The Path (complete)


#1

This is a work of fiction based on Street Fighter game series, produced by the Capcom Corporation. Goutetsu, Gouken, Gouki, Gen, Retsu, Go Hibiki, Dan Hibiki, Ryu, Ken and Sagat are characters that belong to Capcom. Capcom is an excellent video game company.
-huntedonezero@hotmail.com

The Path
by R.E. Bearlee

Chapter I: Beginnings

  • Japan

We have to leave…there is no time for this… A young boy stated flatly, his voice carrying the hint of annoyance at his brothers dawdling. They stood at a fish stand they regularly visited.late for their return home yet again. The air carried the scent of many things, spices and foods that seemed to drift through the air and play with ones nose and imagination. The smell of animals such as chickens and pigs; among other things. The smell of sweat from a hard days work coming from so many. The sounds of people screaming out their wares or people arguing over prices…these things were normal at a market.

In a second Gouken replied, staring at a group of young Japanese soldiers marching in the distance a couple miles away, his eyes wide with admiration and curiosity. In one hand he carried a bag full of fish ready to be cooked and eaten for dinner, the bag slipping out of his hands.his full attention locked unto the troops far away. Suddenly he turned away and began walking away from the market, completely silent as he began the trek back home. The road was lonely, a beaten path stretching out for miles, with wild grass on the sides. Gouki grunted loudly and started walking moments later, trailing behind his brother and following in silence. The mid-day sky above them was a pale blue that extended forever.

Gouken was the elder sibling, at least three years Goukis senior. Gouken was 11, Gouki was 8 years of age. Goukens frame was lean and firm, a typical build for a young boy. Goukis however, was thin and frail, and he was at least a foot shorter than his brother. Gouken was the stronger one, he always was. While Gouki was frequently stricken with illness and confined to his bed, Gouken often ran in the fields and played much more than most adults wanted him too. While Gouken was loud and expressed his views freely Gouki often remained silent unless he truly felt that something needed to be said. Gouken wore his emotions on his sleeve and was as carefree as anyone could be.while Gouki was downright stoic, often thought of as cold and emotionless by the other childrenchildren he never played with. Gouki preferred to hear stories of great samurai and pursue the academics. These two brothers were truly exact opposites, yet they got along just fine. They kept each other at a distance, as much as two brothers could. They let each other be as much as two brothers could.

Hey Gouki

What.

Where.where do you think those men are going? They look so unhappy.I bet those uniforms must itch. Id be grumpy too. Gouken frowned slightly as he thought of himself wearing one. His face was round and kind-natured. His hair was a short black mop on top of his head; he did not pay any attention to it except in the morning. His frown faded into a smile as he turned and looked at his brother.

Well?

They are going off to fight. To take part in some major battle far awaya war no doubt.

A war? WOW! Hey Gouki…whats a war? Gouken knew what a war was he just wanted to play dumb and bug his brother.

Arghh. Gouki mumbled to himself as he reflected upon the absent-mindedness of his sibling. He had to explain everything to him at least ten times.he always forgot it the first time. Goukis face was neutral, his slight annoyance hidden. His long straight black hair going all the way to his chin. His face was slender, and his eyes carried a weight and awareness beyond the years of a normal boy.

War is a conflict between two parties.usually two or more nations. Right now Japan (our country).is in the beginning stages of a plan for China-

Oh look!! Gouken suddenly shouted as he dived to the ground, picking up a small crystal. He stared at it, his eyes wide and his mouth in an o. Gouki began to wonder once again why he even bothered.

Like I was saying

Bah forget it! Lets go home!

Gouki sighed to himself as the two brothers slowly walked home. Goukis eyes found themselves staring up at the sky, a large group of clouds that were beginning to block out the suns rays. Was the sky beginning to darken?

A storm is approaching. He said to himself as he closed his eyes and continued walking.

++++++++++++++++++

My dear friends, we must stand up!

The voice of a man tired of corruption stood on a pedestal. He was dressed in a brown suit, the jacket missing. Sweat dampened his white shirt, and his glasses were fogged. He was an esteemed professor of the local university, and considered a radical by many of his colleagues. He was in his late thirties, and being watched by the government. He noted the surveillance but did not care.

We must tell our government.war is not the answer! The occupation of China by Japan is unnecessary and downright tyrannical! If they will not listen.we will FORCE them to listen!! The man shouted, answered by the uproar from supporters listening to him. There was an anti-imperialism rally going on, a crowd of at least 100 came to hear this man speak. Who knows how many more caught a brief satch of the speech while walking past.

The speaker paused to wipe his glasses, his breathing heavy yet patient. He silently slipped his glasses back on, and wiped some hair that had fallen into his eyes.

Do you see what our government is trying to do?! Theyre trying to control the world! I have proof of this…a document called the Tanaka Plan.and I will reveal it in a weeks time. This document will-

Suddenly something caught the eye of the speaker. Someone in the crowd suddenly began to leave. He aggressively pushed through the crowd on his way out, his back was turned but the speaker could clearly recognize

The uniform of a Japanese General.

++++++++++++++++++

DAD!

Gouken shouted as he saw his father in the doorway to their house. He immediately took off running at full speed, just to spring up into his arms.

Ummm…whats this? The father wondered as Gouken handed him the bag.

Fish. How was the rally for the thingie?

The rally against the Tanaka plan you mean? It went wonderfully son.

GREAT!

Gouki slowly approached his father, his lips began to curl into a slight smile when his father greeted him with a playful noogie.

And how are you, my other son?

I am fine. Gouki ran his hand over his hair to fix it.

Good.

A storm is approaching father.

I know son.I know. Suddenly his fathers smile faded, his eyes looked distant and worried. Gouki stared up at his father, trying to find something to say yet nothing came.

Now.lets get some lunch. His fathers smile returned as Gouki and his brother were herded inside.

++++++++++++++++++

It was now night, and still no rain had come.

The house was modest, the dwelling of a comfortable middle class family. There were pictures on the walls, and rows and rows of old books. The family dug into their food like they were truly hungry. Gouken ate like a wild animal, while Gouki ate slowly but without a pause. Their father watched them while eating himself, in a mood of reflection.

Gouken…has Mitsukos spirit The father thought as he reflected on his late wife and mother to his children. She died in labor.Gouki never knew her, and Gouken could barely remember her. It was a shameshe was such a beautiful person. The only woman he had even known that really rebelled against Japans traditional roles for women. Youd catch her in jeans before youd ever catch her in a Kimono…the father chuckled at the thought of it.

Good food Dadlove it. Gouken said with a mouth stuffed full of dinner. Gouki nodded, seconding the notion.

Im glad you like-

Suddenly there was a loud rapping on the door. An impatient knocking that signified poorly masked anger. Instantly a cold chill ran up the fathers spine.

He got up to answer the door, putting his chair back under the table after standing. Once he opened the door there stood the same general from before, his hard facial features and cold gaze locked onto the professor.

General Fujima, greetings. The professor opened the conversation with.

ProfessorI need to have a conversation with you…alone. The general said, his eyes quickly pouncing upon the children when he uttered alone. Fujimas voice was deep and commanding. His jaw was square and his gloved hands were behind his back.

Boys, go play.

But Dad its night-

go play. The fathers voice suddenly gained an intense authority, and the boys exited without another word.

Nowwhat did you come here for Fujima.

That guys scary. Gouken said once they were outside, 15 feet away from the house.

Yeah

The general stared at the professor, his intense gaze trying to intimidate, but it had no effect.

The government.does not approve of your actions professor.

Well, I never asked the government to approve.and it doesnt concern me if they do or not. Fujimas eyes suddenly widened at the response, then he regained himself.

We.cannot tolerate your course of action any longer professor. Your protests and rallies…will stop.

The hell they will.

Fujimas fists clenched and so did his teeth. He stared at the resistant professor, and the gaze was returned. Neither side was willing, or able to relent.

Professor…the Tanaka Plan will never be mentioned. Do not mention it.

The world needs to hear it. The world needs to hear what you monsters plan to do.and have already done. I will never stop.

The tension in the room was a thick shroud that lay over all. Sweat beaded and cascaded down the professors round nose, but his eyes were hard as steel.

I hope you understand professor…I cannot leave until you are silenced.

The conversation had escalated; Gouki and Gouken could now hear it from outside.

Wowtheyre fighting about something.

Theyre fighting about Dads protests

Suddenly a crash could be heard inside. Gouken jumped, and Gouki turned to see. Seconds later, their father came crashing out of the house through the window, laying on the ground 5 feet from the house, peppered with shattered glass. The general calmly walked outside through the door, his movements crisp and mechanical. The professor quickly picked himself off the ground and unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt.

Fujima, is this how you want to settle this? I have the ability to fight you off.Ive been taught martial arts.

So have I.you should not be a problem. Fujima stated flatly as he cracked his knuckles and rotated his head, stretching his neck.

Prepare yourself.

My boys.run. the professor whispered as he got into stance. The boys stood frozen, paralyzed by fear.

The general rushed forward, faking a left hook which the professor concentrated on.only to strike with a right hook. The professor staggered, and the general did a quick and powerful roundhouse, knocking his opponent to the ground.

Are you kidding me? Pathetic. The general said as he walked over to the boys father. Suddenly the professor lashed out with back flip, knocking away the general and regaining his footing at the same time.

Wow.Dads strong. Gouken muttered.

Why hasnt he taught any of those moves? …Gouki? Silence was the response he got from his brother.

Fujima rushed forward, the professor leaned forward with a punch but missed horribly. The general kneed his opponent in the chest…then he kneed him again.and again…and again…and again. The professor coughed blood as Fujima let him go, the professor falling to the ground limply.

The boys stood horrified as Fujima viciously kicked the professor as he lay on the ground, encouraging him to get up. The professor obliged, only to be hit by a punch to the chest, and a backhand so powerful it instantly knocked the professor down once more.

Thunder roared across the sky, and it began to rain. Hard, fast rain that cascaded from the heavens, the tears of the gods. Fujimas lips were pulled back in a snarl, his white teeth exposed as he stared down at the beaten professor. He kneeled, and grabbed the professor by his disheveled hair, lifting his head up.facing his children.

Any last words before I end your pathetic life, you traitorous dog? Fujimas voice carried a sick glee to it as he held the professors head in his hands, his eyes wide with madness.

The boys could only stare, speechless.terrified. The rain beat down on all of themsoaking their clothes.

My boys The professor beganstill coughing up blood.

I love youalways know that.and Im sorry- The professor was interrupted by Fujima snapping his neck. The general let the professor fall to the wet ground, a grin still on the generals face. Lightning flashed through the sky, bathed Fujima in an eerie light as he stared up at the boys.

Children…you are now orphans. And with that, Fujima turned to leave.

Tears welled up in Goukens eyes as he began to shake uncontrollably. Gouki was silent, his hands balled into tight fists at his sides, his upper teeth sinking into his lower lip, holding back the tears.

My dad…you killed him.You killed him you demon!!!

Gouken screamed at the top of his lungs as he threw himself at Fujima, his wet eyes shut tight. Before he could attack, a sharp roundhouse without even looking from Fujima stopped him, the force of the impact so powerful it flung him against a tree trunk 10 feet away, knocking him unconscious.

Goukis lower lip now oozed blood, the tears now streaming down his face. His fists were shaking violently, but he said nothing. He stared up at the grinning Fujima, his eyes sad and filled with the strongest rage.

And I suppose youre going to fight me too boy?

Hmph. Youre more pathetic than your brother. Die in the streets for all I care. Fujima turned to leave, the rain beating down on all.the tears bathing them all. Gouki stood there, for seemingly hourscrying silently, his blood mixing with his tears with all of this mixing with the hard rain.

Do you…wish to be strong child? A voice suddenly said from the night. Gouki turned to find a man standing behind him. The man wore black, the veil of the night was too thick for him to see what in particular. The man had long black hair behind him that extended to the middle of his back, with seldom streaks of gray peppering it. He was taller than most men, with broad shoulders draped in a long trenchcoat. The mans face showed that he was at least middle aged, but his form was that of a fighter in his prime. The man stared down at him with piercing black eyes.

Well boy!? Do you wish to be strong? The man said again. Gouki nodded slowly.

Well gather your brother and come with me.

Lighting flashed across the night sky as the gods continued weeping, and the lives of two young boys changed forever.


#2

Chapter II: No work, No Eats

“I love you…always know that…and I’m sorry-”

“!!”

Suddenly Gouken’s eyes shot open. He jumped up, only to topple to the ground. His body smacked the hardwood floor with a low thump, and a split second later a wave of fabric washed over him. He thrashed wildly, flinging the covers from over his head. He then realized where he was. A bedroom, and he had just fallen out of a bed. His eyes darted around his surroundings…a small room. The sunlight softly poured into the cozy place, and the air was comfortable and quiet. It smelled of cinnamon and fresh vegetables. There was minimal furniture. A desk with a chair neatly arranged, a half-full bookcase to the far wall, and a dresser that went up to Gouken’s shoulder. He heard birds chirping outside, through a closed window. He bounded up on his feet, only to stumble. He was still weak.

“Oh, so you’re up!”

Gouken turned around sharply to find a woman staring directly at him, a woman he had never seen before.

She was middle-aged, but it didn’t really show in her body. She was lean, but still slightly curvy. She was wrapped in a long purple kimono, her black hair peppered with gray wrapped up and impaled by two purple sticks jutting out of the back of her head. Her face was kind-hearted and her smile was warm, the creases of wrinkles evident. Her hands were clasped in front of her as she looked at the confused and slightly frightened Gouken.

“Hello Gouken! There is some soup in the kitchen if you are hungry…you’ve had a long sleep.”

“Who are you?! Where’s my brother-”

The woman put a single finger to Couken’s lips, silencing him with a soft ‘shh’. Instantly Gouken’s mind began to calm itself. A soft wave passed through his face and cascaded downward. His tense muscles began to relax. His fear and confusion paused for more information.

“Who are you?” Gouken said, softer this time.

“My name is Afaik, I am Goutetsu’s wife.” She said sweetly. Gouken stared up at her, puzzled. He didn?t know where he was still.

“Who’s this Goutetsu?”

“Oh yes! You don’t know him! Silly me…well child you have been unconscious for the past three days. Goutetsu is the kind man that brought you and your brother here.”

“Three days…”

“Yes, the injuries you suffered would have killed the average person your age…somehow you survived without any serious damage. You’re a lucky little fellow!” Afaik said as she playfully pinched Gouken?s cheek. Gouken overheard a bird chirping as Afaik pulled her hand back.

“I want to see my brother.” He said, sterner this time.

“He’s right outside. Do you want anything to eat or drink Gouken?”

“No…thank you.” Gouken said as he stared down at the floor.

“I almost forgot! Here are your clothes!” Afaik suddenly disappeared into a different room. Gouken stood there for a few minutes in silence and alone…thinking.

His father was dead…and he and his brother were orphans. People he didn’t even know suddenly took him and Gouki under their wing…

Gouken was puzzled, the entire situation confused him.

?What am I going to do now?? he thought to himself.

Suddenly Afaik emerged holding an olive colored gi in Gouken’s size.

“Here, go wash up and put this on. They’re waiting for you outside.” Afaik said with a bright smile.

Gouken wordlessly obeyed.

++++++++++++++++++

Goutetsu eyed his two new students, his piercing gaze locked on to the two young brothers. Gouken and Gouki both stood ridgidly upright, their chins high, their feet together, and their arms held tightly at their sides. Neither stirred under their new master?s cold stare.

The area around them was a dense forest. Mountains could be seen in the far distance. The dojo was surrounded by dense trees; hidden behind walls of green and brown. Hidden from view after only a few minutes of walking down beaten paths. Right next to Gouken and Gouki was a creek, but this stream carried a rough current. The sun was merciless as it beat down on master and teacher.

Gouki stood in a neat earth-colored gi, an intense expression on his face. He was staring directly at Goutetsu…directly into Goutetsu. He seemed eager to learn and ready to begin. Gouken concentrated on his new master also, but in a different way. Gouken stared at Goutetsu the way a mischievous schoolboy would look at a teacher that was threatening to call his mother.

“Your father is gone. You are with me now. And I can teach you, show you how to be strong. I can bring things out of you that you never knew you had. Your body, mind, and spirit can be one…if you listen to my instruction.” Goutetsu paused, and looked at the two boys. Their eyes were locked onto his, absorbing every word.

“My name is Goutetsu…and if you desire to learn my art, you must prove yourself worthy. You must show me that you are strong in spirit, then I will begin to teach you. See the water?” Goutetsu pointed, and his students’ heads quickly turned to look.

“That is where your test lies. You must best it. If you can conquer it’s powerful current, I will train you.”

Gouken stared at the creek in amazement and horror. The water rapidly rushed along casting foamy bubbles near the edges. The water was so clear you could see the mossy floor. His mouth hung open as he imagined himself quickly drowning.

“Master…when does our test begin?” Gouki asked humbly.

“NOW!”

Without warning, Goutetsu picked both boys up by the collars of their gis and flung them into the water. With a loud splash they fell, water spraying outwards in all directions.

The second they hit the water animal instinct took hold. They began to claw at the water, thrashing and screaming and kicking. But it got them nowhere, only carried them further downstream.

Goutetsu drove a stake into the ground at a certain point upstream.

“If you can reach this point, you are ready. Remember my pupils…‘Where the mind goes, the body follows’” With that…he turned and left. The stake was 30 feet away from the thrashing children.

The two boys struggled to fight the raging waters, but to no avail. They only were swept farther away from the stake in the ground.

?That thing has to be so far away now…I have to stop myself…? Gouken thought as he dug his feet into the ground below the water, slowing down his momentum. He held the air in his lungs tight as the cold rushed over his head and completed its hold on Gouken.

“Argh!” Gouki shouted in frustration as he was further carried downstream. He was now completely underwater, and his breath was getting short. He only sunk deeper as he thrashed, his lungs losing air. Feeling like they were about to explode. His shoulder crashed into a large rock lodged at the floor of the stream, making him shout in pain…which made him lose more air. Goukicould not see his brother.

Suddenly an arm reached out and grabbed Gouki’s arm…pulling him back to the surface.

“Brother…” Gouki muttered, in between coughing up water.

Gouken held on to his younger brother, a determined look on his face. They were deadlocked, the two and the raging river. Gouken and Gouki stood still, fighting just to hold their position. The water went up to their necks now, and the current pushed at them with the determination only a force of nature could easily muster.

"We can’t do it…the current is too fast…we’re too little… Gouki muttered, his hope crumbling.

“We have to try. If we work together, we can do it! If we combine our strength and weight…we can win!”

“…” Gouki said nothing, but his eyes revealed he was listening as he stared forward.

“Have faith Gouki…for once…trust me. We just need to coordinate our movements. And swim.”

?I can?t?swim.? Gouki gobbled a bit of water.

?Just do what I?m doing. And put some muscle into it.?

They latched arms, holding on to each other tightly. They were now unified in one mission: conquer the current.

“Let’s take it slow, take one step…” They slowly took one step, then another. Then another.

Suddenly Gouken slipped and sunk underwater. A split second later he was caught by his brother.

“I won’t let you fall. We can do this.” Gouki smiled, something he rarely did.

Slowly but surely, they fought against the current and began to move forward. The rushing water slammed into their young bodies, but they kept on. The stake was now but 10 feet away.

“Husband, look!” Afaik grabbed her husband and pointed to the window. Afaik was proud of the boys, and excited for them.

“They’re actually doing it.”

Goutetsu muttered something and stared at the two boys struggling through the water. They were progressing quite nicely, it seems as if they would succeed. Goutetsu grunted and then returned to drinking his tea. Afaik frowned at her husband’s lack of an excited response.

“We’re…almost…there.” Gouken muttered, drained of all energy. The both of them were. A couple steps later, both the boys? hands had touched the stake. They hoisted themselves up to the bank of the stream, dripping wet, cold, and tired.

“We…did…it…” Gouki muttered, his breathing labored. They both collapsed on the ground, not moving, still breathing and staring up.

“You did well boys, I am pleased.” Goutetsu appeared outside, standing a few feet behind the resting children. Gouken thought of his father after Goutetsu congratulated them but said nothing. Gouki was now looking at the tops of trees reaching for the sky. He wondered what was next.

“You have passed the test and proven yourselves worthy of training. Now…rest. Tomorrow may very well be the hardest day of your young lives.”


#3

Chapter III: A Slight Enlightenment

???So what do you think will happen tomorrow?? Gouken asked his brother as they both were seated at the table. Dinner was soup and rice, enough to feed two families. The night sky had the full moon in a firm grip, the glow bathing the forest. The stirrings of insects could be heard outside, but it was not loud enough to be distracting.

?We will train???I guess.? Gouki muttered, in between chewing.

The room was rather comfy, the few paintings that decorated the walls were all natural scenes. None of them looked Japanese in origin. A couple of small bonsai trees were placed on shelves, making the room seem more living and less like a dusty unused guestroom. The air was moist, but not humid. The light brown floorboards beneath them looked aged, but not old?.a sort of long lasting dignity that resisted decline and decay with an inhuman ferocity, an attitude the entire house seemed to carry.

?Yeah?.he did say we were ready?.but I still don?t get it. Why is he doing this for us? What does he want with us? Why us??

?I do not know?.maybe he felt sorry for us. Maybe he wanted to look after children, it seems he doesn?t have any of his own to care for.? As Gouki inserted another mouthful he wondered if Goutetsu had children but lost them. As he chewed he thought about how conviently Goutetsu appeared as the boys lost their father. As he swallowed Gouki tried to force thoughts of his father from his mind.

?Maybe he?s psycho, you ever think about that?! Maybe he wants to kill us and chop our bodies up into little pieces!? Gouken shrieked, Gouki could only chuckle as he stared sullenly at his plate.

?Gouki?..do you ever think about Dad??

???.? Gouki was silent as the words sunk in. He stared at the floor; his eyes began to well with tears. He had pushed it out of his mind for the past 4 days?but it all came flooding back. His father?s last words echoed in his mind?.they had been hammering themselves into Gouki?s psyche ever since it happened. There was nothing Gouki could say to himself to keep the thoughts away for long. There was nothing Gouki could have done to save him?.his father died because he was too weak to help him?..

Gouki abruptly forced the tears back with a quick sniff and quickly returned to drinking his tea and eating?.not looking up at his brother, pretending nothing was wrong. Gouken stared at him with his hands motionless on the table, his face showing the hurt.

?I miss him too?..?

They continued to eat in silence, then they went to bed. Gouken stared at the ceiling for an hour in bed. Gouki wept silently for a few minutes, his sadness rocking him to sleep. His cold tears easing him toward rest. Neither of them could see the moon from their window.

++++++++++++++++++

  • the next day at dawn

Pain.

There was only one thing flashing through Gouki?s mind at the time, and for the last hour. And that was inescapable pain. The training ground?s old, thick marble tiles hurt, since he was instructed to do 100 pushups without rest?on his knuckles.

His hair was matted around his face, his body drained of energy. He was only on his 30th pushup.

Gouken his brother stood 3 feet across from him, both of them tired. The rising sun cast an orange-red reflection into the pool of Gouken and Gouki?s collective sweat. The sun laughed at them, with soft pink and orange clouds joining in the scoffing. The nearby forest was still sleeping; hardly any sounds could be heard. The silence surrounded them, the entire setting watching them suffer.

?I don?t know?.how?much?longer?..we can?..hold out?.? Gouken breathed, straining to keep on going. He imagined his arms as two tree branches that were about to snap with one crisp sound.

?..argh?.but we have to try??? Gouki mumbled, trying to numb his aching body but it refused to be ignored. It gnawed at him, slowly eating away his resolve. Gradually slowing his pace.

?No?.it?s no use??..we can?t?..? Gouki felt the chill of the morning air as he exhaled. His forearms began to quiver slightly when he rose.

?No! How are we going to finish if you?re talking like that?! We must do these pushups?..what would Dad think of us if we quit eh? We gotta make him proud!? Gouken managed to convince himself also as he spoke.

Instantly Gouki began quickening his pace, determined to finish up. Gouken noticed his re-newed strength, and upped his pace as well.

In minutes they had done 60.

Then 80.

Their bodies were screaming in pain?.moaning for rest, but both boys refused. They pressed on, eager to impress their master and honor their father?s strength.

?only 5 more?.? Gouken mumbled as his nose lightly tapped the marble ground, then began to rise upward again. Neither boys made a sound as they clenched their teeth and continued exercising.

Then, they finished.

Gouki and Gouken triumphantly collapsed to the ground, falling into the pool of their own sweat with a soft splash. They couldn?t speak, their heavy breathing dominating all. Their chests rose and fell as they lay there, bathing in their victory.

Slowly their heavy breathing turned light, and the two young students began to feel their strength returning to them.

?You two aren?t done yet.? Suddenly Goutetsu?s voice appeared, and seconds later his body. He was dressed in a black Chinese gi with white cuffs and buttons, his shirt unbuttoned, exposing his gray haired chest. His long hair was tied back by a single piece of thread. He had been watching them the whole time, somewhere in the shadows were he couldn?t be viewed.

??what??..? Gouken stuttered?.his eyes wide with a strange sense of terror.

?You think that was it boy? A hundred push-ups? That is only the beginning my students. Get up! There is more to do. It is a 4 mile walk to the waterfall, it?d be in your best interests to get there before the noon time sun bakes you alive.?

Gouken and Gouki began to groan, slowly rising.

?GET UP!!? Goutetsu?s voice suddenly thundered, his eyes stabbing the boys at their very cores. The young students promptly obeyed. They snapped up and stood up straight.

++++++++++++++++++

?Here we are.? Goutetsu muttered, his voice surprisingly…happy. They stood on the face of a hill, with a rushing waterfall cascading downward. It?s clear water shimmering from the sun?s rays. Large trees were sprinkled all around them, trees so tall Gouken and Gouki could not see the tops of them, their trunks at least 4 feet in diameter. The leaves blocked out the sun a little, creating an odd blend of light and darkness, an unrecognizable pattern known only by nature. In the far distance there was a grouping of mountains, their peaks reaching up to the heavens.

?Wow?.this place?..? Gouki muttered, reaching his outstretched hand out to the far away mountains, as if he were inches from touching them.

?Gouken. Gouki. Listen and pay attention.? Goutetsu said as he walked over to the waterfall, dipping his hand into the rushing water, and brining a cupped hand full of water to his lips. He took a slow sip and let the rest escape through his fingers.

?Do you know what ki is?my students??? He asked, his voice quite curious.

They both modestly shook their heads. Gouken noticed the morning chill had left.

?Then, I shall explain it to you and enlighten you. Come.? Goutetsu walked forward, straight into the water. His stride never slowed, the rushing waters seemingly not affecting him at all. He stopped at the waterfall, a point where a wall was about 17 feet straight upwards and the water toppled downwards and kept on flowing. Goutetsu closed his eyes and sat down cross-legged at the foot of the waterfall, drawing in one deep breath. The water crashing all around him, but it did not seem to affect him at all.

??.do the same.? Goutetsu said as he nodded towards his students. Gouki immediately obeyed, walking over to the waterfall and sitting cross-legged in the same fashion his master did. Gouken stood frozen, unable to move.

?That water has got to be freezing?I?m so tired??. He thought.

?Gouken, did you not hear? I said sit.? Goutetsu?s voice slowly rose with authority. It had a tendency to do that, the intensity slowly building as he became irritated. Gouken nodded and sat, on the right side of Goutetsu while Gouki took the left.

?I?m sorry for my hesitation master.?

?Do not apologize. Show me you are sorry by listening to what I say.?

Gouken nodded solemnly. The water continued it?s shimmering, the light bouncing around and moving like it was living itself. The water was cold, a biting cold that seemed to claw at the students with every drop that hit them. Gouki winced as the icy cold water splashed on the back of his neck, sending chills running up and down his body. He wondered if his body would go numb from the cold and if he would fall ill because of it.

?Master Goutetsu, if I may?what is the point of this?? Gouki asked.

?Hmmm…this is an exercise in many things, one of them discipline. The water is cold is it? Well, if you don?t let the water affect you?.it won?t.?

?Whaaaaaa??? Gouki and Gouken both said at the simultaneously. Goutetsu chuckled slightly at their response.

?You say the water is cold?..it is just your mind telling your body the water is cold. If you can convince your mind otherwise?.it will not affect you.?

Gouki and Gouken stared up at him, confused yet interested.

?Your mind will bend to your spirit. When this happens your mind, body, and spirit will become one.?

Goutetsu paused and looked down at his students, they were soaking it up like sponges.

?When this happens, you able to do things you never thought possible?..through ki.?

?Wait?this ?ki? is some type of drug? A food? A drink??? Gouki asked, puzzled.

?No. It is energy. Ki is something that exists in all living things, it is the power of their spirits. Ki is an energy that can be used to destroy, create, and all in between.?

?Wha? Well?how come I?ve never seen this ?ki? used before? If we all have it?we should all be able to use it right?? Gouken questioned. He noted that the water was still very cold.

?Not all people even know of their own ki?.most write it off as folklore. Also?in order to use ki one must make themselves one with their mind, body, and spirit. One must study it intensely. These things must be one in order for ki to be manipulated.?

?I understand master?.? Gouki muttered.

?Now, sit under this waterfall. Let yourselves drift away from it?using your mind. Do not focus on the cold water, or your aches and pains?.let it all go and relax. Breathe deeply and let the thoughts in your mind drift where they please. Do not try to hold them or direct them. Purge your mind of such trivial matters?and focus on unifying yourself. This is the way.? Goutetsu instructed, his voice slow and carrying weight.

Gouki and Gouken attempted to follow. They both closed their eyes, sinking into a trance?keeping their minds blank.

Slowly, the world around them began to fade away?the sounds of nature fading slowly, the sunlight darkening. The intense cold they felt was no longer that, it had been reduced to a slight breeze.

Slowly the world around them began to fade away?until there was nothing left. Just darkness?and silence.

?Gouki?..?!?

Gouken turned to find his brother next to him.

?Where are we?!?

?I don?t know?..? Gouki answered.

?Congratulations, my students.? A voice came out of nowhere, it was Goutetsu?s. He suddenly appeared in front of them, his form wavy and intangible.

?You two have just learned how to deeply meditate. This technique will unite your mind, body and spirit if they ever become disconnected. Meditation is a valuable asset to martial artists, and I require you meditate daily. Understand??

?We understand master.?

?Now, we still have more to do. The physical world awaits.? Goutetsu turned and began walking.

?Um?master?? Gouken asked.

?Yes??

?How do we exit this realm? There seems to be no end to it?.?

Goutetsu laughed in response.

?It?s simple my boy! Just open your eyes!?

FLASH

Gouken found himself back under the waterfall. He never left the scenic meditation place. Gouki was right beside him; slowly he was coming back to the physical world. Goutetsu stood over the both of them, a proud smile on his face.

?You have learned meditation in the shortest amount of time I have ever witnessed.? He said flatly, still smiling.

?Now, we go back to the training ground.?

Gouken looked up at the sky, it would be night in a few hours. The sun was but a tiny semi-circle over the horizon, with ribbons of red and oranges trailing after it. Both students stood up, and immediately collapsed to the ground.

?Ah yes?you have been sitting there for at least 4 hours?.your legs are probably tired. I give you a 5 minute break to stretch, then we go back.?

?Master?.we are so tired?.can?t we rest?.please?? Gouken mumbled.

?I?m not ready to retire yet. I?ve learned so much?I?m ready to learn more master.? Gouki said, Gouken stuck his tongue out at his brother in response. Gouki ignored him.

?Gouken! You should adopt the hunger for knowledge your brother possesses. It would benefit you. Now, come. You have to learn the basic punches and kicks. And they will be in perfect form?.even if it takes all night.?

Gouken groaned as Gouki nodded with a quick ?yes master?. Master and students began walking home through grass up to their ankles.


#4

Chapter IV: Lessons

FAP!

A burst of air shot from Gouki?s extended arm, the gray sleeve of his gi snapping at the quick motion. Gouki?s fist paused, then retracted back to its place in stance.

FAP!

Another punch. An automatic motion that drilled itself into the young student?s mind. He saw his master?s perfect form, and wanted to perfect his movements as well. But it still wasn?t good enough.

The rising sun was an orange ball that watched Gouki train, an unblinking eye that observed all. Gouki rose from bed early this morning ahead of everyone else, to practice his form. Before he left his bedroom he pulled the covers back over his slumbering brother. He had shaken them off while thrashing in his sleep.

He felt his punch could come out faster than it did. He pictured his master?s punch?..a snake lashing outward in a violent flash and before one could blink it had returned to it?s nest. Gouki wanted to achieve that speed desperately.

The cold moisture on the ancient marble floor felt refreshing, the smell of the green trees around him calmed his mind. The young student took in a deep breath?releasing it slowly with closed eyes. His hands carefully formed into fists at his sides, his elbows cocked behind him. He slowly backed into stance, the toes of the foot in front facing his imaginary opponent and the foot in back pivoted on the ball, his heel off the ground. One fist rested on the side of him on his waist, right on his belt while the other stood out in front of him guarding.

He tensed his muscles as he readied himself. Then his fist shot forward-

?Gouki, what are you doing?!?

A voice shot through the stillness, shattering Gouki?s concentration. It was his brother Gouken, staring at him in annoyance.

?Practicing.? Gouki answered flatly.

?There?s nothing to practice.?

