll still happen, Rayden. They are heroes."

He shrugged. "It doesn't make any difference, anyway. You're right. They're dead, and in a few years, no one will remember anyway." He sat down on the cot.

Sonya watched him for a moment. Gears were turning in her head. "What did Jikan Tai tell you?" she asked, suddenly. He looked up at her. She knew then that she was on the right track. "He told you something about Hiko, and Nova, didn't he? That's what set this all in motion."

"He did say he was going to try and bring them back, to change time." Rayden snorted. "I guess it didn't work."

She sat down on the cot, next to him. "Start at the beginning."

"Do we have enough time?" he joked. She gave him a look.

"I am getting the whole story out of you even if I have to fight off Medicalis to do it," she confirmed. "Now, talk."

He sighed. "It was a few days ago. Jikan Tai showed up at the Temple--wait, you know this bit already."

She nodded.

He cleared his throat and began anew. "I went with him to... I don't know where it was. I couldn't get a straight answer out of him. He was babbling on and on about the nature of Time. I couldn't follow most of it, and told him so." He shuddered. "Not to mention, this wood--the place that we went--it was... eerie. I can't even begin to describe it, but I never want to go there again. It completely unnerved me, and that's hard to accomplish." He shook his head to get back on track. "We argued for a little while, and finally he got to the point, that he could bring back Hiko. I got the impression that he didn't know quite how, and that's why he wanted to talk to me. To use me to figure out the final details. He was... he'd gone a little funny. He said he'd been on his own since the battle. I think being in that wood with no one to talk to but himself--"

"Drove him nuts?" Sonya interjected, sweetly.

He glared at her. "Something like that. Anyway, we started arguing, and he gave me a push into one of these strange puddles that were everywhere. I fell in and then I--" he trailed off. "That's not important. After I found myself at the Temple--"

"Hold it!" she exclaimed. "I don't want the edited version! What happened?"

"Nothing important," he said quickly.

"Like hell! This wasn't brought about because you got wet!" Sonya burst out. "I want the whole story."

"Well, maybe I don't want to tell you," Rayden snapped, getting to his feet.


He didn't turn to look at her, but kept facing the wall.

"Rayden," she prompted, also getting to her feet, stepping beside him. "I need to know, so I can find out how to get you out of this."

He closed his eyes. "Maybe I don't want you to."

She stopped, stunned. "You can't be serious."

He didn't reply.


"It's not worth bringing it all up again," he said, quietly, moving back towards the cot.

"It's not worth bringing what up again?" she repeated. He sighed. "If you don't want to tell me it, I can..." she trailed off, tapping her head. "Would that be better?"

He stared at her for a moment, not understanding. Then he laughed. "That won't make any difference, Sonya."

"Of course it would," she huffed, annoyed at being laughed at.

He sighed again, looking down towards the floor, and towards the picture. He hesitated for a moment, then reached down and picked it up, flipping it over in his hands. "I saw Hiko," he said quietly, gazing at the image of his dead wife and child.

"The ghost." Sonya nodded.

He shook his head. "No, not the ghost. I saw Hiko, and she was alive..."

Rayden stared at the Guardian, fearing for his sanity. He started to back away. "Jikan Tai, you're not thinking straight. You need to calm down, and think about what you're saying."

"I know what I'm talking about," the Guardian growled, objecting to the tone that Rayden was using him. He grabbed the god by the arm and shoved him, hard, to the side.

"What are you--" Rayden began, before his feet touched the edge of one of the pools under the trees. He slipped, and fell in. The puddles were only a few inches deep, but somehow, he kept falling. Something was pulling him downwards...

He opened his eyes. He was... where was he? It took him a second to get his bearings. He was--home. No. Officina, Naturalis' Realm, where he had lived before he inherited Earth. What was he doing here?

His head was spinning, but he was losing the sense of dislocation that had accompanied him in that Wood that the Guardian had dragged him to. He looked around him, curious. The kitchen--the room he was in now--had changed somewhat since the last time he had been here. The layout was the same, but the colours and the table seemed different. Older, although he knew that couldn't be right.

He heard footsteps, small ones. Jih or Yueh, he thought pleasantly. They must be visiting with Naturalis for the afternoon. He stepped up to the door frame to greet his nephews.

And stopped, startled, as the little girl looked up at him, equally surprised.

She was about three, with white hair, and blue eyes. She could be his sister, she resembled Meimei at that age, but there was something else about her. She smiled at him, and held up her arms. That was unusual, he'd never met her before. But before he could make a move towards her, the small girl hesitated, frowning.

He felt a tiny touch at the back of his mind; she was trying to figure out who he was. He smiled at her, crouching down. "Don't worry," he said, gently. "I'm--"

She stepped away from him, her lips trembling. "Mama!" she finally burst out screaming. "Mama!" She turned and tore down the corridor at top speed.

Puzzled, Rayden got back to his feet. This was becoming more bewildering with every passing second. He headed back into the kitchen, and tried to teleport to Earth. But he couldn't. Something was blocking him. He tried again and realised with a start that he wasn't being blocked; there was simply no where to teleport to.

"What in the Creator's name?" he murmured to himself. He started to head to the hallway, to see if he could find Naturalis who was usually puttering around in the herbarium, when he heard footsteps again. Not little-girl footsteps. Grown-up footsteps. He sighed, and stepped out into the corridor, to greet his step-father and find out what was going on--

Hiko paled, and staggered backwards, after nearly bumping into him, as he turned the corner. The small girl hovered by her legs, but Rayden hardly noticed.

"Hiko--" he breathed, stunned. "What--how--"

"Rayden?" she asked, hesitantly, moving to place herself between him and the girl. "This can't be right--"

"You're telling me," he said, starting to smile. "I thought that--you--I saw you--"

"Who the hell are you?" Hiko screamed, her wits coming back in a sudden flash of anger, fear, and flame. The little girl began to cry as the goddess' aura sprung up. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Rayden had nothing to say. "Hiko--"

Her hands were balled into fists. "How did you get in here? Who are you, why are you doing this?"

