Authors' note: Kudos for anyone who gets the gratuitious Jeff Meeks reference in this chapter. This is the end of a long ride - thanks for joining me. - LN
The Temple of Light, outskirts of the City of Zhu Zin, Earthrealm
As the last monk took the path that led back to the Temple proper, Kung Lao stepped forwards and placed a spray of apple blossom on the freshly turned earth of the grave. "Thank you for saving his life," he said simply, straightening up. When Kung Lao had told the monks exactly what Kimari had done, how she had freed them all, and saved Rayden's life at the cost of her own, they had given her all honors in her funeral. He, Siro and Taja had joined the procession, ending up in the shady, tree-lined park. Unlike other members of the order, Kimari had a headstone marking her final resting place, giving her name, and inscribed with the characters that denoted a champion of the Order of Light.
"She was really brave, for a slave," Taja noted, stepping forwards to place a single red rose amongst the fragrant white flowers. "I don't think I would have had the guts to do what she did."
"Ah, don't sell yourself short," Siro said easily, giving the red head a gentle cuff to the shoulder. "You really can't say what you'd do in a situation until you've lived it." He leaned his muscular frame down and placed a braided wreath of vines and sweet-smelling yellow daisies on the earth. "Mind you, she was... a remarkable woman." He straightened, and saw the cynical looks both Kung Lao and Taja were giving him. "Hey!" he protested. "I was thinking about what she did, not what she looked like!"
A gentle breeze swept through the graveyard, making the leaves on the trees dance. The trio turned to see the Wind God appear, a twist of jasmine curled around his hand. They watched as he silently approached the grave, then pressed his flower covered hand to the head stone. The jasmine began to writhe, then flow like water, until it entwined the marker, opening petals to the sun and filling the air with their unique fragrance. "I thought it appropriate," Fujin remarked in the silence. "She saved my brothers' existence, and I cannot repay her for it. At least this way, she'll always have something living to mark her sacrifice."
"Have you seen Rayden?" Kung Lao asked after another moment of silence. "I would have thought he'd be here today." Fujin shook his head.
"He has made no attempt to contact me since..." The Wind God's voice trailed off. "He will resume the mantle of Protector of Earthrealm after he has done what ever it is he needs to do, and I shall give him time for his grief." A slight, sad smile came to Fujin's eternal face. "In that, I am very mortal. Gods have no real concept of grief. My brother has taught me much."
Taja's curiosity, never tightly lidded in the first place, bubbled over. "So, does that mean that you're related to Shao Kahn, too?" Fujin tilted his head to look at her.
"No," he replied, "we are related on our mothers' side. Same mother, different fathers."
"And Rayden and Shao Kahn have the same father, but different mothers." Taja nodded. "That was bugging me. How Rayden and Shao Kahn could be..." She wrapped her arms around herself and gave a shiver. "They're just so different!"
"Not that different," a familiar voice, now filled with sadness, said. "We both get people killed." Rayden walked from the trees to stand at the foot of the grave. He was no longer the filthy, blood spattered, wounded creature Shao Kahn had locked away. The Thunder God was back, in his familiar white and blue robes, his storm cloud hair neat and smooth and hanging to his shoulders. His deep blue eyes held an ocean of pain and regret, and Taja felt herself reaching out before she thought to touch his arm. To her surprise, Rayden jerked back, stopping her from touching him.
"It wasn't your fault, Rayden," she said instead, willing him to believe her. "Shao Kahn-" She was stopped by an eerie, bitter laugh from the Thunder God, one that sent shivers down the spines of the mortals who heard it.
"Fujin was sworn on the seal of the Elder Gods to become the Protector of Earthrealm. All I had to do was kneel, and she would still be alive." That laugh sounded again. "But I was stubborn." Fujin studied the other god for a moment. Then, pivoting on his heel, he swung a right handed hook at Rayden's jaw. It connected with a crack, sending the Thunder God stumbling back a few steps. Fujin followed him, both hands raised and feet set in a fighting stance. Kung Lao, Siro and Taja watched in open mouthed amazement as Rayden lifted a hand and pressed it to his jaw, his blue eyes filling with lightning as his mouth thinned into a grim line. "How dare you?" he spat.