?Yes there is. I know you remember the basic attacks master taught us?..?

?You?re practicing THOSE?! What for?! They?re easy.? Gouken genuinely looked surprised Gouki was up so early rehearsing his straight punch.

?For you they are. But I want to perfect them.? Gouki shot back.

?It?s a waste of time. They?re stupid. I?ll practice something worth practicing?like when master gets around to teaching us the ?touch of death? I read about in a book one time. Can you believe that you can kill someone just by touching them? That?s so amazing?I wish I could-?

?How do you expect master to teach us things like that?.when you blow off your training like you do? Sure, you can punch and kick decently?.but we have to master what we?ve learned before we can really move on.?

?Eww! The last thing you said made you sound like him! Quit being such a doofus.?

?You?re a moron Gouken. A pathetic caveman.? Gouki spat.

?Well you?re a weak teacher?s pet. Practice all you want, I can still kick your skinny little butt anytime. If you got off Goutetsu?s nuts maybe I would teach you some things.?

?You should refer to master Goutetsu with respect. Call him master.?

?I?ll call him what I want.?

?You?ll call him master!?

?The hell I will!?

Instantly Gouki?s eyes filled with rage as he lunged at Gouken. They tossed each other to the ground with a thud, clawing and kicking one another. A thick cloud of dust swirled as they rolled around on the ground fighting, neither gaining the upper hand.

Suddenly Gouken viciously punched his brother in the stomach as he secured him in a headlock. Gouki thrashed wildly, but could not match his brother?s strength. Gouki absorbed another blow in the stomach by his brother, and he went limp?.taken by dizziness. Gouki was let out of the hold and he crashed to the ground, clutching his upset stomach and cursing his brother under his breath. Gouken stood over his brother; a confident smile plastered on his face?an arrogant sneer in his eyes. Gouken was always the athletic one, and Gouken always won the fights.

?You can?t tell me what to do.? He said as he turned his back to his brother and walked back inside. Gouki glared at him as he left, anger boiling inside him. To Gouken when he won a fight he was automatically right, and there was rarely a fight Gouken lost?.and it annoyed Gouki to no end.

Gouki lay on the ground, staring up at the sky. His anger began to slowly melt away as he stared at the birds soaring through the air above him. ?Anger will?.only hold me back.? He thought to himself. He stuffed his resentment deep inside himself and picked himself off the ground.

He wordlessly and calmly got back into stance, clearing his mind of negative thoughts?letting his power flow through him.

FAP! The sound of the punch continued to echo throughout the lonely area as Gouki lost count of how many punches he?d done. In the distance watched Goutetsu, impressed by one of his students? dedication yet upset over another?s attitude?..

++++++++++++++++++

Both brothers refused to talk to each other as they walked down the lonely path back home. They even refused to look at one another, Gouki staring at the ground as he walked and Gouken up at the sky.

It was late afternoon. The clouds were a soft blue and the grass before them was speckled with brown. It was a dirt road, a 3 mile walk from the market back to their newfound home.

Gouki carried a small bag of herbs. Different extracts of plants from around the world that Goutetsu used in tea and various mixes to treat anything from a sore muscle to a migraine. The brown bag bounced lightly as Gouki walked.

Gouki was still angry. He refused to acknowledge his anger, but he couldn?t ignore it either. It festered in the back of his mind like a parasitic worm?.growing every minute. Gouken didn?t seem to notice, or maybe Gouki was good at hiding it.

They both continued to silently shun each other as they walked on?.the sun staring at them in annoyance.

?Hey kids.? The voice from behind them was confident and there was a hint of mockery in the tone.

The two brothers turned to find a sneering face staring at them. It was an adolescent boy, no younger than 14 smiling at them?his form lanky and tall. He appeared awkward, as if he didn?t know the size of his own body as he walked?a shuffle that let his arms sway from back to front.

?Who are you?? Gouki asked, wondering.

Suddenly 4 more boys approached, two on each side of Gouki and Gouken. One was short and fat, his shirt much too small?exposing his stomach and pulling at his fat. Another boy was short and muscular, sweat glistening off his shirtless chest. Another boy was skinny?.with thick glasses. And the last boy was just tall and large, at least 6 feet tall. The average age of the boys was about 16.

Gouki and Gouken quickly exchanged a glance, and instantly slid backwards slowly into fighting stances.

?Why the wittle boys all tense? We just want to play a little?? The boy in front snickered; this was followed by soft chuckles from his gang.

?What do you want.? Gouken said sternly.

?A fee?.for using our road. And we?ll take your package there too.?

?This isn?t your road?and we aren?t giving you anything.? Gouken said, his eyes locked on the slim leader.

?Oh yeah?? The gang took a few steps forward simultaneously, closing in.

?YEAH!!?

?Well then?? The leader started with a smile?.

?We have no other choice but to rough you kiddies up?.GET EM BOYS!!?

?Get ready Gouki!? Gouken screamed as he turned around, only to meet a fist flying into his face. The boys immediately pounced on their young prey as soon as their leader uttered the words.

Gouken stumbled, narrowly avoiding another punch only to meet a swift kick to the back of the head from behind. Gouken crashed to the dirt road, kicking up a cloud of dust.

As soon as he fell blows began raining down on him from above. All 5 of the boys attacked him, kicking and punching like beasts. Gouken thrashed but could not escape the waves of pain that swept over his body.

?Get away from him!!!? Gouki screamed at the top of his lungs as he ran at top speed, his fist cocked, ready to explode upon the nearest target. The short fat kid rushed forward, and Gouki lashed out with a punch that floored him to the ground. Another punk kid lunged at Gouki with a roundhouse kick. Gouki swatted it away and returned with a spinning elbow that connected with the kid?s jaw. Gouki heard a soft ?pop? as the kid toppled. His jaw might be broken, Gouki could not tell.

The gang moved away from the fallen Gouken and focused their attention to Gouki, surrounding him. The other 2 kids picked themselves off the ground and joined the circle. The scene was at a standstill as the gang encircled him, their hungry eyes focused on him. Gouki stood in stance his serious eyes darted quickly from kid to kid, his muscles tense and his guard up.

?How?how am I going to fight off all these guys?.they are so big?.so strong?I could take them one at time?but 5 at once??..? Gouki?s mind raced as he felt time was running out.

?Must remember my training?..must be calm?let the movements?flow?where would be a best place to strike??..?

Suddenly words from his master appeared in his mind:

?Your knowledge is impressive Gouki, but information can be a burden. Feel, don?t think, and knots will untie themselves.?

Suddenly the best course of action seemed clear. Gouki would react to them, instead of vice versa?..he would flow against them. He would crash around and between them. Through them. Gouki began to relax as his muscles did the same. He was ready.

?HYAAAAHHHH??? the short muscular kid charged forward with a punch that Gouki easily dodged, which was followed by a knee that connected with Gouki?s stomach. Gouki stumbled but bounced back with a jumping front kick that caught the advancing punk right in the head, making his head fly backwards…his body flopping behind smacking the hard earth.

Another one quickly took his place, and then another. Gouki mechanically deflected and countered his opponents, calling upon his training as if second nature. Gouken stood from the sidelines in amazement.

?How…does he remember it so quickly?? I guess his training pays off?.? Gouken turned as the leader?s fist came careening at him. He ducked, narrowly avoiding it…then Gouken jumped backwards.

?Hmmm?.let?s go, if you think you?re so tough.? The leader said, snickering.

Gouken said nothing. He lunged forward with a front kick that the leader swatted away. Gouken followed with an unrefined punch that was far too slow, the leader caught his fist and returned by punching Gouken twice in the face and stomach. Gouken fell to one knee, only to jump back into stance in a split second?s time.

?Hah. Now?this gets interesting.? The leader snickered as suddenly a switchblade emerged in his left hand. The blade glistened in the sun, it?s edge sharp. Gouken?s eyes widened.

?Dodge this!!? The leader rushed forward, slashing from left to right. Gouken struggled to dodge, but the last slash nicked his shirt, cutting a 5-inch wide cut on the front. Gouken countered with a roundhouse that clipped the leader?s arm, but the leader followed with a punch that crashed into Gouken?s chest from his unarmed fist. Gouken stumbled, then he felt something.

A raw ?shuck? sound as a knife blade embedded itself into Gouken?s shoulder, in the front near where his arm was connected to the rest of him. Gouken screamed in terrible pain, his wail loud and primal. He dashed backwards, clutching his shoulder?on the verge of crying. He was crouched low to the ground while the leader of the gang flicked blood off of the blade of his knife. Gouki was still busy with the other boys. The gang never interfered while the leader fought someone anyway. Unless he asked them to.

?What?s wrong? Little baby gonna cry?!? The leader laughed as Gouken?s tears turned into pure rage. His left arm was useless?but his right arm was itching to taste the leader?s blood.

?ARGGGHHHHHH??? Gouken lashed outward, ramming into the leader knocking him to the ground. Gouken punched viciously, not caring what he hit or if he hit at all. His attacks were brutal and savage, pulled from something deep within, something deep within us all human beings. He did not know how many times he struck the leader as he lay there with Gouken on top of him?tears pouring down his face. It seemed like forever, but it was only minutes. When Gouken calmed himself?the leader lay in a pool of his own blood. His face was smashed?his nose broken, teeth missing and he had a swollen left eye. He was unconscious, his eyes rolled in the back of his head. Gouken wheezed as he stared at his hands. His fists were cut and bleeding?mixing the blood of his and the leader?s. His eyes were wide as he stared in astonishment and fear. He had let himself go?..

Gouken turned to find that Gouki had disposed on his enemies also. They all lay still on the ground, broken and bloody. Gouki had minor cuts and bruises, and a black eye. Otherwise he was fine. They both smiled at each other?staring into each other?s eyes. The bond between them appeared restored.

?OH my God! Your arm!!? Gouki screamed and pointed. Gouken?s entire left arm was drenched in blood. There were several thin lines of red running down to his fingertips from the wound in his shoulder. It stained one side of his gi a deep red?.the blood running to the tips of his fingers?collecting in a dark splotch on the ground.

Gouken stared, his eyes transfixed upon his wound. The terrible pain began to flood through is body once again.

?Come on?we have to go.? Gouki said as he grabbed the package of herbs and walked over to his brother.

?But we won?.? Gouken blinked incredibly slowly and smiled.

?Here?lean on me?.we can do it.? He said softly as he helped Gouken up.

Together they walked home, making light conversation about anything other than fighting, blood and stab wounds.

++++++++++++++++++

?Hmmmmm?.? Goutetsu looked up and down the two boys. Wordlessly he walked up to Gouken. They had arrived back at the dojo a few minutes earlier. They were still a brief walk away from the actual house. The wind had picked up substantially since they left. The clouds were thin and the sky grainy.

?Does your arm hurt??

?Yes master.?

Wordlessly Goutetsu placed his hand upon the shoulder wound, inspecting it. Gouken winced in sharp pain, but almost immediately after he felt better.

?It is not that serious. The knife wasn?t in there deep enough to cause any permanent injury. However, there may be a scar.? Goutetsu said.

?That is fine?I want to have a scar. I want to remember what happened today?.? The wind blew Gouken?s hair in his face but his expression was still solemn.

?Why is that Gouken?? Goutetsu looked down at his student interested to find out his answer.

?I neglected my training master. And it was the price I paid for my foolishness. From now on?I will train hard master Goutetsu.? Gouken said, his voice flat.

?Good. But don?t just tell me?show me.?

?Yes master.?

?Now?both of you go inside?I?ll clean you up. After you will eat and bathe in the hot springs. Your training will be postponed for today?.for today you have learned a lesson few receive.?

?And what is that master?? Gouki questioned.

?You know already. Now?come.? Goutetsu turned and began walking back. The air was thick with the feeling of understanding as the master and students walked back home.


#5

Chapter V: Prelude

?Get ready to feast on gravel brother! I?m going to end this now?.it?s almost time for dinner!!?

Gouken laughed as he slapped away his brother?s front kick. They stood at the summit of a plateau a couple of miles from their house, training as usual. The sky was clear, the sound of distant trees bowing to the slight wind comforting to the ears. There were few clouds.

Gouken had a sly smile on his face as he rushed forward, cocking back his fist.

?READY!?? he screamed. Gouki just stood in stance.

Gouken lashed out with a punch which Gouki easily avoided, only to be hit by a roundhouse from the opposite side that clipped Gouki?s head. Gouki stumbled but regained himself quickly.

?What? You thought that punch was it? Come on, one should never attack head on like that. Didn?t you know it was a fake out??

?Yeah sure?just wasn?t ready.?

?Well, be ready next time. HAH!!? Gouken sprang high and fell with a drop kick that slashed through the air. Gouki narrowly avoided the attack; then avoided the roundhouse that followed as soon as Gouken?s feet touched the ground.

Gouki jabbed twice with his right fist, then followed with a cross from his left. Gouken blocked them all, and retaliated with a sweep that knocked Gouki?s legs from under him. Gouki began to fall, but caught himself?turning the fall into a back flip, landing safely 10 feet away from his sparring partner.

?If you can knock me to the ground, you win.? Gouki stated.

?And I get your dessert??

?And you get my dessert.?

?All RIGHT!! Today?s rice cakes!!? Gouken shouted as he charged forward. The two brothers had now been under Goutetsu?s instruction for 8 months. And it was clearly evident; their bodies were strong and agile. They had gotten used to their new lives, their father a close memory.

?Is that it? You?ll have to do better if you want my dessert brother.? Gouki taunted as he evaded his brother?s roundhouse, sweep, and backfist. Gouken said nothing, only continued to attack with an aggressive fury, a pyre of determination burning in his eyes.

Gouki sprang backwards avoiding a low kick?.

Only to crash into a large tree behind him.

??!? Gouki uttered a yelp of surprise as he slammed into the massive trunk and crashed to the ground with a dead thud and a sprinkle of dislodged leaves. Gouken chuckled to himself as he walked over to his fallen brother, his hands on his waist as he stood over him.

?Sometimes you can win without even touching your opponent. Your surroundings, and their weaknesses can defeat them for you. Something master taught me. Now, let?s go. I?m hungry.? Gouken said with a smile as he picked up his brother and dusted him off.

?Another defeat?why does he always beat me? I practice twice as much as he does! Why?.? Gouki pondered as they began walking back home. Gouken was a natural; a technique that would take Gouki an hour to learn took his brother about 10 minutes. Although the gap had been shortened considerably, Gouken was still faster and stronger than his brother. But that little bit of extra power and speed made the difference between victory and defeat.

Gouken and Gouki continued to walk, the sounds of nature in perfect harmony around them.

++++++++++++++++++

?Hmmmm?.you two are progressing well.? Goutetsu said, his hands clasped behind his back. The master and students stood a couple feet from the main entrance to the house, Goutetsu inspecting them.

?Master, what is the next step in our training?? Gouken asked.

?I was getting to that my student. Well, now is the time that you come to a crossroads in your path to the warrior?s spirit. Now you must test your skills against others in competition. I have entered you both in a tournament.?

?REALLY?! WOW! I finally get to compete! Thank you master!? Gouken shouted as he sprang into the air, an expression of vibrant joy on his face.

?Master?.are you sure that we?re ready? I mean?I don?t intend to second guess your judgment?but I can?t even beat Gouken?much less anyone else?.? Gouki stammered, his eyes staring at the ground.

?Gouki, your brother is?how should I put this?an extraordinary pupil. In fact I am confident that you both will do well in the competition. The two of you are stronger than anyone else in your age group I have ever seen. Be confident in your abilities my young student?I am.?

Goutetsu smiled as he patted the top of Gouki?s head.

?Now I will show you some more throws?and from now until the tournament two weeks from now you will both train alone. Without your sparring partners and without me.?

?Yes master.? Both of them quickly responded in unison.

++++++++++++++++++

It was an hour after dawn, the sun grudgingly returning to its daily grind of bringing light to the planet.

Gouki bathed in the sounds of the nature around him, his senses highly in tune with his surroundings as he sat in meditation.

The waterfall raged above him chilling his entire body to the bone. Gouki did not notice as he sat, his eyes closed as his very essence was drawn inward yet outward beyond the biting cold.

?Gouki, do not concern yourself with your brother?s progress?.jealously is a long, hard race and in the end it?s only with yourself. Connect with your energies?become one with your ki and your emotions?always be in control and many of your present worries will no longer matter.?

?How?will I become one with myself? Is it possible for me? I don?t know?.? Gouki pondered to himself as birds began to sing above him?their voices rising and falling in harmony with each other.

Gouki?s eyes slowly opened, his gaze determined and focused.

?I will do it.?

++++++++++++++++++

?HAH!!?

Gouken shouted as a sharp ?crack? sounded throughout the forest. The young student stood holding a brown staff, almost 6 feet in length?much larger than its wielder.

Gouken took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. His bo (staff) held in one hand and tucked under his armpit.

The tournament was approaching and Gouken anticipated it with his typical youthful zeal. Sweat cascaded down his frame, cooling him off?.but the inferno of his fighting spirit could never be quenched so easily.

In front of Gouken stood a naked tree trunk driven into the ground. The trunk was peppered with dents and the occasional chunk ripped from it. It was Gouken?s training dummy.

The smell of vegetation invaded Gouken?s nose as he stared out into the limitless supply of tall trees. The green canopy shielded Gouken from the majority of the brutal sun and the air was always fresh and calming to the spirit?providing a perfect calm place to train. Gouken?s mind had run though the many different techniques his master had shown him, attempting to pick out the most useful attacks to guarantee a victory at the tournament. He had devised a plan of attack to capture the top spot that he thought was full proof.

His hands slowly moved to his weapon stance. His hands a foot and a half apart from each other, his bo stretched out in from of him.

?I shall crush my opponents.?

Said Gouken, his face hard as stone.

?I WILL BE VICTORIOUS!!?

?WHAM!?

A loud crash echoed throughout the massive forest as Gouken?s bo slammed into the tree trunk forcefully, startling nearby birds into the air.

++++++++++++++++++

?So have you taught them any advanced techniques my husband?? Afaik question as she sat down to the table, Goutetsu sitting across from her.

?In time my dear.? Was Goutetsu?s solitary answer as she sipped on tea his wife prepared. The long together couple sat in the main room of the house surrounded by paintings, books and houseplants?all things Goutetsu loved.

?Well, how well do they control their energy??

?Very poorly. It?s like they don?t even have it?but I know they do. Basic moves and throws they get just fine?but manipulation of ki?.they just can?t do yet. They aren?t at peace, so unlocking more of their potential is impossible. But?what can I expect? They are only children.?

?Haven?t they already proven that they are more than just mere children? You need to give them more of a chance. Perhaps they still grieve for their father.? Afaik casually put her elbows on the table and propped her head up with one arm, the other holding the teacup.

?You make good points my wife.? Goutetsu paused as he sipped more of his tea, his facial expression calm but otherwise unreadable.

?We shall see what will become of my two talented pupils. The tournament shall most definitely be a turning point for them?although I am not sure in which direction. But I cannot predict the future?we will wait and see.?

?That I agree with. Now, help me cook?since you have nothing better to do with your time. An apron is in the drawer?unless wearing one is beneath you.? Afaik said with a sly smile. Goutetsu grunted under his breath, but agreed and reached for the drawer as his wife attempted to stifle her laughter?failing miserably.

++++++++++++++++++

?White belts?!? Gouken exclaimed as he stared down at the item in question tied around his waist.

?Yes. What did you expect Gouken?? Goutetsu said with an odd smile.

?We?ve been training all this time?for white belts??

?It is not the training that determines your rank as far as I?m concerned. It is the student applying their training and showing mental discipline in combat. That determines true skill.?

They nodded.

Goutetsu looked at his students, swelling with pride but keeping it inside. He had just given them their formal gi?s, white with the style?s insignia on the right breast and on the back.

They stood at the entrance to a large Japanese Judo ground near Kyoto, where the competition was to take place. The ornate gate was 20 feet in front of them. The narrow cobblestone path winding down from the first gate to the main arena, the main area shrouded with trees and walls.

Gouken stared at the massive area in awe. It had to be at least 5 times the size of his master?s?which a huge courtyard and an army of students. There had to be at least 400 people at the grounds.

?So many people?? Gouki muttered.

?Keep in mind that not all of them are competing. This tournament is well known?many people like to watch it. Now go register. I will be watching your matches from over there.?

?Yes master.? They said in unison.

?And remember to focus?.do not concentrate on beating your opponent. That will happen naturally once you connect with yourself.?

The students nodded and entered the main hall, bursting with excitement.

Chapter VI: The Price

The sun sat on a bench of clouds, watching the tournament with the sky crowding his personal space. The grounds where the tournament was being held carried an air of precision and excellence, the dojo grounds being impossibly neat and the students of the school were in perfect order, their uniforms crisp and without holes. Gouki and Gouken walked inside, staring at the beautiful courtyard and the mass of students with silent awe. Their faces held no expression, but their eyes darted around taking everything in greedily.

At least 100 people were far in the distance, complying with the commands of a single master. He barked out a command, and the students promptly performed the move in a spilt-second?s time. They were all in synch with each other, their movements precise and confident.

?Ah, there is where the qualifying rounds are held.? Gouken muttered as he pointed to the far left. There were 4 mats spaced about 30 feet apart from each other, and on each mat there was a fight taking place.

?They are all kids, like us.? Gouki announced, noticing the age range of everyone in uniform around him.

At each mat there was a thin crowd gathered around to watch the fights. Not everyone there was a student of the Judo, in fact most were not. Gouki noticed the emblems of many various schools on the jacket or pant leg of the tournament combatants. There was a strong Chinese presence, a group of about 30 fighters hailed from the land to the west of Japan.

?Come on?let?s go.? Gouken muttered as he approached a man. He stated both their names, and the man pointed to mat 2 and said something to Gouken that Gouki didn?t catch. Gouken thanked the man and tugged at Gouki?s sleeve.

?Alright, we?re at mat 2.?

They both approached the mat, spoke to the coordinator of the mat and he scribbled their names down on a thick notepad. Gouken and Gouki thanked him and sat down, awaiting their matches.

++++++++++++++++++

?Gouki! I?m looking for a Gouki!? A man called.

?Right here!? Was Gouki?s excited response as he sprang up from his sitting position and dashed towards the coordinator.

?Your match is up son.? The organizer looked up from his clipboard while speaking very rarely.

?Alright.? Gouki re-tied his belt and walked forward.

Gouki stepped upon the soft brown mat, his eyes closed and his face showing no strain. The mat was 17 X 17 feet, leaving just enough room to get a good fight going, but restricting too much movement. Gouki was stretching his legs when his opponent stepped in, a young pudgy boy wearing a judo style gi, with a white belt?his fat bowling over from his shirt almost smothering the belt on his waist.

?I?m going tear you up kid.? The boy says, his cheeks puffy, his lips curved into a devilish smile. His eyes sharp pinpricks.

???.? Gouki said nothing as he opened his eyes and took stance, his movements soft and quick. The audience around him was caught in a dead hush, their collective eyes bouncing from mat to mat.

Gouki?s opponent snickered and took stance, his movements awkward. He was an entire foot taller than Gouki, and twice as large. The big boy slapped his hands together as he gave a hearty laugh.

?Let?s go.?

Gouki responded by drawing in a deep breath. His mind was clear of thoughts, his body now set to operate on autopilot.

?DING!?

The bell sounded and the Judo fighter cocked his fist back for a punch. Gouki stood there motionless.

A split second before the punch could connect, it stopped dead in the air.

Gouki had caught it in his hand, his opponent?s fist trapped with Gouki?s hand curled around the knuckles.

?Wha?! Why you little?..?

Gouki face lacked expression as he easily dodged a sidekick by taking a single step backward while bending over backward slightly. Gouki?s opponent then began to throw wild punches and kicks, Gouki swatting them away at blazing speed.

?WHY CAN?T I HIT YOU!!?? His angry opponent screamed at the top of his lungs.

Gouki said nothing, standing perfectly straight and motionless, his face was blank and his eyes stared at his raging opponent.

?If this doesn?t knock you to the ground?..ARGH???

The fat boy reared back his fist, positioned above his head as he leaned forward. A powerful punch erupted aiming straight for Gouki. Gouki did not move.

Suddenly he sprang forward. He kicked the fat boy?s extended arm away, and buried his fist into the boy?s unguarded stomach. Done in a second flat.

Gouki stood, his fist still extended in front of him, his opponent?s fat drowning his limb to a little above the elbow.

His opponent was in shock, his eyes wide as dinner plates and drool hanging on for dear life in the corner of his gaping mouth. His entire body began to quiver, and he slowly began to lean backward.

The lean turned to a fall, and the fat boy crashed to the ground with a dead thud and a cloud of dust.

The crowd stood shocked, their eyes staring at Gouki in bewilderment.

Gouki closed his eyes and eased out of stance, letting out a breath slowly.

Suddenly the deafening silence turned into an uproar of applause. Gouki received a standing ovation as he bowed and walked off the mat.

++++++++++++++++++

?Good luck friend.? Gouken said to his opponent as they shook hands. Both of them stood on the mat, ready to begin.

Gouken?s opponent was a short thin boy by the name of Shu Xiang. He was dressed in a completely white Chinese uniform, his head partially bald, with the hair on the back of his head and half of the front still remaining and a single black braid cascading to his waist. Shu had a calm introverted look about himself, and Gouken felt his ki. It was slowly rising.

?DING!?

At the sound of the bell Gouken lashed out with a roundhouse that appeared to hit Shu Xiang. But, it was only an afterimage. Gouken realized he felt no weight on his leg when he kicked once he had both feet back on the ground.

?Wha?? Gouken?s head darted around to find his opponent; then he felt a sharp pain in his back. A punch. Gouken stumbled and turned around to find Shu behind him. Shu sprang forward with a quick backhand that danced across Gouken?s face; then followed up with an uppercut that knocked Gouken to the ground. Shu backed away as Gouken got back up.

?Man?he?s fast?gotta be faster??

?Alright Shu Xiang. MY TURN!? Gouken shouted as he rushed forward, rearing back his fist. Shu took stance, concentrated on his approaching opponent.

Gouken fired a punch but missed on purpose. Shu dodged to the right, only to catch Gouken?s roundhouse from that direction. Shu stumbled as Gouken ran up to him and delivered a swift front kick to the ribs, then a quick right cross that drew blood from Shu?s nose. Shu fell to one knee and stared at the ground as Gouken backed away.

For about 5 minutes the match was at a standstill…until Gouken noticed something.

?Are?you CRYING!?? Gouken shouted in surprise. Shu looked up at him, tears cascading down his face and his bottom lip quivering.

?You didn?t have to hit that hard!! I quit!! I want to go home??? Shu Xiang shouted as he ran off the mat in tears. Gouken stood in utter shock and confusion.

?Was it something I said??

++++++++++++++++++

?Hmm?.both of them are progressing nicely.? Goutetsu said to himself as he stared out into the courtyard of the large Judo palace. Afaik was by his side, nodding.

?Yes, they?ve made it to the semifinals. And look?Gouken just finished his match! He?s going to the finals now?and Gouki?s up next?let?s watch.

++++++++++++++++++

?And now?..last year?s champion?..and the year before that?.and the year before that?.our Muay Thai fighting machine! The pulverizing prince?.GO HIBIKI??? The announcer?s voice boomed as the crowd went ecstatic.

Slowly a figure in a brown and yellow robe stepped up to the main tournament grounds. The hood covered his face as he stared down, the silk robe draping his form. He took the robe off and tossed it aside, bouncing in place and punching the air.

Go Hibiki was a sight. He was at least 5 feet, 11 inches tall and he was barely 13 years old. His body was lean and gangly, but every inch of him was muscle born in the fires of intense Muay Thai training. He wore brown shorts with yellow trim??The Destroyer? written in Thai across the front in a semicircle. Go?s armbands were brown and yellow in an intertwining pattern, and they rested above his elbow, but before his shoulder blade. His ?crown? was of similar design, a yellow tuft of leather hung from the back. Go Hibki?s hair was brown and extremely short, no more than an inch off his head. His face was slender and his nose was like a crow?s beak. His eyes were arrogance personified, his lips curled back in a snicker.

?Hey kid! So you?re up against me eh? Pity?well it was a good run for you right? Too bad it ends here?hehe.?

Go laughed as he stepped closer to Gouki. Gouki studied his opponent?s face, showing a hint of anticipation.

?We shall see.? Was Gouki?s only response as he took stance. The match battleground was far larger than the mat, 70 feet in width and length and covered by thick grey stone tiles. Soft green moss was dotted in lines in between tiles near the edge of the arena. Statures of dragons and lions sat on the four corners, ever watchful. The crowd was a hushed whisper.

They both took stance, Go bouncing lightly as he fists danced and feet rocked, and Gouki standing perfectly still.

?DING!?

Go rushed forward with a jab from the right that caught Gouki by surprise. As Gouki staggered, he absorbed 4 more jabs from Go?s right hand, and 3 from the left. Gouki lashed out with a punch but Go easily dodged it, retaliating with a knee to Gouki?s ribs that floored the young student. All this happened in about 4 seconds.

Gouki quickly returned to his feet, reaching his hand under his gi to feel his ribs. Nothing was physically wrong it seems?but the pain was enormous. Gouki felt as if he had been shot.

?Come on! Bring it karate boy!? Go taunted. Gouki attacked with a front kick that Go swatted away. Gouki faked a punch with his left hand, only to deliver a palm strike with his right that connected to the side of Go?s head. Go staggered, but reacted so quickly with a high roundhouse Gouki received it dead across the face. Gouki stumbled and Go pounced on him like a wild animal. A blizzard of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows came from all sides as Gouki put his arms up and attempted to guard?.losing ground quickly.

?WHAM!? A powerful punch to Gouki?s stomach made the young boy wince, but his guard held firm. He continued to absorb the blows, but they still hurt like hell.

?There is no pain. There is no pain. There is no pain. There is no pain.? Gouki kept repeating to himself as the barrage continued. In a minute, Go had landed 40 attacks to his opponent, and he was nowhere near tired.

?Quit covering up like a baby and fight!? Go shouted as he delivered a right cross to Gouki?s face that was so hard it knocked the young fighter to the ground and drew blood. The second Gouki hit the ground he was back up again, focused as ever.

?There is no pain. There is no pain.? Gouki chanted mentally as he wiped the bit of blood from the corner of his mouth.

?HAH!? Gouki sprang into the air with a flying kick that connected perfectly, slicing through Go Hibiki. Go crashed to the ground and Gouki landed on his feet, a pleasant smile on his face.

?TRY AGAIN!!? Go shouted as he viciously kicked Gouki in the stomach from the floor, got up and kneed him in the face, finally punching him in the chest. Go was known for his ability to recover quickly, and Gouki was learning that lesson in the worst way.

?Damn his speed, damn his reflexes…? Gouki thought as he smacked the hard ground. He quickly sprang back up again and took stance, the grey tiles felt like they were swaying in Gouki?s diziness.

?There is no pain. There is no pain.? Gouki chanted over and over as blood from a cut on his forehead oozed down his face.

?He?s murdering him! Master, this is slaughter.? Gouken cried to Goutetsu from the sidelines. Both were watching the fight, their fears growing.

?Gouki still has a chance.? Goutetsu said flatly, never taking his eyes off the fight.

Gouki sprang forward, attempting a chop. Go sidestepped the attack and elbowed Gouki in the back of the head as the young fighter passed him. Gouki stumbled and Go lazily tripped him, making Gouki smack the ground face-first kicking up a cloud of dust.

?Had enough?? Go taunted. Gouki did not answer.

?I can?t hear you! Answer me!? Go shouted as he kicked Gouki in the ribs as Gouki tried to get up. Gouki attempted to pick himself off the ground again, only to meet the same fate.

Go finally let Gouki get up, backing away while chuckling to himself. Gouki took stance, blood seeping through his grit teeth. Dirt, blood and sweat caked on his face.

?There is no pain. There is no pain. There is no pain.? Gouki?s fists were clenched as he rushed in, only to meet a swift roundhouse that clipped the side of his head. Gouki fell to the ground once again, but quickly got back up. Only to topple back down as if he were calling on strength that was not there.

Gouki?s entire body was shaking, and blood was all over him. It stained his gi, the blood like polka dots peppering his once pure white uniform. Gouki picked himself off the ground, slower this time.

?There is no pain. There is no pain.?

Gouken watched from the sidelines, biting his lower lips so hard blood oozed from it. His clenched fists were shakingat his sides. He could barely contain himself.

There was one emotion filling Gouken at the particular time, and the emotion was hitting a critical mass.

Rage.


#6

Chapter VII: Beyond The Edge

Gouki winced as he took stance, suddenly feeling a sharp pain in his side. But then again, his whole body was enveloped in agony, smothered in torment.

?Hehehe?still standing eh? That?ll change in mere moments.? Go Hibiki said as he chuckled. Gouki said nothing as he focused in on his opponent, his eyes fierce and determined.

?HAH??? Go rushed forward, running a top speed then rocketing forward with his knee in front of him. Gouki absorbed the blow to the stomach but while that happened he attacked with a right cross that connected perfectly to Go?s head, knocking him out of the air and to the ground. Gouki limped away as Go began to stand back up.

A cut was above Go?s right eye, the blood flowing in tiny rivers down his face.

?You drew blood from me?you?re gonna pay?.? Go said through grit teeth.