There was a crackle of lightning and someone teleported in, brought in by the goddess' panic. When she stepped into view, Rayden nearly fell over.

"Nova!" he exclaimed, managing to find his voice.

"Dad?" She frowned. "What did you do to your hair?"

"That's not your father," Hiko growled. "Take your sister, get her out of here."

"What?" Nova looked between her parents, confused. "Mom--"

"Now!" Hiko barked. Nova swept up the small girl, who had stopped crying and was staring at Rayden fearfully.

"Not Daddy," she told her older sister, as a precaution.

"What the hell is going on?" Nova asked.

"That's what I'd like to know," Hiko snarled, taking a step forward. "I'd like to hear what you have to say."

Rayden took a deep breath. "Hiko, I'm Rayden."

She glared at him. "Very funny. I know my own husband, and you're not him."

"I am," he insisted. "Believe me, I don't have any idea what's going on here either--the Guardian pushed me into some sort of a pool, and it brought me here--" He watched the incomprehension on their faces. "Jikan Tai. The Guardian of Time."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, and I'd prefer you to get to the point," Hiko snapped. An idea occurred to her. "If you're working with Raimei, if this is one of his little jokes, tell him it's not very funny. Not with the Kombats going on."

"Mom," Nova said, in a hushed voice, "I think he's telling the truth."

Hiko whirled around, in confusion. "What are you talking about?" She alternated her glares between the "imposter" and her daughter.

"Sense him," Nova said, simply, juggling her sister into a better position.

"I am telling the truth," he added.

"Want Daddy!" the little girl shouted, suddenly. "Real Daddy!"

"Hush," Nova replied, quickly.

Hiko hesitated. She ran a hand through her short, slightly-imposing hair, the style she had it in when he'd first known her. "This is not right," she said at last, confused. "You think you're Rayden, but you're not. He's at the Hall right now. He's--"

"He's got shorter hair," Nova added.

"Nova, please." Hiko was becoming unnerved. A joke, even a stupid one, was one thing, something she could handle. But this...

"I'm just as confused about it as you are," he answered, taking a step forward. He was aching to hold her for just a moment, just to make sure she was real, but she wasn't about to let that happen.

"We could take him to the Elders, see what they think," Nova suggested.

"I don't know. I hate having to leave the Realm," Hiko replied, not taking her eyes off him. "Especially now."

"I could go--" Nova continued.

"No. No, we'll sort this out ourselves." Hiko seemed to have reached a decision. "Take your sister to your room, keep her out of trouble. I want to talk to...Rayden...alone for a moment."

"But--" Nova started to protest, but her mother stopped her with a single look.


Nova frowned and teleported away in a puff of flame.

"You really think you're Rayden," Hiko said, quietly, leaning against the wall opposite him.

"I am Rayden," he insisted.

She frowned. "Why are you looking at me like that?" she demanded, growing uncomfortable.

He smiled, weakly. "I haven't seen you in a long time." He lowered his gaze. "It feels like a long time. Sorry."

There was a pause, as Hiko tried to gather all her thoughts together. Rayden didn't care whether they were talking or not, he was happy to just be in the same hallway with her. The longer he was in her presence, the easier it was becoming to forget all that had happened to him. It was a bad dream, a nightmare, and he was finally starting to wake up.

"You are from somewhere else, aren't you?" she asked, suddenly. "Somewhere like here, but not part of the Omniverse. That's it, isn't it?"

He looked up, meeting her eyes. Her eyes were more green than blue, in the light, and he remembered the look he used to see there, vividly.

"It is," she said, triumphantly. "I can sense it from you. You're much easier to read than my Rayden."

He blinked in surprise, trying to ignore the emphasis in her statement. "I guess so. I haven't thought about it--" He was suddenly aware of another presence in the room. "What the--?" Jikan Tai, it was Jikan Tai, and he lunged at the god. Rayden leapt backwards, but he had his back at the wall.

"What's going on?" Hiko cried, startled. She couldn't see the Guardian. He grabbed Rayden's sleeve, and Hiko jumped in shock. "Rayden?" she yelled. "What the hell happened? Hello?"

"What did you do?" Rayden demanded angrily. He waved a hand in front of the goddess' face, but she didn't respond. She was starting to search the kitchen, now.

"I pulled you out of sync with this reality," Jikan Tai explained. "We can go home, now. I figured out my plan--"

"I don't care about your plan!" Rayden roared. "Send me back, let me stay here!"

"Rayden," Jikan Tai stuttered, "It's not your world--"

"I don't care," he repeated, slowly. "I'd rather stay here, with her, than--"

"You can't," the mortal repeated. "You don't have a place here with her."


He was interrupted by a clap of thunder, as someone teleported in. Hiko stood up, startled, but pleasantly so. "Hello?"

"What's all the fuss?" Rayden asked, stepping into the kitchen. "I could sense it all the way at the Hall--"

"It's you," she breathed with a sigh of relief, hugging him tightly.

"Have I ever been any one else?" he asked.

"It's you, you," she tried to clarify. It didn't help. "Oh, I don't know. It was like something out of a bad dream."

"What was?" her husband asked, confused.

"Nothing," she replied, after a pause. She reached up to kiss him. "Nothing important."

Rayden staggered backwards, and Jikan Tai caught him, worried that he would faint. "I tried to tell you," the Guardian said. "I've been here before--Rayden, her Rayden is--"

"They're living here together," Rayden murmured. "They have kids. They're happy. What-- why--?"

"Their reality went along a different path than yours," the mortal explained. He started to say something, but Rayden grabbed him by the collar.

"Why did you put me here?" he demanded, angrily. "Why are you showing me this? Just to let me know that it doesn't matter that Hiko died, because she's living with someone else a few ponds over?"

