All right, you guys, this is the final chapter. Some of you may be a little mad at me at the end, but just give it a shot, huh? :P
Someone was humming.
The primeval melody didn't carry far; the sickeningly-sweet sound of the woman's voice was swallowed quickly by the faintest rustle of the wind among the leaves. Nevertheless, she continued to pick berries at a leisurely pace, without a care in the world about whether or not her performance had an audience.
She continued with her little song as she brushed her free hand off on the rough material of her robe, then stuck it in her basket and retrieved a pair of old-fashioned clippers. Crouching down, the hooded woman began methodically cutting the stems of the oddly-colored buds that dotted the area around the bush. She continued until she held a small bundle in her hand, an amount seemingly useless for any purpose, but it seemed to satisfy her as she reached to clip the last stem. But after the final snap that decapitated the unsuspecting flower, the woman let it fall to the ground.
She snapped her head up and took a cursory glance around her, waiting and listening intently for the sound to repeat.
Omegis smirked. Leaving the butchered bud on the forest floor, she gathered the loose folds of her robes and silently made her way in the direction almost opposite the source of the sound, in the noiseless way she had trained herself to after centuries living in the woods.
Her prey, however, took no notice. A nervous Shaolin continued to stomp through the brush, knowing he was drawing attention to himself and wishing that he could try to be more discreet, but reluctantly obeying Raiden's command that he try and make as much of a spectacle as believably possible.
A restless Kung Lao shuffled about through the leaves for a minute more before coming to a stop in the middle of a random patch of trees. Realizing he was shaking slightly, the monk sucked in his breath, clenched his fists, and spoke out.
"All right, Omegis," Kung Lao called out, trying to remember the spiel he had been instructed to memorize, but after he began blanking out, he figured some relevant ad-libbing would suffice. "You win. We wasted everyone's time. We get it. We won't bother you anymore."
He paused, waiting for a response he wasn't sure he was supposed to receive. A breeze rustled to his right, causing the paranoid monk to snap his head towards the sound, anticipating the witch at any moment. As it was, the wind simply carried on, completely unconcerned with the Shaolin's startled reaction.
Trembling slightly, Kung Lao slowly turned to look back in front of him, until he was staring at the same empty space he had seen before.
Kung Lao was unsure of what to do next. Logic dictated that he try and draw her out, as this was his and the Order of Light's last chance to do so. But he hadn't the foggiest idea how, and while Kung Lao wanted to follow Raiden's orders, he knew in the back of his mind that he had had his doubts from the start that this ploy probably wasn't going to work.
Hesitating, Kung Lao turned to leave, almost rooted by the nagging feeling that all he had to do was wait one more minute. But he reasoned with himself that if Omegis had wanted to make herself known to him, she would have done it by now, when he was alone and vulnerable. Fighting the doubt, Kung Lao rubbed the back of his neck, sighed, and turned to leave, too tired to worry about Raiden's reaction later.
He took three steps forward when he heard the diabolical giggling behind him. Before he could react, Kung Lao felt a pair of arms slinking around his torso from behind, looking down in horror as two milky-white hands that tapered off into ten blood-red painted little points crawled up onto his chest, hearing the rustle of burlap as the witch cozied up to his back.
"Leaving so soon, my little Shaolin?" Omegis cooed devilishly into his ear, relishing the way her prey squirmed to get away from her. Taking it up a notch, she began tracing a line with her right pointer finger up from Kung Lao's chest to his neck, smiling when the monk began to fidget even more.
"Surely you can spare a minute more," she taunted, resting her arm across his collar bone, a loose hug that silently served to remind Kung Lao that he remained in her grip, and that she was capable of doing anything to him if she had half a mind to do so.
Kung Lao shook, praying to Raiden that he wouldn't have to endure this for much longer, and yet wondering where the thunder god was now that his apparent goal had been realized. Still, he had been told to take no action against Omegis, despite his instincts screaming at him to do the very opposite the longer she kept him in place.
"My, my," she continued, stretching her neck to rest her chin on his shoulder, observing his increasingly frantic reaction. "The resemblance sure skipped a few generations."
Knowing it was all he could do, Kung Lao attempted to turn his face away from hers; however, Omegis simply grabbed his chin and jerked his head back towards her, forcing Kung Lao to finally look her in the eyes that the latter knew harbored much more malicious intent than they let on, spurring the warrior's breath to become even more shallow and ragged.