?ENOUGH!? Gouki shouted as he charged forward, narrowly missing a roundhouse from Go, and swatting away a punch. Gouki sprang 5 feet into the air and performed a spinning roundhouse, hitting Go so hard it knocked him off his feet and spun him twice before he smacked the ground.

Gouki landed on his feet, breathing hard. He didn?t know how many more attacks would work like that. He didn?t know how long he could last against the endurance of Go Hibiki.

Suddenly an uppercut drove itself deep into Gouki?s stomach. Go had recovered. Gouki clutched his stomach and vomited a cup of blood that crashed to the grey tiles in a red blot. He returned to his feet, only to meet an elbow smashing into his face. Gouki stumbled, and Go grabbed him by his hair and drove Gouki?s head into his knee. Gouki fell, but refused to give Go the satisfaction of a cry of pain.

?Hehehe?.? Go snickered as he opened his closed hand, and a few strands of Gouki?s hair wafted to the ground. Gouki watched the hair fall from the ground, his eyes wide as he tried to block out the immense pain.

?Argh?stay down brother?.stay down??? Gouken muttered from the sidelines, sweat beading on his brow.

Gouki began to slowly get up, struggling.

?WHAM!?

An elbow smashed into the side of Gouki?s head, it knocked him off his feet and sent him skidding across the tournament grounds. Gouki refused to say anything as he slowly got back up. Go Hibiki strode toward him confident in victory.

?Why aren?t you screaming or something? HOLLER!? Go shouted as he viciously kicked Gouki across the head, spiking him back to the ground. Gouki still did not utter a word.

?SCREAM!? A knee drove itself into Gouki?s chest, and Gouki toppled to the ground once again his mouth wide open, but making no sound.

?What?re gonna do?? Go taunted, standing over the fallen Gouki.

Gouki suddenly leapt up and cocked his fist back, finally a punch exploded like a cannon…aiming straight for Go.

A hollow sound resulted, like a fly ball being caught in old catcher?s mitt. Go Hibiki?s wrapped hand stood enclosed around Gouki?s fist, a snicker forever painted on the Thai fighter?s face.

?Was that it??

?That was?everything I had left?.? Gouki thought, and Go could see it in his eyes.

?PATHETIC!? Go shouted as he drove his fist into Gouki?s stomach, an uppercut that pushed upward yet forward. Gouki heard a muffled crack as suddenly a wave of pain swept over him. A broken rib. Gouki?s eyes were wide and his mouth gaping as he stared at Go, his eyes laughing at him, his teeth pulled back in a snarl.

?ARGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH???

Gouki screamed at the top of his lungs, clutching his chest. A primitive howl of indescribable pain, and Gouken could do nothing.

?No?..no?..Go Hibiki?..I?m gonna?.? Gouken said to himself, his fists getting tighter, and his entire body tense. Goutetsu said nothing. Afaik put a hand on Gouken?s shoulder but it was ignored.

Gouki fell to one knee, utterly exhausted. There was nothing more he could do?.Go was too much for him.

?Give up?? Go Hibiki asked.

Gouki nodded solemnly, staring at the ground.

?YOU LOSE!!? With that, Go kicked Gouki so hard the poor young fighter was knocked 5 feet into the air and 10 feet away, finally landing?..

Outside the ring.

?RING OUT! The winner is?.GO HIBKI???

Gouki gasped for breath as he began to choke on his own blood. He laid on the grass, staining the green around him a deep magenta. The sunlight poured into his eyes, and he could not even move.

?Gouki!?

A small distant voice called to him.

?Gouki!!!?

Suddenly several figures were upon him, they were blurs that blocked the sunlight. Gouki felt his body lift into the air as they picked him up and carried him off. Minutes later he realized that it was Afaik and Goutetsu, with Gouken right beside them.

?You?re going to be ok brother…you?ll be fine.? Gouken said slowly. Gouki struggled to speak, but only choked on more bodily fluids.

?Gouken, you have your match next?go.?

?But master-?

?Go. Your brother will be alright, we shall see to that.?

Gouken reluctantly turned around, to find Go Hibiki staring at him from several feet away.

?Are you ready to join your brother in a hospital bed??

???..? Gouken?s rage began to boil as he stared at the ground, fists clenched so tightly they were bleeding.

?Silence?just like him. Well, I?ll see you the ring. Unless you chicken out, which I would advise.?

++++++++++++++++++

?ALLLLLRIGHT! The finals for the junior division are about to take place!! First, let?s introduce our finalists! ?

The announcer?s voice boomed as the crowd clapped. It had to be double the audience of the earlier matches; everyone was anticipating the finals match.

?In our first corner?..the returning champion?..GO HIBIKI???

The crowd went berserk as Go set foot on the fighting grounds, acknowledging the crowd by punching and kicking the air as flashbulbs blinked to life around him.

?And in the next corner?a newcomer to the tournament?Gouken!? The crowd lazily clapped as Gouken stepped up. A hard look was chiseled into his features and eyes. His brow caged his fierce pupils as he stared at Go Hibiki saying nothing.

They met in the middle of the stone floor, the thick gray tiles like an ocean surrounding them?.keeping them away from the outside world.

?Why the hard look?..Gouken is it? Are you mad because your brother got beaten? Hehe?he never stood a chance anyways. And you?re next.?

?DING!?

The bell quickly sounded and Go went right to work, rushing in with a spinning elbow. The attack exploded into Gouken?s chest, but Gouken quickly reacted with a right hook that made Go Hibiki stagger backwards.

?Ow?.? Go said a couple feet away from Gouken as he felt his cheek. Gouken ignored him and rushed in with a quick hop and a downward punch. Go swatted the attack away, but it was just a diversion. He never noticed the leg tucked back that suddenly fired a front kick, connecting perfectly with Go?s chin, knocking his head back and his body following until the Thai fighter smacked the ground.

Go quickly bounced back up and pounced upon Gouken, a wild barrage of punches, elbows and knees came out of nowhere and so fast the attacks were blurs. Gouken deflected them all, a stoic expression glued to his face.

Suddenly he caught an elbow to the throat; then in the moment of a broken guard the tide of the match changed. Go attacked faster, the attacks connecting now. Gouken was slammed with 20 punches in 10 seconds. Go finished off with a roundhouse that would have snapped the neck of a body less durable than Gouken?s, making the boy?s form spin a full 2 times before he crashed to the ground face first.

?HAH!? Go shouted as he slowly put his foot back into stance. A proud grin was plastered on his face as Gouken slowly got up.

Go rushed forward, attempting to kick Gouken while he was down but Gouken caught wind of his intentions and sprang backwards narrowly missing the kick. Gouken reared his fist back, caught himself and then plunged forward punching Go twice in the face, 3 times in the chest, and finishing with a axe kick that sounded like a thunderclap when it connected. In a blink of an eye Go was down again, drops of his blood making a trail on the tile from his face.

?ARGH!? Go shouted as he sprang back up with an uppercut that plunged deep into Gouken?s stomach, making the boy?s eyes widen with pain. Gouken kicked Go?s fist away and sprang backwards, his breathing heavy.

?I must win??.. ?Gouken thought to himself.

Both young fighters stood 10 feet away from each other, bloody and giving as good as they got.

++++++++++++++++++

Gouki?s vision began to fail him; he was staring to black out. The world slowly became more distant and detached as the seconds passed. Afaik held the boy in her arms as she and Goutetsu ran deeper into the forest, the sunlight pouring through the trees a hazy flicker.

?Here is a good spot.? Goutetsu?s voice sounded like it was enclosed in feet of cotton to Gouki as he felt himself being laid on the grass.

?You?ll be okay Gouki?just relax.? Afaik knelt above him, positioning her hands just inches above Gouki?s body.

Suddenly, Gouki began to feel very warm?a warmth that was quite foreign but non-threatening. It began to sweep over his entire body, and Gouki felt very peaceful enveloped deep inside of it. It reminded him of his mother, a mother he had never met.

And suddenly, it was over just seconds after it began.

?Rise my boy, you are rejuvenated.? Goutetsu pronounced as Gouki sat up.

?Wha??? Gouki starred down at himself in utter confusion. His uniform was still in tatters, but his form was completely healed, there was not even a trace of cuts or bruises. Dirt and dried blood still clung to him, but otherwise it was like he had never even fought Go Hibiki.

?But how?..?? Gouki mumbled in amazement.

?Well young Gouki?not all uses for ki are strictly attacks used in battle. One can make ki almost whatever they want it to, with enough practice.? Afaik said with a bright smile as she stared down at Gouki.

?You?healed me??

?Why yes?! What, you thought Goutetsu did it? Bah, he doesn?t have a bit of talent for healing!? Afaik said, finishing with a hearty laugh.

?Afaik please?.not in front of my students?..? Goutetsu mumbled to his wife under his breath as she laughed even harder. Gouki looked out at the trees. The beams of light between treetrunks looked clear and real.

++++++++++++++++++

10 minutes had passed since the beginning of the match, and the fight was trapped in a deadlock. Neither side had gained an advantage, the momentum of the battle bounced back and forth at every exchange of blows. The crowd watched, fixed on the two fighters as they sprang backwards from each other after another furious meeting.

Go and Gouken?s heavy breathing were in tempo with each other, a rhythm of quick gasps and exhalations.

?It seems that we are evenly matched, Gouken.? Go Hibiki said, mischievously staring at Gouken.

Gouken nodded while swallowing.

?But that will change soon.?

?Will it? I cannot defeat you, and you cannot defeat me. We are of equal strength levels Gouken. Face it.?

Go?s voice carried a hint of ulterior motive as he tried to sound pleasant and re-assuring.

?Might as well give it up right??

?No. I will beat you.?

Go frowned at Gouken?s response and then rushed forward with his fist extended in front of him. Gouken ducked low to avoid Go?s punch, and Go leaned forward further?overextending himself.

Gouken quickly grabbed his opponent and tossed him into the air, a perfectly timed ?over the shoulder? throw. Go was tossed 10 feet away, however he pivoted on the ball of his left foot and shot forward, catching Gouken in the chin with a elbow?knocking him into the air as Gouken had just done earlier to Go.

Gouken did a quick back flip in mid air and landed on his feet, wiping away a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth.

?Gouken?I may not be able to overpower you?but I can certainly outlast you.? Go hissed, in between gulping down precious oxygen.

?I?m going to win Gouken?you can?t keep up with me forever.?

?I will try.? Gouken retorted.

?You will try huh? Like how your brother tried?! HAHA! Look at him, I bet he?s in a coma as we speak.?

Gouken?s eyes widened as the anger he thought he had locked away suddenly stepped forth.

?And that will happen to you soon enough. Or you could end this now, just give up and I win the championship once again?and you go back to your backwoods home with your parents the same way you came?.as nothing. Oh wait I forgot?both of your parents are dead. I like to know a little background about who I beat up.? Go said the last line flatly, ending with an evil grin that made Gouken boil with rage.

?Oh…did I hit a soft spot?! Hehehe?.? Go taunted.

?I might have, but I know you?re going to do nothing about it.?

Gouken began to grit his teeth as he balled his hands once again into tight fists.

?Come on, let?s finish this.? Go stated flatly as he began to slowly step forward, his stride calm and in-control. As Go inched closer and closing to Gouken, things began to change.

Suddenly, in front of Gouken?s eyes Go Hibiki transformed into General Fujima, the man that killed Gouken?s father and shattered he and his brother?s lives. The area around him faded into the backyard of his house, where he once lived. Gouken?s house of childhood was just a quick dash away, with the window facing him shattered. The sky was black, an eerie black?too black to be natural night, the darkness swallowing up everything in the background.

?Hehehe?.? The voice was Fujima?s as the uniformed figure inched closer. Gouken felt the grass of his home beneath his feet and he looked down. He looked down to stare at the bodies of his father and brother.

They lay a couple feet in front of him, on the ground in unnatural positions. They were covered in dried blood and partly decayed. Their bodies so thin the bones were clearly outlined and their skin withered and yellow. Their forms looked as if they had been sitting out for at least a week, their eyes still wide open.

?Gouken??? Fujima?s voice whispered, but it sounded like it was from far away yet right at Gouken?s ear?certainly detached from the body. Gouken stared at the world around him in horror and shock. Inside his head he screamed the vision could not be real. The thought drowned in a swell of emotion.

?You?re next Gouken?..? The voice whispered.

?NO!? Gouken screamed, as he began to back away.

?Gouken?..?

A weak, familiar voice from below beckoned to him. Gouken looked down, to find his brother and father slowly rising. Their movements were rigid and awkward, as if controlled by invisible puppet strings. Their decayed faces did not move, but the voice rose from inside the bodies.

?Why couldn?t you save me Gouken?.why couldn?t you stop Fujima Gouken?.?

Gouken?s father whispered, his voice dry, hoarse and flat.

?I tried?I tried so hard Dad?but I couldn?t?I just??

?Why couldn?t you keep me alive Gouken?.all your fault?all your fault?? Gouken began to feel dizzy as he shut his eyes tight.

?No??? Gouken?s voice withered and Gouki began to speak.

?You were supposed to protect me Gouken?.I?m your little brother?.you were supposed to protect me?..?

?Gouki?.I?m sorry?I couldn?t do anything. I?m so sorry?..? Tears began to well in Gouken?s eyes as he trailed off. The bodies of his father and brother slowly dragged their decaying legs towards him, their yellow eyes fixed upon Gouken.

?Sorry won?t help us now?sorry won?t bring us back?? The voices said in unison.

?There?s nothing more I can do?..?

?Except DIE!? Gouken looked up to find Fujima itching closer, his eyes locked on Gouken as he lips were pulled back in a vicious snarl. He walked closer, as Gouken?s rage began to show itself.

?My brother?my father?..no?.No?..NO?..NO!?

Gouken screamed at the top of his lungs as he rushed forward, the world around him shattering and falling away like a window after being smashed by a stray baseball.

Gouken ran forward at top speed and buried his fist into his opponent?s stomach. Go Hibiki?s eyes widened as his upper torso lurched forward. Go felt something well up in his throat, so he coughed. The cough quickly turned to a sick vomit as a cup of blood shot from his open mouth, spilling over Gouken?s back. Gouken did not react, only roundhouse kicked Go hard enough to make the Thai fighter spin a full 4 times before he smacked the ground, knocking out a couple teeth.

??..wheeze???.?

Gouken stood hunched over, his eyes sunken and distant and his lips pulled back, exposing his teeth. Blood red steam licked off of his body and those that could feel another person?s spirit could feel Gouken?s swell with energy. Go Hibiki stared at his opponent in horror.

?What?.are you?!?

?YAHHHHHHHHHH??? Gouken shot forward again, this time Go attempted a quick punch.

Gouken easily caught the fighter?s arm, and without a second?s pause Gouken twisted violently, dislocating Go Hibiki?s shoulder.

Go howled in pain as he tried to make distance between him and the enraged Gouken, but Gouken was much too fast. A trail of red vapor trailed Gouken?s form as Gouken chased. Everytime Go sprang away, Gouken shot forward landing at least 10 blows before Go attempted to scramble away again.

?HAH!? Go erupted with a fierce knee aimed to Gouken?s chest, but Gouken punched downward, shattering Go?s left kneecap.

The scream that followed made nearby street dogs howl, so loud the crowd covered their eyes to avoid the sound.

Go toppled to the ground, holding his leg in both arms, crying.

?Please?stop?.please?? Go pleaded, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

Gouken picked Go up with both hands by his neck, and kneed him so hard two ribs in the Thai fighter?s chest snapped like twigs. The sound that came from this made weak-stomached spectators suddenly vomit.

Gouken silently stepped back a couple feet as Go attempted to get up, failing miserably. Gouken?s breathing was deep, long and smoldering.

The crowd watched as the match was at a standstill, neither fighter moving. Gouken stood upright, red steam rushing around him as he cupped his hands behind him.

?DIE???

Suddenly, a ki blast twice the size of the user shot from Gouken?s hands, a pulsing ball of red destructive energy. It slowly shot towards a defenseless Go, who could only stare in horror.

A bright red flash lit up the arena and the surrounding area, so bright the crowd had to shield their eyes. A loud crash soon followed, and when the smoke cleared:

Go Hibiki was 50 feet away, his body plowed through the stone walls of the battleground, dust and stone hovered in the air around his crumpled form. He was covered in blood, and lay on the ground in a very unnatural position. He looked as if he had been dragged to the spot where he rested and he did not move.

The crowd gasped in horror as Gouken stood there, seemingly not paying attention. Gradually the red steam vanished, and Gouken fell to one knee exhausted.

?What happened?? Gouken muttered as he looked around. Then he saw.

?Oh no??my god???

Goutetsu suddenly shoved through the crowd and stared at the scene in astonishment.

?Satsui No Hado?..? His voice trailed off as he stared at the broken body of Go Hibiki, who would be in a hospital bed for the next 3 months, and would not fight again for years.


#7

Chapter VIII: The Past

"MasterI dont knowwhat came over me.

Was all Gouken could utter as the group returned home. The sun was minutes from fully disappearing from the sky, the rogue stars on the fringes of the suns kingdom already beginning to show themselves. The moon was still draped in silvery clouds, bashful like a little child. Gouken and Gouki walked behind their master as Goutetsu walked forward, away from home and towards the woods.

Gouken, what you underwent is simpleyet very complex. It is something embedded within living creaturesan advanced sort of survival instinct. However, among people in connection with their kisthis instinct manifests itself quite differently from the average person. The elders of this art long ago gave it the title Satsui No Hado. The killing intent.

Gouken nodded, motioning for more as they slowly trekked through the tangle of dense trees, the moon slowly emerging into view.

Satsui No Hado.is not a power-upgrade or anything like that, do not treat it as such. It is a mode of thinking, a perspective in which the person under the influence of it does anything but think clearly. Think of it like thishave you ever seen a cornered wild animal? Like a tiger surrounded by hunters. The tiger eventually if provoked enough…will lash out at anything and everything in its path…until it thinks that it is safe. The tiger will cease to calculate, only attack. It only has one method and mode.to destroy. The tiger is able to do things it never could before, because it subconcisouly shatters through any and all inhibitions. It loses the ability to care about anything else but what it is currently focused on. With the human, it is a similar situation but a more pronounced difference. A man has more inhibitors. A human in this mode loses the ability to care for or understand others, only himself. A human in this mode will lose any sensation but anger and hatredand bloodlust. Empathy for their opponent drowns in a sea of killing intent.

Goutetsu cleared his throat as the wind played with his beard, and continued.

Satsui No Hado does not make one stronger, it only brings forward the madness inside of one. This madness causes the person under the influence to lose any notion of apathy. They dont feel pain, they dont see the pain they are causing. They are beyond a point of caring for anything elsebut destroying an obstacle in front of them. Satsui No Hado is a mode of thinking and fighting that is truly formidible. It corrupts the weak spirit, and if it has its grip on you long enough.you are no longer a human being. You are a demon that seeks out things to destroy. You are not in touch with human emotions such as love or happinessall you know is anger. Satsui No Hado as a philosophy of fighting and living is a condition that is frowned upon by our art, because it is the direct opposite of everything the art promotessuch as a clear mind and a connection with ones spirit.

Gouken and Gouki nodded.

HOWEVER, if one has the ability to master oneself to such a degreethat they can call upon this mode as a techiniqueto push themselves to places they are unable to goit is encouraged. Granted they have mastery over themselves, and can rein in their destructive urges when need be. Gouken shot his head up to face Goutetsu with a confused look.

Masterare you serious? They allow that?!

Yes Gouken, because when mastered, it is nothing but a technique. To one that has truly mastered themselves and their art things like rage and sorrow are nothing more than tools to use. They are nothing more than weapons to wield and call upon against the opposition.

No.I felt what I had becomewhen I got so mad.that isnt rightthat is not something someone should use against anyone! Gouken shouted, piercing through the serene silence of the sleeping forest.

I wanted.to kill him. His voice suddenly dropped to a whisper as he stared at the ground. Gouki looked at his brother, his face carrying a hint of intrique.

Gouken, what you felt was raw, untrained Satsui No Hado. If your talent is merely focused and refined-

Talent? TALENT?! What I didwas not talentit wasnt.it was savagery…nothat cant be the way

Gouken.if you can find another way for yourself. You are perfectly welcome to. Goutetsu said with a slight smile. Gouken could only think of the bloodied face of Go Hibiki as he stared at the ground.

I will. Satsui No Hado is nothing but pure madness; there is a way around and through it. How can someone call themselves a true martial artistif they willingly submit themselves to madness?! I thought the true martial artist was clear-headed and focused at all times…

Hmmm.Gouken. You are already challenging ancient philosophies. I see a great potential in you.

What about me master?! A voice cut the conversation, it was Goukis, and he sounded desperate and indignant.

Gouki had been listening the whole time, and the whole time he could only think about his crushing defeat at the hands of Go Hibiki, and how is brother easily defeated the same person that Gouki labeled as unbeatable.

Goukiyou are fine. You are progressing nicelyexceptionally well considering your age.

ButIm not as strong as Gouken. You dont have to say it. Gouki spat the words out; they left a bitter taste in his mouth. Gouki stared into the far trees as the wind moved his ponytail like the flag on a sailing ship.

Gouki! Goutetsu voice suddenly became stern and sharp.

What did I tell you about continuously comparing yourself to Gouken? You two are different people, and you progress in different ways. Constant trying to beat out your brother will get you nowhere. How many times do I have to tell you that?

I am sorry masterbut I cannot help it. With Go HibikiI could barely stay alive against him, but Gouken handled him with ease…

Ease?! I handled him with ease!? Listen you- Gouken had his finger pointed and was ready to argue when Goutetsu interrupted them both.

That doesnt matter. One thing I noticed about your fight Gouki, you never showed the slightest sign of wanting to quit. Your drive was strong. You continued when so many would have given up. That will take you farther than you can imagine.

WHEN?!

Have patience. Goutetsu calmly said, his voice softly thundered throughout the forest. Gouki grunted to himself as he lightly punched a nearby tree in frustration, and he fell silent in the darkness.

Master, brother. Im going back home, I need some rest. Gouki muttered as he turned around and trotted back to the light in a distant window.

Fine by me Gouki. Goutetsu muttered.

Come, Gouken.walk with me. Goutetsu said with a smile, surprising the young student. The two strayed from the beaten path into the dense forest.

Ask me any question you wantbut you can only have one to ask this time. You must choose wisely. Goutetsu instructed as they walked through the forest, the twigs crunching underneath them and an owl hooting softly above them.

Your master.what was he like? How did he die? How did he live?

My master.my master was a great man. He hailed from Chinaand his masters master created the core structure of our present art, Ansatsu-kenonly then it was called something different. Anyways, my master was an exiled Shaolin monkwho left the temple to travel the world. This is where he got the ideal of the evolving style of Ansatsu-ken, because of his constant traveling. He realized that no art could truly be perfect unless it evolved over the generations of masters and students, with parts added and unnecessary parts subtracted from it. His travels, and what he learned from them revolutionized the style, and brought him many enemies.his enemies were mostly elders who opposed such drastic changes.

Reallyso what happened to him? Was he killed by these elders?

HAHA! Heavens no! He died of Tuberculosis as an old man that lived a full life. Not to say he didnt have his share of fights. Goutetsu chuckled as he reminisced.

Can I have one more question? Gouken meekly asked.

Bahsure.

How come you dont take more students? I meanwouldnt you want the art to reach as many people as possible?

Well, the rule of two is an ancient law, recognized since the creation of the style. The reason why it is only two is, because the elders knew that two students could learn from each other and grow together. Any more would congest, and therefore thin out the total strength of the style itself, and any less would do the same, for the student would not have enough experience actually fighting. Anyone can sit and practice movements all dayactually engaging in combat is something different. Am I boring you Gouken? I see that I am not.

Gouken was soaked with the words from his teacher, absorbing it like a sponge.

Now, go to bed. Its late.

But you dont even have a watch on-

Who needs a watch? Look at how high the moon hangs in the sky.

And with that, Gouken trotted off to bed as Goutetsu stayed, looking up at the night, an endless black silk robe dotted with sparkling jewels.

++++++++++++++++++

The rain kept on coming, it hadnt relented the entire daythe sky a pale sick gray and the sun bedridden in the heavens.

There was no wind, the rain fell from the sky as clear bullets, hitting the Earth and immediately bursting into fragments. After the morning the Earth began to choke on the waterspitting it back but only receiving more.

It had been 2 days after the tournament, and after one day of rest Gouki was back to the routine. He sat cross-legged at the summit of a plateau, deep in meditation.

The rain poured down, so Gouki had left his usual meditation spot under the waterfall, because there was water everywhere. Now, he sat at the top overlooking the luscious forest that glistened with rainwater on the treetops.

A distant song of a bird played with his eardrums as Gouki sat, the rainwater slicking off him. The ground was cold, but Gouki was far away from the physical world.

Hey, mind if I join you?

Suddenly a voice echoed in Goukis mind, and Gouki opened his eyes to find his brother staring him in the face, an eager smile on Goukens visage, his eyes bright and cheerful.

.you never meditate. Was Goukis response, his voice emotionless and almost annoyed.

Yeah, but nows as good a time as any to start! Gouken said, once again smiling. Gouki looked at him, one eyebrow raised and the other lowered. Then after a few seconds he nodded, and Gouken sat next to him.

The rain continued as the two brothers meditated, the minutes drifting into hours.


#8

Chapter IX: The Assassin

The days ran at top speed until they found themselves weeks. The weeks continued running, looking down to find that they had become months. Finally the months jogged along, not noticing as they slowly turned to years. It is now a full 4 years after the brothers Gouken and Gouki began to train under Master Goutetsu as a moment in time candidly reveals itself to us?..

The forest echoed with the sweet discourse of nature, the sunlight being squeezed in between the treetops, attempting to do his job in spite of the jealous canopy.

Two lone figures stood on a thick and large log placed horizontally over a rushing stream. One was Gouken, now 15 years old?his body much taller, almost 5 feet and 10 inches?his muscles in proportion to his 165-pound physique. His hair was still a black pile of untamed jungle, only shortened to about 2 inches off his head. His face was fuller now; he carried a strong square jaw with beginnings of facial hair, inviting eyes and a warm smile that always held hidden intentions. He wore a tan gi with the sleeves ripped off?the tan shoulders of the uniform jagged and loose, his worn and tattered black belt hanging from his waist like a beggar?s badge of honor.

Gouki stood 10 feet opposite to him. Gouki had developed also, his form lean and almost gangly?but the body tempered in the flames of training steered it from being so. He was 5 feet and 5 inches tall, his black gi coiled around him, surprisingly clean. His brown belt was tightly tied to his waist, the ends lined up even with each other as they hung in front of him and the knot perfect. Gouki?s straight black hair was down to his armpits and tied behind him with a thin strand of black string. Gouki?s uniform was neat, the sleeves carefully rolled a couple inches above the elbow to free his arms, and a white undershirt drenched with sweat covered his otherwise bare chest.

Both brothers were focused on each other as they stood in stance, neither moving at all as a bird danced in the sky above them, trying to say hello to the sun.

Suddenly Gouken widened his eyes a tiny bit, and Gouki knew what was coming. Gouken rocketed forward, then sprung into the air with a flying kick. Gouki dodged the attack and Gouken blew past him. Gouken quickly turned and pivoted on the ball of his foot, shooting back in the direction he came without a moment?s hesitation. Gouken?s fist fired a quick jab, Gouki leaning his upper body slightly backward to avoid it and retaliating with a left hook which Gouken swatted away. Gouki tried a high front kick; Gouken blocked the attack and tried a side kick himself, which Gouki easily deflected.

Gouki cocked his right arm back, only to launch a left hook into Gouken?s jaw. Gouken laughed as he punched Gouki in the stomach then hit him with a rising elbow to the chin that knocked Gouki?s head back. Gouki stumbled and Gouken pounced upon him. Gouken jumped and attempted a downward punch but Gouki caught his fist and kicked him away with a clean roundhouse. They sprang away from each other. Breathing heavily?.the log beneath them holding firm.

A smile appeared on Gouken?s face as a drop of sweat tumbled down the bridge of his nose.

?Let?s stop playing around.?

Gouki nodded.

?YAAAAAAAH!? Gouki hollered as he ran forward at top speed, his eyes set on his brother. Gouken stood, ready.

A hammer fist crashed into the top of Gouken?s head, followed by a elbow to the chest, and finishing with a right cross that when connecting with Gouken?s cheek made a dull crack. Gouken quickly shook his head and blinked, then back-fisted Gouki across the face, running up to his brother as he staggered and delivering a knee to Gouki?s unguarded head. Only Gouki recovered fast enough to counter with a knee of his own at the exact moment before impact, their two knees colliding with each other, eager smiles plastered on both their faces. Their fists crashed into each other?s?their knuckles fitting into the valleys of their brother?s fists.

The forest watched as the two brothers strained, locked in the same position trying to force the other down but neither willing to relent. They were both drenched in sweat as the seconds turned to minutes.

?Give up?..? Gouken whispered.

?You first.? Gouki replied.

Veins began to show themselves in Gouken and Gouki?s outstretched arms, as their sweat formed a tiny lake on a dented part of the log.

Suddenly, Gouki swept his leg under Gouken?s and sharply retreated it, tripping his brother. As Gouken lost balance Gouki grabbed him by his arm and tossed in into the air in a classic over-the-shoulder Judo style throw. Gouken sailed into the air away from the log; the only thing awaiting him was the clear water of defeat. Gouken quickly did a back flip.

?HAH!? Gouken shouted as he shot his cupped hands forward, a burst of white ki blasting from seemingly out of nowhere, rocketing toward Gouki at lightning speed. Gouki positioned his arms in front of him, ready to guard against the ki wave.

Only it stopped short, dissipating into oblivion just inches before touching Gouki. Gouki starred in confusion.

?Aw damnitt! Not again-? Where Gouken?s last words before he crashed into the water, and was carried a little downstream.

?I see you have yet to fully master the gou-hadoken?brother.? Gouki muttered as he smiled to himself, standing alone on the log claiming victory.

++++++++++++++++++

?Ossssssssssuuuuuuuuu??.?

A slow and steady rhythm pulsed through Gouki?s veins as he slowly released a breath of long drawn in air. His hands were outstretched in front of him open-palm, his feet facing inward staring at each other from a foot and a half distance. His back was straight, his knees slightly bent. A stance for channeling ki. Gouki?s eyes were closed, as he looked inward.

The indoor dojo was made of old wood, with a graveyard of old candles burning brightly?.giving the room an eerie dim glow. In front of Gouki resting on stacks of books was an open scroll. The paper was an old yellow color, the letters on the paper ancient and meticulously written to be preserved long after the author had left the mortal world.

Suddenly Gouki stirred, his legs spread apart and his knees bent further. One fist was tucked at his waist, the other an open palm facing forward. Then the palm strike swiftly glided into a forward elbow as the back foot moved in front. Then the forward elbow retracted to stance as Gouki hoped in the air with a jumping front kick, the moment he touched the ground he performed a straight punch, his toes facing forward, one foot a couple inches in front of the other and a foot in length between.

Gouki then broke from his stance to lean over and study more of the ancient scroll. He then nodded and continued his kata, a series of preset movements for a particular situation of engaging an enemy. The movements flowed into each other, but were sharp and precise in between attacks as Gouki continued, his face stern.

After pleading with Goutetsu, Gouki was finally given permission to venture into his master?s library of ancient teachings. The room Gouki was currently in was cluttered with piles of books, scrolls, and various odds and ends from previous practitioners of the style?such as portraits, pieces of uniforms and weapons. Gouki organized all this and kept the room as his private chamber of study. Even though Gouki had spent a lot of his time in the dark room?.a thick layer of dust covered most of the wooden sanctuary.

?Ossssssuuuuuuuuu??? Gouki breathed out as he continued his kata in silence.

++++++++++++++++++

?Focus Gouken.? Stated Goutetsu sharply as he stared into his student?s eyes, his cold piecing gaze returning.

?I?ll try?.?

?Don?t try. Do it. Your gou-hadoken does not extend as far as you want it to because you don?t push it as far as it needs to go. Once you project ki from your body?the attack is not completed when the energy leaves your hands. You must direct it; control it as it moves through the air. Because the hadou is still a part of you, and if you do not treat it as such it will dissolve into the air like vapor.? Goutetsu spoke, as the master and students stood at the edge of a cliff face, the birds flying in the sky above them.

?Now?try again.? He said softly and slowly, his hands folded behind him as he watched his student close his eyes. Goutetsu stood in a brown Chinese uniform?an old one that fit his body like an old discarded skin. The brown had faded to an almost deep green, and the white cuffs dyed to an off-white color. His long straight hair that reached far beyond his shoulder blades had now been transformed into a solitary long thick braid?.strands of gray criss-crossing the pattern.

Gouken nodded and returned to stance. One foot behind him, the leg straight and at an angle. The other leg bent and facing forward?the feet a couple feet from each other. His hands cupped at his sides?his gaze focused forward.

?Now?.build you ki?.Don?t rush it. Let?s use a different term. Instead of thinking of it as building you ki?.let the ki already inside of you flow into your hands?and then out into your palm. Focus your energies on one spot, the space in between your cupped hands. Let it flow inside of your body?only direct it.? Goutetsu said as the words slowly pouring out of his mouth, from a deep pool of experience.

Gouken complied, closing his eyes and getting in touch with his inner energies. He imagined his ki flowing through his body in waves, slow, calm and powerful. He then directed the waves slowly into central spots, his arms. He then directed them to his hands.