"No--" Jikan Tai stuttered. "No, I was going to show it--not like this--I have to tell you my plan--"

"To hell with your plan!" Rayden roared. "What damned bit of good is it going to make now? Tell me that, Guardian!"

Jikan Tai couldn't form a response, he was badly unnerved by the god's anger. Rayden shook him, furious, and the mortal panicked, and reached out with his powers.

Rayden gasped, then keeled over. The Guardian opened a portal, and teleported them both away, leaving Hiko and her husband to mull over the day's events.

"...and then I woke up in that forest, and it was too much for me," Rayden finished, shaking his head. "I screamed. The shock--I can't begin to describe it."

"That was the mental yell I heard," Sonya concluded, nodding to herself.

"I fainted again, and woke up, later, at the Temple," he added, setting the photo down, facing down, on the floor. "That's where you came in."

Sonya leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest, deep in thought. "There's something I'm missing," she said, finally. "There's a piece that's not fitting in, somewhere."

Rayden looked at her askew. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Come on, Rayden," she said with an exasperated sigh. She got to her feet and started pacing. "There must be a reason why you're acting the way you are. I thought it lay with Jikan Tai and whatever it was that he did to you--but--" She frowned, her eyebrows knitting together. "Did you ever find out why he pushed you into that pond?"

"To rub it in?" Rayden snapped. "How am I supposed to know?"

"I don't think he did it out of spite," Sonya remarked, quietly. "That doesn't seem like him."

Rayden remained quiet.

"I think I'm going to go talk with him, see if I can get any answers from him," she concluded. She seemed unsure about something, and hesitated for a split-second before heading for the door. "I'll be back in a little while."

"I'm not going anywhere," Rayden replied, dryly, lying back on the cot with his arms under his head. She nodded, and knocked on the door. Medicalis opened it and let her through, shutting it behind her.

Rayden sighed, and looked down. He picked up the photo again, and wiped a trace of dust from the glass facing. Hiko seemed to gaze back at him, smiling shyly. "I'm sorry things had to work out like this," he said, quietly. "If I could change things, I would. Believe me."

I believe you, she whispered at him, from within the room.

Sonya squeezed Johnny's hand. "Medicalis says you should wake up any hour now," she said, softly. His eyes were moving behind his eyelids. That was a good sign. "I hope you wake up in time, Johnny, I don't know if I can do any more for him, and time is running out--"

She paused. "Time. That's right, I've still got to see Jikan Tai. I hope I can find him." She got up from her chair, leaving her comatose friend to wake at his own pace, when the door suddenly opened. It was Meimei.

"Oh, sorry," she replied, instantly, ducking back out of the way.

"Meimei, wait up," Sonya called, suddenly. She held the door open. "Come in, if you want. I was just leaving."

"I came to see you," Meimei admitted. She was fretting and wringing her hands, something she had been doing constantly. Sonya nodded, and stepped outside, closing the door quietly behind her. The ward seemed deserted; most Healers were trying to figure out what was wrong with Rayden. "How did the visit go?"

Sonya sighed, and leaned against the wall. It might be a long story. Then again... "I talked to him, and he shed a little light on the subject, but I don't think he knows what's happening to him. Or if he does, then he believes himself to be insane."

"Then it's hopeless!" Meimei wailed.

"I didn't say that!" Sonya snapped. Now she started pacing. "Jikan Tai has got the answers we need, I'm sure of it. Rayden said the Guardian had a plan to bring back Hiko and Nova--why didn't he implement it? What did he need Rayden for?"

Meimei was forcing herself to calm down. "Mother's in a complete state. She won't talk, or cry, or anything. She just sits, staring at the outside. Naturalis is with her, and Tai Hou--oh, the boys don't understand what's going on at all, and I can't blame them--"

"Meimei!" Sonya snapped, grabbing her by the shoulders, and shaking her slightly. "You've got to hold yourself together. If I'm wrong, and Rayden is crazy, then there's plenty of time to mourn him after. But if I'm right--if there's a reason behind all of this--"

Meimei was frightened by the sudden and almost violent movement the goddess made; she whimpered, but at the same time, a weak aura of power flared into being around her, a natural response in deities. In deities who had powers to begin with.

Sonya dropped her hands, startled. The aura was quickly fading, but it was black, with strains of purple. The same as the one formed by Goddess of Space.

"What?" Meimei asked, concerned. "What happened?"

"You don't have powers," Sonya said, her voice low.

"I know..." Meimei looked at her oddly. "I'm a Numina, I don't have special powers--why are you looking like that at me?"

Sonya shook her head. "It's a mystery for another time. C'mon, let's go find Jikan Tai." She headed off down the hall, creating a portal.

"What's a mystery for another time?" Meimei cried, following suit.

Lindara stepped out of the Guardian's portal into the hallway at the Hospital. She sighed. Jikan Tai held his hand against her shoulder, as support, but she shook her head.

"I'll be fine," she muttered. "It's the time-travel, it's making my head spin."

"I think the nectar helped with that, too," he replied, deadpan. She blinked, trying to tell whether or not he was joking. She gave it up as a lost cause.

"Are you coming?" she asked, gesturing towards the door. "I--whoa--" She started to pitch forward, and he caught her.

"Still dizzy?" he asked, politely.

She snorted. "I'll be fine."

"Are you sure?"


She was making no move to stand on her own, but staying leaning against his chest, watching him intently. Then she started to blush.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"I--just thought that--we--never mind, it was silly," she replied. Then she tried to stand on her own again, but he held her back. "Or did we?" she added, softly. "I can't remember--it's too fuzzy-- but Maresium?"

"It happened," the Guardian replied with a sad smile. "I just thought it would be better if you didn't remember it. I guess I didn't do a very good job."

"You did an excellent job," Lindara chided. "You just didn't count on my healing powers."

"I'll remember that for next time," he said, deadpan again. She smiled slightly, and tilted her head up. He replied by kissing her for a moment. She smiled, clearly remembering the earlier encounter, and enjoying the current one. He broke off the kiss abruptly by pulling away and looking about him in agitation.

