Chapter 27

"I see light." Julia turned to make sure that the rest had heard her. Behind, Xiaoyu and Hwoarang nodded. "Come on, mother, we're almost there."

Michelle's arm was draped around Julia's shoulders, but at times Julia almost couldn't tell she was there. Michelle was so malnourished that her weight hardly pressed down on Julia despite her sagging posture. She wouldn't seek him out, but if she ever came across Heihachi again she would not hesitate to disrupt any plans he had. In the mean time it was enough to have Michelle back and to know that Ogre had been defeated.

The light led outside to a warm rain forest. The verdant valley was framed by cliffs and trees. All around was grass and forest, all deep green like a canopy. Behind them, the tunnel they emerged from looked like any of the other caves in the face of the cliffs. Nobody looking in would have known there was a temple here. Down below, a variety of trucks and equipment waited in the sunlight.

"Where are we?" Xiaoyu asked.

"I'm not sure yet, but it might be Mexico. Maybe farther south." Julia pointed to one of the vehicles. "Let's check out the trucks. Maybe one of them is still working."

Julia checked out the equipment as she walked past. "Looks like an excavation of some kind. Pretty fancy equipment too. Here." Julia opened the door to one of the jeeps and helped Michelle into the passenger seat. Michelle gently leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. Julia and the others made their way around the makeshift camp.

"Not much of a party," Xiaoyu said.

"It wasn't supposed to be. Looks like they were in the beginning stages of mapping out the valley. Too early for a celebration, but they were on to something. I think whoever set up this camp was who awakened Ogre. He must have woken up hungry."

"Check this out." Hwoarang handed Xiaoyu and Julia an envelope. "Mishima Financial."

Julia nodded her recognition of the logo on the outside. Inside were a series of high altitude photographs. "We're in Guatemala." All around them were pieces of her history. The Aztecs once dwelt here.

"Great. What now?" Hwoarang scratched the back of his head. "Anyone else think that we oughta just get out of here?"

"We need to know where we're going first. Anyone able to connect to the web?"

"I can." Xiaoyu pulled out a pink cell phone out of her pocket. "What are we looking for?"

"Embassies. See if there is a US, Chinese, and South Korean embassy in Guatemala."

Xiaoyu tapped out the information. "Mmmm, we both have an embassy in Guatemala City, but nothing for South Korea. Looks like Hwoarang is out of luck."

"I'll make my own luck. All I need is a bike, like that one there, and a full tank of gas."

"Money comes in handy too. You're going to need it to get back home."

"I've got my money-makers right here," he said as he slapped his legs. "A few fights and not only will I have the money to leave, but the local population will be begging to get me out of their town so their champions can start winning again." Hwoarang began checking the bike. "I'm set."

"You sure?" Julia asked.

"Yeah, looks like I got about three quarters of a tank. Key's still in the ignition. I'll be fine."

Julia laid a hand on his shoulder. "Take care of yourself, okay?"

Hwoarang smirked. "I'll be fine. You just be sure that if you see Jin again that he'd better start training. There'll be no distractions next time."

Julia smiled at the thought of seeing Jin. "I'll let him know." She stepped back as Hwoarang fired up the motorcycle. A few revs of the engine seemed to satisfy him before he spun it around back towards the dirt road and sped off in a trail of rumbles and dust. He was out of sight in less than a minute as he disappeared in the jungle shadows. Julia listened to the engine whine fade away before climbing into the jeep Michelle was resting in.

"Looks like we've our ticket out of here too," she told Xiaoyu. "Tank's mostly full and they've even installed GPS. Shouldn't be too hard to get to Guatemala City from here."

Xiaoyu grabbed one of the roll bars and swung into the back. "Well, what are we waiting for? I can't wait to get back and tell Panda about what happened."

Julia paused as she adjusted the driver's seat. 'That's right,' she thought. 'There's a whole lot Xiaoyu didn't see back in Japan ... especially when she wasn't there.' She shook the thought of Panda facing the armed guards out of her mind and finished adjusting the seat and strapped on the seatbelt. There would be time to figure out how to broach that subject later, besides she didn't actually see what happened to Panda.

Without fanfare, Julia stepped in the clutch, started the jeep, and drove off down the waiting road.

