Except the one who was the destroyer itself.
It fed, consuming everything that existed, trying to satiate its eternal hunger. But the universe was dead. It was growing hungry. It needed to eat. So it turned its eye to other prospects.
Liu Kang glanced out towards his old home and smiled. The Temple of the Order of Light looked exactly as it always had, despite having been ground zero for two major battles, both deciding the future of the planet.
He grabbed his two bags (a duffle and a backpack) and stepped out of the river boat, thanking the driver. He groaned as his foot sank into the soft mud bank. Liu tried to heave his foot out of the mud. His foot came out, all right; however his shoe was not so lucky. It was mired in the thick muck.
Tossing his bags farther up the path, and tossing a curse towards the driver (who was distinctly smirking) Liu tried to extricate his shoe. Finally, only after he'd gotten the mud all over himself, did he manage to pull the shoe free.
Sighing heavily, he retrieved his bag, and started to trudge up the Temple's hill.
As he reached the Temple itself, he noticed something odd. There were no people around. Usually there were several hundred monks and their students milling around the grounds, but today it was completely empty. Only the banners, tied to the balconies of the temple, betrayed any sort of movement. Liu couldn't figure it out.
"Grandfather?" Liu called, in both English and Chinese. No one answered him.
Johnny Cage leaned back in his chair. It wasn't as comfy as his armchair back home in LA, but as airplane seats went, it was nice. It was plump, it didn't have any odd stains, the velour was quite soft, he had no complaints.
About the chair at least.
About the general state of affairs in the universe in general, Johnny had several complaints. One was that he'd never been able to find a chocolate chip ice cream cone that was quite as good as the one he had when he was six, and the other, more pressing complaint, was that he was going to be stranded in China for approximately two weeks because of some international disagreement.
An international disagreement! He was a movie star, for crying out loud! He was international! He sighed in disgust and looked out the window. The airlines were still trying to sort everything out, but Johnny knew it was useless. He resigned himself to the thought of staying in China for two weeks, until he realised he could use the time to visit Liu, at the Temple.
The thought cheered him up immensely, and he set about making plans.
Sonya Blade sat at a table in a grungy Hong Kong club, listening to the heavy thunking of the dance music and thinking. She had a glass of beer--some watery Chinese concoction--and she had nursed it for over an hour. She didn't actually want to drink the beer, but if she didn't have a glass, she'd have guys coming up to her asking to buy her one.
She had been thinking of a variety of things, but mostly the past. She remembered fighting the Mortal Kombat tournament; she remembered fighting the Emperor. She remembered Liu, Kitana, Rayden and Johnny--she hadn't thought of him in a while--and her later adventures with them. She was surprised at her nostalgia; usually she didn't reminisce like this. But something kept turning her thoughts back to her compatriots.
Finally she decided that she had enough of reminiscing, and she resolved to find them. She got up from her table, leaving her disgusting drink behind her, and went to see about booking a passage to a certain Temple...
Liu stared at the Temple in shock. He had never known it to be empty, ever. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
Off in the distance, he heard the sound of a boat's horn. He turned, and tried to see the boat from where he was standing. Naturally, that was a bit useless, so he realised he was going to have to job down to the bank again. Grumbling, he set off, wincing every time he stepped on a particularly pointy piece of gravel. (His shoe still wasn't dry enough to wear yet.)
He got to the shore just in time to see the boat pull up again, bearing two very familiar- looking passengers.
"Johnny! Sonya!" he yelled happily, waving at them.
"Hey," Johnny Cage replied, trying to get off the boat while bearing his huge amount of luggage. "That bank looks a little soggy--why are you only wearing one shoe?"
"Nice to see you too," Liu snorted. "And yes, the bank is extremely soggy."
"So I don't get any hellos?" asked Sonya, preparing to leap from the boat. Johnny was perched rather precariously on the edge, and as she stepped up on the rim, she shifted the boat ever so slightly, and Johnny pitched forward, falling in.
"Hello Sonya!" Liu exclaimed, as she gingerly threw her bag to the shore so she could help Johnny.
Johnny emerged from the river soaking and grumbling. He gathered his luggage together and glared at Sonya, who ignored him.
"So, how did you guys know I was here?" asked Liu, as they started walking up the path, Liu limping and Johnny dripping.
"Don't you live here?" Johnny asked, stopping to rearrange his grip on his baggage.
"No..." Liu replied, giving Johnny a sideways look. "I live in the States, like you two do."
"Come back for a visit?" Sonya asked. Liu nodded.
"I came back to see my grandfather, but--"
"But?" Johnny and Sonya asked in unison.
"You'll see," Liu answered grimly.
They neared the Temple, close enough to see the fluttering remnants of the banners.
"Where is everyone?" Sonya asked, looking around.
"I don't know. I got here about half an hour before you did. It's been like this for a while, as far as I can see." Liu replied. He sighed, and sat down on the grass to rub his sore foot. Johnny dumped his stuff with a sigh, and literally collapsed on to the ground near his friend. Sonya choose to remain standing.
"I've had the worst few weeks--" Johnny groaned.
"I don't understand one thing," Liu said suddenly. "Why are you two here?"
"To see you." Sonya answered blithely.
"I know, but why? How did you even know I was going to be here? If you had come an hour earlier, I wouldn't have been," Liu pointed out.
"Coincidence," Johnny replied with a wave of his hand.
"I don't believe in coincidence," Liu said firmly. "Not any more."
"That is the wisest thing I think I have ever heard you say," chuckled a voice behind them. The trio whirled to see Rayden, God of Thunder, standing on the grass. He was dressed in his immaculate white robes, with his customary straw hat.
"Rayden!" the three exclaimed in unison. Rayden smiled.
"Where is everybody? Do you know?" Liu asked him suddenly. Rayden looked a bit offended.
"What...no hello?" he said, arms spread wide. He had a bit of a smile on his face, and Liu grinned as well.
"Hello," he said, with a mock bow, which was hard to do while sitting. "And how are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine," Rayden replied, looking at his nails.
"Family life okay?" continued Liu.
"As good as it can be," Rayden confirmed.
"Can we dispense with the pleasantries now?"
"Good." Johnny contributed his two cents. "So, Rayden, what do you know about the missing monks?"
"They're safe, in another monastery down the river," Rayden replied, with a shrug.
Liu stood up. "Why?"
Rayden sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. "Something is going on," he said mysteriously. "Something bad. I couldn't, in good conscience, let the Temple get wrapped up in it, this time."
"'Something bad'?" remarked Sonya. "Can you be any more vague?"
"If you ever bothered to stop and observe the universe, instead of running around in your mortal treadmills, you'd know what I'm talking about," Rayden snapped in return. "A build-up of energy. Something is happening, and no one knows what."
"What do you mean, no one knows what?" Johnny sneered. "You guys are gods."
"I know that," Rayden replied, rolling his eyes. "That's the problem. Not even we know what the problem is. No one knows. No one."
The borders were not easy to break through. They were strong, and created for just such a purpose: to keep interlopers out, and defectors in. It made sense, after all. Think of the chaos if people were allowed to switch at will. But it could be done. There was a way. Perhaps with some help...
"So you're saying that you don't know," Johnny reiterated, his hands on his hips. "So you moved all the monks up the creek 'cause you thought something was going to happen. Does this make any sense at all to anyone else? If this place is ground zero for 'something bad', what's a few miles going to do?"
Rayden glared. "I am doing my best."
"Is that supposed to help?" Johnny retorted fiercely.
"Johnny!" Sonya exclaimed. "Leave him alone. He's done nothing to you."
"I'm sure. Remember our little 'coincidence'?" Johnny asked Sonya and Liu, his back to the thunder god. "How much to you want to bet he's behind it, setting us up so we can gallivant around the universe with him?"
"I had nothing to do with your arrival!" Rayden exclaimed. "I didn't even know you were going to be here."
"I'm so sure," Johnny replied, sarcastically, turning to face him. Liu grabbed Johnny by the arm.
"Cage!" he snapped. "What are you doing?"
Johnny shrugged off his friend's grip. "Leave me alone. I'm getting out of here."
Johnny picked up his luggage and started to storm down the walkway.
"Johnny!" Sonya yelled, running after him. "What the hell is the matter with you? Can't you see something is wrong?"
"Yeah." Johnny whirled to face her. "I do see something wrong. I see us jumping at Rayden's every beck and call. We don't owe him anything--in fact, he owes us."
"Is that all this is?" Sonya snarled. "Your ego? Doesn't it matter that we've saved the universe?"
"Yeah, well, the universe will just have to survive with out me. I'm leaving on the first boat out of here," Johnny informed them fiercely. He headed towards the river, without looking back.
"Johnny!" Sonya called again, but she made no move to follow him.
"What a jerk," Liu said, shaking his head.
"He's only doing what you're all thinking," Rayden said softly. "You, too, were reluctant to get involved with anything."
"I was," admitted Liu, after a thoughtful pause. "But I'm going to help now."
"Me too," Sonya said, joining them. "It needs to be done."
"Actually," Rayden said with a smirk, "There's not a whole lot to do. We have no idea what we're up against."
"That," Sonya said firmly, "Only makes it more fun."
Johnny Cage sat on the soggy grass next to the river bank, scanning the water for any signs of the boat. There were none. And he had no idea how long it would be. He sighed, and picked up a stone. He toyed with it for a moment, then expertly skipped it. He smiled slightly as it leaped five times over the river.
After the stone sank, Johnny sighed, and rested his head on his knees. He hadn't really meant to explode like that, but he did feel strongly about Rayden manipulating events like that to make them all show up at the same time. Not to mention, nobody ever asked him if he wanted to do anything. He was merely told to, and if anything bugged Johnny Cage, it was being told to.
He watched the river, as small waves were whipped up. Every so often, Johnny saw a flash of silver that he thought might be a fish. He smiled, but sighed, and glanced up at the hill top. Johnny settled down again to watch the waves when he noticed a golden flash.
That made him think--the reflection almost looked like fire. He turned as if to see what had made the image, and he gasped in voluntarily as he found himself staring up at Hiko, Goddess of Fire.
She was dressed in her customary red robes, with her scarlet scarf wrapped around her bright coppery hair. Her eyes seemed to spark, and she glared at Johnny, her arms crossed.
"What are you doing, sitting here like that?" she asked.
"What?" he replied.
"There's work that needs to be done. We need to get to the bottom of all of this," Hiko continued in a commanding tone.
"Look, I don't want to get bossed around, alright?" Johnny yelled suddenly. "I'm sick of it."
"I bet. You've been a movie star for a bit too long, I think," she replied with a disapproving tone. "This isn't about you, Cage, it's about everyone. You, me, Rayden, Sonya, Liu--the whole Omniverse could be at risk! Again! You can't let your ego get the better of you."
Johnny stared at the ground. He made no comment. Hiko sighed.
"Johnny Cage," she said suddenly, "Will you help us?"
Johnny looked up, a bit suspicious.
"You said you didn't want anyone telling you what to do." Hiko shrugged. "So I'm asking nicely."
Johnny stared at her in confusion, but she seemed perfectly serious. "Okay."
"Good!" She clapped her hands together. "Then let's get going."
"Let me get my luggage--" Johnny started to say, but Hiko waved him quiet.
"It's all part of the service," she said with a smile. She clapped her hands again.
They reappeared right next to the Temple, in front of Liu and the others. Johnny's luggage was at his feet. He smiled at Hiko, who was already rushing towards Rayden.
They started to kiss, but Hiko hit her forehead on the brim of Rayden's hat. She stepped back, rubbing her forehead ruefully. Rayden laughed, and swept the hat from his head. They kissed briefly.
"I see you managed to convince him," Rayden commented.
"I have a way," Hiko replied slyly. "Anything happen in this neck of the woods?"
"Nope." Rayden shook his head. "It was only the top of the hill, Hiko."
"You never know," she said with a grin.
The barrier was almost down.
It was almost time.
"Was your ego trip nice?" Sonya asked icily.
"Look, I'm sorry," Johnny said sincerely. "I've had a bit of a bad week, and I snapped."
"Apology accepted," Sonya replied, her arms still folded. Johnny looked towards Liu. Liu stood for a moment, regarding him coldly. "It's your destiny. That's why you were chosen in the first place," Liu said finally, coldly.
Johnny was quiet, looking at the ground, ashamed. "I know," he answered, looking Liu in the eye. "But I just had a bad week, that's all."
Hiko suddenly stepped between the two mortals. "He had a bad week, Liu," she said firmly. "He's apologised, and willing to work with us. All right?"
"All right," Liu agreed. He turned and walked away.
"What's the matter with him?" Johnny asked Hiko quietly.
"He's been raised almost his entire life to fight for the safety of the world--he believes very strongly in accepting your destiny. That's why he's upset when you seem to be able to shrug it off," Hiko replied in a whisper. "That's how I see it, anyway. He could just be mad."
"Don't take it too hard. Once you prove it to him you're willing--"
"I don't have to prove anything to him!" Johnny exclaimed. "I'm not doing this to impress him!"
"I know!" Hiko hissed. "If you would let me finish, I was going to say that once you proved you are willing to fight like he is, he'll trust you more."
"I don't need his trust." Johnny replied with complete conviction.
Liu sat on the grass, his legs crossed, trying to meditate peacefully, but he was having problems concentrating. For some reason, he kept being distracted.
"Having any problems?" Rayden asked, sitting next to him. Liu opened his eyes.
"Yeah..." he replied slowly. Rayden nodded, staring out over the horizon.
"That's how I found out that mortals could feel the energy," Rayden said. "The monks complained of something interfering with their meditation. These were men who had routinely meditated for hours at a time. So I knew that if something could be felt so strongly by mortals, then it was a bigger problem than we first thought. I mean, yes, it was being felt all through the Omniverse, but still, if mortals--"
Liu said nothing, but glanced out, down the hill-side. He could see the river in the distance, a shiny silver line winding its way across the valley.
"That's when I pin-pointed the exact spot to be here, and moved the monks," Rayden continued. "I didn't know what to expect, and didn't want them to be affected by it."
Liu stared at the ground, noticing a tiny ant trying to labour its way over a small stone. He picked the ant up, letting it crawl over his finger. He held the finger up closer to his face, and watched the ant scurry to and fro. The ant stopped to stare at him. They watched each other for a moment before the ant suddenly bit Liu's finger.
"Ah!" Liu yelped, instinctively throwing out his hand, so that the ant went flying. He winced and sucked on his finger even as a painful red welt began to form.
Rayden glanced at him. "Are you all right?" he asked. Liu nodded, his finger still in his mouth. He took it out to examine it.
"One question," he said, wiping his finger off on the grass beneath him. "What do you mean, you pinpointed it to be here? I thought it could be felt all over the universe."
"Omniverse," Rayden corrected. "And it can. There is a grid work of energy that runs its way through the Omniverse, connecting everything together. This temple is located at one of the central grid connections for this universe. The negative energy we feel is emanating from this grid point. Lucky me."
"And nobody knows what is causing it?" Liu repeated.
Rayden shook his head. "Nothing like it has ever been experienced before."
They heard footsteps behind them, and both turned to see Hiko walk up. She sat down next to Rayden, sighing and resting her head on his shoulder. "Johnny and Sonya are having a bit of a spat," she explained, as the sound of their voices drifted, over. "Apparently, Johnny is a bastard who never stays in touch, and Sonya is an ice queen who never shows any emotions."
"Oh, that old argument," Rayden said with a chuckle. "They've been like that ever since they knew each other. In fact," he chuckled again at the memory, "when Johnny and Sonya first met, she rammed a gun into his chin and threatened to blow his head off."
"That sounds a bit familiar," Hiko said slyly.
"Only you threatened to cut my head off," Rayden clarified. "There's a difference." Hiko smiled.
Liu sighed a bit, and resumed staring at the river. Off in the distance, he thought he could see something reflected in the water. It looked like the shape of a golden bird, but he dismissed it as the sunlight striking the waves a certain way.
Suddenly he felt something cause a chill to run up and down his spine. He shivered, and at the same time, both Hiko and Rayden gasped. Even the sounds of bickering from farther away stopped, as the sky overhead darkened to a slate grey.
Liu and the two deities got up quickly. Hiko looked like she was about to faint, and Rayden was a pale ashen colour.
"What the hell is happening?" demanded Sonya as she ran up to them. "I can feel something like--"
"Like someone walking all over my grave," finished Johnny, only a pace behind her. "If it's so strong that we can feel it--" he trailed off, looking at Hiko. She was nearly doubled over, grimacing, and holding her head. Rayden looked nearly as bad, but he was trying to support her. Liu lent a hand, and took the weight off of Rayden. Sonya helped the thunder god himself stay steady.
Abruptly, there was a crash of thunder, so loud that everyone jumped, involuntarily. Storm clouds began to whip up, the wind began to increase until they could barely stand, and lightning lit up the entire hill. The immense storm clouds blotted out the sun, plunging the entire area into a false night.
"Rayden!" howled Johnny over the gale. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I'm not doing anything!" Rayden hollered back. His reply was punctuated by an immense clap of thunder.
Even as the winds screamed around them, the grass seemed to catch on fire. The whole area was soon ablaze. "We've got to get out of here--the lightning must have set the grass on fire!" Sonya yelled to Liu. He shook his head.
"That's not a natural fire--look!" He pointed to the tall stone temple. The fire seemed to climb up the walls, burning brightly on the stone.
"We should head for the river!" Johnny yelled. He helped Liu carry Hiko, and they started to head down the hill.
Suddenly Hiko gasped, her exclamation nearly unheard over the roar of the storm.
"Look!" she cried, pointing at a column of fire that had suddenly appeared directly in their path. The fire was nearly the height of a person, and it seemed to be unaffected by the wind. Then, amazingly, it began to change shape, to become the form of a human being. There was a deafening clap of thunder, then the entire storm began to die away. The wind slowed, the thunder rumbled softly, the clouds began to clear. The strange fire that had burned on the rock of the temple flickered and vanished.
The fire-figure gasped suddenly, and within an instant, became completely human. The figure dropped to the ground, just as the last cloud vanished, as if it had never been.
The group regarded the person warily. Rayden and Hiko seemed completely recovered from their strange attack, and looked at each other thoughtfully.
"She's a goddess," Hiko said suddenly. Rayden nodded. The mortals stared at them both in confusion, but Rayden offered nothing in response to their unspoken questions. He walked up to the prone body of the drop-in guest.
It was a woman, and she was dressed in standard Omniversal robes; they were white underneath, topped off with a scarlet coat. All of her clothes had a bright blue trim. Her hair was long, and snow-white, tied loosely at the bottom with a white ribbon.
Rayden motioned the others to come closer. As Hiko saw the woman, her eyes widened. "It can't be..." she whispered.
At the sound of her voice, the woman stirred faintly. She groaned, and turned on to her side. She opened her eyes, blinking in the bright sun. She rubbed her face, then looked up into the face of Rayden who stood over her, frowning slightly.
Her response was immediate. She gasped, and tried to get up, but she was too woozy from her experience. Rayden kneeled down to steady her. She gazed up at him.
"It can't be--" she murmured. "Dad...?"
"What?" Rayden stuttered, back-pedalling in shock. The woman got up, staring at Hiko with wide eyes.
"Mom..." she whispered. "Is it really you?" She got to her feet and took a step towards Hiko, arms outstretched. "Mom, Dad, I can't believe it! You're alive!"
Hiko began to back up, staying out of reach. "I believe you are mistaken, my dear." She was going for nonchalant; she came off as panic-stricken.
"Mom," the woman repeated, stopping in her tracks, puzzled. "Don't you recognise me? I'm your daughter, Lightning."
The three mortals suddenly realised with a start that this was not Nova, Hiko's real daughter. Even though this new goddess didn't have Nova's striking red hair or customary clothes, she seemed so much like the goddess they knew, that they had, for a moment, thought it was her.
"I only have one daughter," Hiko announced, her shoulders square, "And you are not her."
Lightning gasped, and shrunk back as if she had been physically struck. "How can you say that? I know we've had our differences--"
"You are not my daughter," Hiko repeated firmly.
"Rayden!" the goddess whirled around, desperation in her voice. "Dad, tell me what's going on! Please!" she pleaded.
Rayden shook his head, speechless.
Liu gently took the woman's arm. "We can try and help--" The goddess screamed as he touched her, and wrenched her arm from his grip.
"You're mortal!" she yelled, frantically. "You can't be!"
"We are," Sonya said, taking a step forward.
"You can't be," Lightning repeated, with growing comprehension. This time her voice was different. Harder. The panicked edge was gone. Sonya tensed up--she could tell the goddess was going to attack. Call it battle instinct, but the moment Lightning tried to kick the female mortal, Sonya couldn't help but feel a little bit smug.
The goddess's kick was clumsy, and Sonya ducked it easily, catching Lightning's foot and toppling her over on to the ground. Sonya stood over her, watching to see if she would get up, but the goddess didn't move. She merely watched the mortal with contempt in her eyes.
"You can't defeat me," Lightning said with a snarl.
"We beg to differ, sweetheart," Johnny answered, stepping up beside Sonya.
"Stay out of this, Cage. The last thing we need are your stupid one-liners," Sonya snapped. Johnny rolled his eyes, but stayed his ground.
Lightning sat up, dusting her white jacket off with one hand. She looked up at both Johnny and Sonya with a faint smile. Suddenly, her hands shot forward, catching both Sonya and Johnny around the ankle.
"You're going to have to do better than that if you want to pull us over," Johnny remarked casually, looking down at her.
"Johnny! Sonya! Get away from her!" Rayden yelled suddenly, realising what Lightning was about to do, but it was too late. Lightning used her electricity powers, zapping both Sonya and Johnny in one go.
The two screamed, and dropped to the ground, unconscious.
"All right," Hiko said suddenly, her hands beginning to generate her fire, "Get away from them. I don't think you quite know who you're dealing with."
Lightning let go of their ankles, and got to her feet, the faint smile on her face the entire time. "I know exactly who I'm dealing with--"Mother". Or should I say, Cosmos?"
"What?" Hiko snapped. "Don't try to pull anything over my head. I've been impressed by more than the likes of you."
Liu meanwhile, checked Sonya's pulse. It was steady and regular, and she was breathing okay. Likewise, Johnny seemed all right, almost conscious again. "I think she just stunned them--they should recover."
"Lucky for you," snapped Hiko towards their guest.
"What did you mean by Cosmos?" asked Rayden, from behind Lightning. She started to twist around to face him, but kept an eye on her "mother".
"I know this is just one of your illusions," she replied, confidently. "I won't fall for it this time."
"This isn't an illusion," Rayden answered, quickly.
"How do I know that?" Lightning said with a snort.
"She's right," a groggy Johnny said as he came to. "When Cosmos used one of his illusions on me, I couldn't tell the difference."
"Cosmos is dead," stated Hiko in a flat, cold voice. "We won't have to deal with his sorry self any more."
"Cosmos is dead?" asked Lightning in a small voice. "But he can't be, just like you can't be alive--he killed you both!"
"Apparently not," Rayden replied in a dry tone.
"Rayden," Liu started hesitantly, "Could--could she be from a parallel universe, or something? Somewhere where Cosmos could have survived?"
"There are no parallel universes," Rayden dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. "That's just something mortals made up for their own amusement, based on rumours about the Realms."
"No, perhaps that's it!" Lightning exclaimed. "It explains so much--"
"It's impossible," Rayden interrupted her. "There is nothing beyond the Omniverse. Nothing."
Hiko looked at him for a brief moment. Then she looked at the goddess that stood between them, her hands raised in the air in the gesture of surrender. She did look a bit like Rayden--especially the long white hair. Hiko knew as well as Rayden did that there were no parallel universes, and yet she also knew that the Creator was limitless. If the Creator had no boundaries, who was to say whether reality did?
She faltered for just a moment, letting her hands fall to her side, her fire power dissipating. It was then that Lightning lashed out.
Hiko almost never knew what hit her. Lightning kicked her quickly in the jaw, and she collapsed immediately, the world around her going black.
"Hiko!" called Rayden, but she didn't answer. That's when he turned to face Lightning. His lightning power crackled around him, and he raised his hands towards her.
The lightning leapt through the air, striking the traitorous goddess full in the chest. She cried out for a moment, then fell to her knees.
She started to get up again, but Sonya quickly kicked her in the ribs. Lightning yelped, and tried to get up, but this time Sonya kicked her legs out from under her. She stepped on the Goddess's back lightly to make sure she couldn't move.
"Who are you, really?" Sonya asked. The goddess made no sound.
Rayden carefully lifted Hiko's head off the ground. He gently checked out her jaw to see if it was broken. Luckily it wasn't. Hiko was still unconscious, and Rayden thought for a moment that she might have had a concussion from hitting the ground so hard, but he wasn't quite sure how to tell.
Liu crouched down next to the pair. "Is she going to be all right?" he asked.
Rayden said nothing.
"It's weird watching you two get hurt," Liu continued softly.
"We can't usually be hurt by mortals," Rayden replied. "But another deity can pack a wallop."
"So I see."
"How's the little prodigal daughter doing?" asked Johnny to Sonya as he sauntered over. Lightning sat with her back to the wall of the temple, bound by Rayden's power, which he creatively used as a rope.
"As well as can be expected," Sonya said with a cold glance in the goddess's direction. She looked over Johnny's shoulder. "How's Hiko?"
"Still unconscious." Johnny looked down at Lightning, who glared at him. "You had better hope she doesn't have a concussion, or Rayden is going to take it out on your hide."
"Can immortals even get concussions?" Sonya asked.
"Of course they can, you idiot," Lightning scoffed. "Oh, right. I forgot that you're only mortals."
"You're going to be tasting the bottom of my boot in a minute, so shut up," Sonya snapped.
She took Johnny's shoulder and led him away from the prisoner. "Johnny, I need to have a word with you."
"Have you figured out what made you go so weird this morning?" she asked, in a hushed undertone.
"What? I told you. I've been having a bad week."
"I know, but it just seemed so out of character for you--don't you find it odd?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Sonya," Johnny replied, with a bit of a chuckle.
"It's just that, well, the way we all arrived here simultaneously, and the way you had that little scene..."
"Johnny, shut up! I think," Sonya's voice dropped even lower, "I think we're being manipulated."
"By who? Her?" Johnny stuck a thumb in Lightning's direction.
