A familiar darkness engulfed her. It felt like being thrown into a pool of water, rising to the surface to take a deep breath and finding you've landed upside down in an inky darkness. Her feet struggled to find purchase on the non-existent ground, but she knew the drill: "Imagine a floor and there will be one". The black nothingness suddenly shifted, warping until Cecil found herself back in the clearing beside the large boulders, nestled next to a serene lake. A voice from behind her approached.
"Were back in this place are we? I thought you had moved on"
Cecil turned and with a tired smile spoke "I like it here"
"So it seems" He said, smirking "But you have moved on?"
"Yes. We left this place days ago" She said, though she had the feeling he wasn't speaking of the location. "It wan't all that bad Liu. I was hurt, but it didn't go farther than that. Thanks to Scorpion"
Liu clasped his hands behind his back, taking a seemingly leisurely stroll around Cecil. He was shirtless, always, clad in black pants and barefoot. "Hmm. Alright then, if your mind is sound then we can talk about something else. I heard you had an encounter"
"Reptile ambushed us, or tried to, near the foot of The Winding Road. Scorpion dispatched him quickly enough but he had a partner. A vicious looking woman with the ugliest mouth I've ever seen. She looked normal until her mask fell away. Underneath..." Cecil visibly shuddered "...underneath she was a monster"
Liu halted "...Mileena. Shao Khans own homemade daughter. An abomination, a cross breed of human and Tarkatan. A creature like that should have never been allowed to be created. But created she was and has taken the lives of many on our side. She is a formidable opponent. How was Scorpion able to dispatch her?"
This time is was Cecil's turn to smirk "He didn't"
"Really?" Liu said, gracing her with the full force of his smile "So you think you're a full fledged warrior now do you?" He laughed "Care to show me?"
Cecil matched his excitement, her smile a mirror to the mirth that emanated from him "Bring it on"
Liu made the first move, he always did. Striking for her face with a balled fist and bouncing lightly back onto the balls of his feet. He bounced there for several more seconds after she dodged his attack, but he left no openings and struck a fist into her side.
Cecil grunted in pain, sliding back, and out of reach before she feigned left. When Liu dodged she delivered a fast kick to his side. He barely managed to block, her shin connecting hard with his forearm with the sound of skin smacking against skin.
"Very good" He praised, but didn't let up his assault. Lighting fast fists flew at her with rapid speed, always returning to cover the face of their master. Liu was the epitome of a martial artist. Perfection in the form of a small man who's only thought is to protect. He had no flaws when it came to battle, no "hang ups". He was focused, alert, and deadly. The perfect combo.
Cecil, delivering a roundhouse kick, thought how fortunate she was to have such a Master. She had two great Masters now. Both unique in their fighting styles. Both teaching her techniques from opposite sides of the spectrum. Liu taught from the heart, found peace in the dance that was battle, fighting with a purpose that was greater than his own, whereas Hanzo Hasashi, who had been given a similar foundation of the art, had been warped by cruelty and consumed by his need for revenge. For him battle became about the unattainable goal. Anger fueled him, the proverbial ticking time bomb. He fought for his own selfish purpose, each connecting fist with a name behind them. A wife. A son. A clan.
Cecil took a kick in the shoulder as she pondered these two men, who had quickly become the figure heads for her new life. She delivered two kicks of her own, the second grazing Liu in the jaw as her thoughts took her along a different path. She thought of Scopion, or Hanzo, as he had told her, and wondered how he came to be the man he was today. She didn't know his past but she knew that whatever had happened it had led him to her and she wouln't be alive if it wasn't for him...
"Focus!" Liu said to her.
...It wasn't just that he rescued her from her would-be rapists. What about Hamoto? Where would she be now if his plans for her as a fifth wife had come to fruition? What about Reptile? And the deadly cold? Cecil stole a glance down at her right arm, just below the shoulder, shocked to see a red mark marring her skin. It was enough of a distraction for Liu to take advantage of. He spun in the air, swung his muscular leg in a wide arch and brought it down on the side of her head. She saw white as an explosion of real pain reverberated in her skull. She collapsed on the ground, blood dripping from her eye, her nose. It landed in the dirt which quickly dissolved into the inky blackness that marked the start of all her dreams with Liu, before she chose a landscape.
"Where is your mind?" He said, crouching down beside her. She looked up, her heart breaking to see disappointment lining every inch of his face. He sighed and then stood. It was not lost on her that he did not offer a hand to help her. "Stand up"
"Im...sorry" She said, rising shakily to her feet. Stars danced in her vision but she ignored them with the ease of long practice. She glanced at her arm again, marveling at the red mark that by all rights should not have shown up in her dream scape. "Imagine a floor and there will be one"
Liu followed here eyes to the mark on her arm and frowned. "There is much at stake here. We cannot afford distractions"
Cecil's eyes found the floor, where she felt they ought to be "Im sorry Liu...I just-"
"Fix this" He demanded "I can't properly train you when all you are thinking about is him" And with that he grabbed Cecil by the shoulders, leaned his head back and slammed it full force into her face. Pain shot through her nose as blackness overtook her. She felt herself falling, a feeling she could never quite get used to in this dreamland, and landed on the hard unforgiving ground on her back.
