Meimei awoke to see someone bending over her. "Sonya?" she asked, groggily. "Is that you?"

The goddess, an unfamiliar one, smiled gently. "Where have they taken Rayden?" she asked, her voice low, and sweet sounding.

"I don't know," Meimei admitted, trying to sit up. Her head was pounding. "Kerlan came in-- he was trying to delay Lars--I pushed past him--I fell--" She lay back down so that the stars would clear from her vision.

"Where?" the goddess repeated. Her voice was fainter, and Meimei's eyesight was deteriorating rapidly; she could barely see the woman leaning over her.

"I don't know--the Hall, maybe? No, Earth. They'd do the ceremony on Earth," she murmured, closing her eyes. There was a slight brush of wind. Then someone touched her shoulder. Her eyes blinked open.

"Meimei," Sonya said, helping her to sit up. "Meimei, are you all right?"

"What?" the goddess asked, confused. "Where did she go?"

"Who?" asked Jikan Tai, who was standing beside them.

"There was a goddess--she was asking where they had taken Rayden," Meimei replied. "Oh, my head."

Sonya and the mortal exchanged looks. "How long ago was this?" the goddess asked.

"Only five seconds ago," Meimei answered. "But--when did you get here? Did you get my message?"

"I did," Sonya confirmed, helping her to her feet, and Jikan Tai took Meimei's other arm, as support. "I think it was delayed, because of the time travel. We just got here now, and there's no one here but you."

Meimei blinked. "Oh, no," she breathed. "I hope we're not too late--Sonya, I think they're going to perform the ceremony!"

"It's not time yet!" Jikan Tai cried. "We've got to stop them. Where did they take him, Meimei?"

"Earth," she said, holding her head. "I think they'd take him to Earth."

Sonya nodded, and a portal formed. "Jikan Tai, you go and delay the ceremony. Do whatever you have to."

"Where are you going?" he asked, as he headed for the portal.

"I've got to get Meimei to a Healer, I think she has a concussion," Sonya replied. "We'll find Lindara, that will kill two birds with one stone."

"What?" Meimei exclaimed, woozy.

"Never mind. It's an expression." Sonya started to steer Meimei away, but Jikan Tai stopped her. He wrapped Meimei's arm around his shoulder.

"You go, Sonya. You're better at disruptions, anyway. I'll find Lindara, as fast as I can."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

He nodded.

She took a deep breath, and headed through the portal. It closed behind her.

"Careful now, Lady Meimei," Jikan Tai said, quietly. "I'm going to teleport you."

She nodded, and he whisked her away.

They were gathered on the plain outside the Temple. The Elders, Celebria, Kerlan, and Amai stood in a circle, two feet apart from each other, their eyes closed, and their hands clasped behind them.

Lars, the burly God of Police, who so recently apprehended Turan, was half-leading, half- dragging Rayden up the hill.

"Let me go!" the thunder god fumed. "I have to find out what happened to Meimei! She was hurt!"

"She will be cared for," Lars growled. "Stop fighting me." Rayden's hands had been bound with a rope of energy, and he struggled against it.

"She was hurt, and I don't think any one knows that she's there," Rayden repeated. "Just let me check on her."

"No," Lars repeated. "Rayden, don't make this harder than it has to be." He shoved Rayden into the center of the circle, and the god fell to one knee before he got to his feet again.

"Rayden, God of Thunder, Lord of Earth Realm," Celebria intoned, quietly, "You have one last chance to save yourself. Do you still maintain that you have been seeing the ghost of your dead wife, the Lady Hiko, Goddess of Fire?"

He fell silent.

"Answer the question!" Celebria barked.

Overhead, thunder boomed.

Sonya Blade, teleporting in at the bottom of the hill, starting up as fast as she could. Say no, Rayden, lie if you want, just don't say--

"I do not deny it," Rayden said, defeatedly.

The assembled deities broke protocol and glanced at each other.

"Then I have no choice but to forcibly remove your powers, so that you may never be a threat to any one. Ever." Celebria's voice was choking. She held her chin higher. "Let us announce ourselves now, to the Creator. In the name."

"No!" Sonya screamed, finally reaching them. Lars stepped in her path. "No, you can't do this, he's not insane, he's not seeing ghosts! Believe me!"

They ignored her.

"I am Celebria, Goddess of Truth, daughter of Paene and Kenubi."

"I am Kerlan, God of Communication, son of Paene and Kenubi."

"I am Amai, Goddess of Justice, daughter of Timbo and Amat."

"I am Logicalis, God of Logic, son of Gerard and Fleurdelis."

"Stop this!" Sonya cried, again pushing her way forward, trying to slip by Lars. But he knew his job and did it well; she never got more than a glimpse of the circle, or of Rayden, standing the center, trying to bear the end with dignity.

"I am Mizuno, Goddess of Water, daughter of Mizuni and Aqu."

"I am Ariel, God of Air, son of Aeris and Merodi."

"I am Thor, God of Thunder, son of Sturm and Lilith."

The last member in the circle sighed. "I am Death," said He.

There was a crackle of power, and energy began to flow around the circle, in the air, on the wind.

"In the Name," all the members of the circle intoned.

"Let us now--" Celebria began.

A flash of light and someone appeared suddenly in a swirl of purple, crashing into Celebria, sending the goddess flying and breaking the circle. The energy held in the air dissipated instantly.

Jikan Tai rolled with the impact and go to his feet. He looked dishevelled and his cape was torn. He held his staff and the red jewel was glowing, pulsating furiously.

"Guardian!" Celebria roared, as Kerlan helped her to her feet. "What in the name of the Creator do you think you're doing?"

"He's saving all of you," someone exclaimed from behind the deities. They turned to see Johnny Cage, Meimei and Lindara heading up the hill. The God of Fire was limping, and was covered in bandages, but awake. He supported Meimei, with Lindara's help.

"Johnny!" Sonya exclaimed, running to him. She whirled to face Jikan Tai. "What happened?"

"Something bad," the Guardian replied, simply. He ducked in through the break of the circle and grabbed Rayden by the arm. Lars made a move for him, but the mortal held up his staff. "Don't try anything. I have no problem fighting you off, if I need to." He turned to the Thunder God. "I know why you're seeing Hiko."

Rayden blinked. ""

Jikan Tai nodded. "It's not her you're seeing at all. It's Lightning."

Jikan Tai held on to Meimei tightly as he teleported her to his sister, Lindara. The goddess clung to him, still faintly disoriented, and upset over Rayden.

"Jikan Tai!" Lindara exclaimed as they appeared, happy to see him. But her smile faded when she realised that Meimei was hurt. She took the goddess' hand and pulled her over. "You've hurt your head?"

Meimei blinked and nodded, rubbing the side of her head. "I fell," she explained. "I was trying to fight off Lars--"

"That would hurt anybody," Lin agreed, sitting her sister down on the chair that she had just vacated. "Here. I'll clear that up for you." She placed her hands on the sides of Meimei's skull, and started humming to herself, weaving a healing spell.

Meimei sighed. "That's a lot better, Lin, thank you," she said, gratefully.

Jikan Tai cleared his throat. "How's Johnny?" he asked, looking over the God of Fire's bedside.

Lindara sighed. "He should be awake by now--his energy levels are certainly high enough. I mean, he'd be weak but--"

The god stirred.

It was only a slight movement, a twitch, but it startled all the occupants of the room. "Johnny?" Lindara exclaimed, taking his hand. He started to groan as he began to come around.

"What?" he murmured, his eyes opening a crack. "Where am I?"

"The Omniversal Hospital," Jikan Tai answered. "You were badly injured by Turan."