"Maybe. I don't know." Sonya seemed frustrated. "I just don't know."
Lightning, while the two were talking, was not merely sitting with her back to the wall like a good little prisoner. She was using her own powers to surreptitiously undo the band of energy that Rayden had tied around her.
The two mortals were still talking amongst themselves when Lightning's bonds broke, leaving her free. She slowly stood up, keeping her back to the wall. She could see Rayden and the other mortal tending Hiko--and knew that they were distracted enough not to notice her.
She raised her arms over her head, gathering together her combined fire and thunder energies. With one swooping gesture, she blasted Sonya and Johnny, and they collapsed, not even having time to yell out. She turned her attentions to the others.
Liu looked up just in time to see Lightning raise her arms over her head. "Rayden!" he yelled. Rayden began to look up, to see what the trouble was, but even by then it was too late.
Lightning prepared to strike when there was a sudden burst of light from behind her. She whirled around, caught unawares.
"Enough!" shouted a strange person dressed in black robes with a glimmering black cape.
"Jikan Tai," Rayden said next to Liu, his eyes narrowing. "What is the Guardian doing here?"
"I will kill them." Lightning answered. "They are not real!"
"Lightning," Jikan Tai said firmly, "Stand down. I do not want to hurt you."
"You can not hurt me!" the goddess screamed. She leapt towards the Guardian, but he was prepared.
Lifting up his staff, Jikan Tai pointed at her and said softly: "Time stream memories flood."
The staff, which was long and gray shaped like a key at the end, seemed to shimmer. The shimmer seemed to pass through the air connecting with Lightning mid-leap.
She howled and dropped abruptly, curling in the fetal position, clutching at her temples. Jikan Tai walked up to her, kneeling at her side. He touched her forehead briefly, and she immediately stopped screaming. She uncurled, and seemed to relax.
"What are you doing here?" Rayden asked suddenly, standing up. "I thought you `were not allowed to meddle in the affairs of mortals'."
"I'm not," Jikan Tai replied, his face impassive. "I am helping an Immortal." He gestured with his staff to the unconscious Lightning.
"An Immortal who was trying to kill us!" Liu added, stepping beside Rayden.
Jikan Tai said nothing, but stared momentarily at Liu Kang. The Guardian brushed a strand of his dark black hair from his face. "There is no time for this," he said finally to Rayden. "You must leave."
"Leave? To go where?" Rayden seemed a bit irritated, but that was pretty much normal for the god from Liu's point of view. "Hiko's hurt. Johnny and Sonya are as well. They might even be dead for all I can see. Jikan Tai, I know I owe you a great favour, but I can't leave right this moment to go gallivanting around the time stream."
"The mortals have not been harmed," Jikan Tai replied smoothly. "Hiko will recover from her injury as well. And, for once--" there was a slight smile on the normally dead-pan face- -"we will not "gallivant" around the time-stream at all."
"Oh?" Rayden didn't seem all that interested. He sighed. "I don't suppose that this has anything to do with Lightning, does it?"
"Good guess. It is a long story, Rayden, and there are--" Jikan Tai broke off to turn and glance at both Sonya and Johnny, lying on the grass, "--other matters to attend to."
"Oh my God," Johnny moaned. Liu helped him sit up. "I feel like I've been hit by a truck."
"That's what comes of being struck by lightning generated by an insane goddess," Liu replied dryly. "How are you doing, Sonya?"
"I'll be all right." Sonya answered. She looked up at Jikan Tai who was standing over the mortals, his black cape seeming to change colours in the light. "Hey, haven't I seen you before?"
"Yeah, you look familiar," Johnny added, rubbing his head.
Jikan Tai said nothing. He merely turned and walked away.
"I could swear I've seen him before." Johnny continued.
Hiko and Rayden stood together talking, and Jikan Tai, for his part, thought it best not to disturb them.
"I don't trust him," Rayden said in a low tone.
"I know he's changed over the years," Hiko reminded him gently. "But he's always been there to help."
"I know--but something bothers me. Why would he stick up for Lightning? She's obviously insane."
"Well, obviously," Hiko shook her head. "But if Jikan Tai is involved, there must be more here than we know. We should trust him, Rayden. We both owe him that, at least."
Rayden glanced over at the mortals. "Sonya and Johnny seem to be doing okay. Maybe it's time we did get some answers."
Jikan Tai seemed uncomfortable having the combined gaze of so many people upon him. "I know that you think that Lightning is insane," he began. "But she isn't."
"That's news to me," Johnny interjected. Liu elbowed him in the ribs.
"No, she isn't. She is the product of a mind control experiment, conducted by Cosmos."
"Come again?" asked Hiko. She stood rigid, her arms crossed. "He didn't have the chance to do this while he was alive, and as he is extremely dead, I don't think he'll get to it now."
"Not your Cosmos--" Jikan Tai started to explain, but stopped. He sighed, shaking his head slightly. "How can I make you understand this? Cosmos--the Cosmos I'm talking about--was another version of the one you know. Knew."
"I knew it!" Liu exclaimed. "A parallel universe."
"They don't exist," Rayden replied gruffly.
"They do," Jikan Tai said softly. Both deities looked shocked. "I am the Guardian of Time--and I have the power to swtich between dimensions. I can travel to different Omniverses, some like our own, some not--I frequently explore them. That's when I first learned of this problem."
"I can't believe this," Rayden repeated firmly.
"Rayden, Lightning's proof!" Sonya exclaimed. She gestured to the goddess, who remained lying on the ground unconscious. Rayden said nothing in return.
"Her Omniverse is in danger," Jikan Tai said softly. "It is a danger that could threaten everything. That's why I helped her through the border, into our Omniverse."
"So she could kill us all?" Johnny inquired, sarcastically. He seemed to be taking Rayden's position on the matter. Liu and Sonya seemed very ready to believe it, and Hiko remained emotionless, staring at the goddess who claimed to be her daughter.
"She is suffering from after-effects of Cosmos's control over her. She will be fine when she wakes up," Jikan Tai replied.
"So what do you want us to do?" Hiko said suddenly, focusing on the Guardian. "Travel to his Omniverse, and defeat him all over again?" There was something in Hiko's voice that made Jikan Tai pause, and Rayden looked at her worriedly. Hiko turned to gaze at Lightning again. "I won't go," she finished, softly.
"But--" Jikan Tai started, then stopped. Hiko glared at him furiously. He nodded, and stared at the ground meekly.
"Hiko?" asked Rayden slowly, but she shook her head no, and said nothing.
"Is there any one who wishes to go?" the Guardian said hesitantly. "I gathered--I gathered you together here because I thought that you would help us."
"I'm in," Liu said immediately.
"So am I," added Sonya.
"Me too, I guess," Johnny said reluctantly.
"Lord Rayden?" prompted Jikan Tai.
Rayden looked over at Hiko. She met his eye, then nodded briefly, a forlorn look in her eyes. "I'll go," the Thunder God replied.
"I had hoped the Lady Hiko would join us," Jikan Tai said, sadly, "but I suppose it can't be helped. At least I brought back-up."
He pointed his wand directly past the group. Immediately, the air began to open up, revealing a green portal. There was a flash of light and a familiar figure in red and blue appeared.
"Hey guys," Nova said with a large grin. "Miss me?"
"Nova!" exclaimed Johnny, instantly. Sonya frowned. Liu looked surprised. Rayden seemed pleased. Hiko turned to Jikan Tai, furious.
"How dare you involve her! Have you no conscience at all? The poor girl had to fight her father once already!"
"Lady Hiko--" Jikan Tai began nervously. He was obviously afraid of the Fire Goddess, and naturally so, as she was becoming more irate by the moment. Rayden put an arm around her shoulders, but she shrugged it off.
"I will have nothing to do with this!" she spat out at Jikan Tai. She turned on her daughter, just as angry. "And you! If you go on this stupid escapade, I will never talk to you again!" The goddess seemed on the verge of tears.
"Mother--what's the matter?" Nova cried, obviously distraught. "I don't understand--"
"The past is best left buried," Hiko announced, her voice choked-up. "Don't go. Don't do this."
"Mother, I need to," Nova said gently, confused. She placed both hands on her mother's shoulders. Hiko glared at her, and shrugged her off. She walked away from her daughter, and the others.
"Fine." She said it in a tone of anger, mixed with grief. There was a bright flash of fiery light, and she disappeared.
Rayden suddenly found himself to be the center of attention. "I don't know what has gotten into her," he admitted, just as confused as the others. He sighed, then started walking in the direction that Hiko had left in, intending to follow her through his own portal, but Jikan Tai grabbed his sleeve. Rayden looked at him, and Jikan Tai let go immediately.
"Please, Lord Rayden--I fear that we don't have much time. I must begin the preparations to open the portal--are you coming?" the Guardian said slowly. He seemed unaccustomed to having to talk to so many people, or even so much, and Hiko's anger had greatly upset him.
Rayden thought for a moment, glancing first to where his "daughter" lay--still unconscious--and second towards where his wife had vanished. "I'll come," he said softly.
Jikan Tai breathed a sigh of relief that he had been holding. "I will start the preparations immediately." Rayden didn't seem to hear him.
Sonya glared at Johnny.
"What did I do now?" he sighed, turning to face her, hands on his hips.
"I want to know what went on between you two." she said fiercely.
"Don't play dumb, Johnny Cage," Sonya snapped. "you do it too well. You and Nova-- what's going on?"
"Nothing," Johnny answered, flatly.
"I don't believe that," Sonya replied adamantly.
"Fine. Don't believe it." Johnny shrugged, rolling his eyes. He abruptly sauntered off, leaving Sonya to fume silently.
Liu was kneeling by the prone body of the goddess Lightning when Rayden approached. Liu looked up. Rayden looked very haggard; but the mortal could see why. Having a strange daughter show up, as well as having his entire belief system shaken, on top of which his wife may have just had, or was about to have, a complete breakdown, would cause any man to look haggard. Even though Rayden was the God of Thunder, Liu supposed stress still applied in the same way.
"How is she?" Rayden said, kneeling down.
"I think she might come around soon." Liu said softly. He had the oddest urge to whisper, in case she woke up. Rayden looked at him for a moment.
"It can't be right," was all he said as he got up and left Liu with the unconscious goddess.
"What can't be right?" Liu asked, as Rayden walked away. The Thunder God turned to face him.
"She can't be from another Omniverse--there aren't other Omniverses. Every deity is taught that, from the beginning. This," he said, opening his arms expansively, "is all there is."
Liu looked at the god. "But what--what if you were only told that?"
"Why," asked Rayden slowly, "would we be taught a lie?"
"Maybe--" Liu began, "maybe it was a preventative measure..."
"So that people like Shao Khan could have limits?" Rayden finished, shaking his head ruefully. "This comes from far earlier than that. This comes from the First Realm and surely..." He trailed off, doubting himself. "It's still a shock to learn something like that."
"It is," Liu agreed, remembering his own feelings regarding the Mortal Kombat tournament.
Johnny Cage, bored, and just a little bit hungry, sauntered over to Jikan Tai, who stood with his head bowed in the middle of the clearing. His staff was held tightly over his chest, and he was murmuring something.
"Hey," Johnny said by way of greeting. Jikan Tai did not seem to notice, and if he did, he made no sign.
"Stop bothering him," came a soft whisper. Nova stepped out, and Johnny realised she had been there the whole time.
"Don't do that," Johnny hissed.
Nova smiled gently, and took Johnny's hand. "It's been a while, hasn't it?" she asked, as they were walking away from the Guardian.
"Yeah," Johnny answered with a funny smile of all his own.
"I think she's waking up," Liu said suddenly. Rayden kneeled right beside her, as she opened her eyes.
"Rayden?" she murmured softly.
Rayden smiled slightly in response. She sighed, and took his hand. "I'm so glad it's all over," she continued. "I thought I'd never be free of Cosmos' grip over me."
"You're free now," Rayden agreed. Without realising he was doing it, he gave Lightning's hand a small squeeze. She smiled weakly, and tried to get up.
"Where's Jikan Tai?" she asked.
"He's creating a special portal of some sort," Liu answered, as he and Rayden helped Lightning up.
"A portal?" Lightning asked in a horrified tone. "No--not--he's not going back, is he?"
"I think so--" Liu said.
"No--" Lightning seemly terrified. "I can't go back. I can't face him again."
"It'll be all right," Rayden said. The frightened goddess clung to him.
"What if it isn't? Where's Mom?"
"Hiko? She's gone," Rayden said.
"I--" Lightning seemed to faint, and Liu leapt up to support her.
"Here," Rayden said, "Take care of her." He gently pushed Lightning onto Liu. Lightning, for the most part seemed incognizant, and she wrapped her arms around Liu's neck. Liu seemed a bit flushed, but accepted the responsibility nonetheless.
Rayden disappeared in a crackle of lightning. Liu realised he must have gone to talk some sense into Hiko. Lightning began to come around.
"Rayden?" she asked, almost sleepily.
"No, I'm Liu Kang," Liu answered. She opened her eyes, and Liu got a bit of start when he realised how blue they were. They were almost hypnotising in their clarity. She blinked, halting the effect, and Liu let out the breath of air he had been involuntarily holding.
"Liu Kang," she murmured, resting her head in the crook of his neck. Liu went distinctly red.
"Guys!" Sonya Blade yelled. "I think it's show time."
Johnny and Nova came running. They both looked a little flustered. Liu was supporting Lightning, who seemed to have recovered fairly well.
Sonya tensed up as she saw Lightning, but Lightning looked completely harmless, leaning on Liu, and Sonya caught Liu's eye. He shook his head no. Sonya relaxed slightly. Slightly. She gave Lightning a look that said I'll be watching you--make one move and you're dead.
Rayden suddenly appeared, sans Hiko. "I couldn't convince her," he said in response to their unanswered question. He seemed a bit shaken up.
Liu was about to say something when Jikan Tai's eyes suddenly opened. He thrust his staff out, nearly knocking Johnny over. He leapt out of the way with a yelp.
The air in front of the group began to shimmer, then ripped open with a shriek. The portal swirled with a myriad of colours, mostly purple and black.
"Did I say that I have a bad feeling about this yet?" Johnny said.
"I think that applies to all of us," Nova said dryly. "Who's going first?"
There was general silence before Sonya stepped up. "I will." She took a deep breath, and leapt into the portal.
Nova was next, Johnny Cage followed. Liu started to walk towards him, but Lightning held him back. She looked terrified. Jikan Tai noticed this, and held out his hand to her. She gingerly took it, leaving Liu free to enter the portal.
"You must go next, Lord Rayden," Jikan Tai said. He seemed very weary. "The portal will close behind me."
Rayden nodded, and stepped through.
It was all working the way it was supposed to. The mortals were falling into a trap, and they didn't even know. The destroyer was quite pleased. Perhaps the Lightning diversion was well worth the energy investment after all.
Sonya glanced around. The field was completely empty, except for the tall blowing grasses. The entire place was eerily familiar.
"Does anybody else get the same feeling of deja vu?" Johnny Cage said out loud, his voice breaking the silence.
Nova shivered, and not from the cold. The plains were quite warm, but Nova felt a cold tingle run up and down her spine. This was an exact replica of the field around her father's castle, before his Realm was destroyed, where Nova had grown up. The castle was nowhere in sight, but that didn't stop the foreboding feelings.
"Does anybody else get the same feeling of deja vu?" Johnny repeated, a grin on his face.
Liu and Sonya both rolled their eyes. "Can the jokes, Cage," Sonya snapped.
"I was just trying to lighten the mood," Johnny replied.
"Can't you be serious for once?" Liu sneered.
"Can't you loosen up?"
"This is serious business," Liu repeated. Johnny went bright red, but said nothing as Rayden stepped in between the two.
"Enough!" was all he said, but it did the trick. Glaring at each other, Johnny and Liu calmed down. Nova regarded both with worry, but didn't know how to address the issue.
Lightning and Jikan Tai said nothing in all of this. Lightning looked around, about burst into tears at any moment. Jikan Tai had his arm around her comfortingly, but suddenly he swayed, and nearly lost his balance. Lightning propped him up, uttering a small cry of surprise.
"I'll be all right," he gasped. "I think--I think it took too much out of me, creating such a complicated portal--it's really the first time I've done anything like it."
"Can you make it back to our Realm?" Rayden asked, concerned.
"I don't need to--I can rest between Realms," the Guardian answered, with a nod. He suddenly vanished, disappearing like a ghost. Lightning seemed more frightened by Jikan Tai leaving than by being back in her home Realm, and she whimpered. Johnny rolled his eyes. Liu stepped next to her.
"I shouldn't have come back. It's all my fault," she said, shaking.
"No, it's not," he replied.
"Yes it is," Johnny snapped.
"Johnny! What's gotten in to you?" Nova exclaimed, startled.
"Nothing, except being pushed around like this," he snarled, looking at Liu and Lightning.
"Nobody pushed you around," Sonya replied. She and Rayden seemed completely off- guard. Lightning looked petrified, Liu was furious, and Nova totally bewildered.
"I'm going to do this the right way--by myself," Johnny finished, furiously, and he headed off from the rest of the group.
"Johnny!" Nova cried. "No! Wait!" She started after him, but Sonya grabbed her arm.
"Don't bother," she said harshly. Nova looked horrified, but wrenched her arm free of Sonya's grip, and charged after Johnny.
"This is just great," Rayden sighed. "By the Creator..."
Sonya caught a glimpse of Lightning out of the corner of her eye. It almost seemed as if the goddess was smiling, but when Sonya double checked, she seemed just as distraught as before. The mortal shook her head.
"What should we do?" asked Liu.
Rayden was just about to reply when there was a sudden peal of laughter, and the group instantly vanished.
"Johnny!" Nova yelled. "Johnny Cage!"
The movie star turned to face her. "What?"
"What the hell has gotten into you?!" she exclaimed. The fury in her voice made her seem, for an instant, the spitting image of her mother, Hiko.
"Nothing has gotten into me," he snapped in response.
"Nothing? You call that nothing?" Nova was wild with anger. "I don't know what the hell has happened, but by the Creator, I'll find out!"
She suddenly lunged forward. Johnny stepped back, catching her arms. "Stay away from me!" he yelled.
"Something has happened to you!" she retorted. "Let me find out."
"Nothing has happened to me," Johnny stated flatly. "I am who I always was."
"The person you were would not treat one of your best friends like that," Nova replied, fiercely. Johnny had nothing to say in response. She closed her eyes. Johnny gasped as his hands started to tingle slightly.
"Just as I thought," Nova whispered.
"What?" the movie star asked, feeling slightly sick to his stomach.
"Someone is controlling you," Nova murmured. "I can't tell who--probably Cosmos."
"Why?" Johnny wasn't even sure he wanted to know.
"My guess is that whomever is doing this wants to drive a wedge between you and the others." Nova seemed completely in trance, her eyes moving slightly under her eyelids. "I think I can undo the damage--"
The tingly feeling increased, and suddenly Johnny doubled over, as if he had been hit in the stomach. He let go of Nova and fell to the ground, groaning.
"It's been in play for a few days," Nova said, kneeling beside him. He was in the fetal position, moaning softly. "It was quite deep--probably so that Rayden wouldn't pick up on it casually."
Finally Johnny managed to sit up. He was very pale, but his feelings of nausea were passing. "Was I really so stupid?"
"Yes," Nova said with a rueful smile. "Probably so that you would appear completely irrational and untrustworthy to the others."
"It's gone now, right?"
"I think so. Stick by me, just in case. Once we defeat Cosmos, it should be gone for good."
Johnny tried to stand up awkwardly. Nova helped him. He was still unnaturally pale, and very tired looking. "We've got to go back," he said, finally. Nova smiled and nodded, and together they started to walk back toward the others.
"Just over this hill," Nova said, as the approached the spot where they had left the others.
When they reached the top of the hill, they looked out over the empty plains. Nova was astounded. "I can't see them anywhere!"
"Maybe they left without us," Johnny mused. He sighed to himself.
"They wouldn't have done that," Nova said firmly. "At least, Rayden wouldn't have."
"Liu would've," Johnny said sourly. "He's never liked me."
"Stop that!" Nova cried, shaking his arm, agitated. "They're around. We just have to find them."
The two stared around them at the waist high grasses, that were waving gently in the slight breeze.
"Where do we start?" Johnny asked, sobered. In a three-hundred and sixty degree turn, there was only the waving grasses and clear blue sky overhead. "Hey--did you feel that?"
"Feel--" Nova gasped. "The ground's shaking!"
The rocking of the earth under their feet increased dramatically, and with a sudden roar, the ground split completely. With a shriek Nova fell into the crack.
"Nova!" Johnny yelled. Without any hesitation, he leapt in after her.
"Where are we?" Sonya said in awe, not expecting anyone to answer her, as she looked around the hall that they had materialised in, which was windowless and cold. However, someone did reply to her query.
"We're in Cosmos' underground castle," Lightning said, with a slight tremor in her voice. "It's a huge fortress that stretches for miles in every direction."
"The Cosmos I knew hated inclosed areas," Rayden said, a bit puzzled.
"I think we've established that it's not your Cosmos," Sonya said dryly.
"Lightning? Are you all right?" Liu asked, touching her arm gently. She jumped, and whirled around to face him, her eyes wide. She mouthed two words before suddenly misting away into thin air.
The two words were: he's here...
"How good of all of you to join me," came a deep voice from the other end of the hall. The mortals and Rayden turned slowly to face a tall throne, in which a man sat. He was dressed in dark blue robes, which flowed around him as he stood. His short black hair was very straight, and his dark eyes very piercing.
"Cosmos," Rayden snarled. Liu was momentarily startled: he wasn't used to hearing such hatred in the Thunder god's voice.
"You remember me," Cosmos said dryly. "I too remember you, but mostly as the corpse you were when I last saw you. How's my darling Hiko?"
Rayden didn't say anything but the two mortals could feel the energy in the air crackling.
Cosmos smiled wanly and gestured to his side. Lighting appeared, bound around the neck by a long silver chain.
"Lightning!" Liu cried, stepping forward. Cosmos raised a hand to stop him, simultaneously pulling Lightning up by the tether.
"Three against one is not a very fair fight," Cosmos said. "Four against one is worse. Three against two is better."
The chain began to glow, and Lightning screaming, clawing at her neck in a vain attempt to break free. Gradually her screams died out, and she collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
Liu by now was ready to charge Cosmos' throne by himself, but Rayden and Sonya held him back.
"What has he done to her?" he murmured.
Johnny Cage coughed into his hand as he stood up in the long corridor, brushing the dust and dirt off of his clothing. He was glad that he hadn't worn his suit when he went to visit Liu's temple. He smiled faintly as he realised it was only that day that he had arrived, even though it felt like weeks. Above them the roof ground together, sealing their entrance.
Nova coughed herself as she got up, with help from Johnny's steadying hand. "I hope we never have to do that again," she said, hoarse from screaming. "I hate falling."
"I would have never guessed," Johnny replied, dead-pan. Nova scowled, looking like she was going to hit him, but she smiled instead, accepting his attempt to lighten the mood.
"Any idea where we are?" he asked. The smile faded from Nova's face.
"Cosmos' castle," she answered, grimly. "I know these corridors. Why it's below ground is anybody's guess."
"Not mine," Johnny replied. "Although I have a feeling this is where the others ended up."
"Good guess, Human!" boomed a large voice from behind the two. They whirled around to face a large green lizard man. He wore armour, and his long red tongue flicked out, tasting the air.
"Ready?" asked Johnny. He took a fighting position. Nova reached behind her to draw out her bow. A fire arrow appeared in the drawstring.
"No problem," she agreed, aiming. "We can take him."
At that instant, a dozen more lizard men appeared from the end of the corridor. Johnny realised with a start that what they had thought was the end was actually a corner.
"We can still take him," Nova assured Johnny, her voice a bit edgier.
Another dozen appeared. And another.
"Sure, no problem," Johnny agreed with a tense smile. "I mean, the more there are, the harder it is to miss, right?"
The first lizard suddenly screamed, then charged, revealing razor-sharp teeth to go with his deadly-looking claws.
Nova was quicker than Johnny, firing one of her fire arrows directly into the chest of the creature. It roared and fell over, twitching. Two more charged forward in the narrow corridor. Johnny immediately lashed out dealing a swift kick to the creature's head, but to Johnny's complete astonishment, the creature didn't even blink, but raked the movie star across the chest with its three-inch claws.
He managed to jump back quick enough to avoid being gutted altogether, but large red streaks appeared quickly on his chest. Nova shot the two lizards in quick succession, exclaiming: "Go for their chests--that's where they're vulnerable."
Johnny nodded, wincing. The next lizard approached, and before it got close enough to finish the job its comrade had begun, Johnny tried to kick it again, this time in the upper chest. That try was as nearly as unsuccessful as the first attempt: the lizard staggered backwards, but that was all, while Johnny nearly bounced off of it.
"That didn't work either!" Johnny yelled to his partner over the continually roar of the lizards.
Nova was frantically firing arrows, cutting down the lizards quickly--but the faster she cleared them, the faster more appeared from around the bend. "I don't know--" Nova blurted, sounding a bit panicked. "There's too many!"
Suddenly Johnny noticed that one trying to get at them was being forced to lumber over the pile of bodies that was accumulating in front of Nova.
Doing a quick check behind him, Johnny yelled: "Fire only when they get to that spot!"
Nova looked at him, but suddenly realised what he had in store. She nodded, and doubled her efforts. Soon there was a wall of the lizards in front of them. With a glance at the other, they turned and ran, even as the living lizards struggled to get through.
It wasn't until they reached the end of the corridor that Johnny realised his mistake. He had thought that the other end of the corridor was a dead one--until the lizards appeared. He had naturally assumed that this end also was a corner.
But that wasn't true. They were trapped. And the lizards were charging down the hall after them.
Cosmos smiled grimly. He waved his hand as he sat back down on the ornate throne, and the air behind him to the left rippled and shimmered. Lightning appeared.
Liu, Sonya and Rayden gasped. Lightning was completely changed. She now wore a suit of bright blue, the same as Cosmos, complete with a long, swirling cape.
"Kill them," was all that Cosmos said. He did it simply, with a slight wave in their direction, to make sure Lightning killed the right ones.
Lightning grinned maliciously, raising her hands over her head, creating a ball of pure electricity.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Rayden said under his breath. "Everybody down!"