"So," Omegis continued nonchalantly, keeping Kung Lao's chin in her grip, allowing her to observe his frightened reaction as he gazed into her unnaturally youthful face. "To whom do I owe this honor?"
"That would be me," a voice darkly remarked from behind them. Although relieved to hear Raiden's voice and know that the deity had followed through on his promise to intervene, Kung Lao was still impatient to release himself from Omegis' hold.
He found his opportunity when the sorceress broke eye contact with him to take a startled look at the deity that had appeared out of nowhere from behind her. She could not react in time to stop Kung Lao from breaking out of her embrace, but she evidently was not too set on retrieving him once he escaped, instead opting to watch the frazzled Shaolin stumble into some bushes nearby.
Omegis indifferently dropped her arms to her sides and turned her head again, coyly giving the god a half glance over her shoulder.
"Using my precious Kung Lao's offspring as bait," she taunted lightly but ominously, artfully batting her lashes to see if she could get a rise out of him. "Very crafty, Raiden. Not something I would expect from you."
"I have my moments," the thunder god retorted humorlessly, prompting Omegis to turn around more to get a better look at him. Now completely disregarding Kung Lao, she first noted the divinity's dour expression, and then the swaddled bundle that he held in his arms. It took a moment for Omegis to search her memory for what it could possibly be, but as soon as the cloth began to wiggle around in Raiden's arms, the answer sprung to mind immediately.
"Ah," the sorceress stated nonchalantly, finding no urgency in the matter. "I see you've come to ask about your little friend."
"I am not asking," Raiden growled darkly as he advanced towards her, watching Omegis's expression tighten and her eyelids flicker open in momentary alarm as he came closer, but knowing the witch would stubbornly stand her ground. Sure enough, she remained rooted where she stood, craning her neck to look up at Raiden defiantly after he came to a stop about a foot in front of her.
"You will fix this mess you have made, Omegis," Raiden commanded, looking down on her. Her only response was an infuriating smirk before she looked down and leaned backwards to get a better view of the infant in his arms. A clueless Liu Kang beamed back up at her from the blankets, oblivious to the pensive look on her face. Omegis tilted her head, as if the altered angle would shed some light on a possible solution, until finally she shrugged.
"It's too late," she stated bluntly, as if one look at the child had been enough to discern such information. "The spell cannot be undone."
Kung Lao looked at his mentor in the utmost alarm, his eyes begging Raiden to do something. The latter, however, remained completely stoic.
"Besides," Omegis continued. "Why would you want to change this lovable little bundle," she said, poking a finger onto Liu Kang's tummy and tapping his nose, prompting the latter to burst out into peals of laughter, "back into such a boring adult?"
Kung Lao continued to look at Raiden, silently imploring his teacher to bring back his dear friend. Yet for reasons Kung Lao could not discern, Raiden was able to see straight through Omegis' sham.
"Enough of your games," Raiden barked, to which Omegis lazily looked back up into the irritated deity's eyes. "Stop playing dumb and lift whatever twisted charm you have placed upon Liu Kang."
Omegis lifted an eyebrow, seemingly impressed that Raiden had been able to see through her lie so quickly and doubtlessly. Still, she did not seem to be in any kind of rush to comply with his demands.
"And what exactly is in it for me?" she joked mockingly, tilting her head forward to condescendingly glare upwards at Raiden from underneath her perfectly-shaped eyebrows. Raiden paused to think of an appropriate reply.
Your complexion remains as it is now and not a crispy golden-brown, was the first thought that popped into his head, somehow, but the god of thunder tilted his head back to look down on her as he thought of a more tasteful response.
"Perhaps a discussion with the Elder Gods regarding someone's unfortunate bout of unwanted immortality?" Raiden finally answered, raising an eyebrow of his own. He let it drop as soon as he saw Omegis process his words, her eyes growing wide at the insinuation that her ultimate desire could be only one undone spell away. Her expression suddenly grew stony.
"Do not taunt me, thunder god," she warned him, glowering.
"I do not taunt, Omegis," he replied, holding up a hand to assuage her doubts. "I will see what can be done. You do not have my guarantee that it will happen, but you have my word that I will try."
Omegis continued to glare, obviously not happy with the way he had put it, but as she pondered the offer over, soon she must have realized that it was the best deal she was going to get. Resigned, Omegis closed her eyes and sighed.
