Thank you guys so much for your amazing reviews. Here is chapter five, I hope you enjoy it!
THE LONELY ISLAND
"What the hell is she doing?" Hwoarang cursed as he paced relentlessly.
"She must have forgotten something," Xiaoyu replied, rubbing her hands to warm herself.
They were standing in front of Asuka's house and were waiting for her in the dark alley. It was still late, and the cold of night began gradually to numb them. There was not a noise around them, and far from reassuring them, it only made them even more apprehensive.
Hwoarang looked at his watch for what seemed to be the hundredth time and sighed impatiently, his leg twitching nervously. Xiaoyu gave him an annoyed look and suddenly tensed as she listened.
A cat emerged from a trash bin, threw a pile of rubbish down, and fled in a flash. The noise made them jump and the young man swore copiously.
Asuka eventually appeared five minutes later, a backpack on her shoulders. Hwoarang was about to tell her off, but he froze as she approached. Despite the darkness, her face was dangerously pale and she was struggling to keep her eyes open. Her staggering gait finally alerted her two friends who took her by the arms to keep her up before she collapsed.
"What the hell happened?!" exclaimed Hwoarang, his anger vanished.
"Nothing... I... I..." she mumbled, her head wagging faintly.
"Hey! Asuka! Stay awake!"
"Dammit, what are we gonna do?" he cursed as he glanced at Xiaoyu, who seemed just as helpless as he was.
"Asuka! Asuka, look at me!" she snapped, taking her friend's face in her hands. "Look at me! What happened?"
"Light... too much light..."
"What light, Asuka? It's pitch dark!"
"...in their hands... could not... too hot..."
"Too hot? What the bloody hell happened to you?!" Hwoarang exploded, on the verge of flying into the house.
"Shut up!" Xiaoyu exclaimed. "I'm trying to understand!"
"Light... in... hands..."
"Light in hands?"
Her head fell on her chest and her body sagged. Hwoarang rushed to help Xiaoyu who was staggering under the weight of their friend and carefully lay her to the ground. She seemed deeply asleep and when the young woman put her hand over her forehead, she was shocked that it was so hot.
"What do we do now?" she whispered, looking at Hwoarang.
"I don't know," he sighed, pacing furiously, a hand clenched in his hair. "We can't leave her here, we don't even know what happened to her... But we can't take her with us either... And we can't delay our journey... Fuck!" he swore, shooting in a can of soda.
"Listen, the journey by train to Kagoshima will take at least four hours and, hopefully, there won't be many people. Let's take her with us."
"I thought we needed to be discreet…"
"I know, but without her, we'll never find the way to Jun's house," she answered, gently feeling the unconscious young woman's forehead. "It looks like she has a fever and she was delirious before falling asleep. We'll buy some drugs and we'll make her drink water during the trip."
"And what if she ever gets worse?"
"Then we'll stop in Kagoshima and we'll take her to a doctor."
"And what if she is contagious? What if we get ill too?"
"We'll see Hwoarang!" Xiaoyu exclaimed impatiently. "Do you have a better idea? Do you want to leave her like that and go without looking back?"
The young man remained silent, his lips pinched and his jaw clenched, glaring at her. He finally sighed deeply and stooped down to take Asuka in his arms and carry her on his back.
"This is the worst idea you've ever had, Xiao, I hope you know that..."
"I know," she whispered as they set out. "And I'm sure it won't be the last..."
They exchanged no word while traveling by taxi to the station. The accumulated fatigue and the worrying condition of Asuka had made them extremely suspicious and vigilant. While Hwoarang was fetching the tickets, Xiaoyu stayed with their friend and scanned every corner of the station, looking for soldiers or suspicious people. A giant television screen diverted her from her thoughts when she heard the name of the town of Akita and she turned her head.
The images showed the mountains overlooking the city and more precisely the place from which a thick smoke escaped. Her throat tightened when she realized it was her grandfather's house and her heart began to beat furiously.
"The explosion resounded around 3:15am and woke the inhabitants of Akita. The fire began to spread but the rain slowed its progress before the firefighters intervened. We are now with Captain Takeda, who was in charge of this operation. Captain, can you explain to us what this operation of the Tekken Forces was about?"
"Absolutely. We were in pursuit of two dangerous members of the resistance who had taken refuge in a house in the Akita mountains. Despite our summons to surrender, they detonated the place and managed to escape."