?Yes?.now?expel your ki from your body?.out through your fingertips. Slowly?..? Goutetsu coached.

Gouken grimaced with closed eyes as he focused his ki through his hands. He pushed, finally he felt some of it leave, and a small white ball appeared in the space between his cupped hands.

?Good! Now?build?.?

Gouken concentrated as he added more power to the white ball, the size growing now to that of a baseball. Sweat beaded on his forehead and rolled down the sides of his face.

?Okay?that should be enough. Don?t want it to be too powerful. Now let the ki go?slowly?.and make sure to direct it.?

Gouken lifted his arms in front of him, and very slowly the ki ball began to move away?.still in a perfect white glowing sphere.

Gouken opened his eyes and watched the ball as it floated through the air?still focused on directing it.

?Yes?you are doing it my student.? Goutetsu nodded. Gouken said nothing, even the smallest diversion would break his concentration and ruin everything.

?G O U T E T S U???

Gouken?s ki ball shattered like broken glass as a gruff voice hollered from deep inside the forest, startling the birds?they took to the rosy sky in a hurry.

?Hm!? Goutetsu said to himself as he stared out in the direction of the voice.

?Who are you!? Your voice seems familiar.?

?Yes?..my voice might seem so. Many say I inherited the voice of my father?the father you killed.? The voice from the shadows said?.a seething anger poorly hidden. The sound of disturbed leaves and crunching branches grew closer.

?You have a quarrel with me? Then come, let us talk like men.? Goutetsu said as he straightened himself and buttoned up his shirt.

Instantly a shadow darted from the darkness of the forest, landing 10 feet away from Goutetsu. The figure was wearing a tattered black cloak?exposing nothing but his head which was covered by a black mask?only exposing hard piecing eyes focused on the master of Ansatsu-ken.

?You??? The voice hissed.

?Yes. I am Goutetsu, but no doubt you know that already. Reveal yourself to me.? Goutetsu ordered, in a way that did not come off as confrontational.

The cloak fell to the brown earth, revealing a young strong man underneath. He was about 5? 8??a medium build?and dressed in the garb of what many call a ?ninja?. On his left breast was an insignia?.a kanji in red. His mask was tossed aside, revealing long, black, rough hair and full sideburns. An X shaped scar was on the man?s right cheek. He had a slender face and a pointed jaw. The eyes of the stranger revealed nothing but anger as he stared at Goutetsu.

?I am called Hiro?.son of Heishiro?.of the Batanoshi Ninja clan. You fought my father to the death 20 years ago to the day?and I have come for my revenge.? The man said, his voice stern.

?Boy, your father and I agreed that there would be no revenge.?

?I have taken it upon myself. Do you accept my challenge Master Goutetsu?!? The voice of Hiro jumped in pitch toward the end of his exclamation.

?Fine?I can see that your mind?s already made up. Such fools the young are.? Goutetsu muttered.

?Master?.you killed someone?? Gouken asked meekly.

?I shall explain it to you later my pupil?now Hiro?.where do you wish to fight? Here is not the best terrain. Come, I shall lead you to better surroundings.? Goutetsu muttered calmly as he began to walk forward. Hiro followed him with his eyes, and after a few seconds he followed with his body.

++++++++++++++++++

The master and the assassin stood at the edge of the forest, where Goutetsu?s neat and ancient stone compound met the wilderness of the woods. They faced each other 15 feet apart?.their gazes hard and focused.

Gouken and Gouki stood at the sidelines watching the impending battle, their bodies tense.

?Gouken?you said this stranger has accused master of murder??

?Yes?the man is named Hiro?and he says master Goutetsu killed his father.?

?That can?t be true?.?

Goutetsu slowly slipped into stance, his hands open with his fingers slightly bent, the palms facing into each other as one foot faced his opponent, while the foot in back completed a 90o angle. The foot was facing away from the action, towards the spectators on the side.

?Young Hiro?..doing this will not bring honor to your father or your clan. This is silly.? Goutetsu attempted one last chance to avert fighting.

?It is not silly. This is the only way?.now come Goutetsu?let us get to our bloody business.?

The wind played with Goutetsu?s braid, the black peppered with gray flapping and bouncing in the breeze?in stark contrast to the wearer?s demeanor. He stared at Hiro, his eyes burning into the young man?s soul?searching for a reason to this madness.

Wordlessly Hiro attacked. The Ninja rocketed forward and leapt off the ground attempting a drop kick. Goutetsu hopped out of the way and leaned backward narrowly dodging a side kick from Hiro that shot out the second he touched the ground. Goutetsu then lashed out with a front kick that connected to Hiro?s ribs. Goutetsu easily caught Hiro?s responding punch in his open palm, and backfisted the young man to the ground. Hiro fell to one knee, and promptly attacked with a sweep, the Ninja?s foot sliding across the stone. Goutetsu lifted a single foot off the ground while in stance and the sweep missed, and Goutetsu reacted without a moment?s notice, hitting Hiro with a jab on the cheek. A ?jab? so powerful the young man stumbled 5 steps and almost fell over. Goutetsu shifted out of stance, his feet together and his hands clasped behind him waiting for his opponent to signal he was ready.

Hiro rubbed his cheek blinking, but returned to stance. Goutetsu did so also. Seconds later Hiro ducked low and lashed out with a blur of a fist. Goutetsu quickly spread his legs apart and swatted the attack away with his left hand, while his right hand was cocked behind him. A split-second later the punch exploded into Hiro?s chest, knocking the fighter off the ground and far away; his body slamming into a tree that couldn?t be seen.

Hiro bounced up quickly then toppled to his knees a second later, his back facing Goutetsu as he leaned against the tree trunk and spat blood, breathing heavily. Goutetsu knew where he was even though he could not see him through the dense bushes and trees.

Once Hiro had composed himself he sprang from the dark. He landed 5 feet from his opponent and faced Goutetsu; the burning rage in his eyes had intensified. His teeth were grinding against each other, his nostrils flared and his fists clenched. The wind blew in his face, the long black hair of Hiro?s fought the wind?and in the end the wind gave up and moved on. Gouken felt Hiro?s ki rise slowly as his rage grew. Goutetsu calmly jumped back 10 feet, never taking his eyes off the young man.

?I will not be defeated by you?I swear it?ON MY FATHER?S GRAVE!!!?

Hiro screamed as he ran forward at top speed, Goutetsu gazed at him, his hands still clasped behind him.

Hiro struck with a punch, putting all his power into it?leaning forward to hit Goutetsu. Only an afterimage was all Hiro struck. Goutetsu was actually behind Hiro?running away towards the forest.

?Don?t run away from me!!!? Hiro screamed as he stood watching. A thick tree was standing in Goutetsu?s path as Goutetsu kept running at top speed, a confident smile on his face.

?What?s he doing?? Questioned Gouki to himself as Gouken stared in wonder.

Suddenly, Goutetsu hit the tree; only he began to scale up the tree?as if the trunk were normal ground. His pace never slowed, and it seemed gravity wasn?t paying attention to him as he ran up the trunk of the great tree astounding all.

Once he was about 25 feet into the air Goutetsu bounded off the tree and into the air…his arms spread as if he were an eagle in flight, his legs together and straight. Suddenly he performed two quick backflips, and with a wave of his hand a red ki ball the size of a small car shot downward toward his opponent.

As the blast cascaded downwards, a shimmering ball of red destruction, the brothers could only stare in wonder.

?Such power?..? Gouken mumbled.

?GET OUT OF THE WAY!!? Gouki screamed as he grabbed Gouken by the collar of his gi and they both disappeared behind cover of grey wall.

?Heh.? Said Hiro as he closed his eyes, the ball?s light reflecting on his face.

A brilliant flash of dark light resulted, the forest having to shield its eyes. A pool of red overcame the green of the trees, startling the creatures that lived there. Once the light faded, there was a crater 10 feet in width, 3 feet in depth where Hiro once stood.

?What?? Gouken started. ?Where are they??

?The sky.? Replied Gouki.

Hiro was in the air, his body in that of a flying kick form?.with Goutetsu in front of him, his legs and arms outstretched as the teacher?s body curled around Hiro?s extended leg.

Seconds later Goutetsu crashed to the ground with a dead thud as Hiro landed with eyes shining of confidence.

?I have studied you Goutetsu?I know your style?your patterns. I had beaten you even before we began to fight.? Hiro said.

?We shall see.? Goutetsu was up quickly, wiping a bit of blood from his cheek.

?Now it is the final act. Prepare yourself.? Hiro said as he charged forward. Goutetsu stood firm.

?No?he?s going to kill our master. We have to help?we have to do something.? Gouken said as he tightened the belt on his gi preparing for battle.

?No?master has this fight won. Watch.?

?YAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!? Hiro screamed as he pulled back his fist, seconds before he would collide with Goutetsu.

?Fool.? Was the master?s only reply.

Suddenly Goutetsu reacted. He moved as fast as lightning, almost appeared to run straight through Hiro, only to cause no damage as if he were a ghost.

A split second after the attack Goutetsu stood 15 feet away from his opponent, with his back turned to Hiro. A solitary outstretched fist was Goutetsu?s attack, his body perfectly straight. He didn?t bother to turn around or look at what happened, he already knew what was coming.

?Ugh??.ack?? Hiro gargled incoherent words as a trickle of blood poured from his gaping mouth. Then another red downward line appeared from the other corner, creating a small puddle on the earth as Hiro stood frozen. His eyes were wide with disbelief, his hands shaking. Suddenly he collapsed, toppling to the ground like an old rag doll. Hiro attempted to return to his feet, coughing a bit of blood?.but fell again?..and was still.

Gouken and Gouki?s eyes were wide, their mouths gasping for words but none would come. Goutetsu slowly turned around, perfectly calm.

?You?killed him??? Gouki asked meekly.

?Kill him? No. He will be fine.? Goutetsu said as he walked over to his students.

?You see that man lying on the ground? He let an unfortunate?accident consume him. You see his father and I when we were young once fought a terrible battle. It was agreed as a final confrontation between us?.and we agreed to no courses of revenge in case something happened to either of us. Hiro?s father Heishiro died from his wounds from the fight?and Hiro blamed me for it.?

Gouken and Gouki nodded.

?He says he is fighting me for revenge?but the truth is not easily hidden. He is fighting me to prove to his clan members that he is stronger than his father. He is trying to show someone that he can succeed where his father failed under the guise of seeking retribution for the ?murder? of his predecessor. This isn?t about revenge?it is about his own selfish ambition. And he had the nerve to use Heishiro?s memory??.?

Goutetsu spat the last sentence out, visibly disgusted. Gouki and Gouken nodded, and understood.

?Gouken?take Hiro home for Afaik to heal?Gouki will assist you.? Goutetsu said, his gaze distant as he stared out into the sky.

?But master?.he tried to kill you!? Gouken shouted.

?I know. But I do believe he has learned his lesson. And what kind of host would I be if I left Hiro to rot here? No, I will give him something to eat and a healing hand. If need be, a bed to sleep in. Now come my students?the day is not yet finished. You have more training to do.?

Goutetsu said with a laugh as he began to walk forward with his students trotting behind him and the unconscious form of Hiro Batanoshi slumped over Gouken?s shoulder. Gouki held the legs above his head.


#9

Chapter X: Seeds of Discontent

?ACK!? Gouken yelped a startled cry as he was flung into the flat face of a large stone boulder, bouncing off vertical stone wall with a wet slap. Gouken crashed to the ground and immediately sprang to his feet, a fierce and busy look in his eyes. He didn?t bother to wipe a bit of blood from the corner of his mouth on his fist, not daring to relax his hands and drop his guard.

?thwack!?

A loud raw thud resonated throughout the forest, and a split-second later Gouki was sailing through the air, smacking the brown earth hard in front of the worried Gouken.

Gouki lifted his head toward his brother, his face smeared with dirt and brown leaves. He had landed face-first after all and it was autumn. The ground was an ocean of browns, yellows, and oranges. The leaves growing tired of the monotony of hanging off branches. Now they had decided to fall and meet their respective fates. The trees swayed with the slight wind to a rhythm only they could hear. The skies were a dismal and stoic gray. The clouds were bored and the sun seemed half-asleep.

Gouki snapped back up and faced the enemy alongside Gouken, both in a crisp fighting stance?.their uniforms peppered with grass stains and dirt.

?We need a better plan.? Gouki said without looking at Gouken…keeping his eyes on his opponent.

?Well, if you have one let?s hear it.? Was Gouken?s response.

Gouki shook his head slowly as Gouken sighed. They stared at their opponent, neither moving as the wind kicked up some leaves, the brown specks fluttering through the air like a drunken bumblebee.

?Attack me! If you do not move?I will force you to move!!? Goutetsu shouted from a distance as he shot his open palms forward, a small red ball of ki the size of a basketball shot forward at lightning speed towards his students, kicking up leaves as it ran through the cold, still air.

Gouken and Gouki sprang away from the rock in opposite directions as the blast hit the stone boulder, smashing a third of it. Clouds of dust that were once solid stone hung in the air around the two brothers as they stared in disbelief at their master.

?Come on! Let?s attack together!? Gouken screamed as he took off running towards his opponent. Gouki nodded and ran at full-gallop towards the same person. Their mouths open as they yelled, their fists tight at their waists and their feet blurs.

?NOW!? Screamed Gouken and Gouki leapt off the ground with a quick spin that formed itself into a flying kick.

?HAAAAAAA!? Gouken shouted as he quickly pulled his hands behind him, waited 2 seconds, then lashed out with a gou-hadoken, the glimmering ball of white ki shaped like a raindrop falling horizontally.

?Hehe?.? Goutetsu muttered as he quickly spun with a roundhouse, catching the kicking Gouki dead in the chest?knocking him into a tree trunk 20 feet away. He then spun back around and with a flick of his wrist, swatted away Gouken?s ki blast?.the white ball shattered into a million glowing pieces as it hit a tree nearby?leaving a slight indentation in the tree itself.

Gouken was unfazed as he ran up to Goutetsu and punched. Goutetsu punched away his student?s fist and retaliated with a punch of his own; a punch Gouken swatted away. Gouken tried a front kick, but Goutetsu?s feet were faster?.a swift front kick in the chest knocked the young student to the ground before Gouken?s leg could fully extend.

As soon as Gouken smacked the ground he leapt back up?.continuing the fight. They exchanged punches and kicks?Goutetsu?s movements precise and quick while Gouken struggled to keep up. He had not been swept away in Goutetsu?s current of movement and for that he was glad.

Gouki slowly picked himself off the ground, leaning on the tree trunk as he groaned and felt his side. Then he looked up, and his eyes widened.

Gouken was still fighting Goutetsu. They moved around the forest as one blur?the echoes from the blows an upbeat boogie, the birds and trees invited listeners. Gouken suddenly ducked low dodging a kick form his master, and then narrowly avoided a chop. Gouken attacked with a right cross, a punch that died when Goutetsu caught it in his hand?bringing the action to a dead stop.

The forest echoed with the sharp sound made by the fist striking the open palm as the master and student stood silent, the mostly red and yellow canopy above them and the hard brown earth below. Gouken?s expression was one of total shock, then snapped to determination as the sparring continued, the two figures fighting fiercely, but at a stalemate.

Suddenly Goutetsu jumped back and fired a ki blast, Gouken reacted quickly by shooting off a blast of his own. The balls of red and white ki collided into each other, both shattering into small shimmering pieces.

?Smart move Gouken.? Said Goutetsu as he rushed in with a kick, a kick that young Gouken swatted away. Gouken was too busied with his master?s furious attacks to respond.

Gouki watched from the sidelines, in shock. ?Gouken is keeping up with master?? He thought to himself as he stared. Neither of them had last this long in a continuous exchange with Goutetsu before. Although Goutetsu was holding back, Gouki felt Goutetsu withholding less of his strength for every punch and kick of Gouken?s that connected. Gouken was doing well out there. Then he noticed where he was. He had been knocked down so quickly. Defeated so easily! And yet Gouken was keeping up with Goutetsu??.

?He?s always stronger than me?? Gouki thought, his sadness slowly turning to anger as he clenched his fists?continuing to watch the sparring.

?WHAM!? Goutetsu did a quick hammerfist to the side of Gouken?s head, knocking him to the ground covered with fallen leaves. This time Gouken did not jump back up.

?Ahhhhh??I?ve had enough.? Said Gouken as rose to one knee, spat and stood up to begin dusting himself off. His head was throbbing, his limbs were screaming in pain, and his body was close to exhausted.

?Well?.know this. You did well my student. You are progressing nicely.? Goutetsu muttered as he patted Gouken on the back, the way a proud coach would congratulate a child.

?If you were fighting me for real, I would have lasted about 5 minutes with you.?

?That is longer than quite a few people I have fought. Gouki! Why did you not jump back in and join us?? Asked Goutetsu?Gouki looked up at them from a distance, his eyes wide.

?I?.I?.um?.? He stammered, he couldn?t find the words?they flooded his mind too quickly to come out.

?No matter. Come, maybe Afaik has finished dinner.? Goutetsu said as he mussed Gouki?s hair. The master and his students walked together, leaving the ocean of yellows, greens, reds and brown behind. To the silent applause of the forest.

++++++++++++++++++

A framed picture, hung on the old wooden wall, the lack of color in the photos in stark contrast to the deep brown of the wood wall surrounding it. Beneath the picture, propped against the wall was a bookcase, filled with trophies and medals belonging to Gouken.

Gouki sat cross-legged on the floor; beneath him a thin straw mat separated his body from the hard planks. The light seeped in through cracks in the blinds like swords of light slashing through darkness. Gouki faced the picture and the trophies, his face blank.

The large picture was of a jubilant Gouken when he just was crowned champion of a tournament a couple years ago. He stood bloody and beaten, yet his face held the highest amount of joy possible. His eyes bright and his lips curved back in a huge smile, flashing a wall of white teeth. The coordinator of the tournament was holding up Gouken?s hand, in the hand held a golden trophy a quarter of Gouki?s height. In the distance was Goutetsu, smiling proudly from the outskirts with his hands folded across his chest.

Gouki?s eyes wandered down from the picture to the bookcase stacked with awards. The golden cups and trophies, honorary black belts and gis?.all for Gouken. And Gouken was getting used to it. Gouki himself could not remember the last time his brother lost in tournament combat. He seemed always ready for any challenge. He met it and promptly crushed it.

Gouki stared at his brother?s winnings, feeling nothing. At least nothing he would admit to feeling. Slowly he turned to the opposite wall and peered at his own winnings.

2nd and 3rd place trophies?.plagues?.brown belts. This is what lined Gouki?s wall. Silver and bronze were present instead of Gouken?s constant golds. Sure capturing at least 3rd or better in every tournament one entered would be considered a high achievement for many; but Gouki was starting to wonder what was the point anymore. He stared at his unpolished winnings with fierce eyes. It seemed to him every attempt to place further got him nowhere. The harder Gouki pushed, the more Gouken would seem to slack?.yet the outcome was always the same.

?Gouki, do not concern yourself with your brother?s progress?.jealously is a long, hard race and in the end it?s only with yourself. Connect with your energies?become one with your ki and your emotions?always be in control and many of your present worries will no longer matter?.?

The words his master uttered long ago?.seemed almost irrelevant now. As far as Gouki was concerned he had become one with his ki and his emotions. He practiced diligently, mastering every move Goutetsu taught him?.yet still?he could never beat Gouken. Gouken always had some way?some come from behind tactic that never failed. Gouken?s natural talent for fighting?.coupled with minimal training?bested Gouki?s devotion. It slashed through Gouki?s essence.

?Why??

The only word that came into Gouki?s mind?.echoing within his inner self. A thin whisper but multiplied so many times it congealed into a stone wall obstructing other trains of thought.

Suddenly Gouki stood, his face hard.

?I know what I must do.?

He said softly as he stepped out of the room, his fists balled so tightly they quivered.

++++++++++++++++++

?Ha!? Gouken shouted as he quickly exploded with a sidekick, striking a dead tree so hard the trunk buckled under the power. A minute later the unfortunate part of the forest began to sag but did not fall.

?Hehe?not too shabby.? Gouken said with a smile as he clapped his hands together with caked in dirt crumbling off them.

?Well, I think that?s enough for today?two hours a day?I?m sticking to it. Time to go eat some of that left-over mezo soup Afaik prepared a couple days ago?.I liked that spice?..but I forgot the name?hmm?.? Gouken trailed off as he began to stroll out of the inner recesses of the forest, the leaves crunching beneath him.

?Gouken.? A soft voice said with unusual boldness, behind him. Gouken whirled around to find Gouki standing there, his face stoic.

?Yeah?? Asked Gouken quizzically.

?A match. Now.? Was all Gouki said, his eyes fierce as they burned into Gouken?s.

?What? Listen brother I?m a little tired right now-?

?DON?T MAKE EXCUSES!!? Gouki thundered as he shot his hands forward, a white ball of ki rocketed from them. Gouken?s eyes widened as he sprang out of the way just in time, the ki blast blowing past him and slamming into the tree trunk Gouken was previously focused on. Splinters of sizzling wood burst from the trunk in all directions. A raccoon darted further into the shadows.

Before Gouken could turn around and face his brother a fist buried itself into Gouken?s cheek, pushing Gouken backwards knocking him off-center. Gouken stumbled and Gouki pounced on him with a fury never seen before in the young student. Kicking him violently in the ribs, then grabbing him by his hair and kneeing him in the back.

?OUCH!? Gouken shouted as he fell backwards, disturbing a pile a resting leaves. Gouki took a couple steps backwards, breathing heavily but evenly and focused on his opponent.

?Listen Gouki?..I really don?t feel like sparring right now?can?t we do this later?? Said Gouken as he got up, rubbing his cheek.

?Shut up!!? Screamed Gouki as he rushed in again, with a roundhouse that clipped the side of Gouken?s head. Gouki then punched Gouken in the stomach hard enough to double the older brother over in pain, his mouth and eyes wide.

?See?.how it feels?.? Gouki muttered under gritted teeth. Gouki felt his blood pumping vigor into his limbs and head. The throb of his heart seemed to push him deeper into a fighting mode.

?What the hell is wrong with you?!? Gouken wheezed as he swatted Gouki?s fist away and leapt backwards, clutching his stomach?his face red.

?I?ve had enough?.you?re so damn arrogant?..? Gouki hissed as he charged his ki?.a white orb glowing his left palm.

?YOU?RE NOT STRONGER THAN ME!? Gouki screamed as he shot forward another gou-hadoken, twice the size of the previous one. Gouken leapt backwards again and retaliated with his own, both ki blasts collided with each other and died.

?I never said I was! What are you so angry about?!?

?You didn?t have to say it??? Gouki leapt forward with a flying kick that connected perfectly with Gouken?s chest, sending the brother careening into a tree trunk, a soft crack sounding from his body upon impact.

Gouken slowly got up?.his anger rising?that last attack hurt.

?You want to fight. Is that what you want?!? Screamed Gouken

?YES!?

?Then I?ll give you a fight. But be prepared, I?m not gonna hold back if you?re gonna act like a little bitch about it.? Gouken spat as he wiped a bit of blood from the corner of his mouth, then spit out some more unto the ground. He got up, and shifted into stance.

?Let?s go.? He said as he rocketed forward with incredible speed. Gouki shot forward himself with a quick front kick, only to strike an afterimage.

?Wha-? Gouki turned and then felt a hard elbow into his back, Gouken was behind him. Gouki stumbled and Gouken backfisted him across the cheek knocking him further away. Gouki fell to one knee as Gouken ran forward to top speed to engage him.

?I won?t let?.you?defeat me?not this time?.? Gouki whispered as he tightened his fist, his piercing eyes staring up at the approaching Gouken.

?HAH!? Gouken lashed out with a front kick, Gouki caught his brother?s leg, and grabbing it with both hands hurled him into a tree. Gouken?s body went limp as it curled around the thick trunk, then crashed to the ground. Gouken wasted no time in getting up, sweeping Gouki as he returned to his feet. Before Gouki could hit the ground Gouken stuck him with a gou-shoryuken, knocking him 12 feet in the air and 10 feet away. Seconds later Gouki crashed to the ground, kicking up a pile of brown leaves.

Gouki struggled to his knees, but before he could get up Gouken kicked him, knocking him further back and to the ground again. Gouki tried to stand up again, Gouken head-butted him, sending Gouki?s face to the dirt once more. Gouki attempted to stand up a third time, he was successful as he swatted away Gouken?s knee and punched him in the face, giving him a black eye. Gouki then quickly turned and performed a reverse spinning elbow to Gouken?s face, breaking his nose. A move he had picked up from Go Hibiki himself. Gouken stumbled backwards and eventually fell feet away, blood leaking from his nose, two red lines snaking down his face.

?You shouldn?t have done that?..? Gouken hissed, popping his nose back into place.

?What are you going to do about it?? Gouki was smiling.

Before Gouken could reply, Gouki rushed in. Only to meet a fist to the stomach, a hammerfist to the temple, two more stomach jabs, a right hook followed by a kick to the head that spiked him to the ground. Gouki sprang back up, only to stare up at an axe-kick that cut him right down again. Gouki smacked the hard earth, only to bounce back up with amazing speed.

To meet another fist from Gouken burying itself into Gouki?s stomach?so far it made the younger student of Goutetsu vomit his lunch. The two stood there, Gouki?s body curved around Gouken?s outstretched fist, Gouki?s expression one of complete and utter agony while Gouken?s was purely vindictive. The time lurched, as Gouki?s eyes began to roll in the back of his head?wheezing for precious oxygen.

Finally Gouken retracted his fist and let his brother drop to the ground?clutching his stomach?his face buried in the dirt.

?You had it coming.? Gouken said flatly, as he turned his back to Gouki and began to leave, walking away from the forest and his fallen brother.

Gouki shut his eyes tight to block out the pain while opening his mouth to quickly fill his lungs with air. He inhaled all he could and held it in his chest as he jumped up from the ground. He opened his eyes and they shined with potential tears.

?Don?t walk away! We aren?t finished!? Gouki let off a gou-hadoken and started running towards Gouken. Gouken stopped and slowly turned around, his face unreadable. He jogged back toward his brother and did not avoid the ki ball speeding towards him. In a flash Gouken held up up his hand and a ki wave negated the attack that was a split second from hitting him. In the white shimmer Gouki was upon him, he had leapt 5 feet into the air with a cocked right fist. His gaze was blazing with indignant anger. Gouken?s face was expressionless as he reared back his right fist. The feint worked, Gouki was confident he had the upper hand. As Gouki?s fist shot forward Gouken?s fist retracted. From a short hop and a hip swivel exploded a butterfly kick that pummeled Gouki. The first kick resounded through Gouki?s body when it connected, his body slackened in an instant. The second kick knocked Gouki away effortlessly without even a grunt from the target. Gouki rolled twice as he smacked the ground and stopped on his side with his back to Gouken. Gouken?s face softened as Gouki rolled to his back but did not return to his feet. The older brother wished to say something, but decided it better to just turn and leave.

Gouki watched Gouken walk away, his eyes flashing with anger?his body convulsing with impotent anger. He lay there, clutching his stomach and breathing heavily for how long he did not know. White-hot tears ran uncontrollably down his face as the earth held him?.the cold icy grip of a contrived hug. Gouki felt he had been punished. Gouki felt he had been reminded of his unwanted place. Gouki felt he wasn?t ready yet to truly challenge his brother. Half an hour later Gouki still lay on the ground with his eyes staring at nothing and out of focus. His body completely still. The sun turned and watched him as he slid behind a congregation of clouds.


#10

Chapter XI: The Silent Dragon

?Yes! That is it!? Goutetsu shouted as Gouki sprang from behind with a sharp front kick. Goutetsu swatted the attack away, only to turn around and catch an uppercut that knocked his teeth together with a piercing clack. Goutetsu stumbled as the two brothers jumped into formation, side by side as they rushed down their master. Goutetsu recovered quickly and lashed out with a roundhouse that connected to the side of Gouken?s head, knocking him to a knee. Gouki retaliated by punching Goutetsu in the stomach, then giving him a quick elbow in the chest. Goutetsu fiercely punched Gouki so hard the young man toppled to the ground 10 feet away, but by that time Gouken was back up and engaging in a full-proof offensive. It was well into spring and the air felt new and improved. The grass felt like it gave you energy when you stood on it barefoot.

The elder son Gouken faked a right hook and attacked with a backfist that collided with the side of Goutetsu?s head, making the aging master blink and quickly shake his head to re-gain his senses. It only took half a second for Goutetsu to recover but Gouken would not allow it, an uppercut busied itself with Goutetsu?s chin, knocking his head backward, his eyes looking up at the sky. Goutetsu stumbled and Gouken ran forward jumping into the air. A spinning roundhouse was aimed for the master, only it did not connect. Goutetsu effortlessly caught Gouken?s extended spinning leg in mid-air with one hand.

?Foolish move?did you think I wasn?t expecting that?? Goutetsu chided. Gouken only stared into his master?s eyes in complete terror.

?You know what?s coming next?..SHORYUKEN!? Goutetsu shouted as he rocketed upward, his fist guiding him and Gouken?s body on the end of it. Gouken shot high into the air, with a drawn out wail growing softer as his body flew farther and higher away.

?Yah!? Gouki shouted as a white ball of ki shot from his hands speeding toward the master. Goutetsu effortlessly swatted the attack away, but before he could react another blast shot forward slamming into his chest. Goutetsu grunted as the white ball of energy slammed into him, knocking him back a couple feet into the trunk of a great tree.

?Heh.? Gouki said to himself with pride. A technique he had been practicing had finally paid off.

?Come on! Let?s finish him off!? shouted Gouken approaching from behind running at top speed. He caught up fast and they both took off together. Their eyes hungry.

?ENOUGH!? Goutetsu shouted as he held out a single open palmed-hand. They immediately halted. Goutetsu slowly rose as he wiped dust off of his uniform, smoke rising from brunt areas.

?You two are strong enough now?.this training exercise has served it?s purpose. You now fight together, with precision, speed and power. You both manipulate ki like how a samurai wields a familiar blade.? Goutetsu said, swelling with pride.

?How many years has it been since I took you two under me as students??

?Ten years master.? Gouki answered the moment Goutetsu finished.

?Ah yes?ten years?it does not seem that long does it?? Suddenly the age had shown itself in Goutetsu?s voice as he relaxed and half-fell, half-eased to the ground. He was sitting on the brown earth propped against the base of a tree long cut down. He closed his eyes slowly, seemingly soaking in the time as well as his surroundings. He lay still for a few minutes, not saying anything as his thoughts drifted. Gouken and Gouki bounced between expectantly staring at Goutetsu and snatched brief glances of confusion at each other.

?Master??? Gouken mumbled, his hand taking a mind of its own as he slowly reached out.

?I am fine. Gouken?Gouki. You both are at a point now where there is no more I can teach you.? Goutetsu muttered the words solemnly. The two brothers stood shocked. At least the breeze was familiar and comforting.

?But master?surely there is more?all your experience-? Gouki started.

?All my experience?! No, I am not here to train more versions of myself! I am here to give you enough to be ready to become yourselves. I have given you both the tools to develop your own method. I?ve tried to develop good instincts within you two. I?ve taught you how I?ve done it; not how it is always to be done.?

Goutetsu mimicked a booming voice of an ancient master at the top of many stairs when he said ?how it always to be done?. The students did not chuckle, their eyes searching Goutetsu?s face with half closed mouths.

?Some think the whole purpose of style is to teach every aspect of it students, and that is not my purpose and it shouldn?t be yours. Do not become a slave to a style, our art was founded by a man who refused just that.? Goutetsu said as he rose quickly. His form now as tall and imposing as the trees that scraped the sky; with a straight back and eyes brimming with confidence.

?Why do you two look so astonished? You knew this day would come. Or you thought you would train under me forever?? Goutetsu chuckled as he finished. Goutetsu dusted off his pants while Gouki stuttered attempting to begin speech.

?So?what happens now?? Gouken asked, confused.

?Well, you are free to do what you will. However, I would like very much if you did something for me. My old training buddy is coming here in a few weeks and he is bringing his student. As customary of our art?.the students of each master will face each other in contest. Once you two do that, you will have more than satisfied me.? Said Goutetsu with a smile. His eyes looked like he was watching someone unwrap a present he just gave.

?I see. Now, is this student of your former training partner strong?? Gouki asked.

?I do not know?I have never laid eyes on the student, and haven?t seen my old friend in about 20 years. We both went our separate ways after the training?.he stayed in China, and I moved to Japan.?

?You aren?t Japanese master? You look it.? Gouken was staring at the sky as Gouki spoke.

?Yes I am Japanese by blood?but I spent most of my childhood in China, only leaving after I had finished my training.? Goutetsu said as he started walking towards home.

?Now, do what you will Gouken and Gouki. I have no more to teach so I am taking a nap now.? Goutetsu said with another chuckle to himself as he walked off, leaving the brothers still confused.

++++++++++++++++++

The flickers from the old candles danced around Gouki?s face as he sat deep in concentration. In front of him lay an ancient scroll, and below it paper which a pencil was being put to. Gouki had spent a better part of the day locked inside the forgotten study, copying scrolls to take with him. His pencil did not know rest, moving furiously as if Gouki were racing against time.