"Very well, then," she lamented dryly, turning to acknowledge the monk who remained on the ground behind her.
"Kung Lao," she called to him sweetly, holding out her basket. "Be a doll and hold this for me, will you?"
Contrary to what she must have expected, however, Kung Lao remained rooted to the ground where he sat, looking at the basket as if it were filled with hissing serpents instead of berries and flowers. Rolling her eyes, Omegis went to drop the basket on the ground when, as an unexpected gesture of goodwill, Raiden offered his hand to take the basket instead. Justifiably suspicious, but knowing it was in Raiden's best interest to make peace for the time being, Omegis left the basket on his arm and moved to take Liu Kang from Raiden's hold.
The child looked up at her, blissfully ignorant of the woman's identity, as Omegis moved him around so that he had a reasonably secure grasp on her shoulder.
"We are not far from my home," she said, still looking at Liu Kang but addressing the two men near her. She turned to Raiden.
"You may come with me, but only up to where I say you must stop," she directed him.
"Understood," Raiden complied, nodding.
"What about me?" Kung Lao interjected, finally spurred to get on his feet and look directly at Omegis, who dismissed the Shaolin with a wave of her hand.
"You are free to go, if you wish," she said, readjusting her grip on Liu Kang. However, an unsure-looking Kung Lao took a step towards Raiden, indicating that he would be sticking with his mentor to see this through to the very end. Omegis looked at him with an expression of what seemed to be mild annoyance.
"Very well, then," she stated simply, turning and walking in whatever direction it was that harbored her secret dwelling, with both men staying hot on her trail the entire time. The group meandered through the forest for a few silent (and at times awkward moments) before Omegis finally turned around, causing Kung Lao to bump into Raiden, whom he had almost unintentionally been using as some sort of buffer between himself and the witch.
"That is quite enough," she said, gesturing to Raiden to bring her the basket. Internally cautious, but willing to trust her for the time being, Raiden held his arm outstretched, allowing her to grab the basket for herself.
Omegis eyed the two of them warily for a moment.
"If all goes well," she said, prompting Kung Lao to glance unsurely in Raiden's direction, "you may just see him within the hour."
With that, she turned to continue her way along the path to her home alone. With her back to the men, Liu Kang was able to get a clear view of Raiden, to whom the infant reached out a chubby little arm. But soon he realized that his caretaker was not going to retrieve him, and at this Liu Kang's expression began to turn worrisome, as if to say it was fine for this stranger to hold him as long as Raiden was around, but taking him away from his protector altogether was another thing. A confused, hurt gurgle escaped from Liu Kang's tiny throat, wordlessly begging Raiden to take him back with each step Omegis took. Yet why did his guardian remain completely immobile? How could he let this stranger just take him away?
As Omegis took Liu Kang farther away from his friend and mentor, the infant finally broke out into a fit of hysterical tears, his piercing shrieks for his caretaker capable of being heard for miles throughout the forest, yet only meant for one target, who heard them all too clearly. Pain and worry coursed through Raiden's expression, whose instincts demanded of him that he follow the woman and child to her hideaway, that he protect the infant from any imaginable harm. It took every ounce of self-restraint the thunder god possessed to keep himself planted where he stood, watching Liu Kang disappear with Omegis into the brush until the only trace he had of the child was the faraway sound of his gut-wrenching cries. Soon, that was gone, too.
For a moment, Raiden could swear the clawing sensation in his chest was his heart breaking.
Still trying not to lose her patience with the child's incessant shrieking, Omegis set him down in the middle of the floor and took a step back. She checked to make sure that the symbols she had inscribed into the ground around the screaming infant were the correct ones for the spell to work. Not that it would be any skin off of her nose should it fail and the child meet an unfortunate demise, but the slim chance Raiden had offered her of ridding herself of her curse was at least worth giving the set-up a once over.
Ignoring Liu Kang's frantic cries for his caretaker, Omegis turned around and scanned the lineup of serums and powders strewn across the table behind her. She let her finger hover above each bottle until, straining under the dim light of the interior of the tree trunk to pick one out amongst the variety, she found the one she needed and delicately plucked it out from the pile.
She turned back around to face Liu Kang, who had stopped to take a shaky, gurgling breath in between screams. Knowing that she was forgetting something, Omegis tapped the bottle against her hip as she took advantage of the temporary lull to recall what it was.