"Were there civilians in the house? Were people injured?"
"No, there was no one with them."
"Liars!" the young girl grunted between her teeth, shooting daggers at the screen.
"Do we know precisely who these resistance fighters are?"
"We know that, yes. Until now, their identities had not been disclosed because we had underestimated their dangerousness and thought we could apprehend them without too much damage. The events of the previous day showed us that we were wrong and, in order to avoid any further deployment of violence, we encourage our fellow citizens to be vigilant and not hesitate to collaborate with the police to facilitate the arrest of these two suspects."
If this speech had enraged Xiaoyu, it was fear and panic that exploded in her when her and Hwoarang's portraits were projected onto the screen. These were the official portraits that had been taken for the sixth tournament, when her hair was still long and when Hwoarang's was still red. The fact that their new appearances had not been noticed gave her a little hope and she glanced around quickly to realize with relief that no one was watching the screen.
"The suspects are Ling Xiaoyu and Hwoarang. They are known to have regularly participated in the Tekken tournaments since the third edition that took place in Mexico. Ling Xiaoyu is a Chinese woman who obtained Japanese naturalization thanks to Heihachi Mishima, the former leader of the Mishima Zaibatsu, of whom she was the ward. As for Hwoarang, he is Korean and a former soldier who was sued by the Korean court martial for desertion. They are both suspected of belonging to the illegal resistance network formed and led by former Tekken Forces Captain Lars Alexandersson. We also suspect them of being the perpetrators of the chase that took place two days ago on the Shuto expressway in Tokyo and which resulted in the explosion of a vehicle of the Tekken Forces."
"Are they very dangerous?"
"Very, that is why we will deploy important military means to ensure the safety of our fellow citizens. We have also created a special emergency number and invite anyone with information to contact us as soon as possible..."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hwoarang walking towards them, the tickets in his hand and she designated the screen with a tiny sign of the head. He frowned and turned his head. A flash of panic ran through his eyes and his face lost a few colors, but he recovered quickly.
"Let's go," he whispered, handing her the tickets.
He took Asuka on his back and they went to the platform where their train was waiting for them. He noticed Xiaoyu's upset look and frowned.
"Don't worry," he said in a reassuring voice, "they have lost our trace for the moment, we have a head start on them..."
"It's not that," the young woman replied, shaking her head.
"What's wrong then?"
"They... They are portraying us as terrorists!" she whispered furiously. "They say it was us who blew up my grandfather's house!"
Hwoarang remained silent and sighed deeply.
"It was to be expected..."
"What do you mean?"
"Xiao, the media are under Kazuya's jackboot, he can manipulate them all he wants to deceive public opinion. What better way to find us than to make us look like terrorists to frighten people and ensure their collaboration? I'm not surprised at all, I would've been surprised if he hadn't done just that, knowing him."
"But they'll end up finding us if the whole country is looking for us! We can't run away forever!"
"Don't worry about that. If the situation gets too tense, we'll leave the country."
"What... Just like that?!"
"Kazuya may be almighty in Japan, but I strongly doubt that his influence is the same abroad."
"I'm scared, Hwoarang," she whispered in a trembling voice. "I didn't think we'd get to that. When you called me two days ago and told me that Kazuya was after us, I didn't really believe it. But now... You were right. He really wants to find us."
"Hey, don't be afraid! Don't forget that we have Lars on our side. He has more resources than you think. Besides, not only have they lost our trace but they are far from suspecting that we are going to the other end of the archipelago..."
The young woman nodded and remained silent. They reached the train and climbed on board. Hwoarang carefully installed Asuka on the window seat and hoisted their backpacks on the luggage rack while Xiaoyu covered her with a plaid and sat next to her. The young man sat down in front of his friends and handed the young Chinese a bag of medicines purchased earlier.
"I took some effervescent tablets," he explained, taking out a small bottle of water. "It should be easier that with regular pills."
"Good idea," Xiaoyu smiled. "The train leaves in less than fifteen minutes, could you go and buy some food while I try to give her the drugs?"
He nodded and disappeared in the blink of an eye. She melted a pill in the bottle and cautiously gave the content to the unconscious girl, who swallowed instinctively, but did not wake up.
Hwoarang returned a few minutes later with a bag filled with cakes and drinks.
"Look, I took that too," he said to Xiaoyu, handing her a surgical mask.
"Uh... thank you but I'm not sick..."