The study was a place Gouki could think; in the candlelight Gouki could be free from the watchful eye of his master, or the comments from his brother. Gouki was now 18 years old, and getting ready to leave the place he called home and so much more for the past ten years. He was tall, still lean although he had lean muscles to supplement. His straight black hair now almost reached his elbows and was always kept tied back. He was leaving everything.

As Gouki?s hand jerked across the paper his mind suddenly shifted to Gouken. Gouki?s free fist tensed as a wave of cold prickly anger swept over him. Once they emerged he confronted these feelings by laying the pencil down and closing his eyes. The pins and needles slowly retracted as Gouki focused, each throb half the intensity of the one before it. Once again calm, he picked back up the pencil and continued to write without a word. Gouki?s anger towards his brother was at first view nonexistent, but sometimes it would flare up within Gouki. A thousand thoughts, a hundred possible futures that all felt like declarations of nature. It felt like destiny. A flood of inadequacy that tainted all. Gouki would have to collect himself and push it all back to the recesses of his psyche. Gouken had forgotten about the fight a couple years back, but it was fresh in Gouki?s mind. How could he ever forget it? Gouki could still feel the cold ground as he lay there, the smell of the autumn leaves was stagnant in his nose. The humiliation of that day the younger brother could never forget as long as he lived.

Gouki slowly set the pencil down as he reached over and smashed the flame in between his bare index finger and thumb?killing it with a final puff of black smoke. Gouki methodically put out each candle in silence, and emerged from his study back into the outside world.

++++++++++++++++++

  • The day of the final test

?Hmm?.you two have arrived early.? Said Goutetsu as he walked towards the two students. It was the break of dawn, the horizon beginning to creep over the mountains but not yet gaining the nerve to walk up the heavens. The birds streaked across the hazy pink sky as dew glistened on the wild grass.

?Is that a new gi master?? Gouken asked as he stared. Goutetsu was wearing something out of the ordinary?.a Japanese style gi, the color such a pure and crisp white it looked as if it was just sewn together that day.

?The uniform given to me by my master long ago?I never wear it?.uncomfortable. It?s only ceremonial.? Goutetsu muttered as he tugged at the shoulder, scratching an itch.

?The beads? Around your neck?? Gouki asked.

?Yes. I?ll get to them later. Now?.in a few minutes you will meet Master Fei and his protg. Be cordial, and fight the best you can, I understand they are both exceptional fighters. They have won every tournament they have entered in their homeland. Be careful.?

?Like we haven?t?! Master, it shouldn?t be anything we can?t handle.? Gouken yawned as he looked up at the treetops.

?Hmm?maybe.? Goutetsu paused as he stroked his chin.

?Here they come.? Gouki whispered.

From the trees of the forest emerged two figures. One was about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a barrel chest and a moon face. A long black robe, with a mandarin collar and frog style buttons flowed from his adam?s apple to his ankles. Dragons and tigers and various other mythical animals were portrayed on the dark robe in gold thread that shined proudly in the rising sun. The man wore a long black beard, polished and trimmed unlike Goutetsu?s grizzly mass of salt and pepper strands. The man?s eyes were sharp beads inside two thin slits. His head was freshly shaved and he wore no hat.

?Wong Lee Fei?.good to see you again.? Said Goutetsu as he nodded with a smile one gives an old friend. Understated in the mouth but with kind shining eyes.

?Goutetsu. The feeling is mutual.? Master Fei muttered, his voice slightly raspy yet still warm. It was assumed by Gouken the grit in his voice was due to age.

?How long as it been since we last saw each other? 15 years??

?Fifteen years next week.? Was Fei?s response, his eyes sizing Goutetsu up.

?Well, it is good to see you again Wong. How is your family??

?My wife gossips on the telephone while cleaning and all my children are average to better than usual students! There is much to be thankful for!? Fei smiled while he spoke.

?Where is your family Goutetsu?? Fei smiled bigger as he narrowed his eyes.

?Afaik my wife is around and I have no children. I would have liked to but I suppose it is too late!

?No it is not too late! Just find a younger wife! You are only as young as the person you feel!? Fei and Goutetsu laughed, Goutetsu forcing a chuckle and Fei rocked his head back in brief high pitched squeal.

?I do not want a new wife so I am sure it is too late! AH! Let me introduce my pupils!? Goutetsu suddenly jumped as he had just remembered that Gouken and Gouki were even there. He turned around and told them to step forward.

?The elder one is Gouken, the younger Gouki. They are my students, and are shaping up to be great masters in our art.?

?Hello Master Fei. I am Gouki and it is an honor to meet you.? Gouki said as he offered his open hand.

?Hmm?cordial.? Fei said as he shook the boy?s hand.

?And I am Gouken, I too am humbled in your presence Master Fei.?

?Buttering me up are you two? Heh?.now, my student. Gen step forward.?

Slowly another figure approached from the shadows. A young man appearing about 29 but he was several years older in actuality. He was of average height, but his slender lanky form implied otherwise. He wore loose black traditional pants?the folds in the fabric like waves of a midnight ocean. His white socks were exposed above black canvas slippers. A blood-red sash was at his waist, and he wore a white tight-fitting t-shirt that was tucked in. His short black hair was gelled and combed backwards, enhancing his clean-shaven face.

Gen?s eyes carried a piercing gaze as he stared at Gouken, then Gouki.

?Master Goutetsu, I am honored to be in your presence.? Gen would have sounded contrived to a trained ear as he continued staring at Gouki, then Gouken.

?Hmmm?I can sense you are anxious to begin the fight young Gen.? Said Goutetsu with a chuckle.

?Yes.? Was Gen?s response in a cold, dead voice.

?Pardon only Gen, my other student is serving his time in the military. But?Gen should be enough.? Fei said with a smirk aimed at Goutetsu. Goutetsu smiled in response.

?Well then, let us get started.? Goutetsu said with a certain indescribable finality, and there the fight began.

++++++++++++++++++

The ground felt slippery under Gouki?s feet, he soon realized it was because of his sweating.

He stood in stance, facing Gen who was about 20 feet away from him. The hard ancient stone tiles were beneath, worn by many years of fighting like the match minutes from beginning. To one side of the fighters lay a lush forest, the sounds of nature beckoning to them. To the other side the beauty of man?s design, a old Japanese almost-mansion?all sides separated by a stone wall 4 feet high, and 2 feet thick that boxed in the fighting ground. The battleground was a rectangle with 30 feet on the short sides and 50 on the long. Moss grew wildly on the walls, a testament to the dating.

Sweat beaded on Gouki?s brow as he concentrated, focusing on his opponent. Gen stood completely calm, not moving at all since he first shifted to stance minutes ago. His eyes were closed, and his stance rigid.

?You are free to begin.? Said Master Fei, and the students obeyed.

They both rocketed forward simultaneously, smacking into each other?s faces with perfectly aimed punches. Their jaws rocked backwards as their extended arms criss-crossed.

Gen quickly recovered and swung with a strong backfist, Gouki swatted it away and countered with a roundhouse punch. Gen used his forearm to block the attack and then tried to punch Gouki in the chest, Gouki swatted that attack and bounded backwards. The entire exchange took no more than 2 seconds.

Both fighters said nothing, Gen pausing to spit unto the ground, Gouki feeling his chin. A bruise. Both students stared coldly at each other, their muscles like loaded firearms. They slowly slid into stance together, keeping their gazes locked upon one another.

Gen?s stance was different. He put all his weight on a bent leg placed behind him, and his hands were formed to look like the paws of-

?The Tiger style?!? Goutetsu exclaimed from the sidelines. ?Haven?t seen that in a long while.?

?Yes?? started Master Fei. ?I have taught my two students many old Chinese forms?.I have blended them and some of the traditional art. You like it?? A flash of confidence was in Fei?s voice.

?I?m impressed. You mean your students actually learned the different styles? And how to incorporate them into actual combat??

?Yes. Gen is an exceptional student, the best I?ve ever seen. He has learned a total of 5 animal styles. Crane, Leopard, Monkey, Tiger, Mantis. But he only uses about two at a time. He knows better than to do them all at once. That would be showing his entire hand when the game isn?t finished.? Master Fei smiled, a proud?slightly arrogant smile.

?Excellent Wong?.but has he truly mastered all of them? Or did he just learn the moves and move on? One needs to fully dive into the intricacies of a style?.?

?Watch old friend?just watch.? Said Master Fei.

?We shall see.? Answered Goutetsu.

Gen rushed in on Gouki; closing the distance quickly. He hopped forward, swiping with a horizontal open palm strike. Gouki attacked with a right hook, which Gen avoided. Gen straightened his back and shifted to the side; kneeing Gouki in the ribs and uppercuting him off of his feet. Gen then caught Gouki in the air with a sharp and high roundhouse kick, spiking him to the ground. Gouki bounced up and kicked Gen in the stomach. Then Gouki elbowed him in the chest while returning to his feet. Gen stumbled and Gouki pounced, grabbing the Chinese warrior and performing a classic over-the-shoulder throw, sending Gen sailing into the air. But Gen tucked his arms and legs close to his body and performed a quick back flip, catching himself. As Gen hit the ground he pivoted on the ball of his foot and shot back towards Gouki, catching him with a low palm strike so powerful it knocked Gouki off his feet and 10 feet away. Gouki skidded across the ground and smacked the hard tile, a cloud of dust trailing behind him. Gouki rose to his feet as the dust settled, the same silent gaze focused on Gen.


#11

Chapter XII: Duelists

Gen shot forward, his form a blur as Gouki quickly spread his legs, crossed his arms and held them tight against his chest, a typical guard stance. He narrowed his eyes, searching for his opponent.

WHAM! A fist crashed into Goukis guard, shattering it as Gouki stumbled backwards. Two more punches connected with Goukis ribs and then a swift machine like front kick to the stomach that knocked Gouki 5 feet away. Gouki caught himself before he hit the ground, just in time to counter another punch from Gen, catching the Chinese fighters fist and chopping him in ribs with his other hand breaking Gens momentum. Gen responded by attempting a kick, but Gouki deflected then side-kicked Gen to the ground a split-second later. Gen slowly rose with a hungry smile on his face and dirt on his pants. He stared at Gouki with pit viper eyes; a gaze sharp and unrelenting. He snapped back into stance and Gouki did the same.

Gouki did not show it, but his arms were aflame with pain. The attack Gen used to open effortlessly tore through Goukis strongest guard. His arms were red and throbbed with agony, but Gouki began to ignore it. Sweat cascaded down his sharp features as his mind frantically searched for a plan of attack.

Meanwhile Gouken stood at the sidelines, leaning against the timeworn wall, his arms folded across his chest. His gi was a light tan, newly washedhowever old neglected stains still faintly showed themselves. His face was at first glance peaceful and blank, however if one dug deeper they could feel a hidden uneasiness.

HAH! Shouted Gen as he connected with a powerful Crane peck to Goukis chest, making the warrior stumble. Before Gouki could catch himself 5 more blurs of fist had struck various parts of his body. Gouki then lashed out with a quick kick, Gen ducked low and delivered a sweep, knocking Gouki off of his feet again. As Gouki fell Gen fired a kick that sent him flying 15 feet away, skidding across the hard stone twice, his body limply smacking the floor the third time and becoming still.

Goutetsu grunted under his breath, as Master Fei chuckled.

I told you Goutetsuone would be enough… He chided.

The match is not yet finished old friend.

Gouki slowly rose, groaning to himself. After a few seconds he was dusting himself off while his mind continued to race for a strategy.

Lets try something newsomething from the one of the scrolls

Suddenly Gouki shot forward, running towards Gen at top speed, his eyes locked onto his opponent.

Surely he knows how dumb it is to attack this guy upfront like thatwhat are you up to Gouki? Gouken wondered as he watched.

Gen reared back his fist and fired a powerful punch, only to hit air as Gouki seemingly ran through him. Gen stared in wonder, his fist still outstretched.

HAH! Gen whirled around to find a white ki blast speeding towards him. His eyes widened as he only had a split second to react, his time growing short.

Yes! Gouken said with a smile at his brothers cunning.

Gen lashed out with a mighty backhand to the ball of power, smacking it away. The blast ricocheted away from both fighters, towards the forest. Moments later a distant thunderous roar could be heard from a great tree crashing to the ground.

Goukis eyes were wide as his hands were still outstretched and cupped together as when he fired the blast. Gen had a smirk on his face, and his pit viper eyes had returned.

But Gouki did notice something. The hand Gen used to deflect the attack was red, thin trails of smoke rising from burns. He had hurt Gen. Had he hurt him enough? Probably not. Gouki cursed to himself as he returned to stance.

Gen would not acknowledge it, but the entire arm he used to counter the ki blast was completely numb. He was also burned, but he had been burned beforeit was a side effect of being taught how to deflect ki blasts in the first place. Gen silently shook his hand twice and returned to stance, his eyes still locked on Gouki.

Wordlessly Gouki exploded like an ignited cannon, rocketing forward at blinding speed, his fists held tight to the sides of his belt. Gen just stood there, expecting something which he would not reveal.

Gouki opened with a horizontal chop, Gen easily leaned his upper body backward to avoid the attack, then came back with an uppercut to Goukis chin making the fighters head rock backward. Gouki recovered and attempted a front kick; Gen caught his leg and did a reverse elbow to Goukis chest, and with his back still turned to Gouki kicked him 10 feet away.

Goukis limp body sailed through the air but in the final moments before impact he maneuvered into a roll to safely land. He quickly picked himself off the ground and returned to stance; dust caked into his black uniform and on his face.

Then Gen pounced. He sprang high into the air, bathing in the suns rays. Gouki could only see a dark silhouette, that grew closer…

As if by instinct Gouki reacted, reaching his hands up and catching Gens outstretched leg, mustering enough strength in his body to kill Gens gravity provided momentum and slam Gen viciously into the hard tile floor. Gen smacked the hard ground, but managed to kick Gouki in the head as he fell. Gouki sprang backward and fired a quick gou hadoken. Gen sprang backwards himself but the ki blast was faster slamming into him in mid-air and knocking him back further.Gens limp body skidding across the ancient floor thrice.

One would be enough eh? Goutetsu smiled cunningly as he questioned Master Fei. Fei only shot him a dirty look in response.

Gouki returned to stance taking in deep, slow breaths but exhaling quickly and anxiously. His eyes were focused on the recovering Gen, but there was a weariness embedded in them never seen before in Gouki. Sweat cascaded off his hard features like a waterfall, his gi damp and tattered, his limbs and bones aching. The only comfort to Gouki was that Gen had to be feeling some of his pain. Either way, this pace could not go on much longer. Instantly a thought came to Goukis mind. He smiled as he cupped his hands behind him, slowly pouring everything he had into one last shot at victory.

Gens eyes widened, surprised to see a familiar attack. Gen smiled confidently to himself as he thought his opponent was a fool to try another ki blastafter what happened to the last one. Just what was he up to?

Gouki closed his eyes, and relaxedletting his inner energies pour from his body into a little white glowing ball in the center of his hands. At first it was no bigger than a fly, in 3 second it grew to the size of a golf ball. Gen relaxed out of stance and hopped in place punching the air. In 2 more seconds Goukis ki attack was comparable to a baseball in his hands.

Whats he doing? Dont tell me hes gonna bet the farm on this one attack? Idiot! What if it misses? What if he slaps it away again? Wait-. Gouken suddenly paused A he realized just the amount of power Gouki was putting into this attack.

The ki ball had now grown to basketball size, a pulsing ball of white energy that Gouki himself could barely contain. The fighter clenched his jaw and dug his toes into the grooves of the worn tile, determined to put as much power into this last attack as he possibly could.

It had now been a full minute since Gouki had started building ki for one last blast, and Goutetsu stared at his student skeptically. The attack had now begun to shimmer, bathing all of Goukis form in white light. Sweat cascaded down his strained muscles as his limbs began to quiver. Gouki was surprised Gen was letting him gather so much ki, but then again Gouki remembered he would do the same in his situation. Gen stood 20 feet away with his arms slack at his sides and his feet together smiling.

Just a little.more. He pleaded with his body, but his mortal shell would not have it. The ki had to be released now or it was certain to destroy him.

YAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!! Gouki let out a mighty roar as he shot the blast forward, the attack looking more like a comet streaking through the air than an actual ball. The attack itself was about the size of Goukis entire upper body, a shimmering ball that covered everything in sight with a veil of white destruction.

Gen stared, his mind racing as the attack grew closer. It was too much to deflect, and it was too much to attempt to guard against. He could jump out of the waynosuddenly a better idea crept into Gens sharp consciousness.

He shot his open hands out, fingers wide between each other as he spread his legs farther and concentratedhis time growing short.

Hit him! Goukis inner self screamed, as Gouki stared at the attack flying towards his opponent with growing anticipation.

Gen let out a low grunt as the ki blast collided with him, sending a wave of sudden light pouring over the arena.

Yes! Said Gouken as he smiled. Gouki managed a thin smile himself, his exhausted body had given out and he had fallen to his knees. He was drenched in sweat and every part of him seemed to throb individually but he was overjoyed. His eyes looked peaceful as he let his hands drop beside him, chuckling to himself.

When the light retreated, Gen was still standing. He still stood in the stance he placed himself in seconds before, his hands still outstretched in front of him only this time Goukis ki ball was inches from Gens fingertips. The ball was now a glowing perfect sphere, hovering in the air slightly with immense power flowing from it. The veins in Gens arms were clearly visible as his dark hair swayed.

The spectators were shocked. Their mouths hung open, and Gouki stared in confusion.

Gens face told it all. Sweat cascaded down his cheeks, he was under great strain but his cunning smile seemed to erase it all from Gens mind. His hands held fast, keeping the ball at bay.

I hope hes not about to do what I think hes about to do Gouken muttered as he watched the matchdreading what he predicted was coming next.

Wordlessly Gen shot his outstretched arms further forward, launching the ball of power back at Goukitwice as fast as before. It sped across the arena kicking up a trail of dust as it flew, the target the creator.

Gouki could only watch as he lay on his knees, his body had been pushed to the limit. He could not move, only keep his eyes transfixed about the glowing orb heading straight toward him, bathing him in an eerie white light. He had poured every last ounce of strength into that final attack, and now it was being used against him. He threw his crossed forearms in front of him feeling like the action was futile.

The irony Thought Gouki as a split second later the attack connected.

A brilliant flash of light suddenly erupted from the arena, so intense the spectators had to shield their eyes. Slowly the light began to retract and after a few moments it was gone completely.

Where Gouki stood, the ancient tile had been reduced to powder and pebbles. A crater of smashed stone 5 feet in diameter, the brown earth peeking through the rubble. Then, a path of dislodged ground shot from the circle 35 feet away to the far wall, where Gouki lay. Goukis back was slumped against the wall, the wall around him now a spider web of cracks and shattered stone. Goukis unconscious form was bruised, cut, and bloody. His entire shirt, all of the top of his gi had been burned away. Smoke still rose from his slightly scorched flesh. He was unconscious, the dust settling around him.

Goutetsus eyes were wide as he stared, and Master Fei chuckled to himself.

Bah! He should be fine once Afaik gets ahold of himI told you Goutetsuone would be enough…

Goutetsu said nothing in response, only looked on.

Gouki! Gouken shouted as he ran forward to his brother, his pace hurried and frantic. Once Gouken got to his fallen brother Gouki suddenly shot his hand forward, signaling him to stop.

Genwerenotfinished… Gouki said in a barely audible voice, his eyes slowly opening. He stumbled to his knees then slowly began to stand, his body creaking with pain and hesitant. Gouki now stood on shaky legs with grit teeth. As he took a step forward, and stumbled to his knees again.

I willdefeat you. Gouki said, his voice still quivering, as he returned to his feet slightly faster this time, his fists clenched as he attempted to make another step forward, a successful one this time.

Gouki.you cant fight like this. Gouken trailed off as he saw the determination burning in his brothers eyes.

Come on.FIGHT ME!! Goukis voice suddenly gained force as he roared, then shot forward, his eyes fierce. Gen smiled, then rushed forward also.

Gouki attempted a jumping front kick which Gen easily swatted out of the way. Gouki was undeterred and lashed out with a backfist that connected to Gens head, followed by a roundhouse that spiked him to the ground. Gen quickly smacked the earth and rolled away, missing Goukis stomp kick by a hair. Gen spun and rose to his feet in time to deflect a punch and another front kick, only to catch a right hook from Gouki.

Gen took a single step backward missing a barrage of attacks, rearing back a hand with only his index finger extended.

HAH!

Gen shot forward, striking Gouki in the chest with his extended digit. Instantly Gouki froze in mid-attack, his eyes were wide and his mouth hung open.

Gen smiled as he took a couple steps backward and shifted out of stance, his hands clasped behind his back and his feet together.

Gouki struggled to speak but all that came from his mouth were choked syllables. Seconds later he vomited blood, then limply fell face forward to the ground and remained still.

The touch of death…I thought it was only a made up techniqueit exists… Gouken muttered as he stared at his still brother.

Fei! That poison was unnecessary.Gen had already defeated him. Goutetsu muttered solemnly.

Gen just wanted to stop him in his tracks my friend. Gen loves to crush his opponents spirithe finds it amusing. He gives that glimmer of hopethen he snatches it away. Master Fei snatched at the wind with his hand to demonstrate.

To tell the truthhe learned that technique completely on his own. I did not teach it to himso do not blame me Goutetsu when he uses it.

Goutetsu said nothing more, only continued to watch.

Gouken wordlessly picked his brother off the ground and carried him outside the arena, gingerly setting him down at Goutetsus feet. He then calmly walked back into the arena, facing Gen 20 feet away from him.

Prepare yourself. We fight. Gouken said calmly as he took stance. Gen nodded as he too slid into fighting form.


#12

Chapter XIII: Peculiar Dance

The sun stood in the middle of the sky, it?s radiance too beautiful for human eyes to directly cast their gazes. The clouds were light and playful, dancing through a light blue sky like children in an open field. Below on Earth, another battle was set to take place.

Gouken cracked his knuckles as he let his lips curve into a smirk. Gen was powerful, and Gouken was anxious to begin.

?Alright, ready?? He asked, Gen nodded silently.

?Let?s go!? Gouken shouted as he rocketed forward and cocked his fist behind him.

?WAIT! You should not fight now!.? Master Fei shouted while gesturing in the air.

?What? Why not?? Gouken stared up at the master with a puzzled face, the lower half of his body frozen in mid gallop as his upper body relaxed.

?Gen?s last fight was draining, you?d have an unfair advantage.? Master Fei said matter of factly, with his index finger pointing at an imaginary chalkboard in front of him.

?And you do want to fight Gen at his best correct??

?Yes.? Nodded Gouken. He stood straight now. Gen grunted and kicked a loose pebble near him; sending it flying.

?Then it is settled, tomorrow at noon the fight will resume. Do you think that this is fair?? Master Fei looked over at Goutetsu who wasn?t paying attention, staring up at the clear blue sky. Fei coughed awkwardly in his direction.

?Oh?yeah sure.? Goutetsu nodded rapidly without looking.

Then Gouki stirred, he coughed up a bit of blood and sat up, clutching his side with an expressionless face and closed eyes.

?Gouki, come. Afaik will-? Goutetsu started.

?No.?

Gouki?s voice was the most serious and stern his master had ever heard it at that moment. He stared at Goutetsu, his eyes burning into him with rage for even suggesting the idea. He slowly closed his eyes and began to return to his feet, stumbling. Gouken stared forward to help him. Gouki turned his back to him and slowly walked away from the battle, limping and not acknowledging anyone?s presence.

?Hmmm?he has a strong sense of personal honor and dignity.? Master Fei noted to his peer.

?You?re confusing it?he?s too headstrong. Dignity doesn?t exclude getting help when you need it. Gouki may not show it, but part of him is arrogant. And he will not look at us?because he is humiliated. Even his best isn?t good enough for him?.that could get him in trouble. Gouki, above all else wants to be strong?stronger than his brother?stronger than me?stronger than anyone. I?m beginning to realize that now?and I fear for him.?

?Hmmmm?maybe but I doubt it.? Replied Master Fei with a sharp smile. Goutetsu did not acknowledge the unnecessary remark, for he felt Fei was in no position to make judgements of his student?s character after only a few hours.

Gouken watched Gouki leave, staring at him as his wounded brother limped away. His black gi dark like a shadow spotted with drips of crimson blood and dust. The wind suddenly picked up slightly, playing with Gouki?s long hair and stirring the cloth on his uniform as Gouken silently watched. Gouki walked onward, and after a minute he was out of sight.

Gouken turned around to face Gen; only Gen wasn?t there. Gouken turned again to find Master Fei and Goutetsu gone also.

?Hmph.? Gouken shrugged as he walked away from the arena, wondering if Afaik had any extra rice cakes left.

++++++++++++++++++

The cry of a hungry wolf echoed in the distance, the moon full and the sky a sort of comforting deep violet. There were many fat clouds, great herds of shadows that blended with the night. As a group of clouds drifted in front of the moonlight another howl jolted up from the forest. It was comforting to Gouki at least, who sat on a large ancient boulder overlooking a great cliff that dropped off into a luscious green forest a hundred feet below.

Sleep did not come to Gouki this night, he tossed and turned with the pain from his injures flaring up in pulsing throbs. He found out his body hurt the least if he was on his stomach with his arms at his sides but his neck and shoulders were umcomfortable. After several hours he gave up and walked outside. Gouki?s right arm was in a sling and his entire left forearm bandaged. A wrapping also streaked across his chest. A bandage was over his left cheek. The shirt of his gi flopped unto the rock; he had discarded it to feel the mountain air on his skin.

?WHAM!?

A flashback of his fight with Gen shot forward in Gouki?s mind, a crane peck that connected in the center of Gouki?s chest. Gouki felt the spot on his flesh where the attack connected; a bruise had been left there.

Gouki grimaced as he thought more about the fight.

?I thought he could keep up, but Gen just proved to be better. I have lost again.? Gouki said aloud to no one in monotone.

What sickened Gouki the most would be the future coming in the daylight. Tomorrow, Gouken would step and fight Gen and beat him effortlessly. It felt like a weight slung around his shoulders, his own inadequacy. Gouki stared at his fist, bandaged and half responsive.

?Gouken will not beat him effortlessly. He will have to fight with all of his strength to win. I must be realistic.? As Gouki looked at the moon again he felt better.

As he inhaled as much as he could he felt two sharp pains in his side and chest but knew eventually he would totally recover. As he held in lungfulls of air he thought of his own mortality, imagining himself old, sick and bedridden. As he exhaled he reconciled with himself, holding on to the idea that he was still very strong. As Gouki hopped off the rock and walked away from the cliff he told himself that he must be diligent. Once Gouki was 20 feet away from the drop into green treetops he stopped and mechanically took stance. His had stopped staring at the moon. He clenched his fists and began to raise his ki.

?HAH!!? Gouki shouted as he shot forward his free arm and fired a watermelon sized ki blast into the midnight wilderness. But the blast only moved a couple of feet before it shattered into white shiny confetti. Gouki?s concentration was broken once he fell to his knees clutching his side in terrible pain.

Blood began to seep through Gouki?s clenched teeth, and fall to the ground in little crimson drops, sweat beaded all over Gouki?s body as he lay doubled over. His injuries would not allow him to train tonight. He refused Afaik?s healing to feel the fire of failure from his injuries. He wanted the reminder to stay there until his body overcame it naturally.

The throbbing pain that racked Gouki?s entire body had returned as an owl sailed high in the sky under the moonglow; it?s piercing eyes locked on a companion in the night.

?Damn them both?? Was the only thought that came to his mind. His fists were clenched and quivering as he noticed he was grinding his teeth. Perhaps he would ask Afaik to heal him. Perhaps he should be more realistic.

++++++++++++++++++

  • The next day, noon

Gouken bounced in place, excited about his next fight. The battle was set to begin in a little under 20 minutes, and Gouken had been ready since he first jumped out of bed. Gouken tore through breakfast like a wild man and then ran off to go meditate. Once he was resting under a tall tree it took longer than usual for him to clear his mind.

The sky was quiet and calm, the clouds thin and the sun lazy. There was a light breeze that felt refreshing rather than uncomfortable. Gouken was dressed in a tan gi, the sleeves torn off the shirt, and a black thick wool shirt underneath with no sleeves also. His hair was cut no more than 2 inches off his head and it was actually straight for once. A thin goatee lined his handsome face, with eyes that gleamed confidence and a child-like giddiness.

?Man?I?m ready to begin! Where is everyone!?? Gouken exclaimed.

?Right here.? A flat voice uttered from behind. Gouken whirled around to find Gen staring at him, his pit viper eyes locked on a new target.

?Ah there you are. So are you ready to begin? No matter if the masters aren?t here, they?ll catch up.?

?Fine.? Gen said, with a cunningly smirk.

The two fighters stood 40 feet apart from each other. Slowly sliding into stance. Both had confident smiles, and their stances tight and mechanical.

?Ready??? Gouken started, his muscles tense.

?GO!?

They both rocketed forward running at top speed, adrenaline pumping through their bodies like normal blood. They crossed the distance to each other in 2 seconds, and just before they were to collide both fighters sprang 15 feet into the air.

?HAH!? Gouken attempted a couple of jabs that Gen swatted away and he retaliated with a front kick that Gouken muffled with his knee. They exchanged punches and kicks at a lightning fast rate as both of them hung in mid-air beginning to fall back to Earth.

Gen lashed out with a right hook. Gouken caught his fist and kicked him away, knocking him out of the sky. Gen sailed to the ground with a dead thud, kicking up dust but quickly returning to his feet undeterred.

Gouken still was in the air, falling as Gen rushed forward at the place where he would land planning to meet him on the way down. Gouken?s mind jumbled a plot together quickly.

Gouken performed two quick backflips to propel himself a little backward away from Gen?s clutches. Gen shot forward anyhow, right into Gouken?s plan.

As soon as Gouken hit the ground he unleashed a gou hadoken so quickly Gen ran into it more than the ki ball ran into him. Gen was abruptly blown back 10 feet; crashing to the ground and remaining still for half a minute.

Gouken stood, a clever smile on his face as he folded his arms in an almost pout.

?C?mon Gen?that didn?t hurt. Quit playing possum.? He scolded, laughing. Gen quickly sprang to his feet, calmly wiping dust and dirt off of his clothes, his confident smirk still present.

?You are?.stronger than your brother.? Gen spoke slowly while walking with his arms slack at his sides.

?A lot of people say that.?

Gouken and Gen once again snapped back into fighting mode. Their bodies were slowly relaxing and with no traces of exertion in their forms as they stood 5 feet apart from each other. Suddenly, a voice rang out:

?Why you overzealous punks!!? Master Fei shouted indignantly as he half ran, half walked up the fighting grounds showing his small pot belly underneath his robe. He looked flustered. Goutetsu calmly walked to the arena beside Fei in a time-worn gray Chinese uniform. His long thick braid dangling behind him and a slightly annoyed expression was on his face. He was annoyed with Fei.

?How dare you two start before we arrive! Do you not have respect for your superiors!?? Master Fei roared.

?Um?sorry Master Fei. We were just anxious to begin?.? Gouken muttered.

?HUFF Well you could have told someone! I wanted to see this! Now I?ve missed the beginning!? Goutetsu couldn?t help but laugh as Master Fei?s face became a beet red over something so trivial.

?It?s alright Fei, the fight barely began?you didn?t miss much.?

?A thousand apologies masters.? Said Gen, his voice almost sincere.

?Yes well you both should be sorry.? Said Fei with finality.

Gouken suddenly noticed his brother standing away from everyone halfway concealed by bushes watching the match with an unreadable face.

?Feel free to continue at any moment.? Muttered Goutetsu cheerfully.

?Alright!!? Gouken roared with enthusiasm as he suddenly hoped back into stance. Gen snapped back into combat mode himself.

Gen wordlessly blasted into the air with a flying kick which Gouken swatted away with ease. Gen then struck out with 5 jabs from the left hand, a right hook followed by a front kick?all in the space of 2 seconds. Gouken deflected and guarded against all of these attacks, his confidence never waning. The final palm strike to the center of Gouken?s chest did connect.

Gouken then struck back, uppercutting Gen in the chin then punching him on the stomach twice. Gouken finished with a sharp side kick; only Gen recovered too soon and caught his leg with one hand.

?Shit.?

Gouken said, with a lighthearted tone and his trademark smile. Gen stared at his opponent with his pit viper eyes. They both knew what was coming next.

?WHAM!!?

The following attack made Gouken fly 8 feet into the air and rotate a full 720o before he smacked the hard tile 12 feet away from Gen.

Gouken rose quickly again without a stumble or a blink, not caring to brush any debris from his garment.

The second Gouken took stance Gen pounced again; with a swift crane peck that Gouken narrowly avoided by taking a step back. Gen countered with a quick palm strike to Gouken?s chest with his other hand, knocking Goutetsu?s student off balance. Gouken recovered in time to swat away another crane peck and attack with a overhead right which Gen blocked with his forearm and he used the same arm to backfist Gouken across the cheek. Gouken then faked a right hook, only to knee Gen in the stomach and perform a hammerfist to the back of his exposed head. They continued to fight like this; countering each other?s moves in a crisp sharp dance. Fighting fast enough to not get bored but slow enough so their audience would be pleased with their usage of learned techniques. This continued for another 5 minutes until Goutetsu interrupted them.

