By Trackula and Co-written by Eduard Kassel
C01 - Soul of Darkness
"Another one bites the dust," Tarakudo muttered. He couldn't see whatever nonsense was going down on the Mortal plane, but anyone with an ounce of Chi to their name could feel the sheer explosion of energy swelling outwards, and then silence. Deep silence. Even if he concentrated, the King of all Oni could hardly sense even the barest flicker of Dark Chi left in the void. Just tiny pinpricks here and there, on a world flooding more and more with awful Light.
'Who could it have been,' he wondered idly, 'the dragons?'
Only they could have caused such sheer mayhem in such a short time and then burned out just as fast. It was the curse of their race, following every destructive whim until all that was left is ash. He could practically smell their particular stink of Dark Chi, even from here.
His eyes narrowed in thought; there was always possibility to be found in the fall of another. An enemy in this case. He would shed no tears for the fall of Dragons.
He expected it would be centuries, millennia even, for him to find his next opportunity to break free from this awful sealed state. But these were interesting times, events were speeding up. Even IT couldn't ignore such an imbalance in the world. With IT's aid, perhaps… now just to get an audience.
Turning his attention towards the silent void surrounding him, he shut his eyes and concentrated. His message was broadcast on all sides, riding the waves of Dark Chi he radiated.
"I have a solution," the message said. "We need to talk."
Time moved strangely here. The moment between events was blurred and twisted. Tarakudo couldn't be sure if it was seconds or hours later, but suddenly he felt an icy claw grip his essence, tight and unyielding, demanding attention. Focus. Even prepared as he was for this audience, he could not help but shudder in barely suppressed terror before such awful majesty. He only half-believed IT would even heed his message. No one in his long history, himself included had ever been able to contact IT directly. IT lived in the ebb and flow of causality itself, if "live" was the simplified word you could apply to an existence like this.
But here IT was now, great and terrible and focused on Tarakudo, perhaps for the first time in his comparatively short existence. It made the Oni King feel very small. A gnat in the palm of a giant.
"Thank you for giving me this opportunity," he started. Manners seemed the best course of action here.
Although apparently it was the wrong choice, as he was suddenly overwhelmed by a literal wave of impatience, nearly sending him spiraling deeper into the void than he already was. No pleasantries then, best to just dive right in.
"The girl, Jade Chan. She is the last unsealed force of Dark Chi in the world. I can feel it even now, a pearl of my own Chi resting quietly, wrapped tightly in her spirit. Buried away ever since my mark was torn from her."
This was apparently what it wanted to hear. The power keeping him at attention almost seemed to purr. Perfect, a better response than he dared hope.
"You safeguard the Balance of Darkness, you can rewrite events, push that darkness to its breaking point. All you need to do is release that Dark Chi, and I promise I can do the rest. The balance will be restored."
The chill became ice, IT's equivalent of narrowed eyes as he felt himself being regarded, considered. If found wanting, he would never have this opportunity ever again. He would be stuck here in this pit until someone put on his accursed mask, and who knew how long THAT would be?
After an untold time, the chill abated slightly. Tarakudo decided to optimistically consider that a smirk.
"So, do we have a deal?"
Tarakudo felt the attention a moment longer, and then suddenly it was gone. Vanished like a doused flame leaving hardly a memory. For a moment, he feared IT had ignored his offer, finding the scheme beneath its designs and leaving him to float helpless in this nameless sealed realm.
But before his fears had time to properly take hold, a window appeared right in front of him. A scene of a young Chinese girl, reclining with obvious boredom at her desk, a pencil perched on her bottom lip as she stared out the window. IT was letting him see into the outside, to know when it was time for him to make his move. A cruel fanged smirk spread across the Oni King's face.
Regarding young Jade, he almost felt bad for her, only great pain and rage would rouse her darkness at this point. But he dismissed such feelings, miracles always require a sacrifice. In time, she might even thank him.