"It's for Asuka," he said. "So that the travelers or controllers don't get suspicious seeing her sleeping all the time."
His idea proved to be intelligent. After two hours of travel, when the controllers appeared in their wagon, they did not realize that Asuka was asleep and just checked the tickets and IDs that Xiaoyu handed them. They also did not seem to be looking for two people on the run and she thought that the security measures they had talked about on television had not yet been implemented, which left them a little ahead of Kazuya.
But for how long?
The sun slowly set on the Yakushima beach and Xiaoyu sighed, enjoying of the last rays of sun that made the sea golden. The breeze was sweet and children were playing around her, running in the water like young puppies.
Asuka was still asleep, her head resting on the young woman's thighs. Her temperature had dropped and her face had recovered some colors, which had relieved the two friends.
She heard Hwoarang coming back and she turned her head to face him. He sat by her side and closed his eyes, sighing.
"So?" she asked.
"Well, I feel like I'm on holidays and not on the run."
"Idiot, you know what I mean."
"There's a hostel not far away," he replied without opening his eyes. "Apparently, it will rain tonight, so forget the wilderness camping."
"Too bad," she sighed, "I wish we could sleep here on this beach."
"I'll definitely enjoy a nice cozy bed. I booked a room and I saw that there's a FamilyMart not far away. I don't know about you, but I'm starving!"
Xiaoyu's stomach began to gurgle loudly and she blushed as her friend laughed.
"Looks like I'm not the only one," he joked.
"May I remind you that we've spent the day traveling and we haven't had the opportunity to have a real meal! I'm exhausted and starving! I feel like having some Peking duck and shrimp dumplings!"
"I'd kill for a good bibimbap with lots of gochujang! Because you guys' food sucks!"
"You know I'm not Japanese, right?"
"Aaaaah! If only Asuka wasn't sick, we could've gone to a ryokan, enjoy the rotenburo and dine like kings. I 've been told that they are quite famous in Yakushima."
"Yeah... I hope she'll get better soon. By the way, did you warned the hostel that we had a sick person with us?"
"Yeah, don't worry, I got a separate bed for her."
"For her? What about us?"
"Well, Mrs Matsuyama," he said with a sly smile, "you forget that we are married."
"Tell me we're not going to sleep in the same bed?" she exclaimed with horror.
"I'm afraid so, darling."
"Hey! Thousands of women would kill to be in your shoes!"
"Oh yeah?" she grimaced. "Do they even exist?"
"Hey, don't get too carried away! You're not too bad, but you're far from being my type, kid!"
"Oh, and what's your type?"
Indignant, she hit the back of his head as he giggled.
"It's getting late," he remarked, consulting his watch. "We should get going."
She nodded and straightened Asuka so that he could take her on his back. She stood up, dusted her pants, grabbed their backpacks and followed him through the town. Yakushima was a peaceful and quiet island and the seaside air was invigorating. They came across a lot of foreigners who crowded into the little restaurants which strewed the main street. The amazing effluvia made them salivate.
They eventually reached the hostel and Hwoarang checked in, while Xiaoyu was waiting for him in the lobby with Asuka. She was looking forward to taking a hot shower and spending a full night in a good bed. The manager gave them the directions to their room and wished them a pleasant stay. They took the elevator to the third and last floor and entered their room. It was very basic but seemed cosy enough. A double bed and a single bed, a desk and en-suite bathroom. Hwoarang gently laid down Asuka on the single bed, while Xiaoyu inaugurated the bathroom without wasting time.
A quarter of an hour later, clean as a whistle and dressed in jeans and a simple gray sweater, she joined her friend who was lying on the bed and consulting a map of the town provided by the manager.
"There's no way we're sleeping in the same bed," she warned him.
"Xiao," he sighed. "We're not savages, we can behave! At least I hope so, I don't know what your intentions are towards me but..."
"May I remind you that we're supposed to be married!"
"Maybe, but we don't have to pretend when we're in private!"
"Aaaaah," he sighed, getting up. "You're way too prudish for your own good, Xiao. I'm gonna take a shower! Try not to peep!" he warned before closing the door.
"Moron," she grumbled, "as if I wanted to..."
She lay down in bed, sighing with ease, and closed her eyes, letting herself be lulled by the sound of the flowing water. A little nap would not hurt...
A groan drew her from her drowsiness and she jumped. Asuka began to move and finally opened her eyes slowly. Relief made Xiaoyu cry out her and she rushed to her friend. She took her hand delicately and scrutinized her carefully.