"Turan," Johnny repeated, wearily. Lindara began to send him more healing energy, to help bring him up all the way, and as she did so, he became more and more lucid. "Maresium."

"That's where you fought him, yes," the Guardian replied. He looked worried, and pulled Meimei away from the bedside. "Meimei, we must be going."

She nodded, anxious herself. "I know, I was just thinking that myself," she replied.

"Thinking what?" Lindara asked. She looked between their faces. "By the Creator. It's Rayden, isn't it?"

They didn't need to reply.

"What's Rayden?" croaked Johnny. "What happened?"

"It's too long to start now--" Suddenly Meimei gasped, clutching her head, and she teetered to the side. Jikan Tai caught her, helping her back to the chair. He looked over to Lindara to see if she knew anything, but she was staggering backwards, pale as a ghost and shaking.

"Rayden," she said, her voice starting to break. "Why are they doing this to you?"

"What?" Johnny cried, trying to sit up.

"Rayden," Meimei sobbed on to the Guardian's shoulder. "Oh Creator, we're too late!"

"Stop this!" Sonya cried, again pushing her way forward, trying to slip by Lars. But he knew his job and did it well; she never got more than a glimpse of the circle, or of Rayden, standing the center, trying to bear the end with dignity.

"I am Mizuno, Goddess of Water, daughter of Mizuni and Aqu."

"I am Ariel, God of Air, son of Aeris and Merodi."

"I am Thor, God of Thunder, son of Sturm and Lilith."

The last member in the circle sighed. "I am Death," said He.

There was a crackle of power, and energy began to flow around the circle, in the air, on the wind.

"In the Name," all the members of the circle intoned.

"Let us now begin the ceremony," Celebria said, her voice flat. "Let us remember that in the Name of the Creator, all is right, all is good. In the Name."

"In the Name," they chorused.

"In all things there is a beginning," Celebria continued. "In all things there is an ending. We are here to witness the end of Rayden's reign as Thunder God, as Lord of Earth."

The magic in the air ran up and down Sonya's arms, her legs, her spine. "Stop this!" she pleaded to Lars, who had grabbed her by the arms, and despite her own strength, she could not break free. He shook his head.

"It has been decided that Rayden must lose his powers, for the safety of the Omniverse. We ask that the Creator favour us with this action. It has been decreed by Law. It is so." Celebria dipped her head after saying the sacred words. It only needed a single phrase to complete the ceremony. "In the Name of the Creator."

Rayden listened to the Elders and the members of the Council announce themselves. He felt as though he wasn't really there, but watching the ceremony from far away; the sounds seemed distorted and unreal.

Hiko stood next to him, the tears in her eyes glistening, bringing out the blue of her irises. She stood next to his shoulder, watching all that was happening, and she took his hand. For once, he lost the urge to forget her, to wish her back into oblivion. He squeezed back.

"In the Name of the Creator," Celebria whispered, far away in the distance, and Rayden heard a roaring in his ears, and felt something start to flicker over him. It was a curious numbness that started in his feet and was working its way up. When it reached his knees they gave out and he sank to the ground in a sigh, in slow-motion, strangers standing tall around him. But Hiko was there, at his shoulder, kneeling beside him. She had never left him.

The tingling crept up his legs and he lay down on the grass, looking up at the sky, the rolling clouds. His sky, his Realm. Hiko bent over him, her long, spark-red hair trailing down. She smiled, and took his hand again between her own. He smiled back up at her.

I've missed you, he thought to her, the tension draining out of him. He was flooded with relief. I've missed you and Nova... "Don't worry about a thing," she whispered, her voice the only thing he could hear. "I'm here, I'm here to be with you. We will always be together."

We will always be together, he repeated, with a happy sigh. I've waited so long for that, Hiko, my love...

He closed his eyes.

"No!" Sonya said, her voice barely above a whisper. Lars let go of her arms and twisted around, to see what she saw: Rayden collapse to the grass. A faint smile on his lips. The closing of his eyes. The flash of lightning that split the sky in two.

"It is done," said He Who Must Not Be Named, with a heavy sigh. "The powers of Thunder are returning to the Creator, as is their owner."

There was another flash, of a portal; it was Jikan Tai, and Meimei, and Lindara, and...Johnny Cage?

"Johnny," Sonya whispered, as he approached, horror growing on his face.

Meimei had her eyes closed, she was swaying in the wind, trying to keep from wailing. Lindara sagged against the Guardian's chest and buried her face in his shoulder.

"It is done," Celebria said, slowly, heavy-hearted. She turned away from the circle, averting her eyes. Kerlan took her hand.

The energy remained, circling around the deities, a charge that could not be dispelled. A crackle in the air, a spark where two things touched. The breeze kicked up, and the circle began to disperse, not looking at each other.

"By the Creator," Logicalis suddenly whispered, pointing a finger in terror.

A figure was forming over the body of the near-dead god. The energy that flowed around the circle of the Elders was forming itself into a person, into a woman, dressed in flowing red. She was kneeling by Rayden, his hand in her own. She raised her head to look at them.

"Hiko!" Celebria gasped. "But--but you were--this is not possible!"

Mizuno fainted. No one paid her any attention.

Sonya pushed her way past a stunned Lars to the circle. Hiko looked up at her, sadly, still holding Rayden's hand while his breath slowed even more. Jikan Tai drew away from Lindara, and came to stand next to the Goddess of Space. He looked at her, and she nodded.

"That's the presence I felt," she said, with a nod to the still-coalescing goddess.

"He was right," Thunder whispered, staggering backwards, white as a sheet. "He was right, and we--we--"

"He was wrong," Jikan Tai said suddenly, his voice loud in the stillness, and hard. "That is not Hiko."

The goddess looked up at him, her eyes narrowing.

"That's Lightning," the Guardian finished.

The other deities all stared at him, or her, or each other, their faces mirroring the same shock, horror and abject terror at the mention of the goddess who nearly destroyed them all.

Hiko dropped Rayden's hand, and stood. She was now fully solid, and her aura was growing around her. But it was not a red-orange flicker of fire; it was a white-blue crackle of lightning. For a moment, the aura seemed to explode outward in a flash of dazzling light; then it faded away, and she was gone.

"Not again," Johnny said, tightly. He still wore the hospital bandages, and he was having problems breathing. "I don't think we can beat her, again."

"We'll have to," Sonya said, through gritted teeth. "Celebria! I need you to mobilise the Omniverse, we'll need all the fighters we can get." The goddess of Truth stared at her in incomprehension. Sonya sighed, and looked to Jikan Tai. "I thought you said she was trapped in that time frame."

"I guess I was wrong," he answered, grimly. "I've never come across anyone who could do anything like that, in any case."

"Look!" Meimei screamed, in terror.

The deities first whirled on her, as her sudden cry startled them; then they whirled to where she was pointing.

Rayden was getting to his feet, stiffly. He stretched, grinning, his eyes crackling with power. "It's good to be solid again," he said, cheerfully.

"Get out of here, now!" Jikan Tai roared to the other deities. He and Sonya both dropped into defensive stances. Johnny tried to join in, but Meimei pulled him back. He knew how weak he was, but he wasn't willing to turn around.

"Uh uh," Lightning/Rayden said, with a grin. He snapped his fingers.

"I've lost contact with the rest of the Omniverse," Kerlan almost immediately reported. "Looks like she hasn't learned any new tricks."

"What?" Celebria howled.

Rayden laughed. "I've learned plenty since the last time we met, Kerlan. I'm just getting warmed up. Don't worry."

"Who's worrying?" Johnny asked no one in particular.

"We're willing to do what we need to do," Sonya snapped to the god/goddess. "Don't think you're getting away from this one."