Liu and Sonya dove to the floor, the thunder god closely following, as Lightning hurled the energy towards them with a fearful scream.
"Maybe this is was Jikan Tai meant by mind-control," Sonya said, as they got up warily.
"We can use those corridors for shelter," Liu said, nodding his head in the direction of the open doors. "If we split up, we might have better chances."
"Or she might hunt us down and kill us one by one," Sonya replied, ducking as Lightning hurled more energy over their heads. "Hell. Anything beats this."
Sonya took off for the corridor, while Liu and Rayden waited to give her a moment's start.
Lightning and Cosmos both watched Sonya leave. Cosmos was indifferent, but Lightning was enraged. There was a crack of thunder, and she vanished.
"That wasn't supposed to happen," Liu observed. Both he and Rayden turned to face Cosmos. The god shrugged, on his throne.
"I guess I'll take care of you myself," he said. He waved his hand again in their direction.
Jikan Tai realised his fatal mistake. The plan had fooled him for a long time, but he finally saw all the missing pieces. He only hoped there was enough time to set things right.
"I don't suppose you have any other ideas?" Nova asked Johnny Cage nervously as they faced down a legion of Cosmos' creations. The lizards all stood, waiting for something, their tongues flickering in and out, almost as if in anticipation.
"Not any off the top of my head," Johnny admitted. He winced involuntarily as he noticed the long claws that each of the lizard men had. Not more than a few moments ago, those claws had raked across his chest, leaving an angry reminder of Johnny's inability to fight them properly. Only Nova's fire arrows had the power to stop them--and out of her home Realm-- Nova's power was waning.
The lizards advanced, their eyes glowing red, reflecting firelight from the torches lighting the hall...
Suddenly Johnny realised the potential of the flickering lights. He grabbed the nearest one and held it at arm's length. The lizard that it was closest to immediately shuffled back, knocking into his comrades as he did.
"That's one minor detail solved," Johnny remarked.
"Good. Only one left--how do we get out of here?" Nova asked. "We can't push them all back."
"Leave that to me," called another voice. Johnny and Nova risked a glance behind them-- their weapons still trained--and recognised someone they had seen leave only a few minutes ago.
"Jikan Tai," Nova said, with a tilt to her head. She turned back to face the lizards. "Sorry about the reception."
"I don't deserve one," the Guardian said, stepping forward to stand next to the two. "I've been an idiot--but I'm going to make it all up."
Johnny was a little surprised at this--the normally very shy, very reserved Jikan Tai was furious--and flushed to a deep red. The Guardian did not make eye contact with Johnny, but pointed his staff at the living wall of creatures before them and said: "Time-line switch- back."
His staff, a long metal pole shaped like a key at one end with a large red jewel in the center of the key, began to glow ferociously. The light burst out with a sudden brightness that left Johnny blinded. When his sight returned, he realised that nothing had happened.
The lizards remained in front of them. Jikan Tai gasped out loud, shaken to the core. "It didn't work!" he cried, distraught.
Nova and Johnny exchanged a glance behind the Guardian's shoulder when there was a sudden movement from the front of the crowd. One lizard, angered by the bright light, charged forward. The exact incident had happened to Johnny, but Jikan Tai's reaction time was nowhere as honed as the movie star's, and Nova screamed as the Guardian crumpled to the floor, his staff clattering on the floor.
Johnny stood guard with the torch at the ready as Nova knelt down to Jikan Tai. He was breathing shallowly, his eyes fluttering. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "But I can still try to make things right..."
There was another bright flash of light.
Sonya looked behind her for a moment. The hallway was clear. She skidded to a stop, to catch her breath. She had no idea how long she had been running. Or how far away she was from the others. The hallways were all the same gray stone, with the same flickering torches at the same intervals. She only hoped that the others had enough time to get away too. Or enough sense, in Liu's case. Sonya had a distinct idea of what Liu's feelings regarding Lightning were, and they didn't please the Army lieutenant one bit. Not one iota.
There was a sudden peal of high-pitched laughter.
Sonya whirled, already in a fighting position. She scowled as she met Lightning's gaze.
"Time to finish what we started, mortal," Lightning spit the last word out as if she couldn't bare to say it.
"Beat you once, beat you again," Sonya replied, with an easy confidence she wasn't quite sure she felt. Giving no warning, Sonya lashed out, striking Lightning in the chin. Lightning shrieked, and staggered back, clutching her lower face. "If you weren't human, you'd have broken my jaw," Lightning admitted, finally, a note of admiration in her voice.
"That was the general idea," Sonya replied with a snort.
Lightning smiled. As smiles go, it was a particularly nasty one, full of menace. Lightning gathered energy around her hands. "You are only human," she said, the energy crackling in the air. "You can be killed. You will be."
"You're sounding more and more like a bad b-movie villain, did you know that?" Sonya asked her. Again, without warning, Sonya lashed out again, this time aiming for the goddess' stomach. As she doubled over, Sonya got in a swift uppercut, then grabbed Lightning and shoved her against the wall.
The goddess smiled again. This time, Sonya couldn't see the energy, but she heard it, a sudden roar--then a flash of light.
"It's about time you solved your own problems, Cosmos," Rayden said with a snarl.
Cosmos laughed. "You sound as if you know me." he said. "But you don't. I know you don't. I know everything Lightning now knows."
"Then you know I'd like to strangle you with my bare hands," Rayden continued.
Cosmos stopped laughing, but the smile continued. It reminded Liu in many ways of the evil grin which Lightning wore with honour. Perhaps it was just the malice.
"Shall we?" Cosmos stood up, his arms spread. "Shall we fight, you and I, no powers, right here? Shall we finish this for once and for all?"
Rayden said nothing, but took a fighting stance, and that was answer enough. Cosmos stepped down from the raised floor of the throne end, and walked towards the thunder god, until they were only a few metres apart. He too took a fighting pose. Rayden seemed about to make the first move when there was a sudden flash of light in the hall.
Johnny Cage appeared, dishevelled, with red scratches along his chest. Nova was at his feet, cradling Jikan Tai, who also was wounded, but worse than Johnny. To the side, Sonya and Lightning appeared, Sonya with her hands pulling on Lightning's collar.
With a gasp of surprise, Lightning teleported to Cosmos's side, and they both vanished to reappear back at the throne end of the room.
"What is going on?" roared Cosmos, over the initial shock. "You! Guardian! I knew you'd be behind this!"
"I am," croaked Jikan Tai. He stood up wearily, supported by Nova. He clutched his staff, and used it as a crutch.
"Why did you bother to come back here, mortal?" sneered Cosmos, Lightning by his side.
"Because I felt like it," Jikan Tai replied loudly, raising his voice for the first time that Rayden could ever remember. "Because this charade has gone on enough."
"I agree," Cosmos pointed at the group of mortals, and Lightning leapt towards them.
Jikan Tai did not even blink as Lightning bore down on him. He was shoved to the floor, and lay there limply, blood still oozing through the tears in his jacket.
"I trusted you," was all he said, softly.
Lightning stopped in her tracks, a peculiar look in her eyes. She seemed almost confused. "I--"
She was about to say something when Sonya and Johnny smashed into her at once, from each side. She was soon pinned to the floor, squirming furiously.
Nova and Rayden caught each other's eyes for a moment. Then they both nodded simultaneously. Rayden stepped in front of Johnny, Sonya and Lightning, while Nova crouched by Lightning herself. She lightly touched Lightning's forehead.
"Stop this!" Cosmos roared in response. He took a step forward, but Rayden blocked his path. The goddess herself made no movements, submitting meekly to Nova's touch.
Cosmos hurled a bolt of energy at Rayden, but Rayden deflected it with ease. Seeing that tactic wasn't working, Cosmos attempted to punch the thunder god, but that movement was deftly blocked.
"Is that the best you can do?" Rayden asked, innocently.
"I'm just warming up," Cosmos snarled.
Without warning, and with spilt-second speed, Rayden managed to hit Cosmos square in the face. The punch was solid, and blood was soon spurting from the God of Space's nose. He drew his bloodied hand away in horror.
Nova had a peculiar sensation run through her as she tried to break the hold on Lightning. It was almost a feeling of foreboding, but somehow mixed with a strange sense of deja vu. Lightning's mind was cluttered with a thousand different images--most very recognisable to Nova herself, such as Jikan Tai, Rayden, Hiko, the mortals--and a flame coloured bird. Nova knew it instantly as the symbol of the fire clan--to which she herself belonged.
It was not hard to break the spell of Cosmos' mind control. Nova was very familiar with it, and Lightning herself seemed eager to break free. In only a moment, Nova sat back on the floor, her eyes open.
"I did it," she said softly. Johnny and Sonya nodded. Lightning had stopped struggling a long time ago, but now she gave a small cry and fainted. There was a soft shimmer in the air as her clothes reverted to their original shape, and original white and red colouring.
Cosmos drew his hand away from his throbbing nose. His fingers were smeared with blood. Rayden stood in front of him, smirking.
"I'm done warming up now," the thunder god said triumphantly.
Cosmos scowled. He looked over Rayden's shoulder to see Lightning return to herself, his spell broken. He disappeared with a flash of light. Like an upside down cheshire cat, his scowl seemed to remain even after he disappeared.
"Nice shot, Rayden," Johnny Cage congratulated, getting up from the floor.
Rayden smiled again, shaking his hand slightly. "I've been wanting to do that for a long time," he admitted.
Liu Kang, meanwhile, crouched next to Lightning, who was just beginning to come around. "Is she going to be okay?" he asked Nova, who was sitting resting for a moment. Nova nodded. Liu sighed with relief, then realised that Sonya was looking at him funny. He caught her gaze, but she looked away.
Sonya looked away from Liu's stare, and noticed with a start that Jikan Tai was leaning far too heavily on his staff. She leapt up to help him. "Lean on me," she ordered. The Time Guardian was breathing labouredly, and Sonya could feel his blood soaking into her shirt.
"You--you're mortal," she said, realising it with a shock. "I didn't know--"
"Most people don't," Jikan Tai with a wry smile. He closed his eyes for a moment as his knees started to buckle. "Most mortals don't, anyway."
"Sit down, you've lost a lot of blood." Sonya commanded him again.
"Yes sir," he replied, his eyes closed, as she helped him sit down.
"I'm going to get Rayden--" Sonya began, but as she started to get to her feet, Jikan Tai grabbed her arm, surprisingly strong.
"There's not enough time," he said softly. "I'm going to give you the way out of here, Sonya." He reached inside the front of his jacket and pulled out a small object from within the folds. He dropped it into her hands. It was an antiquated version of a pocket watch, gilt, with roman numerals on the face. Sonya had a sudden flash of deja vu, but she couldn't place it at all. "I know you can do this, so I'm trusting you with it. I have to go--I won't make it if I stay. But don't forget that I can help you if you really truly need it."
"I won't," Sonya said, fingering the watch.
Jikan Tai smiled. "I thought you'd gotten over that problem, Sonya." There was a faint flicker of light, and the time Guardian vanished. Sonya stood back up, slipping the locket into her pocket as Rayden came up to her.
"Where's Jikan Tai? Lightning's conscious now--we're ready to go home," Rayden told her. Her looked at her strangely. "What's happened?"
"He's gone, Rayden," Sonya answered bluntly. "He was nearly dead. He had to go."
"But--now we're stuck here! I do not have enough power to open a portal. Even if I did, I don't know if I could." Rayden was furious.
"It's taken care of," Sonya said firmly. Her hand wrapped around the watch, feeling its cool metal against her skin.
Lightning opened her eyes slowly. "What?" she asked.
"It's okay, his spell is broken." Liu said softly. Lightning looked up at him, disoriented. Suddenly her eyes rolled back and she collapsed. Liu caught her in time. She was awake, barely, but very weak. Cradling her gently, he was about to call out to Nova for help when he noticed a movement in the corner of his eye.
"Well, at least that's all taken care of," Johnny said pleasantly.
"It is?" Nova asked.
"Sure. Lightning is... back to her old self, Cosmos is gone--" Johnny stopped suddenly as Nova put her finger to her lips. She slowly stood on her tip toes to see over Johnny's shoulder.
"What is it?" he asked quietly. She glanced at him.
"We've got company."
"Everybody down!" Nova screamed suddenly. Sonya, years of training kicking in, dived to the floor, pulling Rayden down with her as a bolt of fire soared over head, striking the first lot of lizard men pouring in through the doors.
"What the hell?" asked Sonya, half off the floor, looking over her shoulder. She saw the razor sharp claws, the mouth full of teeth, and her eyes widened. No wonder Johnny sported such great scars. She got up slowly.
"Sonya, get down!" Nova yelled. "The only place they're vulnerable is their chests--and they're protecting by armour."
Sonya ducked as another blast of fire flew by. Several of the lizards dropped, but more replaced them. Nova couldn't keep up the pace forever.
"Sonya, get down!" Nova repeated. Sonya reached inside her jacket.
"I can take care of myself," she insisted, pulling out her standard army-issue gun. She took aim, fired, and the lizard staggered backwards, keeling over moments later.
Rayden gathered up his power to help Nova and Sonya deal with the lizards when there was a sudden tap on his shoulder. He turned and was nearly knocked out by a stunning blow from Cosmos. "I'm done warming up as well," the god announced, swinging another blow. Rayden managed to block this one, then tried to punch Cosmos' stomach. Cosmos staggered backwards for a moment, but not long enough for Rayden to get in another punch. With sudden swiftness Cosmos kicked Rayden in the shoulder, and the thunder god was actually knocked over. Cosmos pulled him up by the collar. "This time, I'll do it properly," he hissed. He created a knife in his hand, and held it against Rayden's throat.
Johnny grabbed the torch from the hallway, and raced back inside to the hall, nearly running into Nova in the process. The goddess looked like she was running low on juice. Her blasts were significantly less substantial. Sonya seemed to be having no problems with her more mundane approach, but the movie star knew that she couldn't use the gun forever, unless she had an ammo belt stashed on her. Johnny didn't put it past her.
"Got a plan, Cage?" Sonya asked as he stood next to her.
"You know I do," he replied, flashing a grin. Sonya sighed and rolled her eyes, her aiming never slipping.
Taking a moment to concentrate on the task at hand, Johnny threw the torch with all his might. It hit the wall above the lizards with a thud, then bounced harmlessly off. A few lizards scattered as the torch fell on them.
"Great plan. I hope there's a Part B?" Sonya asked.
"Just watch," Johnny said with a smile.
Right above the doorway that the lizard reinforcements were pouring through was a large tapestry, one of many in the castle that were hanging on the walls. Although Sonya hadn't noticed it when she watched, the torch had started a small fire on one of the hangings. Before their eyes, the tapestry was soon ablaze. One of the tongues of fire reached the support for the tapestry, and it came crashing down on the lizards. They scattered immediately, many retreating back into the hallways.
"I take that back, Johnny--" Sonya said, a bit impressed. She lowered her gun, there no longer being a need.
"I wouldn't, if I were you," cried Nova. "Look!" The blazing tapestry fire had by now spread, causing a blazing carpet fire. The whole room was going up in smoke. "We've got to get out of here!" Nova continued. She turned to tell Rayden, and her mouth literally dropped when she saw what was happening.
"Rayden!" Sonya yelled. He was pinned by Cosmos with a knife against his neck. Without even thinking, Sonya raised her arm, and fired several shots at Cosmos. They hit the god straight on. He yelled--dropping the knife, which vanished the minute it left his hand--and Rayden seized the opportunity. He grabbed Cosmos's arm and deftly flipped the god over.
"This ends, now!" he said. Rayden gathered a ball of electricity in his hands. Cosmos watched him with anger.
"I know you're too weak to kill me--just like my version of you!" he sneered. He coughed suddenly in the smoke.
Rayden faltered for a moment. Cosmos seized the opportunity and leapt up from the floor, hands outstretched, trying to strangle Rayden. Rayden could barely keep Cosmos was getting a grasp. It was beginning to be hard to fight, as the room was filling with smoke.
"No!" Lightning screamed. She was one her feet now, supported by Liu Kang. She suddenly grabbed Sonya's gun. "I am not letting you kill him again!"
"What do you propose to do?" Cosmos laughed. "Kill me with that clumsy weapon? You know that mortals or their tools can't hurt Immortals."
Lightning closed her eyes. There was a shimmer of light briefly around the gun. She opened her eyes again. She fired, twice in succession.
The shots echoed in the burning hall. Cosmos staggered backwards and then disappeared in a black-purple haze.
Lightning turned to Liu, her eyes wide. She dropped the gun, and collapsed against his shoulder, sobbing. He patted her back awkwardly as Sonya picked up the gun and put it back in her shoulder holster.
Behind them a tapestry landed on the floor with a loud crash. The entire room was nearly in flames.
"Time to go," Rayden announced, joining the group.
"I can't," Lightning said, turning to face him, her face red and streaked with tears. "I wouldn't last very long at all in your...in your Omniverse. I'd have no dominion. I'd lose all my powers. I might even..."
"We'll find a way to keep you healthy. You'll come with us," Rayden insisted. He turned to Sonya. "You said you had a way out of here, Sonya?"
She nodded, and pulled out the watch. With the feeling of being in some sort of dream, she closed her eyes and said: "Time Gate open. Take us back to our own Omniverse and Realm."
The Realm collapsed in on itself. It could no longer rely on its owner to power it, and so it became nothing, and the Omniverse it consisted of disappeared as well. One down.
One moment they were in the burning, smoke filled Hall that belonged to Cosmos, and the next minute they were back standing in the front of the Temple of Light. It was if nothing had changed.
Liu Kang looked around him. The Temple was still deserted--Rayden having moved the monks to a safer location when the whole adventure began--and Liu felt like he had been away for weeks, instead of a mere few hours. Was it only a few hours? He shook his head and sighed.
Lightning was still clinging to him, although she had stopped crying as she stared around the grounds in wonder. "I can barely remember being here," she said. "It was like a dream."
"This whole thing has been like a dream," Liu replied. He gave her a quick squeeze, then let go, and wandered over to talk to Rayden.
The thunder god seemed exhausted. He was rubbing his eyes tiredly. He looked up to see Liu.
"Will you be bringing the monks back, now?" Liu asked. "Now that the danger is over."
"Probably," Rayden said with a sigh. "I guess so. I haven't thought about it yet."
"I'm looking forward to seeing my Grandfather again," Liu admitted. He started staring at the horizon, at the river down below the hill. Rayden nodded, just as Lightning appeared at Liu's side, clutching his arm. She seemed nervous to be any where by herself. Liu didn't mind particularly, as he put his arm around her. Rayden gave them both a glance, but didn't say anything.
Suddenly there was a flicker of light. "Mother!" Nova cried happily, running to embrace Hiko, who had just appeared. Mother and daughter hugged for a moment, before Hiko stepped away, and began examining her child.
"Nova!" she exclaimed. "Where did all this blood come from?"
"What?" Alarmed, Nova checked her clothes. Her blue and red robes were stained with dark red splotches, mostly on the arms. "Oh--that's not from me."
"Who's it from, then?" Hiko asked worriedly.
"Johnny," Nova clarified, bringing Johnny over for inspection. Hiko was horrified.
"We have to get him some help at once!" she cried. "Is anybody else hurt?"
They all shook their heads. Hiko turned back to her daughter. "Nova, there's a camp down the stream where the monks are set up. Take all the mortals down there. Get something to eat. Lie down. Get some bandages and antiseptic on Johnny immediately--we don't want infection setting in. Go on now, shoo, shoo." Her instructions were punctuated with her giving Nova little pushes towards Johnny.
Nova nodded, with a slight smile. The three mortals and Lightning gathered around her, and they disappeared. That left Rayden and Hiko alone on top of the hill.
"Well?" Hiko said. There was something odd in the tone of her voice. It was hard, but not cold. There was a slight tremor.
"We beat Cosmos," Rayden said. "It was another Omniverse. Completely the same as ours." Except for the little things, he thought to himself, but didn't say.
"Oh." Hiko was staring at the ground, her feet shifting nervously. She looked up at Rayden, her eyes watering. She sniffed, and wiped her nose on the edge of her cuff. Rayden started towards her but she shook her head. "I was so worried," she said in a choked voice. "So worried. But I couldn't do anything. I wanted to--" her voice faltered. This time Rayden did walk towards her, and wrapped her in a big hug. Hiko didn't resist this time, but cried openly on his shoulder.
"Sit still," Sonya commanded.
"I am sitting still," Johnny retorted, wincing as she began to wipe his wounds with a clean cloth.
"No, you're not. You're squirming."
"I am not."
Sonya rolled her eyes as she dipped the cloth in the bowl of warm water. She pressed it gently against his chest again, even as Johnny hissed through his teeth.
"I hate this," he complained, his teeth clenched.
"It could be worse," Sonya said. "Iodine is always fun."
"I think I'll pass."
"I don't think so. These wounds are really dirty--we need something in there to stop any infection." Sonya advised, re-dipping and wringing the cloth.
"What do you expect? I've been running around underground caverns and standing in smoky halls. I think I'm entitled to be dirty," Johnny quipped. Sonya looked at him, even as she pressed the cloth to his chest. He stared back at her. For a moment, neither did anything. Then Nova burst in.
Sonya was instantly turned, dipping the cloth yet again, and Johnny stared at the ceiling. Nova looked at them both, a little confused.
"Is everybody okay?" she asked.
"Perfectly fine," Sonya replied briskly.
"Definitely in good hands," Johnny added with a sunny smile. Nova smiled back.
"That's good. Listen--I'm going to go take a nap. I could use the rest. And Liu's organising the move back to the Temple, if you need anything."
"I'm sure we'll be fine," Johnny agreed, breezily, giving Sonya a significant look, which she chose to ignore. Nova was even more confused, and looking questioningly at Johnny, but as all he did was smile at her, she shook her head and left.
"I'm so happy to be here," Lightning said, as she and Liu were walking up the side of the hill with the other monks. "You don't know what it feels like, to know that you're finally free."
"I do, in a way," Liu replied, with a bit of smile. "When we beat the Emperor in Mortal Kombat--it was great knowing that he would never be a threat again."
"Mortal Kombat?" Lightning repeated, hesitent. She stumbled over a rock on the path. Liu Kang caught her. Even as she stood up, she held on to his arm.
"You don't know what Mortal Kombat is?" he asked, as they continued on their way. She shook her head no. "It's when mortals fight, to defend their Realm. In our case, Earth."
"Mortals fight to defend their own Realms?" Lightning repeated, incredulous. "I can't believe that--but then, I couldn't believe that there were such things as mortals, until I met you." She looked up at him adoringly, and Liu felt a lump rise in his throat. He didn't say anything, but smiled, and continued on the way.
As they reached the top of the hill, Lightning suddenly stopped. Liu looked at her, but she was looking at something else. Liu turned to see Rayden and Hiko standing just off to the side. Standing together, face-to-face, they were holding hands, and talking softly. Hiko rested her forehead against Rayden's chest for a moment, but then she noticed Lightning and straightened up.
Lightning clutched Liu's arm. He gave her a pat on the hand, then led her over to the two deities.
"Hiko," Lightning said with a tilt of her head.
"Lightning," Hiko replied, calmly. She looked up at Rayden, and back to her "daughter" and Liu. "Rayden tells me you're going to be staying with us."
"Only if you will allow me," Lightning blurted. She looked very worried, and clutched Liu's arm tighter. Hiko smiled softly. It was a tired smile, but not an unhappy one.
"I hereby invite you to the Realm of Earth," Hiko said. She glanced up at Rayden again, and the smile deepened. "On the behalf of its Protector, of course."
Back at the remains of the camp, Nova woke up from her nap with a gasp. She looked around the small tent. Johnny was still asleep, but Sonya was regarding her closely.
"Did you feel it too?" Sonya asked. Nova nodded.
"What was it?" Nova asked, quietly. Over in another corner of the tent Johnny Cage lay peacefully sleeping, snoring loudly.
Sonya didn't reply at first. She was crouched by Nova's cot, and she was looking out the crack between the door flaps to the Temple on the hill.
"I don't know," she said finally. "Felt like deja vu."
"No," Nova shook her head vehemently. "No, it wasn't. But I don't know what it was."
Sonya smiled slightly. "That seems to be the phrase of the day. For a god you're not very knowledgeable."
Nova seemed a bit miffed. She threw back the covers, and sat up. "We're gods," she replied, "Not omniscient." She nodded towards Cage. "Should we wake him?"
"Nah," Sonya shook her head as she stood up. "We've got as much chance as waking the dead."
Lightning didn't say anything, but was obviously completely thrilled. She gasped, and without warning threw her arms around Hiko and Rayden. Hiko looked a bit stunned and uncomfortable, whereas Rayden just looked uncomfortable. Liu Kang grinned, happy with the way things were wrapping up, at last.
"I can't believe this," Lightning said, finally letting go. Her voice was trembling. "I can't believe any of this is happening!" She laughed, then swooned a little. Liu caught her before she could fall.
Hiko, a bit concerned, held her hand against Lightning's forehead. She looked at Rayden and nodded.
"What?" asked Liu, worried.
"She's just getting up to full power. It may take some time, but eventually she'll have her complete strength in this Realm," Rayden explained. "Once we accepted her, her power levels started to go up."
"A deity can have almost no power in a rival Realm," Hiko continued, stroking Lightning's head gently. The Goddess of Lightning had her eyes closed and was resting against Liu. "It all depends on things like ratio of power between the two, and especially the relationships--it's easy to shut a rival out. Now that she is invited to stay here on Earth, she have her full strength again."
"That's good to hear," Liu shifted Lightning a bit. "I think I'll take her into the monastery, get her to lie down a bit."
Rayden took one of Lightning's arms and placed it around his neck, helping Liu to carry her. With a final glance to Hiko, they started towards the Temple just as Sonya and Nova appeared over the hill.
Nova hugged her mother tightly. "I'm glad you're feeling better," Hiko said, in Standard Mother Tone "I Disapprove Of What You Did, But At Least You're All Right". She petted her daughter's hair affectionately.
"Where did Lightning go?" asked Sonya, a bit suddenly.
"To the Temple." Hiko replied, a little confused. Her eyes narrowed as something unknown occurred to her. "Why?"
"Nothing," Nova said quickly, before Sonya could reply. "Nothing at all."