"Hey," she smiled, "how are you feeling?"
"A little groggy," the girl murmured in a sleepy voice. "I feel like I've been sleeping for hours..."
"You've actually been sleeping all day."
"What? But..." she stammered, looking around in confusion. "Wait, where are we? What day is it? I'm lost..."
"Asuka, what's the last thing you remember?"
"Huuum... You came to my house, Hwoarang and you..."
"My family told you about Aunt Jun... You showed me a picture and you told me you had to go to Yakushima..."
"We decided to leave before my parents woke up and... I went to see my great grandmothers... They were waiting for me and they took my hands and... It's still confusing but I remember a bright light and being very hot at once, as if they were transmitting something to me..."
"So that's where the light came from," Xiaoyu muttered.
"And after that?"
"Then they told me to leave, but I was incredibly tired, I struggled to leave the house... and then… blackout..."
"You collapsed in the street and you passed out. You were feverish and we decided to take you with us."
"Where are we?"
"In Yakushima. We took the train and the ferry, but you've slept all this time and we..."
"You made me cross half of the country while I was unconscious?"
"Yeah, I know," Xiaoyu replied, blushing with embarrassment, "it wasn't a brilliant idea, Hwoarang told me so. But we couldn't leave you at your parents' home and vanish just like that..."
"I understand, Xiao, I'm glad you did that."
"Can you get up?"
"I'll try," Asuka sighed, straightening painfully.
She pulled down the blanket and stood up cautiously, her legs trembling. Xiaoyu held her firmly as she began to pitch.
"I'm feeling dizzy…"
"Sit down, you got up too fast."
Hwoarang chose that moment to join them, his hair still damp and wearing nothing but a towel around his hips. The two young women's eyes widen and they blushed furiously. He froze when he saw that Asuka was awake. A wide smile lit his face and he rushed to take her in his arms.
"How are you? You scared the shit out of us!"
"I know, Xiao told me, I'm sorry..."
She tried to gently push him away while trying not to look at him.
"What happened to you?"
"I think my ancestors gave me my powers back."
"I knew it!" Xiaoyu smiled.
"Seriously ?!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, I feel completely different. It's like my senses are more acute, like I can now perceive things that I would've never been aware of before. But I don't know what I'm supposed to do with these powers..."
"Haven't your elders told you anything?"
"No. I think it's up to me to learn by myself..."
"Don't worry, Xiao and I are here to help you," he said, hugging her again and making her blush even more.
"Perhaps you should get dressed," Xiaoyu suggested, trying not to laugh at Asuka's embarrassment.
"Oh, but why, Mrs. Matsuyama?" he whispered, slowly drawing closer to her, a suggestive smile on his lips. "Is it the sight of my body that troubles youso?
She felt her face warm up. He was still staring at her with that annoying smug smile and she shot daggers at him so as not to be tempted to look at anything but his eyes.
"Not at all," she replied with annoyance.
"Ah! I'm sorry, Xiao!" he burst into laughter. "I sometimes forget how prude you are!"
"I'm not prude!" the young woman snapped.
Flashbacks of what had happened between Jin and her in the hospital suddenly came back to her mind and she had a strange sensation in her stomach. No, she was definitely not prude…
"Innocent, if you prefer," he retorted, shrugging and pinching her cheek like a doddering grandfather. "Oooh my dear innocent little Xiaoyu!"
Like in a daze, Xiaoyu pushed his hand away, grabbed him by the back of the neck and kissed him furiously.
It was only when she stepped back and noticed his face frozen into a shocked expression and Asuka's, just as struck, that she realized what she had just done. Her anger instantly vanished and an icy cold fist tied her stomach. A heavy silence settled and she had to make a superhuman effort to turn away.
"I'll go buy some food," she breathed out without daring to look at them and she ran away from the room.
She walked down the corridor and ran down the stairs. Her mind could not assimilate what had just happened. Even she did not understand herself. Why? How? Everything was so confused...
I kissed him... I kissed him ... I freaking kissed Hwoarang...
She stopped at the bottom of the steps and sighed deeply as she put her head in her hands, sagging against the wall. She was afraid to face her friends. What would Hwoarang say? Would he be angry? Would he call her names? The guilt invaded her when she realized that she had just jeopardized their friendship.
Do I really see him as a friend? Or do I want more?
