Disclaimer: I do not own Jackie Chan Adventures.
Betaed by: The great Zim'smostloyalservant.
PDJ Proudly Presents:
"Queen of All Oni"
No More Whimsy Subtitles
Jade sat at the head of the conference room, eyes narrowed, looking over the minions. Her covered eyes only lingered on Hebi, before shifting to the tablet laid in front of her.
"You are certain this is how you wish to proceed, my Queen?" Left asked. Jade hissed, turning a glare on him. What a stupid question. And his voice, it reminded her of that ghost. A traitor to his makers.
"Of course, would I give orders if I didn't want them followed?" Jade demanded.
"Of course not," Hebi cut in. She continued, having gotten Jade's attention, "But we have guessed that your last solo outing did not go so well. And this plan of action would leave you isolated. Even with our best response time, we can't really be sure-"
"Silence! The… incident, was rooted in the unknown. I know these two well. It can be done, and I will do it. Just remember to play your part.
"And Blankman, I do hope you are making progress?" Jade ground out. The well dressed human glanced up from a folder whose contents he seemed to be skimming. Even in this dreary, supernatural atmosphere, he acted so bored and nonchalant! Oh, she would see him afraid before this was done. He would regret looking down his nose at her when her back was turned.
"Progress is adequate. In fact, the current team of prospects for the upcoming operation may be just what you need."
Jade nodded, then Right spoke up. Ugh, she thought.
"Speaking of which, what is the name of that momentous operation? Operation Delayed Reaction? Operation Coupon Cash-In? Or maybe Operation Tea Drinking Rhino?" Right chuckled. No one joined in.
"Endgame, Right. It will be Operation Endgame.
"Someone start the boat," the Queen commanded.
"There is one other matter," Blankman spoke up, pulling out another document. The Queen groaned and glared at him.
"Lampshades. There was a typing error, and we now have sixty in stock. Do you want them stored and write off the expense, or should we attempt to return the surplus?" Blankman asked.
"I am an evil overlord getting ready for the final battle with my sub-boss squad after clipping all the plot coupons and nailing down my heel turn! I have no time for lampshades! Just hang them somewhere or do whatever you want," Jade growled, rolling her eyes.
"Hang lampshades… okay, it's on my to-do list," Blankman said, as the others followed the Queen out.
X X X
Tohru had never been fond of the ocean. Long trips on it made him seasick. Though oddly, small boats never bothered him as much as bigger boats. And it was full of fish.
He supposed he should not be surprised that the last mask would be hidden under the waves. After all, Ikazuki's mask had also made its way there. Though he pondered the route it traveled to be under the coastal waters of California.
Jackie and Uncle were slipping into their wetsuits. He, El Toro, and Paco would stay above on the boat. Jade would come, and he fully expected her to wait until they had retrieved the mask to make a move on it.
It should be routine by now.
But no, he wished them luck with hardly a thought, eyes focused on the horizon. It had taken some time to pinpoint the mask enough that they were willing to send two of their own down; twilight was upon them. The time of shadows.
They had not truly heard from Jade since she had taken the last tablet. All the Teachings were at the fingertips of a child of such talent, and suffering such sickness of the soul.
No, there was nothing routine feeling about this. Stepping carefully, mindful of his weight on the relatively small vessel, Tohru awaited whatever storm was coming.
Verde had only been a distraction. Nothing to do with Jade. A reminder that the world was bigger than their problems. But he couldn't help but think it was also something kicked up in Jade's passing. When a storm blew, it was not just its winds and other fury that ruined. It was the destruction set in motion.
That was Verde, debris from a storm circling them all. Growing stronger. Out of sight, but drawing closer.
And he was not ready, was he? How could he save her?
X X X
"Success," Jade said, opening her eyes. Her true eyes. The shadows pressed close to her, a strange sensation, as if she was suspended on dry water. There was beauty in this darkness, subtle shades and currents so tiny they rose and fell in moments before her eyes.
But there was work to be done. Reaching out to her Khan still on the boat, the drone poofed itself. Signaling her elites to pursue the others to the coast.
Yes, all was going better than she could have hoped. The lay of the land let her isolate the two exactly like she would want to. A nagging nail pierced her thoughts briefly; such perfection seemed unnatural. But a mental flex dislodged it — there was no way this could be planned against her.
Sometimes, good luck was simply that and nothing more.
Pondering this, the Queen closed her eyes and opened the eyes of the Overbody. Sensation returned, the weight of the water, the currents tugging at her form. Then she moved the tail and grinned at the sheer power of cutting through the water.
Power. She was past the point where she could lose in a contest of power. The finale was a ways off, but she would settle one matter tonight, at least. For rehearsal.
