Disclaimer: I do not own Jackie Chan Adventures.
Betaed by: the fantastic Zim'smostloyalservant
Author's Note 1: Well folks here we are. Its been a long time coming, and frankly I doubt I could write an ending worth the time for those of you here from the start.
But here it is regardless, the end of the story of Jade's quest to be Queen of All Oni.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and joy to any holiday you observe. Hope this little present brightens your day regardless.
PDJ Proudly Presents
"Queen of All Oni"
Never the Same Again
Farewell for now, Jade Chan
Jackie looked at the eleven talismans laid out on Captain Black's desk. He had hoped to sleep, but here he was instead. He was glad they hadn't called in Tohru and Uncle. Tohru had been in bad shape, and Uncle had pushed himself too hard for his age.
"All fake?" Jackie asked.
"Well, as you know now, we had swapped out the Rat for a fake for Plan B. But yeah, we were going to use the Horse for the worst of the wounded. Wisker still isn't awake. But nothing. So we checked the rest. Either copies, or someone drained them of their power again. Hopefully tomorrow we can get our two wizards on it."
Jackie took a deep breath, planted his elbows on the desk, and lowered his face into his hands. Black gave him a moment before he continued.
"We asked Jade. She says there was no plan for the talismans. She seems too out of it to lie that well. And Tohru was against waking her up in the first place to ask any questions."
Jackie nodded. On top of everything else, it looked like Jade would be paralyzed from that point in her down. The image of Jade in a wheelchair refused to properly form in his mind, and made him want to hit his head until he was lost to unconsciousness and hopefully wake up to a better reality.
No, he had to hold it together, so he thought instead.
"It seems the Shadow Hand became a hive of treachery. Maybe Right did something? Hak Foo is unaccounted for. Verde escaped, but it doesn't seem like he was in a position to do anything but run with no magic at hand."
"The Enforcers are gone too. And of course, Karasu. Our biggest potential source of intel is loose, and with the surveillance systems fried, we are completely black on anything that happened after Ikazuki's spell that didn't have an eyewitness."
"No, Karasu is't our best bet," Jackie mused, "Jade's new thugs. Jade was not a micromanager. It was likely the suited man who hired them."
"Jackie, before we put Jade under, she confessed where her base was. I got a message before you arrived. The manor is cleaned out. Everything, down to rugs, is gone. That's not something you slap together. I'd say Blankman was planning to rob her blind long before this battle."
"The Teachings?" Jackie groaned.
"That's the good news. The Teachings are all accounted for, left right smack in the basement for us to find. But they weren't alone — that sage, Brother Dark, was there. He took one of the tablets, presumably his, and pulled an exit once we were there to collect. Said he was taking that one back to his shrine. He also said he was trusting us to look after the third. Also, he instructed us to send the bodies of the other two sages to some herbalist in Tokyo. That they'd know what to do."
"The sages are still not giving answers. But it'd be unwise to provoke them, and returning the bodies seems just the decent thing to do," Jackie mused.
"Well, anyway, El Toro wants to head back to Mexico to return one of the tablets to Nameless. As for the last one, I think the Vault will do. At least for now."
"Dark said the three are meant to be reunited," Black said darkly.
"What does that mean, exactly?"
"How should I know? Even after all this time around Uncle I'm barely fluent in cryptic wizard, magical person things," Black snapped, rubbing his temples.
"Any hope of tracking Blankman?" Jackie asked.
"We're looking, but as I said, this has all the signs of long-term planning. Our only hope is that he hoped it would be a long time before we noticed the talisman swap. Well, I guess get some sleep, Jackie. You look like crap," Black said, getting his phone out.
X X X
The 'Jade' was sailing smoothly through the sunrise-tainted waves of the Jade Sea. Hero stood on the prow, the sword tucked into his belt, looking at an island as they passed. The damage was still great, but repairs were clearly being made. Some figure on the shore paused to wave to the ship. With a smile, he returned the gesture, but the smile slipped as he turned away.
"Problem?" Desire asked, from where she sat on the railing nearby.
"Isn't this all taking too long? Dawn hasn't even given way to day yet. We won, the quest was completed, the adventure done. Shouldn't things go back to normal now? I mean, that one won't even let me take the helm, even though I have the sword," Hero said, gesturing to the helm where Father steered the ship.
"And that one belongs back in the brig," he added, pointing to Queen, who was still chained to the main mast. Her clothing was hardly regal, but the black kimono was in good condition, and someone had given her a blue-tinted kasa to wear to shield her eyes in place of her bound hands. She was currently accompanied by Prissiness, who had acquired blue skin, but still had normal eyes. Though Queen may have been trying to frighten the annoying Aspect off by eating her rations of rice by using her feet to work the chopsticks as she ate a bowl of dumplings.
"Oh, Hero," Desire sighed.
"What?" Hero asked, looking back to the dual Aspect.
"It's not gong to go back to the way it was," she said, before waking off, leaving him standing, feeling confused and a tad cold.
X X X
Jade had been awake for some time, but was sure no one knew that.
She was in a hospital bed, and could feel sutras hung around it, one on the ceiling and one on the floor under the bed. Passive warding; Uncle had been hesitant to put the necklace on her, she could guess why. She was not in good shape, even after Tohru had healed her, and she had nearly drained her chi well dry with Left. She could barely feel him. It was not like a location, more just a feeling in her mind. It did not let her know how well he was doing.
But he was alive. She had saved him, at least. Right's terrified face floated before her and threatened to snap her eyes open.
Instead, she maintained the facade of sleeping. Once she awoke, they would scrutinize her. They would know about her legs. They would guess, but she could still disprove their guesses.
That, along with the choker around her neck, made this very much a "don't go anywhere" situation. Not that she wanted to. Her thoughts were held at arm's length as she addressed a problem. That was why she was still doing an excellent job of pretending to be asleep. When she woke, they would come and she would have to face things; And she could feel it coming closer, slipping between her fingers.
Regrets, self loathing, an entire hurricane of emotion.
Once she was fully awake, she wouldn't be able to work, she knew. And time was of the essence, even if she didn't have thoughts to say why.
Her legs, really everything below where she had been stabbed. It was numb. Paralyzed. But there was another sensation. One that still permeated the deadened regions — chi, her chi, still flowed as sure as blood through the whole of her body. But unlike blood, she could manipulate it.
The choker itched at the action as she reached within, but it was as she had guessed when Uncle put it on her. It drastically reduced her sense of shadows and chi without, but it was not designed to reach within.
Briefly the thought of creating some weapon in her stomach crossed her mind, but it was a habit of dying days, useless. She needed to stand before them. She couldn't compound the shame she had brought by being a broken prize in addition to tainted.
It was her chi, and she knew to make it obey, if not in this way. Just a wiggled toe. If she could do that it was just time that she needed to walk, poop, and the rest.
Her chi was sealed inside her, the choker itching at her neck ensured that. But whether by design or flaw, it did not stop her from manipulating chi inside of her. She could not feel below her wound, but she could feel her chi, flowing through her body as it ever had.
This idea was crazy, and she was pretty sure the IV wasn't just there for fluids to make her decide to try this and play possum. But she couldn't let them feel guilty for her being crippled. Or blame Right; they couldn't hate him on top of everything else.
Jade couldn't fix anything if they pitied her.
She had worked chi constructs before, ones hooked into her body, even remote controlled a homunculus formed of her own chi. Jade was certain she could use that chi to make her body comply.
But that was theory, fact was still up in he air. Grabbing chi with chi inside what she thought as her left foot, she gave yank that was immense effort, and for a moment no seeming result. A treacherous thought, wondering if she was imagining the chi flow and manipulation in the first place in a drug induced haze, popped into her mind.
The slight wiggle of a toe, even as it sent pain jumping up what was still viable in her spine, split her face in a grin.
At which point lightheadedness and pain made her pass out again for real.
X X X
"Uncle agrees with Captain Black. It's dangerous to go alone. Take this," Uncle said to Jackie, thrusting a sutra paper into his face. Jackie firmly brushed the hand away.
He stood with Uncle and several agents in the detention wing, right outside the secure medical suite. There was an operation room for prisoners where Jade had been; this was for more mundane needs. To treat and observe patients of a dangerous nature without potentially endangering those in the regular medical wing.
They had not known what to expect of its current occupant. The results of her sudden awakening had been… rather unpleasant. As far as Jackie was concerned, the fact that three more women needed to be checked in for care had not been bad enough for Black to designate this a bad outcome, said depressingly a lot how low their state was.
The cheering for Tarakudo's downfall seemed like echoes from another, brighter world as he opened the thick door to step into the med room. It was bright. That surprised him. He had seen the lights were on, but it always seemed like you needed to have the moody lighting for stuff like this.
But no, the room was well lit. In fact, looking around, he noticed there was quite a lot of light. As if the sole occupant of the room had turned on absolutely anything that could add to this illumination, down to screens.
He had expected to find her in a corner or under something. Thwarted expectations kept piling up. She was sitting on top of a bed, seemingly hugging her knees to her chest. Seemingly, because she was covered by a white blanket. It put him in mind of a child hiding with the flawed logic of not seeing equaling unseeable.
He got as close as he felt was needed to speak without having to raise his voice, then stopped. He watched her head move under the cloth, looking at him, the red eyes glowing enough to leave faint pink splotches on light against the fabric.
"Hello, Viper," Jackie said. He didn't have to force the smile, even if he wasn't as happy as he wished he could be.
"Jackie," she greeted.
"Are they going to lock me up?" she finally asked.
"Well, they are a bit concerned after you attacked the nurse and the guards," Jackie answered.
"They shouldn't have handcuffed me to the bed," Viper answered. Her tone wasn't changing, speaking barely above a whisper.
"Well, we weren't sure what you would be like when you woke. Tarakudo may have broken Jade's spell, but he-"
"He didn't. I'm still not me," Viper interrupted. Jackie winced; he should have known they wouldn't have the good luck for the villain to fix it for them.
"So, there is still something of Hebi in your head?" Jackie asked wearily.
"No. I mean this," she said. Cloth tore, and a slender, well-toned blue arm slid out through the hole in the blanket to reveal itself.
"Oh, well, yes. We knew about that. But your mind is, not… tainted?"
"…Jackie. Have you ever had a fit, a seizure or something? Where you couldn't control your body, stop the shaking? Maybe your jaw locking up and for all your effort you can't open it? Imagine that, but with it being complex actions. Then make it apply to thinking as well. You are aware it's not you thinking, but your thoughts are still there, doing as something else bids. But at the same time as you are aware of everything, it feels like you're cocooned in steel and immobile, isolated and helpless, left only to witness, removed from everything. You are an unwilling participant and the unwilling audience at the same time, and you want to scream from being ripped between those perspectives alone. But you can't scream, and the only one who could help if you could, won't. Because they imprisoned you in this hell in the first place. And act like they did you a favor and the you that isn't you is grateful for it."