* * *

Xiaoyu had expected her homecoming from the tournament to be much different than this. While she hadn't been as naive to believe she'd win the tournament, she thought she'd at least have something to celebrate. Instead she walked up the cobblestone street to Uncle Wang's house. The hillside was the color of polished jade from the grass and garden plants - a far cry from Shanghai where she had landed. Neither the noise, colors,or racket of the city had been able to draw her away from her thoughts.

She thought of Julia and how her eyes had never left the road as she drove them through the jungle trails to Guatemala City by way of GPS, even as she had told Xiaoyu about Panda. Of course, Julia hadn't actually seen Panda die, so until someone came up with her body then she'd just have to believe that Panda made it out. If she did though, chances are Xiaoyu would still never see her again so she may as well be dead to her. She hoped to see Julia again though.

Mostly though, she thought of Jin. She thought of how the sharp angles of his face caught the light in profile, and the way that his lower lip would stick out slightly in a boyish pout when he was brooding. She thought of the way her face warmed when he gave her one of his rare smiles and how no one else came close to looking as good as he did in the dorky starched and plaid uniforms they had been forced to wear in school. She thought of Heihachi as he had marched into the temple and taken Jin away at gunpoint.

Heihachi had said something about helping Jin, taking him away for his own good. He made it sound as if Jin was sick and that he alone might find the cure before it was too late if given time. The guns had made a convincing argument. No matter how much she now told herself that Heihachi was family to Jin, she knew she had made the wrong choice in letting them take him.

The door to Uncle Wang's house stood before her. She didn't even bother knocking, just opened the door and stepped in, he would have seen her coming from half way up the hill anyway if he was in the garden like he normally was at this time of day. The smell of steaming rice and barbecued meat greeted her as she entered. A voice called from the kitchen.

"Xiaoyu? Decided to come back, eh?" Wang shuffled into the room, wiping his hands on the front of his apron as he approached. "Good, you're in time for lunch. It was getting lonely eating by myself."

Xiaoyu hid her hands behind her back. "That's it, Uncle Wang? You're not even mad?"

"Mad? I was furious. No, no," he waved a hand in front of his face. "Don't bother trying to explain it to me. Oh, I had words planned for you, young one, when I realized your foolishness. I knew where you were, and why you went, but then I realized that what use would all my words be if you never came home. So what else could I do, short of showing up at the tournament myself, than pray for your safe return."

Xiaoyu bowed her head.

"I can see from your face that you did not win. But even still, just having you back from that blasted tournament alive and safe is victory enough for me and should be victory enough for you too."

"It's not that. It's not that at all, Uncle Wang. I ... I met a boy at tournament. Jin Kazama. Heihachi's grandson."

Wang Jinrei's eyes went wide. "Heihachi's grandson? Kazama? So the rumors were true."

Xiaoyu nodded. "You wouldn't believe what we fought in the tournament. Julia said it was an old legend from her tribe."

"Julia?"

"Chang. She was from America."

It was Wang's turn to nod his head. "I remember Michelle from the second tournament. A good, honorable fighter. So what this thing you fought and what became of Kazama?"

"Julia said it was an Ogre, a god of old that her ancestors had once sacrificed to in order to gain strength in battle. It was huge. It took four of us: Jin, Hwoarang, Julia, and me to break it down, but in the end ... in the end Jin stood alone." Xiaoyu closed her eyes at the memory. "And after that, he took him, Uncle Wang, he took him. Heihachi carted him away at gunpoint and in handcuffs as though he were a common criminal. And I could do nothing for him .... I've lost more than just the tournament. I've lost Jin and my best friend, Panda."

"That is the nature of the tournament. You lose a little piece of yourself with every battle. Why do you think old fighters long for peace so much? But come now, not all is lost. Heihachi, cruel as he is, is a cautious and purposeful man. He would not harm Jin unnecessarily if only in fear that he might find a better use for him later. I am sure Jin will survive whatever treachery Heihachi has planned for him. In the mean time, please go out to the garden where a surprise awaits you." Wang put an arm around Xiaoyu and guided her out the back door.

Pools of water reflected the heat of the mid-morning away and a canopy of trees provided shade to visitors. It did not take long for the smells of the kitchen to waft away to be replaced with the smell of wind stirring the flora. Uncle Wang's garden had always made her feel at peace with herself and the world, but even with the cool breeze and the shifting veins of light on the leaves Xiaoyu's brow was creased with worry.