"What?" she blurted, confused and a little angry.

"Can't you feel that?" he asked, looking around him in concern. "It feels like--a ghost--"

"Don't you start!" she exclaimed, angrily. "I can't sense anything."

He had calmed down but retained the tension in his shoulders and his eyes kept flicking around, trying to spot something just out of view. She put her arms around his shoulders, forcing him to pay attention to her.

"It's nothing," she said calmly, although her voice had a slight tremor in it. "Trust me, it's nothing."

He smiled slightly, but his eyes remained wary.

Sonya paced the length of the Bar, turned, and paced back. "This is absurd," she grouched. "I should be able to sense him."

"The Guardian has always been hard to sense," Kerlan told her. "Even the previous one. And the one before that, I'm sure, was hard to sense as well. It's not your fault."

"If I was stronger I could," she replied.

"I'm not sure even Rayden can," the barkeep answered, sighing and leaning on the counter top. "Sometimes even he couldn't."

Meimei whimpered again, but flinched when Sonya turned, sharply, in her direction. She made a concentrated effort to pull herself together.

"That's it, Meimei," Sonya exclaimed, pacing back over and pulling the goddess from her stool. "You can help me."

"She doesn't have any powers," Kerlan exclaimed.

"I told you, I don't have powers!" Meimei blurted, at the same time.

"I know, I heard you say that." Sonya linked her fingers through the goddess'. "But I know you can do this, Meimei. Just concentrate."

"I--" Meimei was extremely confused, but determined to try her best. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

Sonya reached out again with her mind, trying to locate the slippery Guardian. But still nothing. "Try harder, Meimei."

Meimei whimpered and scrunched her eyes shut, trying to do what she had seen others do a hundred times.

Sonya scowled. "You could sense Rayden when he was hurt, couldn't you? This is the same thing!"

"I'm trying!" Meimei burst out, exasperated.

"Try harder!" Sonya's grip through Meimei's fingers tightened, and the goddess shrieked in surprise pain.

"Stop that, you're hurting me--" She struggled to break off the hold, but Sonya held tight.

"Try again," she snarled.

Meimei, angry and hurt, closed her eyes.

Sonya could almost feel a trickle of energy from the goddess, boosting her own powers. But it wasn't enough. Meimei wasn't trying hard enough... Sonya twisted the goddess' wrist around and pushed.

Meimei screamed, and powers flickered around her, purple and black. At that moment, Sonya suddenly felt her mind powers expand outward, reaching farther and more clearly that they could ever have done on their own--

"Got him!" she exclaimed, dropping Meimei's hand.

The goddess cradled her limp wrist, sniffling. The aura was fading from around her as she collapsed back on the stool. Kerlan was staring at them both in shock.

"If I hadn't seen it myself," he murmured, rubbing his eyes, just in case.

Sonya grinned. "I love it when I'm right. Let's see if I can keep it up. Meimei, I found Jikan Tai. Are you coming?"

Meimei glared, still rubbing her hand. "Yeah. I guess so. But warn me next time you're going to try and break my wrist?"

"I wasn't going to break it," Sonya replied, creating a portal. "If I had been, it would broken right now, and you'd be making a lot more noise."

She stepped through the portal. Meimei exchanged a glance with Kerlan. "That's inspiring me with confidence."

"Go on," the god urged. "There's not a lot of time left."

She nodded, downcast. "I'm sure Sonya's right. I'm sure--" The portal started to flicker, so Meimei hopped off her stool and dashed through.

Kerlan sighed, watching the portal close. Celebria? Are you there? Always, came the reply.

I have something I need to ask you about...

"Rayden?" Lindara poked her head around the door. She waited until he looked up, and then nodded to someone out of his range of view. "Can I come in?"

"Of course," he said, sitting up and kicking something under his cot.

She came in, very hesitantly. "I just came to say--that I'm sorry."

"Sorry? Sorry for what?" he exclaimed, as she sat down next to him.

"Sorry for this whole mess," she began. She sighed, heavily. "Sorry for mentioning Jikan Tai at the hearing."

"Ah. That." Rayden didn't seem to have anything further to say on the topic. She wouldn't meet his gaze.

"And I'm sorry for being so slow," she said, quietly. "In picking things up, I mean. First, that Nova and Hiko--and then that--" she trailed off, and for the first time, lifted her head to meet his gaze. "I know about Nova."

He blinked in surprise.

"Jikan Tai told me. Or rather, showed me," she continued. She was playing with the hem of her sleeve, twisting it tighter as she spoke. "He took me back to the battle, showed me everything that happened." She was trying to ward off tears, but it wasn't working very well. "I don't know how I could have been so stupid, so wrapped up in myself that I would--that I didn't know--"

She lapsed into sobs and Rayden found himself patting her shoulder. The moment he touched her, she twitched away, trying to dry her eyes, to contain herself. She got to her feet. She took a moment, to catch her breath. "I just wanted to say that I was sorry," she said, at last.

"I accept your apology," he said, with a slight smile. She started to laugh, shakily.

"Oh, Creator, what a mess we're all in," she said, wiping her eye, still smiling. "It just seems to get bigger and more complicated."

"That's the nature of the beast," Rayden replied. "But it'll all work out for the best, believe me."

She nodded. "Sonya's looking into something--has she come to see you yet?"

"Yeah, just a little while before you did," he answered. He shook his head, and rested his forearms on his knees. "Don't count on anything, Lin."

Lindara sat down, and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "It'll be all right, Rayden. After all, we can't let you lose your powers--Mother would kill you."

He smiled weakly at the joke. "Thanks for coming to see me, Lin."

She looked uncomfortable. "I've always been here. True, I haven't always been a lot of help, but I've always been here."

This time he did laugh. "That's true," he said, hugging her tightly. She returned the hug fiercely and they both sat still and in silence, enjoying the last moment together.