Jackie almost said he was sorry, but the words seemed insultingly small after that confession. Even if there was no magic bedeviling Viper's mind, he was starting to realize there didn't need to be for there to trouble.
"Why haven't you guys made me human again?" she asked, pulling her arm back out of sight.
"The Monkey talisman is gone. All of them are, except for the Rat, which is in Lo Pei, wherever he is. And the Dog essence is in Scruffy."
"…Well, that's just great. When do you leave?"
"Leave?" Jackie asked. Viper's eyes flared for a moment.
"After the talismans? Isn't that part of the whole deal?" she demanded.
"Well, yes, we want them back, and it's very bad a dark wizard has them-"
"But?" Viper growled.
"We have no idea how to find him or them. And Uncle feels we should focus on Jade-"
"Jade," Viper hissed.
"And you, and you," Jackie assured.
"Because we're a threat? Well, the Monkey would help with that," Viper hissed, shifting under the blanket.
"Er, maybe not so much as you think?" Jackie offered.
He had a distinct feeling she was glaring at him.
"I don't recall if you were there for it, but Uncle feels the Monkey is no cure. The Monkey only alters the outside, not touching the essence of the affected. It's a disguise. You turn a monkey into a giraffe, it's just a monkey in a giraffe's body, see?"
"Well, I'm a Human in a Shadowkhan body, so it would just be fixing me!" Viper snapped.
"When we get it back, we certainly can give it a try. But right now I think we need to focus here, let the agents look for Blankman. But he seems to-"
"Be one step ahead? Know what he is doing? Yeah, I remember him clearly, Jackie. And if he has gone to ground, you won't find a hole. You'll have to dig a lot of holes if you want to find him. If you're not bringing your A-game, you're probably just wasting your time. …So what are you guys planning for this freak?"
"Well, after what happened, we think it might be best for you to stay in Section 13 and see the therapists for-"
"Lock me up and have head doctors pick my brain? Gee, thanks," she scoffed.
"No, it's not like Jade! Everyone knows you were not in your right mind. Even Captain Black sees you as a victim-"
"I don't want your pity. I want my humanity back, and… What are you doing with Jade?" she asked lowly.
"Uh, she is being held, securely."
"Maybe I should visit," she said, her vice low and deep.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Jackie said, holding up his hands. He had actually hoped they could meet, sooner rather than later. Aside from Left, she had been most concerned about Viper. The fact she said Viper rather than Hebi had been reassuring to Jackie.
Cloth tore, and Viper stood, casting the blanket pieces aside. She was clad in a hospital gown, but the bald blue woman, he thought, looked more intimidating than the samurai had.
"She did this to me, Jackie. She was like a sister to me. And she dragged me into darkness. Even now I can feel it, shadows wanting to strangle me. I turned on every light so I could sleep without them dragging me away. But they're still there," she muttered. Jackie had nothing to say to that. His hand slide toward his left pocket before he stopped it. Her eyes snapped to him, focusing on the hand.
"Oh. I see. Uncle didn't trust enough to send you in unarmed."
"No! Look, see, nothing!" Jackie turned the pocket inside out. She remained tense, staring unblinking at him from on top of the bed.
"Okay, he had ideas. What we made was necklaces, chokers I guess. Keep shadow magic in without harming the wearer. We think — I mean, we didn't exactly have anyone to test on. But I don't have it with me. This is just a talk. 'How are you', and all that."
"Furious, pained, and annoyed that you keep dancing around like this."
"Never ask a rhetorical question you don't want an answer to, " Jackie muttered.
"I'm guessing my parole is tied to that necklace? But of course — then I wouldn't be able to do anything until you put me in my cell to wait on your pleasure to be let out. No one puts me in a cage again, Jackie. Not even you."
"…You're not well. And I think you know that, Viper. But I'm not your enemy. What can I do? What can we do to earn your trust in this?"
"GIVE ME JADE!" she roared, leaping to practically headbutt Jackie.
"Wahh!" Jackie cried, falling onto his butt. With a low growl, Viper grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to his feet.
"I won't kill her, but she betrayed me. She needs to pay. 15 minutes; she'll agree if she really regrets anything."
"…Well, Viper, I think she does, and I think she would. But that's a moot point, isn't it? Because I can't, and won't, let you do whatever it is you want to Jade."
"You're both victims. You need healing, not more harm."
"So that's the way it is," Viper said, releasing him and turning her back to him.
"Even on the day we met, you were better than this. It's not you, and not what you really want. You're a better person than this," Jackie insisted, reaching out to grab her shoulder without thinking. He froze at the action, expecting a lashing out or a furious scream. Instead, she leaned slightly into the touch. The opposing hand rose and actually stroked his. It was warm, smooth, and pleasant to the touch.
"I was," she whispered. She moved quick, grabbing the hand and arm, and he was flying before he could cry out. The ground knocked the air out of him, then he saw sad red eyes before everything went dark.
By the time he regained consciousness, Viper was gone, having slipped out of the facility without anyone's notice.
X X X
The doctor watched passively as the blue girl ate the jaw breaker, disproving its name as she chewed the candy up with seemingly little effort.
She looked better than when he had started the sessions. Of course, with a different species it was perhaps presumptuous to say what looked healthy. But that was a matter for his physical medicine colleagues.
Closing his notebook, the doctor took off his glasses to clean them.
"Well, Miss Chan, I think we have made some real progress. Why don't we call it a day?" he asked. The girl looked at him with those fascinating eyes, and nodded. Then spoke.
"Alright," she affirmed.
'Excellent, speaking even when a nonverbal reply could be used,' he noted.
The girl grabbed the cane from beside the couch and got up. Her limp was less pronounced, seemingly improved even from yesterday. His colleagues were flabbergasted by that. They claimed she shouldn't be able to move anything from under her wound. And he had suspicions Jade Chan herself knew more about it that she let on.
But despite Captain Black's worries, he did not see anything malicious there. If she was trying to keep an ace up her sleeve, concealing this ability to walk would be far more reasonable.
He truly disliked having to share his data with a man like Captain Black. This was virgin territory and should be a matter of the healing sciences, not an interrogation. But he would not even be here without the bald man's support. Well, at the least he could assure his conscience that the man would not like his recommendation.
In his opinion, further progress was going to require disproving Jade's insistent belief she had lost any trust from those close to her. And no words would reach her sufficiently. It was time to show some faith, he thought with a smile, getting up from his chair.
X X X
Lo Pei walked into the room he had been stored in as a statue and glanced about it, having had little chance to observe it before. Jackie and Captain Black followed him in, Black hanging back slightly.
"Few men are privileged to have a say in their tomb. Much less twice," the sacred warrior remarked. He had restored his clothing with a scroll upon returning from the Shadow Realm, which Jackie assumed was standard to him after many battles. Apparently proper attire really had been important to the warrior.
"Please reconsider. You were a vital asset in that battle, and if what I am hearing is true, things are going to get even more intense," Black said.
"No, you do not grasp what you ask. Whether I am the spirit recalled or stone deceived into life, the time of Warrior Lo Pei has passed. Just as the Immortals ascended, leaving it to others to inherit the roles, so must I step aside in turn. Balance is not just light and dark, it is time, with the past's shadow receding to let the future bloom," Lo Pei said, stepping into the container.
"Could you at least talk with Jade first?" Jackie asked. Lo Pei smiled at him; Jackie was surprised how much the expression seemed to suit the stoic warrior's face.
"Tempting, but thus no. Like the dragon can be charmed by a flute to still its rampage where the force of armies failed, that girl may well tempt me to linger on. As for herself… there is nothing I could offer greater than what you could. You and this era, you are not inferior to the task before you. My time felt we were unworthy successors ourselves. I have faith that in ages to come, people will be stunned you ever doubted yourselves," Lo Pei said. Reaching into his chest, he pulled out the Rat talisman and handed it to Jackie. In addition to giving a thumbs up again, this time he held a peaceful expression on his face as it returned to a statue.
"Captain Black, I think it would be disrespectful to awaken him again."
"I agree, but I have higher priorities," Captain Black said, accepting the talisman from Jackie.
With the push of a button, the statue descended out of sight with its cabinet.
X X X
A good ambush came unexpected, either time or place. Jackie had more experience with them than he cared to think. But this time, he had been ambushed in his office at the museum. And by proper channels, at that.
If this were a cartoon, he'd probably try and escape through a window. Which would be quite the feat, as his office didn't have one.
Jade had called his office lame in the past. It was just an office, with what it needed. With all the fieldwork he did, Jackie had never seen the need to make it too personable, and he rarely had people in here. It was just a workspace and, he might admit, a stubborn holdout of mundanity in his life.
Now, as the secretary for the floor waited for his answer on whether or not to send his uninvited guest in, Jackie had to decide just how that holdout would fall.
No sense putting it off, he decided.
"Send her in," he said into his desk phone, returning it to the receiver.
He massaged his eyes. He should have seen this coming. But he hadn't seen it last time either, had he?
Yun Chan, Jade's mother, did not bother to knock before opening the door; a bad start, he admitted. And her expression was tight, too schooled to be natural.
"May I have a seat?" she asked.
"Of course. You should have called ahead," he said.
"Should I? I have a feeling the results would not have been satisfactory. From what little I could gather from my husband, who seemed equal parts depressed and horrified after he came to see you about my daughter seemingly disappearing, I decided it would be better to see you here than the shop," Yun said, politely but coldly.
"Yes, it's a good thing you didn't show up there," Jackie admitted.
"Why so hostile? I gather Jade found out about what almost happened? I could see Uncle holding a grudge over that, but I expected better from you."
"…You really should have called first. There is a lot going on with Jade, and I want to respect your right to have some role-"
"Some? In case you have forgotten, I am her mother. And I have given you and Uncle extensive leeway because I had every reason to believe Jade was thriving under your care. Yes, more than she did under my roof. I am not a fool to deny what's obvious. But all I know for certain now is something happened to Jade to make you lie to us and the American schools. And when my husband came to get answers, he comes back a mess and practically grabbed my ankle to stop me from coming, as if he feared I would be killed. Honestly, I think calling the police would not be beyond reason. I came here to get answers and to give you some benefit of the doubt by keeping this in the family," Yun stated politely, but very sternly.
"…So, you want to know everything?" Jackie asked, reaching a decision.
"Yes, as it seems I can't trust secrets." Jackie gave her a look, and nodded.
"Alright then, get comfy. It started the day Jade came to us. The day a niece I had no idea existed made her way to the shop from the airport through a major city, with no adult supervision, to live with strangers she happened to be related to. A little girl," Jackie started.
"Well, she is quite capable of taking charge, as you know," she muttered, looking aside.