?Haha! What do you take us for?! A bunch of old men with failing eyesight! You know you can fight faster than that Gouken and Gen, stop fooling around and get to the point. You show-offs.? Goutetsu added the last point with a chuckle.

?You hear that pal? They want us to cut to the chase. What do you say Gen? Shall we skip the pleasantries?? Gouken questioned, that fire of competition burning in his eyes. Gen nodded in response.

?Alright. Glad to see that we?re in agreement here.? Gouken said lightly as he tossed off his shirts, exposing his lean and strong chest. Gen tossed aside his white shirt also, the sweat on his skin glistening in the sun.

Gen hoped into stance, only this time it was different. One arm, the arm in front was that of crane while the arm in back was of tiger. Gen?s smirk remained.

?Ah?combined styles eh? I?ve seen this before. Let?s go.? Gouken took stance only he tossed aside the traditional form of his style; bouncing in place with both fists in front and clenched.

?HAH!? Gouken shouted as he rocketed towards his opponent. Kicking up a trail of dust as he ran at top speed, his arms pumping in the air.

Seconds before contact Gouken hopped in the air and performed a dropkick on the surprised Gen. Gen flew back 10 and skidded across the ground another 5. As soon as he returned to his feet Gouken was upon him again, a swift horizontal chop to Gen?s ribs that knocked the Chinese fighter to the ground once again. On the ground Gen fought, deflecting Gouken?s relentless attacks while trying to stand up. He scooted across the ground swatting away punches, chops, and kicks with blazing speed. Finally Gen hoped up and performed a spinning aerial roundhouse kick that floored Gouken in a split second.

Gouken quickly flipped to his feet with a straight back and a body pumping with energy. He took a couple steps back and returned to stance.

?Hmm?.they both love this. I can see it in their eyes?? Said Goutetsu to himself, stroking his beard as the sun stared in awe.


#13

Chapter XIII: Peculiar Dance

The sun stood in the middle of the sky, it?s radiance too beautiful for human eyes to directly cast their gazes. The clouds were light and playful, dancing through a light blue sky like children in an open field. Below on Earth, another battle was set to take place.

Gouken cracked his knuckles as he let his lips curve into a smirk. Gen was powerful, and Gouken was anxious to begin.

?Alright, ready?? He asked. Gen nodded silently.

?Let?s go!? Gouken shouted as he rocketed forward and cocked his fist behind him.

?WAIT! You should not fight now!.? Master Fei shouted while gesturing in the air.

?What? Why not?? Gouken stared up at the master with a puzzled face, the lower half of his body frozen in mid gallop as his upper body relaxed.

?Gen?s last fight was draining, you?d have an unfair advantage.? Master Fei said matter of factly, with his index finger pointing at an imaginary chalkboard in front of him.

?And you do want to fight Gen at his best correct??

?Yes.? Nodded Gouken. He stood straight now. Gen grunted and kicked a loose pebble near him; sending it flying.

?Then it is settled, tomorrow at noon the fight will resume. Do you think that this is fair?? Master Fei looked over at Goutetsu who wasn?t paying attention, staring up at the clear blue sky. Fei coughed awkwardly in his direction.

?Oh?yeah sure.? Goutetsu nodded rapidly without looking.

Then Gouki stirred, he coughed up a bit of blood and sat up, clutching his side with an expressionless face and closed eyes.

?Gouki, come. Afaik will-? Goutetsu started.

?No.?

Gouki?s voice was the most serious and stern his master had ever heard it at that moment. He stared at Goutetsu, his eyes burning into him with rage for even suggesting the idea. He slowly closed his eyes and began to return to his feet, stumbling. Gouken stared forward to help him. Gouki turned his back to him and slowly walked away from the battle, limping and not acknowledging anyone?s presence.

?Hmmm?he has a strong sense of personal honor and dignity.? Master Fei noted to his peer.

?You?re confusing it?he?s too headstrong. Dignity doesn?t exclude getting help when you need it. Gouki may not show it, but part of him is arrogant. And he will not look at us?because he is humiliated. Even his best isn?t good enough for him?.that could get him in trouble. Gouki, above all else wants to be strong?stronger than his brother?stronger than me?stronger than anyone. I?m beginning to realize that now?and I fear for him.?

?Hmmmm?maybe but I doubt it.? Replied Master Fei with a sharp smile. Goutetsu did not acknowledge the unnecessary remark, for he felt Fei was in no position to make judgements of his student?s character after only a few hours.

Gouken watched Gouki leave, staring at him as his wounded brother limped away. His black gi dark like a shadow spotted with drips of crimson blood and dust. The wind suddenly picked up slightly, playing with Gouki?s long hair and stirring the cloth on his uniform as Gouken silently watched. Gouki walked onward, and after a minute he was out of sight.

Gouken turned around to face Gen; only Gen wasn?t there. Gouken turned again to find Master Fei and Goutetsu gone also.

?Hmph.? Gouken shrugged as he walked away from the arena, wondering if Afaik had any extra rice cakes left.

++++++++++++++++++

The cry of a hungry wolf echoed in the distance, the moon full and the sky a sort of comforting deep violet. There were many fat clouds, great herds of shadows that blended with the night. As a group of clouds drifted in front of the moonlight another howl jolted up from the forest. It was comforting to Gouki at least, who sat on a large ancient boulder overlooking a great cliff that dropped off into a luscious green forest a hundred feet below.

Sleep did not come to Gouki this night, he tossed and turned with the pain from his injures flaring up in pulsing throbs. He found out his body hurt the least if he was on his stomach with his arms at his sides but his neck and shoulders were umcomfortable. After several hours he gave up and walked outside. Gouki?s right arm was in a sling and his entire left forearm bandaged. A wrapping also streaked across his chest. A bandage was over his left cheek. The shirt of his gi flopped unto the rock; he had discarded it to feel the mountain air on his skin.

?WHAM!?

A flashback of his fight with Gen shot forward in Gouki?s mind, a crane peck that connected in the center of Gouki?s chest. Gouki felt the spot on his flesh where the attack connected; a bruise had been left there.

Gouki grimaced as he thought more about the fight.

?I thought he could keep up, but Gen just proved to be better. I have lost again.? Gouki said aloud to no one in monotone.

What sickened Gouki the most would be the future coming in the daylight. Tomorrow, Gouken would step and fight Gen and beat him effortlessly. It felt like a weight slung around his shoulders, his own inadequacy. Gouki stared at his fist, bandaged and half responsive.

?Gouken will not beat him effortlessly. He will have to fight with all of his strength to win. I must be realistic.? As Gouki looked at the moon again he felt better.

As he inhaled as much as he could he felt two sharp pains in his side and chest but knew eventually he would totally recover. As he held in lungfulls of air he thought of his own mortality, imagining himself old, sick and bedridden. As he exhaled he reconciled with himself, holding on to the idea that he was still very strong. As Gouki hopped off the rock and walked away from the cliff he told himself that he must be diligent. Once Gouki was 20 feet away from the drop into green treetops he stopped and mechanically took stance. His had stopped staring at the moon. He clenched his fists and began to raise his ki.

?HAH!!? Gouki shouted as he shot forward his free arm and fired a watermelon sized ki blast into the midnight wilderness. But the blast only moved a couple of feet before it shattered into white shiny confetti. Gouki?s concentration was broken once he fell to his knees clutching his side in terrible pain.

Blood began to seep through Gouki?s clenched teeth, and fall to the ground in little crimson drops, sweat beaded all over Gouki?s body as he lay doubled over. His injuries would not allow him to train tonight. He refused Afaik?s healing to feel the fire of failure from his injuries. He wanted the reminder to stay there until his body overcame it naturally.

The throbbing pain that racked Gouki?s entire body had returned as an owl sailed high in the sky under the moonglow; it?s piercing eyes locked on a companion in the night.

?Damn them both?? Was the only thought that came to his mind. His fists were clenched and quivering as he noticed he was grinding his teeth. Perhaps he would ask Afaik to heal him. Perhaps he should be more realistic.

++++++++++++++++++

  • The next day, noon

Gouken bounced in place, excited about his next fight. The battle was set to begin in a little under 20 minutes, and Gouken had been ready since he first jumped out of bed. Gouken tore through breakfast like a wild man and then ran off to go meditate. Once he was resting under a tall tree it took longer than usual for him to clear his mind.

The sky was quiet and calm, the clouds thin and the sun lazy. There was a light breeze that felt refreshing rather than uncomfortable. Gouken was dressed in a tan gi, the sleeves torn off the shirt, and a black thick wool shirt underneath with no sleeves also. His hair was cut no more than 2 inches off his head and it was actually straight for once. A thin goatee lined his handsome face, with eyes that gleamed confidence and a child-like giddiness.

?Man?I?m ready to begin! Where is everyone!?? Gouken exclaimed.

?Right here.? A flat voice uttered from behind. Gouken whirled around to find Gen staring at him, his pit viper eyes locked on a new target.

?Ah there you are. So are you ready to begin? No matter if the masters aren?t here, they?ll catch up.?

?Fine.? Gen said, with a cunningly smirk.

The two fighters stood 40 feet apart from each other. Slowly sliding into stance. Both had confident smiles, and their stances tight and mechanical.

?Ready??? Gouken started, his muscles tense.

?GO!?

They both rocketed forward running at top speed, adrenaline pumping through their bodies like normal blood. They crossed the distance to each other in 2 seconds, and just before they were to collide both fighters sprang 15 feet into the air.

?HAH!? Gouken attempted a couple of jabs that Gen swatted away and he retaliated with a front kick that Gouken muffled with his knee. They exchanged punches and kicks at a lightning fast rate as both of them hung in mid-air beginning to fall back to Earth.

Gen lashed out with a right hook. Gouken caught his fist and kicked him away, knocking him out of the sky. Gen sailed to the ground with a dead thud, kicking up dust but quickly returning to his feet undeterred.

Gouken still was in the air, falling as Gen rushed forward at the place where he would land planning to meet him on the way down. Gouken?s mind jumbled a plot together quickly.

Gouken performed two quick backflips to propel himself a little backward away from Gen?s clutches. Gen shot forward anyhow, right into Gouken?s plan.

As soon as Gouken hit the ground he unleashed a gou hadoken so quickly Gen ran into it more than the ki ball ran into him. Gen was abruptly blown back 10 feet; crashing to the ground and remaining still for half a minute.

Gouken stood, a clever smile on his face as he folded his arms in an almost pout.

?C?mon Gen?that didn?t hurt. Quit playing possum.? He scolded, laughing. Gen quickly sprang to his feet, calmly wiping dust and dirt off of his clothes, his confident smirk still present.

?You are?.stronger than your brother.? Gen spoke slowly while walking with his arms slack at his sides.

?A lot of people say that.?

Gouken and Gen once again snapped back into fighting mode. Their bodies were slowly relaxing and with no traces of exertion in their forms as they stood 5 feet apart from each other. Suddenly, a voice rang out:

?Why you overzealous punks!!? Master Fei shouted indignantly as he half ran, half walked up the fighting grounds showing his small pot belly underneath his robe. He looked flustered. Goutetsu calmly walked to the arena beside Fei in a time-worn gray Chinese uniform. His long thick braid dangling behind him and a slightly annoyed expression was on his face. He was annoyed with Fei.

?How dare you two start before we arrive! Do you not have respect for your superiors!?? Master Fei roared.

?Um?sorry Master Fei. We were just anxious to begin?.? Gouken muttered.

?HUFF Well you could have told someone! I wanted to see this! Now I?ve missed the beginning!? Goutetsu couldn?t help but laugh as Master Fei?s face became a beet red over something so trivial.

?It?s alright Fei, the fight barely began?you didn?t miss much.?

?A thousand apologies masters.? Said Gen, his voice almost sincere.

?Yes well you both should be sorry.? Said Fei with finality.

Gouken suddenly noticed his brother standing away from everyone halfway concealed by bushes watching the match with an unreadable face.

?Feel free to continue at any moment.? Muttered Goutetsu cheerfully.

?Alright!!? Gouken roared with enthusiasm as he suddenly hoped back into stance. Gen snapped back into combat mode himself.

Gen wordlessly blasted into the air with a flying kick which Gouken swatted away with ease. Gen then struck out with 5 jabs from the left hand, a right hook followed by a front kick?all in the space of 2 seconds. Gouken deflected and guarded against all of these attacks, his confidence never waning. The final palm strike to the center of Gouken?s chest did connect.

Gouken then struck back, uppercutting Gen in the chin then punching him on the stomach twice. Gouken finished with a sharp side kick; only Gen recovered too soon and caught his leg with one hand.

?Shit.?

Gouken said, with a lighthearted tone and his trademark smile. Gen stared at his opponent with his pit viper eyes. They both knew what was coming next.

?WHAM!!?

The following attack made Gouken fly 8 feet into the air and rotate a full 720o before he smacked the hard tile 12 feet away from Gen.

Gouken rose quickly again without a stumble or a blink, not caring to brush any debris from his garment.

The second Gouken took stance Gen pounced again; with a swift crane peck that Gouken narrowly avoided by taking a step back. Gen countered with a quick palm strike to Gouken?s chest with his other hand, knocking Goutetsu?s student off balance. Gouken recovered in time to swat away another crane peck and attack with a overhead right which Gen blocked with his forearm and he used the same arm to backfist Gouken across the cheek. Gouken then faked a right hook, only to knee Gen in the stomach and perform a hammerfist to the back of his exposed head. They continued to fight like this; countering each other?s moves in a crisp sharp dance. Fighting fast enough to not get bored but slow enough so their audience would be pleased with their usage of learned techniques. This continued for another 5 minutes until Goutetsu interrupted them.

?Haha! What do you take us for?! A bunch of old men with failing eyesight! You know you can fight faster than that Gouken and Gen, stop fooling around and get to the point. You show-offs.? Goutetsu added the last point with a chuckle.

?You hear that pal? They want us to cut to the chase. What do you say Gen? Shall we skip the pleasantries?? Gouken questioned, that fire of competition burning in his eyes. Gen nodded in response.

?Alright. Glad to see that we?re in agreement here.? Gouken said lightly as he tossed off his shirts, exposing his lean and strong chest. Gen tossed aside his white shirt also, the sweat on his skin glistening in the sun.

Gen hoped into stance, only this time it was different. One arm, the arm in front was that of crane while the arm in back was of tiger. Gen?s smirk remained.

?Ah?combined styles eh? I?ve seen this before. Let?s go.? Gouken took stance only he tossed aside the traditional form of his style; bouncing in place with both fists in front and clenched.

?HAH!? Gouken shouted as he rocketed towards his opponent. Kicking up a trail of dust as he ran at top speed, his arms pumping in the air.

Seconds before contact Gouken hopped in the air and performed a dropkick on the surprised Gen. Gen flew back 10 and skidded across the ground another 5. As soon as he returned to his feet Gouken was upon him again, a swift horizontal chop to Gen?s ribs that knocked the Chinese fighter to the ground once again. On the ground Gen fought, deflecting Gouken?s relentless attacks while trying to stand up. He scooted across the ground swatting away punches, chops, and kicks with blazing speed. Finally Gen hoped up and performed a spinning aerial roundhouse kick that floored Gouken in a split second.

Gouken quickly flipped to his feet with a straight back and a body pumping with energy. He took a couple steps back and returned to stance.

?Hmm?.they both love this. I can see it in their eyes?? Said Goutetsu to himself, stroking his beard as the sun stared in awe.


#14

Chapter XIV: Fork In The Road

Gouken and Gen rushed into each other locking hands; trying to force the other to the ground. They strained against the strength of one another like enraged rams in combat over a willing female. The strain was evident in their exposed bodies; veins boldly showing through sweat covered skin pumping blood and adrenaline to where it was needed.

This deadlock continued for another minute, until Gen smiled through clenched teeth.

?WHAM!?

Gen viciously kneed Gouken in his unguarded abdomen. Gouken stumbled but refused to break the lock, holding firm after a couple steps back. Gen then struck again with another knee, Gouken did not move this time he only winced.

Another knee to the stomach. And another. And with the final knee Gen forced his knee deeper into Gouken?s abdomen. Gouken still held on.

Gen slowly gained the advantage, pushing the coughing Gouken steadily downwards. Gouken suddenly stiffened.

?My turn.?

With that Gouken stood up. He reared his head back and rammed it into Gen?s surprised visage with blinding speed and force. Gen stumbled a couple steps and limply fell backwards holding his head with both hands and barely coherent.

?That?s using your head.? Goutetsu muttered with a chuckle. Fei grunted. Neither teacher knew Gouki was there.

Gouken waited for Gen to return to his feet; he had tried once but fell again. After 10 seconds Gen was up with wobblying legs but he was recovering quickly. His nose was bleeding and Gen let it. Gen wasted no time, suddenly shooting forward to kick the surprised Gouken in the stomach. Gouken threw a lazy punch while stumbling backward that Gen easily dodged. Gen then grabbed Gouken?s head and drove his knee into it. Gouken?s head rocked back and Gen delivered 5 crane pecks to Gouken?s chest in a second then hopped backwards and exploded with a powerful side kick; knocking Gouken 20 feet away into a stone wall. Gouken?s body slapped the hard stone and bounced off; smacking the ground with a thick thwack and a cloud of dust.

Gouken quickly sprang to his feet; wiping blood out of the corner of his mouth with a subdued smile. His eyes were on the ground.

?That hurt.? He quipped.

Gen ignored him, pushing forward intent on destroying his foe. Gen tried a front kick but Gouken slapped it away; countering with a right hook that Gen dodged. Gen tried a knee to Gouken?s stomach but Gouken kneed Gen?s knee; pushing it away and then attempted a reverse spinning elbow. Gen caught the elbow and kicked Gouken in the back knocking him away. Both suddenly paused and returned to stance, their eyes locked onto each other.

Gouken then attacked with a low sweep. Gen jumped clearly above and landing behind Gouken, putting him in a headlock. Gouken thrashed, but Gen held him firm. Gouken then reached behind him and grabbed Gen?s throat with both hands, not letting go.

Suddenly, they both began to move forward?their steps together yet opposing each other. Then the stride picked up, to a hurried shuffle. Seconds later it became a full fledged gallop.

Both Gen and Gouken were trapped each other in holds, yet they both were running at top speed through the arena.

?What the hell are they doing?! This is no time for games!? Master Fei exclaimed with crossed arms.

?You see that far wall?? Goutetsu said calmly. Fei nodded.

?They?re running towards it. They know one of them is going to have to let go in order to not be thrown into a wall of stone going as fast as they are. It is a contest.? Goutetsu said, his eyes glued to the match.

?Well that is stupid. This whole fight is a contest. Kids these days?running into walls. We didn?t pull stupid stunts like that. In our day we just fought, no stupid games involved.? Master Fei pouted.

?This is hardly a game Fei. They are testing each other, what each is made of. How can you not understand? Didn?t you experience that when Master made us fight Long and Chang??

?No. They were weak, I disposed of them quickly.?

?I?m afraid your memory is fading Fei. They beat you, both of them.?

Fei grunted and said no more for a few minutes.

The wall was now no more than 10 feet away. They would cross the distance in less than a second. Neither slowed down, only stared at each other in fierce concentration.

A sick thud resulted as both fighters smacked the stone wall; knocking a few of the ancient bricks loose and shattering the rest that took the impact directly. Both fighters bounced away from each other and crashed to the ground; a trail of blood flowing from each 10 feet away from each other. Neither moved.

Gouki?s eyes widened as he watched from the outskirts of the arena, his brother and Gen lay on the ground like fresh corpses. He could not even see their chests rise with breath; they were completely motionless.

?Hmmmm?? Goutetsu wondered as he stroked his beard, Master Fei stood in shock with wide eyes.

In a few minutes both fighters began to stir. Gouken groaned as he slowly turned over, his stomach now towards the ground. He tried to slide to his knees, but it was a futile effort and he collapsed again seconds later. Gen tried to stand and managed to get up with knees bent and quivering. Then he leaned too far backward and crashed to the ground again with rolling eyes. Too dazed to stand they both were.

?At least they?re both breathing.? Goutetsu muttered.

Gouken slowly opened his eyes to the world spinning around him. He attempted to get up; this time slower and successfully. He stumbled to a halt and rubbed his side. Gen slowly picked himself off the ground also, falling into the crumbling wall and using it for his only support. Blood was oozing from a gash in the middle of his forehead, running down his face in little rivers but he did not care enough to tend to it. He wanted to stand first.

Gen and Gouken?s eyes slowly drifted into each other?s gazes and froze once they landed. Their faces suddenly tightened and a jerk rippled through Gouken?s leg. Both had endured the wall, and both were standing afterward. Quickly yet patiently it dawned on them the only thing they had to do.

Gouken and Gen suddenly shot towards the center of the arena. Once there they bounded backwards and rocketed forward into each other. Fighting furiously; their fists and feet blurs, their teeth clenched as sounds of battle echoed throughout the training grounds; rattling the dislodged pebbles from ancient stone. Neither grunted or hollered. The only sounds were the rapid smacking of flesh and and the sharp ?woosh? of limbs cutting through air.

?WHAM!? Gouken incorrectly predicted Gen?s next move and was met with a fist buried into his abdomen. He quickly recovered and extended his forearm to absorb a kick and countered by tossing the leg he captured away. Gen did not stay down, bouncing off the pavement into a spinning roundhouse kick which startled Gouken.

Gouken was knocked 10 feet away but he never was off his feet. He rushed into Gen and the fighting continued. Suddenly Gouken stopped and shot out an open palm signaling to stop. Gouken straightened his posture and folded his arms, now unguarded and out of stance.

?Gen. This fight is over with.?

Gen?s eyes widened as he stood silently astonished.

?Gen, I?ve figured you out. I know your strategies and attacks. We don?t have to continue. Whaddya say??

Gen spat blood from his mouth harshly on the ground as a response. Gouken shrugged.

?Now what?s going on?? Master Fei muttered.

?Gouken is asking Gen to stop.? Goutetsu stated flatly.

?What?! If anything he should be giving up! GEN! CRUSH HIM NOW! He is too arrogant!!?

?Fei, Gouken is not being arrogant?.? Goutetsu gave up mid-sentence for he saw no use for it.

Gen suddenly shot high 20 feet into the air, coming downward with his foot gunning for Gouken. Gouken easily sidestepped the attack and shot his forearm out to swat away Gen?s follow up punches. Gouken then quickly ducked under Gen?s jumping front kick and kicked him out of the air violently with the ?tatsumaki senpukyaku? or hurricane kick. Gen crashed to the ground but lashed out with a trip of his own but Gouken lifted a single foot 6 inches off the ground causing the attack to miss. Gen sprang forward with an overhead right; Gouken caught his fist and threw him into a nearby wall.

Gen slowly recovered with eyes shocked wide. Just 5 minutes ago Gouken and Gen were apparently on an even level. Gen?s fists clenched as he quickly took to crane stance. Gouken shrugged.

?Ah yes?Crane. Gen will surely beat him now.? Master Fei muttered.

Gen sprang into the air again, his arms spread out like crane wings while the sun burned bright behind him. Gouken dodged Gen?s strikes and ran behind him, kicking him with a vicious roundhouse to the back of the head. Gen was unfazed, taking no time to recover as he lunged forward again with a flurry of punches. Gouken swatted each away; 15 in 5 seconds and finally catching the last one.

Gen?s outstretched arm was stiff, trying to break free of Gouken?s hold. Veins showed themselves in his well-trained limb as he grunted in strain. Gouken was relaxed with Gen?s knuckles in his palm and his fingers curled around Gen?s tight fist.

?You can end it now Gen, we don?t have to continue. I have a lot of respect for you. This fight taught me a lot. We don?t have to beat each other into the ground?.you and I both know who will win now.? Gouken said, his voice calm and stern. Gen pushed his fist into Gouken but his arm would not budge. He grunted as he leaned into the frozen punch. Seconds drifted into a minute with both fighters standing almost like statues.

Gouki watched from the sidelines, his veiled eyes focused on the match with an even steady heartbeat. He was standing with slightly spread legs and folded arms. He sensed Gen was about to forfeit the fight.

?Gen can still win, if only he holds out. He could wear Gouken down, and in his weariness Gouken would make mistakes??

Gouki stopped mid-thought; he knew the scenario would not play out as he was imagining. Gen would tire before Gouken. Gen is pushing and straining. Gouken is using no more than he must now. A saying told to them by Goutetsu suddenly echoed in Gouki?s mind:

?Minimum effort, maximum efficiency.?

He would watch no more; the outcome had been decided. Gouki turned and slowly walked away, cursing to himself.

Gen suddenly shot forward with front kick, Gouken caught his leg and held it. Gen hopped off his other foot, with a jumping reverse roundhouse. Gouken released his hold on Gen?s two limbs and ducked under the kick. Gen?s kick sliced through the air just above Gouken?s head and Gen tried again with a downward axe kick. Gouken sprang backward 10 feet and fired a white gou hadoken that Gen kicked away once he had landed on the ground. Gen rockted towards the still Gouken. Gen?s horizontal chop was blocked and Gen was punched 10 feet away.

Gen was slow to return to his feet, slower than usual. His movements carried a kind of patience for the inevitable. Gouken stood waiting, then he noticed something:
Gen?s hand was shaking.

Once Gen had returned to his feet he only stared at Gouken, his eyes no longer piercing but rather searching within Gouken?s face for something. The late afternoon sun cast an eerie glow on both fighters. The crimson of their spilled glimmered a bit in the golden light.

Gen quickly bowed to Gouken and turned, walking away with relaxed stride and swaying arms. Gouken smiled and soon followed.

++++++++++++++++++

?You both did very well, and I am proud of your performances.? Goutetsu started, his voice carrying over the sounds of the night. Gouken and Gouki sat kneeling before him, with Gen and Fei leaning against a tree in the background watching.

?Now, this is an ancient tradition of our art. An award is always given to the strongest and most balanced pupil of the two a master takes on.? Goutetsu turned behind him and emerged with a necklace of brown beads similar to the accessory of a Shaolin monk, only each bead was larger and there were fewer of them due to size. Goutetsu held the necklace in front of him with both hands, dangling it in front of his two students.

?As you can see, my master gave me one?? Goutetsu had re-donned his white uniform, his own bead necklace around his neck. ?..and now Gouken I am giving one to you.? Gouken promptly stood and Goutetsu slid the necklace around his neck. Gouken solemnly bowed and sat.

?Gouki, this is not meant to diminish your achievements. Your path was more difficult than Gouken?s. Even if you achieved less than your brother it does not mean you are any less a martial artist.? Gouki nodded, his face unreadable. He focused on the owl sailing through the night air instead.

?Would anyone like to say anything else?? Master Fei walked to the front with Gen trailing behind. Gouken turned to look into his brother?s face but found no information. Gouki?s true feelings were hidden behind a stone expression. Moths orbited around the laterns as Fei cleared his throat.

?You two boys did well. Goutetsu trained you well. I cannot wait to see the impact you two make on the world. And do not be a stranger to visit me in China, my students need new punching bags.? Fei chuckled as Gen opened his mouth to speak, something he usually did not do.

?Gouken and Gouki; I was honored to fight you both and have learned much. I hope to meet you both again in the near future?and this time Gouken?.I won?t bow out.? Gen?s signature smirk returned for a split second as he and Fei turned to leave. Gouken smiled and nodded.

?Well I guess that?s it?..? There was an odd weariness in Goutetsu?s sentence; as if he wanted to say more or felt something else must be done. Goutetsu looked out at the stars and ran his hand over the top of his head.

?You two know I don?t drink but this is a special occasion. There?s sake back at the house we are all welcome to.? Goutetsu was smiling big now and he turned toward the dark forest to yell.

?Fei! At least stay the night! There?s sake!! A lot of it!?

?Sake you say?!? Goutetsu and the two brothers could hear Fei running back; his heavy breathing seemed to echo.


#15

Chapter XV: El Hroe del da

Gouki gingerly packed several rolled up scrolls into his bag, laying them one on top of another. He had decided after all to only copy the ones he wanted and take those, leaving the precious originals behind as a measure of precaution and out of respect for their authors.

Three days had passed since Gen and Master Fei departed for China. Gouken left the morning after his fight, the morning after his graduation and the morning after his marathon of drunkeness. Goutetsu left for the mountains to further train himself; now that he no longer had students to look after he resumed his wandering ways. This only left Gouki and Afaik; but Afaik herself spent most of her days in town playing mah jong and chess with her housewife friends.

The shadow of candlelight danced on the walls of the old study as Gouki carefully stuffed what he needed into his worn bag. The dusty floor hadn?t been swept in weeks and the cobwebs hung like curtains and drapes?.yet the room gave Gouki a sense of familiarity. Now he was leaving this place unsure if he would ever return. Gouki sighed as he reached over and extinguished a candle in between his thumb and index finger. The ghostly trail of smoke silently dispersed into the stately air with a soft ?hiss?. He picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder lazily, quietly finishing off the rest of the candles. Once the last flame flickered and died Gouki ambled out of the room. With his hands shoved in his pockets and his face somber he thought of where he would train next. He thought of where he would be meditating next and who he would be fighting next. He felt a splash of excitement because he didn?t know where or who was next.

++++++++++++++++++

?HELP! I?VE BEEN ROBBED!! SOMEONE!!?

A loud shriek echoed through the country marketplace as Gouken?s ears perked. His mouth was stuffed with food as he sat at a local outdoor diner. It was a busy afternoon with the sun shining and many people yelling and children running around playing. There was no wind and there was no hint of a future rain. Gouken paused to listen closer but heard no more. After a minute he went back to his noodles.

?SOMEBODY HELP???

The voice tore through the ruckus of the marketplace again. Gouken immediately dropped his dish and sped off in the direction; not missing a beat as he tossed the proper amount towards the waitress and winked at her smiling face. He had tipped generously but still within reason.

Gouken had walked all night at a brisk pace. He left Goutetsu?s grounds two weeks ago. Gouken knew he had traveled far when no one around him recongnized the name of the town he stayed in for a decade. Gouken?s main concern was just going somewhere, anywhere. As he ran his loose tan gi flapped in the brisk breeze. His sprinting kicked up a cloud of thin dust that made his bare feet even dirtier. The calls grew closer and before he knew it he was standing in front of the woman making them.

?M?am?? Is something the matter??? Gouken meekly inquired.

The woman in front of him was young and beautiful, but her drab kimono and haggard hair suggested a humble lifestyle. She stood in front of Gouken slightly annoyed that he would ask such a question; as she had been screaming for help at the top of her lungs for the past 10 minutes.

?I?ve been robbed! That?s what I was hollering about!? She searched Gouken?s blank face for something but gave up a moment after.

?Some common thug has just stolen all of my money.? She stated flatly, staring in Gouken?s direction but not at Gouken.

??how can I help?? Gouken sensed he?d be dealing with this woman for the rest of the day. They both stood still while people shuffled about around them, the din of all the conversations combined made picking out single threads of discourse difficult. It was easy to treat all the chatter as one singular object of background noise. It was easy to ignore all the chatter just as one did not pay much attention to the sounds of freeway traffic on a downtown street. Gouken studied the woman?s face as a man carrying stacked boxes shoved him out of the way without a word. The smell of garlic teased his nostrils as a woman gracefully sidestepped around him while talking to her friend about a recent Toshiro Mifune movie. The strange woman that had approached him grabbed Gouken on the shoulder and pulled his ear close to her lipsticked mouth.

?I want you to get my money back. Follow me around, when I see him I?ll point him out to you. Please?.I needed that money??

Gouken shrugged and followed her.

++++++++++++++++++

The orange afternoon sky was at the last stand, holding on just a little longer before night would overthrow it. Gouken and the woman had walked along for hours now with no sign of the thief. They had been all over town, walking and turning their heads like lost strangers. They had sat at good lookout points and scoped the crowds. They made polite conversation as the hours passed and details were not elaborated on. As they walked the edges of town Gouken couldn?t decide if he would rather be back at home with Goutetsu and Afaik or out wandering alone. As they strolled dirt roads Gouken wondered if the woman was grief stricken or confused. As they approached a lonely modest tavern the woman grabbed Gouken (this time by his arm) and pulled him close again.

?There he is.? She hissed.

Directly in front and to the side of the bar were tables for outside enjoyment. Several patrons sat sullenly with their drinks; flat expressions spoke loudly that they were not in the mood for merriment. Each patron sat alone. Even the one the woman pointed at who had a large beer mug in his hand; the frothy tonic flowing into his backward leaning mouth.

?Him?? Gouken pointed out in the distance. ?He looks like a monk?are you sure he?s the one??

?He?s the one! You know how corrupt monks are these days?.you?d better watch out.?

?He should not be a problem. Stay here, I?ll be back.? Gouken?s eyes suddenly turned surprisingly serious as he began to briskly walk forward.

?Hey you!!? Gouken shouted.

?Hrm?? The figure turned around slowly, a lazy daze in his eyes. Yes he was a monk. With baldness shining from sweat, bushy eyebrows, a beak nose and a slender face. He didn?t look a day over 19, his garment loose robes with pants that stopped at his upper ankle and a shirt that stopped at his elbow. He got a quick glance at Gouken and his face slipped into a look of slight confusion but mostly indifference. A bag sat on the tan ground next to him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the woman, pointing at Gouken while his back was turned.

?You!? The stranger shouted as he slowly rose.

?Me what?! Give this kind woman back her money!? Gouken scowled as he walked to meet the monk.

?ME?! You?re the thief!!?