X X X
Hebi was not pleased as Left piloted the boat away from where the Queen had vanished into the water. Her role was protection and service; she could not fulfill that in absence.
Being sent away when the Queen was going into battle against not one but 'two' mighty foes was the worst yet. Not even like the Alaskan mission, where it had been a result of events playing out. The Queen wanted to fight them alone, while her loyal Khan were all sent on a glorified mission of distraction. She honestly wondered why they were bothering with this mask.
Hak Foo was standing near the front of the boat, no doubt fixated on obtaining another mask. Worthless.
"Well, at the very least, it's a kind of courage," Right spoke up. He had gotten close to where she had sat down on the deck. He was quiet, but her senses were in the same class if not above, by virtue of rank.
"The Queen has never lacked for courage," Hebi said. After all, she could give no other answer in such a matter.
"Hmm, the stakes in this battle are low. Perhaps it affords an opportunity to explore, experiment?" the handsome Khan went on.
'Is that some kind of pick up line?' she wanted to laugh in his face. Instead, she gave him a smile she had practiced in the mirror. He looked away, failing to hide a flush. Ah, so silly; she could see why matriarchy had prevailed so long, if a fine, fit female could so easily fluster a veteran Vassal.
It was fun to lead him on, while giving nothing concrete. Which was for the best, because she intended to give him nothing. Viper, a mere human, had been his rival, and aside from some inherited resentment, she was now his superior.
Even if Left's seeming immunity to her charms were intriguing, her female appetite niggling at the back of her mind would settle for nothing less than a General. And even then, there was every reason to be picky.
A shame Jackie would never be considered a candidate for conversion. The thought of him in blue and red made her lick her lips before even realizing it.
Hak Foo made a noise of disgust, having apparently seen. What was his problem? He seemed to dislike her on principal of some sort.
Well, it didn't matter. They had reached shore now, and Left was already leaping away, holding the tracking spell.
Drawing her sword, General Hebi got to her feet, in sync with a dozen samurai rising up around her.
"Showtime," she said to Hak Foo and Right.
X X X
The mask came loose from the sands in Jackie's grip. Amidst the rocks of the seafloor, it had sat for who knew how long? How shallow it had been buried, and thoughts of its journey, rose unbidden in his mind. But even as he dismissed such things as irrelevant, he also cherished those ordinary archeologist thoughts.
With a thumb's up to Uncle, they made their way toward the surface, Uncle leading the way, apparently guided back to Tohru as reliably as the willies had directed them.
This would be the tough part, Jackie knew. Jade had not raced for this mask, which meant she was trying to steal it from-
WHAT WAS THAT!?
Jackie's head jerked to the left. He thought he had seen something. A flash of red? Movement?
Water was a lousy place for trouble. However skilled you were at swimming, there was little getting around the basic fact that humans were not built to move well underwater. Uncle was looking back at him, irritation plain through the diving mask.
Jackie gestured up. Even if it was nothing, better to face it topside.
And there was no way it was nothing, was there? He really hoped he would not end up empathizing with a certain Captain Ahab or something soon.
X X X
"We need to go now," Tohru said, as El Toro hauled Jackie into the boat. Calm was not the reason he wasn't shouting. The willies were to tight on his back, just speaking he was girding hard, staring out at the black.
"Jade is near," Uncle said.
"We'll make straight for the port," Jackie said, springing across the deck and climbing to the controls of the boat.
"Not the port, Jackie. Land, run us aground, but we need to-"
Something hit the boat, sending them rocking. No one almost fell off their feet or anything, but something had definitely hit the bottom of the boat, going straight up.
As the motor whirred on it came again, a gentle tap, more heard that felt. Then they were moving.
"Jackie!" Uncle called out.
"I hope Captain Black can cover the rental penalty!"
Tohru wondered how Jackie was navigating. Save for the motion of water hitting the boat, looking out it was like the world had vanished beyond the railings. Was it just him?
"Tohru! Jade's magic is already upon us," Uncle warned him. The old wizard was beside him at the railing, though only holding himself with one hand. Tohru looked to his own hands and saw the plastic, fiberglass, or whatever it was, cracking under his grips.
Both wizards' eyes snapped to attention toward the darkness. The water was being disturbed. Something was displacing it, like a massive-
"Torpedo?!" Uncle and Tohru yelled in confusion. Only to realize it seemed far to big for that.
Jackie yelled something, Tohru didn't catch it. The boat changed course, turning sharp; he could imagine Jackie frantic at the wheel, El Toro yelling the status of the projectile to him.
It turned with them, along with the darkness making Jackie's efforts seem feeble.