"And I'm sure there wasn't a schedule conflict involved at all," Jackie said, more sarcastically than he intended, "No more interruptions. Even summarizing, this will take a bit, and I don't want to have to repeat any of it."
"And that's the way things are," Jackie finished.
"…" Yun had nothing to say to that. Jackie gave a sigh, opened a desk drawer, and pulled out one of the bottles of water he kept in there. Taking a swig, he took out another and offered it. She looked at the offered bottle as if it was bizarre.
"I don't suppose you have anything stronger?" she asked.
"No. I guess that means you believe me?" he asked.
"…I probably shouldn't, but it seems to somehow fit everything. Like why you showed up at the apartment with a masked wrestler and a woman you told me was not your girlfriend. …So what now?" she asked.
"Well, normally I'd want to ask Jade that, but right now I think she would try to do what she thinks is right, even if it was bad for her. But, I do believe Tarakudo cast you and Shen through the worst lens he could find in Jade. And so does she."
"We are not great parents, Jackie. We never planned on it because we had agreed we weren't the type. We had our careers, and our life together. That was enough. And this is where you wonder why, isn't it? Well, if you want some great meaningful or stunningly petty answer, I have to disappoint you.
"It simply occurred to me at some point that for all our reservations, we could have this child. We had the money, and we weren't mentally ill or otherwise unfit. I was quite capable of bearing a child. It was the result of consensual sex between a couple as well. A married one at that. It was just that it would be… inconvenient. That thought just stuck with me, Jackie. And I found that I couldn't pluck that fledgling weed from the well-ordered garden of my life just because I didn't want it to be there.
"I prefer not to think about it. It's very personal, and I think I already regret sharing it with you," she said, looking away.
"Well, that is the past," Jackie said. That surprised her, he saw.
"I'm more concerned with the future. Shen, I'm not inclined to give him a chance unless Jade wants him back. And that I'd only consider valid when she is in a better place. You haven't failed like that, yet," he said.
She frowned at that, but didn't object.
"So I am going to ask you a question, and trust you to answer honestly. Do 'you' think it would be good for you to reach out to Jade now?" Jackie asked, softening his expression.
"No," she said.
"Didn't have to think that through, huh?" Jackie remarked, running his hands through his hair.
"You have given me a world-changing talk, Jackie; I think I will need time to adjust even if it weren't for the trauma my daughter has been through. But as it is, Jade probably doesn't see me as 'safe'. At best I'd be a burden.
"Jackie, can you believe me when I say I hate the fact that trying to comfort my little girl when she is pain would probably hurt her is…" she stuttered for words for a moment, before stopping. Jackie didn't say anything, letting her compose herself.
"…Well, there you have it. I'll go, and wait to be called. It seems I need to talk with Shen, too. I can't imagine keeping such secrets has been good for him."
If she expected him to wish Shen luck or hope he was dong alright, he disappointed her by not.
"Jackie, since we didn't do it the first time, I'll ask now. Please take care of Jade. We weren't up to the task, but despite what you might be thinking, whenever Jade came home after that first year, she was becoming what we both wanted."
"Happy. It's a blow to a parent's pride to admit it, but you, Uncle, and the sumo ended up measuring up to the task of that strange girl better than her mother and father did. Just, maybe keep me updated a bit? The real stuff this time, maybe?" she asked, making her way to the door. Jackie gave her a real smile, getting up to show her out.
"I think that's reasonable," Jackie said.
There was regret, tension, and nastier things still lurking in the air. But as he helped her get a cab, he felt there was forward momentum in spite of all that.
Good enough, he thought, watching the cab drive off.
X X X
Jade sat in a cell, trying to resist the urge to tug on the choker, and trying to find some center in meditation. Sighing, she unfolded her legs and accepted defeat in both.
She could see her reflection in the plexiglass wall to the corridor. The small Shadowkhan with black hair pulled back into a ponytail, just letting two pieces loose to frame her face. Wearing prison orange, and a green choker around her neck that itched.
They had given her a tatami mat for training, and some books. Closing her eyes to lay back, she admitted it was more than she deserved.
In a spartan monitor room Captain Black watched Jade over the hidden camera feed and turned to the five experts standing behind him.
"You gentlemen are certain? Bearing in mind, if you are wrong, you will face review," Black said. The senior of the group, a balding African-American psychologist, stepped forward.
"Captain Black, as you well know, mental health is not something so clean cut as you would make it out to be. And the subject's nonhuman status raises many new questions on how her mind works. Again, I thank you on behalf of all of us for being allowed to take part in this new field of trans-sentient psychology.
"Through behavior analysis and the results of the therapy sessions, we five agree that Jade Chan does not currently pose a danger to herself or others. We strongly recommend supervised release if release is pursued. Holding her for the time being, we believe, is acceptable, but in the long term we worry further depression will enable her 'Evil Queen Persona' to reassert itself. The gesture of confidence of even supervised release could prove immensely beneficial dealing with the guilt she carries for her actions. And, perhaps more potently, provide her with closure to this episode, which we do not believe will happen while she sees herself as still being punished for past actions.
"Of course, continued therapy and observation should continue in regards to both her parental issues and identity," the expert announced. Black looked them over searching for any doubt or reluctance in this course. Finding none, he nodded turning back to watching the girl in the cell.
"Right then, put it in writing and prepare any information that may be relevant for the guardian. And I mean anything, gentlemen. We will clear Jackie to take her home in a week, time enough for both parties to be ready for this. I expect you to have the files for Jackie before Miss Chan leaves this facility," Black announced. The professionals chimed in their agreement and left.
Black had, of course, been reading the files. Confidentiality hardly existed for something this important. They had even, unbeknownst to Jade and Jackie, sent one of those experts to speak with one Shen Chan. To corroborate the claims made. Not as bad as Jade had believed under the influence. Bad, but not to the point where the old Jade had been some sort of facade for a trembling child or something.
Jade herself summed it up in a way the doctors had come to agree with, more or less. Queen Jade was Jade, but Jade with her worst parts dialed up to ten, and many of her better traits reduced. And the PTSD had compounded the problem, seeing paranoia shoot up and near constant anxiety – a conflicting need for both personal reassurance and near inability to trust, which culminated in the Hebi fiasco.
A mess, a big old mess, and there was no broom and dustbin solution.
X X X
School was different now, Jade thought behind her makeup and sunglasses.
It had been strange and thrilling to return. The very idea she would go back to school seemed just so weird after all that had happened, so normal, like someone else's life. Of course Jackie had made it clear she didn't have to rush back. Maybe getting used to the shop and life at home was a better first step. She had pleaded to go to school.
Yeah, the irony of that was lost on neither of them. As Jackie argued his side, he had stopped and rubbed his temples as they both had to take a moment to just deal with the sheer absurdity. Jade had laughed, not because it was that kind of funny but so he would feel more relieved.
After all she had put him through…
The real point was, she wanted to come here to prove herself. To show Jackie and everyone she was trying. She had promised herself to be on her best behavior. She covered more of herself than needed with the "special spy makeup" to cover the blue of her skin. Got used to wearing the safeguarded sunglasses to hide her glowing eyes and mostly transparent eyelids. And even went against her gut reach to select bright colors for her outfit.
Jade Chan was back in school, and she was not going to give her loved ones grief with misbehaving.
And she had been doing just that. It turned out to not be hard.
It wasn't the same. Before, she would drift off, fantastic imagination taking hold. Or impatient to just get it done and over to the world of adventure beyond these walls. But her thoughts did not wander to good places these days. And her body ached near constantly beneath where Ryuk had stabbed her. Jade had not told them; she did not want them to think worse of her Ryuk.
So she paid attention, she took notes, and actually was getting good marks. She didn't cause scenes; she had no desire for attention, she had found. These children, even Miss Hartman, could never understand. She didn't want them to know.
During recess, she sat off in what shade she could find. Even with the choker suppressing her magic, she could feel the shadows touching her. It was lonely, but these human children did not offer the company she wanted. The shadows offered some reassurance even if she felt guilty for seeking it.
Even Drew gave her a wide berth. She saw him looking at her, he seemed to want to talk. To say something. But he didn't — he might take two steps forward, but he found somewhere else to be.
School was the same jade realized one day, she was different now. Jade had wanted them to see her as something special before. Now she wanted to not be seen for the Shadowkhan she was.
And yet a nasty pit of resentment was there in her stomach that hated the makeup that left her wanting to scratch herself and the glasses that hid her eyes. It felt like she was betraying something.
And even with the disguise… she looked at herself in the mirror in her room. Her new hoodie was robin egg blue, and that was the smallest thing. Even with her clothes on, she seemed scrawnier. The spells had restored her health, but not the muscle won through such long practice. The practice that now made her lower body flare up in pain if it went for any great length of time.
Her longer hair was pulled back in a ponytail she would have once hated as girly. Now hating it seemed stupid and petty — it was simple and pretty easy to do. And that attitude again showed so much had passed.
And her skin looked unhealthy. The makeup was fine, but to her eyes and the others she looked like the cover story of recovering from an accident, still a bit delicate. Her eyes damaged, always having to wear protective glasses save for sleeping in darkness. The kids picked up on that — she was not well, and with almost innocent fear of either proximity or making it worse they avoided her.
Pulling off her hoodie then the shirt, she saw her real skin underneath. The air passed over it, better than the gunk-smeared surfaces.
She showered in the dark; it was clear to her liberated eyes. It felt so good to get that stuff off of herself.
There was no going back. This was her, wasn't it? And like her prefect memories of all she had done, it was hers to live with. Because there was no dark spirit hijacking her, only the worst of her. She had been the villain this time, and this was what she paid for her evil.
Her life everyday from this point forward.
She stayed there, having shifted to serpentine shape beneath the running water. Coiled on herself she drifted off the pain gone as it always was when she twisted her body like this.
Just like the pain that was a secret. She couldn't tell them the only time this hidden pain vanished was at her least human. That was not a heartbreak she could curse them with.
It was some time before Jackie came to turn the water off, gather her up in his arms, dry her off, and finally put her too bed.
X X X
Brother Dark set the tablet back into its place.
The hilltop shrine was much as they had left it. A short time ago in truth, but it seemed near a decade had passed since all this had started. Though that made it sound like it had ended.
"Would that such was the nature of things," he grumbled, standing up.
Someone would come for it, he was certain, and he felt in his bones that that would be his final role. A last stand, like the others? Or simply to pass it on to stronger, wiser hands than his own?
Stepping out, he looked over the home made strange by the absences. Beautiful, but it seemed a somewhat mocking beauty. He felt he should be above grief with his life so full of misfortunes. At the least, he should feel angry — before he came to this place, he had been alone in every way that mattered, and White had denied him death with his true brothers only to be left alone once more.
But he could not find the resentment. Only a pervasive longing, weariness, resignation, and the fact that White had perhaps known he could endure this where the elder sage would not have been able to.