Drew stumbled up the line of desks, grumbling bitterly. Saying decidedly not-appropriate words for his young thirteen-year-old mouth. Too low for Ms. Hartman to hear, of course. Dragging his soaked backback behind him. His shaved head for once not displaying his beloved yellow hat.
He slumped back into his desk, finally, running his fingers across his bare scalp and cursing its nakedness. A crow had literally snatched it off his head on the way to school. A crow of all things! Which had been before the car had splashed him from driving over an inexplicable puddle, and before his mom yelled at him for not waking up on time since his alarm had inexplicably not gone off, again.
To say he'd been having a ridiculously bad week was the grossest possible understatement. He had given up on analogies to describe it out of bitter resignation. Literally every day this week, every possible thing that could go wrong did. His alarm not waking him, his parents riding him for chores that weren't even his responsibility, he inexplicably forgot to bring homework he actually DID, even got a black eye from walking into a chair while searching the floor for his missing glasses.
Frankly, it'd be easier to list the things that went right; nothing.
He grumbled, trying not to think of his hat when rummaging through his wet backpack for his school work. Hartman would be asking for it soon, and he was already in her crosshairs from having to excuse his lack of homework twice already. Third time, and she'd probably call his parents. He did not what to deal with THAT on top of anything. They were already cross with him over his constant lateness.
Anymore trouble and he could sense grounding in his immediate future.
After a while of shifting through his bag, he froze, and then began rummaging faster, desperation building up. Finally, he took the bag and upended it on his desk, rifling through the exposed contents thereon.
Finally, the grim reality set it. Gone. He had forgotten his homework AGAIN. He knew he had put it away, did it TWICE just to be sure. But it wasn't here now. Did he break a mirror, step under a ladder, cross a black cat?! What had he done to somehow deserve THIS?!
Desperately, Drew looked over at Jade sitting across from him. The Chinese transplant was gazing sullenly out the window, her eyes half-lidded, and a distasteful frown tugging at her lips. She'd been in a really piss-poor mood for several days now, herself. Ignoring most of Drew's half-hearted barbs, sitting away from the others at lunch, hardly participating in class. Even Hartman had noticed this with visible concern.
"Nothing," Jade muttered for the thousandth time as she started out at the unchanging scenery beyond her classroom window. Willing it to be filled with lost talismans, magical beasts, demons, shadows given swords, magic…
Over three months ago, she'd stood at the center of a massive battle, watching two beings of unbelievable power battling for the very fate of the planet, every soul on earth at stake. An ancient immortal Demon Dragon powered by the Chinese Zodiac itself, and his son radiating with the dark power of every Demon Sorcerer she had personally had a hand in sealing away in the first place.
Her, originally just some lonely nobody from downtown Hong Kong, suddenly a key player in the impending Apocalypse. When the dust had settled, Captain Black even told her she had a future with Section 13. She knew this would be the case EVENTUALLY by virtue of meeting herself from the future, but who knew it would be so soon?
But then the dream ended.
In the months to follow, there were no missions, or races against the clock. No ancient evils of unspeakable horror crawling and clawing at the veil of reality. She had to thank Lovecraft for expanding her vocabulary regarding what used to be such everyday occurrences in her life.
Not even any treasure hunters or mercenaries, career criminals and evil organizations! Three months of nothing but preparing mung bean and garlic sandwiches for Uncle, of sweeping the shop with Tohru, or of watching Uncle Jackie write papers on ancient textiles. Of homework, and dry school days, and having no friends but a four hundred and ninety pound ex-criminal-turned-Chi Wizard.
One more friend than she'd ever had before, at the very least. At least that hadn't changed, she thanked her lucky stars.
There had been the possibility of Jimmy, for a time. But apparently bringing a boy to the future to help you defeat himself had the unfortunate side-effect of making any future relationship awkward. Who knew? Jimmy was even more sullen now than he'd ever been. Apparently finding out you grew up to become a megalomaniacal Chi Wizard thief was a lot to digest.