Green chi blasts fired into the inky water just in front of the crest of foam. The ripple dropped and disappeared as it reached the boat.
Tohru braced for impact, as his heart beat once, and then again and again.
"I am sorry sensei, I shouldn't have frozen," Tohru said.
"It's not gone," Uncle said. Tohru nodded, and stopped, stepping back from the railing.
"Señor Tohru?" Paco asked. Tohru stared at the deck between his legs, and could practically feel himself go pale.
"Everyone! IT'S COMING FROM BELOW!"
The deck split in the center. They all had a moment to see it buckle and twist, before it seemed to explode outward, and something massive burst through.
X X X
The ocean swallowed him up. Tohru struggled to orient himself as the water pulled him along. He had swam the ocean before, but this current was stronger than he had encountered. But air came first.
Some heavy piece of debris hit him in the shoulder, and he released part of a precious breath. Okay, so avoiding the wreckage was also important.
Lungs burning, he broke though the surface and breathed out, and then in.
"Aiyah!" Uncle called nearby.
"Sensei!" Tohru called out.
Tohru swam toward the sound of the other wizard, calling out for the others. A pair of chi blasts shot into the sky, giving him direction. Cresting a wave, he saw the old man and increased his speed as much as he could. Reaching Uncle, the old man grabbed onto his shoulder with prompting.
That was not a good sign.
They washed up on shore, a wave tossing them and a smattering more of debris onto it. Uncle was already on his feet, limping inland, holding his fish aloft, the glow expanding on it as a torch of sorts.
"Aiyah," Uncle said above. The waves seemed to toss anther plank at Tohru, glancing off his shin. Pulling himself up, thinking of beached whales, Tohru made his way through the boulder-littered terrain to where Uncle stood.
And saw the whole island illuminated by the green light. More like an islet? Was that a word, he wondered. And it was littered with debris. Most not from the boat.
"Niece was practicing. We are here by her design. And Jackie and the others are not," Uncle said.
"Don't worry about them. The Shadow Hand is giving them all a hearty pat on the back on the beach," Jade's voice echoed from the darkness.
"Jade! You wanted us alone — do you think to take the mask from us now?" Tohru demanded.
"You don't have the mask. It's adorable you think I would go so far for that."
"Then what does naughty niece want? Besides a piece of Uncle?" Uncle demanded, shaking a fist at the watery voice beyond their ring of green light.
"A piece of you. Or two or three… How about I JUST TAKE IT ALLLLL?
X X X
"Uncle! Tohru!" Jackie called out across the abandoned beach that he, El Toro, and Paco had washed up on. However, there was no sign of the others, and no response to Jackie's calls.
"Don't worry, amigo, we will find them," El Toro said, placing a comforting hand on Jackie's shoulder, as a cloud passed over the moon and plunged the beach into darkness.
"I know. I'm just worried if it'll be before Jade do-WAH!" Jackie was cut off with a yelp as something small and black zipped past his head, slightly nicking his cheek as it passed. The three instinctively turned their heads to follow the object, gazes falling on a small throwing dagger now embedded in a nearby fencepost.
"Oops, missed," a familiar voice said sarcastically. Looking towards its source as the moonlight returned, the heroes saw that the beach was no longer empty. A few yards away stood a small army of Ninja Khan and a squadron of Samurai Khan. Standing at their head was Hebi, flanked by Left and Right on their respective sides, with Hak Foo standing close by as well. Right's arm was still outstretched from throwing the kunai, and he lowered it as he saw that he had the heroes' attention, resting the hand on his sword's pommel.
"Hello, boys. Having a late night swim?" Hebi asked, her own sword already slightly unsheathed.
Jackie and El Toro quickly took up fighting stances, the latter shoving a protesting Paco behind him on instinct. Noting the conspicuous absence among the Shadow Hand's ranks, Jackie glared at Hebi.
"Where is Jade?" he demanded.
"Her Majesty has bigger fish fry tonight," the Samurai General replied.
"Well, one fish and a whale, if you want to be specific," Right added with a smirk, turning his head slightly to give a meaningful look out over the water. Realizing what the handsome Khan was implying, Jackie's eyes widened in horror.
"No," he breathed.
"Yes. And we can't have you interfering, so…" Hebi said, whipping her katana out of its sheathe and aiming it at the J-Team in one swift move, "Attack!"
"Rhino charges lion!" Hak Foo shouted, charging towards Jackie, while the Shadowkhan swarmed after him.
X X X
"Jade? Jade?!" Tohru called out. The only noise was the waves lapping against the stoney shore.
"Tohru, have the willies come back?" Uncle asked.
"They haven't stopped since before the boat exploded, sensei," Tohru told him. If the horrid feeling had actually gotten stronger, Tohru couldn't tell.