The apprentices had not arrived yet. They were all his responsibility now. But they had to choose to come here now. He and his brothers had shown them the path, and dragged them to the entrance, but what remained they must do themselves.
Two he was confident in. But White's apprentice… the grief-fueled rage Dark could not find in himself was a beacon in that one. Dangerous. White had shown him a path to power, but the wisdom of the pale robes could only begin to bloom from within. Can anything bloom amidst an inferno?
If they came, he would be waiting, that was all there was to it.
Nodding to himself, Dark set out to gather the released herd and properly assess the fields. He had a home to put in order.
X X X
Blankman discarded the last of the disguise, the makeup to make him look older than his true appearance indicated. Not that he looked like a youngster without it, but he looked to be wearing his years better.
The padding to exaggerate his gut somewhat was in the can too, along with the treated hair, having been shaved away. Small things that, along with body language, added up. A card dropped into the can burst into a smokeless fire as he turned his attention back to the briefcase.
Ten, ten talismans. True, eleven had been possible, but the Rat turning out to be a fake had been acceptable.
The young men had delivered and been paid. The amount made him wince, but one did not prosper by backstabbing exemplary service. And besides, he had them now.
He opened the case and looked them over, naked awe on his face. Had the Chans truly appreciated what this was? What they could be? Surely not, or they would not have left them all sinfully idle in that vault.
He picked up the Horse with reverence and stroked it with his bare fingertips, drinking in its cold temperature, its texture, appreciating the design and shape.
"You are the key, noble Horse. The others are grand tools to a crown, but you will lay the foundation of an empire. Be at peace — you are now in the hands of one who will not squander you," he whispered to the talisman, and slipped it into the pocket of the Hawaiian shirt he was wearing. That pocket was more secure than any death grip, even more than the briefcase bound by blood to return to him and more recently sealed by his power against other hands.
He kept the case in hand anyway as he walked over to the room phone, the long distance call dialed and accepted quickly.
"I will be leaving on schedule. No, I couldn't get the whole set signed, but I have the MVP. And most of the roster. Yeah, this will blow them away at the convention. No, no need to pull the rest of you away from your preparations; I get the feeling she would like some one on one time for the pick up and drive.
"…Well, my excitement for this is just a tad different from yours, I think. When you've been around the game as long as I have, you tend to be more measured in these things. It's not a problem, just don't let it interfere with your work.
"…Yes, it will be good to be face to face again. Give the rest my love. I will be with you soon."
He hung up the phone and let a smile from, ear to ear.
Killing the Chosen One had been a gamble, one he knew with long odds. But it had paid off, even if he had had to get involved personally, both in that deed itself and in later ensuring that Jade Chan would remain too steeped in darkness to ever step up to fill the role. And he had gained more than he had dared to hope, that night in Japan.
The new age was unstoppable now, and he would be there to harness that wave. Light and Dark, all would bow to humanity.
X X X
"I am worried about Jade, sensei," Tohru admitted as he followed Uncle into the main storeroom. The old wizard wanted his help moving something, but Tohru saw a good opportunity to voice his concern.
"Indeed. Wong is laughing at us in Hell, Tohru. Thinking he has won his petty victory. An era has ended, that is true," Uncle admitted, indicating a large, long, wrapped object atop a pair of crates. Tohru wondered how it had gotten in here without his assistance or notice. Or had his sensei simply had it stored away elsewhere for that long?
Uncle holding the relevant doors, Tohru brought the object to the front counter.
"But eras end. Uncle has witnessed the passing of many in both people, countries, and the world in his lifetime. Some end well, others poorly. The Darkest Mage saw the darkness in such, but there can be light as well. It falls to those involved to hold what light there is over the darkness. But not every era ends badly! Unroll this!" Uncle commanded sharply. Tohru obeyed reflexively, untying the cord holding the thick cloth in place and unwrapping it.
His hands drew back at what was revealed. A large umbrella with a handle of reddish wood; carved into the hook were three characters — Strength and Wisdom at the tip and base of the stem, and in the center, Compassion. Touching it, he could feel his magic resonate with it.
"Puffer fish and lizard served Tohru well, but is modeled after Uncle's magic! Chi Master Fong preferred conduits of stone and wood from nature. Uncle passed from those to his, as a wizard grows. Uncle crafted this, guided by inspiration and knowledge of his apprentice's spirit. Take it up. This is my final order as your master," Uncle ordered.
"Final? But sensei, I am not-"
"Not ready!? Have you not been invaluable in struggle against many forces of evil? Have you not shed the mantle of darkness and its temptations to serve the Light humbly? Have you not been tested by struggles against both horrors and the horror of seeing friends become foes you must fight?! And most of that you have seemingly achieved in two lifetimes! Uncle says you are more ready than he was. Now take up unbrella or are you wanting piece of Uncle?!" the wizard shrilly demanded. Smiling a bit despite it all, Tohru picked up the umbrella. To him the size fit; to most others, a small pole. Opening it, he could easily see where on the canopy one could draw or attach sutras, and the rod also had room for the enchantments inscribed on it to grow and be changed.
The effort it took was a silent salute of dedication he knew the old wizard would never want acknowledged.
It felt right in his hand, warm and certain. No great rush of power, but a calm, almost gentle assurance.
"Tohru, my student, as I was to my master, and he to his, and he to his, I declare your training under my authority complete. You are no longer my apprentice to be bound to my word and will. For you have outgrown such bounds and now stand before me not as a subordinate, but as a brother good chi wizard. But though your training ends, never will you cease to learn. And never will you be so great as to be beyond help. May you carry the light with you through days bright and storms dark. I wish you well in the world, chi wizard," Uncle said solemnly. He bowed respectfully to Tohru. The sumo's eyes widened at the sight, and then closed as he returned the bow.
A moment passed, then they stood up. And Uncle turned away.
"Well, Uncle had best dust off Help Wanted sign," Uncle said.
"What? Why?" Tohru asked.
"Aiyah! Uncle has grown too accustomed to help. He will not go back to longing it, and Jackie is too unreliable with traveling. Uncle deserves more respect than that."
"Um, has my work slipped that much?" Tohru asked.
"No, it remains same as ever. But you are still fired," Uncle explained, opening a closet.
"…What? Fired?" Tohru asked, wondering if he was dreaming.
"Aiyah! What, you think you can just hang around here forever? Former apprentice cannot bunk with former master, undermines whole point! Apprentice must leave to travel and experience self as solo wizard in own right. Find place in world and such. Uncle is issuing your two week notice. And where is sign?!" Uncle demanded, as the confused sumo looked on.
X X X
Radical Rick was smiling, but also keeping his left hand ready to go for the piece tucked into the seat of his pants.
It was a cold Arizona morning, and he may be the only one of the spit of a town's population up, save for the diner crowd already servicing the highway customers. Which was how he liked it, he admitted, scratching at his chin through the thick red beard that ran so far down his front he joked that all the hair had jumped off his head and grabbed on top his face.
The woman he was dealing with was also bald — sure, she had that red bandanna on, but he could tell these things. Her skin had a pasty look to it, and the wraparound sunglasses and handkerchief hid a lot, and she always ducked her head a bit when he looked at her in the face. With gloves to complete her jacketed attire, she was pretty covered up. And paid all in cash for the bike and other traveling supplies he had to offer.
With the covered face, he guessed she was on the run. Or she was terminally ill and trying for some last gasp adventure. Either way, she could be dangerous. But he couldn't be too picky with his side business, so he might as well go for the up-sell.
"If you're going to be traveling alone, you could use a piece," he said to the strange woman, as she looked over the hog.
She looked up, and then away, but stood. With a grin, Radical showed her into his garage and into the back room. Opening a locked metal cabinet revealed a pair of tool boxes resting in the bottom. Until he took out the false back.
"Yeah, it's no grand selection, but pay the right price and you walk out of here with it. Serial numbers taken care of and everything."
She didn't browse; she grabbed something that had been collecting dust and tested its heft. Rick raised an eyebrow.
"Going for a knife, eh? Yeah, that there's a kukri. Nothing fancy and stupid like those katanas kids are obsessed with."
"Katanas… I'm not interested in those," the sick woman said.
"Well, that kukri has no romantic BS, just use it to chop up people. That's Gurkha style too, with steel on the pommel. In the Raj days, they used those on horseback to clobber rioters, and if that didn't get the message across, they used the blade to split skulls like melons. Yeah, that's a bit of steel there, price on the tag covers the sheath too."
She paid up, all in full, and she was on her way, streaking down the road and back onto the highway. Good profitable day, but Radical Rick breathed a sigh of relief, and hoped that he never saw that one again. Something was wrong with her, that was for sure.
X X X
El Toro eased the tablet onto the giant snake's head.
"I'm sorry if it's not the right one," El Toro said as the glowing eye of Nameless focused on him.
"It's the right one, El Toro," Paco assured him.
"His instincts are true," Nameless rumbled, "But the world has changed, the time for seals is passing."
"What?" El Toro asked, looking down past the snake into the pit.
"Hmm, perhaps I can hold this place. But the shift has begun. Foul things will come forth into the light as the years pass, and the light must stand to meet them," Nameless said, lowering his head out of sight.
"Wait! What should we do?!" El Toro asked.
"Prepare. You are not unworthy of those who came before," the ancient guardian said as it vanished into darkness.
"El Toro?" Paco asked, and the luchadore stepped back from the edge.
"…Paco, I am going to have to do something now that this Yade business is done. I should have done it long ago, honestly. You might not be seeing me again for a long time. So I need you to promise me something," El Toro said, turning to face his apprentice.
Somewhere in Alberta:
Karasu surveyed the countryside and gave a nod. Sliding down the slope on his heels with expert ease, he returned to the lean-to he had constructed.
The area was isolated, and met the needs for his hermitage. And he was confident he could detect intruders with time enough to avoid them. He was of the Shinobi Clan – "shroud in mystery" was their policy to the masses.
Still, he faced more years than his lifetime so far alone. For the sake of the Clan, he had a duty to remain absent from events. Ensuring the Enforcers' freedom was the final act, as well as letting the fallen Queen briefly glimpse him. A brief glimpse she would only appreciate when he would offer to return to the past. More so than the Jounin's greater might, this assured the Matriarch of a stable time loop, one that she had been ignorant of.
Still, he felt guilt. There were other threats on the horizon, and current troubles of his time that might be averted or blunted by simply informing certain people.
But in addition to the risk of making things worse, he was a loyal son and brother of the Clan. Any changes would risk the existence of the Clan as he knew it, and therefore were unacceptable. The Matriarch had trusted his loyalty to be absolute to avoid such complications. To prove himself worthy of that trust was a desire surpassed only by one other — to return to Yuki-hime's side once more. To her, it would seem as if he had only been absent for a day; he was glad for that. He did not want her to feel sorry for his long isolation.