Somewhere up ahead a patch of shadows and light came to life and rose quietly from the ground. Leaves parted. Xiaoyu's eyes went wide. "Panda!" She rushed forward and threw her arms around Panda's thick, furry neck. She squealed in delight as Panda wrapped her arms around the small of her back and lifted her high up into the air and spun her around twice before setting her back down.

"You're alive, but how? Was it Jack?"

Panda nodded.

"A few days ago, a young woman and a very large robot stopped by," Wang said. "This animal was with them. They said they knew you from the tournament and wanted to thank you for what you did. You weren't around then, but they said they couldn't wait. They had a long journey back to Russia, but they left Panda here saying that you knew her although the pink bracelets on her front wrists kind of gave that away."

Wang gestured towards Xiaoyu. "Come on, now, young one. There will be enough time later to get reacquainted with your pet. You and I have some catching up to do ourselves, and that's best done over a fresh plate of food."

Xiaoyu gave Panda one last pat on the head before bounding off after Wang and back inside to the savory aromas of Uncle Wang's cooking.

* * *

The flight home was a mixed blessing. While Michelle's peaceful breathing brought Julia a small feeling of solace there was also the sinking feeling that she would have no words to explain her failure to bring back the water jar to the Hopitu. She picked at one of her teeth as she stared out the oval airplane window at the city of Flagstaff and the approaching Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. Perhaps she shouldn't have trusted Jin with the task, but who else at the tournament was there to choose from if only an unmarried man of perfect character could fill it? But then there was the larger question of why was she at the tournament instead of choosing a Hopitu to fulfill the ritual. Of course, there were no good answers for any of those questions. Coming back with the jar unfilled was about the same as not coming back with it at all. By all measures, she had failed.

She helped Michelle from her seat once the plane had stopped and waited in line at the pay phones. The call home was terse and when Uncle Albert pulled into the loading zone he said little than a mumbled hello and didn't speak the rest of the drive home. Julia wasn't sure if it was because of the situation when she left or the situation she was returning from, but at least she didn't smell liquor on his breath. To most people a drive through the Arizona desert was hot, monotonous, and decidedly devoid of easily discernible features, but it was exactly the vastness that made it so special. It put you in your place, gave you something to ponder in its perceived emptiness. It was impossible not to think about the illusion of control you gave yourself over your life if you sat still long enough in the wilderness, which was why most people drove with the windows rolled up, the AC on, and their eyes focused straight ahead as they pushed their cars as fast as it could go through the trackless desert.

For the fifth time in the trip, Julia adjusted the sun visor so she could use the mirror to see how Michelle was doing in the backseat. Michelle had turned her face aside and slumped down in the seat, her eyes closed. At least she was able to get the rest she needed. Up ahead Julia could see the three mesas that made up the Hopi tribal land, the distinctive landmarks to the Hopitu could be seen miles away. Their car had probably been spotted, it was one of the reasons the Hopitu had retreated from the encroaching pioneers to the mesas - they gave the Hopitu the ability to see all around them and were easily defendable. Julia sighed. They would be home soon and she would have to face her tribe as a failure.

They drove on, reaching the base of Second Mesa and began the slow climb up. The sun was high and the wind hot, the mesa top capped with silence. When they finally got to the top of the mesa and rolled to a stop, they did so in the center of the village population. The plaza was filled with Hopi villagers and dancers. Directly in front, the Katsinam stood still and solemn as if they knew she did not have the jar with her. Julia said nothing as her uncle stepped out of the truck.

"She has come," Eototo said. He peered out from beneath the white dome mask at Julia. "The water-bearer returns. The ceremony shall be finished today."

Julia opened her mouth to speak, but her uncle spoke before her. "I will bring the jar," he said before running off towards the pueblo.

Eototo reached out his hand for Julia to step from the car. Julia obeyed. "Water-bearer, you have come full circle. You have left our lands in search of water and have brought it back to us safely. The Hopitu may live because of your actions. You have blessed your family with life. You have blessed the world with life."