No. The answer was clear. Hworang was his friend and kissing him had not been... normal. It was as if she had kissed her brother...
A group of youngsters passed by without paying attention to her and walked up the stairs, laughing loudly. She straightened up and sighed with frustration. She was not acting normal. Some fresh air would help her clear her mind.
She crossed the lobby and froze when she saw her and Hwoarang's faces projected onto the television screen. Her heart swept violently in her chest and she looked around nervously to see with relief that no one had seen her. The room was deserted. Striving to calm down, she moved toward the reception. The manager was on the phone and turning her back on her. Xiaoyu was going to turn around but stopped when she heard the word "police".
She approached without making a noise nor being noticed and listened.
"... I understand but listen, I'm not sure it's them. The man who booked the room was not red-haired, but he was not Japanese, he definitely had an accent! There was a woman with him, and another, younger, but she was sleeping and they said she was sick... Yes... Well, she doesn't quite match the picture they showed on TV, but they looked suspicious... Listen, I run a hostel, I don't want any trouble here! Did you see how they bombed this house in Akita? Imagine if they do the same here! No... Look, I'm not asking you to arrest them... But can you at least check their identities and see if they're the ones you're looking for... Yes... Okay... Yes... They booked for a Mr and Mrs Matsuyama... Very well... In twenty minutes? Thank you very much, you don't know how much it... Yes... No, don't worry, I won't get close to them, I'll stay at the reception... I'm waiting for you... Right away, thank you a thousand times…"
Panic paralyzed Xiaoyu, preventing her from moving or even breathing, for fear of being spotted.
They're gonna come... They're gonna find us ... They'll give us to Kazuya... Hurry... Hurry up Xiaoyu!
She regained her breath which she had held back without realizing it and turned back, trying not to run and look as natural as possible. Fear and adrenaline swarmed under her skin and she thought she was going to explode. She went up the stairs taking them four at a time and rushed into their room, startling Hwoarang and Asuka.
"Xiao, listen..." he began.
"No time! We must go! Quick!" she exclaimed, rushing to throw their belongings into their backpacks.
"The manager... I just caught her calling the police! She told them about us!"
"That filthy little..." Hwoarang angrily began.
"Hurry up," she begged them. "They'll be here in less than twenty minutes!"
Asuka, despite her weakness, helped her to pick up their belongings, while the young man jumped into his clothes.
"How did she recognize us?" he cried, putting on his shoes.
"Apparently your accent doesn't not sound Japanese at all!"
"How do we leave this place without being noticed?" Asuka asked.
"I think I saw an emergency staircase at the end of the corridor," Xiaoyu replied, putting her bag on her shoulder. "We're lucky that it's night..."
"But where are we going?"
"In the forest, I have a tent in my bag," Hwoarang explained. "We're finally camping, Xiao, aren't you happy?"
"Extatic," she snarled. "Make sure you don't forget anything!"
After a quick walk around the room, the young man dragged them outside and locked the door before throwing the key into a trash can.
Xiaoyu headed for the emergency staircase, her companions on her heels. She pushed open the fire door and went down the metal steps, looking frantically around her to see if anybody saw them. Hwoarang, seeing that Asuka was slowed down by her condition, took her on his back to go faster. They reached the bottom of the stairs, which led onto an alley at the back of the hostel without being noticed, and plunged into a maze of dark narrow streets.
"Do you know in which direction the forest is?" Xiaoyu asked.
"I can see where it is. But we need to buy food and something to protect ourselves from the cold. Asuka, do you feel like rushing in a konbini and buying what we need?"
They walked a few minutes, then stopped near an animated street.
"If I'm not wrong, the main street is right there and you have konbini not far."
"At worst, I'll just ask for directions, don't worry," the girl retorted, taking the purse Xiaoyu handed her.
"We're waiting for you here, be careful."
She disappeared at the corner of the street, and the two friends remained alone in the darkness. Only the sounds from the shopping street disturbed the silence and tension between them. Xiaoyu kept her eyes stubbornly fixed on the ground, while Hwoarang's seemed to want to burn her.
"Xiao," he began softly, "we need to talk..."
No, she was absolutely not ready to have this conversation right now...
"I'm not mad at you, if that's what's worrying you, and I'm not going to make fun of you. It's just that I'm a bit confused, to be honest..."
She mentally begged Asuka to return as soon as possible.
"I just want to understand, Xiao, that's it..."