Rayden sniffed, drawing himself up to his full height. "You thought you killed me last time, remember that? Well, you didn't. And guess what. I'm going to be even harder this time around."

"I'm glad to know you've still got your sense of humour," Sonya growled in response. She held her arms out towards the possessed deity. The air rippled, and a black hole began to form behind Rayden, suddenly dragging him towards it. "We've learned a lot since last time too."

The god scowled and tried to teleport away, but Kerlan, Logicalis, Ariel and Thunder pooled their powers, creating a net that held the deity from transporting away. Celebria and Lindara created a rope between them, and Lars created a containment shield.

"Now!" Sonya yelled, creating another distortion that forced the deity to move closer to Lars, to try and escape the sinkholes. The God of Police reached out with his powers, creating the containment field. Lindara threw the rope, guiding it mentally, and it wrapped around the form of her brother, tightly.

"Got him!" she exclaimed.

Meimei, supporting Johnny, cheered, but he shook his head. "It's not over yet," he said, very quietly.

Rayden fumed, bound. Sonya let the black holes fade away, and he turned to face her. "I said that you haven't seen anything yet!" he said, fiercely, and suddenly his power expanded outward, a giant shockwave. It knocked all the deities off their feet.

As the energy cleared, as the deities regained their senses, Rayden was standing, gripping Sonya tightly by the throat. She was clutching his arm, but she was becoming weaker and weaker. He was absorbing her aura, the purple and black energy swirling into his own.

"No!" Jikan Tai yelled, the first to get to his feet, throwing himself at the god. They collided. All three fell to the ground, as Rayden dropped Sonya. She gasped, half-awake, but didn't have the strength to get to her feet.

"Jikan Tai," Rayden said, almost a purr, as they separated and got back to their feet. "You have been so helpful to me, over the years. How can I begin to repay you?"

"I will fight you," he said, fiercely. "I will destroy you. I've done it before, in other time- lines."

The god blinked. "What?"

The Guardian smiled. He raised his arms, above his head. "Time Stream--"

A bolt of lightning struck him in the chest, and he staggered backwards, groaning.

"Jikan Tai!" Lindara screamed, finally getting to her feet. Many of the other deities, all of the Elders, were out cold. Only she, Meimei and Johnny were awake. She was determined, this time to make a difference. She reached out with her plant powers, reaching into the Realm, letting it feel her rage and her sorrow and determination.

The ground began to buckle and heave. It was responding to her, but not as well as her own Realm would.

Rayden growled, and turned away from Jikan Tai for a split second. That was enough time for the mortal to leap towards the god with a savage flying kick. The force of the blow knocked Rayden off his feet, and sent him crashing to the ground. He looked up at the mortal, with a scowl.

Meimei opened her eyes, groaning. She could see Rayden standing, with Sonya by the throat. Then Jikan Tai threw himself at the god, a streak of purple. They all tumbled to the ground. Sonya seemed unconscious.

Beside Meimei, Johnny Cage was coming around. He was trying to get up when Lindara screamed. "Jikan Tai!"

The goddess reached out with her powers, causing an earthquake which only succeeded in knocking the God of Fire back to the ground. Rayden looked to the plant goddess for a moment, and Jikan Tai kicked him.

Meimei's head was spinning. But she knew she had to help. But how, that was the question, how? She focused on the Guardian, willing an answer to come into her head. She was so frightened, and yet now she seemed so clear-headed; as though she wasn't in any danger at all. Her headache faded away and she got to her feet, her fear fading away. She felt as though she was not really there, standing on the plain; she felt as though she was looking at it as someone else. She lifted up her hand.

Jikan Tai could barely breathe. The god's blast and then the bolt of lightning, had wounded him severely. Lindara's groundshake had bought him a few minutes, but it barely seemed enough.

A glow caught his eye. He could barely afford to be distracted, but as the glow grew in intensity, he could not look away.

Meimei stood, an rainbow-assorted aura in full blossom around her. She lifted her arm, and Jikan Tai felt a tingling sensation in his right hand. He looked down and realised something was forming in it; it was his staff, the jewel brilliantly lit, and glowing with a light that mirrored Meimei's own.

Rayden roared, and created a blast of energy that rippled out, but Meimei stopped it with a gesture, a spectrum-shaded shield forming around her, Johnny, and Lindara.

Jikan Tai held up his staff. "Time Stream--" Something stopped him, he wasn't sure what. He hesitated, and realised that in doing so, he was lost.

Rayden whirled so quickly, and leapt for the Guardian. He would not let him complete the spell.

Jikan Tai grunted with the force of the impact as the god slammed into him; he rolled out of the way and tried to get to his feet, but Rayden grabbed him by the cape and yanked hard, trying to bring him down. The mortal strained, and it was the cape that finally gave; it ripped half-way from his shoulder, the silver pin creating the tear.

He looked to Meimei. Her eyes seemed to roll up and she fainted dead away. Johnny Cage and Lindara both rushed to catch her. The mortal looked to Rayden, confidence growing brightly in his green eyes. "I know how to set things right," he said. He gestured slightly with one hand, and the three conscious deities--Meimei was already starting to come around--teleported away. Rayden looked up, fear in his eyes.

Jikan Tai smiled, and whisked himself away, knowing how to correct the mistake--stop it before it started.

He teleported backwards in time and space to just a little overhead of where Celebria had been standing. As he emerged from the timestream, he came crashing down on her, breaking the spell--just as he had thought. Rayden was safe. And so were they--for the time being. Lightning was still out there, but for the moment, she was not a threat, since she didn't have any one to inhabit.

The Guardian got to his feet, quickly.

"Guardian!" Celebria roared, as Kerlan helped her to her feet. "What in the name of the Creator do you think you're doing?"

"He's saving all of you," someone exclaimed from behind the deities. They turned to see Johnny Cage, Meimei and Lindara heading up the hill. The God of Fire was supporting Meimei, with Lindara's help. Jikan Tai breathed a mental sigh of relief--he hadn't been sure if the mass teleport would work through time travel. But it apparently it did.

"Johnny!" Sonya exclaimed, running to him. She whirled to face Jikan Tai. "What happened?"

"Something bad," the Guardian replied, simply. He knew there wasn't time, yet, for this. He ducked in through the break of the circle and grabbed Rayden by the arm. Lars made a move for him, but the mortal held up his new staff. It felt so right to be holding it again. "Don't try anything. I have no problem fighting you off, if I need to." He turned to the Thunder God, smiling, flushed with victory. "I know why you're seeing Hiko."

Rayden blinked. ""

Jikan Tai nodded. "It's not her you're seeing at all. It's Lightning."

The Elders and the Council members looked at each other in shock and confusion.

Rayden stared, open-mouthed, at the Guardian. "What...what are you talking about?" he whispered. "Lightning's dead."

"No, she's not," Johnny Cage supplied. "She's using you, Rayden, just like she used Liu. As a host."

"I would never have--" Rayden blurted, horrified, but Lindara cut him off.

"She's disguising herself as Hiko, Rayden. That's the ghost you've been seeing. Lightning." She shook her head, slightly, as if she still couldn't believe it.

She wasn't the only one having a hard time grasping the concept. "This is preposterous!" Mizuno fumed. Logicalis and Ariel nodded.

"I thought Lightning was dead?" Celebria asked again, confused. Kerlan was watching Jikan Tai intently.

"I don't think they'd make up something like this," he pointed out. "We have to assume they're right."

Thunder snorted. "It could just be a ploy--"

"Stop that!" Meimei yelled, fiercely. "This isn't one of your power struggles! This is reality!"