"She will send whatever she used against the boat now. Niece is too cowardly this deep in darkness to fight as she once did," Uncle mused, peering out into the darkness. Tohru couldn't help but gulp; Jade was likely listening, and angry to be called a coward.
"Another homunculus?" Tohru asked. He felt foolish asking, even as he said it.
"No, niece suffered humiliating reverse of fortune with that spell. Perhaps some dark force of the sea bound or bargained into her service?" Uncle speculated.
"WANT TO FIND OUT?" Jade's voice boomed.
X X X
Michael Combs had a small grin on his face as he walked over the moonlit beach, his metal detector swinging before him with practiced ease.
There was an energy in the air tonight. A sign from the cosmos, and what could it mean other than this was the night he would strike it rich with a big find? Why, just last week, he had found an old model car he had been able to auction of for one hundred and five dollars. And already this night, a jelly jar full of pennies.
Stroking his ginger beard, the young man wondered what wonders he would find tonight in the sand.
Then someone ran into him, knocking him on his butt and the head phones off his ears.
The Asian man in blue shook his head, looked at Michael in surprise and maybe concern, then grabbed his metal detector and bolted.
"Sorry I'll bring it back please runfroninjaarmy, thankyou!"
"What the- thief!" Michael yelled, before the sound of more running made him turn his head.
Color drained from his face, apparently along with the sense of the world. Screaming in a high pitch, he kicked his flip flops off and ran inland, out of the path of a few samurai and a small army of ninja charging down the beach, led by a bald woman with red eyes and a katana.
"Dad's right, the beach is for weirdos at night!" Michael screamed, as he ran for his distant car.
X X X
Something splashed in the water, something big, and waves crashed harder to one side.
Tohru broke out his umbrella and fish and looked around. Uncle was also peering into the darkness.
Water exploded to one side, and Tohru felt like he was drenched in ice water.
"Here it comes!" He called out.
"Above!" Uncle cried out.
Sensei chanted a spell so quick Tohru couldn't follow, and to his surprise a green dome formed over them, not touching the ground by several feet. That was new. Looking up though it, the sumo spotted something moving, down. And growing in size.
He fired his own chi stream up into the spell just before it impacted. The chi construct cracked, parts of it fell away, dissolving, and it gave way, pressing down into the ground, Tohru going on one knee, pushing back with his free hand. His umbrella snapped and actually flew from his grip, going flying as if caught in the wind.
And, gritting his teeth against the strain, he felt the pressure lighten ever so slightly. And then practically felt the sound of something sliding as the weight lessened. It was sliding into the ocean, and then fell with a darkness breaking smash.
Jade's laughter was like thunder from a child's nightmares, menacing and larger than it could possibly be. Tohru's vision was clearing; the moon was back, but the stars were still gone.
He hoped it was because Jade was weakening, that all this power was draining her enough that she was having to shed superfluous spells of intimidation. He hoped because it took so much effort just to make his knees unbend and stand up.
He could see the island clearer than ever now. It was not as small as he had thought, but small just the same. This must have been where the boat crashed, or at least part of it. He was a bit surprised to see some of that tall, hearty grass he saw on beaches growing amidst these rocks, swaying beautifully in a light breeze as the moonlight colored them.
Then Jade rose from the sea, and he wondered if she had simply decided letting him see would inspired more terror than the unknown.
It was a great sea serpent, black, with flowing flesh — by either the magic of this construct or some trick of light, he could not be certain. What he thought was short hair dangled and dripped, but if there were features to the face besides the red eyes, he could not see.
Then it opened its mouth. It was not red or glowing, it was a darkness that drank the light that black fangs numerous and tall were outlined against.
"Well? Run," The monster Jade had become commanded. He had expected the words to kick up a wind. That they didn't reminded him that this was a magic construct before him; somehow that seemed to help solidify the ground under his feet.
He looked back, and for the first time saw that Uncle was lying unconscious, no doubt from the strength of the last blow. Jade saw, of course, chuckling.
"Yes, no need to worry about looks of betrayal or words of anguish. Why, he won't even scream as you dog paddle away with your tail between your legs," the Queen chuckled. Tohru turned back to face her, meeting those massive burning orbs pretending to be eyes.
"Why? Why all these theatrics now, Jade?" he asked.
"Queen! Queen Jade! I'd think I have done quite enough to distinguish myself from that girl you all so easily dismissed," she growled.
"Dismissed. Lies," Tohru said. Noticing a long plank that seemed quite solid from the wreck at his feet, the sumo knelt to pick it up. Revealing the top half of his umbrella underneath, a few arms with canvas tatters still attached.
"Lies?!" Jade growled.