The icing on the cake had been when Jade was loitering around the mall last night and saw Chow working at the Sunglasses Emporium, looking as happy as she'd ever seen him. He'd even waved at her. The same thug who had betrayed her and Jackie, and once had nearly had her killed by a legion of shadow ninja.
Who knew where the other Enforcers even were? Probably doing something equally domestic. Perhaps not Hak Foo given his violent nature, but who could say at this point?
It was as if she was back in Hong Kong, skipping classes and trying to do anything to spice up her day-to-day. Her first day in America had been her every dream come true. Magic, monsters, intrigue, and Jackie, the most kick-ass relative on the planet!
She grumbled, and buried her head on her desk. Jackie was so busy with his work these days, the boring kind, that he couldn't even teach her new moves. His telling her he would get to it kept getting pushed further and further away and her already minimal patience was at its limit.
Uncle was even worse, taking her angst for slothfulness and giving her extra chores and assignments to fill her time. Of course, also refusing to teach her a single Chi Spell, and forbidding Tohru from doing the same.
That, on top of everything else, amounted to nothing. It was worse than ever before because now she knew what life could be like and she feared it might not be like that again. This saga in her life began with the Twelve Talismans, but now those were gone, sealed away in some Hell Dimension inside the dragon who stole them in the first place.
To Jade, this felt too much like the credits rolling after the lights came back on in the theater. The magic was gone.
"Jade! Jade!" she heard hissed from her right, interrupting her dour thoughts.
She turned towards the source, and wrinkled her nose when she matched eyes with it; Drew.
"Urgh," she groaned. The jerk wasn't wearing his awful yellow cap for once, making his head look weirdly big and round. If she weren't in such a foul mood, the image would have made her smirk.
"What do YOU want, Drew." She muttered, flopping her head down on its side, regarding her schoolyard antagonist with narrowed brown eyes.
Drew apparently chose to ignore the warning mood surrounding the Chinese girl, and pressed on in a rush. "Hey, lemme copy your homework."
Jade blinked at the audacious statement. Drew didn't like her, made that clear from the first day she started school here. Called her a liar on a number of occasions, and mocked her accounts of her adventures. As a result, she made it quite clear she didn't like Drew either. He was a little creep who loved cutting other people down for yucks. But now, here he was, not even asking to profit from her efforts. He was TELLING her to. Well she had one word to say to THAT nonsense.
"What?" Drew squawked his eyes widening, "Aw, c'mon, Jade I need this! This is a really big deal!"
She sat back up, and crossed her arms over her chest, her right eyebrow raised. "Wow, big deal, huh? Big deal like; China might be destroyed by dragons? Evil wizard is gonna harness the Zodiac? Oni are gonna spread eternal darkness over the planet? These are what I consider big deals."
She leaned forward, "So forgive me if I don't see how you ripping off MY homework counts as a 'Big Deal', Drew. Get some perspective."
Drew's eyes narrowed, spitting his next words out through gritted teeth, "Well, this is a 'Big Deal' to ME!"
Jade rolled her eyes which only elevated Drew's anger, "Maybe. MAYBE if you'd actually said 'please', I'd have let you copy my work. But you didn't, you had to be all… 'Drew' about it, so you're out of luck."
Punctuating her point, she leaned back, resuming her vigil out the window. "I got more important things to worry about that you trying to copy my homework, when you should have just done it yourself, Genius."
Incensed, Drew opened his mouth to tell her exactly what he thought of her 'more important things', but a sudden voice made his heart skip.
"What's this I hear about you copying homework, Mr. Jacoby?" Ms. Hartman asked, her face neutral and focused.
Two weeks, that's how long his parents decided to give him the full grounding treatment.
Drew was used to it for the most part. He was a bit of a troublemaker, admittedly. Nothing wrong with causing a hassle from time to time, and getting people all riled up was fun. But he did it knowing this was a possibility, and reluctantly accepted the outcome when it caught up with him. That wasn't why he was so mad though, why he raged deep inside like a spark burning though the walls of his stomach.