Her father paled at the sudden onslaught. "Meimei--"

"No," she said, quietly, her voice tightening, "No. This is not the time or the place." She then turned to face the Guardian. "Jikan Tai, I need to talk to you, for a moment." She paused. "Alone."

He nodded. "I can take you outside Time. Then we won't be wasting any."

By this time, Sonya had recovered from her shock and had picked up the thread of thought. "But won't that put you at risk of being attacked by Lightning?" she asked, quietly.

"No," he replied, simply. "Not any more than staying here will. I was wrong; she's not stuck in Time. She's simply stuck without a body."

Rayden started to sway, as the implications were growing on him. Lindara ran forward to support him, sending him healing energy.

Meimei took Jikan Tai's sleeve. "Do it," she whispered. "There isn't any time to waste."

He nodded, and teleported her away.

His first reaction was to take her to the Wood. There, he knew, they were safe from Lightning, and he could take her back to the moment that they left. But the Wood seemed to drive Rayden to distraction. It caused a break-down for Lindara. And yet... Nova had not been affected by it. Perhaps Meimei would fare as well...

He took her by the elbow, ready to teleport her away the moment she became uncomfortable. But as her eyes adjusted to the sudden change in surroundings, she smiled.

"Where are we?" she asked, looking around her, at the tall trees, the slivers of sky overhead, the crystal-clear ponds. "I--this isn't Earth, is it?"

"No," he said, simply. "This is what I call the Wood Between Worlds. I--" He stopped. He crouched down by one of the ponds. There was a small round hole where a chunk of grass had been taken out--or rather, rammed down by something. Something about the diameter of his staff. Jax had left the staff here, before they left, and the Guardian had seen it the last time he was here. And now it was in his hand. He thought that perhaps Meimei had recreated his staff, but now it seemed that she had brought his old one. How could she do that, when she did not know the Wood existed?

"Jikan Tai?" she asked, hesitantly, bringing him back to the matter at hand. "I want to ask you a few questions about your powers."

"Ask away," he replied, straightening up.

"I..." she paused, trying to find the right words. "I drifted out, and all of a sudden I felt as though I was watching through someone else's eyes. And I could see Johnny, beside me, and he had... shadows that stretched out, on either side of him. And I looked to Lindara, and I could see shadowy versions of her, too. But I looked to you, and you didn't have any. Just yourself. Is that because....?"

"It is because I am alone," Jikan Tai said, solemnly. "Those shadow versions are the versions all beings have that are in other Omniverses. These ponds--" he indicated with a sweep of his arm "-- lead into other Omniverses. Some have Rayden, and Hiko, and Nova alive and well. In others, they never existed at all. In some the gods themselves never existed. In others--" He shook his head. "I am getting off topic. I hope this is not confusing you, Lady Meimei."

"You know," she said, staring down at one of the ponds, "It should be--but it's not. It just makes a weird sort of sense, is all." She shrugged, then looked up at him. "Hold it--you said you were alone?"

"I have no other versions of me," he said, quietly. "There are no other Guardians of Time. I am Yellow Chrysanthemum, and Jikan Tai; and there is only me."

She stared at him. "But--how is that possible?"

"A quirk of fate, or intention of the Creator, I do not know." He looked at his staff, enjoying its familiar weight in his hand. "You said you had questions--what are the others?"

She recognised the query as both a sign that she was venturing towards something he didn't want to discuss as well as the fact that they should keep their minds on the matters at hand. Lightning.

"I don't know if it's a question or--well..." Meimei seemed to fumble for words again. "It's hard to describe. Your powers are like nothing I've ever experienced before." She sighed, and tried again. "When I looked at Lightning--I--I didn't see other versions of Lightning. I saw something hazy, a fog or something, I'm not sure. And I saw Hiko. And I saw someone else. I don't understand what that means. If the shadows are versions, then why doesn't Lightning have other versions of herself--or--or is she Hiko, in another Realm?"

Jikan Tai blinked, gears turning in his head. "No." He chuckled, almost in surprise. "No. Those are very good questions, I wonder why I did not think of them before. Lightning does not exist; there is no such person. There was an entity that I met, that had no form or shape. The destroyer was lonely, and wanted me to stay with it. So it formed itself into someone it thought I would love. Nova."

"What?" was all Meimei had to say.

"Lightning is a version of Nova. I was in love with her, for many years; and the destroyer's-- Lightning's--trick worked. I let her into our Omniverse. She got trapped there, and so she tried her trick again: she became Hiko, so that Rayden would let his guard down." Jikan Tai paused again. Ideas were running rampant through his head, and he had to sort them all. "She became Hiko."

"I know," the goddess said, patiently.

"No, you don't understand," Jikan Tai blurted, his eyes growing wild and for a moment she remembered the strange fear she had of him when she saw him in the corridor of the Temple, a million years ago. "No, she took Liu in, perhaps, in order to become Hiko--she--no, wait--" He began to pace back and forth, his torn cape fluttering around his ankles with the movement, the tear gaping at the goddess. "If she truly did become Hiko, then perhaps--perhaps I can bring her back!"

Meimei took a step backwards. "What are you saying?" she gasped, horrified. "You can't bring back someone from the dead! It is impossible!"

"I try and believe six impossible things before breakfast," Jikan Tai said to her, stubbornly. "Meimei, listen to me. I think I've got it. Lightning's version of Nova was imperfect, because she was drawing on my memories as a guide. But if she was drawing on Hiko as a guide, then the copy could be near-perfect. If we had a way to separate the copy from Lightning--it would be--it would be as though Hiko never died at all!"

The group watched as Meimei and Jikan Tai disappeared, taken by the Guardian to a place-- and/or time--unknown. Lindara held on to Rayden's arm. He had stopped swaying, but had started shaking, and she wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not.

"I can't believe what is going on," Johnny Cage was saying, a few feet away from her. "I'm out of commission for a few days, and everything just falls apart."

"Johnny," Sonya snapped, tiredly. "Keep it quiet."

"I wonder what happened," Kerlan mused. "In the original version."

"Does it matter?" Lindara snapped, irritated. Then she realised how much she had wanted to know about the first battle with Lightning. "Sorry, Kerlan. I didn't mean that."

He looked at her for a moment. "I know," he replied. "Tell me later, when we're all done here, okay?"

"I will," she agreed. "It's a promise."

"Sorry to break up your little fact-sharing party," Ariel grouched, "but what exactly are we supposed to be doing?"

"I don't know about you, but I'm thinking," Celebria returned savagely. "About what we nearly did here. We nearly--" She choked on her sentence.

"We nearly killed Rayden, and we were wrong," Logicalis finished.

"Exactly. What if this has happened before? What if it happens again?" Celebria asked them.

"It's tradition!" Mizuno exclaimed, throwing up her hands. "It's the way things have always been done!"

Celebria, Kerlan and Logicalis exchanged looked. "Shut up, Mizuno," Celebria grumbled. The Elder started to say something and then abruptly shut her mouth.

"I think a complete overhaul of the system is in order," Logicalis volunteered. "Starting with getting rid of the Elders."

Thunder, Ariel and Mizuno stared at him in shock. He Who Should Not Be Named chuckled. "I'm for it," He said, taking a swig of His bottle. "Logicalis is right. It's time for a change."

"It's the first thing we should look into, when we're through here," Kerlan said, confidently. "This has been long in coming."

There was a sparkle of light, and all deities present assumed that it was Jikan Tai bringing himself and Meimei back. But the portal was not purple-shaded; it was a brilliant melange of all the colours of the rainbow, and several that did not exist in nature. Meimei stepped out, her ordinary robes gone, and replaced with a long dress of white, that was all the different colours depending on how the light hit it.