"Yes. If we held you back, it was because we cared, not because we didn't believe in you. All you did for me Jade, it was the least I could do to try and keep you from recklessly throwing away a future where your potential could shine."
"I am trying to kill you. Remember?"
"No, you already said you wanted me to escape to fight in the last battle you are planning. But you want me to abandon Uncle. Why?"
"I know that! I said it myself. And are you really arguing with the giant monster that could swallow you whole?"
"Heh, but you're not. Not a giant monster, are you? Calling yourself a Queen and monster, masks to cover scars, rage to cover pain. I think you stole Viper not to hurt us at all, but because you are so scared and feel so alone you tried to get back something of what you've lost.
"And this with Uncle. You want me to abandon him. To prove to yourself we don't care for each other, really. And not you. You want me to prove you haven't traded something true and good for the darkness that is drowning you."
"Kill me if you must, Jade. But I am not leaving him, or you, to such fates," Tohru said. Where was his fear, he wondered, he couldn't even really feel the pain anymore.
"Then die," Jade rumbled, and the serpent sank back into the waters.
She was going to do it again. He couldn't stop it again.
Well, he had to anyway.
X X X
Jackie caught his breath, looking over the beach, silent for the moment. El Toro caught his attention, the other man giving him a thumb's up. Even though it was was clear he was exhausted.
Paco was gone, thankfully with the mask.
Jackie considered Hak Foo, still senseless on the dune where Jackie had left him.
Jackie considered the metal detector he had taken from the late night treasure hunter before the man fled, screaming. He also had the man's backpack hanging from one shoulder. It was heavy with other equipment. He could see why the man had thrown it off. And why it had been effective as a flail of sorts.
But there was no time to relax. After all, it was not over.
"Hebi! I know you are out there! I expected better from a so-called samurai General than exhausting us to come in like a scavenger! Did Jade strip away both of your halves' pride?!" Jackie called out.
It was worth a try, to help Paco escape.
They came from the shadows. The trio of higher Shadowkhan walked in ascent from the shadow cast in the moonlight by the dune Hak Foo rested on. Like they were emerging impeccable from a dark lake. The casualness of their posture as they came forth made him shiver as few acts of dark majesty could anymore. Otherworldly.
Left had Paco over his shoulder, and Hebi held the mask bag. She pulled out a piece of driftwood and tossed it out.
"What?" Jackie said.
Then he recalled Paco had lingered after the order to flee, how he had tossed Jackie the backpack before finally obeying. Disarmed of the metal detector. Jackie had never thought on that till now.
"Too clever for you. Hak Foo was right by being stupid. Best not tell him, boys, he'd never let us live it down," Hebi said, glancing to her lieutenants.
"Let him go, Hebi."
"Why, exactly? He's not innocent or uninvolved in this. He's regularly shown he is quite the trooper in strange little wars," Hebi replied.
"Sharing Viper's body for the moment or no, I will break you and apologize later if you harm him!" El Toro declared, rushing to stand with Jackie.
"Ohhh, such threats. I'm trembling in my samurai boots! Except I'm not."
"No boots?" Left asked.
"Well, yeah, that too. But anyway, toss him. Time for grownup stuff anyway," Hebi said, scratching her chin.
X X X
Tohru breathed in and breathed out, staring into the night.
The wind blew, and it brought the sounds and scents of war to him. The samurai screamed, men who may have fought to the last reduced to retreating as the town was torn apart.
A name reached him, the curse and dread of so many.
"Ikazuki," he rumbled, watching the giant swipe another devastating blow across the town with the massive sword held by the towering construct of a samurai.
He was too late to save the town. But the rout could yet be turned to retreat. They needed to see, all of them, that giants could fall.
Already chanting the spell he stepped forth, the eyes of trembling soldiers and panting townsfolk falling on him. Was it only imagination that he could feel the weight of their desperation on his shoulders?
It did not matter. He ordered the gates opened, and they parted as he reached them, chi flowing into his eyes as he found himself staring up not at a giant of shadow, but-
Tohru gasped, falling to a knee.
"What? What?! Sensei, what was-" Tohru gasped, sweat forcing him to blink. But no, his sensei was still out.
The spell in it. Against a massive construct of shadows…
There was no time to question why or where. He began to chant, picking up a beam of broken wood and the remnants of the umbrella. Chi flowed into his eyes, and the waters exploded as a great dark missile erupted into the sky some ways off.
In a blink, he could see.
The flow of chi was painful to behold, not meant for mortal eyes, he supposed, but the disruption was clear, and it begged for attention like a snarl of hair begged a barber's treatment. Her power pulsed, a vein of her shadow chi permeating it. He found himself impressed, maybe even a bit proud, of the focus and discipline it must take, so much more crude than Ikazuki's had been and requiring so much more attention.