Cecil's eyes shot open, a cry escaping her lips. She shot up from her bed inside a tiny tent, the cold air assaulting her skin. Warmth and pain spread throughout her face and she was surprised to find blood flowing from her nose when she reached a tentative hand to her face.
Scorpion was awake within milliseconds of her crude landing back into reality. He reached a hand out in the darkness.
"Cecil..." The deep timbre of his voice cut through the still night, making Cecil jump.
"Im fine" She said into the darkness, covering her nose with her hand, trying in vein to catch the blood before it spilled all over their only blankets.
Scorpion thought she sounded nasally. Something was wrong. He started a small flame in the center of his palm and held it there, waiting for his, and her, eyes to adjust. He did not expect to see Cecil sitting with her face smashed in, eyes wide in shock.
"What happened?!" He all but screamed, the demonic quality to his voice rising along with the strength of his flame. In the close, still air of the tent the smell of her blood was overwhelming.
"It was..." Cecil looked down at her hands, covered with the warm red liquid that signified her shame. She remembered Liu's face, staring down at her with worst kind of disappointment in his eyes. Tears came to her own. "...nothing" she said quietly and crawled out of the tent.
Her eyes scanned their camp for her satchel. She rummaged through it's petty contents until she found an old cloth and began to wipe furiously at her face, desperate to remove traces of her embarrassment.
"Please explain to me what in OutWorld is going on" Scorpion said, approaching her back. Was she crying? Or shivering in the cold? He knelt to rekindle the fire, using his own internal flame to do so. The camp was alight within seconds, creating a circle of light that cast everything orange.
Finally she stood, and turned to face him "I shamed him" she said, her lip quivering.
"Liu...Liu Kang. He is angry with me for...for getting distracted during training"
"He...did this to you? I thought your dream injuries do not fabricate themselves into the real world"
"I thought so too...but...I guess he was really angry. I feel..." She could hardly finish the sentence, burying her face in her hands she began to cry.
Scorpion for his part was having a difficult time keeping his anger in check. Flames threatened to rise up out of him at the fury he felt. Did Liu Kang think this would help her? Why, for the love of hell's fire, was he on this fools run then? Taking injury and escaping death just to protect this woman from harm, and with one lapse in judgment Liu feels it his right to hurt her? It was enough to make his blood boil. If only the monk knew of how much she has suffered so on this journey. How much blood she had already shed.
"It was my fault" She whispered, breaking Scorpion out of his morbid thoughts. "I wasn't focusing on the fight. I...was distracted"
"There is no justification" He said
"No. Liu is right. I deserved it. He said I need to fix the problem" She said suddenly blushing.
"What problem?" Scorpion asked, curious for once at what exactly what went on in these strange dreamlike training sessions.
"It's nothing I can't handle on my own" She said, forcing a smile onto her blood smeared face. She stood and walked to him, stopped inches from his face and tilted her face upwards "So what's the verdict? Am I gonna live?"
He looked ready to bolt. Closeness was not something he'd had to deal with for many millenia. A part of him, some inner demon, told him to walk away. But another part, a part much closer to the surface and newly awoken whispered things about her long silky hair. Her skin. Her lips...
Without his permission, Scorpion's hand rose, fingers pushing back strands of chocolate hair. Cecil shivered as those fingers trailed the lines of her cheek and came to rest on her chin, slowly lifting. He took several long seconds inspecting her face. So long in fact that she wondered if Liu had done some real damage, but soon after her thoughts, Scorpion's hand lowered and he spoke in a choked voice.
"Just a bloody nose. You may have some bruising come tomorrow"
Cecil felt the loss of his hand greatly, and wondered at it "I wonder how many more times I'm going to get maimed before we reach our destination" She pondered aloud.
"None, if I have it my way" He said, his face a mask of perfect indifference. Cecil just smiled, afraid to speak for fear of spoiling the moment. Scorpion didn't often say nice things to her.
They stood there for several long second, caught between the balance of a comfortable pause and the crackling tension of unknown longing. To Cecil it seemed a beautiful moment, they certainly had come a long way. Scorpion seemed a whole other person now, the antithesis to the man who walked into her camp demanding her to follow. She felt such comfort in his presence, a feat she'd thought impossible only a few weeks ago. Would he leave her when they arrived at Liu's hideout? She would miss him if he did. A great sadness overwhelmed her then. Suddenly she didn't want this journey to end. It was familiar now, as dangerous as it was, and she had grown so much in this short amount of time. She didn't want the future to come, with all of it's unknowns and unanswered questions. Again she would be thrown into a new life, with people she's never met, and expected to perform.
