"You appear troubled, my friend."
The grey-suited ninja stopped in his tracks, and turned to look back at his comrade, dressed identically, except with a light shade of blue replacing the grey over the shin pads, loincloth, overmantle and face mask. The masks were the only unique thing about each outfit. The one in blue had a mask with six small slashes, decreasing in size as they descended, three on each side, over where the nose and mouth would be, on a section that slightly protruded from the face. The grey one wore a mask with narrow indentations running from each jaw up to the protrusion, which seemed to contain nothing so much as what appeared to be a very fine lining of wire mesh. It looked like some sort of air filter.
"Hm? No, no, I am fine, Smoke. Merely ruminating on...recent events."
Smoke eyed his ally a second longer. "Nothing you wish to speak of?"
"Not as such...no."
"As you wish, Sub-Zero. Let us continue on, then..."
Sub-Zero followed Smoke up the rocky hill. It was the fifth day of their long travel back to Lin Kuei headquarters, buried deep in the mountains of central China. He had been quiet for most of the trip - that was unusual, and he knew that Smoke knew that. Although general conversation was frowned upon back at the Lin Kuei's base of operations, whenever in the presence of his longtime friend - his only true friend, Smoke, Sub-Zero could talk for hours. But he had spent this trip in silence, for the most part. And he had good reason. He was indeed troubled, and deeply so.
During his stay in Outworld, Sub-Zero had learned a great many things. Not of the layout of the land, or the history of the people - these things the Lin Kuei had extensive records of, which all members had been made to study. What Sub-Zero had been sent to Outworld for, among other things, was answers. Answers to two questions. The fate of his older brother, also named Sub-Zero, who had not returned from his mission to assassinate the sorcerer Shang Tsung. And, the status of the mission itself. That was the other thing he had been sent for; if Tsung was indeed still alive, he was to complete the task himself.
But he had been unable to do so. Before he could get anywhere near Tsung...something had stopped him. That something questioned him. That something spoke with him. That something...or someone, if it were indeed still a man...had fought with him.
But that something had not pursued the fight to its conclusion. It broke off, and that something disappeared into the cold night air, which shimmered above the dimly-lit marble bridge where it had encountered him.
Sub-Zero was no stranger to specters - at least, not to stories of them. But, to actually be there, to speak with one...he almost shuddered.
And was it the one who killed my brother...?
He shook the thought off. At any rate, he remembered also that before he could complete his mission, a battle had broken out in Kahn's arena. He watched from the shadows, as the man from the Order of Light, Liu Kang, defeated Shao Kahn after a remarkably long fight. That was something he'd have to report to his superiors, as well - very soon, their dealings with Outworld might be with a different ruler entirely. If Kahn could be bested that easily-
No, he thought. Kahn will have vengeance for this...I had, in all likelihood, better inform the headmasters that a war might very well be in plans...
Still, the fight in and of itself was not what had stopped him from killing Tsung. In fact, he had had the sorcerer in his sights, and was preparing to throw the explosive ball of ice that he had formed in his hand - one of his favorite techniques, that he had improvised himself. It was primed, and ready to go as soon as it struck its target. And he had thrown it, too.
The only problem was that the second before he had let go, something had struck his arm, causing the ice grenade to go wide, missing Tsung by a clear three feet. It had only succeeded in making him yell orders to kill his would-be assassin. When he looked to his right, he had seen nothing. He still wondered what it could have been.
Nevertheless, before he could find out, the thunder god had unfortunately sent them all back to their realm, albeit in different places. And so, Sub-Zero had no choice but to make his way back to the ruins of Shang Tsung's palace, where he had searched for what the specter had told him to, after meeting up with his closest friend and ally. Smoke had been sent along with Sub-Zero to do little more than wait for his return - and to leave if he had not come back from Outworld within twelve days. That way, the clan would know for certain that the assassination was a lost cause.
Smoke stopped again, and turned to him, after looking around. "We still have seven hours' more travel. However, it is getting dark...shall we make camp here for the night? I will stand watch, first."
Sub-Zero nodded, and they started to unpack. It was as good a place as any. Isolated, far away from anyone or anything that might happen upon them. They were on top of a mountain so steep that even the local goats might have had difficulty navigating it. Indeed, for the last two hours, they had been climbing almost straight up, and they were now at the top. Such mountains surrounded the Lin Kuei headquarters, making travel there almost impossible by foot. If you wanted something done by heir hand, you didn't find the Lin Kuei. You spread the word to the right people, and they found you.
After setting down upon the large, downy cloth Smoke had brought, and removing his mask, he allowed his thoughts to drift back to the item he'd located in Tsung's palace, where the Grandmaster had theorized it would be, if it could be found anywhere.