And there was a source, clear now as a black splotch on a white wall. That bizarrely shining spot of shadow which was Jade herself.
His feet shifted, and words came, the umbrella shards a conduit feeding chi into the wood. His vision seemed to split, and all seemed to slow, looking up at the mass coming at him him like a falling freight train, silent eyes pits of boiling red, and a maw of impossible darkness spread to swallow.
He threw his meager light up, warded with all his strength, watched with one eye as it was swallowed by the darkness that had swallowed the sky. And with the other eye, saw it cut through veins and mass with the sureness of a flashlight's beam through a dark room.
Darkness exploded around him, and sound returned.
He was focused on one particular sound, though. The strange cry of the green comet arching through the sky. Jade's scream of pain and surprise, cut off as he watched the chi-burning spear and its target finally complete their arc and enter the sea.
It was too far away for him to have heard a splash, so he must have imagined that.
'That has to have been enough. I can barely stand; if she comes back, I have nothing left," he thought, narrowing his once more normal eyes and straining his ears against the sounds of wind and surf.
A keening cry, cut off. Then again. And stop.
He pictured her injured and angered, swimming, possibly treading water. Her absolute control of the situation undone in a moment. Was she more angry than hurt? Would her predictable desire for vengeance for being hurt be greater than wariness?
Another shriek, this one long and wailing indignation, its high pitch making him flinch, which made all his injuries protest. But it was moving away, and he imagined her curled up into a snake, propped up by magic, letting her slide away atop water and waves, throwing a tantrum the whole way.
The night was won. Somehow.
Coming to his knees, he braced himself against the ground. Now what? He couldn't exactly swim to shore with an unconscious Uncle. And his heart was pounding.
"Section 13, right on schedule," Uncle said. Tohru couldn't turn around in surprise had he wanted to. But he did lift his face from the rocky ground, and saw that what he was thinking was his heart pounding was a helicopter, searchlight probing the darkness, heading toward them.
Smiling, he let darkness take him.
X X X
"What?" Jackie said, as the army vanished before him. Only Hak Foo and Right remained, both looking annoyed.
"Seems the Queen overplayed her hand," Right said. Hak Foo glanced toward the ocean, but then looked back to his own opponent. El Toro stood firm, the plastic bag holding the final mask still tied to his belt.
"We can still take the mask," Hak Foo said.
"Really? With the General, my brother, and all those drones, we've not been able to seal the deal. And now we're outnumbered."
Hak Foo blinked at that.
"Antelope searches for lion," the mercenary said, looking for a third warrior before settling on Paco, still atop the beach dune.
"You count him?" Hak Foo demanded.
"He beat you, didn't he?" Right shrugged, and sheathed his sword. Jackie and his allies did not react to the handsome Khan's seeming concession.
"Well Hak Foo, I know you want that mask, but a distress cry has been made, and I must respond to it. You can either come with me, or face them alone. It really doesn't matter to me, or the Queen, I expect," Right said.
Hak Foo growled.
"Dog heels?" Right asked with a smirk.
"Next time!" Hak Foo yelled, before stomping to Right's side. With a single bark of laughter, Right pulled them both into the shadows cast by the moonlight over the beach.
As if on cue, headlights creased the dune, illuminating Paco, and a convoy of the familiar Section 13 vans rolled into sight.
"We did it!" Paco cheered, as agents emerged.
Jackie wished he could share their relief. Not just because of concern for his family. They had the last mask. And every time in their last adventures that all the danger was seemingly locked safely away, something went wrong.
This was far from over, he thought, watching Captain Black and Wisker approach with another secure casing for the mask.
X X X
When they separated from the others, Jade had abandoned her limbed form, compressing into her serpent form. The shift lessened the burns still throbbing across her torso. Hebi had picked her out of the air she was hovering in and held her close, discarding her armor with a tug of the right cord.
Queen Jade wrapped herself around the General, her abused hair crunching as she leaned it against her only reliable protector.
Burning. He had burned her, after all. He had not abandoned Uncle. But he had burned her! HER! How dare he?! How could he even dare to think he could hurt her?!
'You left him no choice.'
"Who said that?!" the Queen spat, turning her eyes away from the silk Hebi work beneath her armor.
"We are alone, my Queen," Hebi said. The Queen looked around; they were in the lab. She recognized the look and smell of the potion simmering away in a tub.
How long had she been out? She knew that hadn't been Hebi.
The healing potion awaited, and form shifting only reduced pain without banishing it.
Hebi grabbed her gently as she tried to unwrap herself. The Queen bared fangs, hissing at the General for daring.