The deities gasped, Thunder and Rayden and Lindara the most affected by the transformation. Jikan Tai stepped out as well, smiling slightly. He took Meimei's hand.

"May I present to you the Lady Meimei, Goddess of Change."

"I don't think I get this," Meimei fretted, worriedly. "How can we separate them?"

"I--uh--" Jikan Tai faltered. "I haven't actually got that far yet."

Something about this struck Meimei as very funny, and she began to laugh. And as she laughed, all the tension, stress, anger and pain that she had been holding inside came out, as a set of giggles that grew into an outright laughing fit. The mortal watched her in confusion. He couldn't see what was so amusing.

She had to sit down, she was laughing so hard. So she did, settling down into the thick, sweet grass. Finally, after several long minutes, the spell petered out and she rested her head on the ground, with a sigh. "Sorry, Guardian."

"Do you feel better now?" he asked, serious.

"Yes," she admitted.

"Then it was a good thing," he replied. He was so deadpan that she couldn't tell whether or not he was kidding. She gave it up as a lost cause. She rolled onto her back and looked up at the slivers of blue sky visible through the canopy. She was aware of the mortal standing over her, but she began to lose herself in the view.

Suddenly she felt a tap on her shoulder, and she sat up, startled. It wasn't the Guardian who had tapped her; he was still standing a few feet from her.

It was a small child, dressed in simple Omniversal robes.

"What?" Jikan Tai was stuttering. He was at a loss for words and explanation. Meimei wasn't. She had studied the Scroll, and the Histories, and she knew exactly who she was talking to.

"Great Creator," she said, sitting up so she could bow. "What may I do for you?"

"A great deal," the child murmured, smiling, happy that she knew it. "I waited a long time for you, dearest, so that you could change what mistakes I made."

"Mistakes?" Meimei blurted, surprised. "You are the Creator!"

"Even I make errors," the child admitted. "Choices were made by my children that led to something that I regret, that broke a promise I made a long time ago." The child reached around its back to bring out a small bunch of flowers. "You are here, Meimei, to help me make right what has been made wrong."

"I will do anything," she said, softly, sure, for she knew what the Creator meant. "I will help in any way I can."

The child smiled, and looked up to Jikan Tai, who was standing shock-straight and petrified. It held a flower to him. "That's celandine, Guardian. For joys to come." It held the flower out, beckoning, and the mortal, very cautiously, stepped forward to take it. The child then turned to Meimei again. "This is a snowdrop, for hope. This is Lily of the Valley, for the return of happiness; and this is for you, dearest." It was a grain, she wasn't sure what kind, and she took it separately from the flowers. "It is for change, Meimei. It is for you alone, for you are the Goddess of Change."

She looked up, sharply. Startled. "I am a Numina," she protested.

"Another mistake in judgement," the child smiled. It reached out and touched her forehead, gently.

She gasped, as she suddenly felt flooded with a power, with knowing and with a sense of trust. Jikan Tai gasped as well, and she guessed that her internal change was visible on the outside, as well. She closed her eyes, enjoying the new-found sense of self, of finally knowing her true purpose in life.

When she opened her eyes, the child was gone. Jikan Tai rubbed his temples, and looked at the flower he had been given. Meimei looked at hers as well, and noticed that her dress had changed. Now she was wearing one that sparkled white and reflected colours in the light.

"I'm the Goddess of Change," she said, a smile growing on her face. She looked up to Jikan Tai, brightly. "I am the Goddess of Change!"

He smiled back, caught in the wave of happiness she gave off. "You look like one."

She grinned, and got to her feet. "Hope and the return of happiness," she said, looking at the flowers. "And change."

"And joys to come," he added.

"I think this is a good thing," she said, softly.

He nodded. "Lady Meimei, Goddess of Change--I think it is time we returned to our own time."

"We still have to think of a plan," she reminded him.

"I have," he replied. "And I think the Creator had something to do with it."

"Oh?" she asked.

"You are the Goddess of Change," he repeated, slyly. "I can think of a few things that need to be changed."

Thunder stepped forward, the first to find his voice, although he was far from coherent. "Meimei," he breathed. He just stopped and looked at her, in awe, and pride.

She smiled, and ran to him, hugging him tightly. Rayden and Lindara looked at each other, and she beckoned them over. Both were hesitant, and unsure, but after a moment, Lindara stepped over and wrapped her arms around her sister. Rayden and Thunder glared at each other for a moment. Rayden did not join in, so the hug split off and went to him, instead.

"How did this happen?" Mizuno stuttered. "She--I--"

"Mizuno," Celebria snapped. "Give it a rest." The Leader of the Council turned to Jikan Tai, a question on her lips. He held up a hand.

"There will be time enough to tell the whole thing," he said, quietly. "For now, we have a greater job to do."

Meimei pulled away from her family, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "The Guardian's right. We need to take care of Lightning, and we need to--" She paused, and looked to him for confirmation. He shook his head, and she fell silent.

"That is better kept a secret," he told her. "Just in case it doesn't work out."

She nodded.

Jikan Tai looked to Sonya, and Johnny. "You are both experienced fighting Lightning. Will you help?"

They both nodded, simultaneously.

He turned to Kerlan, who anticipated his question, and nodded as well.

"I want to help, too," Lindara piped up.

"So do I," chorused Celebria and Logicalis.

"As do I," agreed Lars.

"I will also help," said Ariel.

Thunder growled. "I will as well."

Mizuno fretted, but finally, she just nodded, defeatedly.

There was only one person who did not volunteer to fight. He stood apart from the group, eyeing Meimei with mistrust and suspicion.

Jikan Tai took a deep breath and walked up to him. "Lord," he said, respectfully, "We need your help."

"My powers are hardly helpful in a battle, unless you are suicidal," He replied. "I cannot kill; I can only bring the dead to the Creator."

"That is where we need your help," the Guardian replied.

He looked startled. "Just what are you planning, boy?"

"Will you help us?" the mortal persisted.

The old man stared at him for a moment, daring the Guardian to back down, but the mortal held His gaze, steadily. "I'll do it," Death replied, with a hint of a smile. The Guardian bowed, and turned back to the others.

"You've got a lot of people behind you," Kerlan remarked. "this is more than we had the first time around."

Jikan Tai thought for a moment. "I think the best plan is to divide people up--into fighting and non-fighting. Truth and Logic are not very strong attacks. Thunder no longer has his powers."

"The fighters could be the first wave, the non-fighters back-ups and suppliers, in case one of us gets hurt," Johnny finished.

"My plan is almost exactly," the Guardian replied, with a dip of the head as respect.

A silence descended on the plain.

"Do we go find her, or will she find us?" asked Lindara, suddenly. "How does that figure in your plan?"

Jikan Tai took a deep breath, and Meimei shook her head. She took Rayden's hand. "For that part, we need the Elders, and Rayden. It is best if few people know what is going on as possible; then there is less chance of Lightning reading our minds and finding out, that way."

"She didn't find out our plan before," Sonya countered, crossing her arms over her chest and exchanging a glance with Johnny. "And she was right in front of us."

Meimei looked to her brother for a moment. "Liu Kang didn't have any mind-reading capabilities. Rayden, however, does."

Lindara gasped, as did Celebria and Kerlan. "You can't!" the plant goddess cried, stepping between her half-sister and her half-brother. "That's--you can't! I won't let you!"

"Lindara," Rayden said calmly, "it's not your decision."

"It's not theirs either!" she retorted.

"You're right. It's mine. And I choose to help in any way I can to bring an end to Lightning once and for all." The thunder god smiled, tiredly.