Jikan Tai paced in front of the door. Medicalis, God of Doctors, was watching him, eagle- eyed. The mortal tried to ignore the gaze, but couldn't. He started to pace faster.

"You look uncomfortable, Guardian," the god said, leaning against the far wall. The mortal did not reply. "Perhaps you're feeling a little guilty?"

That remark stopped Jikan Tai in his tracks. "What do you mean by that, Lord Medicalis?"

"I interviewed Rayden, while my Healers were testing for spells. He's not under one, but your name came up quite a few times during the conversation." Medicalis narrowed his eyes.

"Are you accusing me of something?" Jikan Tai inquired, careful to keep his voice level.

"No, and neither has Rayden," the god admitted. "But that doesn't mean there isn't any suspicion."

The mortal bristled as the deity straightened up, as though preparing for something. But all Medicalis did was find a more comfortable place to rest against.

"It's hard, losing a patient," the deity said, suddenly. "Especially when the patient is not, in fact, sick. Or wounded. Or in any way incapacitated."

"Are you saying Rayden is fine?" the mortal blurted.

"I'm saying a lot more than that, if you care to listen," Medicalis answered. "I'm saying he's in perfect physical and mental health with the one little exception being that he would like to die. And he sees this as one way to go. Now, Guardian, I'll ask you again, do you have any idea what would make him think like that?"

"I don't know," Jikan Tai blurted, growing pale.

"Funny answer, I would have thought you'd have figured it out by now," someone exclaimed. Medicalis, who could see beyond Jikan Tai's shoulder, smiled.

"Ah, Lady Sonya Blade. Come to shed some light on the mystery?" he inquired. "The Guardian here doesn't have a clue."

The mortal whirled, to see Sonya approaching down the corridor, Meimei at her heels.

"Jikan Tai," she said, pseudo-politely, "I would like to have a word with you."

"About?" he inquired, backing up slightly.

"Don't play dumb with me, I want to have a talk about the Wood," Sonya snapped. "And what happened there."

He closed his eyes for a moment. "Rayden told you about that?"

"I had to drag it out of him, but yes, he told me. What I want to know is why. Why you pushed him into that pool, knowing as you did what lay on the other side," Sonya barked.

"Okay, you've lost me," Medicalis interrupted. Meimei came up to him, and pulled him to the side, whispering in his ear.

Jikan Tai started to splutter, at a loss for words. "I thought--that it would--it was the key," he began.

"The key to...?" she prompted.

"My plan. If in one version of reality Hiko and Rayden are happy, then that means that they could be here, too--I thought that if I showed him that, that it would--" He stopped, ashamed.

"Go on," Sonya insisted, crossing her arms over her chest.

"That it would cheer him up," he finished, sorrowfully, his head dipping. "That it would give him hope, and then he could help me with my plan, and instead--"

"Instead you've got him contemplating suicide!" Sonya yelled. "Bad move!"

Medicalis strode up to them. "Meimei's been explaining part of this--let me get this straight-- Rayden saw another version of time, where he and Hiko lived happily ever after?"

Jikan Tai blinked. "It's a little more complicated than that--"

"But that's essentially it." Sonya scowled. "And you don't know anything else do you? Dammit. I thought you'd be able to explain the ghosts--"

Jikan Tai frowned. "Ghosts?"

"I can explain away that one," Medicalis said, easily. "Rayden's not seeing them. He's suicidal, but can't bring himself to do it; he's getting us to do it for him. Very smart plan, actually."

"That's not it at all!" Meimei blurted, horrified. "Sonya felt the presence--he is seeing someone!"

"Meimei," Medicalis said, gently, "You know as well as I do that Hiko cannot come back as a ghost."

Jikan Tai had a sharp intake of breath, and all three deities turned to look at him. "I thought that I felt something," he whispered, trying to remember. "And I saw Hiko--" he leaned his head back, eyes closed, trying to remember. "We were fighting, I fell--Rayden stood over me, I could see--I could see a woman in red--and then when I was bringing Lindara back, I felt something, in the portal with me--" He turned and slammed his fists against the wall in frustration. "Dammit, I could feelsomething, but what?"

The three deities exchanged looks. This outburst seemed nothing like the taciturn Guardian.

He rubbed his eyes, frustrated. "Maybe--maybe Lindara felt something--" He pushed past Meimei to the door to Rayden's cell and pushed it open.

"Jikan Tai, stop!" Medicalis yelled, but he wasn't quick enough; the Guardian was in the room.

Rayden leapt to his feet. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, furiously.

"Jikan Tai!" Lindara exclaimed, also getting off the cot. "Rayden, don't--"

Her warning came too late; Rayden grabbed Jikan Tai by the collar. "Come to say goodbye?" he snarled. "Or to try and sell me another one of your miraculous ideas?"

Jikan Tai stuttered, and tried to pull back. Sonya burst in the room, throwing herself between the two and separating them. Meimei and Lindara held Rayden back, while Medicalis and Sonya protected the Guardian.

"Rayden, calm down," Meimei urged. "Please. Jikan Tai's here to help."

"Help, that's a good one," Rayden laughed. "Screw things up more, you mean."

"He can hardly do that!" Sonya barked, growing red in the face. "Now give him a chance."

There was silence in the room as Rayden and Sonya regarded each other fiercely. Then the thunder god backed down, and walked back to his cot. Jikan Tai let out the breath he realised he'd been holding.

"Lindara," he said, very calmly, or as calmly as he could manage, "did you sense anything at all when we teleported here?"

She frowned. "No--well--I did feel a hand brush by mine, but I thought that was you."

He shook his head. "I've been out of sorts," he admitted. "Hearing snatches of voices. Seeing glimpses of people. I thought it was just me." He looked to Rayden, although the deity avoided his gaze. "But it's not. Sonya, you felt something as well?"

She nodded.

"Then that proves something. We can't all be crazy." He took another deep breath. "There must be something else going on here, Medicalis. Is there any way that you can hold off the ceremony until we find out what?"