"The potion is not ready yet, Your Majesty," Hebi explained.
Queen Jade hissed, turning her face back into Hebi, and waited.
X X X
Captain Black watched as the final mask was mounted in its "display". The transparent material was far more durable than any glass, but still it put him off a bit. But he would not trust sealing such things in darkness, out of sight of the cameras.
He could testify that these were utterly unlike the Talismans. These weren't tools, these were prisoners, ones they dared not take their eyes off of.
"Wisker," he addressed the only other person left in the Vault.
"Sir," the agent said. Black looked to his arm, still recovering.
"You dislike depending on magic, so you have not used the Horse despite authorization. My indulgence of that ends now. Use it," Black commanded.
Wisker was stiffening when Black gave him a look to make clear this was no idle order.
He watched the agent follow his lead as they removed the Horse, and one fake sneeze later, Wisker was putting his arm through its paces, frowning.
"All the masks and tribes are accounted for. Jade has only one move left," Black stated.
"Unless she goes to ground, takes her time to learn from those books," Wisker offered.
"Not going to happen. It's a game, and Jade would see that as a forfeit. Good or evil, that kid doesn't have a bone of quit in her. She will come for them," Black said, looking to the masks. He thought of Tohru's report, how far gone she was, "She will come for us. And the world is probably next on her list."
"Everything is ready, sir. The Vault and Plan B."
X X X
Karasu stood in his cell, glancing around at his fellow prisoners. The three Enforcers. And, most interestingly, the young Verde.
'Soon, very soon. I have one last part to play.'
"When the warrior rises," he smiled, wondering what the eavesdroppers would make of that.
The Jade Sea:
The Queen stalked the deck alone, pulling her robes tighter against the freezing wind. Glancing over her shoulder, she could see the shadows of other Aspects, all around the fire pots illuminating Paranoia's little court.
Built around the helm.
Pulling the sword from its place in her silk belt, the shadow-crowned woman hugged it to her chest, letting its power warm her even as the cold nipped at her edges.
Wandering over to the rails, it was a dark sea that greeted her. A red moon, casting no light on the inky water, and the scars in the sky discomforting to look upon.
Closing her eyes, she could swear she could hear the mist shrouded islands grinding and cracking. It made her shiver.
There was only one light on the horizon. The one they had been trying to reach despite the mutinous tides.
Home, where Father and whoever was left awaited.
Chains clinked below the deck, and the Queen glanced down.
That sound? Was Hero screaming?
"Queen of nothing. Queen of nothing. Queen of nothing!"
He was laughing?! At her?!
"How dare you?!" the Queen shouted. Pulling out the sword, she stabbed it into the deck dramatically, her shadow crown falling off in the motion. The chains sang and clanked in their coils out of sight. And the laughter faded away.
The Queen sighed in relief, smiling. Then a gust of wind sent her hair flying without the crown to keep it in place.
Pulling the hair aside, she looked around for the crown, only to see the shadow jewelry mundanely roll between rails and fall into the sea.
"Well, that is a pity," Paranoia said behind her. The Queen started, turning to face the hag, holding the bared sword close.
"It would be a pity if you dropped the sword, too. Perhaps I should hold onto it for you?" the hag said, holding out a withered hand.
Baring her teeth and flaring her eyes, the Queen turned away and stomped off on the deck.
Paranoia shrugged, its eyes turning to the last defiant light on the horizon.
X X X
Jade sat in the dark room, shuddering as Hebi wrapped the potion-marinated bandages around her belly, covering the lingering wounds of chi fire. The impact had been fearsome, but mere force was simple to heal, as that agent's bullets had been.
A bath could have done well, she supposed, but she had enough of being dunked in liquid for the moment.
"Finished," Hebi reported, stepping back. Jade gave a hissing sigh, and held up her arms while floating out of the chair. Hebi dressed her expertly, practiced ease now. Usually a luxury, Jade was stiff and angry enough that she was genuinely grateful. In her current state, at the first snag or stubborn trouble, she might just have shredded the outfit.
And she needed to be presentable.
Hebi's red eyes moved across the room before vanishing as her back was turned. She opened the door.
The dim light of the blue candles did not hurt, but Jade felt exposed under them. She wished she had time to more fully recuperate, but that was for later. She could not let the men of her organization think that Tohru had actually hurt her.
So she needed to give these orders herself, and quickly. There would be time to heal, and prepare. But it would be under cover of their own preparations.
"Tohru has become a problem," Queen Jade said.
"Hasn't he always been?" Hebi commented.
"Don't sass me General, not now," the Queen hissed, stopping. Hebi stopped with her, and the hallway was silent save for the Shadowkhan ninja on cleaning duty, vacuuming at the far end of the hall.