Sonya harumphed, but didn't add anything. She was obviously not making eye contact with the deity, to avoid the "searching of the soul" that Rayden used so frequently, and with so little discretion. Now Hiko was extremely suspicious. She let her daughter go, and tried to get Sonya to face her.
"If there's something wrong, I want to know about it," she said, a dangerous tone to her voice.
"There's nothing wrong," Sonya replied, fixing her gaze on Hiko and almost daring her to contradict the mortal. Hiko's fire powers blazed up suddenly as she began to feel threatened and indignant. Nova rushed in between them, arms out.
"It's nothing, Mother! Really. I swear it," Nova said, very earnest. Before the fire goddess could say anything, Nova grabbed Sonya by the arm, and pulled her back down the hill, wanting to get out of the way as soon as possible.
Hiko watched them go, then started off towards the Temple.
"Look--" Sonya started, as soon as they were far enough away, but Nova interrupted her, her eyes blazing.
"No, you look. I don't know what you were attempting to pull back there, but what you were doing was getting Hiko angry enough to vaporise you. She can have quite a temper if she feels threatened, I don't think I have to remind you, and pushing all her buttons is not going to help. Anything. At all," Nova snapped. She let go of Sonya's arm angrily, and continued down the hill towards the encampment.
"Where are you going?" Sonya called down after her.
"To get Johnny!" the goddess of Stars snapped. "If anybody should go on this mission with you, it's him."
Sonya stopped, confused. "That's absurd. He can't come. I'll just do it myself."
"I thought you said you needed back-up!" the goddess exclaimed, frustrated.
"That's when I thought you were coming with me."
Nova shook her head, with a sigh. "I'm needed here, with Lightning--but I can't tell anybody that. It's just a feeling. You can't tell anybody that--not even Rayden and Hiko." Nova grew more and more serious. "I have a bad feeling about all of this."
The Temple was bustling with activity, as all the monks busied themselves with putting their lives back on track. An unknown woman--a woman!--strode through their ranks without acknowledgement or apology, and yet no one bothered her. No one stepped in her way to ask where she was going, or what she was doing; no one dared. They knew not who she was, but they certainly knew she was not mortal, and they knew that it was none of their business, anyway.
Hiko knocked politely on the solid wooden door. It creaked open, revealing Rayden. He smiled slightly, and let her in. Lightning lay on a cot against the far wall, Liu sitting cross-legged by her head. They were talking quietly, but stopped when they saw the goddess enter. Lightning sat up when she saw Hiko, her eyes brightening. Liu stood up, nodding politely towards her.
"Rayden," Hiko asked quietly, "I need to talk to you about something."
Rayden looked slightly puzzled, but followed her back out into the hallway, which was now curiously free of people.
"I need to ask you something about Nova and Sonya," Hiko began, very quietly, even though they seemed to be alone. "Were they acting at all strange on the... mission?"
Rayden thought for a moment. "No, not really," he replied in hushed whisper. "Not that I was aware of, anyway." Hiko hummed slightly, looking down the corridor towards something.
"Is anything wrong?" asked Rayden, growing concerned. Hiko caught his eye, but didn't say anything.
The door at the end of the hallway creaked open, and Sonya walked in, followed by Johnny Cage, roused and bed-headed. They both nodded toward Rayden and Hiko as they approached.
"I have to be go," Sonya said, without preamble. "I have a mission to carry out in Hong Kong."
"Uh, I'm going with her," Johnny yawned. She rolled her eyes at this; appearently there had been some sort of an argument. "Where's Liu? We wanted to know if he wanted to stretch his legs a bit with us."
"He's in there," offered Rayden with a tilt of his head. "He's with Lightning."
The two mortals took their leave of the two deities and walked into the room, the door swinging shut behind Johnny.
Liu sighed, and ran a hand through his considerable hair. "Sorry, guys," he said finally, "but I'm going to stay here, help the monks set up and stuff."
"Hey, Liu, no problem," Johnny replied breezily with a clap on the back for his chinese friend. "That's okay with us, right Sonya?"
Sonya nodded. She hadn't said anything thing the whole visit, but merely stood with her arms crossed, giving strange looks in Lightning's direction, which the goddess didn't pick up on. Or ignored.
"Well, I guess that's that," Johnny remarked, to break up the awkward silence. He started to turn around and bumped into Rayden, who was standing blocking the door, arms crossed, and an odd look on his face, that seemed (at least to Johnny) as if he was daring them to do something. It was the rather smug expression that he wore so well, being a god.
"I have an idea," he said brightly, staring Sonya down, "how about Lightning goes with you. You can help her adjust to mortals, and I'm sure she'd be a great back up."
"Thanks, but no thanks. I work only with the people I know can do the job," snapped Sonya rather forcefully and suddenly. Liu was a bit taken aback by the comment, and Lightning looked hurt. Rayden did not change his expression at all, but there was the sound of distant thunder rumbling.
"I didn't ask," Rayden replied, simply.
The two glared at each other until Johnny felt compelled to break the silence yet again.
"Okay!" he exclaimed, casting a look at Sonya. "She can come." Sonya looked at him, startled.
"How dare you--" she began, furious, but both he and the thunder god stared her down.
"What are your objections, exactly?" Rayden inquired, politely.
Sonya grumbled. "I guess I don't have any."
"Then it's settled," the diety said with a sunny smile.
The window shattered outwards, flinging glass along the pavement and on the drunken man who had precipitated the broken window. Sonya Blade stepped over him with all the finesse of someone stepping over a log, or a piece of garbage. Johnny Cage was less blase, he wrinkled his nose in disgust as he stepped over the prone figure. Lightning, not having met many humans let alone a drunk one who had been thrown out a window stared and crouched by the man.
"He smells terrible," she exclaimed, trying to roll him over. "I think he needs some help."
Johnny and Sonya stopped, looked at each other, and each taking an arm, hauled Lightning to her feet.
"Keep moving, sweetheart, none of our business," Johnny said, trying to avoid the staring crowd that was gathering.
"No buts," Sonya interrupted. She quickly steered the goddess into a nearby alley. She slung her roughly up against the wall. "Okay. This is it. Ground rules. Don't unless look unless I tell you, don't talk unless I tell you, don't do anything unless I tell you," she snapped. "And we need to find you something else to wear. Those robes are too conspicuous for Hong Kong."
"Except maybe the theatre district," added Johnny, who was ignored by Sonya.
Lightning nodded, her eyes wide. She was painfully unused to dealing with mortals, but she had decided that Sonya knew what she was doing better than Lightning herself did, which is mostly why Lightning didn't vaporise her on the spot. She snapped her fingers and her red and white ensemble faded then reappeared as plain black pants and a shirt, in a dull beige. Her white hair was now merely blonde, and pulled back with a red hair tie. Sonya snorted, and turned from the alley to continue down the street.
"That's her way of saying she likes it," whispered Johnny snidely.
The building was tall, concrete and ugly. It had all the charm and sophistication of a parking lot, only with less appeal. It was the exact sort of building somebody would use if they were trying to be inconspicuous, as the building was indistinguishable from a hundred other buildings along the harbourfront.
"I still can't follow your logic, Sonya," Johnny admitted innocently as his partner opened up her satchel to hand walkie-talkies to the two others. "Are you sure it's this building?"
Sonya ignored him as she tossed the radio equipment over. "They're already set to the right frequency. I'm code-named Cardinal. You, Johnny, are Sparrow and Lightning is Pigeon. This is strictly in case we get split up. All right?"
"Isn't that my line?" "Sparrow" asked innocently, fiddling with the walkie-talkie.
The inside of the building was dark, dank and dusty.
"Lovely decor," Johnny remarked.
"Can it, Cage," Sonya snapped, fishing out her flashlight.
"Oh, I'm wounded. Good thing she's on our side, huh Pigeon?"
The flashlight snapped on, creating a single beam of light that sliced into the darkness. However, it was not a wide beam, and it created next to no real light. Lightning did not reply to Johnny's remark, nor did Sonya, as both concentrating on seeing anything at all in the inky blackness.
Suddenly, without warning, lights flickered on. Thin, red lights that shot out of the darkness and fastened on the three.
"Down!" screamed Sonya, pulling Lightning down to the ground with her. The bullets were fired not a split-second later, shredding the broad sheet-metal doors behind them.
Sonya had her gun out almost instantly, firing as quickly as she could, but she knew she was out-gunned even as the red lights again flickered into existence.
Real lights suddenly came on; unfortunately it did not make situation any better. Five heavily armed men stood in a semi-circle around the blinking trio. They had the muzzles of their weapons pointed straight at the three. Nobody moved. A short Asian man sauntered out from behind the goons.
"Sonya!" he exclaimed. "Sonya Blade! It's good to see you again."
"Lay Ho Ma," Sonya snarled. "I thought you might have been behind this, it had your fingerprints all over it."
"Yes, I do have a signature style, don't I?" Lay smiled, pleased. "Unfortunately, much of my style is that my enemies are often splattered on the ground before they can do anything." He walked forward briskly. "I must remember to thank you for doing my work for me, Blade."
Lay grabbed Johnny and hauled him to his feet. "This way, Mr. Cage. I would advise you to look away, also. This might get messy." He steered Johnny passed the guards, with a casual order over his shoulder: "Shoot them."
Johnny wasted no more time. He lashed out quickly, catching Lay in the neck with his elbow. The gangster gargled and fell to his knees as Johnny tackled the larger of the goons. This proved to be a less-than-great move as the henchman merely shook the movie star off with ease. It did buy Sonya an opportunity as the rest of the thugs' attention was distracted by the fight. She got to her feet and dispatched the closest with a quick kick to the stomach and a knee to the head, as he doubled over.
"Don't just stand there!" she yelled to Lightning.
Lightning got up and tried to tackle one of the men as she saw Sonya do, but she was woefully untrained and he sent her flying with a back-handed smack.
Johnny was still clinging to the first man, having leapt back on, while one of his friends tried to pull the movie star off. Lay Ho Ma was recovering as well, and he pulled a gun from underneath his jacket. The henchmen, being a close gang, had not wanted to use their guns for fear of hitting one of their own; but their boss was far less sentimental. He fired, and the shot grazed Sonya's shoulder, enough for her to stagger backwards, letting her opponent grab her arms and force her to the ground.
"Sonya!" Lightning yelled, but a swift blow from one of the thugs made her drop like a rock to the concrete floor. That left Johnny, and as one of the goons held a gun to Sonya's head, he didn't see many options left open. He dropped to the ground from the first thug's shoulders and held his arms up.
Lay Ho Ma attempted to smile triumphantly, but it was clear he was still winded. He gestured with his gun deeper into the warehouse, and Johnny reluctantly followed, hands on his head.
Sonya watched them disappear into the building. The henchmen seemed at a loss, as they had not been given orders regarding the two prisoners. So they did as best as they saw fit and tied Sonya and Lightning up and kept watch over them.
"What are they going to do with Johnny?" asked Lightning, squirming. She had been incredulous when they had begun to tie her up; as a goddess the idea was ridiculous, and she had never dealt with the human underworld before.
"It's a kidnapping ring," Sonya replied sourly. She was frustrated at having been captured and furious at Lightning, whom she saw as the unwitting cause of it.
"What is that?" asked Lightning. Before Sonya could snap an answer, one of the "guards" wandered over to Lightning. The woman and the goddess were some feet apart, so Sonya could not protect Lightning from what she knew was going to happen next.
"Hey," the goon said, staring at Lightning. "What's your name, girly?"
Lightning stared back in frank contempt.
"He asked you a question!" snarled another of the guards, coming to his friend's support and slapping Lightning. She gasped and looked up at him with wide eyes--no one had ever dared slap her before, save Cosmos.
"Look at them baby blues," grinned the first. "What do you say we take turns with her in the back room?"
"Sure," laughed the second. "Boss didn't said we couldn't, any road."
"Who cares about the boss anyway? Lousy chinks. I can't wait to get off of this stinkin' island."
"You said it."
Lightning was very carefully inching her way toward Sonya, but the guard saw what she was doing, and yanked her to her feet by her collar.
"Okay, girly," the goon said. "Time to--"
"Time to nothing," snapped a voice from behind them. They whirled to see Lay emerging from one of the back rooms. "Put her down."
Lightning was dropped with a thud. She lay on the floor, groaning as Lay stopped in front of her.
"Where's Johnny?" Sonya demanded furiously.
"Oh, he's around," Lay said with a wave of his hand. "Not that it matters to you anyway."
He turned to the henchman. "Kill them."
"Kill them! I do not like repeating myself!" Lay roared. He turned to Sonya, sneering. "Goodbye, Blade. Thanks again for bringing Cage to me--saved me the trouble."
The figure peered out towards the harbour. It moved with stealth and speed as it made its way to the warehouse.
The henchman closest to Sonya Blade and Lightning shrugged as he hefted his gun to his shoulder and took aim.
Sonya tried to escape her bonds, she was nearly undone, but the knot was still too tight. Suddenly there was the sound of a lightbulb bursting, and broken glass fell like surreal snowflakes.
"What the hell?" yelped Lay Ho Ma as he and the others brushed shards of glass from their hair. Lay had been under the bulb, and received the most damage; his scalp was bleeding. The red was dripping down his temples and he was swearing frantically in chinese. Sonya didn't need Liu to translate, either. She managed to grab one of the bigger fragments that one of the goons had dislodged, and used it to saw though the remaining knot. Her rope snapped and before any of the henchmen knew it, she was up and attacking.
A kick to the neck dropped one thug. An elbow to the stomach and a flip over her head onto the hard concrete floor got rid of another.
"Lightning!" she yelled, struggling with a third and fourth. "Get Johnny!"
Lightning nodded, and leapt to her feet. Her hands were still bound, but her feet were free. She was off as quick as she could, dodging Lay, who began to fire his gun after her.
The figure heard gun shots inside the building, as well as assorted yells and groans. Making a snap decision, it shed its disguise of a harmless worker on the pier.
Nova, goddess of Stars, unhooked her bow from her shoulder. Generating one of her powerful fire arrows, she aimed for the small upper row of windows along the side, breaking them and hopefully adding enough distraction for her friends to escape while she made her way across the docks.
Johnny Cage was frantically trying to undo his rope bindings when he heard the first shot go off. A second later Lightning burst into the room, slamming the door shut behind her and locking it. There were sudden rattling noises as the handle was shaken, followed by Chinese cursing. Johnny wished his friend Liu was there; one, to help them kick ass; two, to translate.
Lightning tried to undo his ropes, while the man just outside the door decided subtlety was not for him and started to shot the door handle off.
"Why don't you just blast them all?" Johnny asked, as he got free. A strange look came over Lightning's face, but it passed within a second.
"I can't," she said, in a strangled tone. "I promised Rayden before I left I'd be like a mortal."
"I don't think he realised this is what would be happening," Johnny said dryly. He got behind the wall as the door was kicked down. Lay burst into the room, gun drawn, but Johnny was quicker and leapt onto the smaller man, bringing all his weight into play. The two went down in a struggle, but Johnny grabbed Lay's gun and smashed him over the head with it. The gangster lay still, and Johnny and Lightning ran back to join in the fray.
Sonya was still conscious, which was remarkable, however, she had long given up the role of the aggressor in the combat. The second man she had attacked had recovered; she now had four armed, furious, big men to defend herself against, and it was not pretty.
Johnny couldn't use the gun in such close quarters, for fear of hitting his friend, but he could, and did, use the gun to hit the back of the head of the goon holding her.
It had worked with Lay, who was a small man, but it was not quite as successful with the thug. He did stagger, it was true, and Sonya used the opening to quick him square in the chest, and he toppled over.
Two of the men holding Sonya turned and headed toward Johnny. Johnny smiled to himself. He knew he could take two of them easily. A feint to the right left one of the men open for a strong punch to the jaw. He reeled backwards as the other man charged. Johnny caught the clumsy punch and directed the thug away from him, then sharply brought his knee up, and that was that. The first was coming back for more, so Johnny did the same trick with a twist, literally: he grabbed the man's fist, directed him away, twisted his arm, dislocated his shoulder and a swift knee in the kidneys insured that the man wasn't moving, and wouldn't for a while.
That left the two holding Sonya. He turned to face her to find she had done her own cleaning up. Two groaning men lay sprawled on the dirty concrete floor.
"We've got to get out of here, they've called for back-up!" she yelled to Johnny.
"Nothing we can't handle," he said, flashing a grin. It was rather ironic that no sooner did he say that than the truck burst through the sheet metal doors. Men of all shapes streamed out, and all were heavily armed.
"This is not good," he added, deadpan.
The men opened fire, and the three just barely managed to through themselves out of the way and behind some crates when suddenly the windows above their heads spontaneously blew up.
"What is with all this glass?" asked Sonya, in a rare verbal moment.
Nova could see the men in the truck were ready to start firing at any second. Taking quick aim, she let loose with a barrage of fire arrows. The truck didn't need any further persuasion as it promptly burst into flames. As Nova was running into the building--fire had no effect on her, for obvious reasons--she got a hideous sensation of knives and needles running up and down her spine. Gritting her teeth, she rushed in.
The crates were roughly knocked out of the way, and Sonya, Johnny and Lightning found themselves surrounded by large men with large guns.
The head goon motioned them to get out in the open--the better to shoot them. Reluctantly they got to their feet, and headed into the middle of the floor.
"I found the boss!" one yelled, dragging the unconscious Lay out into the open.
"Put him in the truck," the leader barked, turning his attention back to the prisoners. In another quirk of fate, the truck exploded, again as if on cue. The henchmen were now running like poisoned rats, some into the warehouse, some not. Some were on fire; some were helping put out fires; none were paying any attention to the three lowly hostages.
Or so Lightning thought.
As she and the others tried to make a run for it, she was suddenly grabbed by one of the thugs and thrown roughly to the floor. "Stay there!" he roared, trying to restore some order. Lightning had no intention of moving. As she was well aware of, she could not be hurt by physical contact from a human, even in her disguise. But she could be hurt by other physical elements around her. For instance, the shards of glass covering the floor.
She looked at her hands. Bright red blood welled up, and as it did, her power boiled inside her. Her fire aura sprung up, causing a faint haze around her that quickly grew stronger, and brighter.
"What the--?" the thug wondered, watching his hostage seemingly burst into flames.
Johnny and Sonya wondered that as well, as they skidded to a halt. Someone joined them from behind, causing them both to leap around with intent to maim, but it was only Nova. She gripped both of them by the hand, her face grim.
"Do not let go." she warned them. "Whatever happens, don't let go."
Lightning rose to her feet on unsteady legs. The thug was slowly backing away, unsure of what was going on.
"Lightning!" some one called out. It was Nova, standing with the two mortals.
Lightning looked up at them.
"Don't do this!" Nova yelled. "Control the anger--they are only mortal--control the powers!"
Lightning appeared not to hear her. She straightened up, energy beginning to crackle around her, as well as the steady flame. She turned to the mortal who had inadvertently hurt her. Wounded her. She held out her hand, still bloody.
Energy and lightning leapt out, in a blast that startled even Nova. Energy was crawling over the floor now, up the walls, up the men, blowing out the circuits in the walls and in the goons. Fire was starting to spread too, and Lightning showed no signs of holding back.
"Don't--!" screamed Nova, over the roar of the power and the screams of the men. Lightning didn't listen.
The blast seemed to Johnny like standing in front of an oven. It was a rush of hot air, but he realised when he opened his eyes--how long had he had them scrunched closed, anyway?--that it wasn't hot air that rushed at his face and roared in his ears, but fire. Fire and lightning. He closed his eyes again.
Sonya could barely keep her balance. The power was pushing her backward like a hot dry wind, but it was no wind that she was straining against. She knew that Nova's hand was the only thing between her and incineration, and she kept a firm grip.
Nova watched in horror as the goddess let loose her restraints and her controls. Raw powers were being unleashed that had not been seen on Earth since the Emperor; and even those paled in comparison. Shao Khan was a simple Numina, without powers. Lightning was the firstborn of the Goddess of Fire and the God of Thunder. She was nearly unstoppable.
She shouldn't be! screamed a voice in the back of Nova's mind. Lightning has only just entered the Realm, her powers should be low, there is no way she should be able to generate a blast of this magnitude!
Nova tried to find Lightning amidst the unleashed chaos. She would try and reason with her, plead with her to stop. When she finally managed to deflect enough of the energy away--her power was tied up protecting the mortals--she caught a glimpse of Lightning. The expression of satisfaction on the goddess's face was clear, unmistakeable. It was then that Nova realised a dangerous assumption that they all had made, including her.
It didn't--couldn't--last forever. The firestorm gradually lost its intensity, and died down.
Nova sighed, only just then realising she had been holding her breath the entire time. She let go of Johnny's and Sonya's hands, as they were now in no danger from the Goddess of Stars' half-sister.
Lightning herself collapsed on the charred ground of the warehouse. The entire interior of Lay Ho Ma's former hide-out was roasted beyond recognition. Nova's power had extended to protect the very thin walls, as she knew that if the magic had been allowed to spread it would have taken have the docks and innumerable lives. As it was, the only people killed were the henchmen of Lay Ho Ma.
"I think it's going to be a while before I can enjoy another barbeque," Johnny Cage said, staring around at the surroundings.
"Can the quips, Cage," Sonya Blade snapped. "This isn't a laughing matter."
"I should say it isn't," Nova added. "This is very disturbing indeed. Lightning should not have reacted the way she did." Nova walked toward the unconscious goddess, carefully, making sure that nothing would happen. She had no idea how Lightning could react.
"She said that Rayden told her to act human, not to use her powers," Johnny said suddenly, remembering something. "I'd say that this is a blatant breach of that."
Sonya snorted, and sifted through a pile of ash. "Dammit, my radio's fried."
"We can get a ride back with Nova, no sweat," Johnny countered.
"That's not it--I needed to call Jax--" Sonya trailed off, frowning, poking more of the piles of charcoal.
"Jax? But--" Johnny broke off as Nova kneeled down beside Lightning, feeling for a pulse. "Hey, is she okay?"
"Hmm?" Nova looked up. She nodded, but continued to stare down at Lightning, an expression of concentration on her face.
Johnny and Sonya looked at each other, Sonya frowning, Johnny with his eyebrow raised. "I think she must be doing something telepathically," Johnny whispered to Sonya. She just gave him a look, rolled her eyes, and continued poking through the ashes.
"I can't get through to her," Nova said suddenly, looking up at them. "I can't feel her."
"Should you be able to?" Johnny asked, wandering up to her and standing behind her shoulder. "What?"
Nova fixated him with a gaze, then shook her head. "Yes, I should be. She's my half- sister, after all."
"What? Oh yeah, I guess she is, what with Rayden and all." Johnny replied. Nova's head whipped around.
"What are you talking about? Rayden's not related to me," she said, confused. "Lightning and I share Hiko as a mother. I mean, well, different Hikos, but still."
"Sorry," Johnny said quickly, backing up with his hands rasied in surrender. "I just got my wires crossed, okay?"
"It's all right," Nova shook her head. "I'm sorry if you thought I was snapping. I didn't mean to do anything--it's just that--well--"
"Lightning's got you a little on edge? No kidding. I don't I'll be able to sleep for a few days, and I'm not all that used to maniacal supernatural beings on a bender. I'm sure you'll be fine," Johnny replied breezily, trying to help her feel a little more at ease. She smiled, recognising the gesture, and appreciating it, even if it didn't do much good.
Sonya checked the back room, just in case it had survived the blast, but it appeared just as charred as the rest of the warehouse, which was not surprising...her eye caught the glint of something. It was a metal storage cabinet. It appeared locked, but she reached for the handle just in case. She didn't get anywhere close to the handle when she started to feel the heat radiate from it. Of course. It would have been red-hot.
Mentally kicking herself, she fished out her trusty pocket-knife from her boot. She was glad that the frisking the guards had given her, while enthusiastic, was not too thorough. Using the pocket knife, she pried the door open.
The case was mostly empty, aside from a few file folders. She leafed through them, and although they were a little on the brown side, they were just what she was hoping to find. Kicking the door shut, she went back out to find the others.
Nova was still kneeling beside Lightning when Sonya approached. The goddess looked up at her approach.
"Ready to go?" Sonya asked.
"You're in a hurry," Johnny commented. He was standing beside the goddess, his hands in his pockets, looking around him. He didn't seem to be doing much of anything, but Sonya caught the way he was standing protectively over the goddess, and the woman wondered, not for the first time, exactly what their relationship was.
"I guess we can leave," Nova said slowly. "Perhaps Rayden can do a mind search. He's always been more powerful at that then me, anyway."
"More practice," Johnny replied, dead-pan. Sonya smirked momentarily.
Nova reached down and picked up the unconscious Lightning, holding her steady as she stood up. "I'll take us back to the Temple. It may be bumpy, I'm a bit weak..."
"That's alright," Johnny said. He started forward, as if to take the body of Lightning from Nova, but she teleported them, and he never got the chance.
The Temple was still the hive of activity that it was when the mortals had left. The monks were scurrying around, fixing the place up. Rayden had evacuated them when he began to notice the strange feelings and sensations that had been fixatd on the site. The feelings had vanished when Lightning had arrived, so the monks returned, no worse for wear from their brief vacation.
A wing of the Temple had been set aside, many years ago for Lord Rayden and his guests, and Johnny and Sonya were glad of it. Behind the Temple's thick stone walls, they could talk with impunity.
"I'm telling you, Rayden, she enjoyed it," Johnny argued. The white-haired thunder god shook his head.
"That's impossible. You know Lightning, she's like a kitten."
"Kittens bite, Rayden. And big kittens hurt," Johnny retorted. He shook his head. "Man, is that a dumb analogy."
"You're both right," Hiko interrupted. "Rayden is right that she's weak and harmless, and Johnny's right that--"
"That the analogy is dumb?" Liu Kang cut in. "Because I agree whole-heartedly there."
Johnny shot him a look, and Hiko sighed. "I'm trying to say that if Lightning did go a bit overboard--" she tried to continue.
"A bit over-board? A bit? She went nuts, Hiko. She went loco. I don't know why you can't face that," Johnny snapped.
"Cage," Rayden cautioned. "I think you may be over-reacting."
"I know he's over-reacting. We've seen it before," Liu Kang said with a sneer. "I'm going to check up on Lightning and Nova, now." He left the room in a huff.
"Dammit," Johnny swore under his breath. "I'm not making this up."