This was a chance though, to become stronger so as to protect her and the princess growing within the Matriarch better.
And so, resolving to face time and solitude, the lone Shadowkhan began to train for the future he knew approached.
X X X
"So, you are doing okay, then?" Jade asked through the transparent wall. In Section 13, she didn't have to bother with the disguise, at least, and that was a relief for times like this.
"Yes, my needs are met, though I cannot train fully without my swords. Do you wish me to escape now?" Lee asked. Jade cringed at the question. Because it was earnest, no accusation or hidden meaning.
The first thing she had done after meeting him after the battle was give him a real name, but she was still leaving him a prisoner.
"No, I think you need to stay in there for now," the former Queen muttered. He nodded, accepting that, and at her nod resumed training.
She laid a hand on the wall, and her choker sent out a prickling sensation. The urge to shatter this barrier and free him was the strongest temptation of all. Not just because leaving him there was a betrayal. Or that that betrayal only compounded how poorly she had treated him. And the fact that he was still loyal in spite of it, making her want to vomit at the sheer responsibility.
Jade needed to free him because she could not free Ryuk.
She retreated into a nearby women's room. The stall offered some privacy, and she let herself unravel a bit at the thought of him.
That final sight, as his form twisted just before losing the struggle with the suction of the Red Mask. He had reached for her, silently pleading to be saved. She had reached back, and then he was gone, torn away.
Jade was certain the spell had killed Tarakudo – that was the only way such mass sealing could work. But she worried that being sealed might be worse. Did he feel pain? Sadness? Loneliness? Cramped?
Ryuk had not betrayed her, she had betrayed him. As loyal as Lee was, she saw so much of herself in Ryuk looking back, good and bad. He had done what she would have done. What she did "scanned aright".
She had failed him. He had taken that power that doomed him because of her. What she had done to Viper pained her, filled her with self-loathing. But Ryuk kept her awake at night. Her right hand, her Vassal, her…
Her creation. She had given him sentience and power. To guide him, shape him to realize his potential, had been her sacred responsibility. No one had told her that, but she knew it. And trying to explain it to humans, she knew, would only confuse and worry them.
She had ordered Left not to call her Queen, but Jade wasn't a name she felt comfy with him using, either. She did not deserve his respect.
Jade was going to request he be released to her custody. Even if it meant going back to a cell for reevaluation, she would not forsake one of her own again.
X X X
Jade barely reacted to the news. Tohru was grateful she reacted at all. Jade was so much like a turtle these days, too slow and methodical in what she said or did. And quick to retreat into her shell.
And after she was politely but firmly told no regarding Lee's parole, she was in the shell.
They were in the kitchen. Jade was working on what she had said was the last of her homework. The school year was nearly done. Summer beckoned, and she didn't seem to care.
She had looked hurt at the knowledge he was leaving, but simply wished him good luck and turned her attention back to the textbook and the notebook she was writing answers to questions in.
There were times Tohru felt they had not saved Jade at all. He knew things could never be as they had been, but this state… he had hoped it would be a passing phase. That whatever, whoever, she needed to be now wasn't this.
Getting up from the table, he turned away and frowned.
'What are you doing fool!' he chastised himself, 'You fought the Oni of your nightmares to save her, and now she's in front of you and you lose your nerve!?'
But what could he do, the doctors and Uncle were on top of this. Jackie was here as well. Between the shop and Section 13…
Tohru stopped himself, grabbing the doorway leading out into the shop floor.
It was Section 13 and the shop. The school too, for what it was worth.
Jade had not wanted to return to live in that apartment in Hong Kong, even if the situation was not as bad as Tarakudo had painted. And now Jade was facing every moment the people and places she had betrayed.
Jade saw her actions as betrayal. From the subconscious but still her the actions had come. These places had given her strength, but now they were reminders. Constantly comparing the past to the present.
Hadn't he had to leave behind his life as an Enforcer completely to move on?
"Jade, would you like to come with me?" he asked, turning back to face her.
X X X
El Toro sipped his beer, trying not to look at the TV hanging in the bar corner. The story about him had passed, but still.
It was odd, being in public without his mask. He didn't even have a nice suit. All of which he would have to get used to. He had confessed to everything but magic. Performance enhancers, his career a sham. He had surrendered his mask on TV, gone from a celebrated icon to a despised fraud. A man whose former repute only meant he had dragged the sport through the mud. As of now, it was probably safe to say he had only one fan in the world.
He'd never partake in any official lucha again. He couldn't even call himself a luchadore now. Oh, the money was gone too, but what had once been so important there no longer mattered. His only concession there was an account he had set aside after the start of the Ox business, for Paco.
El Toro Fuerte's world had ended, and he found he wasn't on the verge of falling apart. He didn't feel relieved at his life's work being torn to pieces, but his heartbreak was more for the many he had broken the hearts of with the truth. It had all been a lie. Even his benevolence as a celebrity he could not claim as pure. Assured of his continued reign, he had had no reason to hesitate in his generosity. After all, at first he had only tolerated Paco to pad his ego.
That man was dead now, and buried. His life as a man and dreams of childhood both laid to rest while he was still living.
Frankly, he was grateful for the call that had pulled him from the cheap room he was living in. He'd not left Mexico City, despite what people thought; his face apparently did not stand out enough for people to draw the connection.
The call here gave him something to do, when he really had no idea what to do next with his life.
"Glad you could make it, Señor," Detective Ramirez said, putting a hand on El Toro's shoulder.
"My schedule is rather clear these days," El Toro answered, turning on the bar stool to shake hands with the detective.
"Even so, I was not certain if you may want distance from the life, for a time at least," Ramirez said, pointing over his shoulder with a thumb. El Toro got up and followed the man.
"Putting things off rarely helps," El Toro answered as they reached a corner booth in the smokey cantina.
"I hope you brought your token. Otherwise, this will be a short conversation," Ramirez said, sliding into the booth. Which was already occupied by a woman.
The first thing El Toro noticed was her violet eyes. The second was that she was wearing black feathers that blended into her punkish hairstyle. As El Toro took a seat, his eyes widened slightly, realizing there was no hair on her head, just black feathers.
"I am going to guess that is not a headdress," El Toro said, taking another sip of his beer. The woman smiled, showing off pristine teeth behind black lipstick. She looked quite pretty, he thought, sun-bronzed skin with a fine blend of features. He'd guess her to be in her late thirties, the flower of youth having given way to more of a strong tree's reliant beauty. With some nice meat on the bones.
'…Did I have too much?' he wondered, looking at his beer.
"No whammies, it's his first time," Ramirez chided the woman.
"But he's such a fine specimen. I like ripe, well-aged man. And luchadores have such a fun vibrancy," the woman laughed with a husky voice, before downing a shot and refilling the cup with a bottle set off to the side.
"Uh, I am-" El Toro began, blushing.
"I know who you are, and I'm not ready to give my name. But there can be fun without such formalities," she chuckled. El Toro glanced to Ramirez, who met his eyes and with firm set lips gave a small but forceful shake of the head.
"Señora," Ramirez cleared his throat. The woman frowned, but sat back; El Toro blinked, not realizing how far she had been leaning across the table. She had nearly been in his face! She didn't look that tall with this table.
Had she… stretched?
"Fine. Let's see it then to be clear," she huffed crossing her arms under and ample bosom. With only a little fumbling El Toro pulled out the token Nameless had given him. The woman leaned, over before he could hold it out to her. Again seeming to reach too far. Cocking an eyebrow she licked er index finger and tapped the token.
"Okay, we're good. Moving on!
"You're here because Ramirez and I are supposed to give you a first tip of the hat to our various communities. Him for the humans of Mexico and abroad associates that deal with that which lurks behind the corners. And me for those of us who live there and venture out. You have piqued all our interests. But until now, you hadn't given up your greatest tie to the… let's call it the mainstream. But you have, and you seem to have been anointed by the Nameless Son.
"Big things are coming, the omen readers and their ilk all seem to agree. And it's not just humanity that stands to face chaos in the days ahead I assure you. So, as a human anointed by an Ancient, would you be willing to consider the unenviable task of standing between the likes of him-" she pointed to Ramirez, "and the likes of me?"
"…I was just thinking my life would get simpler without the lies," El Toro had not meant to say that aloud.
The woman snapped her fingers.
"Hey, this man needs something stronger than beer!" she shouted. Ramirez patted his shoulder, and El Toro massaged his eyes.
The Jade Sea:
Desire put her back into it as she dipped the oars and propelled the lifeboat through a Jade Sea lit by late morning.
The 'Jade' was sailing away, but she was not concerned with it for the moment. Her business lay on the island drawing closer with each dipping of the oars. The island had a purpose as they all did, but for now its relevance, she supposed, was not what it was as much as who was on it.
Hero did not look at her, as his eyes were still fixed on the ship as it sailed on without him.
Desire leapt from the boat, and with a helpful wave pulled it up onto the beach. Wiping her two-tone brow off, she regarded Hero. He was clad in all his finery, but there was no sword at his belt.
"I can't believe he actually did it. How could he?" Hero asked. By his tone, she knew he was both questioning the fact it could happen as well as the betrayal. Well, Hero saw it as a betrayal, no doubt.
"I don't think Father wanted to take the sword from you. But he felt there was no choice. Did you really think he'd let you retake it all?" Desire asked.
"We won, the day has been saved. Sure, there's a bit of moping, but just like Jade has fixed her legs, it's nothing we can't bounce back from," Hero insisted, kicking some wet sand up. Desire sighed.
"This was likely for the best. Hero, things can't go back to the way they were. And I think even you know that," she explained. He grumbled, but didn't deny it.
"Jade wants to make amends more than anything. She is placing herself last, so Father is ascendant. But it's not like Hong Kong, Hero, Father is different from then, and better for it. He didn't just free you to beat Queen, and he has only sealed Queen as much as is needed to pacify her. She's a part of Jade too, a part too big to just be locked out of sight now. And you're a part Jade can't let run rampant like she did."
"So, what then? We are just supposed to do as we're told? Lameness aside, how many times has that defiance saved the day?" Hero demanded
"Well, if it's any comfort, just as I doubt you will ever hold the helm and sword both again, I doubt you will be expelled from the 'Jade' for very long. But do consider that Father came into his own by changing to match the new circumstances around Jackie Chan. Perhaps the time has come for a more mature approach to adventure?" she suggested.
"…That is not the least bit comforting," he said. Desire patted him on a cheek, to his annoyance.
"Growing up is often unpleasant, Hero, but it can be the gateway to better things if you let it. Well, I expect you need to be alone to stew and maybe conspire a bit. I'll be in touch, though — after all, even if Jade thinks it, a future devoid of you is not what she truly desires."