This time, it wasn't even his fault! He was literally innocent, had DONE his stupid homework, but somehow beyond his ability to comprehend, the stupid papers escaped his backpack. What deity had he pissed off to deserve this sort of karmic backlash? That was why he was so mad, but the sheer rage on top of it was another matter entirely.
Jade. Freaking. Chan.
That awful SMIRK she thought she was hiding while facing away towards the window like he couldn't see it! She thought she was so special, always bragging and trying to hog the spotlight. Uncle Jackie this, and Uncle Jackie that, over and over like a broken record. It was bad enough when Drew was sure she was a habitual liar looking for attention. Back then it was just funny in a pathetic sort of way. Lots of material there to screw with the new weirdo.
But then it turned out it was all TRUE, there WAS magic in the world, and ninja, and evil organizations, and that brat was somehow at the center of it. She basically LIVED every videogame Drew owned! It drove him crazy, suddenly all his potshots at her rang hollow on his ears. How do you really cut down someone who literally dealt with gods and demons every other week?
But he needed to cut her down. That smirk, that attitude, on top of this week of absolute misery. He couldn't get back at his own bad luck, but he could get back at HER for sure. That would be even better, finally give that girl the 'perspective' she mentioned before. She was no different from every other kid in school, nothing special. In the right place and the right time, maybe, but that was all. He'd show her and everyone else how, at the end of the day, she was just another stupid kid riding her uncle's coattails.
He already knew how, an idea he'd gotten from his dad commenting on some trashy magazine article. It was surprisingly easy to bring someone haughty down, apparently. Almost too easy, it was mindboggling. He fingered his cellphone, eyes narrowing.
Ancient eyes focused on the unfolding events beyond his window into the world. It was overwhelming, the scope and complexity of the work. Best of all, he was privileged to be allowed front row seats to such a show.
Lord Tarakudo had seen curses and hexs designed to alter and shape events before. They were detailed and dangerous spells, anything could go wrong and more often than not, did. Usually they were designed to lead the focus to some degree of ruin. He avoided that magic outright, himself. The risk was always far too high, and the karmic backlash from such enchantments, even successfully accomplished, was simply not worth the effort.
But this was on a whole different level entirely.
There were no clumsy forced obstacles designed to divert and redirect a person's actions. This was a complex webwork of causal events, small and seemingly insignificant. By themselves they would have meant nothing, but the way one event seamlessly lead into the next was almost beautiful in Tarakudo's eyes. Beautiful and terrible. Watching the young man's thoughts perfectly sculpted to serve IT's designs with no apparent margin for error.
Not just this "Drew" but little Jade as well. Two lives simultaneously being played with from the Darkness. This was the battlefield IT and its Light counterpart apparently fought in since the very nascent of reality. A being such as he could never compete on their scale.
He watched Drew clumsily sneak into the Chan shop, full of cheap antiquity and he remembered, smelling overpoweringly of garlic. Uncle was facing away from the stairs, dusting some vase just as Drew tiptoed past. One more subtle manipulation among many. Anyone who could have placed the boy in this location had been looking away or distracted throughout the entire journey. The soft touch of IT, ensuring success.
It frightened Tarakudo that even with his well trained eyes, he could just barely perceive the light touch of IT's direct intervention. Worst of all, he knew there was much he couldn't see, that he was missing. Even with eyes trained by centuries of sorcery and magical combat.
He shook away such ponderings as he observed the play and the performers therein. The progression of these thoughts had led lesser men to madness.
Free will may have been an illusion but it was a comforting one, and he was sticking to it.
"Jaaade! Do not use all the hot water! Uncle is tired of freeeeezing in the shower! Uncle is not fish to be put on ice!"
"I already told you! Tohru is the one who hogs the hot water!" she shouted back down in annoyance as she stepped into the bathroom and shut the door.