"We know that, we just think you might be... embellishing somewhat," said Hiko, carefully. "When Nova wakes up, we'll talk to her."
"Fine," Johnny replied, throwing his hands in the air. "Do what ever you want. I'm going to find Sonya. She'll back me up on this." He turned and left the room, swinging the heavy wooden door shut with a bang.
Rayden winced. "I think Johnny needs a vacation," he said dryly.
"He is on vacation," Hiko said with a smile. "This is it."
"Okay: he needs to go on a vacation that allows him to relax," Rayden amended.
Hiko smiled, but she still seemed a little worried. "I'm concerned about Lightning," she said finally. "I'm wondering, even if Johnny is partially right... how did she get the energy? She should have only a little bit to draw on."
Rayden nodded thoughtfully. "I know. And I asked her to act human, to get her used to their perspectives. I guess she just must've lost sight of that."
Hiko didn't reply.
"Hello, Jax?" Sonya inquired into the telephone. "Jax, is that you?" She waited for a reply. "Yeah, it's me. I got the stuff I needed. Yeah, he's dead. No, Johnny's fine."
There was another long pause as she listened intently.
"Yeah. I'll be sure to do that. Right. Oh, and Jax--I think there's something going on here, that needs my attention--meet me in Xhu Xin and I'll give you what you need, okay? Then maybe you can stick around for a while--I may need the back-up."
Liu Kang slipped through the darkened hallways, evading the friendly conversation of his fellow monks. He crept through Rayden's wing, coming at last to a large wooden door, indistinguishable from all the other large, wooden doors. (The Temple craftsmen were efficient, not artistically inclined.)
He knocked, three times, and a muffled "Go away!" was sent out to greet him. He opened the door.
"Go away means go away," Lightning sniffed, sitting on her bed, trying to look composed, her eyes red and her face streaked with tears.
"I know. But I also know you could use the company," Liu said, a little uncomfortable. He was always uneasy when women cried, especially women like Lightning.
"You do?" Lightning said, a little bit of a smile emerging. "Have you borrowed Rayden's mind powers?"
"Nope, just a little bit of human intuition," Liu replied, sitting down next to her.
He shook his head. "You've got a lot to learn about mortals."
She sighed, wiping her eye with the cuff of her long robe. "I suppose I do. I never got to learn of the mortals of my own Realm--Cosmos killed them off, long before I ever met any of them."
She nodded, and leaned against him. He put his arm around her, noting she wasn't crying any more. "It was a hard life for me, Liu, but I think I came out of it a little... I don't know, a little wiser, maybe."
He recognised the attempt to draw a silver lining from the cloud. He'd done enough of that over the years. "Humans have a saying," he said, softly, "'If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger.'"
She laughed, still sniffling a little. "That makes so much sense. It's so true. I suppose Immortals and humans aren't that different. Maybe we're all the same, at heart." She looked up at him and the next thing he knew was that they were kissing.
He pulled away, and tried to untangle himself, her arms firmly around his neck. "We shouldn't," he said, not believing what he was saying.
"Why not?" She looked perplexed.
"Because you're a goddess, that's why!" he snapped, instantly regretting the harsh tone. "We're not supposed to."
"I want to tell you something," she said very quietly. She looking a little bit more understanding. "When I first met Jikan Tai, he helped me break free of Cosmos' hold. He did that by showing me other versions of myself, versions that had drawn on their inner strength to over-come their fears." She snuggled in a little closer. "My version, in your Realm," she whispered in his ear, "was Kitana."
"Kitana?" Liu breathed. Kitana, the Outworld Princess who had gone home, had, in effect, left him to rebuild her world after the death of the Emperor. He had figured that when she left, it was a sign that perhaps he and Kitana just weren't...
"Meant to be together," she was still whispering. He felt a shiver run up and down his back.
"Liu has completely gone off his rocker," Johnny insisted. Nova didn't look up at him. "He's insane. Insane!"
"I heard you the first time," Nova replied, taking a break from her bowl of rice and vegetables. "But I don't know what you expect me to do about it."
"I'm not really expecting anything," Johnny admitted, taking his seat at the table.
"Liu was saying the exact thing about you, you know," Nova continued. She found a water chestnut and speared it with her chopsticks. She put it into her mouth and crunched thoughtfully. "It's seems to be catching."
"What's catching?" asked Sonya, walking into the room, carrying a brown envelope.
"Insanity," Nova replied, licking a trace of soy sauce from the corner of her mouth. Johnny sighed. He looked down at the envelope that Sonya had placed on the table. He was about to say something when she snapped it back up.
"I've got to go to town," she said suddenly. "I'll be gone a few hours."
"Okay," Nova said amiably. "Johnny will keep me amused." She speared another water chestnut and assumed a regal position. "Johnny, amuse me." She used her sternest Goddess Voice.
"What do you want me to do, rant some more?"
"Okay," she replied with a smile, biting down on the water chestnut with a satisfying crunch. Sonya, standing and looking over this display, looked faintly disgusted and mildly annoyed. She took her leave of the pair, heading out.
"I wonder what's gotten into her," Johnny remarked.
"Maybe she's insane too," Nova grinned.
"You've got a piece of snow-pea in between your teeth," Johnny interjected, pointing to his own teeth as a demonstration. With minimal use of her chopsticks, she dislodged it. She smiled for approval, and he nodded.
"You know I'm right," he said after a moment. She didn't reply for a minute or two, as she was rooting through the bowl for more water chestnuts. He cleared his throat and she looked up.
"I know," she said, very, very quietly. So much that she seemed to be only mouthing the words. "But we don't know who's listening."
Johnny sat back, a little confused. She shook her head, signalling him not to ask. She ate a bit of rice, and then set her bowl down on the table. "I'm full," she announced. She stood up. "I think I'm going to go for a bit of a walk. I'll see you later, at dinner, okay?"
"Yeah," Johnny replied. He started to get up as well, but she disappeared by magic, obviously stating he wasn't invited. He leaned back, the chair nearly touching the wall, when Liu walked in. "You look cheerful," he remarked casually, waiting for the inevitable outburst. There was none.
Liu shrugged, still smiling. He sat down at the table, and leaned over to Johnny. "I was with Lightning."
Liu continued. "She's so...she's so..."
"I know the feeling," Johnny remarked, dead-pan.
"She's Kitana, Johnny," he finished, looking pleased with himself. Johnny let the chair swing back and land with its feet on the floor again.
"What?" he exclaimed with disbelief.
"She's another version of Kitana. That's why we're meant to be together."
Johnny looked frankly at his friend. "Liu. Think about this for a moment. She's not Kitana. She's about as much as Kitana as I am."
"No, she's Kitana, but from a different dimension. She was reincarnated there as Lightning, but she's got Kitana's soul. Her spirit." Liu's eyes glittered.
"I see." Johnny remarked. He caught Liu's gaze and said, calmly: "You're nuts."
Liu stood up angrily. "I knew you wouldn't understand! You're too caught up with yourself to see past your own movie star nose!"
"Let's not drag my nose into this, Liu. Speaking of which, you're too caught up with Lightning to see past her nose, or any other of her features!"
"I knew it!" Liu raged. "I knew you wouldn't understand!" He stomped out of the room, slamming the door brutally behind him.
Johnny sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. There was a funny feeling at the back of his spine, and he turned, to see Nova standing next to him.
"You were there the whole time," he said. It was not a question.
"You knew he was coming." Another statement, another nod.
"I think we should have a talk with Hiko, or Rayden," Nova said quietly.
"You believe me now?" Johnny asked standing up. She turned slightly, to look at him directly.
"I never doubted you."
Jax sat at the dismal bar, looking woefully out of place. He noticed the crowd at one end of the room was being parted as someone forced their way through. Sure enough, Sonya Blade stepped out, and walked over to him. She slapped an envelope down on the counter. Jax took out the contents, and read it slowly.
"This is exactly what we needed," he said, with a grin. "Now we can get Lay Ho for good."
"There's really no point," Sonya admitted, sliding into a bar stool next to him. "He's dead."
"I saw the remains myself. No--don't suggest that he faked it--it was Lay Ho, and there was no way that corpse was even going to stand upright, never mind manage a crime ring." Sonya replied.
"No--I didn't get the chance. That's what I needed to talk to you about, Jax. Something is going on, and I don't like the look of it one little bit..."
"They're lying," Liu said between clenched teeth, as he walked down the badly-lit hallway of the Temple. "None of them know what they're talking about. I can't trust any of them."
Hiko sat on the hill that overlooked the river that bordered the Temple grounds on one side. It looked like a silver snake that was winding its way through the valley.
"That's not a good thing to be thinking of," she remarked out loud, to the wind.
"What isn't?" asked a voice from behind her. It was Rayden. He sat down next to her, idly chewing on a blade of grass.
"I was just thinking that the river, from here, looks like a snake," she replied, suppressing a grin at the God of Thunder with a piece of grass sticking out of his mouth. She snickered. Rayden pretended not to notice.
"I see what you mean," he said, referring to the river. "And that cloud, there, looks like a sheep."
"No it doesn't."
"Yes it does."
"Rayden," Hiko said, exasperatedly, "that particular cloud looks like a jelly-fish. I don't know what kind of sheep you've been looking at..." She trailed off, grinning.
They sat in silence for a few more moments, her looking at the scenery and him concentrating on his piece of grass; neither said anything about what was truly on their minds.
"It's Lightning," Rayden said abruptly, tossing the grass stem away. "That's what you're worried about."
Hiko sighed. She took off the long head-wrap that she wore to keep her hair out of her eyes. The long golden-red silk wafted in the breeze as she held it out, her own long red hair flipping past her shoulders. "Something isn't right," she said at last. "Lightning should not have had her powers restored so quickly after the Acceptance."
"I know," Rayden replied, watching the material twist and flitter as the breeze caught it. "And I can't think of any explanation."
"Perhaps because of the nature of the... relationship she shares with us," Hiko continued. "Perhaps that has a bearing on it as well."
"I don't know. I don't know about rules for alternate universes," Rayden said, a touch of anger creeping into his voice.
They were silent again for a long while, watching and thinking.
"I'm worried," Hiko said quietly. Rayden looked up at her. "I'm worried about Lightning's true nature." She did not making eye contact with her husband. "If she was raised by Cosmos--"
"Nova was, as well," Rayden reminded her.
"Nova had mine, and your influence. There was a whole community watching Cosmos' every move. And he still had Nova and me under a tight rein. If the alternate Cosmos had even more control..." Hiko paused, and seemed to concentrate on something far in the distance. "I'm just worried for Lightning, that's all."
"I can't sense anything of the sort about her," Rayden said, after a moment.
"That's another thing that worries me. Especially the incident at the warehouse--Nova said she couldn't feel anything from Lightning--"
"No, but I didn't need to," Nova said, coming up from behind them. Johnny Cage was trailing her. Both looked upset.
"Nova--" Rayden began, but Hiko's daughter waved him silent. "I need to talk to the two of you," she said with out preamble. "About--I found something, well, I think I found something out, and you're the only two who can help me."
Rayden looked confused, not seeing what Nova was leading up to, or even what she was hoping to lead up to. He looked to Hiko for some kind of clue.
The Goddess of Fire was pale, pale white. She seemed as though she had seen a ghost, and she hurried to her feet.
"Hiko--" Rayden began. Even Nova seemed a little disconcerted by her mother's sudden change in countenance.
"Nova and I will discuss this by ourselves," she replied quickly, and with a sudden intake of breath. "Why don't you and Johnny go off to yourselves."
"Mother?" Nova prompted, but Hiko had already taken her by her elbow and was leading her away.
Johnny looked to Rayden for an answer, but the thunder god was just as confused as the mortal. They watched as Hiko took Nova's hand, and they disappeared.
Lightning watched Liu intently. He was walking, in circles, around her room. "Liu?"
He stopped, to look at her. This seemed to be his response, and she started again: "What's the matter? You left very cheerful, and came back very angry. What happened?" She paused. "Was it Johnny?"
"How did you know?" he asked. She smiled, and patted the portion of the bed next to her.
"Tell me what's bothering you," she said, sweetly.
"Mother? What's bothering you?" Nova said, as the Goddess paced in front of her, on the sandy beach. Hiko had taken her daughter to this strange locale, a tropical island surrounded by a spectacular blue sea.
Hiko stopped, and looked out over the unbroken horizon. "Do you like this place?" she asked, suddenly.
"Yes, I do," Nova replied, puzzled. "It's very peaceful. Very serene."
"Yes, Mother thought so too," Hiko replied, sadly.
"'Mother'...you mean, Hisan? My grandmother?"
"Yes," Hiko said, a slight smile on her face. "Yes. She customised this Realm for herself, as somewhere to relax. She was such a busy person that she needed somewhere like here."
"Where is here?" asked Nova, curious.
"Maresium. My home Realm," Hiko replied. She started to walk along the shore, dabbling her bare feet in the gentle waves that lapped up.
"You never told me--!"
"Cosmos did not want you knowing to much about the other Realms. He wanted to keep you is Usirapi, where he could keep an eye on you. Make sure you weren't getting out of hand." Hiko came back, and sat down on the water-worn log of driftwood. She shook her head. "He was so controlling. I wish I'd been able to take you away from him, but I couldn't."
"Why not?" Nova was very curious. Her mother, a garrulous person by nature, was not forth-coming with facts of a personal nature, such as the family history, or even Nova's own grandmother.
Hiko sighed, and pushed back her hair from her face. Her wrap had been left behind on Earth, and now the waist long hair was getting in her face. "In the old days," she said, suddenly, "I used to wear my hair short--well, shorter, at least--and kept it bushy. I thought it would make me look imposing."
Nova looked at her side-ways, trying to imagine her mother younger, with short, imposing hair. "I was always trying to make myself look imposing," Hiko continued, with a chuckle. "I was always one to pick a fight, too. I wonder if there was any connection..."
"Mother," Nova said, coughing delicately into her hand, "You were starting to tell me why you couldn't get away from my father."
Hiko looked very downcast. "I--" she started, but stopped. She sighed again, very deeply. "Nova, do you know why the deities have such strict rules for betrothals?"
Nova frowned, concentrating. "Yes--so as to make sure that children born out of wedlock do not inherit dangerous powers, or combinations of powers. Marriages are only with permission of the Council. Personal relationships of that sort are frowned upon," she continued, by rote, but Hiko held up a hand to stop her, mid-sentence.
"And what happens to a couple who have a child out of wedlock?"
"If the child can inherit a dangerous combination of powers, the parents can have their powers revoked, their Realms taken away, could even be killed--Mother, what does this have to do with Lightning?"
"Lightning?" Hiko exclaimed. "We aren't talking about Lightning!"
"We aren't? That's what I needed to talk to you about! About her past, and I thought you were leading me on a round-about way of telling me something--" Nova protested.
"You were what?"
"I was telling you in a round about way--" Hiko stood up, growing angry.
"What are you mad at me for?" Nova exclaimed. "I haven't done anything except assume a few things--"
Hiko stopped, a stunned look on her face. "I'm sorry," she stuttered. "You're right--"
"Right about what?" Nova cried, confused to the utmost and getting quite worked up about it.
"About everything. Nova, sit down." she pulled her daughter back down to the log. "I have so much to tell you, I don't know where to begin--"
"Begin with why you never left Cosmos," Nova prompted. "You still haven't told me."
Hiko sighed, and nodded. "The reason I never left Cosmos was that I couldn't. Not for my sake, or yours. Or, someone else's," she added cryptically. "You see, Cosmos knew something that would ruin yours and my life, but while I was married to him, he couldn't bring it into the open for fear of disgracing himself, and revealing the plot around our marriage."
"What plot?" Nova asked, entranced.
"As you probably knew, or guessed--Rayden and I were in a relationship, before, before you were born. It was during, well, the First War, and I won't get into all of that now, but Thunder and Cosmos, who were allies, used my mother's weakness to trap me into marrying Cosmos, as a revenge on Rayden."
"How could you go along with it?" Nova asked, stunned. She had always known that her parents' marriage was not of love, but of necessity, as many such marriages among the deities were, but she truly had no idea--
"Because they blackmailed me into it," Hiko answered quietly. "For my sake, yours and Rayden's I had to marry Cosmos."
"Why? I don't understand what could make you do--" Nova trailed off, comprehension dawning on her face. "By the Creator--"
Hiko nodded, close to tears. "I'm sorry for all the lies, all the deception. It was necessary for all our sakes. When Cosmos... died, I was going to tell you, and to tell Rayden, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. And when you went off to fight the other Cosmos--"
"You feared I would figure it out on my own." Nova shook her head, stunned. "I can't believe this--but I do, somehow--I don't know, it's all so strange, but--"
"But it makes sense?" Hiko asked, a slight smile on her face. "I hope that in time, you can understand, and forgive me."
"I already do," Nova said, taking her mother's hands in her own. "I do. But this news helps me far more than you can imagine."
"Oh?" Now it was Hiko's turn to be confused.
"You told me something about Lightning, as well." Nova said, a determined look coming into her face. "The final piece is falling into place."
"What final piece? What are you talking about?"
"She's been lying to us, Mother. Since she met us, and even now," Nova replied grimly.
"I wonder what they're talking about," Johnny Cage mused, as he and Rayden started on the walk back towards the Temple.
"I don't know," Rayden admitted. He looked over his shoulder to where Hiko and Nova had disappeared. "But I don't think we'll like it."
"Women," Johnny said with an understanding grin, and they headed indoors.
"I feel like you're the only one I trust," Liu Kang said to Lightning, sitting down beside her. "I've known many people--but no one who was quite like you."
Lightning smiled. "We're supposed to be together," she said, smiling. "That's the way it was always supposed to be."
She leaned forward, to kiss him again, but there was a sudden rapping at the wooden door. The two chuckled at the irony, and Liu got up to let in their visitor.
It was Sonya. "Liu--" she began, but noticed Lightning, and hastily put two and two together. "Uh...never mind." She started to leave.
"No, it's all right, Sonya," Lightning said sweetly. "What's up?"
The lieutenant's eyes narrowed as she and Lightning scrutinised each other, neither backing down until Liu put himself in the middle. "Sonya, is there something we can do for you?"
"Have you seen Johnny?" she asked, breaking off her gaze to look at Liu.
"No, not since dinner. Why?" Liu was a little annoyed at the mention of the movie star.
"I need to talk to him," Sonya replied.
"About what?" Lightning inquired innocently.
"Stuff," snapped Sonya, quickly.
"You can tell us," Liu said. His friend looked at him, really looked at him.
"Are you feeling all right?" she asked, finally.
"Never felt better," he replied with a grin, spreading his arms wide. It was a gesture typical of Liu Kang, and Sonya nodded, almost to herself.
"I'll go ask the monks about Johnny," she said, turning and leaving.
"If we see him, we'll tell him you were looking for him," Lightning called.
"You do that," muttered Sonya, on her way out. The door slammed shut.
"I don't think she likes me very much," Lightning said, sadly.
"She's like that with everybody," Liu chuckled. He sat back down on the bed. "Now...where were we...?"
"I think I remember," Lightning countered playfully. They leaned towards...
There was a sudden flash of light.
"Personally, I think it's us," Johnny said.
"Us?" Rayden looked at him sceptically. "Which 'us' are you referring to?"
"Me and Nova," Johnny replied, leaning against the wall of the Temple.
Rayden's eyes narrowed. "What about you and Nova?" he asked, in a slightly dangerous tone that Johnny chose to ignore.
"Well," Johnny said, looking at his fingernails in an attempt to look cool and collected, "Nova and I are... well, I'd say we have a thing going."
"Oh, you do."
Rayden paused. "Does Hiko know about this... thing?"
"I don't think so," Johnny realised, looking a little worried. Rayden assumed a smug expression. "Oh God," Johnny continued. "how's Hiko going to take that?"
"If you found out your daughter were going out with you...?" Rayden prompted.
"...I'd kill me," Johnny finished. "This isn't good. I'd kill me, and I pride myself on my ability to keep calm."
"And Hiko prides herself on her ability to hit moving targets," Rayden added.
"Looks that way, doesn't it?"
Johnny kicked some random dust particles that happened to be near his shoe. "So, uh... how close are you to Nova, anyway?" he asked, abruptly, making sure not to make eye contact.
"I'm... I guess like her uncle," Rayden said, a little fondly. "I never got to see Hiko very much while Nova was growing up, but I often took care of Nova, when I had the chance. She was such a sweet little girl--she used to come into the Bar and--"
"You used to take her to bars?" Johnny interrupted, shocked.
"The Omniversal Bar. It's not like your sleazy little booze joints," Rayden retorted, a little huffily.
"Sorry," Johnny replied, holding his hands up in surrender. Rayden snorted and continued.
"Anyway, I always liked looking after Nova. I never got married, and she was as close as I could get to children of my own." The thunder god looked a little misty-eyed at the memory, and Johnny rolled his eyes.
"That's so sweet. I'm getting cavities."
"Shut up. You were the one that asked."
"So I did."
"So shut up."
There was a long lull in the conversation. Johnny checked his watch twice.
"I wonder what they're talking about," he said.
"I don't know," Rayden replied. "But it must be something big."
"Nova," Lightning said, standing up to face the Goddess of Stars.
"Lightning," Nova replied, her arms crossed over her chest and an expression on her face that said: Go ahead. I'm ready for anything.
"Nova?" Liu asked. "What's the matter?"
"Why don't you explain it, Lightning?" Nova asked. "I'm sure it would be easier for you to do it."
"Do what?" Lightning inquired innocently. Nova watched her, intently, and the goddess began to grow angry. "If you're accusing me of something, you had better tell me now," Lightning continued, a glimmer of fury flickering behind her eyes. "I don't want to play guessing games."
"Why not, all of a sudden?" Nova replied smartly, enjoying having the upper hand. "You enjoyed it enough before."
"What's going on?" asked Liu, stuck in the middle and very confused.
"Nothing is going on," Lightning said quickly. "Liu, I think you should go."
The mortal started for the door, but Nova held him back. "I think he should stay. He deserves to know, even more than the rest of us."
"There is nothing to know!" Lightning nearly shrieked, her powers starting to shimmer in the air around her. Nova watched the display dispassionately.
"Lightning has been lying to us," she stated, looking directly at Liu, and and yet never taking her eyes from her fellow deity. "She's not Kitana's other version. She's me. She's me, and she's come here to destroy our Omniverse."
"What?" Liu seemed shocked. He turned to look at Lightning, and then back towards Nova. "You're wrong."
"I'm not, Liu. It's the only answer. Think about it," Nova pleaded. She didn't seem to be getting through to him. Liu seemed blank.
Lightning grinned. "He doesn't need to think about it," she laughed. "He knows which side he's on. Mine."
"I belong with Lightning," Liu said, nodding. "I'm sorry, Nova."
"So am I, Liu." Nova launched a fireball at Lightning, who could not deflect it in time. It struck her in the chest and she staggered backwards, scowling.
"That wasn't very nice, sister," she said, bringing a hail of lightning down on Nova. However, Nova was more than ready to dodge the counterattack and managed to teleport away from the blast. However, in the small quarters, it was not going to be a long fight.
"You know you can't defeat me," Nova said. "Not with both Rayden and Hiko here, and willing to fight you."
"I did it before, I can do it again." Lightning smirked. "But you're right. This would get a bit monotonous--how about I liven it up a little." She disappeared.
Hiko appeared suddenly, and had to duck just as abruptly as one of Nova's fire-arrows shot past her.
"Sorry, Mother. I thought you were Lightning."
"I could feel the fight starting. I told Rayden, he and Johnny are on their way," Hiko replied, very concerned.
"We've got to find her. Who knows what she's capable of," Nova said, urgently. "And we've got to find Sonya, tell her what's going on."
"And Liu," Hiko added.
"Liu's right--" Nova gasped with alarm, looking quickly behind her. Somehow, in the brief scuffle, Liu Kang had disappeared. Nova had a terrible sense of foreboding, but at that time, Rayden burst in the door.
"Lightning's gone," both Nova and Hiko informed him. He nodded.
"I had a feeling something like that was happening--and when Hiko told me to hurry here- -"
"We need you to look for her. She could be anywhere in the Omniverse by now," Hiko replied briskly.
He nodded, and closed his eyes, searching for her presence. Sensing a single mind in the sea of the Omniverse was impossible for a human, and very difficult for even a deity, but Rayden had a rare gift in the area. It was one of his greatest talents, and something he outscored even Hiko at. He opened his eyes. "I can't sense her."
"What?! She can't have gone outside the Omniverse so easily--so where is she?" Hiko wondered out loud, trying not to look as alarmed as she felt.
"Hey guys, miss me?" Johnny Cage exclaimed as he came in through the door, a smug expression set firmly on his face. The trio of dieties ignored him.
"Where could she have gone?" Hiko wondered out loud. "She couldn't have broken through the Omniverse barrier. Look at all the effort it took her to get through the last time."
"Then she must be still here, and masking herself," Nova agreed.
"That still means she could be anywhere in the Omniverse," Rayden interjected. "Anywhere."
The three deities were silent, while they pondered this turn of events. Johnny Cage stood to the side, watching them with a trace of amusement.
"She's probably still here, you know," he said, leaning against the wall of the room. "Probably hasn't gone too far at all."
"Hiding in plain sight?" Rayden mused. "Yes, that's probably it. But I still think we're going to need back-up on this."
"The Council?" Hiko asked. Rayden nodded.
"I'll go talk to them, see what help I can arrange." The thunder god closed his eyes and disappeared in a portal. Hiko and Nova turned to each other.
"I think I'll go with him," Hiko added, even though by then Rayden was gone. "Get some things off my chest, so to speak." She gave Nova a brief hug, and told her daughter firmly: "If she shows up, call us. Don't even hesitate. She's too dangerous for you to take on your own."
"I'll be sure to tell you immediately," Nova agreed. "Have fun."
Hiko just looked at her.
"Talking to the Council, I mean," Nova amended.
"I'm ready and willing, Sonya, just tell me when," Jax said, strapping a knife holder around his calf, and slipping a long, nasty looking dagger in.
"I don't know if you are quite as ready as you think," Sonya said, loading her gun, and settling it into its shoulder holster. "These are gods."
"So you keep telling me. Does anybody else notice that them being gods sounds a little crazy?" Jax said with a chuckle.
Sonya did not laugh back but replied wryly: "If it didn't sound a little crazy, Jax, I'd fear for your sanity."