"And what is that? You've been dangling that dramatically for awhile now. If this is the wrap up, it seems poor sport to hold onto that as yet another cliffhanger awaiting a sequel. What is Jade's true desire?"
"Oh, that? You mean you haven't figured it out? I thought it was fairly obvious," Desire remarked, using a rock to get some sand off her shoe.
"What do you mean? Isn't that one of the big reveal secrets that changes the course of the story or something?" Hero pointed out
"Well, in summation, Jade's desire is to feel like she belongs and is loved for who she is. And the added twist of feeling the same way about herself," Desire said crouching to look at the sand.
"Huh, that's not very dramatic at all. Besides, didn't Jade already have that before?" Hero pondered tilting his head and crossing his arms.
"Not every dream requires a quest, and sometimes you don't see that the biggest prize was already in your hands," Desire chuckled fishing a seashell out of the sand. Brushing some sand off she tossed it to Hero who caught it and gane it only a passing glance before pocketing it frowning.
"Bah, this is as annoying as talking with Father. See you around," Hero said wth a wave. Desire watched him walk inland, as a barrel washed up next to her on the beach.
"Sooo, if it's a matter of growing up, then does that…?" Love asked from the barrel. Desire blushed, but put her foot on the barrel and eased it back into the surf to be carried out to sea.
"You cannot stop me forever! Love finds a way! There will be romance, the most epic badass blockbusting you have ever SEEN!" Love cried out as they drifted off.
X X X
Drew had been a bit happy and a bit scared when it was announced Jade Chan would be rejoining the class.
After Halloween, his dad had caved to his mom and they had sent him to therapy. The doctor seemed to think the whole thing was in his head, too, but offered something more. He felt Drew was smart enough to know his behavior, which was bluntly called bullying, was wrong. The monster, a twisting of ninja girl's stories, was a construct of retribution inflicted on himself.
Amongst other things, he was seeking to correct the pattern and apologize to people. Truth was, he didn't think the monster was in his head. And even here in school, he hesitated before entering any room alone.
But maybe the monster had come to punish him? It hadn't appeared since he started trying to change. Of course, it hadn't been constant before, either.
But sitting in the less than adequately air-conditioned classroom, hearing he could apologize to Jade Chan, he felt relief. He could do it; even if she rejected it like some had, he could cross a name off the list the doc had him make.
Even if this wasn't going to get rid of the monster for sure, it was worth a try.
When Miss Hartman called her in, Drew's first thought had been that they were getting another new classmate late in the game. He had looked away, thinking, and had only taken a second look when the teacher welcomed Jade Chan back.
He had no witty remark or even thought realizing 'that' was Jade Chan. Not when she was wearing light blue instead of her obsessive orange, and pants that reached down to her shoes. Her hair had grown out, with her spiky style ditched in favor of a ponytail that left only two thin spikes to serve as bangs. Her skin, rather than tan, had a pasty look to it. And she wore sunglasses with sidings.
An explanation followed that she had been in an accident while back in Hong Kong, and while cleared for school, her eyes had suffered damage to cause extreme light sensitivity. The glasses were to be regarded like a cast; any attempt to take them or knock them off would be treated severely.
But more than all that, she looked drained. Happy, excited, bored, or irritated, Jade Chan had always seemed to have more energy than she knew what to do with. He'd once mocked her boredom as her being constipated for action. A teacher had overheard that one and not been amused by the analogy.
This Jade Chan, though — even as she seemed determined to be a good student, facing forward and sitting straight — didn't have that. He couldn't quite put a word to it. Maybe that where she had been overflowing, now she… just wasn't? The very idea of labeling Jade Chan as normal seemed wrong, and he was sure that label would slide right off her if he tried to stick it.
Staring at her got him singled out a few times. Some even thought he might have a crush, eww!
Couldn't anyone else see it? That wasn't the same Jade Chan that had spouted one insane story after another.
It would only be after the last day of school that Drew would realize he never got around to that apology.
X X X
Captain Black sat at his desk, and was giving them a look rather close to a death glare as he clasped his hands in front of him. Jackie felt himself actually sweating a bit as he resisted the urge to squirm in his chair. He saw Tohru scratch his neck to his right. Uncle seemed only concerned with answering the look in kind, even throwing in a not quite sneer.
Black finally spoke, his tone clearly that of the head of Section 13, rather than an old friend.
"My knee-jerk reaction, gentlemen, is that Jade has been playing possum and this is her backup plan to escape. Care to convince me otherwise?"
"That's… a bit extreme, don't you think?" Jackie asked. The Captain's look answered that question, but he spoke anyway.
"You want Tohru to take Jade out of the country, alone. I agreed to limited release because she would be under the supervision of you three and would be coming here for therapy and observation twice a week. And letting her go back to school after everything she confessed to regarding that Drew kid was not something I did lightly. Why would I agree to putting her out of reach of nearly every check she has on her?" Black asked sternly.
"Head doctors have been saying Jade is not danger, yes?" Uncle snapped.
"They 'think'. Jade is clever, and the issues they want to help her with aren't the sort of thing you work through quickly," Black answered.
"Captain Black," Tohru spoke up, "I know you took a chance on me, but I was a hardened criminal, and everything I did was my own fault. Jade is still a child in most ways, and she was under the influence of dark magic."
"Was? She's still a Shadowkhan, isn't she?"
"Yes," Jackie admitted.
"Aiyah, Shadowkhan may not mean as much as we thought," Uncle said, as if irritated at stupidity.
"Care to explain?"
"Shadowkhan bodyguards Left and Right! Both born at same time and both experience working under Jade and witness her decay. One betrays Jade, the other, even nearly dying, remains loyal! Mistake to think Shadowkhan all alike based off this. Choice of bad or good seems in play; man would have to close eyes not to see possibility."
"Rebellion vs blind obedience isn't exactly good vs evil. But I do see your point, as a possibility. And while Karasu has disappeared without a trace, Left — who Jade, it seems, has renamed Lee — seems content to train and meditate in our custody by Jade's orders," Black admitted.
"Uh, Jade only agreed to come on the condition she could take him with her," Tohru put in. Jackie pressed his fingers to his face; didn't Tohru realize they were already fighting an uphill battle?
"Well, making demands again, is she? That's actually a bit refreshing with how very cooperative she has been," Black said, wearing his pokerface.
"Aiyah! Enough haggling! We are not here to sell or buy. This is matter of wisdom over foolishneeeesss!" Uncle snapped.
"Okay then!" Black said, meeting Uncle's glare and raising his voice slightly, "Give me your hardest sell then on this deal."
Jackie blinked. If this were a show, he could imagine the screen splitting diagonally to show their glares.
"Viper has already escaped your clutches. Uncle warned you that cage would drive away one so violated."
"We had to be cautious. We gave every assurance in reason."
"Matter of magic and soul, you are not magic man nor doctor. Now Viper is gone and we won't find her easily."
"You said if she caused trouble you could find her."
"Yes, but Uncle would not do this thing unless he has to. For good or ill, thief is finding herself. To hunt her could only push her away. Jade is guilty, she drowns in her guilt. She only stays because of this. She will continue to drown, or she will bolt out of pool to not be burden."
"She seems to be making progress as is."
"Aiyah, stable yes, but progress no."
"Bit early to say that. You're not a doctor either."
Jackie cleared his throat. They ignored him, getting out of their chairs.
"Time is of essence. Blankman is still out there, and one more thing, Karasu's prophecy could still be in play. You know well Jade's fate and path may make every difference, to make her stand still is veerrryyy bad!"
"Sometimes it's better to stand still than leap without taking a better look."
"One more thing, Uncle has solution."
"Your choker? It's no small thing, but even with Tohru there to maintain it sealing Jade's power, frankly your sealings have failed before. And even if she can't break it, Japan is Oni territory. Who's to say some new dark force won't come along to free her and awaken that darkness within to boot?"
"Choker is verryyy strong, but it is not Uncle's proposal. Uncle will form summoning contract with Jade, as wizard to mystic creature. Like Daolon Wong's botched spell to summon Shadowkhan at start of fiasco, but intentional. And better, because it is Uncle. Jade goes astray or Tohru does not check in, Uncle can summon Jade back inside whatever cage pleases Captain Black."
"Wait, you can do that?" Black and Jackie said together, both expressions matching stunned.
"Eh, Jade and Uncle chatted before drive over. Unlike Wong's compulsion, this would be a pact willingly made, a bargain sealed in the very magic that Uncle uses and flows through Jade like blood. Even if Jade were to fall to darkness again and break free from Uncle's wards, she would still be bound to her pact willingly given. One more thing, only Uncle could release her from such a pact."
"…Well, that is good to know. And maybe should have been mentioned earlier," Black said, sitting back down.
"Bah," Uncle waved a hand dismissively. Tohru took a breath and spoke.
"I really do think this would be good for her. I may not be a therapist, but I do know about coming to terms with misdeeds. And it would only be for the summer; I will bring her back then, no matter how well she seems to be doing, and your staff can see for themselves if it was beneficial."
"Tohru is also a full-fledged chi wizard now," Jackie cut in, "And apparently has dealt with the Shadowkhan in two lifetimes. If anyone can handle two Shadowkhan solo as a chaperone, it would be him. And Jade… I think she really needs a gesture of trust in her. We can say we forgive her all we want, but unless we back that up with trust, I don't think she can begin to forgive herself."
Black looked between them.
"And for the Shadowkhan, Left, Lee, or whatever his name is?"
"Package deal," Jackie said, putting two fingers together.
"Those two have a bond," Tohru mused, "I don't know if there is a human equivalent, but I think it may be like a mother and son. At least, that is the closest I can think of. Jade feels she betrayed that bond may times already."
"She does claim Right was justified in betraying her," Black admitted. Tohru nodded.
"That bond may be the most positive thing to come from this. That Jade won't forsake it now is the biggest sign of her change. If she was truly faking, hiding evil, wouldn't she denounce him or at least distance herself? But no, she has been early for every time you have let her see him, and never seems more depressed than when she has to leave him."
"…I will have to consult the experts."
X X X
"Sensei, why did you lie?" Tohru asked Uncle. They were alone in the library. Jackie was working late, and Tohru had made sure that Jade was truly asleep.
Uncle did not react at first, drawing another character with an ink brush on a wooden board on the writing desk. But Tohru could tell he had been heard.
"Sensei, I know you did not overlook it — if I saw it in my studies, you did as well," Tohru pressed. Uncle stood up, setting aside the brush, and adjusted his glasses.
"You so certain what Uncle must have seen?" the old Chinese man asked. Tohru hesitated.
"Well, um, I- OW!" Tohru stuttered, before getting smacked.
"Aiyah! Have more faith in own judgement, Tohru must. Don't step forward to be so casually pushed back. One more thing, Uncle did see as you say," the old wizard said.