Thinking ahead, Omegis put the bottle back and immediately shed her robe, draping over Liu Kang so that it covered the child up to his chest; unfortunately for her, the renewed contact sent Liu Kang into another fit of hysterical tears, causing Omegis to grit her teeth and quickly grab the bottle from the table.
"All right, you little worm," she growled, popping the cork and allowing the excess powder and fumes from the long-sealed bottle to waft away. "Let's get this over with."
Dumping a pinch of the purple substance into her palm, Omegis tossed the powder over Liu Kang, whose open mouth accidentally caught wind of some of the particles, sending him into a coughing fit even as he continued to try and raise as much alarm with his voice as possible.
It was then that the symbols on the ground began to glow with an unnatural light.
"I really don't think this is a good idea," Kung Lao muttered anxiously as he struggled to keep up with Raiden, who had decided on a whim to follow the path he had watched Omegis take to her home, prompting the Shaolin to begin voicing his concerns about breaking their promise to the witch in between stumbles over stray roots and branches.
"Too bad," Raiden tossed back as a retort as he continued to knock away branches with ease, occasionally accidentally flinging them into poor Kung Lao's face. Under normal circumstances, Raiden would normally take care to be more considerate of his student, but today he was on a mission.
"But Lord Rai…" Kung Lao started again before being briefly interrupted by a stray branch to the mouth, which he promptly spit out. "Raiden, what do you think she'll do if we find out where she lives?"
"She will move," Raiden answered bluntly. "She has done it before."
"But…" Kung Lao continued until he was cut off by an alarmed shout in the distance. By the time he was able to recognize it, however, Raiden had already blasted off at an immeasurable speed in the sound's direction, knocking the unsuspecting Kung Lao back onto the ground.
Although every tree should have appeared roughly the same at the speed Raiden was flying, he was able to spot one that stood out thanks to an overgrown cover that framed what appeared to be a door left ajar.
Instinctively, Raiden halted in midair and planted himself in front of the door, flinging it open and smashing the ages-old wood into smithereens; splinters were still flying everywhere as he stomped inside.
"What have you done?" he demanded reflexively, not noticing that his presence had caused a now-grown (and still very disoriented) Liu Kang to scramble to cover his completely exposed body with the robe Omegis had had the foresight to drape over his lower half.
"I told you not to follow me here!" Omegis responded angrily, ignoring his question.
"What's going on here?!" Liu Kang almost shouted in confusion, still clinging the burlap cloth to his waist.
Finally noticing that Liu Kang was there, Raiden stopped and did a double-take in the champion's direction.
"…It worked?" the god of thunder wondered out loud in disbelief.
"He's standing right there, isn't he?" she sneered, answering the question he had not meant to ask. She watched Liu Kang as he stumbled in an attempt to get on his feet.
Grabbing onto the nearest table (and making sure the robe did not fall past his waist), Liu Kang panted heavily as he looked at both people in the room with him with a wildly confused expression, still trying to overcome his initial shock of waking up in such a strange environment; what unnerved him even more was that both Raiden and Omegis seemed to be studying him right back.
Still alert, Liu Kang's eyes locked onto Raiden's.
"…What did you do to me?" he blurted out accusingly. Raiden, taken aback by his student's tone, stopped for a moment to try and calmly explain what had transpired, only to be shoved aside by Liu Kang, who, not caring much for an answer to his question and choosing instead to continue believing that somehow Raiden was the root of all of his recent troubles, made way directly for Omegis' doorway.
On the way out he bumped into an equally bewildered Kung Lao, who had just at that moment managed to catch up to Raiden. Both monks stared at each other incredulously.
"Liu Kang!" Kung Lao gasped, still adjusting himself to his friend's restored appearance. "You… your face!"
Still irritated, Liu Kang nonetheless put a hand tentatively to his own cheek and felt nothing but normal skin. At first he wondered what could possibly cause Kung Lao to react strangely to nothing, but then he remembered the hard mass of scar tissue that had covered most of his body such a short while ago.
Stunned, Liu Kang whirled around to look at Raiden incredulously, his hand still hovering near his face. For a moment, neither man responded. Sensing an opportunity, Raiden again attempted to explain himself, but his chance was lost when Liu Kang abruptly turned around and continued to stomp away on his path back to the monastery, shoving Kung Lao aside in much the same manner he had Raiden.