Meimei smiled back at him. "It's okay, Lindara, we've got it all worked out," she said, confidently.

"Jikan Tai's plans don't go very well," the goddess replied, ignoring the hurt look on his face when she said that. "Well, they don't."

"It's not Jikan Tai's plan," Meimei corrected. "It's the Creator's."

There was an instant, total, and profound silence.

"Now I really want to hear this story," Johnny remarked, to break the tension.

"Later," Meimei told him.

Celebria took one of Johnny's hands. Lindara took the other, and they closed their eyes. Immediately, the god of fire could feel energy surrounding him. The dull ache in his ribs faded to nothing. His lungs felt clearer. His leg ceased to be stiff.

He opened his eyes as they drew their hands away.

"I feel like a new man," he remarked. "Thank you, ladies."

Lindara simply smiled, and headed off towards Sonya, who needed an energy booster. Celebria stayed behind, grinning slyly.

"You know," she said, conspiratorially, "I've been wanting to hear about how you're faring with the Fire powers. Perhaps we could catch up, say, in the Bar?"

He returned the grin. "No problem."

"Then it's a date," she agreed, before Kerlan called her over.

"We're ready to begin," he said. "Rayden and the others are already in position."

She nodded, and waved goodbye to Johnny, who moved to join Lindara, Sonya, Meimei and Lars.

"I see you're back to your old self," Sonya remarked, dryly. He shrugged.

"I can't help it if I have that sort of effect on women," he replied. Lars glowered at them.

"Quiet," he grumbled. "They're starting."

The Elders and the members of the Council stood in a circle. Energy was building around them, crackling in the air and running through their veins.

"It has been decided that Rayden must lose his powers, for the safety of the Omniverse." Celebria's voice rang out with the words. This time, her speech was not softened by shame, or sadness. "We ask that the Creator favour us with this action. It has been decreed by Law. It is so." She paused, eyeing Rayden, who stood in the center, and she gave a look to the Guardian, who stood just outside of the circle. "In the Name of the Creator."

A great crackle of lightning arced across the sky, and Rayden jerked, and gasped, then fell to his knees. Energy was flowing around him, gathering together, until a woman dressed in bright red appeared, kneeling by the fallen god. She took his hand, and his eyes closed.

The Elders all exchanged glances with each other, hesitant, having second thoughts.

"Hiko?" Kerlan murmured, to the goddess that had appeared. "Is that really you?"

"It's not Hiko!" Jikan Tai's voice announced. Her head jerked up and over, trying to spot him. She found him and her eyes narrowed in anger. An aura of lightning crackled around her, for a split second, and then she dissolved into a mist that settled over Rayden.

"Right on time," Sonya remarked, following the proceedings with her mind powers. "Come on, let's go."

Rayden got to his feet, stiffly, as though he wasn't used to standing. He glared at Jikan Tai.

"You've done this before," he remarked, carefully, lightning building around him. "Haven't you."

The Guardian drew himself upwards. His cape was fluttering in the breeze that was kicking up, and he raised his staff. "I have," he replied.

Rayden roared, and the blast of energy that expanded outwards threw the Elders to the ground, but Jikan Tai remained standing, shielded. The god seethed, and tried another blast, but the Guardian held up a hand, and the blast fizzled away to nothing.

Meimei appeared over the crest of the hill, flanked by Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, Lars and Lindara bringing up the rear. Rayden whirled to face them, and then back at Jikan Tai; he was not sure who was the greater threat.

Celebria and the others were starting to come around. She was the first to her feet, Ariel soon after.

Rayden gritted his teeth, and another energy blast surged around them, but Sonya and Jikan Tai helped protect all the deities. This was driving the possessed god towards panic. Lightning had never considering losing, before. She had been completely confident that once she took Rayden over, she would be unstoppable.

Lindara and Celebria began to weave an energy rope, and Johnny Cage and Lars linked hands, to link their powers.

Jikan Tai raised his staff. "Now!" he cried.

Ariel and Mizuno unleashed their powers together, a simultaneous blast of water and air. This buffeted the god but did no real damage. He laughed at them, not realising that while he was distracted by the puny attack, Celebria and Lindara were throwing their rope.

It caught around him, binding his arms. He howled, and tried to burn the ropes off, but Johnny and Lars combined their powers spectacularly. Lars' speciality was a wall of protection; one of Johnny's talents was a ring of fire. Combined, their spells made an excellent fence.

Sonya added to it, strengthening its power with her own, as did Logicalis, Thunder and Celebria.

Lightning/Rayden broke free of his rope, and tried to teleport away; but he couldn't. He tried to break through the wall, but he couldn't.

Jikan Tai grabbed Meimei by the wrist. "We don't have much time," he said, urgently. "If we're going to try this, we have to do it now."

"But I don't know if it'll work," Meimei blurted. "I've never used my powers like this before! I've never used them period!"

He took her hand. "Focus on me," he said. "Try and sense my thoughts. We need to work together on this."

"I don't have very strong mind powers," she whispered.

"That's my specialty!" Kerlan exclaimed, stepping up to them. He stood between them, and they all linked hands. "Both of you, don't try and block it--I know it will be hard for you, Jikan Tai, but you mustn't fight it."

He nodded, and the God of Communications began a link.

At first the mortal was frightened. He couldn't understand what was going on, until he realised he could hear another person in his head. Meimei. Meimei was listening to his thoughts, oh Creator, there was so much he wished to keep hidden--

Let it go, floated through his brain, in the goddess' voice. We're here to do a job, to fulfil a promise.

He could begin to see through Meimei's eyes. He saw his brother, fighting against a wall of sheer power, trying to break free and kill them all. And yet it wasn't his brother; it was something that killed his niece, and his sister-in-law. An aura began to form around Rayden, in Meimei-Jikan Tai's eye. It was rainbow coloured, and all it needed was a little tweaking.

Meimei gasped as she was suddenly flooded with Jikan Tai. The mortal had a lot of mental training, but nothing had prepared him to meet with another's mind. He shied away from her contact, trying to shield himself.

Let it go, she commanded. We're here to do a job, to fulfil a promise.

Slowly, he began to accept her presence, and as he did, she found herself looking through his eyes. She could see one of her oldest friends, fighting against them. Fighting against the only people she had left. Fighting against the woman she loved. She mustn't fail. Not again, not now, when it really mattered. Versions spread out. She saw a hundred Sonyas, a hundred Johnnys; Celebrias and Lindaras and Thunders, they all blurred on and on infinitely, subtly different.

And she saw Lightning. There was Rayden, standing there, fighting against him. His versions were gone; he was dead. But Lightning was there, faintly and Lightning had no versions. She had no form, except as a mist, as a cloud of energy. But there were two other people there as well.

Blurred, and vague, Jikan Tai-Meimei recognised Liu Kang, brought with Lightning when she leapt out of reality. It was his spirit, his soul.

Here is the first test, both minds thought. Jikan Tai reached out with his alternate- reality powers; he stretched Liu as far away from Lightning's essence as he could. Liu began to glow with a faint rainbow haze. Now it was Meimei's turn.

There was a wave of hesitation, of nervousness, but then Meimei fought back her fears and reached out with her new-found, always there powers, and she borrowed Lightning's ability to change form. Only she didn't change her own form: she changed Liu's, from spiritual to solid. From dead, to alive.

There was a crash of thunder, and Rayden suddenly stopped fighting. He had gone pale white and deadly still.