"I dare because the sight of so much self pity makes me want to vomit," the Wind God snarled back as a cool wind sprang up from nowhere and thunder growled ominously in the distance. His white eyes flashed as he made a beckoning gesture with one hand. "Come on, Thunder God," he said contemptuously with a sneer, "make me regret it." Rayden gave a cry of pure fury and launched himself at his brother. They traded blows for a moment, almost faster than the mortals could see, before Fujin slipped behind Rayden, kicked him in the back of the knee, then wrapped his arms around the Thunder God, temporarily immobilizing him. "Look," he hissed into Rayden's ear, "and listen, as I'm only going to say this once. If you had knelt, these three would be dead, and so would you. Earthrealm would have been without a Champion for the next Mortal Kombat, and most likely would have fallen to Shao Kahn." He easily held Rayden as the other struggled momentarily. "Your selfish desire to blame yourself for her death makes light of her sacrifice, her gift that preserved the safety of Earthrealm. And I won't let you dishonor her like that."
Rayden sagged in Fujin's grip, the lightening fading from his eyes, and after a moment the Wind God loosened his hold, turning it into an embrace. "She died free, brother, and that's more than most slaves dare wish for, especially in Shao Kahn's palace." The Thunder God nodded slowly, wearily, and Fujin finally lowered his arms and stepped away.
The mortals watched as Rayden walked to the foot of the grave. After a long, silent moment, he spoke in a soft voice. "I made you a promise, and I couldn't keep it. For that, I'm sorry." He lifted one hand, and a corona of white, flickering light sheathed it. The Thunder God pointed a finger at the headstone, and the lightening leapt, filling the air with the stench of ozone as it burned into the granite. The name Kimari was obliterated and replaced in the space of seconds. The marker now had a different name upon it, scored deep into the stone. "But at least I found your real name, Alise. Rest you well." With that, he turned back to Fujin, who gave a slight smile, one that was mirrored by the Thunder God.
"Just like old times, 'eh?" Fujin said. "Me knocking some sense into that thick skull of yours." Rayden made as if to hit him as Fujin's smile grew wider.
"What happened to the respect and honor due an older and more experienced brother, white eyes?" Rayden commented dryly.
"I respect and honor you, oh great and mighty Protector of the Earthrealm," Fujin protested mockingly. "When you're not being a complete and utter horses' backside, that is."
Rayden shook his head, turning and throwing one arm around Taja's shoulders. "I need a drink. You should thank the Elder Gods that you don't have any younger brothers." He paused, and the familiar smile came to his face. "Or at least a younger brother like mine."
Fujin stepped to the other side of a dazed looking Taja and offered her his arm courteously. "Or you could wish to the Elders that you did. It may keep you out of some trouble." Hesitantly, Taja linked her free arm with the Wind God's. "Older brothers, however, are a pain in the... neck."
"I'm quite willing to give you a pain in the neck so that you can tell the difference," Rayden growled to Fujin over Taja's head. The Wind God simply smiled.
"Oh, look, we got the girl." Fujin gave Rayden a wink, then swung his gaze to Kung Lao and Siro, who were looking just as dazed as Taja. "Or rather, I did. See you at the tavern," he added, and with a strong gust of wind, both he and Taja vanished. Rayden shook his head, a smile on his face, turning to face the two mortals. Siro spoke first.
"What... what just happened?" Rayden gave a snort of laughter.
"Fujin and I spent centuries together, coming into our... immortality, I guess you might say. He knows how I think, as I know how he thinks. And as much as I hate to admit it, he's right." Rayden stopped and took a breath. "I dishonor the sacrifice she made if I try and make her death my fault." He shook his head, his silver-grey hair swinging around his shoulders. "I hate it when he's right. He'll crow about this for decades. And that's if I'mlucky." The Thunder God extended both hands to Kung Lao and Siro. "Come on, we should catch up."
"What happened to keeping 'the fast way' for an emergency?" Kung Lao asked as he put his hand in Rayden's. Rayden laughed, his normal, deep, carefree laugh.
"It is an emergency. If we don't get there soon, that lush will drink the tavern dry!" As Siro took his other hand, Rayden added, "Remind me to tell you the story of when we went on a tavern crawl with the Goddess of Peace. Fujin hates being embarrassed in company." With a crack of thunder and a flash of lightening the trio vanished, leaving the jasmine nodding in the peaceful, shady silence.