"The lady cracked a joke. How about that."
Sonya just shook her head. "You're about as bad as someone else I know. Now, get a move on. The Temple is a fair hike from here, and I don't want to be late."
"Yes sir," Jax snapped off a quick salute. Then he stopped, puzzled. "Sonya? What are we going to be late for?"
"I'm not sure yet, actually," she replied. "But don't worry. I've done this sort of thing before."
"Stopped crazy gods from destroying the universe?" Jax asked.
"Oh. Only the universe? That's definitely easier. I thought we were counting the times I've helped save the Omniverse."
"I hope Liu's okay," Nova said, as she and Johnny walked back out of the Temple. "I wonder where he went."
"Probably ran off, to get help," Johnny offered. "That's a Liu sort of thing to do."
"I guess. I thought he would have tried to help in the fight." Nova shrugged. "I hope that he's all right, though."
"If there's any thing Liu can do, it's take care of himself," Johnny reminded her. There was a pause, and then he asked: "Do you think that the Council will be able to help?"
"I don't know. They haven't volunteered to help much in the past, but they usually come through with something," Nova admitted. "The Council is really only a paper tiger. It's staffed with cowards and deities who couldn't take care of their own Realms if anything depended on it."
"Then where's the real power?" asked Johnny, suddenly interested in the political slant of the Omniverse.
"The Elders, of course. It's not supposed to be, but it is. But with Thunder in control, I don't think that Rayden would get much support. I hope Hiko can sway them." Nova was growing more upset. Johnny patted her on the shoulder.
"It's too bad the Council isn't a threat," he said. "But we'll win in the end. We're the good guys, right?"
Nova nodded, smiling a little. She sighed, and looked down over the valley, at a loss for what to say next. "Hey!" she exclaimed. "Is that Sonya? Coming up the hill?"
"I can't see in this bright light," Johnny said, trying to shield his eyes.
"Then use your sunglasses." Nova was trying to shield her eyes as well, as Sonya was coming from the direction of the sun.
"My... oh yes. My sunglasses." He put them on. "Yep, that's Sonya, all right."
"Sonya!" Nova called. The mortal in the distance waved. "There's someone else with her," Nova continued. "A man--no, it's not Liu."
"I'm not sure who it is," Johnny said. "My eye-sight isn't as good as yours."
"Nova!" Sonya came running up, Jax right behind her. "Is everything okay? You look really upset."
"Lightning's taken off. She's here to take over the Omniverse, Sonya. She was in on Cosmos' plot the whole time. And now she's gone." Nova admitted. "Liu's run off as well."
"This is not good." Sonya turned to Jax. "Looks like we got here just in time."
"Aren't you going to introduce us?" asked Johnny, nodding towards Jax.
"You two met last year, when we had to save Liu from Shang Tsung's ghost," Sonya said, looking confused.
"Oh, right. Sorry. I forgot," Johnny stuttered.
"S'okay, man. I know how it is," Jax admitted. He turned to Nova. "I haven't met you, though."
"This is Nova, Goddess of Stars, Hiko's daughter," Sonya said briskly. "Nova, this is Jax, my partner. Now that the introductions are out of the way, we should get to business."
"Finding Lightning takes priority," Nova added.
"Where's--" Sonya began.
"Rayden and Hiko have gone to seek help from the Council. Until then, it's up to us." Nova filled her in.
"She couldn't have gone far," Jax started. "We could start a perimeter search--"
"She can teleport to anywhere in the Omniverse, Jax." Sonya explained. "I don't think a perimeter search would help. A good start, though."
"Teleport? Anywhere in the Omniverse? And you think you can stop her?" Jax looked at Sonya in confusion, and a little awe.
"We can do it," Nova said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry. Sonya's right-- we should start thinking about this logically. A search is a good place to begin."
"Too bad we don't know where to start looking." Sonya frowned. "This could be difficult."
"Not necessarily. Let's start it off easy," Johnny said, taking off his sunglasses and put them in his front shirt pocket. "If you were Lightning, where would you go?"
"If I was Lightning..." Nova trailed off. "I'd go somewhere where I could watch what everybody was doing, but where they wouldn't think to look for me. She doesn't know much about our Omniverse," she explained for the benefit of Jax. "She'd be cautious."
"Then that's where we'll start," Johnny said with a smile that no one could explain. "Where would we never think to look for her?"
Sonya caught Nova's eye. The Goddess nodded. "I know where I'd go, if I were her," the lieutenant began. She lashed out at Johnny, her punch nearly knocking him off his feet.
"What the hell?" He staggered backwards, holding his injured cheekbone. Nova held her hands together for a second, then reached out towards him and a blast of fire leapt out, catching the movie star full in the chest. He fell to his knees, grimacing.
"Sonya! What are you doing...?" Jax stuttered, watching as Sonya pulled out her gun.
"I presume if Johnny dies, you die with him?" she said, the gun aimed at the mortal's head.
Johnny looked up, grinning. Blood was trickling down his face, and his shirt was scorched. "I guess I didn't give you enough credit," he smirked. He got to his feet, Sonya keeping the gun trained on him.
"Can someone please explain what's going on?" Jax demanded, looking to Nova, who was watching Johnny and Sonya with a distracted, glazed look in her eyes.
"Yes, can someone tell the muscle what's going on?" Johnny sneered. He started to take a step forward when there was a sharp click, the sound of the safety on Sonya's gun being released. Johnny stopped in his tracks, an expression of pain developing on his face.
"Stop it--" he groaned through clenched teeth. Jax noticed a haze began to form around Johnny's body. "Stop--"
"Nova?" Sonya asked hesitantly.
"It's Johnny in there," the Goddess replied, her own teeth clenched in concentration. "He's helping me break through--break through Lightning's hold on him--she's not distracted enough--"
"Did you hear that?" Sonya replied, tossing a look over to Jax. "Lightning's not distracted enough."
"Roger, Lieutenant," Jax said, moving towards Johnny with a speed that belied his strength and size. He caught the movie star with a thunderous punch to the stomach, and with a kick knocked Johnny's legs out from under him, the mortal falling to the ground with a groan. The haze was stronger now, and caused the hairs on the back of Jax's neck and arms to stand up, like a static charge.
"Almost there," Nova breathed.
There was a pop, and Johnny and Nova both sagged, Nova with exhaustion and Johnny as though his strings had been cut. Lightning materialised on the ground next to Johnny, gasping. She glared furiously at Nova and disappeared in a mist.
"Dammit," Sonya swore, holstering her gun, and kneeling down beside Johnny, gently checking his vitals. "He's okay, but unconscious."
"He should be, after the beating we gave him," Jax shook his head. "And we still didn't get this Lightning chick."
"We know she's not invincible, at least," Nova said. "We can wear her down, and beat her, like we did before."
Sonya shook her head. "I don't know about that. She nearly killed us all then-- and she was weak from breaking through the barrier. She's been consolidating her powers for a while now."
"You've fought her before?" Jax exclaimed. "You didn't--"
"It was before I met up with Lay Ho Ma," Sonya explained. "But you see what I mean, that her powers are not weak, like they should be."
"They should be very weak," Nova agreed. "She's only just had her acceptance--but she's already proved she's stronger than she seems."
"The warehouse," Jax nodded. "I think I'm starting to get it now."
Sonya bent down and picked Johnny up, careful not to touch the burn wounds from Nova's blast. "I've got to take him to the infirmary--get the monks to look after him."
"He was helping me," Nova said quietly. The two mortals stopped to look at her. "He was helping me fight Lightning--she couldn't suppress him as much as she need to. If he wasn't so stubborn, I probably wouldn't have been able to break the hold."
"But you did, that's the important thing," Sonya told her. "Now, I need to get him to the healers. Jax, stay with Nova, help her out if she needs it."
"Yes, sir." he replied.
Rayden looked around the corridor outside the main Council Room. As with most of the Omniversal buildings, it was simply, yet richly furnished. It was not decadent, but simply affirmative of its own worth. As most of the deities were themselves.
Hiko appeared suddenly beside him. "I thought I'd keep you company," she said, taking his arm.
"I always appreciate it," he agreed, as they set off towards the Reception Room. "But I have the feeling that you're here as more than moral support."
"Saw through me already," she said with a grin. "I just have a few things I need to talk to you about, and I haven't really gotten the chance."
They strolled arm-in-arm down the carpeted hallway towards the front desk. The secretary looked up at them.
"Ah, Rayden and Hiko. Come to destroy the social fabric of our society yet again?" the secretary politely inquired, the embossed gold name tag stating that her name was MARY.
"We'd like an appointment with the Council," Rayden said.
"I'm sure you would." Mary smiled at them, then went back to her typing.
"Can you arrange that, please, when you have the time?" Rayden asked, using his charm and manners to the utmost. He knew how to deal with secretaries.
"I suppose I could," Mary said with a sniff. "However, they are adjourned for the moment. Please come back in a half-an-hour."
"We'll be here," Rayden said with a smile, steering Hiko back down the carpeted hallway to the Reception Room. "Now, Hiko, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"
Liu paused for breath, leaning against the Temple wall. He had to find Rayden. He had to. Catching his breath again, he started down the labyrithian corridors towards the section cordoned off for the thunder god.
"Bureaucrats," Rayden said with a shake of his head. "The only difference between mortal ones and Immortal ones is that you can strangle the mortal ones."
Hiko laughed out loud, startling a council aide who was standing next to them in the hall outside the Council Room. She looked a little embarrassed, covering her mouth with her hand. "It won't be long now." she added.
Rayden replied something noncommittal, then sighed and looked at his wrist.
"You don't have a watch, remember?" Hiko said with a snicker. He smiled ruefully.
"I guess I picked up that habit for Johnny," he admitted. "Maybe I should get a watch. It might be useful."
She snickered again. "You know you have a problem being around electronics."
He snorted. "Maybe the electronics have a problem being around me."
They waited a few more minutes, and then the ornate door at the end of the hall opened a crack and head popped out. It was Adiutor, the thin, reedy God of Assistants. "Hiko, Goddess of Fire, and Rayden, God of Thunder? Are you there?"
"We're over here, Adiutor," Rayden called, standing. He helped Hiko to her feet.
"The Council will see you now." The thin god nodded, and as they walked by him, he pulled Rayden over. "Rayden, the Council is formal, and done by the book. Don't pull any of your shenanigans, all right?" he whispered urgently.
"You've been talking to Mary, haven't you?" Rayden muttered to himself. He shook off Adiutor, and went to join Hiko. They were nearly through the door when Hiko went pale and grabbed Rayden's arm.
"Something's happened," she whispered, "to Nova. I can't tell what, though. She's upset, not hurt, but worried about something--"
"We'll sort it out, in the Council," Rayden said, firmly. He steeled himself for the debate that was to come.
"This is hopeless," Jax said, putting away the box of bandages. They were in the Temple infirmary, where Nova was taking care of Johnny Cage. He had taken quite a beating, and the only course of action was to have him rest.
"It's not," Sonya disagreed. "Don't take that attitude."
"It's looking for a needle in a haystack." Jax protested to his partner.
"At least we know which haystack," Sonya countered. "She still has to be in the area. She can't--won't have gone far. We know what she likes, and that's to torment us."
"Sonya's right." Nova came up from behind them, wiping her hand on a spare cloth. "Lightning's whole aim has been to distract us, torment us, confuse us; everything she's done, so far, has been to that aim."
"What do you mean, exactly?" Sonya asked, slightly puzzled but trying not to show it.
"I mean, I think she was behind Johnny's odd behaviour, earlier," Nova clarified. Jax nodded, this part he did get.
"That's right, she was possessing him," he added, to Sonya. But to his chagrin, Nova shook her head.
"That's not what I mean. Earlier, before we went to defeat Cosmos, Johnny was acting peculiar, and I found out that he was being influenced by someone. I think that person was Lightning."
"Okay, that makes sense," Sonya nodded slightly. "But it leaves out a crucial question: why? Why do that to Johnny, or indeed to any of us? What purpose does it solve?"
"That," Nova admitted, "I don't know."
From the other side of the room Johnny groaned, and Nova left to tend to him. Sonya watched her for a minute, then followed.
"What's wrong?" she asked, softly. Nova looked up at her; Sonya was standing by Johnny's cot, her whole body rigid. She looked like she was looking at a corpse in a casket.
"He just started to turn over," Nova said, pushing the mortal back into place, "and that aggravated his ribs."
"Is there nothing you can do? Goddess-wise?" Sonya asked. Nova looked at her for a moment, and Sonya hastily added: "We're going to need all the fighters we can get."
"I've reached the limit of what I can do," Nova answered, turning back to put a fresh bandage to the side of Johnny's head. "But I'll see what can be done."
"Rayden!" called a voice, from behind the pair. "Rayden!" A tall, willowy goddess came sailing around the corner. "There you are! I thought you were here."
"Lindara," Rayden said warmly, hugging his youngest sister. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to look for you, actually," the Goddess replied, brushing back a strand of her long black hair. "Oh, hello, Hiko. You look wonderful!"
"Thank you," Hiko answered graciously.
"Lindara..." Rayden prompted.
"Yes? Oh. Yes. I just got a message from Nova. She says that she could use my help as a healer. Of course, I needed to get permission to enter your Realm, Rayden," Lindara finished breathlessly.
Hiko and Rayden both looked worried. "What did you hear? What happened?" Hiko exclaimed. "It's Nova, isn't it--she's hurt I know it--"
"Hiko," Lindara replied firmly, putting a hand on the goddess' shoulder as comfort, "Nova sent the message. It's a mortal that's in trouble."
"We need to get back," Rayden interrupted. Lindara shook her head.
"If you do that, you'll only have to go through the whole process again to get help from the Council." She gestured towards the ornate Council door. "And then where will you be? I'll go to your Realm, with your permission, heal the mortals, and then come back and tell you all I know. Deal, Rayden?"
"Deal," Rayden said reluctantly. "You can enter my Realm any time you want, Lin. You know that."
"I didn't want to take any chances." Lindara waved goodbye and disappeared in a flash of light.
"I will never understand how all of your sisters manage to be so odd," Hiko said dryly. She was trying to be light but her concern was showing through and she sounded strained. "Lindara gets flakier and flakier even time I meet her."
Rayden shrugged. "She's come a long way. At least she's not using that 'royal we' thing any more. And Meimei isn't odd."
"I beg to differ," Hiko remarked. She waited for her husband to reply, but he did not, and she let the topic drop.
Rayden was in truth only listening with half-an ear. He wished that he knew what was going on, back at the Temple of Light. If only he could just find out... an idea came to him and reached out with his mental powers to see what Liu was thinking about, or worrying about, or planning. That would give Rayden some idea--
The god frowned as he hit upon a mental wall when he tried to contact Liu. He knew that the mortal didn't have the ability to block him, so what had happened?
Liu slammed the door shut in anger. Rayden was never around when he really needed him. He stalked back out into the deserted hallway, when he noticed footsteps behind him. He turned.
"Oh, it's you," he said, with a sigh.
"Is that anyway to greet someone?" Lightning purred. She put her arms around Liu's neck. "Especially someone like me?"
Liu shrugged her off. "I've got more important things to worry about, Lightning."
She withdrew, scowling. "Yes. We all do, don't we?" She stared at him, and started talking again, this time it seemed, to herself. "This is getting boring. It's taking way too long, and I'm losing interest in all of it."
Liu was obviously confused. "What are you talking about?"
Lightning pouted. "Nobody loves me."
"What--?" Liu rubbed his eyes. "What's come over you?"
"Nothing. The curtain is dropping, you see." She giggled. "It's show-time, Liu. I've been very patient, I've been waiting a long time for this." She smiled. "The real fun is going to start very soon."
"I don't understand a word you're saying," Liu repeated, slowly. He was starting to grow uncomfortable as the goddess approached him.
"I won't hurt you," she whispered. She put her arms around his neck.
"I know you won't." he replied, hesitantly. She kissed him, and the minute she did he felt something strange. Cold. A black fog was appearing in front of his eyes, and he was losing all the sensation in his body.
"It won't hurt," Lightning promised again, a smile on her face as the essence of Liu Kang- -his soul, his spirit, his mind--vanished completely.
Lindara knelt down beside Johnny Cage. "Oh dear."
"Oh dear? That's good, right?" Jax asked, watching her intently.
She glared. "You are impudent, for a mortal."
"I'm what?" Jax started forward, but Sonya held him back.
"Lindara, thank you for coming to help us," the woman said. "It means a lot."
"I know," Lindara said sweetly. She looking up at Nova who was standing at the foot of the bed. "Nova, dear, you did a good job healing him. I'm surprised."
Nova shrugged slightly. "I did the best I could."
"Now it's time for me to do my best," the goddess answered, laying her hands on Johnny's chest. A golden glow emanated from them, spreading upwards and through his body, then faded. He groaned.
"There," she said, simply, getting to her feet. "Good as new."
Johnny started to wake up, but didn't quite make leap and remained asleep, although he seemed much more peaceful than he had been.
"He'll need rest?" Nova asked the elder goddess, who nodded.
"It's best--" she began, when she was interrupted by the infirmary door swung open, hitting the wall with a loud bang. "What the...?"
Liu Kang walked in, serious and silent.
"Liu!" Jax exclaimed. "We've been looking for you." He started forward, to pat Liu on the back, when Sonya held out her hand. Startled, he looked at her and realised she had her gun drawn.
"That's not Liu," she said firmly.
Jax looked over to Nova. Both she and the Goddess of Nature were tense, and anxious. He looked back to Liu.
Kang was smiling slightly, and there was a slightly sway to him when he stood, but other than that, Jax couldn't see anything different about him. Couldn't sense anything either. But then, he wasn't too experienced in these other-worldly affairs.
Sonya's finger twitched. Her gun was drawn, and she was ready to use it.
Liu Kang--or the body of Liu Kang--stared at her with idle interest. "I see you caught on a little quicker this time. Admirable." It smiled slightly.
Sonya clenched her other hand into a tight fist. "Let Liu go."
Lindara, stood a few feet from the mortals, along with Nova. "What is it?" she murmured to Nova.
Nova stared at Liu Kang for a long moment before answering. "It is Lightning. The deity from another Omniverse. It's come here to destroy our own."
"Very perceptive," Liu Kang snapped at her. He snorted. "This is a waste of time."
There was a brief gesture, a flick of the hand and Lindara and Nova found themselves in the path of a hurricane wind, that threatened to blow them through the wall. They managed to keep their ground, but only through the greatest of efforts.
"Sonya," Nova whispered, and suddenly the mortal found herself standing next to them. "Take Johnny." Startled, Sonya didn't respond. "Take Johnny," Nova insisted, hissing under her breath. "Get him out of here. Jax as well."
Sonya noticed the look in Nova's eyes. She nodded, once, and bent down, picking up the unconscious movie star. Nova closed her eyes, and Lindara guarded over her in case Liu Kang/Lightning tried anything. The mortals disappeared in a flash. Liu Kang did not interfere.
He stood in the center of the room, watching them from behind hooded eyelids and a scowl. "Do you think you can save them?" he asked, quietly. "You're only delaying the inevitable."
"There's no hope?" replied Nova. "Then what's the point of fighting? Why don't you just demand our surrender?"
"Nova, don't bait him..." Lindara whispered, under her breath.
Liu Kang laughed at Nova's question. "If you surrender, then where's the game? I want to have fun, while I'm here, while you're here. It's all fun and games."
Lindara tensed. She stood tall and straight, while Nova beside her was in a defensive fighting position. Lindara never learned how to fight hand to hand. She relied on her powers. Here, in her brother Rayden's Realm, she had her full strength, but not her full range of abilities. Neither did Nova. Both knew it.
Nova could feel her heart beating loudly in her chest. It seemed as though no one was ready to make the first move. Lightning was waiting for them to strike, but Lindara was not doing anything until she was forced to.
It was up to Nova. Taking a deep breath, she generated her fiery bow and a quiver of arrows, a manifestation of her inherited fire powers. Lindara seemed shocked by the action, and Liu Kang seemed a little startled as well. That was good. Perhaps with the element of surprise--
The arrow soared towards the mortal, but was deflected at the last moment by a shield of energy that crackled into existence around Liu Kang. He smiled. "Good try," he said brightly, raising his hand.
The blast of fire took the pair by surprise, and they were caught unprepared. Lindara screamed and was knocked backwards by the force. She slammed into the wall, and slid to the floor. Nova was also slammed backwards, but she managed to catch herself before she made contact. She looked to the fallen goddess, who was lying limply on the ground. Lindara struggled to get up, but couldn't quite make it.
"Lindara," Nova whispered. She couldn't tell how hurt the goddess was.
She groaned once, raising her black-haired head to look Nova right in the eye. She started to murmur something, when the second blast struck them. This time, Nova was propelled into the stone wall, and she nearly fainted with the blow, but forced herself up, to her shaking, unsteady feet.
Lindara was unconscious now, and her green, embroidered dress was singeing around the edges. Nova looked at her, and then up at Liu Kang.
He seemed to be floating, only a few inches off the ground. Around him there was a haze of energy. Nova could make out Lightning's features, dimly, although there was no mistaking the grin the deity sported.
Nova crouched, the quick action bringing spots to her eyes. She touched Lindara's hand. The brief contact with the healer goddess gave Nova a surge of energy, and with that energy she teleported her new-found aunt away, to safety.
Sonya didn't know where she was, but she knew that both Johnny and Jax were safe there with her.
It was a long hallway, full of ornate furniture and paintings. It resembled something out of a period movie, in Sonya's opinion, but she didn't stop to consider the scenery long. She was on her feet, gun drawn, before Jax blinked.
"Where are we? What happened?" he said, drawing his own gun. He crouched by Johnny Cage, and felt his pulse. "Johnny's okay."
"Johnny should be waking up soon," Sonya replied, taking a few cautious steps down the corridor. "First things first. We find out where we are."
"That's easy enough to explain," said a voice from behind them. Sonya whirled, gun aimed at the owner of the voice, a thin, reedy fellow. He looked stunned, and backed away.
"Who are you?" Sonya yelled, as Jax got to his feet, his own gun drawn.
"I'm Adiutor," the deity snapped. "I'm the God of Assistants, and you do not have an appointment."
"Just what we need. Immortal red tape," Jax snapped, as he and Sonya put away their guns.
"You're mortals?" Adiutor seemed more shocked at that than at the fact they had drawn a gun on him. "You must be with Rayden."
"Rayden?" Sonya's head snapped up. "Rayden's here?"
"Yes, he's just outside the Great Hall," the deity snapped.
"Take us there. Immediately." Sonya picked up the unconscious Johnny Cage and prepared to be teleported.
"What? How--" Adiutor stuttered, scandalised at the thought of a mortal giving him orders.
"You heard the lady--now!" Jax barked. This had the effect of snapping Adiutor into complete compliance; he was the God of Assistants, after all. The party disappeared.
Nova gritted her teeth. Gathering together her last bit of power, she launched a ball of fire towards Lightning.
Liu Kang sniffed derisively and tossed the ball aside. But as he did so, he failed to notice Nova launching herself towards him, a flying kick that caught him in the side. He tumbled down to the ground.
The aura around him, Lightning's presence, seemed to flutter, and Nova wondered if she was having an effect. She knew that in order to drive the deity from Johnny Cage, she, Sonya and Jax had nearly killed him.
She didn't wait for Liu Kang to get to his feet, but kicked him soundly in the ribs. He groaned, and rolled away from her. She knew that if Lightning was given half a chance, she'd take it, and Nova was no match for a fully-charged deity.
Nova stepped towards Liu Kang, when he suddenly rolled backwards and grabbed her by the leg, yanking her off her feet. The wind was knocked out her when she fell to the hard stone floor, but she struggled to get up regardless.
Liu Kang was already on his feet. The haze was almost completely gone, and Nova wondered if Liu was breaking the hold Lightning held over him. But her hopes were dashed when Liu Kang's punch caught her in the nose.
Blood streamed from her face. No mortal could hurt a full deity. But Liu Kang was enhanced by Lightning's powers, and that gave him the ability to hurt Nova physically. She put a hand to her nose, looking at the blood on her fingers. It had been a long time since she had been hurt by any one. Certainly not since her powers had developed.
Liu Kang stood away from her, the same sardonic smile in place. He was enjoying himself. Or rather, Lightning was enjoying herself. He gestured towards her, and Nova could see the ball of lightning he was creating on the palm of his hand. She stood straighter, her heart racing. She had no strength left to teleport away. She had no energy left. Being in another's Realm had left her drained to begin with, while Lightning, having been "adopted" had nearly limitless power still left.
Nova wasn't going to win this one. Unless...
"Great Creator!" she yelled, staring Liu Kang down. "I evoke the Great Calm!"
Lightning/Liu Kang seemed non-plussed by the strange cry. He fired his bolt of energy at her, scowling when it dissipated into thin air.
"What is going on?" he asked, confused. He saw Nova grinning, and scowled. "What did you do!"
"I evoked the Creator, a mystic calm," Nova said, savouring the small victory. "No magic can be used in such a case."
"I have never heard of such a thing!" Liu Kang roared.
"It's rare, I grant you that," Nova acknowledged. She was in a fighting position once again, feeling a surge of energy that came from knowing she now had a chance. If it came to hand-to-hand, she might be able to pull something off.
Lighting's haze sparked back into being around Liu Kang, and Nova waited, tensely, as the deity gathered her strength together.
"It won't work," Nova told her. "Nothing in the Omniverse can defy such a law."
"Oh no?" Lightning drew Liu up to his full height. He had his hands raised over his head, a ball of energy sizzling in between them. With a single swoop, he brought his arms down.
The energy surrounded Nova with a crack of thunder. She screamed, futilely trying to shield herself from the massive dome of lightning that enclosed her. She fell to her knees, trying to stay on her knees, fighting to stay conscious. She had to stay awake. She had to keep going, to defeat Lightning, to save the others...
Rayden tapped his foot impatiently. Hiko rested her head on his shoulder, yawning. "I feel as though I've been a few millennia, at least," he sighed. "I wonder what is taking them so long."
Hiko yawned again. At that point, Adiutor and the mortals made their appearance, popping in with a flash of light.
"Rayden!" Sonya exclaimed. "We've found you!"
"What's the matter with Johnny?" Hiko cried, checking his pulse as Jax held him up. "I thought Lindara was taking care of him."