The rain fell on them. Literally. A torrential rain, which soaked them to the bones in less than ten seconds. They took refuge under a porch, shivering with cold, and suddenly far too close to the young woman's taste. Her friend kept staring at her, waiting for an answer from her and she sighed.
"I'm really sorry, Hwoarang. I don't know what came to me, really, it was so impulsive... I... I don't even understand myself..."
He continued to stare at her while she was stirring with discomfort.
"You were so annoying when you called me a prudish kid, so I think I just wanted to prove to you that I'm not as innocent as you think... I'm sorry..."
"Why did you react so badly then? You just wanted to give me a lesson..."
"But we're friends! I shouldn't have done that! I love Jin and I feel like... like..."
Tears came to her eyes and she lowered her head.
"Like you're cheating on him?"
She nodded without saying a word, repressing her sobs.
"Xiao, look at me," he said, gently taking her face in his hands. "What do you want?"
"I don't know what I want... I don't know what I want anymore... Everything used to be so simple: I loved Jin and I wanted to be with him. But now I don't know where I... I feel like the feelings I had for him are... I don't know... I'm so confused..."
"I'll try to help you; do you trust me?"
He took a step closer and put his lips on hers. She closed her eyes and did not fight, surprised by his gentleness and tenderness.
He pinned her against the wall and pressed himself against her and Xiaoyu suddenly realized why he was so successful with girls. He was clearly gifted and, had she been someone else, no doubt that the situation would have quickly gotten out of control. However, neither his expert lips nor the sensation of his muscular body against hers made her feel anything but deep unease and the impression that none of this was normal at all.
He drew back, breathless and looked into her eyes.
"Did you feel anything?"
She shook her head and he smiled, not offensed at all by her answer. He even seemed relieved.
"And you?" she asked in a small voice, blushing.
"You're like my little sister, Xiao, I told you. I don't have that kind of feelings for you, and you don't either, that's all I wanted to check. You know what I think?"
"I think you've been through a lot lately and you've reached your limit. There was this story with Kazama, who you pursued to Egypt, then your suicide attempt, your coma, this forced flight, the loss of your grandfather in traumatic circumstances... All this would drive anyone crazy, you know..."
She nodded without saying a word, letting his words soothe her.
"It's not even been forty-eight hours since your grandfather died, and you've not had time to properly mourn him. You had to postpone this because the situation required it and it's completely normal that you are confused and lost. As for Kazama, you had no understanding with him, right?"
"So don't be so hard on yourself, Xiao. When we find, you'll get to wonder if you still love him, but don't get yourself all worked up about that, okay?"
She nodded and her friend kissed her forehead.
"Why are you so kind and understanding?" she asked, huddling up against him.
"Because you're my friend, and because I've been through that too, and I know what it feels like. I just want you to be happy, you know."
"Me too, Hwoarang. But... What happened to you, when you said you went through that too?"
"Well," he began, "when I was…"
"Sorry!" a breathless voice cut him off and made them jump, as Asuka appeared, a transparent umbrella in one hand and a big bag in the other. "That old lady was taking forever to find her purse and… Oh! I... Am I interrupting something?" she asked, blushing as she noticed their closeness.
"No no"! Xiaoyu exclaimed with a laugh. "Don't worry, everything's fine between us, we're still friends."
"Ah, good... Uh... Here, I bought umbrellas from the 100-yen Shop!" she said, offering them two items similar to hers. "I bought things to eat and to make a camp! It's silly, given the trouble we're in, but I can't wait to sleep under the stars! I've never camped!"
"Me neither," Xiaoyu said. "Besides, Hwoarang, was it not you who told me that you were an expert at wild camping?"
"Exactly!" he replied, puffing out his chest and taking each of his friends by the arm. "I'll tell you what happened to me during my military service, when I was abandoned by my group not far from the North Korean border and forced to spend the night alone with nothing to eat!"
"That sound a bit far-fetched," Asuka commented with a dubious grimace.
"Not at all ! Listen: it all started with a kimchi-jjigae that was a little too hot, a detail that may seem zany, but will prove to be important afterwards..."
"Remind me never to go camping with you again," Xiaoyu complained.
"Right, you've been repeating that twenty times like a broken record!," Hwoarang said.
"And I'll continue to repeat it till I'm fed up!"
"Stop it dammit!"
"Hey! Shut up both of you!" Asuka shouted, turning to face them, shooting daggers at them. "You're driving me nuts and I need to concentrate to find this damn path!"