Sonya and Johnny looked to each other. Jikan Tai and Meimei had their eyes closed; they seemed to be concentrating fiercely. A haze was growing around the caged deity; a thick gray mist was enveloping him, and Sonya blinked in confusion. She thought for a moment that she could see two other people, silhouetted in the mist. But that couldn't be right--

There was a flash of rainbow light, and Liu Kang suddenly appeared, next to Rayden. He fell to the ground, unconscious. He looked as he had shortly before he died; dishevelled, dirty, bloody. But he was alive.

Sonya was so shocked she nearly let her concentration drop. Beside her, Johnny Cage staggered backwards, stunned beyond belief.

But that was not all.

Lightning/Rayden gasped again, and the fog spread outwards, crackling as it connected with the shields. It strained against them, desperate to be free. The deities all stepped up their efforts to contain it, but it was growing harder as their energy was depleting.

Jikan Tai-Meimei sighed with relief as Liu Kang appeared, whole, and alive.

There was one more step to take. Again, Jikan Tai-Meimei reached out with his alternate- version stretching powers; again Meimei-Jikan Tai borrowed Lightning's abilities. Hiko's image strengthened within the cloud, but it was not enough. Lightning knew what they were doing, and she fought against it. They stepped up their efforts, but they couldn't hold out against her for much longer. It was too tiring.

Just before they gave up, they felt a small touch in the back of their mind. They both saw a child smile, and their powers exploded in a dazzling display.

Lindara nearly screamed out loud when Liu Kang appeared. She had no idea where he had come from, or even if it wasn't another trick of Lightning's; but then she felt his mind. She felt his presence, as clear as day, and she knew it was not a trick. She gripped Celebria's arm, and both of them squeezed each other around the wrist in sheer, wordless joy.

And then Lightning started to fight back harder. She had lost Liu Kang, she was not about to lose anything else.

The shields were flickering as she pounded against them, and the Elders and the others reinforced their efforts. It was draining them, quickly; most were simply not used to fighting. Especially not in this fashion.

Lightning screamed, and Jikan Tai and Meimei were suddenly lit up, as if from within, by a white light, dazzlingly bright, although no one had any problems looking at them. Lightning howled again, in pain and frustration and anger, and suddenly another form appeared in the cloud.

It was a goddess, clothed in red, streaked with blood, her eyes closed. She toppled forward, coming to a rest beside Liu Kang. Behind Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage cried out suddenly and collapsed; his part of the shield faded away, but Lars immediately picked up the slack. Sonya tried to look to her fallen comrade, but she could not take her eyes from what was happening in front of her.

Now all there was left was Rayden, and Lightning herself.

Jikan Tai and Meimei suddenly dropped their hands from Kerlan, and stepped forward. Both were still bathed in the white light. They approached the shield, and Jikan Tai held out his staff. The jewel was glowing as fiercely as its owner, and it slipped through the shields somehow, and it touched Rayden lightly, on the shoulder.

At once, a great scream could be heard, echoing throughout each deity's head. Some clutched their temples in agony. Some merely looked around them in astonishment. And some watched with fascination as Jikan Tai's staff absorbed the gray fog that had formed inside the barrier. The mist simply drained itself into the jewel, becoming a shining red center to the gem.

Jikan Tai stepped back, the barrier cleared of Lightning's spectral self. She was gone.

The deities, one by one, dropped their shields, glad to be able to stop straining.

Rayden fell to his knees, his eyes closed. He was beginning to become a haze of twinkles, of sparkles, as his body began to vanish.

"No!" Lindara cried, her voice the first sound any of them had heard since Lightning. "No, we've come to far--Rayden--"

"It is too late for Rayden to do anything," proclaimed a voice. It was Death, appearing from outside the circle. "But it is not too late for me."

He held his hand out, and there was a peal of thunder. Rayden began to appear again, the sparkles in reverse, coalescing into the god. When he was fully solid, he collapsed, the third individual lying in the grass, newly restored to life.

Jikan Tai gasped, and staggered backwards, as the white light left him, his job done. Meimei shrieked, and fell, but Kerlan was quick to catch her. She sighed, barely cognizant. "Did we do it?" she asked, in a hushed whisper. "Did we?"

Kerlan smiled, too happy to say anything. He tried, but no words would come out.

"That's what I thought," she agreed, with a smile. She took a deep breath, and tried to get back to her feet. "Jikan Tai?"

The Guardian, startled, looked to her. "Meimei?"

He helped her to her feet, and they hugged each other. "We did it," she whispered. "We saved everyone."

"We saved everyone," he agreed. He squeezed his eyes shut. "We saved everyone."

Sonya kneeled on the grass, her heart in her throat. "Liu," she whispered. Beside her Johnny Cage crawled over. He was breathing heavily, and had gone pale. Pale and... darkened.

Shocked, she reached out and touched him. He flinched at the simple contact, and she realised why he seemed so much dimmer; he was a mortal again.

He met her eyes, and actually smiled. Then he turned his attention to Liu.

"Hey, buddy," the movie star, the mortal, said quietly. "Wake up."

Liu stirred, faintly, groaning. He opened his eyes and looked into the faces of his two closest friends. "What the hell happened?" he asked, groggily.

"That," Johnny Cage said triumphantly, "is a very, very long story."

Medicalis was having field day. Literally. There were too many drained and/or wounded and/or recently dead deities for him to teleport them all out; so he and a dozen or so aides set up a temporary hospital in the middle of the field surrounding the Temple of Light. He even asked for the help of some of the human healers; they could help with Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Jikan Tai. Frightened at first, they soon joined in with gusto, contributing supplies and food even to the Immortals.

Meimei was one of the first deities to recover completely from the ordeal. As she put it, she was too excited to sit and heal. She needed to find out what had happened to everybody, and more importantly, fill everyone in.

The first person she sought out was Jikan Tai. The Guardian was sitting, quietly, far from the other patients. He was studying the jewel, with its new, bright center. He looked up as she approached. "Meimei."

"Yellow," she said, smiling slightly. She had never heard him called that, and but it seemed right to her to use that name. His true name.

He smiled in return. The use of his old name didn't bother him any longer. He got to his feet. "I don't know what to say," he admitted, finally.

"I do," she replied, hugging him. "It's finally over for you. You saved them. You got to do what you always wanted."

"I know," he replied, with happiness and relief. "Ever since I met that child--the Creator--I haven't felt the same. The pain, the guilt--I don't know what happened to it."

"You let it go," she whispered up at him. "About time, too."

He grinned at her, and hugged her tightly. "Thank you."

"I didn't do anything, you big silly!" she giggled. Then she laughed. "I sound like Jih. Oh, how I miss my boys."

"You should go visit them," he told her.

"I will. But there's someone else I have to see, first." She broke off the embrace. "And I think there's someone you need to see as well, Yellow."

He nodded, looking over her shoulder. "I think I will," he replied. He smiled at her again, and then headed off through the lines to someone still sleeping.

"And don't be a stranger in Officina," she called after him. "Or in Outworld, either. I think I might be spending more time there, after all."

He waved at her, spontaneously, a rare gesture for the sombre and reserved Guardian. For the formerly sombre and reserved Guardian.

Lindara straightened up as she saw him approach. "Guardian."

"Lindara," he said, simply. They stood, for a moment, staring at each other, and then he reached out and took her hand. "I was thinking," he continued, carefully, "about taking a break, a vacation, maybe somewhere on Earth."

"That's probably a good idea," she agreed, a little confused.

He smiled, and wound his fingers through hers. "Come with me."

She blinked. "What? You mean--what?"

"You heard me. You could use a vacation too. We could pretend to be ordinary mortals, for a change. Just let the world pass by around us," he continued, stepping closer.

She grinned at him, resting her free hand on his chest. "I think--I think I'd like that."

He leaned forward, and sealed the deal with a kiss.