"There's nothing going on!" Rayden roared, getting back to his feet. "What can't you just accept that?"

"We're not going to accept your death," Meimei retorted, fiercely, her eyes misting. "Until that last moment, I am going to do everything I can, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."

Lindara nodded. "If there is something out there, Rayden, then we'll find it."

Sonya crossed her arms over her chest. "Medicalis, is there any way you can talk to the Council, delay it?"

"What makes you think I carry any weight with the Council?" They all glared at him. "I suppose I can try," he admitted. "But who will run the Hospital if I leave? The other Healers are resting. Johnny Cage is still out like one of Arnie's lights, I can't just leave him."

"I'll stay with him," Lindara said quickly. "I can watch over him, and if he needs healing, then I can do it."

"I'll stay too," Sonya added.

"Sonya, I need you to come with me," Jikan Tai said suddenly. "I want to talk to you, try and put all our pieces together." She looked from Lindara to him, and then nodded.

"I'll be okay," Lindara said, touching Sonya's arm. "I'll watch over Johnny."

The goddess sighed. "Fine. I'll go with Jikan Tai."

"I'll stay here, with Rayden," Meimei volunteered. He looked surprised.

"You don't have to, you can go to Officina, see the boys," he told her. She smiled, and hugged him tightly.

"It's no problem," she replied. "They'll be going to sleep soon, anyway. I'd only keep them up." She rested her head on his shoulder, sadly.

Medicalis cleared his throat. "Yes. Well. I had better be going, then. To talk. To the Council. Yes." He turned and left the room, abruptly.

"Good old Uncle Medi," Lindara giggled. "He can spend hours treating a mortal with multiple stab wounds, but goes all squeamish if somebody hugs somebody else."

"He's right, though," Sonya admitted. "We really should be going."

"I just need a moment to focus the portal," Jikan Tai said, slipping past her and out the door.

The Goddess of Space clapped her hand down on Rayden's shoulder. "Don't go anywhere. We'll be back for you in a little while," she said. She looked to Meimei. "Try to keep him out of trouble."

"It's hard, but I'll try my best," she agreed, her voice choking. "I hope that the Creator is with you."

Sonya blinked. "I--" She shook her head. "I suppose I should get used to hearing that." She turned and left, closing the door behind her.

Lindara cleared her throat as well, doing a passible imitation of her uncle. "I'll go check in on Johnny," she said. "I might talk to Naturalis, too--is there anything you want me to tell him? Or Mother? Or Tai Hou?"

"Tell Tai Hou to tell the boys not to worry," Meimei piped up, concerned. "Tell them that everything's going to be okay. And don't let Yueh tell Jih anything different." She looked to Rayden. "He's terrible at that. Reminds me a lot of Raimei."

"That's not a very nice thing to say about my nephew," Rayden replied dryly.

"Rayden?" Lindara asked. "Is there anything you'd like to say?"

He paused. He looked for a moment to the cot. Then he turned back. "Tell them, that whatever happens, I do believe it's for the best."

Lindara and Meimei exchanged glances. "Anything else?"

Rayden shook his head.

"Are you sure?" Lindara prompted.

"Lin!" he exclaimed, growing angry. She held up her hands in surrender.

"Okay, okay." She exchanged another glance with Meimei, and headed from the room.

Kerlan and Celebria stepped away from each other as Mizuno approached. "What are you two whispering about?" she asked, loudly enough that the others in the room could hear. They did, and turned towards the pair.

Kerlan glared at the Goddess of Water, but Celebria was more forthcoming. "We were discussing a certain Numina, Lady."

"Oh?" Mizuno inquired. She strolled back to her chair and sat down. "Do go on."

"I don't think we need to, Meimei is hardly Elder business," Celebria replied sweetly. At the mention of his daughter, Thunder's head snapped up.

"What is wrong with Meimei?" he asked.

"Nothing. Kerlan has just brought it to my attention that there is more to her than meets the eye," Celebria answered. "We were just discussing her use of powers, despite being a Numina."

"She does not have powers," Mizuno dismissed. "I, myself, performed the Ceremony after she was born. I could not detect any powers."

"I see," Celebria said, sitting down. She looked to Kerlan. "I suppose that answers your question."

"It does," Kerlan replied, jovially. "Thank you, Cel." He turned to leave, but, just as hoped, Thunder stood.

"Wait!" he commanded. The God of Communications turned, expectantly.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Why are you discussing Meimei?" Thunder inquired. "Has something happened to her? What is this nonsense about her having powers?"

"No, nothing's happened," Kerlan replied easily. "I had heard some rumours that Meimei has been seen using powers, and today I had a chance to confirm the earlier report."

The Elders looked at each other. "That was from a long time ago," Mizuno said, haughtily.

"Which makes it less" Celebria inquired, politely. Mizuno glared, but did not reply. Clearly, she was uncomfortable with the subject. "I see. Another topic which, since the Elders have no answer for, is not to be spoken of. Kerlan, you said you had a theory?"

"I did," he replied.

"Would you please tell us of your theory?" Celebria asked.

Ariel snorted. "Drop the sweetness act, Celebria. It's giving me cavities."

The leader ignored him. "Kerlan?"

The god strolled so that he was standing next to her chair and facing the Elders, both those who were sitting and the two who were not. "I was witness to something, which by all accounts, should not have happened. I saw Meimei use powers. And not just any powers. Sonya's powers."

There was a stunned reception to this claim.

"On top of that," Kerlan continued, "I found out other people have reported similar incidents. Rayden claimed that he saw her use the power of Thunder; Shimauma claimed to see her stop a stampede at the thought, clearly the domain of Safari Parks. And today, I, personally, saw Meimei use the power of Space." He paused for effect. "Now, what do any of these things have in common?"

"A lack of proof?" Mizuno suggested.