Tohru frowned, rubbing the spot Uncle had slapped him.
"…Two of the Shadowkhan armies were not sealed. The mask sealed the Generals, the Shadowkhan imbued with a tribe's army, and with it those armies. But two of those armies were no longer bound to an individual. The Sumo tribe, its General, Ozeki, killed by Tarakudo, who had no chance to bestow it on another. And presumably one General killed by the White Sage. They seem to be floating aimlessly in the Shadow Realm, not unlike how the Dragon Zodiac power was aimless and out of reach until Shendu was reborn," Tohru recounted.
"Very good. Uncle knew early that dead General likely meant free-range essence. But it was only after examining mask he could confirm Tarakudo pocketing sumos had not sealed them. Spell tried to work, but like faulty toilet where bad thing circle drain, spinning fast but does not go down hole and be banished from light."
"Uh, yes. But Sensei, why did you not tell them? The armies are dangerous," Tohru reaffirmed his question. Uncle sighed and poured himself the last of the tea.
"Why didn't you?" Uncle asked.
"I trusted you had reasons."
"Ah, but not trust Uncle enough not to demand answers after fact, eh? Uncle would guess you had more reason than that. Same as Uncle's? Those armies, essences, mantles, whatever they may best be called, are something we can do nothing about right now. Tohru almost lose himself going there to retrieve mask, and these could be veeerrrry dangerous to approach. One more thing, it would only give fuel to Captain Black to restrain Jade and hunt Viper out of fear of what may happen. One more thing, no good could come of that, but Captain Black, even knowing that, would feel need to act on duty.
"One more thing! These tribes are not like masks; generals dead and gone, purified essences remain. Like with Left or Right, they may not corrupt one who wields them so much as just be power with potential for good or evil. One more thing, without General in play, it may take lifetime for someone wielding power to master it to summon many Shadowkhan. And one more thing, it may only be a Shadowkhan who can hold that power. Jade is sincere in trying make amends, Left is loyal to Jade, and if aaaaannnyyyyone will reject Shadowkhan power, it would be Viper!" Uncle lectured.
"What about Karasu?" Tohru asked frowning.
"And that is why we watch. Never is life without risk. To try and make it so is to make life like bird locked in cage," Uncle nodded.
"And you keep Jackie out of the loop because he and Captain Black need to trust each other, and Jackie may feel the need to join me and Jade just in case. And Jade needs space from Jackie too, even if no one wants to say it," Tohru sighed.
"Former apprentice has wisdom. He needs to learn to have more trust in it," Uncle said, polishing off the tea. Tohru picked up the pot from its near-sacred post amidst the books and sheets spread out on the work table, and turned towards the door.
"And should I tell Jade about it in Japan?" Tohru asked. He winced at the smack.
"Aiyah! You think graduation Little League trophy, just to be put on shelf and forgotten until time for dusting?! That your call to make! One more thing, Uncle leave that entirely in your hands! One more thing, if you balk and tell Jackie and Captain Black, Uncle would have no authority to stop you! And one more thing! You are not apprentice to be ordered around by Uncle. You are peer, start thinking like it," Uncle huffed and firmly sat back down.
Tohru took that in, but smiled, realizing it was still implied he was to fetch more tea.
Somewhere in the U.K.:
The chamber was built of stone, the weight of ages seeming to press down on darkness barely pushed back by torches bearing blue fire, and lanterns dangling from the ceiling casting a more natural, flickering light.
Amidst the forest of columns struggling against the weight of the world was a table. Massive enough to dominate most rooms, it was a solid mass, with not a nail or screw marring the pale polished wood. At its center lay a dusty shield, its wooden surface marred to the point any symbol it once bore was lost, and its iron frame dented and rusted such that it looked like it would fall apart if moved.
There were chairs set for eleven spread around the table. Men stood behind each chair but one, each holding a banner from a pole. Each banner was unique in design, but held the same colors of blue and white. One chair held no banner, with three armored men standing beside it, their faces and forms concealed by colored half-plate.
Four banners fell, three men ran, and one leapt onto the table, his hood falling back to reveal a green mohawk. Pulling a stiletto from inside his robe, he lunged across the table, muttering a spell, making lighting ignite in the knife.
A knight in red moved, and struck the attacker through the chest with his halberd, stopping him before he could clear the table. The knife clattered to the floor, and with a swing, the body was thrown from the table into the shadows.
The seated men looked into the shadows as screams rose and cut off there. Steel clanging with every step, an armored dame emerged, clad in orange and cleaning a throwing axe before she replaced it in her belt.
"Well, I hope that unpleasantness is behind us," a calm voice came from the shadows.
A short man in a dark grey sports jacket with a red shirt and black tie walked into sight, short blonde hair starting to grow on his head beyond stubble. One of hands was covered by a white glove, the other was bare, and golden rings were jingling in it against one another and the stone embedded in his palm.
"So, the son of the disgraced bloodline thinks he now has the power to reclaim a long lost birthright?" one of the seated men asked.
"As if a Frenchman could be allowed to lead one of the ten orders," another scoffed.
"A Frenchman? You act as if everyone didn't come from somewhere else to start with. But no matter, I do not base my claim on birth — you gentlemen divested me of that notion quite thoroughly when last I quarreled with your status quo."
"I was being truthful. I am not here to settle old grudges; we are all human, and we are only held back by holding onto old grudges at the expense of the future. Truthfully, I am thankful, after a fashion. After Indochina, it was being brought into your order that let me overcome so many prejudices and embrace the potential of the mystic. And then you humbled me once more by thwarting my ambition and exiling me and mine. You have stood among the enemies who have made me what I am. But unlike the rest, I can afford to show you gratitude, and offer you a place. A place at my table," Blankman said, reaching the table and dropping the rings on it.
"The crown that was stolen by my ancestor from Arthur's last battle, it bore no magic, like this shield, yet it has been revered all the same. Broken in two when the Magisters divided over whether to follow bloodlines or mystic power. And broken again, and again, until all that remained were ten rings for ten orders, forged from the scraps. Some of you have lost sight of ambition, content to cling like a parasite, just another faction once you get past the secrets and glamour. Others have studied and refined arts with no outlet or ambition to properly use it. And still others have wasted their time on obsessions with the past, seeking lost glories rather than exploring new horizons. One of you even sought mass murder in imbecilic rage at the fact you no longer mattered to this world. While I was ready to pardon all misdeeds and reach an accord with you all, I admit that killing that one put a smile on my face.
"I do not claim the Round Table only by blood. Blood gave me no right, only a legacy to strive to surpass. By strength in all ways, I demand you surrender your rings. And all that means."
"…And what of us?" one of the Magisters asked.
"You are free to contest it," Blankman said, his eyes seeming to ignite for a moment. No one spoke in response.
"No? In that case, I guarantee you will not be erased unless you make yourselves problems. Indeed, I see no reason all six of you can't be useful and influential figures in a unified order. Change is frightening, to everyone really. The powerful fear losing power, and the powerless fear being naked before a new storm that will hurt them in new ways. And it's not foolish to be afraid — fear is often a sensible reaction to danger or potential danger. But courage is the appropriate response to fear. Life taught me that.
"If you gentlemen are brave enough to change, I believe all of you can continue to be relevant. And if you can't stand to change, I will happily set you aside to a life of comfort and wealth and give your place to someone more flexible. But the rings?" Blankman said, raising his bare hand to show the Dragon talisman there.
Quickly or reluctantly, the golden rings were placed on the pale wood. Blankman closed his fist, and the rings floated into the air. The four before him quivered, then rose up, joining the rest circling the center of the table. Opening his hand, the rings paused in their formation. With a snap of his fingers, they smashed together, the violent action startling some of his audience and earning a chuckle from the woman in orange armor.
"Once divided, now united," Blankman said, heat beams shooting out of his eyes to strike the gold.
All watched in silence as the metal melted into a single, glowing mass. The heat beams withdrew, and with both hands, Blankman manipulated the mass without touching it, until it formed into a steaming, gleaming circlet of gold. With a gesture, he pulled the gold to hover over his head.
"For the legacy of blood, by the right of conquest, and in the name of sacred human dominion, I crown myself Lord of Ten. Through my person, let many become one," he declared, letting the scalding metal drop into place.
His flesh burned as he sat looking them over. The most he did was almost cough. Yet otherwise, the metal seemed to hardly even harm him to their eyes.
"No doubt you have questions as to my intent. After all, I am a stranger to you, having been gone so long, and you hopefully realize my old ambitions are long dead. I have much in store; indeed, the plans are already in irrevocable motion. But there is time for that later," he cleared his throat, and as the last of the burns on his head vanished, the dame came to stand at his side, kneeling and offering a large briefcase.
"Thank you, Knight of Orange," he said, as the case floated out of her hands.
"I am pleased to serve my lord father," she said formally and withdrew back to stand with the others.
The case touched down on the table, and with four clicks it opened, and paper burst out. The Magisters cried out as the paper descended on them, some drawing weapons, others uttering spells. Then stopped as the storm of paper ceased as quickly as it began, leaving colored folders, a spark notebook, and leaflets of paper arranged neatly before them.
"Now then," Blankman said, his crown gleaming in the light as he drew forth a ballpoint pen and clicked it open, "Let us review our various resources and assets and discuss the best way to integrate the formerly competing models into a unified, efficient whole."
X X X
Jackie closed the trunk, and stepped back. He looked to Tohru, who was tying an immense, him-sized backpack to the top of the cab.
The day had come quickly, despite everything. It was a beautiful San Francisco day, the sun was shining, the baking heat of summer was upon them, but a refreshing wind was taking the edge off. It was a halcyon kind of day, Jackie thought whimsically. He practically expected to spy local kids breaking a fire hydrant to indulge themselves.
The smile slipped as Tohru gave a nod.
It was time.
Walking to the shop door, Jackie stepped in, noting the closed sign in the window despite the hour.
Jade's luggage was already loaded. She simply wore a light blue backpack in addition to a dark blue hoodie, and denims that went down to her sneakers. The hood was up.
Left, Lee, was there, unarmed but still standing guard behind Jade to her left, arms crossed. The scarred Shadowkhan looked to Jackie, who gave a small nod. Jade patted his hand, and the Shadowkhan stepped into her shadow, sinking out of sight.
Jackie almost smiled at the sheer strangeness that he was actually a bit comforted at the mystic creature that would be accompanying Jade. Shadowkhan or not, he had saved Jade. The world too, for that matter, even if neither Uncle nor Captain Black wanted to say it out loud. That was good enough for Jackie to give a Shadowkhan a chance to be good, Jackie had decided.
"Cab is ready? Well, don't stand around — cabbies love to run up meter!" Uncle said, looking over some paperwork at the counter.
"You're not paying," Jade pointed out with a small smile.