"She was," Sonya began, turning to Rayden. "It's Lightning--she's turned back up--"
"In Liu form," Jax added.
"What?" Rayden roared. "What happened?"
"She's taken over Liu," Sonya continued, when there was another flash of light and Lindara appeared at their feet.
Rayden was the first to reach her. He cradled her head in his arms. She was bleeding, her hair burnt and her dress singed. He sent her some healing energy, and her eyelids fluttered as she regained consciousness.
"Liu Kang..." she whispered hoarsely, focusing her eyes on her eldest brother.
"I know," he said softly. Sonya gestured to Adiutor to get help, but he didn't understand so she grabbed him by the collar and set off down the hallway to find it herself.
Lindara was struggling to say something, her eyes wide. She grabbed a fold of Rayden's white robe. "It's Nova..." she whispered.
At the sound, Hiko's head whipped around. The goddess dared not breathe as Lindara continued in her hoarse voice: "...she'll be killed..."
A group of Immortals appeared, Healers, summoned by Sonya and Adiutor. They took Lindara from Rayden, very carefully, and disappeared, no doubt to Lindara's own Realm, to help her recuperate and regain her strength.
Hiko took Rayden's hand, ignoring the fact it was coated with his sister's blood. He turned to her, and opened his mouth as if to say something when it hit them both with the force of a tidal wave. It was a scream. Not a human scream, but the scream of a deity, a cry that can travel through Realms...
"Nova," Hiko sobbed, trying to recover from the emotional onslaught. "Nova!"
Jikan Tai heard the scream. It shattered the tranquility of his surroundings like a hammer shattering glass. He got to his feet, his breath still ragged. His injuries had not yet healed. But how could he stand by and do nothing?
"We have to do something." Hiko pulled herself together. "We have to save her."
"I'll go," Rayden said quickly.
"We'll both go," Hiko countered. "We have to--but what about the Council?"
"Jax and I will wait in your place," Sonya Blade responded quickly.
"We have to stay with Johnny, anyway," added Jax. He gave the sleeping movie star a slap on the cheek, but Cage didn't stir.
"There's no point," Sonya told him. "Nothing can wake Johnny up except a call from his agent."
"We'll tell you if we need you," Rayden told the mortals. Sonya nodded, and snapped off a quick salute. He was startled by it; she didn't normally betray her Army background so bluntly.
"Nova will be okay," she added. "She's a survivor."
Nova fell fowards, landing on the hard stone floor of the infirmary. As her head hit the ground, she moaned one last time, and then she blacked out.
Over her, Liu Kang floated with a victorious smirk on his face. He had beaten her, defying the ridiculous edict that supposedly should have protected her. He had ignored the Omniversal law without a single consquence.
There was a crackle of energy, and Rayden appeared, thunder and lightning snapping around him. Liu Kang narrowed his eyes, and enjoyed the look of horror on his former mentor's face.
"Come to join her?" Liu Kang asked, pointing at the body of the goddess. "Are you so eager to be one of the first to die?"
"You're really cocky, aren't you," Rayden sneered, firing a bolt of lightning. The blue energy crackled around the shield Lightning's powers erected around Liu Kang to protect the mortal. But even as the lightning struck him from the front, a blast of fire seared him from the back and he lost his concentration. He fell to the ground, but it was only a couple of feet and he rolled with it easily. He could know see that it was Hiko behind him, gearing up for another round.
Both she and Rayden blasted him from either side, the fire and lightning combining to create a montrous blast that rocked the hillside.
When the rubble cleared, the infirmary was a crater. Liu Kang lay in the center, coughing. The shield around him glowed red hot with the force of so much power, but the mortal inside was unhurt.
He slowly rose to his feet. He seemed to be outlined by Lightning's figure, a spectre version. He looked up the sides of the crater to see Rayden standing on the lip, looking down.
"You killed Nova," Liu Kang said, slowly. "in an attempt to kill me. Very short-sided of you."
Rayden laughed. "Give me a little credit."
It was then that Lightning could see, out of the corner of Liu's eye, a distraught Hiko cradling Nova's beaten body to her, and crouching behind a force-field of her own, on the opposite lip of the hole. Liu Kang snarled, angry at the tiny victory. If they healed Nova, she would be one more warrior to send against him. He charge, generating a ball of energy, ready to strike both Hiko and Nova down in one blow.
The bolt of lightning struck his side, and he staggered, but that was all. He caught Hiko's eyes as he aimed his own bolt, and enjoyed the look he saw there. The moment's hesitation was a mistake. From somewhere above him, he heard a voice cry out, and then something struck him, hard, in the side of the head. It was Jikan Tai, his cape fluttering behind him as he landed on the ground, ready to strike again.
Liu Kang clutched his head, groaning. The world was spinning around him, and not even Lightning's considerable strength could help him. This part of the plan, of the game, was through, but the next part could be done whether or not the mortal was conscious. Liu Kang disappeared with a roar of thunder and a flash of light.
Rayden sighed with relief. Jikan Tai's timely arrival had garnered them a few moments to regroup and plan their next move. More importantly, it would give Nova a chance to recover.
Both Rayden and Jikan Tai stood silently by, as Hiko--the best healer out of the two deities--did her best to heal Nova of her wounds. The goddess was badly wounded, and was not responding to the healing energy.
"I don't know what to do," Hiko began to cry, still clutching Nova's hand and forcing the energy into her. "I'm not the healer Lindara is. We need more help."
"I've been trying to contact the Omniversal Healers," Rayden said, frustratedly, "But I can't get through. Something, or someone, I should say, is blocking me." He put an arm around Hiko's shoulder. "I'm afraid we're on our own, until someone comes looking for us."
Hiko forced back her tears, and Rayden joined in trying to save Nova's life. He was weary after the battle, and he did not have much in the way of healing skills, but it was more than the Guardian could do, for Jikan Tai could only look on, uselessly. He had no healing abilities, for he was not a deity; he was an ordinary mortal.
"It's all my fault," he said, in a rasping tone. When he had fought Cosmos, he had been injured by one of the god's lizard minions, and he had not fully recovered.
"Don't be stupid," Rayden snapped, his mind on Nova. "You had nothing to do with it. If anything, you've saved Nova's life."
"It's my fault that she was in danger to begin with," he asnwered, shaking his head.
"What do you mean, you can't reach them?" Sonya yelled at the group of dieties that had approached her and Jax. "How can you not reach them?"
"Please, Ms. Blade," Kerlan, the God of Communications, and the best there was, for obvious reasons, put his hands on her shoulders to try and calm her down.
She brushed them off. "Don't patronise me," she snapped. "I want to know why we can't reach them. They could be in trouble."
Kerlan sighed. Rayden was one of his oldest friends, and he was there when Rayden and Hiko first got together. He was as close to them as Sonya was, and just as worried. "A nearly Omniversal-wide field is blanketing all communications. It started a few minutes ago. None knows what's happening. A few strong individuals have been able to break through some of the weaker areas."
Jax was leaning against the wall. Johnny Cage, who had just woken up, was sitting with his back to the wall, listening and catching up.
"What have the reports been?" Jax asked, calmly.
Kerlan shrugged. "They haven't made much sense," he admitted. "The thoughts are garbled, and panicked. The general gist is that something is beginning to affect the Omniverse itself. We can all feel it, but those in the thick of things are convinced that their Realms are coming to an end."
"Armagedden has arrived," Johnny said quietly from his place on the floor. Sonya wished that he didn't have to be so melodramatic, but a tiny voice--her voice of reason, no doubt--was telling her that he might be right. "If only we knew what we were up against."
"That's never stopped you before," Jax quiped. The movie star laughed.
"True," he admitted. "Very, very true. Still, it would be nice, just to know."
A shock of green-black hair fell into his face, and he flipped it out, irritated. "It all began," he said softly, "just after the former Guardian died."
"That was ages ago," Rayden snapped. "What--"
"Please, Rayden," Jikan Tai pleaded, dropping the subservient act he carried when they weren't alone. "Please. It is hard for me to tell this, I promise, I will be as short as I can."
"Let him tell it," Hiko agreed. She sighed, a strand of her red hair falling out into her eyes. She was concentrating so strongly on Nova that she couldn't take her hands away to put it back in place, so Rayden tenderly did it for her.
Jikan Tai continued. "I discovered a new Realm. It is a sort of nexus, to other universes; I had explored several, each more astounding than the last. But I found the entrance to one that was dried up; and I couldn't get through. I left it alone, went back to the Palace, and was told of the Guardian's death. I ran out."
"I remember," Rayden agreed. "That was the last any one saw of you for several years."
The Guardian nodded. "I went exploring, different time periods and histories and worlds. I thought that if I learned enough about my powers, I would be--I would be able to bring the Guardian back, so that she wouldn't be dead." He paused, pulling himself together. "I travelled, and I honed my skills considerably. By the time I came back to the Omniverse, I found that I surpassed what the old Guardian could do. But that didn't mean I felt any better.
Now, Rayden, you remember that I was always curious, and through out the years that dried up entrance kept wandering into my mind. Finally, a year or so ago, I went back, and tried to get in."
"Tried to get into what?" Rayden interrupted. "What are you talking about?"
"A world, Rayden, that is the entrance to other Omniverses. Yes, they do exist; don't give me that look. The gates are pools of water, and you jump in them to travel between the barriers. But this pool was dried up, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. I should have, and had I, we wouldn't be here now. But I used my powers to force my way in, and succeeded."
Here Jikan Tai faltered. He found himself unable to continue further, until he saw Hiko staring at him. "Jikan Tai," she said, gently, "we need to know."
Sonya could feel thousands of tiny hot needles running up and down her spine. She wasn't a particularly skilled individual when it came to sensing magic, and spirits, but she would have had to be dead before she missed out on all of this.
The Council was in an up-roar as the unidentified menace was collapsing Realm barriers, and consuming the energy within, if the panicked reports could be believed. She and Jax and Johnny stayed far enough away to be out of the road, but close enough to keep abreast of what was going on.
"This is impossible!" she heard one cry. "My entire Realm--gone! My powers are nearly gone as well--what can I do?"
"Silence!" roared Celebria, Goddess of Truth, and head of the Council. "Silence!"
Even Celebria's considerable lung power could do nothing to stem the chaos inside the Council building. This outside power was something that the Immortals had never even conceived of before, and as such was frightening them beyond reason.
Sonya judged that to be the worst aspect of being a god; when you were used to knowing everything around you, being confronted with something unknown and unexpected was more of a shock than normal. Normal for some one like her, of course.
"This is worst than Shao Kahn," Johnny said quietly. He complained of a mild pain in his side, but that was all that remained of his broken ribs. "At least then you knew what you were fighting."
"I never got to fight Shao Kahn, so I am completely out of my depth here," Jax interjected. "I wish I had never come to China in the first place."
"Why did you come to China, anyway?" Johnny continued, but Sonya interrupted them quickly, before Jax could continue.
"We need to find some one who can get us back to Earth Realm," she said. "We need to stop this thing, and I bet it's there now."
"Everything is," Jax quipped. "We have a popular little planet."
Sonya rolled her eyes. "You're worse that Johnny, sometimes," she said, starting off to find a deity who could help.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Johnny called after her, getting up and following. "But only because I'm in such a good mood."
He nodded, and began, slowly, trying to find the right words: "I found myself in...in nothing. There was nothing there; no world--nothing. I can't explain it. But what happened next..."
He looked down and Nova, and crouched on the ground by her head. He reached out and touched her hair, sadly. "I found I was not alone. There was a presence there with me. At first I was frightened, and I left. But then I found I was drawn to it. I had to know what it was. So I went back, and this time, I found myself in Cosmos' Realm. The castle, the field around it--it was all there. Nova was there, too..." he trailed off. "Only she called herself Lightning."
He sighed, and stopped stroking Nova's head, standing up. He drew his cape around him. "I stayed for a long time, I don't know how long--Cosmos was there, but he stayed out of the way. I rarely saw him. Lightning lived in terror of him. He was driving her insane, and I could see it, so I tried to help. I wanted to help her, to--"
"Make up for the Guardian's death," Rayden finished. "I see where this is going, Jikan Tai."
The present Guardian sighed. "I wish I had your foresight, Rayden. You see, it was all too perfect for me: a damsel in distress, an old foe I could now defeat...I never realised how contrived it all was."
At this point Hiko looked up. She was tired, and her face drawn. "Cosmos was setting a trap for you," she said. "To trap you, too."
"I wish it was that simple," Jikan Tai answered. "I wish it was that straight-forward." He paused, then continued: "When I left their Realm, I told Lightning I was going to get help, help to free her from Cosmos. I left, and came to find you, bringing Liu to help as well. Johnny happened to be in the country, so I arranged his delay. Sonya came of her own accord, that was not my doing. That's when Lightning showed up, here."
"She followed you," Rayden surmised. "She found out about other Omniverses from you."
Jikan Tai nodded sadly. "But that's not the worst of it. When we went back, I noticed something was affecting Johnny. I started to probe what, and I realised that it was Lightning, using her powers covertly, and very subtly. Why, I still don't know. That's when I got the pain in my chest. I thought it was from the pressure of taking you through the barrier. So I went back to rest.
That's when I saw what had happened by the pool. A trail of burnt grass led to our pool, our Omniverse. I guessed that it must have been Lightning, when she forced her way through. It suddenly occured to me the inherent contradiction in her story. All that time, she had pretended to be weaker than Cosmos, completely under his own power, and yet she had enough sheer power to blast her way through barriers seperating whole Omniverses. Not even the entire Council could do that, even if they knew they existed. I only manage to slip through--well, that's not important right now. The point is, I realised why the pool was dried up, and what had happened when I first entered that Omniverse."
"She distroyed it," Rayden said, in a hushed whisper. "All of it."
"And she would have been left like that, if I hadn't shown up," Jikan Tai finished. "But because of me, she knew about us, and set in motion her own little plan."
"So she forced her way into our Omniverse, and started the whole charade over again," Rayden made a leap of logic. "Only this time using us as the basis, not you."
Jikan Tai nodded sadly. "It's all my fault."
Rayden sighed heavily. "Ever since your Guardian died, you've been carrying a burden around with you. It's been affecting every thing you do. You've got to realise that you didn't kill her; you didn't kill Nova; you did the best you could, and you're only human."
"Only human," he scoffed in return. "How many times has that been thrown in my face?"
Rayden started to say something in return, when Hiko gasped suddenly, and pitched forward. Rayden caught her, and Jikan Tai hurried to help support her. The goddess sighed deeply.
"I can't help her any more," she said, softly, her voice choking. "My healing abilities won't do anything more."
Rayden hugged her tightly. "They'll come looking for us soon--"
He was drowned out by a peal of thunder overhead. They looked up, and saw the sky turning deep purple, as lightning flashed and clouds blocked the sun. "Lightning," the Guardian growled. "She must be coming for the coup de grace."
Hiko struggled to get up. "We need Nova," she said, firmly. "We need her to help fight."
"You said yourself that you can't do anything else," Rayden reminded her.
"That's not really true," Hiko replied, looking directly at him. "I can transfer."
At once Rayden was both shocked and horrified. "You can't! It's too dangerous--it might kill both of you!"
"That's only an outside chance," Hiko argued. "It's the only option."
Thunder pealed over her head, and the rain began. It seemed almost like acid, biting into them before Jikan Tai took off his cloak and spread it over them as a tent.
"It's our only hope," Hiko continued, taking Rayden's hand. "They're not going to get to us. At least this way, Nova has a fighting chance."
Rayden started to say something, but shook his head. "I've never been able to stop you at anything, Hiko."
She smiled, and kissed him. "It'll all be fine," she assured him, dropping his hand and taking Nova's. "You'll see."
Jikan Tai shivered in the rain, but he held the cape over them, deflecting the acid droplets with an energy shield. The cape withstood the rain on its own. "I wish you and Nova luck, Lady Hiko," he said softly.
"Thank you," she replied, looking up at him. She remembered when she had first met him as a young boy, barely five and just taken from his family. She held Nova's hand tightly, and closed her eyes. "Oh, Great Creator," she whispered, barely audible over the storm that raged over their heads. "I wish to trade my life for Nova's. Give her enough of my strength, my energy, to help her survive."
There was a peal of thunder, and Hiko gasped suddenly while Nova opened her eyes and screamed, arching her back. She collapsed, gasping, while Hiko fainted dead away in Rayden's arms.
"You would have to be insane," Kerlan snapped. "In fact, you must be." Overhead, outside of the Council Room, thunder crashed. That was impossible, and yet it happened. "We're under siege, and you want to try and break into the enemy camp?"
Sonya took a deep, calming breath before she continued. It would not be helpful if she started to strangle the god. Nor would it be effective. "We defeated her before. We drove her out of Johnny's body; we can do it again."
"She's a lot stronger now," Kerlan argued. "How do you know you're not proposing suicide?"
The thunder roared outside, and frightened refugees screamed. Johnny and Jax could see actual Immortal children, staring at them, as well as the old, and even a few wounded. It was no different than a shelter on Earth would be.
Except that the entire realm of existence under attack.
"We have to do something," Johnny butted in. "We can't just sit here."
Kerlan sighed. "Even full deities are having problems coping with this--what can three mortals do?"
Jax snapped his head up. He had been studying one small child, crying silently while sitting by its goddess mother. "That's it."
"What's it?" Kerlan, Sonya and Johnny all returned.
"Make us Immortal. Make us gods, and we can defeat this thing," Jax explained. A stroke of lightning illuminated the building in fiery blue light, while a simultaneous peal of thunder rocked the Omniversal sky. Almost all of the inhabitants jumped in surprise.
Kerlan was the first to find his tongue. "You're kidding."
"I don't kid, sir," Jax replied, sternly. "Not in situations like this."
"What you're proposing is... incredible. It's never been done," Kerlan continued.
"Jikan Tai is mortal," Sonya informed him. "He has powers."
"He's the Guardian. He was chosen by the Creator for that role, no one knows why." Kerlan sighed, and ran a hand over his head. "Look, it's an....inspired idea, Jax, but I don't think it can hold much water in reality."
"Just try," Jax said. "We know how to fight her, and you have the ability to do so. Together, we can save the world. Again."
"Universe," Johnny corrected.
"Omniverse," both Sonya and Kerlan chimed.
"What ever. It needs saving, what ever it is. And we're the ones to do it." Jax grabbed Johnny in a hug around the shoulders.
"It's true," he added, uncomfortable in the grip. "You should see our resumes. Chocked full of heroic rescues."
"Hiko," Rayden whispered. His wife did not respond. She was breathing shallowly as she lay in his arms. "Hiko, wake up."
Beside him, Nova stirred. She was beginning to regain consciousness, although she had a little way to go. The transfer had been successful.
Overhead, the storm grew increasingly worse. "We've got to get them out of here," Rayden said, to the Guardian. "We need to get them to proper shelter."
"But we can't teleport out of here, if there's..." Jikan Tai trailed off, an idea forming. "You can't sense the Omniverse still?"
"Right..." Rayden replied, confused.
"Then maybe," Jikan Tai grew more excited. "Maybe I can take Nova and Hiko out of the Omniverse. To the nexus. They can recover there, in peace."
"No," Hiko murmured, coming around. "No--I want to stay here."
"But--" Rayden began. She shook her head limply.
Jikan Tai picked up Nova. She was semi-awake, and leaning heavily on him. "I don't know if I can make two trips."
Rayden looked at him, and then down at Hiko. "Then just take Nova. Make sure she is out of harm's way."
The Guardian nodded. He picked up his staff, and tapped it into the ground. There was a faint glow, and then he and Nova disappeared in a haze of purple.
Rayden wrapped the cape around Hiko, and started to carry her towards the remains of the infirmary. Much was destroyed in their fight with Liu/Lightning, but there was some of the stone still standing. The thunder god had little strength left, and none to teleport into the Temple proper. He hoped that the little shelter the wall provided would be enough.
There was a slight overhang, the remainder of a ceiling, and he propped Hiko under it. She was still breathing, but it seemed laboured, and he wasn't sure how long she would last out here, in the thick of the storm.
"Rayden..." she whispered. She was awake, watching him through half-closed eyes. "Rayden, I need to tell you something."
He leaned down to her, to hear her rasping whisper. She coughed, and started to sit up, but he held her down.
"Don't move," he said, "you need to rest."
"No, it's too late," she whispered. Her eyes opened a little wider. "Rayden--I need to tell you about Nova. She--"
She was drowned out by a peal of thunder over head. Rayden scowled, and leaned in closer.
"--I'm sorry for not telling you, before," she finished, with a sigh, closing her eyes.
"I didn't hear you," Rayden exclaimed, while an iron grip of fear clutching his heart when he realised that Hiko wasn't breathing. He tried to send her energy, to get her to wake up, to keep her there with him... but it was too late.
She slumped forward, and he caught her, holding her against him until she began to evaporate, disappearing into the heavy, wet air. An Immortal never dies, she used to say with a laugh and a smile. They only fade away.
Nova's eyes fluttered open. "Where... are we?" she asked, thickly, as she tried to get up. Trees soared overhead, blocking her view of the sky although thin light-blue ribbons seemed to show through.
Jikan Tai was beside her. He was resting his back on one of the massive trees. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "I have no idea what it's called."
"Where is it?" Nova repeated. Behind his tree, she could see a shallow pond, not very wide, reflecting the sky and the tree branches. She looked behind her, and was started to find she was on the edge of another pond. She scooted forward a notch.
"I don't think it is anywhere," Jikan Tai said philosophically. "It's as though--it's between somewhere."
Nova sighed, and rubbed her head. She had a terrific headache. "That doesn't make any sense."
"It does, when you get used to it," he replied. She started to tip forward, and he caught her by the elbows. She was only a few inches from him, and he started to blush. He helped her to lean against his tree, and he stood up.
"This is," he said, spreading his arms wide, "a forest, a Wood, that is between all known Realms. Between all known Omniverses, to be technical, although it doesn't have the same ring." He pointed behind him with his staff. "That pool there, belongs to our set of Realms." He pointed across from him, on the left. "That one belongs to a set of worlds created by mortals, which is hard to believe. I've been there several times, it's quite pleasant. No deities of any sort."
He turned to the right, slightly, and Nova noticed for the first time a thick trail of burnt grass. It led from a grassy depression under one tree to the pool Jikan Tai had said belonged to their world. "That particular pool, which is dried up," he continued, bitterly, "is the home of Lightning. Former home of Lightning. She destroyed it, and has come to ours."
Nova gasped. "An... entire Omniverse?"
He nodded solemnly. "Gone. The only thing left in existence was Lightning herself."
"We have to go help the others," Nova said, struggling to get up, using the tree as a support. She couldn't tear her eyes from the charred line of grass.
Jikan Tai sighed, and flipped the bangs out of his eyes with a hand. "Nova, you need to rest. I do too--that's why I brought you here."
"But Rayden... and Hiko..." she trailed off. Her eyes were brimming with tears. She wiped them away with a free hand, and shifted her sense of balance. Her legs started to give out, and she fell forward. In a swoop, Jikan Tai caught her, and helped her, gently, to the ground.
"You're in no condition to help," he said, softly. She shivered, and the repressive silence of the woods started to irritate her.
"I have to help," she argued.
"No, you can't. Not yet." he replied. He sat down, groaning as he did, and Nova remembered how hurt he had been, trying to "save" Lightning from Cosmos. She reached out and took his hand.
"Thank you for saving me," she said gently.
"It wasn't me," he replied, surprising her. "Your mother did it. A... transfer, she called it. I only got you out from the storm."
Nova went very pale. "A transfer...?"
Jikan Tai nodded.
Her head started to whirl. Her mother had... traded herself for Nova. And she was still out there, under attack...
Suddenly, she gasped, as a terrible pain seized her from the inside. Jikan Tai was by her side in an instant. "What is it? What's the matter?"
Nova pushed herself away from him. She felt red hot, and was stunned as Jikan Tai backed away from her, wincing. She looked down at her hands, and realised that she was glowing, on fire.
She looked into his eyes, her own welling with tears. "It's... it's the Fire Power. Mother's fire power, Jikan Tai--she must be dead!"
Kerlan paused, suddenly. A great hush fell over the Council room, a silence of shock and horror.
Johnny started to say something, but Sonya waved him silent. She put a finger to her lips, and looked around her.
The Immortals were deathly still. Even the smallest child looked around in surprise. It was a great peal of thunder that ended the silence, crashing over their heads so loud that Johnny was convinced the ceiling was caving in. Celebria was the first to speak.
She cleared her throat. "I think we all know what that means," she began, shaking slightly. Shivering.
"We don't," snapped Sonya. "What just happened?"
The deities stared at them in confusion. "Couldn't you hear it? Sense it?" Kerlan's mouth dropped. "You couldn't, could you?"
"Couldn't what?" Johnny exclaimed, exasperated.
"Hiko is dead," Kerlan said solemnly. "Her power has been passed on."
The three mortals exchanged saddened glances. "She's dead?" Sonya repeated, uselessly. "But--how?"
Kerlan shrugged. "I'd say something to do with Lightning."
Johnny stood a little behind them, and he had his eyes closed and his fists balled. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Let's get this over with. Let's get Lightning, now."
Sonya nodded, as did Jax. Kerlan said nothing.
Around them, a murmur shot through the crowd. "Let the mortals try," cried one deity. "They helped us against Cosmos. They can help again."
A great cheer arose from the ranks, and Sonya felt a slight blush. She wasn't one for attention of this sort. Jax also seemed uncomfortable. Johnny looked right at home.
"But how--?" Kerlan began, before another interrupted him.
"We could pool our powers, give them strength," someone yelled, a disheveled goddess from across the room. Another cheer went up.
"I have a better idea," called a familiar voice, as Nova and Jikan Tai snapped into being at the back of the council chamber. The new Goddess of Fire stepped forward hesitently, as though she wasn't sure if she could handle it. The Guardian supporting her by the arm.
"Nova!" Johnny exclaimed. "What happened to you?" He ran forward, helping to take her other arm and some of the burden off of Jikan Tai. "What happened to Hiko? And Rayden?"
"I don't know," she said, with a slight shake in her voice. "I tried to fight Lightning by myself, and I nearly died. My mother...brought me back. A transfer."
There was a knowing whisper that made its way through the listening crowd. "You said you had a better idea," Celebria asked her, once she had made her way to the center of the room. "Please, tell us."