The crowd parted and Uncle Albert stepped forward with something wrapped in a blanket. He held it out to Julia. She took it gingerly and unwrapped it. It was the jar she had made and as she moved she could hear water sloshing within it. Eototo guided her away from the crowd and above the stepped terraces that ran down the sides of the mesa. At the top, was a natural wall surrounding a hole that had been recently dug. The hole was deep and must have taken a while to dig in the hardened dirt.

Lifting the jar high, she closed her eyes as Eototo blessed the jar. The jar warmed in her hands and when she opened her eyes, she could have sworn that the jar itself was glowing. Julia knelt and gently brushed the edge of the hole with her hand. It was good to squeeze dirt between her fingers, to feel the warm texture of home in her hands once more. With the care reserved for putting a baby to bed, Julia laid the jar into its cradle in the earth and covered it with a blanket of sand and clay.

"Rest now," she said. "We will call on your power soon enough."

The afternoon was passed in dance, song, and prayer. It wasn't until the sun set that the Hopitu shuffled from the plaza to their pueblos. Julia cooked a simple meal of piki bread and beans. She helped her mother to her bed and tucked her in as Michelle had done for her all those years ago. Uncle Albert was waiting in the living room for her.

"Uncle Albert, I'm ... I'm sorry ..."

Her uncle nodded, but didn't speak, clearly ashamed of his own behavior the last time they were together.

"So, the jar - how did it get here?"

"A young boy came a few days before you arrived. Tall. Dark eyes. Very powerful. He would not say how he found us, but he held the water jar. We had feared when you left us that you would not come back to us and the water jar was lost. Another was asked to create a new water jar and we tried to use it but there wasn't enough power in it. So when we saw this young man with the jar you had made, we could feel it held the strength the other did not. I recognized it as the one you made, so I offered to keep it safe."

"I see," Julia said. Jin had kept his promise.

"What's that?"

Julia traced the scabbing line across her right biceps. "From the tournament," she said.

"It looks bad."

"It doesn't hurt."

"That's not the point," Uncle Albert said. "Wait here." He went to his room and rummaged through some drawers. When he returned he held out a silver bracelet that was cut so that it didn't make a complete circle. It was cool to the touch with an inlay of a series of triangles that resembled a sun. Her uncle stepped back after securing it around her arm over the scar. "A good man will look past the surface, but it's not good for a maiden to have to bear a scar like that."

"Thank you, Uncle."

He nodded once again and they went to their separate rooms. Julia opened the shutters to her room and looked up at the sky. Off in the distance she thought she saw haze forming, but when she wiped the inner corner of her eyes the haze disappeared. She sighed. It was just her vision blurred from her long day. Perhaps, Jin hadn't performed the ritual correctly; she hadn't had time to explain everything, just the basic instructions in a letter to him. How would she face the rest of the Hopitu if tomorrow there was still no rain?

Exhausted, she fell to her pillow and closed her eyes. There was nothing she could do now. In the night she dreamt of clouds thick and heavy. They came swiftly like a flock of crows to cover the sky and shadow the land. Like a flurry of falling feathers, the rain fell and the crops reached their withered fingers towards heaven to catch it.

She awoke to the musty scent of damp air clinging to the ground. It was still dark outside, and she opened the front door as quietly as possible so she wouldn't wake her mother or uncle. All around, the village was silent and unlit.

Stepping outside, she looked up to a sky of blue steel and a gray that belonged in the beard of a jolly old man. Where the sunlight touched the clouds, they became a vibrant pink of cactus flowers. She ran to the edge of town and climbed the slope to the jar's burial site. On the ground she saw a black feather. She picked it up and felt the stiffness of its quill and the resilience of the its barbs. Opening her arms, Julia closed her eyes and spun and the wind danced around her - swirling up to bring her whispered prayers to Taiowa.

"Thank you," she said as she clutched the black feather to her breasts. "Thank you."

And for a moment she thought she saw a figure off in the horizon spreading Stygian wings against the clouded sky, but it was only an eagle. He was an eagle, she thought: strong, courageous, and noble. He was a hunted guardian, both a symbol of greatness and frailty as people no longer looked to the eagle nor the ants, but only to their feet as the marched on and destroyed the world around them. Yet, despite the devil within him, Jin had come back to save the Hopitu and therefore the world.

"You did it, Jin." Laughing, she turned her face to the clouds and caught the first drop of rain.

FINIS