'He's the size of a bull elephant, of course he hogs the water…' she mused, turning on the hot water, and disrobing. The events of school replaying in her thoughts.
Drew being so insufferable was nothing unexpected; it seemed that the stars needed to be aligned for her to go a school day without having to deal with his crap.
Though admittedly he'd seemed rather off this whole week. Disheveled and twitchy, she caught him tripping or getting his cafeteria food knocked onto his clothes several times in the last few days. Which was… admittedly somewhat odd and could account for his behavior that morning.
But that didn't excuse him imposing himself on her like that, especially when she herself had been having a hell of a time adjusting to bitter civilian life. She hadn't even been to Section 13 in weeks. Black was renovating certain areas after the recent chaos, and had no work that Jackie could really lend his talents to.
Magical or artifact-focused missions were the exception to such an organization, not the norm, Jade had to remind herself. Before she'd come to the States, Black hadn't even believed in such things.
She let out a sigh and felt the stream. Satisfied with the heat, she stepped into the water and reached for the shampoo. She paused, enjoying the warmth running over her, alleviating her tension ever so slightly.
But, she admitted to herself, perhaps she'd stepped out too far as well where Drew was concerned. Yeah he was a jerk and liked pissing her off for some reason she could never figure out. But she'd been pretty needlessly callous in return, holding her achievements over his head like that and making light of his own troubles.
If she had to do it over again, well, she still wouldn't have given her homework over. He didn't say please. Even if she'd been in a good mood, that'd have put her off regardless. But she wouldn't have rubbed salt in like she did. It didn't make anything any better. In the long run, it probably just made things WORSE.
She'd seen the hurt look on his face in the glass' reflection when she smirked at Hartman catching him in the act. It killed any feeling of triumph she may have felt at the time. She just wasn't a girl wired for sadism.
Steadily lathering her hair, she resolved that whatever happens, she'd apologize to Drew the first time she saw him tomorrow.
Jade stepped through the halls of the school, pulling her backpack tighter to her back by the straps, her eyes traveling from face to face in the hallway. A strange cold sensation running down her back since the moment she had entered the school that morning.
Apparently in the time between yesterday and today she had gotten really popular. Her light brown eyes scanned the crowd in the hall, all attention squarely on her small form. It was starting to make her more than a little uncomfortable.
She saw Simone walking her way but the moment she looked up and saw Jade waving towards her, her face turned a dark red and she quickly turned and ran the other way, hiding her blush with her hands. Jade, now passing from uncomfortable all the way to upset, called after her to no avail. It only seemed to spur the Iranian girl faster in the opposite direction until she disappeared around the corner.
Jimmy was no better, he saw her as he was stepping out of the men's room, looking troubled as he gnawed at his lower lip. But when she'd said hi, he'd apparently gotten shocked enough that he'd bit down hard enough to split said lip open, and he rushed back into where Jade dared not follow before she could get so much as a word in edgewise.
Now genuinely beginning to feel some degree of fear, Jade ran to the lady's room and began looking herself over from every angle in one of the mirrors. Raising her bangs to get a clear look at her face, checking her clothes all over, anything she could think of. Even using a small compact mirror she kept on her person in case of laser grids or some such in order to properly inspect the back of her head.
No matter where she looked, she seemed her normal boring self. Hair she couldn't keep from spiking up, big brown eyes, embarrassingly pouty lips, everything was where she it should be. At least in her perception… Now that the mirror had confirmed everything was okay, perhaps some glamour had been cast on her. Made people see her with horns or scales, or creepy melting horror-movie eyes.
"How do I even test that…" she muttered. Then crouched down and began checking underneath all the stalls.
She noticed a pair of scuffed running shoes crouched in the far corner of the furthest stall, angled in such a way that whoever it was couldn't have been on the toilet.
Jade easily hoped up, and hauled her little body halfway over the stall door, and looked down at the girl who was clearly avoiding her. The maneuver elicited a panicked squeak from the girl in question. She had frizzy red hair, and thick cokebottle glasses. Jade didn't recognize her, but the girl clearly recognized Jade from the way her freckled face suddenly went even redder.