She felt like a petulant child, harboring thoughts of running away to live in the forest forever with Scorpion at her back, to protect her always. She knew he'd never do it. But the way he was looking at her made her hope.
He must have seen her expression change for his eyebrows drew together.
"Hanzo..." She whispered. His milky eyes widened in surprise. Whether it was the fact that she used his name or whether it was the way she said it, she didn't know. But she liked the reaction is caused, liked the way his name fell from her tongue with such ease. His true name, it tasted good on her tongue, like sweet honey, and made her salivate for more.
Scorpion broke eye contact, turning away from her and crossing his arms, no doubt a habit, an outward sign of an inward blockade. "Cecil..." He said, voice as soft as she'd ever heard it "...I am not that man anymore. Millenia have passed since that name has held meaning for me..." His arms fell and he turned to face her, eyes alight with emotion that mingled with the words he spoke "...and in those years blood and turmoil have all but erased the memory that tied me to it. Even now it pains me to hear it."
Then the wind blew, bringing with it the chill of the mountain air. Cecil shivered.
"But..." He continued, taking her hand in his and sending a burst of warmth through her "..If I were to crave it from the lips of anyone..." A pause, and she felt as though her heart might burst "...it would be you"
It was a declaration of sorts, and Cecil was shocked to find that her heart had been longing for it.
Scorpion led her to the fire and sat them down close to it, eager to provide more warmth for the girl, but also to still his rapid heart. Flames were familiar, and as they sat, so close together, by the dancing warmth, he found comfort in watching the fiery tongues lick their way from one piece of wood to another. He needed it. After a speech like that.
Cecil leaned into him, eager for the warmth and comfort and found for once that she didn't really know what to say. They sat that way for what seemed like hours, content to merely exist, happy to stare into the fire and live in this moment alone. Without the threat of enemies or their eventual split looming above their heads. Here and now they could be just that. Here together.
When Cecil found at last the courage to speak it seemed not to interrupt the quiet gentleness of the moment. Instead adding to it, for it seemed in all that time Scorpion was waiting for her to speak, giving her the time to find the voice that his declaration had stolen.
"I'm sorry to cause you pain. I wont say your name again. But I do crave it. I like to hear it in my voice. I want to scream it and whisper it at the same time. I want to tear that damn mask from your face and know the shape of your lips when you say my name. I want you to say it like you'll never leave. Like we'll stay here in the woods forever and not take one more step into the mountains"
"We can't do that" He said, voice strangled.
"We could. But I know why you wont" She said, finally leaning off of him. He raised an eyebrow at her, questioning her without words. "Because..." she continued "...you're getting something out of this aren't you? Some sort of payment. I doubt it's money, you have no need for that. Something more important..." She trailed off, hoping he'd continue where she left off. She was disappointed, as always, at his lack of participation.
"Yes. I asked a gift from the gods for transferring you safely into the arms of Liu Kang. A gift I thought weighed more than your life. Now I know it doesn't and I would still deliver you should my request be too large for them to fulfill"
Curiosity overwhelmed her. So many mysteries to this man, it was hard to wrap her head around. "But i'm guessing you wont tell me?" She asked. Reluctantly he shook his head "Not today?" She asked.
"Not today" He said.
Cecil's visibly pouted. If not today, then when? How much time did they have left? Already they seemed far into the mountains. Would she ever get to know? Did she even have the right?
She pursed her lips and faced Scorpion, a sudden onslaught of bravery overcame her from the thought of the battle with time they fought.
"I wonder..." She said, moving close to Scorpion's face. He leaned back as far as his balance would allow "Would you stop me?" she said, placing her hands on his armored knees and moving in closer, inching her way into his personal space. He fell back onto his behind, hands splayed out behind him, keeping him up. The scene would have looked comical if not for the way he looked so visibly confused. Still Cecil moved in, closer and closer, smirking despite the way her heart raced violently in her chest. Surely he could feel it. Her face throbbed with pain from the cold air on her swollen nose but she continued.
Scorpion wondered if she planned on kissing him and then almost laughed at the concept of her lips touching the rough and worn hardness of his mask. Wait, his mask...
Cecil was now only a scant few inches from Scorpions face, loving the way his breath hitched faster and faster the closer she got. Her hand rose slowly to the side of his face, hovering, balancing on the invisible line of his privacy. He stared at that hand debating whether or not to stop her. Wanting, almost as much as she, to see the face beneath the mask. It had been so many years since he himself had seen it. Would he be a monster underneath?
Cecil could sense his turbulence and paused, eyes asking if she could be allowed this gift. His determination wavered for a moment, but the set of his eyes expressed his resolve.
"Not today" she sighed, and he nodded.
He could see her disappointment and wondered, why is the world would she want to see his face. His mind was not able to dabble long on the thought however when he heard a sound that made his skin crawl.
He grabbed Cecil by the wrists and gently helped her to her feet. "Cecil, we have company"