"I am the Goddess of Fire, of Space, and of Stars," Nova explained to the mortals. "I inherited all those powers from my parents, and I have no children to pass them on to." She turned to address the entire assembly. "I could give one to each of you. With the strength of the Omniverse behind you, you could defeat Lightning."
There was a murmur. "But if you give us all your powers, what will happen to you?" Johnny asked her. "You'll be helpless."
Nova paused, uncertain. "I'm not much good in this condition, anyway--"
"We need all the help we can get." Jax stepped forward, and turned to address the crowd himself. "Give me something else, and leave Nova one of her titles. Then we have four fighters, instead of three."
"Good idea," Jikan Tai answered. "I can give you partial access to my powers." Jax nodded in thanks, and stepped backwards, his request withdrawn.
"That makes it up to five," Sonya counted.
"Six," Kerlan said with a nod. "I don't have much in the way of attack power, but I can lend energy, and keep you all in contact with each other."
"That would be usefull," Sonya agreed. "We'd be able to co-ordinate an attack with that ability."
"No one's attacking anybody without my help," replied a gravelly voice, behind them. They whirled in unison to see Rayden standing there. His robes were black with mud and his hair and face was streaked with blood. He looked as though he would collapse at any time.
"Rayden!" Nova cried with a sob, running to him for a fierce hug. She started to cry, and he let her rest on his shoulder.
Johnny and Sonya came up around him, Johnny giving him a sorrowful pat on the back, while Sonya took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around him as well. Johnny was a little startled by that; Sonya was not, by and large, a touchy person. But then, this was a rare occaison, and moved by his friend's display, he joined in the group hug as well.
Jax and Kerlan stood a little off to the side. They were just as sorry at Rayden's loss, but a bit unsure how they should react. Finally, Rayden broke off the comforting hug and drew Nova aside. "You have your mother's powers?" he asked, quietly.
"You still have your other powers?" he continued.
She smiled weakly. "I can see where this is going...and I've already agreed to share them with Sonya and Johnny."
"I'll be helping him," Jikan Tai said, calling over to them. Rayden simply nodded, not caring that the Guardian had been listening in. Of course, most of the deities in the Omniverse were listening in.
"Then we have everything we need," Rayden finished, stepping away from Nova and towards the others. "We can get going."
"Hold it," Kerlan said, stopping his friend. "You're not going anywhere."
"What...?" Rayden's temper started to rise, but Kerlan continued regardless.
"You're in no condition to fight anyone," he added. "You need to rest--gather your strength."
"And let Lightning consume even more?" Rayden exclaimed. "We have to get her now, stop this in its tracks."
"No, I'm not going to listen to this. You weren't there, really out there, with her. She has to be stopped, right now." Sparks were beginning to fly, albeit weak, small sparks. Kerlan only sighed in response.
"Rayden," Kerlan said quietly, "We all know what you're going through--"
"No, you don't," Rayden snapped. "None of you has any idea what I've lived through, never mind what just happened five minutes ago. I am--"
"In a need of a dose of reality," Sonya snapped suddenly. The two dieties stopped, stunned, and turned to look at her. "Yes, it hurts. We've all lost someone, Rayden, in a fight. Remember the Mortal Kombat Tournament? We saw dozens, literally dozens of our comrades die. And there was nothing we could do about it. I saw my partner murdered. It hurts, Rayden, I know that, but we have something larger to think about here. We have more people riding on this than just ourselves. We can mourn after. You need to rest, and gather your strength, so that we can defeat Lightning. If you rush in there half-cocked, she'll blow you away in a second, and then where will we be?" She paused. "Do you remember what you told us, on the boat, heading for the island?"
This Johnny supplied quickly: "It's not about death, but life."
She nodded. "And I said--"
This Rayden finished himself, wearily: "A handful of people on a leaky boat are going to save the world."
Sonya smiled slightly. "Exactly."
He nodded wearily. "Fine. I'll rest. But not that long."
"No one said long," Johnny remarked. "But I think we could all use a little shut eye."
"I have a better idea," Celebria remarked. The Goddess of Truth, and leader of the Council, came towards them. "We all wish to help, but we are, by and large, not fighters."
"Management," Jax quiped to Johnny. Sonya rolled her eyes.
"If I may?" Celebria snapped, in a stern voice that brought back fifth grade memories for Johnny. "Thank you. Now, as I was saying, we wish to help. You have done so much, Rayden, and we have never been able to repay you. Now, I know this won't make up for it, but it is a start. A gesture." She cleared her throat.
"I move that we initiate an Omniversal transfer, into these beings, those who fight on our behalf," she said to the gathered deities. The roar of applause nearly drowned out one of the ever-present thunderings overhead. Celebria smiled. "I think that is a yes."
They stood in a circle, facing each other. Nova and Rayden seemed tired, but they were making a concerted effort to stay on their feet. The entire assembly of the Council, including refugees, stood around them.
Sonya and Johnny exchanged a sideways glance, and Johnny surreptitiously wiped his hands on his pants. Jax stood rigidly at attention, unsure of what was going on. Sonya couldn't blame him.
"Nova, you may begin," Celebria said, standing a few feet from the circle.
The goddess stepped out of the circle, and moved between Johnny and Sonya. She took their hands, and closed her eyes.
"I hereby grant you, Sonya Blade, the power of Space, as passed down to me from my...father. Use the power well, and wisely. In the name of the Creator."
"In the name of the Creator," the crowd chanted in unison.
Sonya could feel a tingle run down her arms, along her spine, through her legs. She felt energized, powerful, and she started to hear things she hadn't a moment ago. She could hear the thunder, but there was cries overlaid it; sobs and wails, and in the distance, laughter. She shivered. She looked out into the crowd and suddenly the faces seemed more real. They lacked the glow that they had had before. She looked down at her free hand, and realised that it was glowing as well.
Nova sighed, and seemed to sag a little. Johnny tried to let go of her hand, to support her, but she held on fiercely. She looked to him, and he felt a sudden giddy nervousness that he hadn't felt in a long time.
"Johnny Cage, I hereby grant you the power of Fire, passed down to me by my..." her voice cracked, but she regained her composure. "...by my mother. Use the power well, and wisely. In the name of the Creator."
"In the name of the Creator," the crowd chanted again.
Johnny felt red-hot. He couldn't breathe, for the air seemed to sear his lungs, and his chest tightened. But then the moment passed, and it was as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He felt taller, stronger, more powerful. He could hear now, the thoughts of the other gods, whispers that surrounded him like voices on the wind. But he could hear something else, as well. Laughter, insane giggles from some where far, far away.
Nova sighed again, and seemed even more tired than she had been. She could barely keep her eyes open, but Johnny and Sonya kept her propped up, and she nodded her thanks.
Jikan Tai turned to Jax. He stepped out of the circle, and raised his staff, a magnificent silver wand that was fashioned like a key. A red jewel was fastened on the top, and this too was glowing. "Are you ready?" the Guardian asked, in his somber tone. Jax nodded curtly.
He raised the staff high above his head, and closed his eyes, concentrating. Jax watched, tensed, but the Guardian did not seem to be doing anything. When he started to think that Jikan Tai wasn't ready, the staff came down sharply and a beam of light struck Jax in the chest. He groaned, and tried to double over, but the beam held him frozen.
Finally Jikan Tai stopped the beam, and Jax staggered backwards. Kerlan caught him. When he looked up, the world was spinning, and he felt as though he would be sick.
"What--?" Jax muttered, shrugging Kerlan off and standing on his own. He was dizzy and felt short-of breath. Around him, a curious thing began to unfold; people began to multiply before his eyes. He looked to Sonya, and was startled to see copies of her, stretching in either direction, faint and fuzzy. They weren't reflections, though; some aspects were different.
"What...?" he groaned again, tripping over something. He was caught by someone and looked up into the face of Jikan Tai. The Guardian did not have an infinite group of copies surrounding him. He was alone, and he seemed sharper, some how. More defined.
"It'll pass, Jax," he said slowly. He bent down and whispered in his ear. "Tell no one of what you see. They won't understand." He straightened up again.
Jax nodded weakly.
The Omniverse was dying. Soon there would be no one, and nothing left. Except the one who was the destroyer itself. And her mortal companion, of course. She was not so stupid as to repeat her mistake. She had company, and enough energy to satiate (for the time being) her eternal hunger.
But when this place was dead...she would bide her time, until she could break through the walls again, and start the cycle anew.
"The titles are bestoyed!" Celebria called, throwing her hands in the air. The crowd cheered, an age-old tradition complete. "Now, for the transer."
The circle opened to let Jikan Tai and Jax back in, and then they all linked hands. Celebria led the assembly in the chant:
"Oh great Creator," she began. There was a moment of silence where the dieties prepared themselves, and when she began anew, they spoke along with her. "Give them our strength, our energy."
At first, Rayden was not sure whether or not the transfer would be successful. No one had ever done one of such magnitude. But soon after Celebria spoke the words, a incredible feeling of renewal crept through him. He began to feel whole again, or as near to whole he could ever be without Hiko. He tried not to think of her. He had a job to do.
Sonya was amazed at how she felt. When Nova had first transfered her power, she had felt strong, and ready for anything. But now--she couldn't begin to describe it. She looked to Johnny Cage, and the rapturous look on his face told her everything she needed to know.
Nova felt a little dimmer, a little smaller, without the added powers of her mother under her control. She had rarely used Cosmos' powers, as she considered them tainted with the horrible things that he had done, but to have them gone completely left her feeling deflated. V But as the healing energy of the deities began to flow through her, she began to pick up again. At once, things seemed a bit more hopeful, they weren't as dire as they had been. She had the backing of the entire Omniverse behind her, all their love and support. She opened her eyes and looked to Rayden. She wondered how much he knew. She would tell him, she decided, the minute that they were free from Lightning's threat.
"The transfer is complete!" Celebria yelled, and the cheer went up, as strong as ever, for as there were so many contributing, the transfer ended up only draining a little from each diety. "Rayden, are you ready?"
The thunder god took a minute to respond. "I am, Celebria."
There was a peal of thunder, and flash of lightning. Sonya could swear that she heard laughter, much closer this time.
"Then let's get going," Johnny added. "We've got a job to do."
Now Sonya could definitely hear laughter, Lightning's laughter. Appearently others could hear it too, for Celebria and the others looked around them in confusion. Rayden could hear it as well, and looked furious. Nova looked upset, and Jikan Tai looked ashamed. Now that was odd, the former mortal thought. Why would he be ashamed?
They appeared on Earth, back at the site of the Temple of Light. A great storm raged around them, but Rayden raised his arms and immediately it began to clear. The storm did not move, or fade in intensity, but it was as though an eye opened up over their heads.
"The first thing we need to do is find Lightning," Rayden said. "That shouldn't be too hard."
There was laughter behind the group, and in unison, they whirled around. A shape was beginning to take form, floating over the wet and flattened grass. It coalesced into Liu Kang. Around him was the aura of Lightning, her features easier to make out than when Rayden had last seen her.
"Surprise," Liu Kang crowed. "You found me."
The blast seared Sonya's skin, but she held her ground. Around her, the others were doing the same. Lightning/Liu looked a little surprised, but not for long.
"So that's what you were doing," he said, sending out another blast which they again weathered adequately. "I knew I should have listened in."
"Make shields," Nova called to Sonya. "That's your speciality."
"How do I do that?" she yelled back, as another wave of the energy nearly tossed him off his feet.
"Just make it so! It's like breathing--you don't think about it!" Rayden replied, trying to form a shield of his own. He, Nova and Kerlan reinforced it, and the next blast shimmered around it. Johnny, unfortunately, was just outside its range, and was knocked off his feet.
"That's easy for you to say," Sonya grumbled. Will a shield. Will a shield. Johnny got to his feet, just as Liu Kang was preparing another attack. Sonya panicked, and just reached out towards him, wanting to protect him.
As the wave struck, the shield around Johnny shimmered, and held. He seemed impressed. "That doesn't seem to hard," he yelled. "My turn!"
Liu Kang gasped as a wall of flame surrounding him. He was taken by surprise, and the heat affected him for a moment; but then his shields were in place.
"Good job," Rayden said, casting a bolt of lightning towards his former student and friend. "Nova--"
"Already on it," she replied, firing her arrows in quick succession. Sonya lashed out with a blast of energy. They all hit Liu with a tremendous blast.
"Our turn," Jikan Tai said. He and Jax stood a few feet from each other, and held onto the Guardian's staff. The jewel glowed bright red, and the beam struck Liu Kang, shattering through the force-fields as if they were nothing.
He screamed, and fell to his knees.
"Now, again--" Rayden began, when there was a sudden shaking of the ground.
"What the--" Johnny began, knocked off his feet again as the earth began to shake. He trailed off as Lightning appeared before them. The aura around Liu had been nothing but a mere flicker of her power, and as she drew herself out of him, she was so bright, so dazzling, it hurt to look at her.
"This is enough!" she roared, and the wave of power struck the group like a knife in the ribs. It burned, and their shields were useless against it.
Sonya tried again to create a wall to block the sheer power, but she couldn't concentrate enough to form one.
Suddenly, the pain ceased. She looked up, the stars clearing from in front of her eyes as she saw Jikan Tai, holding the brunt of the energy back with his staff. She knew that he couldn't hold out for long.
She grabbed Kerlan, who was a few feet from her. "I have a plan," she said. "You have to tell the others."
He nodded, and she gasped as suddenly she could sense them all, in her mind. I have an idea, she thought at them.
We can't defeat her! Nova wailed in despair. She's too powerful!
We have to, Johnny added.
We can. Jikan Tai's mind was strained, and the pain he was feeling filtered through, affecting all of them.
She has only one weakness, Sonya continued. We have to exploit it.
She does? Jax asked.
A flicker of understanding rippled through Rayden. Liu. Sonya nodded, although only Kerlan could see her. We thought to draw her out from Liu, and destroy her that way.
But what if we trap her in him? Rayden finished.
That's mad! Johnny exclaimed. He's our friend--we can't--
There was a sudden image of Hiko that sprung to mind, that Sonya knew came from Rayden. A wave of anger accompanied it. Lightning had killed Hiko; she was ready to kill the others, too. She had to be stopped. Sonya's thoughts echoed to the others.
It's our only hope, both Sonya and Rayden replied. We must.
You know he would sacrifice himself for us, Nova added, in a small voice. He would want us to win, at any cost.
I'm in, Jax said, simply.
A flicker of remorse from Johnny came through, then a mental sigh. Me too.
"Good," Sonya said out loud. The whole mental conversation had lasted barely a second. She looked to Kerlan. "That was interesting."
"Welcome to my life," he said, with a shrug.
Sonya caught Johnny's eye. She looked toward Rayden, who nodded as well. "Welcome to mine," she replied, getting ready.
"Go!" Johnny yelled. Rayden and Nova linked hands. Kerlan and Jax took their places behind Jikan Tai, strengthening his hold and taking some of the burder off of him.
Lightning screamed, as the combined powers of Rayden and Nova began to pull her in, towards Liu. Sonya and Johnny waited, at the edge of the safety zone, while the destroyer was slowly trapped inside the mortal. The moment that she seemed subdued, they leapt towards her and her host.
Sonya caught him with a flying kick, knocking Liu Kang to the ground. He got to his feet when Johnny came at him with another kick, catching Liu Kang by the side of the head, but the mortal grabbed Johnny's leg and twisted it around. Johnny yelped at the bone breaking, and he collapsed.
Before Liu Kang was even done with Johnny, Sonya lashed out with her fist, but he blocked it. It might have been Liu's body, but he had super-human reflexes from Lightning. He twisted Sonya's arm around, and she was sure it was going to break when the thought occured to her to be away. No sooner had she thought it than it happened; she found herself back beside Rayden and Nova. "Johnny's down," she reported. "Liu's got Lightning's reflexes."
"Then we'll just have to do this the hard way," Nova said, breaking away from Rayden. She ran toward the possessed mortal, Sonya in tow.
Jikan Tai still contained the massive power burst, but the strain was considerable, even with Jax's and Kerlan's help. Nova knew that there was not much time before he gave out all together. It had to be now.
She faced Lightning, who had Johnny Cage by the throat. "Johnny!" Sonya yelled. He looked towards her, but he was obviously distracted. "Come here!" Startled, he did the first thing that came to mind: he came to her. He teleported with out realising it, and fell to the ground at her feet. He had scorched finger marks around his neck.
Liu Kang looked at them with bemusement. "You are very stubborn," he replied. "That's good."
"I'll show you stubborn!" Nova yelled furiously. She struck out with all the power she had, a great wave of fire that caught the mortal before he could react. He screamed, and Sonya and Johnny winced. Nova didn't hear them, or didn't care. She was concentrating everything she had on Lightning, and Liu Kang. She didn't even begin to notice when her power began to change; it started to resemble a bolt of lightning.
The goddess Lightning, meanwhile, screamed again, and teleported out of ground zero. She...or he, as Liu, appeared by Nova, and rapidly kicked her with a flying leap. Nova was thrown backwards, but Liu Kang appeared behind her, and grabbed her by the throat.
"Give me your energy," he hissed, squeezing. Nova, already depleted by her last ditch effort, could barely fight him off.
Johnny could see that Lightning was draining Nova's energy, the way she had tried to drain his. "We've got to do something," he said through gritted teeth, the pain from his leg so bad he threatened to pass out. "Now, while she's still weak."
Sonya nodded, and blasted the pair with her new powers. Both Liu Kang and Nova cried out. "It's not enough!" Sonya cried.
Jikan Tai watched in horror. He was so tired, he could barely see straight, but as he did, an idea grew. Concentrating so hard that the rest of the world seemed to cease to exist, he compacted the energy that he had been holding from a large wave to a small ball. He waved for Jax and Kerlan to release their hold. They did, and the new burden nearly upset his balance, releasing the energy, but he maintained his grip on it. He took aim, and fired.
Sonya's first reaction, often times, was to pull her gun. But she had first it was useless against Immortals--that's when it struck her like a bolt out of the blue. Liu was mortal! She pulled it out from the holster around her waist, took aim, and fired.
Which struck first, the bullets or the energy, no one really saw. However, the bullets must have struck first, for Liu was dead before the blast hit him.
It was such a great concentration of energy that its effects were felt half-way around the world as a surprise earthquake; as it was, it was extremely fortunate that Jax and Kerlan, sensing the Guardian's plan, had protected the area around them.
The ball was naturally centered on Liu Kang, and would have killed him if the bullets hadn't done that first. As he was dead, Lightning made a last ditch effort to leap into Nova, but the goddess was too strong-willed, too resistent to the possession. Caught without a host to absorb the energy while protecting her and without enough energy of her own, Lightning was washed away along with the mortal she had won over in order to inhabit.
Nova fell to the ground, and Rayden an icy hand clutch his chest. Not again, he prayed, running for her. Jikan Tai collapsed as well, supported by Jax and Kerlan, but Rayden hardly noticed. He ran past a horrified Sonya and Johnny; all he could think about was Nova. He had known her since she was born; she was like a daughter to him.
He cradled her head gently in his arms. "Wake up," he whispered. "Wake up."
Her eyelids fluttered, and she groaned. She opened her big green eyes, so much like Hiko's, and smiled. "We won?" she asked, her voice barely audible.
"Yes," he replied softly. "We did."
"Good," she answered, with a sigh of relief. She looked back up at him again. "I have to tell you something." Deja vu washed over him, but this time there would be no thunder to obscure her message. Lightning's ferocious storm was clearing. "I have to tell you--I don't know if Hiko did, or not." Nova continued.
"She tried to tell me something, but I couldn't hear her," he answered. He took her hand. "What was it that was so important?"
"She loved you so much," Nova began, squeezing the hand. "That's why she did it. To save you, and me."
"Save us from what?" Rayden prompted.
"Rayden...I'm your daughter, not Cosmos'," Nova blurted. "Mother never told anyone but me, to protect us all. But it's all right now. You deserve to know."
Rayden stopped breathing for a moment, his whole sense of being coming to a screeching halt. "What...?"
Nova smiled faintly. She coughed, and blood trickled from her burnt skin. "I--" She coughed again, and Rayden held her tighter, but she was already fading away.
The candles floated sedately down the silver river, a shining memorial to the fallen Liu Kang, a warrior and a brother among the monks of the Temple of the Order of Light. Each monk had set a candle on a thin piece of wood, and released it on the water. From the top of the hill, all that could be seen were bright points of light, among ribbons of moonlight bouncing off the waves.
Sonya Blade watched them and decided that when she died, that was how she would like to be remembered; as a trail of light. She sighed, and stood up, picking her coat up off the dew- wet grass. Her legs were starting to hurt, anyway, and she wanted to stretch them.
She found Johnny Cage just around the corner from her spot, leaning against the Temple wall. He was watching the spectacle silently and solemnly.
He looked up as she approached. "My flight leaves tomorrow," he said bluntly. He turned back towards the river.
"I know," she said. "Jax and I are leaving as well."
He nodded. With a tiny flicking gesture mid-air, he created a small flame, and with a thought, sent it onto the river with the others. He looked sideways at her, and she nodded. He created another one. From the distance, Sonya could see the two lights appear, although they looked no different than the candles.
"I made one for Nova, and for Hiko," he added as well. Sonya didn't reply. She looked down towards the river, and could see a figure standing on the bank. She knew that it was Rayden, even though she could barely see him.
She put an hand on Johnny's arm, and pointed. He looked downcast.
"I think he wants to be alone," the star said sadly. "Can't say I blame him."
"He'll have enough of that, after we leave," Sonya reminded him. She teleported away, a dark portal opening up for her, that she stepped through. Seeing that startled Johnny, for an instant; he still wasn't used to it. But he supposed he would have to grow to be. He created his own portal, one of fire, and stepped through.
Rayden set the small strip of wooden down on the water, and used a tiny spark to light the candle wick. It burst into flame, and he nudged it into the current with the tip of his toe. It bobbed down stream, joining the others.
"I hear you're leaving tomorrow," he said to Sonya, as she appeared.
"Yeah," she admitted, stepping over to stand beside him. "Johnny too."
"Johnny what?" asked Cage, popping into existence. He shook his head. "That takes some getting used to."
Rayden nearly smiled. Then he sighed. "I don't suppose I need to tell you to keep that a secret."
"I would never have told anyone, even if you had let me," Sonya replied. "This is something best kept to ourselves."
This Rayden did chuckle at. "I wasn't thinking of you, Sonya, I was thinking of him." He gestured with a thumb at Johnny, who feigned hurt and a wounded pride.
"You two never let up," he remarked. "You'd think I had done something to deserve this." Neither replied, and Johnny found himself lost in the view, again. He snapped himself out of it, and put a hand on Rayden's shoulder. "Are you going to be okay? If you want, I can delay the flight. Get lost somewhere, if you know what I mean."
"Me too," Sonya was quick to add. "If you just want some company..."
Rayden shook his head. "I'll be fine. Lindara is coming to stay with me, so I won't be alone. Not to mention, I have to help the monks rebuild the damaged areas. I'll have plenty to keep me busy."
"If you ever need someone to talk to, my door is always open," Johnny continued. He paused. "Not that you ever use the door, but it's always open."
Rayden laughed. "I might just take you up on that offer," he said, again staring out at the river. "I just might."
Jikan Tai tapped Jax on the shoulder with the staff, and at once, Jax felt smaller. As though he was four years old again, craning his neck to look at everything around him.
"I'm sorry, but--" Jikan Tai began, but Jax waved him silent.
"Don't mention it. I would rather have it this way, anyway. Less worry. And I've got enough to worry about, with Sonya, the new Goddess of Space, at any rate."
The Guardian nodded. If anything, he looked even more solemn than usual. He had his cape back, and he wrapped it around himself, to keep out a cold breeze that Jax couldn't feel. "I wish I could change things," he said, softly. "Change all of it."
Jax was startled. Jikan Tai seemed the last person who would consider a gross breach of trust like that. He just didn't seem the person. Jax realised the Guardian was looking at him, his green eyes glowing slightly in the moonlight, almost like a cat's. "I wonder how it would turn out," he murmured. "If I did it differently."
Jax couldn't think of anything to say.
Sonya and Johnny started back up the hill, leaving Rayden behind in his solitude, as he wanted. Johnny was all for teleporting, but Sonya reminded him that they would have to learn to suppress their powers, and the sooner they did that, the easier.
"I hate it when there's a lesson to be learned," Johnny muttered behind him as they climbed.
"Don't you ever find yourself at a loss of smart remarks?" Sonya snapped.
This time Johnny was hurt. "Yeah."
"Like when Nova died. And Hiko died. And Liu died. You might think I'm this flippant all the time, but that's not true," Johnny answered her, quietly.
Sonya stopped, and turned to look at him. He wasn't faking it. "You were really close to Nova, weren't you," she said softly. It wasn't a question. He nodded all the same.
"I'd like to think that I was in love with her," he replied. "I don't know whether it was true love or not, but it came close."
"I know that feeling," Sonya said, starting to walk again. Johnny jogged to catch up with her.
"Sonya--" he began, catching her arm. "I--"
"There's absolutely nothing to can say to me, Johnny Cage," she snapped. "Nothing is going to make me feel better."
"I love you too," he said simply. She stopped dead in her tracks.
"Except maybe that," she admitted.
"We never see each other, only when the world is in peril, I figured you had moved on, so I did too," Johnny continued.
Sonya didn't say anything. He left it at that. He started walking, and this time, Sonya had to jog to catch up with him.
"Johnny--I never told you why I was in China," she said, catching his attention. He turned, all ears. "It was to save you."
"Save me from what?" Johnny asked, curious. "I wasn't in any danger."
"That gangster, Lay Ho Ma, ran an international kidnapping ring. He kidnapped celebrities for the ransom money. He was a professional at it. And I found out that you were next on his list." She sighed, and looked to the ground, not willing to meet Johnny's eyes. "So I went AWOL to try and track him down. But when I got here, I just got this urge to see Liu, and well..." She trailed off.
"Jax was in it too?" Johnny asked, after a moment. She nodded.
"He said he'd follow me to the ends of the Earth." She chuckled slightly, a rare occasion for her. "I don't think he realised what he was saying."
Johnny laughed too, and reached out and took her hand. "Come on," he said, with a smile. "We've got a flight to catch in the morning."