?WHAT?! How dare you! You lying thug! Don?t make me have to use force!? Gouken rolled up his sleeves.

?Force! You couldn?t do anything with those skinny arms! Now listen, you give this woman back her money and I won?t pound you into the ground.? The monk took one last long swallow of beer before setting it down and walking toward Gouken with the brisk gait of someone annoyed.

?So that?s how you want it huh?!?

?That?s the way its gonna be and I don?t mind it!!?

?THAT?S IT!!!? Both shouted simultaneously as they sprang into fighting stances. The bar patrons were silently watching with no hint of enjoyment. The woman who started the trouble was trying to hide her smile.

?HAH!? The stranger bolted forward with a palm strike, Gouken easily dodged the attack and attempted to land a right hook. The stranger caught Gouken?s arm and threw him over-the-shoulder to the dusty ground.

?Rookie. You overextended yourself. Your own momentum has just been used against you.? Gouken shot back up into a jumping roundhouse kick. The attack was blocked and countered with a hammerfist to the side of Gouken?s head. Gouken ducked under the attack and elbowed his opponent in the ribs. Then he briskly smacked him across the face, making his eyes widen.

?Why you little-!?

Both continued fighting ignoring the woman who crept up behind them, eyeing their bags cast aside before the impromptu battle. She slipped next to the discarded articles and silently searched them for a particular item?.

?HAHAHA!? She cackled as she stood up with both of the fighters? wallets in each hand. Suddenly she put her fingers to her mouth and gave a shrill whistle. In the distance a car roared to life and shot forward toward her.

?SUCKERS!!? She laughed as a dirty black sedan pulled up beside her. She quickly hoped in the passenger side and the vehicle sped off leaving the perplexed young men in the dust.

?SHE JUST-!!!? The two shouted as they looked at each other and then to the fleeing car with eyes wide and mouths hung open. Without thinking Gouken jumped back and cupped his hands, gathering his ki into a small white ball?.

The stranger took off running towards the car, his eyes focused and his fists pumping through the air.

?HAHH!!? Gouken roared as he shot forward his hands, a white baseballl-sized ki springing forward, flying towards the car at lightning speed.

With a loud crash the blast connected with the back right side of the getaway car, destroying the tire and some of the fender. The car quickly began to slow, kicking up dust as it swerved around the road. The stranger quickly caught up, springing high into the air, his tightly clenched fist high above his head.

?Iron fist of truth!!? He yelled in Mandarin as he punched through the front windshield, shattering the galss completely. The shocked thieves could only hold their hands in front of their faces as glass rained down on them, the driver pushing his foot on the gas in surprise. The stranger then grabbed both criminals by their throats and jerked them from the car, tossing them to the side of the road and jumping away himself as the black car ran off the road and into a tree.

Gouken and the stranger stared at the two thieves on the ground, both of them shocked and afraid.

?Give us our money.? Gouken commanded, his stern eyes locked on the crooks.

Wordlessly they handed their wallets over.

?Now, go.? Gouken ordered. They took off running with a noticeable carelessness in their hurry.

?That?s it?! They robbed us!! Shouldn?t we punish them some more??? The stranger protested.

?Look at their car. It?s useless now. They?ve learned their lesson I bet.? Gouken nodded, his voice had returned to its natural kind tone.

?I seriously doubt it. Eitherway, those were some nice moves back there. That ki control was excellent. Tell me, did you aim for the car or just miss and hit the tire??

?It didn?t want to hurt them. Only stop them from getting away. The tire was enough.?

?Nice. I never caught your name.?

?My name?s Gouken. And I didn?t catch your name either.?

?I did not throw it. It is Retsu.?

?Well Retsu, you did well yourself. Destroying all that glass with one punch? Can I see your hand?? Retsu showed him the fist free of any cuts or bruises.

?Impressive!?

?I studied Shorinji Kempo. Come on Gouken. Like you couldn?t do that. By your blast I can tell you are pretty well trained. Unless you?re a pansy boy that worked on ?focusing their ki? all the time and not fighting.?

Gouken laughed, and Retsu chuckled at his comment.

?Where are you heading now friend??

Retsu shrugged. ?Nowhere in particular, just kinda blowing with the wind?.? Retsu pantomimed the wind with his hands. Gouken heard a loud pop from the wrecked car in the distance.

?Hmm?well that?s where I?m going also.? Gouken did not look at Retsu as his head titled upward at the orange sky with clouds thinner than he had ever seen.

?Yes I?d like to come along with you.? Retsu said with closed eyes and a slight nod.

?What? I didn?t ask you.?

?You didn?t need to.?


#16

Chapter XVI: Kings

His arm floated through the air as if it had a mind and purpose of its own. Gently arcing and waving like a nonchalant feather in the gentle breeze. This wafting limb moved in startling contrast to the fists and feet that clashed against it, unable to penetrate this quiet yet solid defense.

Gouki was only moving his left arm. His right was tucked behind him and he had long broken stance. He stood perfectly upright, his breathing even and slow, his uniform pressed and clean. His brow had not known sweat today. Yet he had spent the entire day fighting opponent after opponent with little breaks. The action paused; a man standing opposite from Gouki had ceased attacking and paused to stare in confusion, anger and jealously with a bit of wonder. Gouki?s left arm now lay slack and still. Neither said anything.

Gouki?s opponent quietly took in deep breaths, so deep his upper body swelled. Sweat rolled from his nose, chin and fingertips. He wanted to say something; perhaps question Gouki about his strength or make up an excuse to why after all his efforts he could not land a blow. He wanted to say something but he found that even his voice was tired from hollering and grunting. He only remained silent under Gouki?s imposing gaze.

Dawn was moments away; the air was heavy with moisture and the birds singing was a welcome sound compared to the hissing of the insects. These men had been fighting since the middle of the night, after even the thieves had gone to sleep and before the first person rose to face the day. And one of these fighting men was very tired. Gouki stared at this person before him, fighting with everything he had and yet Gouki was only using a fraction of a fraction of his own power to stop him. Gouki felt sorry for his opponent because in the back of his mind he believed that he was once in the same position. Yet he knows he was never that weak.
Without a word Gouki turned and walked away, not caring to look behind him for he knew he would not be followed by anything greater than eyes. He is a one eyed man in the land of the blind; here he is king?

The notion disgusted him.

++++++++++++++++++

?Yes! We?re almost at the top!!?

Gouken shouted more to himself than his companion Retsu. He was beginning to wonder why he listened to that village elder when he was told that a ?dragon of a man? lived and trained at the summit of the tallest mountain in sight. He didn?t think twice and started climbing, just like any challenge presented to him-but something felt different now. And of course he couldn?t define what it was.

?This better not be a wild goose chase, or that old man is gonna need a new hip!? Retsu chuckled as he reached for something to grab unto to continue climbing.

?There?s only one way to find out.? Said Gouken as he placed his foot a little higher, the top slowly becoming more within reach. Suddenly Gouken?s thoughts shifted to Goutetsu. He hadn?t seen his former master for at least 6 months now; he wondered how his teacher was doing. Gouken chuckled to himself as he thought: ?I bet he?s happily drinking tea or something.?

++++++++++++++++++

Gouki wandered the backs roads on the outside of a new town perplexed with his situation. His power had hit a wall. While training he rarely felt challenged. He overwhelmed his challengers now; to a point where it was routine and nothing was learned. These ?challengers? simply were not anything resembling a challenge anymore. But on the other hand, fights against Goutetsu, Gouki, Gen, perhaps even Master Fei were inversely pointless. He was thrashed so efficiently he learned nothing. They were so much stronger than him he couldn?t begin to analyze and compare. He felt as if he were drowning?either in their collective strength or his total weakness he couldn?t tell but he knew something had to be done.

But for the moment Gouki could only wander the path before him, and wonder.

++++++++++++++++++

?Um?hello?? Gouken shouted out into the air, hearing his echo bounce around the surroundings. His call was not returned.

?We have come looking for Kuwabatake-sama, the ?king of the mountain??We wish to be instructed by him!? Retsu shouted, noting that from the echo he sounded nervous and frightened. There was still no answer.

?We?ve been tricked Gouken. We climbed this mountain for nothing. Silly old man, I bet fooling travelers is his only source of amusement-?

?No we didn?t! Retsu look! Someone lives here.? Gouken pointed to a modest log cabin about 200 feet away from them.

?And look, this is awfully flat for the top of a mountain?? Again Gouken was right, the summit was a 400-foot wide circle. Also the ground was completely even and flat.

?Oh?? Retsu stammered.

?Whoever did this, did it on purpose.?

?That is correct intruders!!?

A deep, authoritative voice resonated throughout the entire area. Gouken and Retsu were frozen in anticipation. They looked at each other, mostly because there was nothing else to look at.

?I am Kuwabatake-sama and I am willing to fight with you two! However, I will only duel under one condition!?The voice boomed from nowhere and yet everywhere.

?Name it Kuwabatake-sama, and we will do our best to follow it.? Retsu said while bowing.

?Haha good! My condition is that once you fight me, you will fight me without restraint! You will fight me with your absolute best! You will fight?as if your very lives depend on it. And they will for I will be doing the same.? The voice then faded into the mists of the surrounding mountains.

?I don?t understand??fight without restraint?? Does he know how strong we are?? Gouken?s question was oddly without the slightest undertone of arrogance, it was almost childlike in its simplicity.

?I don?t know Gouken?but I?m sure it?s the other way around for some reason. Regardless, we will find out in a moment.?

From the mists emerged a figure, slowly walking towards the two young travelers. The stranger?s gait was slow and steady, his feet flat. Gouken could hear the sound of the man breathing. The figure stopped, and there stood Kuwabatake. His form was draped in a long bearskin cloak that stopped at his bare ankles. His face was partly concealed by the bear?s face, the eyes still frozen in the final moment of aggressive desperation.

?So?you both have climbed this mountain to fight with me?? The voice was deep, dignified and secure.

?Yes, we will be honored to spar with you Kuwabatake-sama.? Retsu said with a bow.

?Enough with the bowing. I?m not some tired old dignitary that needs to be reminded of and worshipped for how strong he once was. Stand up and get into stance! We?ve wasted too much time not fighting!?

Gouken was taken aback by Kuwabatake?s fowardness but tried not to reveal it as he snapped into fighting position. Retsu blinked in confusion once then did the same.

?Hmmmmmm?? Kuwabatake mumbled to himself as his animal skin fell to the floor with a thud.

??weighted clothes?? Retsu said to himself.

Kuwabatake then kicked the discarded fur away. It crashed somewhere in the distance noisily disturbing some trees.

Gouken thought the king of the mountain seemed bigger now. The man was over 7 feet tall, and he had to be over 275 lbs with his barrel chest and thick tree trunk limbs. His fists alone were as big as Gouken?s head. Kuwabatake was also quite hairy. Black coarse hair was all over him; he had a thick bushy beard that ambled to the fringes of his stomach. The hair from the top of his head went to his shoulders and it was spread everywhere, Kuwabatake didn?t care enough to brush it from his face. This sight to behold only had one a pair of tattered grey pants, with a black belt around his waist almost dyed brown from dirt.

?Well, attack!? Kuwabatake roared, standing upright with his hands clasped behind him.

His demand was met. A sidekick from Gouken was fired at him while a spinning roundhouse came at him from Retsu.

?Far too frontal for an opening.?

Kuwabatake said as he gripped the legs of Gouken and Retsu by their ankles. Without saying anymore he lifted them off the ground and slammed them into each other. Gouken and Retsu stumbled over each other to stand and when they were on their feet, Kuwabatake was 40 feet away.

?Now try again! I refuse to let a battle begin so horridly!?

++++++++++++++++++

A solitary drop of water crashed to the ground, miles away from any person except one. A single drop falling rang as loud in Gouki?s ears as a plate smashing to the floor or a gunshot. In the darkness Gouki sat with his mind in retreat yet expanded beyond his body, to the far reaches of his new dwelling. A cave, wet and full of jutting stalagmites and stalactites that formed a unique canopy that seemingly only Gouki could appreciate.

He had been living here for a week now; only coming out when it was necessary. Food was nonexistent in his dark abode, save for bats and insects. A dozen candles stood atop boulders and formations, the wax dripping down the rock faces and the white stalks of varying heights; some stumps and some a foot high. Gouki had carved a home for himself out of the ancient untamed rock, and he enjoyed his living conditions.

Suddenly Gouki shot to his feet, his eyes still closed as he stood in stance. Mechanically his body began to move, punching the air and kicking with a precision rarely found in someone his age. He imagined himself in a fight, his opponent a formless hulk of flesh and bone.

?WAP?! He punched his invisible opponent square in his unguarded chest, making him stagger backward. Gouki shot forward with an uppercut, then a right hook and finally a jumping slash of a kick. The shadow melted towards the ground. Gouki picked him up by his arm and threw him into a stone wall; the limp body smacked the wet stone and landed in a puddle. Gouki walked forward in his mind?s eye towards his opponent who began to take shape.

Suddenly the opponent rose and it was Gouken. Gouki gasped to find his brother staring back at him with a cunning smile and eyes flashing with playful intensity. Gouki attacked with a punch, it was slapped away effortlessly. Gouki jumped back and fired a ki ball, Gouken let it connect and Gouki stared in horror as it did nothing. Gouki cursed as he rushed forward with a flurry of attacks, punching and kicking at blinding speed. Gouki?s teeth locked together as his face transformed into an expression of determination and anger. The rush of attacks suddenly stopped once Gouken caught Gouki?s fist and held it tight. Gouki looked up into his brother?s eyes, feeling a wave of fear sweep over him as Gouken smiled and reared back his fist?..

?WHAM!?

The shock jerked Gouki into reality. He fell to the ground, gasping for breath and sweating profusely. His eyes stared blankly forward and his mouth hung agape as Gouki searched for meaning in his vision. He reached his hand to feel his face.

His nose was bleeding; a trickle ran down his finger as he felt his face in the darkness.


#17

Chapter XVII: Leaving The Past

Haaah!! Gouken shouted as he fired a white ball of ki the size of a basketball at Kuwabatake.

Alright lets rush him! He shouted to Retsu and they both dashed towards their opponent. They had outrun the gou hadoken when they met with Kuwabatake. Gouken and Retsu both threw punches aimed at Kuwabatakes chest knowing he would catch them. With his right arm held by Kuwabatake Retsu tried a sweep while Gouken attempted a jumping roundhouse. Kuwabatake lifted his forward foot to avoid the sweep and leaned his upper body back to precisely evade the edges of Goukens foot.

Better! A huge fist slammed into Goukens chest knocking him off balance; Goukens body curling around Kuwabatakes arm. The moment crawled for Gouken; a burning sensation erupted in the center of his chest and seemed to burn through his stomach and lungs. It shot up his arms and legs and finally boiled to the top of his head. His mind blanked out and when he regained his senses he found he was lying on his back. He lifted his head to see Retsu exchanging blows with the king of the mountain.

Retsu shot out with a quick jab and Kuwabatake slapped it away responding with a right cross that made Retsus head tilt to the side. Kuwabatake then performed a precise front kick but Retsu had recovered and guarded against it. The attack still made Retsus stiff body slide a couple inches in the dry and level ground. Retsu sprang back and switched styles, suddenly crouching low to the ground with his hands formed into sharp points.

Mantis. Wonder why he chose that one Said Gouken as he began to get up.

Kuwabatake jumped on the offensive with a quick roundhouse kick that could fell a tree but Retsu leapt completely over it and got in close. He delivered 20 quick hand strikes all over Kuwabatakes torso in under 5 seconds. A backfist from Kuwabatake ended Retsus streak, crashing across Retsus face and making him stumble blindly a few feet before crumbling to the ground. Before Kuwabatake could take advantage of his disoriented Retsu Gouken had sprung to action and knocked Kuwabatake off the ground and away with a solid surprise flying kick.

Retsu stared at the scene with his mouth open. Kuwabatake had been knocked 12 feet into the air and was falling backward when he did a sharp backflip and landed perfectly on his feet. Without a moment to spare Kuwabatake shot his arms outward with wide fingers and open palms. A golden shimmering ki ball the size of Goukens torso was the result. The attack met Gouken before he could touch the ground. He was struck fiercely and launched away, too far to spring back and be an immediate threat to Kuwabatake. As soon as he stopped skidding Gouken jumped to his feet in stance. Where he had ended up he wasnt even sure he could fire an accurate gou hadoken with his distance. Suddenly Retsu skidded to a stop right beside Gouken. He dusted himself off and stood up side by side with his traveling partner.

Hes way too strong. We have to fight him together. Gouken said without looking at his friend, his eyes busy concentrating on the idle Kuwabatake.

Will that even help? Maybe hell thrash us at a slower rate if we take him as one.

Well we could try it.

Eh, whatever. If I can still use my arms and legs after this remind me to teach that old man who led us here a thing or two about Mantis style.

The sky was beginning to turn a hazy orange as dusk began to roll through the day.

++++++++++++++++++

Gouken grunted as he ate a couple of quick jabs then howled as an uppercut tore his feet from the ground and brought him crashing to the earth.

Retsu narrowly ducked under a sweeping right hook from Kuwabatake only to catch 2 jabs from Kuwabatakes left hand. Retsu took it in stride, attempting a front kick but being far too predictable and slow. Kuwabatake caught his leg and punched him squarely in the jaw. Retsu rocked backward but Kuwabatake jerked him forward and punched him in the gut.

Retsu!! Gouken shouted as he took off running to help his friend.

Finally Kuwabatake locked both arms around Retsus leg and tossed him into the air. The king of the mountain then dashed up to where Retsu was falling, hopped into the air to catch him only to slam him down into the earth harder than gravity could. Kuwabatake stood up and waited for Retsu to return to his feet and limp into stance. Then Kuwabatake pounced, he shot forward and caught Retsus easily predicted punch and delivered a chop to Retsus neck that made him gasp for air and stagger backward. Kuwabatake then rushed Retsu and kicked him so hard Retsu spun around 3 times before he crashed to the ground and moved no more.

Kuwabatake left Retsu to lay there and turned around to catch a glimpse of a speeding white ball of ki before it slammed into his unguarded torso. The power was only enough to make the king of the mountain stagger a single step.

It is just you and I now Gouken.

Gouken glanced over at the unconscious Retsu, his face showed no emotion.

I guess youre right.

There was little blue left in the clouds.

++++++++++++++++++

As Gouken was held up in the air with his face to the sky, he could only go limp under Kuwabatakes grasp. He had exhausted himself fighting; all of his efforts were nowhere near what it took to keep Kuwabatake down. Gouken looked up at the night stars as raindrops fell on his face. The moment stood still for him.

I tried He thought to himself as he began to feel his body move through the air toward the ground.

Goukens body was slammed into the ground so hard birds perched in trees 100 feet away hastily took to the air startled.

A classic powerbomb left Gouken on his back, half of him buried in the now slippery mud as the rain fell on his battered body. His arms and legs were outsretched and he was not moving save for his taking in of short gasps of air while staring up at the night with blank eyes. Kuwabatake stood with his back to his fallen opponents; his hands still fists.

You both have been defeated. It was a good fight and I was surprised by how strong you two were. All that power has a little refinement. But not enough! Im getting out of the rain now. Good luck to the both of you. Kuwabatake began to walk away. Then he noticed the sloshing of someone determined slowly rising to his feet.

His upper body was hunched over and his arms dangled in front of him. His legs wobbled and his body screamed at him to collapse, but Gouken was up. Kuwabatake turned around.

Your friend is unconscious because mentally he gave up a while ago; his mind was just waiting for his body to take all it could supposedly handle. But you Gouken, I hit you harder and fought you fasterand youre still standing. Ive lost count of how many times Ive knocked you down but you are still on your feet. You know Im stronger than you so why are you still ready to fight?

Because I wont allow myself to be defeated.

Kuwabatakes eyes lit up as he smiled big.

Yes! Thats it! This is the point where you actually learn something. Before nowyour fighting was the mechanical movements of your master and your masters master and so onthe trained instincts of your discipline. But nownow you show me what is inside of you. Now you show me what you can do when its no longer a gamewhen it is no longer just a sparring match. I have to say, Im excited. Kuwabatake snapped into stance, his eyes still flashing with anticipation.

Without another word between them they leapt high into the air after each other. They clashed 30 feet from the ground, Kuwabatakes fist buried into Goukens cheek while Goukens extended leg drilled into Kuwabatakes stomach. Neither flinched as they sprung off each other and landed on the ground in their original places. A golden ki ball broke the suddenly eerie silence, speeding towards Gouken. He sidestepped it and put up his guard just in time to absorb a driving knee from the king of the mountain. After the failed knee Gouken felt Kuwabatakes weight shift and knew exactly what to do.

A silent gou shoryuken ripped through Kuwabatake. His limp body sailed in the drizzly night.

UGH! Kuwabatake strained as he hastily composed himself and fired another ki ball between his legs while falling. Goukens feet had not touched the wet soil either and once again he was struck by a golden ki ball while hanging in the air. Gouken now lay in the mud, his ribs on fire but still wordlessly he was returning to his feet. Another sudden ki ball slammed into Gouken but it did not knock him down; only made his feet slide in the wet mud. Gouken slowly walked toward Kuwabatake, defenseless but determined. Kuwabatake fired another ki attack; Gouken sidestepped it and continued his slow advance. Kuwabatake rocketed forward and punched Gouken in the center of his chest. Goukens body buckled under the attack but Gouken did not flinch nor utter a sound, delivering a brutal elbow to the side of Kuwabatakes head. The king of the mountain stumbled then performed a spinning roundhouse that clipped Goukens head. Before Kuwabatake could plant both feet on the ground he was hit with a powerful gou hadoken at point blank range that sent him skidding across the mud 30 feet away.

Kuwabatake, the grizzled old fighter that thought he had grown too strong for any human to seriously challenge him stood up and found he was gasping for air. He looked over at Gouken who was riddled with bloodstains, cuts and bruises but was still walking forward. He was covered in mud that slid across his body from the rain but still he was up. He focused on Goukens face. It was devoid of life with cold eyes and a stone facial expression. The fire no longer burned in his eyes it had all been sent to his fists.

He no longer cares what happens to himselfas long as he hits me

Kuwabatake stared at the approached Gouken, then he noticed the sound:

A low guttural growl slowly intensifying, a sound pulled from the deepest reaches of the human psyche where civilization had not penetrated.

Goukendont let it take over Kuwabatakes voice sounded guarded.

But it was too late for talking to do anything. Gouken roared as he launched himself into Kuwabatake, opening with a headbutt to stun the king of the mountain then a blur of punches to Kuwabatakes body ending with a driving elbow to Kuwabatakes stomach that made the large fighter choke on his own vomit. Gouken then performed a powerful front kick that launched Kuwabatake high into the air. While Kuwabatake floated Gouken charged his Messastu Gou Hado, his teeth pulled back into the primal snarl of an animal on the offensive while his strain showed itself in a low wheeze. Once Gouken unleashed the attack Kuwabatake had regained his senses and saw the large red comet gunning for him.

RECKLESS!! The king of the mountain fell towards the attack with his fist reared behind him. At the very last moment he shot his arm out and punched the destructive ki ball, obliterating the Messasstu Gou Hadouthe attack that was supposed to kill himinto many small shards of shimmering red confetti.

Before Kuwabatake could land Gouken pounced on him but Kuwabatake effortlessly kicked him away. Gouken fell backwards but recovered in mid air and landed on his feet hunched over and drooling.

Kuwabatake dashed toward Gouken and suddenly stopped a couple of feet away from him; just in time to easily dodge Goukens overextended punching arm and tag him in the temple with a reverse elbow. Gouken staggered so Kuwabatake grabbed him by his hair and kneed him in the face. Gouken exploded with a ki attack that was at too close a range, knocking both fighters away from each other and to the mud with a red flash.

Kuwabatake flipped to his feet to find Gouken in the air above him, gathering power. Several red ki balls began to rain upon Kuwabatake as Gouken hollered intelligibly from the air.

ENOUGH! Kuwabatake roared and in an instantly called upon the power to fire one wave of golden ki that obliterated Goukens offensive and struck Gouken in the air like a speeding train. He splashed to the ground a few seconds later, and as he attempted to get up a golden speedball struck his torso and knocked him on his back.

Satsui No Hado is a one trick pony. Blind rage such as this means nothing to someone who knows his art. Gouken! Large amounts of power are practically useless if they are implemented stupidly and ineffectively. Youll cause much destruction of property.but you wont hit your opponent, certainly wont kill them. With great powerone must have great skill to ultilize all their potential. And skill comes with CONTROL Gouken! And control is something you certainly dont have much of right now. I know you hear me Gouken! You dont need massive amounts of power! You need absolute, complete control of every drop of power you have!! You have power to spare Gouken but once you really control it all youll go from being a really good fighter to a great fighterperhaps even a legendary one! Kuwabatakes voice began to get deeper and softer, he was attempting to invade Goukens senses.

Goukenyou know this is not the wayyou know no true strength can be found in this.you need control

Gouken roared suddenly and fired a gou hadoken. Kuwabatake let the attack connect; it did not harm him.

Control yourselfthat is the key. The voice began to echo in Goukens mindslowly driving back the madness. The soft pats of the raindrops hitting the ground began to filter through the red haze to Goukens senses. Goukens wheeze was softer and softer, his posture straightening bit by bit by the second. His eyes regained their character.

.Kuwabatake-samathank youI think Isee it now Was all Gouken could mutter as he fell to his knees. The pain of all his injuries began to rapidly overtake him, flooding his mind and overwhelming him.

As he was blacking outhe heard the king of the mountain say:

If I were to judgeId call you the winner of this fight without a doubt.


#18

Chapter XVIII: Red

Osssuuuuu…

Goukis breath was patiently expelled from his lungs as he sat completely still and rigid. His eyes were closed; he was looking deep within himself and attempting to tap into the raging river that was his inner essence. He was developing the technique of rapidly tapping into his power and bringing it to the forefront in the form of a Messastu Go Hadou. Before he could charge up lethal force in about 2 minutes, and after no doubt days of practicing over and over he could charge the same amount of energy into the ki ball in 15 seconds. Still far too long for Gouki, and any fighter he attempted to use the attack on. So he continued training, forgoing a decent meal and a humane amount of rest.

Gouki stood in stance, first looking at the formations of the rock around him then just letting his mind wander freely. He thought back to the beginning of his training, back when he and his brother started under Goutetsu. Goukis memories were full of moments when he was alone; mimicking stances and movements from his master, from his opponents, from the scrolls he read. And he was doing the same thing now. But where was it getting him? His mind flashed to a very young Gouki meditating in the forest, then the image crashed into Goukis mind; the picture of his ribs being broken by a driving knee from Go Hibiki. Goukis mind jumped to watching himself train in the dusty library, open books and scrolls scattered everywhere. In a flash he remembered the powerful burning of his own ki attack being deflected back at him by Gen. All the years he stayed true to methods he thought were correct, the methods he was told were right, and they brought him defeat. But what about what he was warned against? A mix of feelings began to brew in Goukino longer just anger at Gouken. He was angry with the way he was taught by Goutetsu, he was angry for wasting his time on a path he no longer felt he chose for himselfand he was angry because he blindly followed it.

But he stuffed those emotions back down once again, and decided to focus on the task at hand. He closed his eyes and let his energy flow through his body, calm waves of energy building up for his Messastu Gou Hadou. He didnt stop where he usually did; he pulled more energy from himself to make the attack strongerthe strongest he could possibly make it. He slowly let down the mental failsafes; the dams that blocked the totality of his power for his own protection. He gathered ki in his hands until his fingertips and palms burned, and pushed farther. He had to push himself if he wanted to be in his brothers league. He had to shatter his limitations if he was to be the strongest. Gouki knew this all too well, for his old method did not work. He now had a new regiment. He was going to break himself, and rebuild. Goukis joints began to ache and sweat cascaded down his facehe had been gathering power for what seemed like hours but only a few minutes. Still it was longer than he ever had before, and longer than he should if he were in a real fight. Once Gouki felt that he was about to collapse he shot his hands forward and released the Messastu Go Hadou. The white ki balls glow lit up the entire cave as if it were daylight itself, the attack twice the size of Goukis body and speeding towards nothing it shimmered as if the gods produced it themselves. Gouki smiled weakly as he slid to his knees drained of all his energy. He was satisfied with that one; he knew that attack carried a great amount of powerenough to destroy Gen, Gouken and possibly Goutetsu if it connected. Gouki sighed as he let himself crumple to the wet ground.

Then he heard the thunder as the attack connected with the cave wall in the distance, followed by a tremor that shook the ground where Gouki lay. Goukis upper body sprang up, but the cave returned to silence. A bit of dust and gravel fell from the ceiling onto Goukis lap then a great rumbling resounded throughout the cave. More debris began to fall, and Goukis eyes darted around his surroundings.

No! It cant be-

Before he could think anything else, the cave around him fell in on itself and everything descended into an inescapable darkness.

++++++++++++++++++

Gouki awoke to find it was no different than being unconscious. Only there wasnt the screaming pain that spanned his entire body.

The darkness seemed to be a weight crushing the air and life out of him. All he could discern was that he was on his back; he felt he was deeper underground than he originally was and that the ground was wetter than it should have been. He realized everywhere below his torso hummed a freezing throb. The water was warm and thick. He realized it was his own blood, a puddle of it beneath him. His next realization was that he could barely feel the bottom half of his body and that it was not responding to his mental commands. His legs felt as if they were slipping into a coma; little sharp tingles of feeling pulsed through them but trying to even flex a toe resulted in nothing. Goukis hand felt around in the dark to run his hands over a piece of jagged, cold, wet rockand then his own numb flesh. There was no space in between. A stalactite had fallen from the ceiling and impaled him to the ground through his midsection. Goukis hand flopped beside him as his mouth hung open in shock, choking on his own air.

I am going to die

The thought burrowed into his mind and heart. The thought of the end of his life being so close made a lump in Goukis throat. The panic began to rise in him and his heart quickened. This made his injuries bleed and hurt more.

II cant die herenot now Gouki struggled as he spoke, speaking to no one. The words fell from his mouth like drool in the darkness.

Is this how you want your story to end Gouki?

An ethereal voice echoed from the cavern walls.

NoIt cant.I have to become stronger…

Stronger for what? You can dispose of any opponent that you fightexcept for a few select ones.And what do they matter? There are several people better than you and so many that cant compare to you. What does it matter?

They are not better than me-ARGH! Gouki roared, the strain from his shout made his body shift some and brought him great pain. He lay still but his head was spinning violently. Gouki wondered if this was the voice of death as his vision flickered. Gouki felt himself being pulled down as he saw white spots everywhere in the darkness.

Look at you. Your fear of their strength only makes you weaker. Youve been Goutetsus trained dog and Goukens punching bag for too long because you assumed what they told you was right. You know the key is not relentless study Gouki. The key is what theyve told you to hide, what they told you was holding you back The voice was barely a whisper in the cavern but it was heard loud and clear. Gouki smiled weakly because the voice sounded like it belonged to a feisty woman. The smile did not last.

Your anger. They knew the power you had, the strength your anger would bring out. But they withheld it from you! Because they knew you would be stronger than both of them!

No…they didnt knowand if they did they wanted to help merage is blind power

POWER IS POWER. Do not be foolish!

The voice boomed, but boomed without an increase in emotion.

Your feelings, your will to be the strongestthey give you strength! Youve struggled to keep them bottled up and it has kept you weak and impotent. Now is the time, your final chance to reach for the power that has always been just beyond your grasp. You could die in this cave a pathetic nobody, or you could embrace your inner selfall of yourself and become the only warrior that matters! Unleash your true strength or die Gouki!

The voice began to ebb; the whisper from nowhere retreating from the sharp wet rocks and sliding back into the shadows. Gouki swore he could feel it sliding away from him and his panic increased. He squirmed unconsciously and howled in pain a split second later. He couldnt seem to get enough air in his lungs. The dizziness was becoming unbearable. It felt like his soul was to be violently thrown from his body in mere moments.

What do I do?? How do I unlock my true self? How do I tap into this power?! Goukis desperate voice echoed in the caverns but it was not returned. He coughed violently as his arms began to go numb.

Well look at you!

Gouki looked up to find himself staring at Gouken. But how? Goukis vision was blinking in and out; and when it was in it the entire image was blurred. What Gouki saw shook in a haze.

What are you doing here?! Gouki thundered; then coughed more blood.

Im just here to watch. Hey, do you need any help? The faded image of Gouken bent over a little and offered his hand to Gouki with the open palm just a few inches from Goukis face. Gouki spat at it.

Id rather die than receive help from you!

It looks like thats exactly what youll do too. Well with you dead I guess its up to me to teach our style to the next generation.shit I cant remember any of the katas though Gouken straightened himself up and pondered.

Fool! You never gave a damn about Ansatsuken did you? You just wanted to spar, to fightto get dirty and bloody. I studied; I tried to learn everything there was to know about our style! .and youYou sat on your ass if there wasnt a tournament coming up!! Goukis shouting racked his body. Lightning bolts that struck from from his spine outward. His shouts were weak and staggered and his head bobbed with the impending unconsciousness.

And look where it got me.

Goukens sly smile said it all. He grinned in the dying Goukis face, the same grin he had shown to opponents when he knew the fight was close to finishing. The same grin that he had since his carefree youth. Gouki stared at it, focused on it. Refusing to blink so his eyes began to water. His body from the waist down now felt like dead weight. A sinking ship. Goukis nerves from the waist up were violently aflame, screaming at him to do something to make the pain stop.