"It's odd, being a mortal again," Johnny admitted to his friend. Liu was on a cot, still resting, but he was listening just as intently as Sonya was. "I feel so much smaller. So tiny, like I shrank to a few inches tall." He paused. "But I think it's better this way."

Sonya cocked her head at him. "Really?"

"I don't think I was cut out for the whole 'god' business," Johnny admitted. Then he stopped. "Wow. Did I really say that?"

Liu laughed, and Sonya smiled. "It's good to know some things haven't changed," Liu admitted, resting his head again. "But I feel like there's so much catching up to do."

"That's because there is," Sonya informed him. "But you have it easy. Think about all the paper work that's going to be left for me."

They all chuckled at her expense, then lapsed into a thoughtful silence.

Medicalis broke it by breezing up to them, followed in awe by one of the monk healers. "I see you're still bothering my patient," he observed with a grumble.

"No one is bothering me," Liu corrected.

Medi grumbled again. "Well, I've never treated any one back from the dead before, so I want to keep a close eye on you. It's damned lucky that Lightning or whatever she was decided to keep such a strong hold on you, otherwise you wouldn't be here now, and I don't want you going and upsetting the Creator's plan by doing something stupid and mortal-like and overexerting yourself. Is that clear?"

Liu blinked. "Very."

The God of Doctors harumphed, and headed off to check on other patients, his mortal follower close on his heels.

Liu looked to Sonya and Johnny. "What was he talking about?"

Sonya looked uncomfortable. "Uh..."

"I want to hear this one too," Johnny added.

She sighed. "Jikan Tai and I--we went back to the past, to the first battle, and we saw what happened there, at the end." The two men looked at her expectantly. "When Liu was--killed, Lightning leapt out of the frame of reality. Somehow she dragged his spirit along with her; the two were... tangled up, or something. I'm not sure. But that's what gave Jikan Tai the idea in the first place. And then Meimei came along, and the Creator--well, I'm not sure how the Creator fits into to all of this," she admitted.

Johnny was mulling the story over in his head. Liu had gone pale.

"I don't think that's quite right," he said, softly. His eyes were out of focus; he was trying very hard to remember something indistinct. "I remember what happened; I could see it all happening, even though it was Lightning that controlled me. And I remember a sharp pain, here--" He felt the left side of his face, tenderly, "and then I remember Lightning trying to leave. And I panicked, I didn't know what to do; I held on to her. I begged her to stay, not to leave me. And then--" He stopped. "And then I woke up, lying down, with you two looking over me."

Both Johnny and Sonya were silent.

"What an interesting little story," someone said, bemused, from behind them. They turned to see an old man, sipping something out of a flask, which he offered to Sonya, who declined, and to Johnny, who also declined. He looked to Liu.

"I'd offer you some, son, but you've already had a wee bit too much of my brew." The old man chuckled at his own joke. "Oh my, what a day. I think this is the first interesting thing that has happened to me since Aldric went around the twist. Just came to see how you were doing, Liu, and to let you know I'm keeping an extra special eye on you, from now on." He wandered away, disappearing in a sickly gray-green mist.

"Who the hell was that?" asked Liu, confused.

"Trust me, you don't want to know," Sonya said with a sigh. She got to her feet. "How long are you staying, Johnny?"

"As long as I feel like it," he replied, looking up at her. "Why?"

"I just feel I should talk to Jax, let him know everything that's happened," she admitted. "Plus, I think I need a change of scenery."

"I know the feeling," the former god of fire replied. "You go. I'll stay, watch over Liu."

"I don't need watching over," Liu protested.

"If I don't, Medi will come down on me like a ton of bricks and that's the last thing my ribs need. My poor, poor ribs." He rubbed them ruefully, and Sonya smiled despite herself.

"I'll be back in a few hours," she told them. "Don't go anywhere."

"Take your time," Johnny said breezily. "Let Jax know the entire story."

"Then I'll be gone for days," she replied, cracking a smile.

"Yeah, but on the other hand--you won't have Jax asking you questions over the next few months, dragging it out of him. I think you owe it to him," Johnny told her.

She considered this. "I think you're right."

"I'm always right."

She rolled her eyes at this, and reached out to touch Liu's hand before she teleported away in a puff of black and purple.

Meimei touched her brother's cheek gently, tapping it. "Rayden," she said, in a soft whisper. "Rayden, wake up."

The god stirred, and then blinked into the sudden light. "What?" he murmured, looking around him. "I'm--back at the Temple?"

"You are," she replied. He tried to sit up, but she wouldn't let him. "Careful. Medi said not to push yourself."

"Did we beat her?" Rayden asked, quietly. Meimei nodded. He sighed with a relief, and allowed his head to fall back to the pillow.

"Then we won," he said, tiredly. He closed his eyes. "We won."

"You don't have to sound so enthusiastic," she chided.

"What does it matter?" he asked, sadly. "We haven't changed anything."

She just grinned at him.

"What are you smiling about?" he asked, curious. She just continued to beam at him.

"Perhaps," she said, slyly, "perhaps we can bend the 'stay in bed and rest' rule for the time being. Get up."

"Meimei?" he asked, confused. She took his hand, and started pulling. Reluctantly, he allowed her to help him up. "Where are we?" he asked, looking around. "Outside the Temple?"

"Yep," his baby sister replied, leading him through rows of cots. He sighed, and noticed that they were heading to a thick group of people, all gathered around someone. As he approached, the crowd melted away and he got his first glimpse of the person in the center.

Meimei slipped away from him, and he just stood in shock. He didn't dare close his eyes, in case she was a mirage, a dream, anything but real.

Hiko stood, slowly, and reached out her hand. He took it, and held it, and it felt real, and solid, and warm.

"Hiko," he breathed, his heart somewhere in his throat.

She looked at him, her eyes streaked with tears and her cheeks red. She had just finished crying when he had found her. Then he realised what she was crying about. "Nova."

She sobbed, and he pulled her to him, wraping his arms around her. She hadn't known until now, but now she did, and she was here again with him, and he was so happy that he felt he was going to burst.

"Hiko?" Meimei murmured. The Goddess of Fire turned her head slightly to face her sister-in- law.

"Meimei," she said, her voice hoarse. "I suppose I have you to thank--for bringing me back."

Meimei shook her head. "I'm just the tool, just the messenger. But I was asked to remind you of a promise you were once told." She took out of a fold in her robes a small, white flower. "A snowdrop--"

"For hope," Hiko blurted, trying to hold back her tears. She took the tiny white flower, and gazed at it. "For hope, oh, Meimei, Rayden, I--"

"Shush," Rayden consoled, hugging her tighter. She buried her face in his robes. "We'll make it through this." He could make it through anything, now that she was with him again.

"Hiko," Meimei pleaded, "Please, look at me."

The goddess tilted her face again, sniffling.

"I know it's hard to bear, but you were given hope for a reason," Meimei said, gently, starting to smile. She reached out with her mind, and suddenly Hiko and Rayden could see what she saw: a bright aura around each of the deities, multi-coloured and flickering; but also a smaller aura, focused on Hiko alone.

The goddess gasped in shock, and pulled away, a hand going to the round of her stomach. "I'm--"

"You're--" Rayden breathed, a grin spreading over his face. She couldn't help but smile either, and she threw her arms around him, and he hugged her tightly. "A baby. Ours, at last."

She didn't say anything, but squeezed her eyes shut and smiled, resting against her husband, together at last, and secure in knowing that they would remain that way.

Meimei beamed, and took advantage of the moment to slip away, leaving the pair together, and alone, a hand slipping into her pocket to clutch two tiny symbols, of happiness and change.

The End