He laughed slightly, as though humouring a small child. "If anyone doubts me, let them look for themselves in my mind. I saw it, and so did Sonya, and Shimauma, and Rayden. The one thing that they all have in common," he began anew, "is that the true owners of those powers were there as Meimei--borrowed them, let's say."

"Get to the point," Ariel snapped. "You're taking far too long."

"I just don't want to lose anybody," Kerlan replied simply.

"You won't," Ariel snarled, not missing the implications. Celebria held up a hand, and the god backed down.

"The point, pure and simple, is that I think the Elders--I suppose in this case, Mizuno--knew Meimei had powers, but they weren't sure what sort of powers she had, so they let Suyuan and Thunder raise her as a Numina." Kerlan leaned over the table to punctuate his theory. "I think Meimei has the ability to borrow the powers of other deities."

"This is utter nonsense!" Mizuno exclaimed, looking around her for support. She did not meet with any.

"Mizuno," Thunder growled, "You said that she had no powers."

"She doesn't!" the goddess answered. "I could never sense any from her!"

"You don't lie very well, Mizuno," Kerlan observed. "Can you swear, in the Name, that you knew nothing whatsoever of Meimei's ability?"

"I--" Mizuno stuttered. "I--" She couldn't bring herself to do it, panicked as she was. She tried again to say something, but failed. She ducked her head.

Thunder slammed his fist down on the table. "You lied to me! You lied to me!" "You shouldn't be casting any stones," Celebria interrupted him. "You've told some whoppers in the past."

Thunder fumed, but did not disagree with her. He leaned back, but his fists remained clenched and his stony glare fixed on Mizuno, who had gone dead white and was shaking.

"The next question," piped up Logicalis, furiously, "is why Mizuno would lie."

They all turned to face her. She had her eyes scrunched tight. "I had just been made an Elder," she said, quietly. "It was my first Ceremony. I didn't know if I could do it right. And Hisan told me what powers to expect. I couldn't sense any of them. I didn't realise then that the powers could spontaneously manifest."

They sat in silence. "Mizuno," Celebria said, very slowly, "why do you continue to lie to us when you do it so badly?"

The goddess went bright red.

"Every one knows powers can manifest spontaneously," the leader continued, "and trying to rub it off on the Lady Hisan was in very poor taste."

"I agree," Thunder growled, a low rumble.

Mizuno gritted her teeth. "Deities are not supposed to 'borrow' powers!" she exclaimed.

"So you covered it up," Kerlan said, with a shake of the head.

"It's not supposed to happen!" Mizuno repeated.

"Just like mortals are not supposed to hold titles?" Celebria continued, furious. "What else have you been up to, Mizuno? You've been an Elder a long time, what else have you done?"

"I refuse to be talked to in this fashion!" Mizuno exclaimed, getting to her feet.

"Sit down," Thunder snapped. He leaned forward, his eyes glittering. "What did you find out about Meimei, exactly?"

Mizuno sat, hard, and furious. "I did the ritual," she said, taking a deep breath. "It proclaimed that Meimei was a Goddess, but it did not say of what. I did it three times but it would not give me an answer."

"So you used the default answer?" Logicalis exclaimed. "Proclaimed her a Numina?"

"I didn't know what else to do! Either she was goddess of something, or she wasn't one at all!" Mizuno snapped. "The answers were too vague, her prophecy too unclear--"

"She had a prophecy?!" Thunder roared, getting to his feet. Logicalis leapt forward to hold him back. "Why did you not tell me?!"

Mizuno sighed, rubbing her temples. "It said: 'undo what cannot be undone'!" she shrieked, nearing her wits' end. "Nothing can be undone! It goes against the Creator!" She gained a fraction of control, and her voice dropped down to its normal pitch. "As most children do not have prophecies connected to the ritual, it seemed easier just not to mention it!"

Celebria snickered. All the deities looked at her. "This is marvellous," she laughed. "How much has Mizuno screwed up, for the sake of 'what is right'?"

"Cel, this isn't the time or the place," Kerlan whispered, sotto voce.

"Of course it is," she giggled. "We're going to kill Rayden in a few hours because of 'what is right'. It's people like her, blinding obeying vague stories and anecdotes that have made the Omniverse the way it is!"

"And what is that?" Ariel sniped, "although I'm sure you're going to tell us anyway." He rested his chin on his palm, his elbow on the arm of the chair.

She rolled her eyes. "Our Omniverse. Filled with hard-working, honest individuals who are dead meat the moment someone aggressive comes along. Cowards and fools and people hiding behind scriptures and stories passed down through generations. Children's stories."

"You're bordering on blasphemy," Logicalis breathed, shocked.

"If I am, then good. It needs to be sad," she retorted. She spread her arms wide. "If the Creator doesn't like it, then the Creator can strike me down dead."

They all looked to Him, who sat sullenly in the corner. "I don't think that's going to happen," He said, taking a swig of something from a flask. "Nothing in Celebria tells me that she's in danger."

"That's good to know," she replied.

He was looking out the window. "How interesting," He murmured. "There's something brewing on the horizon. Looks like a storm up ahead." The other deities looked out as well. The sky was clear. There was no sign of clouds, let alone a storm.

They turned back to face each other. Logicalis looked faintly ill. Ariel looked faintly bored. Thunder was down-right furious. Mizuno was still shaking. Celebria and Kerlan exchanged glances.

"Do you really think we could overturn the Law?" he asked her, quietly. "This does have precedence."

"I know it does," she replied, shaking her head. "That's what worries me."

"Ask the Creator," Logicalis said, suddenly. "For a sign. the Creator knows what must be done."

Celebria smiled. "You're right. Of course that's the answer. But what sort of a sign should we look for?"

"I have one," He said, suddenly, looking at them straight on. His aura was starting to flare around him, although it subsided immediately. "Carry out the ceremony."

Celebria paled. "But--that means--"

He nodded, sadly, taking another swig from His flask. "Unfortunately, yes. It's a shame. Rayden was a good lad, but what's done is done."