Gouken then turned around and began to walk away; the hallucination fading into the rocks.

Goukis anger began to boil inside of him, bubbling faster and faster until his his jaw felt it would shatter from how hard he bit down. Thoughts of all the attacks that ever caught him by surprise flashed through his mind. The crushing blows that chipped away at his strength and his resolve over and over again, now began to build him up. He let his anger flow through him, like hot lava running through the veins of the planet earth. Images flashed in Goukis mind faster and faster. His father falling to the ground dead, the pain of his own brothers fist, the image of Gen on the end of Goukens flying kick, Gouken under the influence of Satsui No Hado, Goutetstu teaching him and his brother to meditate, Goutetsu sliding the ceremonial beads around Goukens neck, General Fujimas grinning face. The images flew by faster and faster, slowly gaining a red tint as they whizzed through Goukis mind.

Gouki howled and shot his fist forward, smashing the rock that had pinned him down into dust and jagged daggers of stone. He jumped to his feet and instantly fell to his kneesyet his body pulsed with energyhis fingertips anxious and his eyes wide and blank. Deep in his mind he knew he would be on his feet in an instant.

ARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!! Gouki screamed from the bottom of his soul as he lashed out at the surroundings around him. Firing ki blasts in every direction, punching and kicking the cavern walls so hard they crumbled under his limbs. He was in a frenzy; attacking everything and anything around him. Blasting red light at the darkness. Using his legs for bursts of jumps. Firing behind him as he he instinctevly sought level ground. Seeing great slabs of stone slid away away deep into the darkness and hearing the cracks and rumbles as they banged through to the bottom. He thought of nothing, he could only appreciate the destruction and vaguely plan his escpace. It isnt known how long Gouki was down there under Satsui No Hado.but he had blown himself out of the rubble as soon as the first hints of dawn began to streak across the sky.

He finally had a chance to look at himself under the approaching light. He was bleeding from everywhere. Deep cuts lined his entire body plus the hole in his abdomen from the stalactite. He was sure he had broken a rib or two but he was not feeling any pain. As a beam of sunlight streaked across the sky Gouki looked directly at it and had to squint. He could hear the chirping of birds but the sound seemed very far away from him. As the light stung his face the pain of his injuries began flooding his mind. Gouki looked down at his injuries one more time and something inside him shorted out. He collapsed on the spot, flopping onto the green grass limply. But he was alive and he was reborn.


#19

Chapter XIX: Might Makes Right

  • China

?Are you serious?! Some young man from Japan demands to see the ancient scrolls? Tell him no and don?t bother me with such trivialities again!!?

A quick thump on the head from the elder sent the young monk messenger scampering through the halls of the dusty temple. Minutes later he arrives at the tense scene with the intruder. The young boy stops, composes himself and clears his throat to sound important. There is no noise in the secluded mountains today. The mist hangs over the peaks and the sky seems layered with thin clouds.

?The clan chief prohibits the viewing of the technique scrolls!? Shouted the boy in a faux deep voice.

10 older shaolin monks were in the same room with their eyes set upon Gouki. One opened his mouth to speak.

?If you want to spar with us, that?s fine. We could both learn from each other. But no outsiders are allowed to see our secrets.? The young man stated with caution, his hands balled into fists behind his back.

?We can?t give you the secrets to our art.? Another monk reiterated.

?Then I?ll take them.? Gouki?s ability to speak Mandarin Chinese proved satisfactory.

The stranger?s reply startled the monks. They stiffened their stances and exchanged quick nervous glances with each other. The well tended hardwood floor gleamed with polish. The monastery was of a moderate size but furnished humbly. The materials were simple and the colors of the walls, balconies and columns were natural earth tones. The air had a dense cold to it.

?Then we?ll have to stop you.? The lead monk answered.

?It is arrogant and selfish to hide and hoard techniques. You do not own power. You do not have a right to it just because you are a certain sect. If you truly believe you do, then prove it. Defeat me and protect your treasures.?

One overzealous student wasted no time, lunging at Gouki with a bamboo staff. Gouki stood still with his back to the charging monk. The monk leapt into the air, holding his staff above his head with both hands. He then brought it crashing down upon Gouki, and once his feet touched the ground he was frozen in shock.

Gouki had not moved, and the monk?s bamboo staff was broken in two. Before the monk could finish gasping Gouki turned around and punched him about 20 feet away, making the monk?s body slide and bounce on the clean wood floor until he hit a wall and was still. The room breathed as Gouki rigidly shifted into fighting stance and the monks encircled him. The candle flames flickered in excitement for the contest they were about to witness. The floorboards braced themselves for the strain they knew was impending. Out of the nine fighters left four had weapons. There were two swordsmen, a man with nunchaku and another man with a staff. They all had their weapons drawn and ready. Gouki took in a deep breath of the cool air and felt enclosed in relaxation and readiness.

?Well, attack me.?

?Haaah!? One monk uttered a short shout and sprang forward with a jumping front kick. Once the kick was deflected the monk fell into a low stance, one leg almost parallel to the ground and the other crouched, his arms outward expecting attack. Another monk from behind attacked, Gouki blocked the punch and tried to deliver a backfist but the monk was using his other arm to guard. The two monks now stood facing Gouki waiting on him to move. Gouki lashed out with a front kick that turned into a rushing elbow, knocking one monk off his feet and hitting the ground a couple feet away. Before Gouki could turn around a fist slammed into his cheek. As Gouki leaned backward a heel drove itself into his back. This was followed by another punch to the opposite cheek; Gouki stumbled a few steps and then stopped abruptly. He whirled around to find a flying kick aimed straight for him. He caught the attacker?s leg and hurled him into the group advancing, knocking them all over like bowling pins. Gouki gave them time to all get up and encircle him again as his impatience simmered. He was not in stance this time, his back straight and his hands balled into fists at his sides. His face was vacant. The scene returned to the static silence, the floorboards were given a break and they enjoyed it. Gouki did not wait until he was attacked first this time as he lashed out with a swift punch that tore through the first person in front of him; knocking him off balance and disorienting him. Gouki delivered a flurry of punches to the monk?s torso then tripped him. Before the monk could fall to the ground Gouki performed a reverse side-kick to his airborne body that knocked him against a wall. The monk groaned below a smattering of blood on the wood. Gouki cupped his hands to his side to build ki quickly and fired a ki ball at the monk approached quickly from his right. He did not look to see where the monk landed as he turned and deflected a kick and swatted away a punch on the opposide side. Gouki jumped backward and barreled over 3 monks with a Tatsumaki Zankuu Kyaku. He was focused on destroying all of his opponents and getting what he came for. As a monk that had been knocked against a wall sprang up to attack a ball of purple ki exploded from Gouki?s outstretched palms, slamming into the monk and knocking him through the same wall his hunched back was leaning on a minute earlier. When the dust settled, his ankles dangled outside a gaping hole in the ancient and now splintered wood.

A monk shouted and rushed forward. Gouki took one step to the side and deflected a punch-kick combination from the monk. The swift chop to the neck from behind knocked the monk forward and to the ground. Another monk jumped forward and was floored with a lightning fast roundhouse kick before he could even attack. The two swordsmen criss-crossed into Gouki?s path and both slashed downward similtaneously. Gouki effortlessly avoided their blades and waited for the next attack as the two men paused side by side in front of him with swords held above their heads. One monk nodded to the other and attacked; running forward swinging his blade wildly. Gouki ducked and swerved as the other swordsman attempted a forward thrust that was sidestepped. Gouki delivered a powerful downward chop to the exposed neck of the one nearest him that dropped the monk. The other swordsman had leapt into the air with his sword held high with both hands, poised to deliver a downward strike capable of cleaving its target into pieces. Gouki caught the blade in between his two open hands. The monk gasped and Gouki smiled. In what seemed like a single motion Gouki snatched the sword from the monk?s hand and backfisted him so hard he bounced off the ground.

?You all are too weak to waste my time with.? Gouki closed his eyes and looked inward. He tapped into the volcano that was inside and pulled from it. He sprang high into the air with his eyes still closed and fists at his sides. He suddenly shot a single palm downward and out burst a Tenma Gou Zankuu. The ball of purple flame zeroed in on the group of monks who could only stare like deer in headlights. The attack decimated the group; scattering their scorched bodies everywhere in the room. When Gouki?s feet touched the ground again he was the only one standing but one last fighter struggled to prop himself up for another attempt. He was cut, bruised and hunched over but still he remained in Gouki?s way.

?You will abuse our techniques?I can?t let you have them. Not while I?m still standing.?

?I?ve said before. They aren?t your techniques.?

Gouki slowly strolled up to the monk until he was inches away from his face. He stared into the monk?s eyes?they were steeled with resolve but the rest of his face could not hide the great fear that gripped it. The monk?s lips quivered and sweat on his cheek glistened in the dim light as Gouki stood motionless and unreadable. Gouki continued to study the monk?s face for a few moments before the monk snapped and attacked. A lazy punch from Gouki brought him down in a split-second. As Gouki looked around him he saw several men writhing and groaning on the floor but none stood up and none attacked. The rest were motionless in defeat.

Gouki moved on, deeper into the temple. He briskly jogged down a dark corridor with ornate candles lining the walls too high to reach unaided. He could hear shouts and movement in front of him behind a great door. Gouki was smiling as he thought about who else would stand in his way. His rapid footsteps echoed like a war drum as he neared the end of the long hallway. With a might shove he pushed a large red door open and entered a great hall. There were two levels and a great number of monks surrounding him. Too many to count and so many that they would just get in each other?s way if they tried to take him at once.

The young and old were present with suspicious eyes. Warriors and scholars were rolling up their sleeves as they stared at him. Even the cooks seemed ready to fight if it came down to it. Gouki chuckled to himself. Part of him enjoyed besting his opponents and he knew that same part would relish in this grand battle.

?Do all of you wish to fight me?!?

He laughed loudly; then eased into stance. The crowd tensed.

?Stop!?

An old but powerful voice shouted in the distance. The front of the miniature army divided like a doorway and the temple elder appeared. He was tall, dressed in long flowing robes that were of a plain fabric but looked like silk on him. He had a long white beard and long hair tied close to him. In his hand held an ornate brass tube; no doubt containing a scroll. No doubt containing what Gouki wanted.

?You all would have thrown your lives away fighting this man. He is resolved to acquire knowledge and he is strong enough to take it. I believe?in a way this man has proven himself worthy of this scroll.?

Gouki was surprised at what he was hearing. He relaxed out of stance and stood up straight. His head darted around the room slightly confused.

?Young man?strength clears paths. But not all paths. You will one day encounter someone stronger than you because your soul is weak. Take the scroll and leave in peace.?

?How did you know which one I desired??

?I feel the fire in you. This particular scroll is the only thing a man of your alignment would want here.? As the elder spoke his followers looked anxious. Some looked angry but most looked baffled.

Gouki gingerly grasped the container from the elder and bowed. He then turned to leave.

?I must warn you. The power held inside that could consume your soul.? The elder?s eyes seemed concerned but stern.

?My soul is mine to do what I please with. I thank you elder.?

Gouki respectfully paused to bow while continuing out the door. The residents of the monastery lowered their fists slowly. Once the door behind Gouki carefully closed and he was gone a young monk ran up the elder in a panic.

?Elder! Why?! What was the meaning of giving him our secrets?!? The young boy?s eyes glimmered with potential tears.

?To seal his destiny my son.?

++++++++++++++++++

  • Japan

?I think this should be the place.? Gouken proclaimed as he let his bag drop into the full green grass. It was a piece of land that no one was interested in. It belonged to a farming family that left it to go to the city someone a few miles back said. From the looks of the two-story house and surrounding areas they had left a generation ago. The grass grew wildly on the lawn and had crept up to the porch. The paint was gone in most places on the outside and half the windows were broken. There was enough cleared ground to fight comfortably in and the forests and mountains were their neighbors in the distance. The plot they were looking at was only cleared for an acre and the rest was thick with trees and bushes. The hills in the far distance were green and gentle in appearance.

?So you want to settle here?? Retsu questioned, the area was a little too country for him.

?Yes. It?s the perfect place for us to train. Perhaps one day take on students! So much space?you know I studied in this same sort of setting.?

?You?ve told me countless times Gouken. Meditating under waterfalls, fighting on top of slippery logs. I guess the training worked.?

Retsu walked forward toward the house, examining the ground with scanning eyes.

?Yeah it?ll need work. Landscape a bit. We need a big patch of clear dirt to spar in of course. Shouldn?t be too hard.? Gouken said as he slowly spun around staring at the sky.

?It?ll need a ton of work. I think a lot of this wood is no good.? Retsu muttered as he reached for the doorknob. He pulled it and the door came off with a crunch followed by the ?ting? of metal dropping. Retsu almost tripped backward down the few steps off the porch.

?I?ll settle here for a good while at least.? He shoved the broken door aside and sneezed. Retsu didn?t like all the money and time they?d have to spend fixing the house up but the view and solitude more than made up for it in his mind. He wiped dust off of his clothes and walk back toward the daydreaming Gouken.

?So how do we go about purchasing this land? Or can we just squat? I don?t think anybody cares if we squat.?

?No we?re not squatting. We?re pretty broke but on the bright side?if we were to purchase this land we don?t have to pay all of it right now. We have enough for a down payment. But more would have to come later.?

?How are we going to get that more for later??

?We have a few options. As long as every so often Gouken the number one fighter rakes in some tournament prize money.?

?You?d better be bringing in some prizes yourself! There are only so many tournaments!?

Retsu and Gouken chuckled at the idea that it would be so easy. Gouken wondered to himself about what kind of job he?d have to get. But after almost 2 years of wandering he wanted to have a place where he could stay and live, instead of just pass by or through for a few moments. He had known 2 places called ?home? in his life and he realized he was in need of a third.

?Retsu, why did you get kicked out of the Shaolin temple again??

?A bunch of reasons.?

?Give me one for now.? Gouken asked Retsu this question every so often, and every time he was given a different answer.

?I went to the city every weekend, slipped out to gamble a bit or hit on a few girls. When I got into fights my elders took it as a personal insult to the school.?

?You were a bad monk.? Gouken teased. He was glad they were able to be light with each other. The gentle breeze and blue sky helped.

?No, just immature. Being a monk is so restricting, after spending all day sweeping and dusting and reading you want to have a little fun once in a while.?

?That doesn?t sound like regret Retsu.?

?I don?t regret being ousted. It just wasn?t for me at the time, and still isn?t. Hence me wandering Japan, being a bum with you.?

?We aren?t bums anymore. We?re landowners.?

?Whatever. Welcome home.?

?You too!?

This home was known as Sujyaku.


#20

Chapter XX: The Boy from the Market

Darkness.

A darkness deep and total, with a silence so vast Gouken thought for a moment he was deaf. The emptiness, he saw no end in sight in any direction. Something gave Gouken the impression that it was not a darkness to be wary of, but more along the lines of the void of a blank canvas. From the black numerous tiny flames emerged, slowly filling Gouken?s view. Flames fueled by the invisble, some farther away and some closer. Some violent, some gentle and small. Countless and Gouken wondered how different they all were from each other. He fought the urge to reach out and touch one of them.

Then the candleless flames started to fade back into the void, until only one light remained, a single fire to focus Gouken?s attention:

Was it a flame? Now it was a young boy, standing there in the black with dirty clothes and vacant eyes. The void itself began to recede; the scene fading into a carrow city alleyway impossibly crowded with blurry moving people. The boy never moved, and the people shuffling all around him did not notice or disturb.

Gouken wondered why the child was the only one in focus, the only person he could see clearly.

As if the great sandman had heard Gouken, the alleyway was empty save the child in an instant. The blurry bustling people simply faded without a sound. Gouken could not see the sun, but he thought that the boy had an unusually long shadow?

The shadow behind the boy then began to pulse and twitch, or maybe Gouken was just late on noticing it? The shadow appeared alive, Gouken sensed it was a part of the boy, and familiar to himself. Gouken felt the shadow to be a danger to the child; he felt an intense urge to help him. As Gouken neared the boy the shadow rose off the ground, rising in height like a predator.

?No!? His voice seemed small and muddled. The boy was unmoving as the shadow rose over his head to enclose him.

Gouken dashed towards the boy wondering how to fight the shadow. As he ran he felt a chilling cold over his shoulder, a blast of icy wind that stung his skin. He turned his head and there was nothing to see, only the darkness that had now enclosed him.

This was the recurring dream Gouken had been having for the past two months. He did not mention it to anyone.

++++++++++++++++++

  • Japan

?Hey Gouken! More herbs for this week??

Gouken stopped and turned to who called him with a warm disarming smile.

?Of course Mrs. Nishiko! I almost forgot!?

Another Saturday morning at the market. This particular time the market was only half packed and it was much appreciated by the patrons present. Gouken has gone every week for groceries for the past 5 years. He is 31 years old now, and enjoying routine.

?Thank you very much Mrs. Nishiko.? Gouken flashed another smile to the kind old woman as he handed her the money for the collection of medicines and teas and walked on. His stride was natural yet modest. He walked with planned steps but they were not meek. He walked with a straight back, one hand in his pocket and the other holding a sack of goods slung over his shoulder. Gouken strolled down street hanging to the far right. He liked to watch the activity of the market; it was a nice change from the solitude found at home.

It was still home; he was surprised at how content he was here. In the back of his mind he figured the itch to continue wandering would never leave him. The itch for what? The itch to sleep in haystacks in run down barns? The itch to look over your shoulder for bandits while the cold wind slashed into your face? Gouken liked the feeling of having a place where people knew him and he knew them. He enjoyed sleeping, training, and eating in one place again. Gouken was home yet something was still absent. Maybe it was the feeling that he?d hit a wall with his own progression in his art. For the better part of a year now he felt like he was not getting stronger. No matter how much he meditated or spared with Retsu Gouken did not feel like he was improving.

?Have I reached my limit already? Is this the best I?ll ever be?? Gouken thought to himself as he strolled through the vibrant marketplace.

?Or maybe I just need to fight more people? Learn from others out there. I?m limiting myself just staying here?? Gouken did not want to think of it like that, he fought the urge to think of it as a negative. Making a home and staying in it did not feel like a limitation. Gouken was drifting away from the marketplace now, ambling down a narrow street towards the outskirts of town. Making a home and staying in it was not a limitation.

?A lot of things I need to learn to become stronger wandering can?t teach me.?

Once Gouken uttered that thought in his mind the questions fell away, withering into nothing before such a clear statement. Gouken turned his head behind him to see the market and crowd of people farther away than he thought they were. Then Gouken thought of his brother, and wondered how far away he was now. He had to be stronger now than he was the last time Gouken saw him. How strong? It had been 10 years since they had spoken; it had been 10 years since they had seen each other.

?Hmph. Gouki isn?t in a rush to see me anyway.?

Once Gouken muttered this inside himself he wondered if it were true. He was now at the top of a hill, the town being behind him and barely touched countryside spread before him. He could make out a winding dirt path that ambled into the horizon, a road out of town. He smiled to himself; the itch to walk down that road was small. Home was in the other direction.

Gouken then registered a slight tug on his pant leg that snapped him back to the present.

?Are you lost??

Gouken looked down into the dirt caked face of a boy no older than 8. His eyes held an honesty Gouken had rarely seen in anyone, his clothes were in tatters but he stood straight.

?No not at all. Just looking out and thinking. I don?t need to be lost to do that.? The boy was looking out at the sky and earth beside him, his eyes seemed to be searching, scanning the landscape for what Gouken was looking for or at. It had to be interesting to make such a big man stop and stare.

?I don?t see many adults look out into the sky like you. When I see adults look out into the sky it is because they are worried.?

?Well?I am worried. But more just thinking. I?m not sad.? Neither Gouken nor the boy had turned to face each other while speaking yet. Gouken turned his face away from the sky and to the boy to continue the conversation.

?Why are you sad boy??

?Being hungry makes me sad. But it does not make me look out into the sky, it makes me watch the ground and tables and people for food!?

Gouken couldn?t help but chuckle because the boy was also smiling. He didn?t have shoes on, and the amount of dirt on the boy?s feet and ankles told Gouken he hadn?t had shoes for a while.

?Don?t you have parents to get you food??

?No.?

?Is there anyone to look after you??

The boy shook his head, Gouken felt a sharp pang in his heart.

?What is your name boy??

?Ryu.?

?Do you have a last name??

?I can?t remember it anymore. Someone used to call me Hoshi but that isn?t my real name.?

?Oh?? Gouken?s voice trailed off into the wind. He had been without a family so long he forgot his family name. Gouken paused to look out once more to the sky, then back to the boy.

?Ryu?a strong name. Well little Ryu, you can come home with me for a meal and a bed. You?ve relied on your own strength for far too long young one.?

The little boy smiled, hope shined brightly in his eyes?so bright all Gouken could do was smile in return.

?Come along now, I bet you?re starving. I?m hungry myself.?

++++++++++++++++++

The candlelight danced around the outline of the little boy as he slept, the covers wrapped tight around his body as he slumbered in a ball. Gouken stood on the other side of the room, his back leaning against the wall. He was silent, watching and thinking.

?There?s something special about that kid,? Retsu walked into the room while the gravel in his slippers softly crunched. His eyes glanced at Gouken then shifted to the sleeping child known as Ryu.

?Yes. I can?t imagine what his life has been like. He has been totally alone for?who knows.? Gouken?s face showed no expression as he spoke.

?Yet his heart isn?t cold. He didn?t try to steal from me and he didn?t steal any food from the vendors. He was honest and asked.?

?Gouken?if everyone said no and he got hungry enough he would have stolen it.? Retsu added.

?Well yeah I?m sure. But he didn?t start stealing and I think that says something.? The candle flames danced on Gouken?s face as he paused to say his next sentence.

?I?m thinking about asking him to become my student.? Gouken said it plainly, his eyes still focused on the bed.

?Are you sure??

?Not yet. But I know who to see to make sure.?

Retsu smiled, he knew whom Gouken was speaking of.

?This boy was in my dream. We were both swallowed up by shadows at the end I think.? Gouken?s voice sounded surprisingly childish, like someone reporting something so unbelievable he didn?t expect to be believed.

?Interesting. Was there anyone else in the dream??

?No one else was in focus.? Gouken?s voice was in a flat whisper.

?I don?t know what that means. I don?t know what to tell you friend, except that it is getting late.? Retsu crossed back over to the doorway to exit. He paused and turned his head to say one more thing.

?Gouken just don?t walk the whole damn way there. These are modern times you know.?

?Walking is more intimate.?

?It is incredibly slow. You can think on a train or a bus.?

As Retsu exited the room and eased into the shadows for his room Gouken reminded himself that Retsu would rather not say enough than talk too much. A minute later; as Gouken heard the quiet and singular creak of Retsu?s door closing he wondered if his friend Retsu had always been that way or had acquired it through experience.

++++++++++++++++++

-Elsewhere in Japan

Goutetsu stood outside on the porch of his house, one hand resting on a beam and the other holding a cup of tea. The only giveaway that he was in his 60s was the long braided mostly white hair on his head. His body was in extraordinary condition and his face had a few gentle creases. The sun was just beginning to come up; he could hear the roosters in the distance and the chirping birds close to him. The morning dew was still on the grass, a clue that the air felt cool and fresh.

?Dear, are we expecting any visitors?? Goutetsu looked over his shoulder as he spoke.

?No?not that I know of?.heehee.? Afaik had received the telegram days ago but she wanted to make a surprise out of it.

?Hmmm?? Goutetsu couldn?t make out the figure approaching but his form looked like it was strong and flexible. A martial artist. Someone coming to learn from him?or something a little more demanding? The figure?s stride carried no urgency.

Goutetsu set down his tea and began to slowly walk forward, his hands clasped behind him but still ready to fight if it came to it. His stride also carried no urgency.

The two men grew closer to one another and both began to lighten up.

?Master, I?m sorry I haven?t been visiting you like I should. Please forgive me.?

?Gouken. You don?t have to call me that. I?m not your master anymore, and you certainly are no one?s student! Look at you! You?ve grown into quite a man. How long has it been??

?three years mas-?Goutetsu.? Gouken caught himself but it was difficult. He still referred to Goutetsu as master in his mind, he had ever since he met him.

?Hm?I guess it?s a habit. So what brings you here??

?I have something on my mind. I wanted to consult you before I did anything.?

?Ah. But before we get to business, how about making an old man happy?? Goutetsu smiled as he unbuttoned his shirt and rolled his sleeves up. Gouken chuckled as he watched then began stretching himself.

?Let?s head west.?

?Ready? Don?t hold back son.? Goutetsu casually tossed away his shirt; he didn?t want to get it too dirty. Afaik had just done the wash yesterday. Gouken mimicked his former master, hanging his discarded shirt on a tree branch.

?You can go all out on me too. I?m stronger now than when I left.? Goutetsu noticed that the smirk Gouken used to wear so naturally when he said anything related to his strength increasing was beginning to fade. It was now a quick flash of teeth before the face returned again to that of a slightly amused man.

?I?ll soon see just how much stronger.?

++++++++++++++++++

Gouki studied the headstone, his eyes refusing to lend themselves to anything else. He was disappointed. He had traveled all this way to find and kill General Fujima and here he was already dead.

The man who killed his father and ripped his life to shreds was dead. But in a strange way Gouki thought he should thank the general. If it wasn?t for him Gouki would have still been the frail child he was when Goutetsu took him in. Yet still Gouki was disappointed. He wanted to show Fujima his strength; he wanted the old man to fear his power before he was rightfully cut down. Gouki wanted to see the fear in Fujima?s eyes as he muttered for his life; he wanted to remember it. The more Gouki thought about it the more his disappointment turned to anger. It swelled inside him, making him clench his teeth and fists as he stared at the grave.

In a flash he lashed out, striking the tombstone and shattering it to pieces. He didn?t wait for the cloud of dust to settle before he walked off?still disappointed.

++++++++++++++++++

?Is this your idea of fun?! Beating each other to pulps?! I?ve lost count of how many bones I had to reset between the both of you! Get off my table Gouken you?re done.? Afaik said with a tired voice as Gouken leapt up to walk into the other room.

?Thanks again Afaik. You?re a lifesaver.? Gouken said with a wink as he left to join his former master.

?The boy Ryu?you already know you should take him as your student.? Goutetsu was seated, relaxed back in his chair sipping on?of course tea.

?Yes, it is what my gut feeling is telling me. But what about the rule of two? Ryu would have no one beside him during his training??

?Tradition is a guide Gouken, not a jailer. The boy should be trained, you want to train him?? Goutetsu paused to slurp more tea. ?So train him. Another student will probably come along later.?

?Wow. This was easier than I thought.?

?It always is.?

?Not true. Your training was harder than anything I imagined.?

Goutetsu erupted into a hearty laugh. He spilled the cup of tea in his right hand and slapped his knee with his left. Gouken did not understand what Goutetsu found so funny but the sight of his former master laughing made him laugh.

?You even started out by throwing us in a river! Two little boys! We thought you were so mean afterwards.?

?I was! And I was gentle when I should have been too.?

?I agree. Thank you Goutetsu?.for everything really. I don?t know where I would have been if it weren?t for you.?

?I don?t know where or who I would be if it were not for you two. To stay on the subject?have you heard from your brother??

Gouken paused, his eyes held a distant look in them.

?Not at all. I worry about him. He seemed to hold so much pain in his heart??

?The pain motivated him. I?m sure he?s fine. He?s strong. You both are.?

Afaik appeared in the doorway, her smile had returned.

?Gouken are you staying for dinner??

?Um?I-?

?I?m sorry hun but he won?t be. He?d better head home.? Goutetsu turned to look at Gouken, smiling brightly like a proud father.

?After all, he?s got work to do.?

Sidestory: Wildfires

  • Thailand

Thailand’s famous heat paraded itself around the arena; not even a building standing up on just beams could chase it away. It didn’t help that there was a crowd at least double the capacity present. They were everywhere. A sea of people on the floor, a crowd tightly packed outside and a mob scene on the upper level balcony. All of them came from near and far to watch the spectacle, and their eyes hadn’t moved from the ring since the contest began.

As Dan sat on the shoulders of a watcher that knew whose son he was he couldn’t stop wondering why his father had come out of retirement. He was happy his father was home all the time now. He was happy with all the attention that otherwise would have been devoted to training. Dan couldn’t understand why his father kept going on about his ‘last hurrah’. And what made this fighter known as Sagat so special?

Go Hibiki knew no one would understand why he chose to fight again after 5 years, but at least his trainers went along with it and pretended to. Go knew how old he was, he didn’t need to be reminded of it anytime the fight was brought up. He also knew how young Sagat was, how he swept Thailand in a storm with his remarkable talent. How people were calling him the best that had ever been. Sagat was being titled the Prince of Muay Thai. Everyone had to have known that kind of talk would not sit well with someone like Go Hibiki. Someone who after becoming the best defended his title more times than the average newscaster, fighter or promoter could correctly count. They had to have known; yet why were they so shocked when Go announced he was getting back in the ring just to fight Sagat?

Go hopped back to avoid a piston of a punch and then dashed in crouching to land a blow for himself. Go cocked back his fist but caught a driving knee that made the teeth in his mouth rattle. Go attempted to ignore it as he unleashed a series of elbow strikes to Sagat’s chest, planning to finish it off with a reverse spinning elbow to the face. Sagat caught Go’s arm and held it tight. Go stared into Sagat’s eyes. The screaming mob was a blurry whisper in his peripheral; there was only his opponent?s eyes. They held a fire Go was very familiar with. This Sagat…was something. Even Go had to admit it.

Not even 20; yet his lean and toned body was over 6 feet tall. His arms and legs had tremendous reach and the speed to capitalize on it. He was good, but not worthy to be an heir to the throne Go had sat on once. Not yet.

Sagat then viciously knocked Go in the center of his back, the driving force of Sagat?s knee dislocating Go’s shoulder and sending him bouncing off the ropes at the opposide side of the ring and to the mat. Go’s manager leapt up, ready to stop the fight. Go shot him a glare so fierce he froze and sat back down. Go struggled to his feet, one arm limp and straight and the other raised in a tense defensive position. What remained of the fire that once burned in Go’s eyes was a smoulder, but it still burned. Go turned over his shoulder and looked at his son. Dan’s face was frozen in fear and anticipation. Go winked, turned back around and rocketed towards Sagat; jumping into the air with a flying knee.

Go’s attack stopped suddenly as Sagat gripped Go’s neck with one hand. Go’s feet dangled at least a foot above the mat. Go could feel his strength draining from him. As if the force from the sudden jerk ruptured the reservoir of his spirit. He still had some left, he still had plenty left. Go smiled at Sagat, the old cocky smile he used to give doomed opponents. Go?s knee was fast as lightning, stricking perfectly into Sagat?s side. Sagat grunted and winced releasing his grip enough for Go to swat his limp outstretched arm and deliver another knee to the same spot. Sagat rocked backward, Go guessed he had one more good attack while the getting was good. He cocked his free arm back. Before Go could land the punch Sagat?s punch connected to Go?s face, dropping him in an instant.

Go could hear the crowd gasp as the side of his face smacked the canvas. Go had been a fool. Sagat?s arms are longer than his. Go cursed his foolishness as flipped over on his back, propped his arm beneath him and rose to his feet. Sagat was in his corner, patiently waiting. How nice of him. Go hopped in place for a second and punched the air. He did not want to look at Dan. For now it would be best for everything else to fade back and away. Sagat charged, his legs pounding the canvas in a gallop. Go?s punch was swatted away, his elbow strike was caught in Sagat?s left palm and Go was delivered an unguarded straight punch to the nose from Sagat?s right hand. Go fell back in a daze. Sagat would not let him go, grabbing him by his limp arm and punching him in the gut. Go dropped to his knees, his forehead touching the canvas. His eyes looked glazed and distant. Sagat still gripped his useless arm. The crowd gasped.

Then Go shot his working arm forward and upward, two pointed fingers aiming for the fire Go desperately wanted to stamp out. Go felt Sagat’s grip suddenly release and he felt himself crash to the floor. Sagat was screaming, doubled over with his hand over his eye, blooding oozing from the gaps in his fingers. Go knew Sagat would never see out of that eye again, and the large crowd was beginning to get the picture.

Go didn’t bother to get up. He knew what was coming next. It was really how he always wanted it. Go Hibiki dreamed of dying in the ring because it was the only place where he had lived. Anywhere else he only existed, waiting for the next chance. The crowd was far away now; Go could not hear anything.

Sagat composed himself and charged, blood streaming down his young handsome face. He grabbed Go by his head and lifted him up. Then he began to savagely beat him. The crowd stared; the cheering had died and was now buried. The only sounds that could be heard were the sounds of Sagat tearing into the former champion. Go did not fight back, he was in another place. He let himself go limp and took the countless blows. He eventually began to detect more broken bones and internal bleeding. He could feel his insides oozing, his body swelling with so much pain. Then he blacked out and drifted away, now content that he had passed the torch totally. Go Hibiki eventually drifted so far he could never return. Sagat wailed on Go Hibiki for 5 minutes after he died, even then 20 men had to pull the enraged fighter off of the lifeless body that was once known as the undisputed champion. The crowd refused to utter a word; their eyes were still glued to the blood-splattered ring. Some were violently throwing up…others were sobbing.