They obeyed without a word and resumed their painful walk.
Their night in the open air had been compromised when a gale stronger than the others had snatched their tent and carried it away. Awakened in panic in the middle of the night, the three friends had had to find refuge in a lost cabin, with a pierced and badly insulated roof. Hwoarang had managed to light a fire in the dusty hearth after a good half hour and they had dried their soaked clothes on a rope that Asuka had had the good idea to buy. Then they had wrapped themselves in their rugs and tried to find a little rest.
But between the rain that was infiltrating through the openings and the gushes of wind, they had spent a terrible night.
In the morning, they had swallowed some cakes and had followed Asuka through the woods. It was now almost two hours since they had been advancing in the thick forest and they were beginning to tire.
The sun was shining on that beautiful morning, enshrouding the forest with gilded rays. The rain of the day before had made the woods damp, covered with a beautiful green moss, and a deep smell of dirt and verdure filled their nostrils.
"I had forgotten just how beautiful this forest is!" Asuka exclaimed.
"It's just like in the movie Princess Mononoke!" Xiaoyu said.
"By the way, will you finally explain why you kissed Hwoarang? I thought you fancied my cousin, Xiao," she said with an ounce of reproach in her voice.
She blushed and Hwoarang, seeing her discomfort, intervened:
"It was just an experiment, nothing serious!"
"What, do you want to try too?" he offered in a charming voice, with a sly glance. "I would not mind, you know..."
She got as red as a beet and resumed her walk, her back stiff. Xiaoyu gave a silent thank you to the young man who just chuckled.
After an hour, after taking the wrong direction and going the opposite way during what seemed like an eternity to Xiaoyu, they eventually emerged into a vast clearing and Asuka uttered an exclamation of triumph by jumping in the air.
They approached and distinguished the remains of the foundations of the old little house which once stood in the middle of the clearing. The grass seemed not to have grown back to that particular place. A little further down, the abandoned vegetable garden had been invaded by the weeds.
There was a heavy atmosphere in that place, as if the tragedy had left an imprint that was invisible to the naked eye. Xiaoyu felt uncomfortable, as she contemplated where Jin had grown up. She understood why Jun Kazama chose to get lost in this isolated island, where not only would no one find her but where she could raise her son away from the influence of the Mishima Zaibatsu...
She turned to face Asuka, who was staring at the ground, her lips pursed and eyebrows frown, and did not seem comfortable either. She had turned pale and her eyes were filled with anxiety.
"Do you also feel like there's something strange here?"
"I've been feeling it for a while already, but the moment we reached the clearing, the feeling got stronger. I feel like I'm seeing what happened here. I can almost feel the soothing aura of my aunt and Toshin's monstrous one..."
She shivered and her face stiffened.
"I don't know if it was a good idea to regain my powers," she whispered. "I realize that I just stepped into a world completely unknown to me and I don't even know how I can evolve in it... You're lucky you can't feel all that I'm feeling right now, Xiao, because it terrifies me. Toshin was really evil, I have goose bumps..."
"Hey, it's okay," Xiaoyu reassured her, putting an arm around her trembling shoulders. "We'll be quick, I promise."
She took out of her bag the picture that represented the garden.
"The willow is there, maybe there's something on the trunk?"
They approached, followed by Hwoarang, who looked around with suspicion. He had a bad feeling and hoped to be wrong, but he found them to be particularly exposed in this clearing and, in case of a surprise attack, there would be nothing to protect them.
Xiaoyu watched the rudimentary swing, whose worn cords threatened to break at any moment and she imagined a younger Jin swinging for hours. That thought snatched a smile from her and she looked at Asuka, who was circling around the willow, examining the trunk in search of inscriptions.
"There's nothing," she sighed, leaning against the tree.
She screamed as soon as her hand came into contact with the trunk, frightening her two friends, who rushed towards her.
"What's happening? Did you hurt yourself?"
Her eyes and her mouth wide open, she breathed erratically and did not answer at once. After a moment, she slid her hand along the trunk to the ground. She knelt and palpated the grass with both hands, as if searching for something, then she froze.
"There's something buried here," she whispered.
"What? How do you know that?"
"I just received a kind of... message ... psychic or whatever, it's... complicated to explain. We have to dig this spot!"