Hurt, Liu Kang's friend looked after him for a second before turning to acknowledge his mentor.
"Did he say anything to you?" Kung Lao inquired.
Raiden stood still for a moment, sorting out what had just happened in his head. Finally, clenching his jaw and drawing himself up to his full height (which was not an easy feat where he stood in the trunk of the tree), the deity shook his head.
"No," was the simple answer he gave.
"Well, too bad, so sad," Omegis snapped at the both of them, stepping forward and attempting to push Raiden out. She was helped along by the fact that Raiden, still caught off-guard by Liu Kang's reaction, did not have a steady footing. "Get out of my house."
She did not stop until Raiden was standing with Kung Lao right in front of her doorway. She grabbed the edge of the door before issuing Raiden one last notice.
"And remember your end of our bargain."
With that, she slammed the door closed, causing even more wood to break and splinter off.
"Wait!" Kung Lao cried out, grabbing the battered plank and yanking it back open; however, much to both men's surprise, the room which had the instant before contained the witch and her belongings was now just a barren space carved into the tree; there was no trace of Omegis.
Perplexed, Kung Lao turned to face Raiden.
"I was going to say 'thank you,'" the Shaolin warrior said blankly. Before Raiden could respond with a shrug, however, a small piece of paper fluttered down between the two of them, landing face down in a pile of leaves.
Kung Lao stooped over to pick it up, brushing some dirt off of the note before holding it for both him and Raiden to read.
'You're welcome,' read the little scrap, signed with the familiar lipstick stain. Raiden expected his student to crumple the paper up, but much to his surprise, Kung Lao simply sighed and let it drop back down to the forest floor. He looked back up at his teacher.
"So nothing, huh?" Lung Lao lamented, his expression sympathetic towards the deity.
Raiden shook his head.
"I'll talk to him as soon as we get back," Kung Lao offered, only to receive another shake of the head from Raiden.
"Do not bother," the god told him, waving his hand weakly in dismissal. "It will not make a difference. He believes I am the cause of his problems. There is nothing we can do to change that."
"Well, he'll have to get over it eventually," Kung Lao tried to reason. "It's just a matter of time."
From his tone, Raiden could tell his student was simply trying to assure him of an idealistic future that the divinity knew did not exist; nevertheless, he placed a hand on Kung Lao's shoulder as a sign of appreciation for his student's attempt.
"…We will just have to wait and see about that," he offered back politely. He watched Kung Lao, thinking that he had successfully managed to convince his mentor of brighter times ahead, smile wearily and turn to head back to the monastery.
Raiden stayed behind and watched Kung Lao walk tiredly off into the distance, until the forest swallowed him as it had Omegis. He turned his pupil's words over in his mind, reconsidering how much truth there may have been in them.
Honestly, there was very little.
Raiden wasn't stupid; he had witnessed and knew the capacity mortals had for holding grudges, even irrational ones. As much as he hated to admit it, Kung Lao's naïveté had again blinded him to the reality of the situation; Raiden wouldn't be surprised if Liu Kang never spoke to him again.
And yet it was a reality with which he was willing to live. He had lost friends in the past, and he would lose countless more in the future; to death, to betrayal, to relationships that just had a nature of growing apart. It was simply a fact of life for him. And although he admitted to himself that in a way, he had been trying to fight it for the last week, Raiden acknowledged that this was just the way it was and had to be.
Still crestfallen, mourning over the end of his relationship with his star pupil, Raiden nonetheless recognized that he could not change the situation. He closed his eyes and took a deep, meditative breath, and when he opened them again, he realized he felt incredibly at peace in a way that he hadn't experienced for days.
Lifting a hand to the heavens, Raiden exited the forest in a brilliant flash of light.
Yeah, that's pretty much it. I didn't really want this to have a happy ending, so if that's what you came here expecting… well, you're out of luck. : Sorry.
I'm really glad I was able to finally finish it, not just because I can add it to the list of multi-chaptered stories I've finished (which makes a total of, what? Like, two?), but because I've just gotten hooked on Injustice, and I can't wait to start my next story idea for a crossover with MK. :P So stay tuned.
Thank you so much to Obelisk of Light, fandelivres, and KitanavsMileena for your continuous reviews; whenever I consider just letting a fic die because I get busy, you guys convince me to keep at it. Thank you so much!