"Are you sure?" asked Kerlan, his voice choked.

"I know my job as well as you know yours," He replied, quietly. He turned back to the window, leaving the room in silence.

Sonya Blade stepped out of the portal. "Oh, god," she breathed. "Why are we back here?"

Jikan Tai was standing next to her, as the portal closed, stranding them on the plain outside of the Temple of Light. Thick clouds covered the sky, as seven figures stood, arranged and frozen, all around them.

"The answers lie here," he said, softly.

"Couldn't they lie somewhere else, somewhere away from Lightning?" Sonya asked. "Oh god. I'm channelling Johnny again." She took a step forward, and came face to face with herself. "You-- stopped time?"

The Guardian nodded. He was walking up to examine Lightning, or rather, Liu Kang. "We are outside the stream, and so I can manipulate it at all."

"You could--change this, if you wanted?" she said, in awe. "Change all of it? Then why didn't you--?"

"I did," he replied, looking at Liu eye to eye. "But every time I made a move, Lightning would gain the advantage."

"So it had to play out this way," Sonya said sadly. She was standing next to Nova, and looking at the goddess with sorrow. "And you told Rayden this, I presume?"

"No," the mortal replied. "I hadn't done anything when I first met up with him, since the battle. The second time I met up with him...there was very little talking involved."

Sonya muttered something to herself, but didn't reply audibly to the Guardian, so he let the matter drop. He looked at Liu Kang, and at the ethereal outline of Lightning around him. He suddenly felt very unnerved. "Perhaps we should get his over with," he said suddenly.

"There's a thought," Sonya snapped. "What are we looking for, anyway?"

"I don't know," he admitted. He walked over to her, and held his hand out, then dropped it. In an instant, action exploded around her.

"You're very stubborn," Lightning/Liu smirked. "That's good."

"I'll show you stubborn!" Nova yelled, charging forward and creating a wave of fire that engulfed the entity. A wave that began to form itself into lightning...

Sonya wanted to run, and pull the goddess out of harm's way, but she forced herself to stand and watch, and wait.

Liu teleported out of reach of Nova's energy sweep.

Liu and Nova were fighting, hand to hand.

Liu had Nova by the throat, squeezing the energy out of her.

Sonya drew her gun, and fired.

Jikan Tai prepared to fire the massive burst of energy that he had been containing.

Liu jerked backwards, spraying blood.

Then a wave of light, dazzlingly bright washed over them--

"Wait!" Jikan Tai breathed. Instantly, time froze, and Sonya released the air she didn't know she'd been holding. The Guardian made a slight twirling gesture, concentrating furiously. The bright light retreated several feet, contracting and flowing back towards the earlier version of the Guardian. "Here. Sonya, look."

Sonya stepped forward. It was Liu, just after he'd been shot, but before he was hit by the energy wave. He was surrounded by the shadowy figure of Lightning, but as well, an even fainter ghostly image of himself was showing over top.

"What the hell?" the goddess breathed, stunned.

Jikan Tai was fascinated and in awe, at the same time. "It was Lightning. After Liu died, she saved him--his spirit--brought it with her, into her. He would have survived, if she hadn't died."

"He would have been a ghost," Sonya corrected.

Jikan Tai waved the comment away. "She was trying to save him."

"Or she was trying to bring him with her to Nova," Sonya pointed out. "Either way, it doesn't make any sense. Why would she?"

"Because I was lonely!" Lightning roared, her spirit suddenly rearing up and leaping forward.

Jikan Tai, startled, jumped backwards, but it wasn't far enough out of reach. Lightning grabbed a hold of him, her figure becoming more and more solid the longer she was away from Liu. She wrapped her hands around his neck, and he smashed to the ground. Sonya tried to pull Lightning away, but she wasn't fully corporeal; the goddess couldn't grasp a hold.

Instead she reached out with her space powers, wrapping the spirit in a field of energy. Lightning screamed, trying to break free, but she couldn't. Jikan Tai rolled to the side, and she fell off of him. He got to his feet, and held out his hands.

Again time began to leap backwards, around the mortal and the goddess, until Lightning was again entrenched in Liu's body.

Then the Guardian let time spin forward, and it unfolded as it had before, as it was meant to.

This time Sonya knew to shield her eyes from the bright glow. After the blast had faded, and they knew Lightning to be destroyed, Jikan Tai stopped the flow.

"What the hell was that?" Sonya asked him, looking down towards the hollow where her friend Liu Kang had been standing mere moments ago.

Jikan Tai was breathing hard. "It's Lightning," he said, staggering backwards, still trying to take it all in. "She's was--is--still alive. Somehow, she must have managed to throw herself out of reality just before the blast struck her. But she's trapped here, in this time frame."

"Can we kill her?" Sonya asked, urgently, unconsciously dropping into a defensive fighting position. She looked around her as though she expected someone to jump out at any moment.

He shook his head. "No--she would be just as hard to kill as the last time."

"And we didn't actually kill her last time," Sonya admitted.

"We did, in a sense. She's trapped here, in this moment of time," Jikan Tai corrected. "She can't do any more harm. She wouldn't have, at any rate, until I started messing with the flow. But I undid whatever damage I might have done."

"Whatever, let's just get out of here. We can't take the chance of setting her loose, again." Sonya shivered, looking around her. Rayden was mourning Nova. Kerlan and Jax supported Jikan Tai while Sonya helped Johnny Cage get to his feet.

The Guardian gestured with his hand. A portal formed a few feet away. Warily they approached it but Lightning was nowhere to be seen. Sonya stepped through.

An instant later she found herself in the Hospital corridor. Jikan Tai was through a split-second later, and was just about to say something when Sonya lurched forward, grabbing his arm. "It's Meimei," she whispered, closing her eyes. "Something's happened--I can't make it out, it's hard to tell- -Rayden!" Her eyes flipped open. "They've taken Rayden!"

On To The End