"Hmph, apprentice is. It reflect on the sifu if his apprentice is not fiscally responsible. One more thing, niece should not miss flight! And one more thing, we have to jump through too many hoops to give Section 13 chance to change mind! And one more thing! …Uncle wishes you a good journey. Uncle must check inventory, something not add up. One more thing, do not wait for Uncle," the old wizard said, getting up.
"Goodbye, Uncle," Jade said softly. The wizard just raised a hand in acknowledgement as he stepped out of the shop floor.
Leaving Jade and Jackie alone.
"Cab's waiting," Jackie said to her. She nodded, but didn't move from the spot. Or say anything.
"You know that might be the very spot I first saw you? I assumed you didn't speak English, and was worried my Cantonese would leave a bad first impression."
"I was wondering why you and Uncle spoke English in your own shop," Jade answered, with what might have been the ghost of a smile.
"Well, we managed to make a memorable first impression on each other, didn't we?" Jackie chuckled, running a hand over the back of his head and closing his eyes for a moment.
He didn't hear her move, so her wrapping her arms around him was a surprise. Looking down at her, he smiled. She let him go to let him kneel to look her in the face.
"I'm sorry," she said, a tear flowing out from under her glasses.
"Enough apologies, Jade. It's time to move forward," Jackie said. He reached out and brushed her hood back, revealing her ponytailed hair. He stopped reaching for her shades, waiting until she nodded permission. Pulling them away revealed the red eyes and near transparent skin giving way to blue skin not hidden by the spy makeup. The makeup was too durable for the tears to mess it up.
He dried her eyes anyway, and put the glasses in her hand, closing her hands in his own.
"It's not goodbye forever," he reminded her.
"Still goodbye," Jade snapped, then cast her eyes down guiltily.
"Yes. I wish I could help you with this, Jade, but we both know you need something else right now," he assured her.
"I ruined everything! I had a great life here! Better than anything I could have dreamed of in Hong Kong. And I ruined it because I'm a greedy, stupid-!" She was crying again. She stopped when he put a finger to her lips.
"If there's anything, we forgave you from the start, Jade," he said simply.
"And Viper?" Jade wheezed. Jackie wasn't sure what to say to that.
"Viper… that is something the two of you will have to settle, I think. But I also think that forgiving yourself will be the hardest part, Jade. But ever since she showed up in my home without warning, Jade Chan has been surprising me. Probably shaving a decade off my life with all the scares. If anyone can come through this better than before, it's you."
He dried her eyes again, and let her put the glasses in place. He didn't urge her out the door; she went on her own, her darker-than-it-should-be shadow right behind her, and Jackie right behind it.
In moments, Jackie was closing Jade's door, and he looked to Tohru, who was about to climb in.
"I will call you as soon as we land in Sendai," he said.
Jackie answered, then he was in the cab, and it started down the street. He stayed there for at least ten minutes after it was out of sight.
X X X
Jackie found himself looking in Jade's room. She had not taken everything, of course. Aside from the furniture, a good bit of her stuff remained, as they had not been sure just what kind of traveling this trip would entail. But it was very tidy. Jade had gone the extra mile to not leave them any mess to deal with.
He should be more appreciative, he knew, closing the door.
Sighing, Jackie had to admit that he kept expecting to hear Jade up to something, or he caught himself thinking he should check on her. Heck, he kept expecting to hear Tohru's heavy footfalls.
This was only the first night with them gone, for crying out loud.
"Aiyah! Do not dust like that! One more thing-!" Uncle screamed downstairs.
"Well, at least it isn't too peaceful," Jackie said, going downstairs to see if he needed to rescue the part-timer.
Sure enough, Uncle was getting up in the face of the somewhat greasy-looking pale teen he had hired. The kid wore a t-shirt and loose jeans, and a pair of headphones, which looked like they had been jerked off the ears. He also did not look impressed at Uncle's rant. Jackie figured Uncle had only hired this one because he had agreed to whatever Uncle was willing to pay.
"Chill man, can't a guy multitask?" the naive part-timer asked.
"One more thing, you on Uncle time! Your only multitasking is more shop work! And one more thing, if cell phone rings again, you will get such a piece of Uncle!"
The teen made some noise Jackie could not quite identify before going back to dusting shelves.
"Aiyah, Uncle had forgotten scourge of teenagers. World is not ready for Jade to hit puberty if anything like that," Uncle said in Cantonese.
"I doubt she'll be anything typical when that happens," Jackie replied in the same.
"You know, it's pretty rude to talk in another language in front of a guy who doesn't speak it," the teen complained.
"One more thing, less eavesdropping, more cleaning!" Uncle snapped in English, before turning his attention back to Jackie.
"Nephew is troubled," Uncle commented.
"It's hard to believe she is gone. And I have a feeling that it's not just a summer. She may be back, but not like it was."
"Mmm, change only true constant, save perhaps struggle of good and evil, eh? But perhaps nephew should focus on bright side? You have never been pleased to be drawn into mystic adventures and ruckus. When Jade entered your life, the demons and perils came with her. Maybe with her gone, you will finally have the peace you want as your reward?" Uncle mused.
Their heads snapped over to see the part-timer standing still, holding his duster straight up, a small wolf statue broken on the floor.
"Uh, that fell off the shelf all of a sudden."
"Oh boy," Jackie sighed as he watched Uncle's rage visibly build up… only to sputter out as Uncle gasped, wide-eyed. Jackie saw it then too. Silver glowing smoke was rising from the broken statue. It swirled around the confused part-timer, who vanished in a flash, leaving a glowing silver wolf with vapors rising from its form standing in the shop. It spared them a glance, then barreled through the front door, nearly knocking it off its hinges.
The two Chinese men stood in the doorway, looking out into the night.
"Or maybe not," Uncle commented.
"What was that?" Jackie asked, stunned. Uncle smacked him over the head.
"Stop gawking. Chase smoke wolf that ate fired part-timer! Uncle must do research!" Uncle demanded, already heading for the back.
"The more things change, "Jackie grumbled, before running out into Chinatown in hot pursuit of he didn't know what.
Project Dark Jade has been proud to present:
"Queen of All Oni"
Now for a message from one of PDJs most awesome members, Zim'smostloyalservant who has from the early days been a reliable pillar for my PDJ stories and other fics on the site. Be sure to check out his own fics. Now, take it away ZMLS:
Well, here we are everyone. And as always upon reaching the conclusion of a story, I can't help but feel a mixture of joy at a job well done, and mild disappointment at something I've put so much time and energy into finally being done. I think that's especially true here - Queen of All Oni may not have been the first story I started working with Eduard on, but it is the first one I've been involved with from its start. Now, here we are, the better part of nine years of hard work later, and we're finally putting it to bed. And true, looking back, I can see there are things we might have done differently - maybe we were juggling too many plot threads for one story (never mind the ones setting up a future sequel), and maybe we did get a little too dark in the back half. But honestly? I love the end result of what we have here - a rich mythology and thrilling story that is one of (if not THE) most popular JCA fics of all time, which along with the rest of Project Dark Jade has helped revitalize a fandom that (on this site at least) was drying up to the point of practically being dead. I am proud to have been a part of that, and I thank all of you who have read, reviewed, followed and faved this epic adventure over the years.
Best wishes to you all. Hope to see you all in future stories.
-ZMLS signing off
Author's Note 2:
And that's a wrap, as I liked to say when serving customers burritos.
You know, I wish I could have given you all a nice, tidy ending like Joe England did for Zebra Girl, but I realized some time ago that wasn't in the cards. For too long, this story was meat to lead into other stories. To try and change it would have been changing the story midstream, or however you want. So while it may not be a proper finale, I do feel for this story this was the best end. And I hope, if somehow I never get to following this timeline again or this is where you get off, this was a satisfying conclusion to part ways over.
I never expected it would take this long, or the stuff to happen in my life during this project. There would be things I would probably do different if I had the story to start over, but I am proud of what was made here. I'd say my single biggest regret was triggering the trend for Jade's parents being abusive. I never intended Jade's Tarakudo-tainted memories being taken so seriously by the audience as it seemed to be. I guess I should have done more to show Big Red was putting his finger on the scale in her perception or something. Bad parents yes, but not terrible, was my intention.
But enough on that.
Queen of All Oni was the first Project Dark Jade story conceived. Nocturne came up with Queen of Shadows while we were working on this and what would become Shadow of the Titans. I recall him apologizing for throwing another idea into the pot when we had so much we were working on already. Queen of Shadows, despite my initial wariness, caught both our imaginations and was the first out onto the track. But Queen of All Oni still got out there, and now it has run its race to the finish.
Project Dark Jade was a fun idea we came up with to promote something we saw underused in the fandom, and it succeeded beyond our hopes. Even with Nocturne gone and many writers bowing out over the years, I feel we still fulfilled the motto of fanfiction by seeing people unleash their imaginations with the idea of Dark Jade.
Now, as for the sequel... well to be honest, that was always a vague plan. In the early days, it seemed too far off to plan too much, and in the time between there were other matters to attend. Including taking on QoS and full custody of ASotT. But there is a plan now.
Of course, if you are tired of this storyline and just want to end it here, by all means. Thank you for your patience and for reading this fic we at PDJ put together, we were proud to present it and hope you enjoyed it.
Anyone still there?
Okay, then. The sequels will not absolutely not be epic length. I have fulfilled any ambition I ever had on word count and chapter count on this site. The fics in this timeline I plan to make more manageable in size, likely some oneshots. After this epic length story has taken apart the status quo of the JCA world, I don't think we want or need such length again. The momentum has already unraveled the setting, now its to see where the threads land and what color they will be.
And many threads are flying. Such as Viper's quest to become human again, entwined with facing her demons from the trauma she has suffered. Jade and Tohru's adventures in Japan. El Toro being caught up in the supernatural side of his country. And of course, Jackie and Uncle likely have to deal with something too. Oh, and Blankman and his enigmatic ominous deal being something they will all have to worry about. Blankman's story doesn't really step into the light until resolution for Karasu's is first reached.
So the plan, as it is, would be that working on these smaller stories will be doable while carrying on the lengthier ones.
And to be clear, if I go "Poof" and vanish for more than a year, feel free to pick this idea up and take it somewhere if it catches your fancy. After all, that's why we write on this site, isn't it? Loving a story enough that when we reach the end, we want to ether keep going or see it in a different way, even if we have to do it ourselves, right?
Well, I guess there is nothing left to do but that thank you all again. Those who stayed with this story from the start, thank you. Those who picked it up as it progressed, thank you. Those who left only to come back now to see how that story you used to follow actually turned out, thank you. And to anyone who first clicks on this after it's been labeled "Complete", thank you.
Long days and pleasant nights to you all. May you find many good stories to read whether they're on a screen or on paper!
With Fond Regards,
Eduard W. Kassel