He poofed himself with a thought from Jade for messing with the drama. But before turning the vacuum off.
With a glare from the Queen, the General hastily walked over and stabbed the cleaning device, silencing it and… Well, too late to save the drama of the moment, the Queen had to concede.
"Next time. Kill him," the Queen commanded curtly.
"Really? I thought you wanted that for yourself."
"In this next matter, my agenda will be regicide. But to be clear, save it for Phase 2. I want him to know despair first, like all the others," The Queen said, resuming her flight through the mostly silent halls.
X X X
"So you understand your orders?" the Queen demanded, glaring at the assembled Shadow Hand. Hak Foo frowned.
"I do not appreciate being a glorified decoy," he said.
"Your appreciation is hardly necessary. If you want me to grant you power, yet again, you will play your part as I command," The Queen snapped. She turned her gaze to Blankman, who was writing something down in a notepad. That had better be notes about my orders, she thought.
"Blankman, you are certain the freelancers you have commissioned will be up to the task?"
"Oh yes, Mr. Fist and his two associates are quite capable. I have every confidence they will fulfill their commission to the letter," Blankman said, tucking pen and pad into his coat pocket.
"They had better, you're staking your life on it. And you two?" Jade said, turning her attention to Left and Right.
"No," they said in unison, bowing.
"Good. Now go prepare. I want everyone ready to move the moment everything is in place," the Queen commanded. She waited for a count of thirty seconds after the door closed behind them to let herself fall into the chair beneath herself. Panting for breaths, she pulled her mask's two parts apart to let her nose and mouth be unobstructed.
Hebi leaned down and rubbed the small Queen's back, frowning.
"You were worse than you let on earlier."
"Tohru!" the Queen growled. Eyes narrowing to slits, she jerked forward, biting into the table edge. Wood creaked and crackled before giving way. Rearing back, Jade spat the splinters and shards to the side. Hebi blinked, before slowly resuming the rubbing.
"Perhaps we should not deploy exactly as soon as possi-?" the General began.
"No, they are too dangerous. This needs to end, I was a fool to drag it out so long."
"I would not contradict you my Queen, but the J-Team-"
"They are only part of it! Just look at this. I can't even be free of threats in my own dang palace! We need to fix this…"
"All of them. Hak Foo is weak enough to be little threat and may have use for a time. But the wizard and those two… We don't need them. With our power, we can have armies of ideal obedient and reliable servants. But the wizard can be tricky — you will bring me his head, just to be sure.
"Raising up men was a mistake of my ignorance. We shall not repeat it. Once Tarakudo is dealt with, we shall replace any remaining Generals with weak humans we can control, like Hak Foo.
"The new Era of the Shadowkhan will not suffer treachery. There will be no opportunity when I hold all the power and all the wills in my hands!" the Queen panted, her rant running its course.
Right lifted himself up from his flat hands near the window. The wards guarded against all manner of magic eavesdropping, but the windows had never been mundanely sound proofed.
"So, that's it then. So be it," the handsome shinobi whispered.
"-will be no opportunity when I hold all the power and all the wills in my hands!" Jade's voice came from the notebook in Blankman's hand. Blankman ripped out the page delicately and crumpled it up in one hand, before placing it in a black iron bowl to his side. Seemingly of its own accord, the page burst into flame.
"So… unwise," the wizard said, watching the little fire burn itself out.
Well, here we are then. The year ends soon, and while I did not wrap up this story in 2016, 2017 while busy, may do it, with only the two part finale and epilogue left.
Jade's degradation continues. I am sure many of you are disappointed, wanting a cool villain Jade. Well, you had her, more or less, for a while. This story has been about exploring Jade's fall to darkness, not celebrating it. And my explorations, in planning this story, lead me to evil not being a toy. And as you give yourself to darkness, bit by bit you lose yourself to it.
Yet I offer some reassurance, to those who fear status quo antebellum and the like. In this story, nothing will be the same again, regardless of who wins.
I hope your holidays were joyous and peaceful. And I hope the coming year will be better than the one we leave behind. I feel the need to add a tad more: technology and other tools or milestones are not the key to happiness. If the world were inhabited solely by selfish geniuses humanity may have godlike power but still life would be miserable and lonely. While if the world were inhabited solely by altruistic dullards, progress would be sparse and society primitive but life could be beautiful and comforting. Power is no substitute for caring about others.
Ah, but this is not a place for heavy stuff, we come here to lighten our loads, so enough.
Regarding this chapter, I was so pleased to finally write Blankman's "So...unwise." Bit. I have waited so long to get that part out.
Long days and pleasant nights you all.