It didn't take him long to find it. Tsung was known for keeping odd things as ingredients for his formulas and spells. Surely, that could have been put to some use.
So he took it with him, as evidence to the Grandmaster that his brother was truly dead.
He looked over at it now, the small knapsack that contained his brother's remains, where he had situated it, as far away as possible from him.
He turned away from it, and tried to sleep.
He couldn't. But he tried to pretend he was, anyway.
He opened his eyes to see Smoke looking off into the distance.
"Yes? What is it, friend?"
"...you know what."
He sighed, and got up.
"I am sorry. It is simply that...I...forget it, you would not understand."
Silence. Then Smoke turned to him.
"I do not know what it is like to have any type of family. When the Lin Kuei took me, I was but a baby, as you were. But I have since discovered I was an only child. I cannot imagine the pain that you feel at losing him, but...you do have my condolences."
"I know that you told me that you didn't care for him. But, as humans, we cannot deny our feelings. You must miss him a bit...no?"
He sighed again.
"Perhaps. Perhaps I do. He was a murderer, and he had no conscience, at least, none that I ever saw. But he was still my brother...regardless, that is not all that troubles me."
He formed a ball of ice in his hand, and rolled it around. Closed his eyes, and told him about the specter.
"...and it wanted to know why I spared that man...and when I told it that I did not take lives unless necessary...it just stopped fighting. And now, Smoke...now, I remember his eyes, and the fire behind them...and the aura of suffering I sense around him...and I wonder...what did he do, to deserve such a punishment? Is my brother suffering now, too? And...will I, when my time comes? Will you? That is why I cannot look at that bag."
Smoke listened, but didn't say anything.
"In all my life...I have never feared death, like the rest of the Lin Kuei, but...now...and especially after seeing his eyes..."
They remained silent for a time.
"I told you that you would not understand, or believe. You must think me mad." He chuckled.
Sub-Zero looked up at his friend again. Smoke removed his own mask and smiled at him, his medium-length black hair blowing in the wind.
"I do not think you mad. I believe you. But you are right...I do not know if I can help you with this, but I will try. To start, I would consider myself quite the lucky one, if I fought with a dead man, and lived to tell the tale. I would think none would dare to challenge me." His grey eyes twinkled as he grinned.
The blue-clad ninja could not help but crack a smile. "Must you make light of everything?"
"And imagine what the servant girls in the nearby towns would think...the man so powerful, even the dead leap to fight against him...your harem would match the one the Grandmaster probably has."
At that, Sub-Zero laughed outright. "Harems of women. Is that all you talk about?"
"Talk about? Of course. It is all I think about, as well...."
Sub-Zero chuckled again.
"And dream about, and..."
"All right, all right, I understand. I am fortunate. Is that what you wish to hear?"
"Very well. Take that victory, if you will."
He looked up at the night sky.
Smoke cut him off, and when Sub-Zero looked at him again, his face was not quite the same. He was still smiling, but his smile was...different, somehow. So were his eyes.
"Sub-Zero...none of us know what awaits us after death. But the truth is, it does not matter. It is something you cannot change. Maybe he was just...unfortunate."
Sub-Zero was surprised. Usually, he was the one giving Smoke advice - serious advice, at any rate. This was new.
"Even so, that is beside the point." Smoke moved from his sitting position, and lay down to look up at the night sky. "Concern yourself with what you do have control over. Always remember the things that count - never forget your mighty heritage, and always hold true to your own ideals. Treasure each passing day, no matter your actions, be it a day of rest, a day of travel, or a day of combat."
Silence for a moment.
What I am, saying, Sub-Zero, is...worry about life. Death will take care of itself."
Sub-Zero was silent and pensive.
"That is all I can tell you. Sleep, my friend."
After taking in Smoke's words, Sub-Zero tried again to sleep. But he still couldn't.
It is those eyes...more than anything else...those eyes, and the fire behind them...
Slowly, he drifted away.
Smoke looked down at his friend, who had finally fallen asleep. He smiled to himself.
You never notice how little oxygen is missing, and you eventually drift off...
That was his preferred method of killing, first peacefully depriving his prey of life-sustaining oxygen by allowing small parts of his body to become ethereal, and slowly making the air very thin, without anyone the wiser. That would eventually knock them out. To kill, he would completely transform, and invade their lungs, suffocating them. But if all he needed was to put someone to sleep...then, that could be done as well.
Fear not, friend. I will never be the one to bring you death. Ever. Sleep well.
Tonight, I will stand guard.
Author : Bob J Dole
Creation date: 2004-12-28-20-33
Modification date: 2004-12-28-20-33
Chapter 3, dealing with Sub-Zero and Smoke's return to the Lin Kuei headquarters. reviously posted on fanfiction.net.
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