Hwoarang did not try to understand and moved away to pick up a big branch and began to hit the ground. He did so for a few minutes and then threw the branch to finish digging with his hands. His two friends joined him and soon, their fingers met a metallic surface. Eventually, they dig up a small metal box with chipped paint. Asuka opened it and pulled out a small sheet of yellowed paper, folded in half. She unfolded it and read:
In the fragrant port
The Imperial Thundering Jade Dragon
Will recover the key
To find the purity of the blowing wind
"Oh God! What the hell are these dragon bullshit?" Hwoarang grumbled.
"It sounds like a poem," Asuka said, staring at the sheet as if it was about to reveal its secrets.
"I think it's a kind of riddle," Xiaoyu said, taking the sheet. "What's strange is that it's written in hiragana, without any kanji. Wait, there's something behind it... Kyujitai. What does that mean?" she asked Asuka.
"Oh, the kyujitai... Well, to make it simple, we Japanese use the traditional Chinese ideograms, in addition to our own alphabets. There was a reform in 1946 to simplify these ancient and traditional ideograms, which became the shinjitai, in other words the modern form of the kyujitai."
"Oh I see. So these are the same symbols as in Mandarin?"
"It's like us in Korea," Hwoarang added. "We have the hangul, which is our Korean alphabet, but we also use the hanja, the traditional Chinese ideograms."
"So we have to replace the hiragana with kyujitai or hanja... Does anyone have a pen?"
"Here," Hwoarang replied, handing her a pencil.
Xiaoyu used the box as a support and thought for a few moments before writing, under the watchful eye of her friends.
"Does that make sense to you with Chinese characters?"
"Not really," Asuka grimaced. "And it doesn't make much sense when I read it in Japanese..."
"And if you read it in Mandarin, Xiao?" the young man asked.
"Well, the perfumed port is pronounced xiānggǎng and... it means... Oh damn it! That means Hong Kong!"
She uttered a cry of excitement and continued to scrawl furiously on the sheet, not paying attention to her two friends who looked at her anxiously. Then she burst into a merry laugh.
"The Imperial thundering Jade Dragon is translated as wǔlóngléi!"
"What?! Like the cop, Lei Wulong?" Hwoarang exclaimed.
"Yes! That's it ! It's indeed a riddle! Will find the key does not change. On the other hand, the purity of the blowing wind says nothing to me at all..."
"Can I take a look?" Asuka asked.
The girl remained silent for five minutes, then she finally turned to Xiaoyu.
"If I read this part in Japanese," she began in a trembling voice, blowing wind can be translated as Kazama. And purity is one of the meanings of the first name Jun..."
Her two friends looked at each other without a word, then Hwoarang broke the silence:
"In Hong Kong, Lei Wulong will recover the key to find Jun Kazama..."
"What does that mean?" Xiaoyu asked cautiously, not daring to believe that this enigma implied.
"It means... it means that Aunt Jun is still alive," Asuka whispered in a low voice, looking completely stunned.
A deafening silence followed her words. Only the rustling of the leaves and the song of the birds echoed around them during what seemed like an eternity. Feeling dizzy, Xiaoyu exchanged a glance with Hwoarang who was staring at Asuka with amazement, his mouth open. His widened eyes went from one to the other without him being able to say anything.
A noise, however, drew them out of their stupefaction, a noise that automatically triggered an alarm signal in each of them. It was the sound of a hammer, pulled back, indicating that a weapon was ready to fire.
The three friends turned in the same direction to face an impressive army of soldiers armed to the teeth that encircled them and pointed their weapons at them. A mocking laugh resounded and Anna Williams appeared in front of them, looking amused and delighted. She folded her arms on her chest and leaned her head to one side, an evil smile on her lips.
"Well well well, it seems like the rats have finally left their hole..."
FamilyMart: konbini chain (grocery stores open 24/7/365)
Bibimbap: very popular Korean dish, based on rice, sauteed vegetables and meat served in a cast iron bowl
Gochujang: Korean hot pepper paste
Ryokan: hostel providing a typical Japanese experience (wearing a kimono, meals served in the room, swimming in the rotenburo, night on futons...)
Rotenburo: thermal hot springs, of volcanic origin for the most part, and located in the outside
Kimchi-jjigae: spicy Korean soup made with kimchi (fermented and spiced Chinese cabbage), vegetables and/or meat
Hiragana: Japanese syllabary, composed of 46 characters which represent each a syllable and allow to transcribe any word in Japanese