"Hey, do I look normal to you?" Jade asked impatiently, well past the point of caring about pleasantries.
"W-what?!" the girl stuttered.
Jade hauled herself over the side and landed lightly in front of her. Arms crossed, and eyes narrowed.
"Do. I. Look. Normal?" she repeated, enunciating every word. "No third eye, horns, scales, froggy bits, ANYHTHING?"
"N-n-n-no…" the girl answered, hardly above a whisper, eyes downcast to the cheap tiles.
Gritting her teeth, Jade leaned forward and asked, "Then why are you and everyone else treating me like I caught smallpox?"
"Becau- well- I mean- IGOTTAGONOWSORRY," the girl rushed, shoving past Jade and running out the door. Jade could hear classmates on the other side shouting in annoyance about being knocked over.
"It's not magic then, maybe." Jade frowned, at a loss towards what could possibly have caused her disturbing attention. Jade wasn't a shy girl, not by a long shot, but this was something else. There was something very wrong and she was the focus of it.
With uncharacteristic apprehension, she placed her hand on the lady's room door and made her way back out into the hallway, prepared to see all eyes focused on her again.
What she didn't expect though was to suddenly find Drew on the other side. His hands in his pockets, smirking at her as she stepped away from the door. With everything that had happened that morning, she had nearly forgotten she had resolved to apologize to him for yesterday's argument.
She wasn't nearly in the state of mind to have that conversation, but she'd made a promise with herself and didn't intend to break it. Even if he did look weirdly smug today, oddly enough. She took a deep breath and cleared her throat to say her piece, but Drew cut her off.
"Were in there for awhile, Jade. Hope you didn't hog the hot water again."
Jade opened her mouth to retort, but then stopped and frowned. His strange jab echoing in her mind. "W-what? What did you just say?"
Drew shrugged coyly and started walking away. "Nuthin'. Have a nice day, Ninja-girl."
Still thrown by his unusual barb, Jade's apology died on her lips and she leaned against the nearest locker. She tried her hardest to place those words, feeling the answer just on the edge of her consciousness. But then she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.
Ms. Hartman was marching towards her, some sort of document on top of a binder held under her right arm. Her lips were pulled into a tight frown and her eyes zeroed in on Jade with clear purpose.
Jade looked up at her nervously, Hartman was a strict teacher on the best of days, but she didn't look this serious even when she was turned into a gargoyle from absorbing Hsi Wu's Chi. She swallowed and put her hands in her pockets, expecting to be chastised for something or other.
Instead, Hartman leaned down and put her hand on Jade's shoulder to look her in the eye. "Jade, did you know about this?"
Ms. Hartman looked over to several printed slips of paper face down on the binder under her arm.
Jade looked at the papers, remembering some of the laughing kids from earlier holding folded up sheets of paper. But this was school; she hadn't given it much thought. Now though…
"What is that?" she asked, eyes narrowing accusingly at the sheets.
Hartman's lips pressed into a tight line and she stood up, Jade catching a look in her eyes she couldn't immediately recognize, making her whole body tense on edge. It looked sort of like compassion, or more accurately, pity.
"They're nothing, Jade, don't worry," she said softly, beginning to walk away and gesturing for her to follow. "But, I need you to come with me to the office. We need to discuss-"
Her words were suddenly cut off when Jade moved with agility well beyond normal for a girl her age, easily twisting to Ms. Hartman's guarded side and snatching the pages from beside her binder. She ignored her teacher's calls as she turned them face up.
Time stood still.
They were printed out jpeg images. Each page displaying the same photo clearly. It was the Chan residence upstairs bathroom. And in it, Jade stepping out of the shower. Completely naked and uncovered. Everything clearly visible in detail.
The sensation in her fingers went numb, losing all strength as the pages slipped through her dead fingers to the linoleum floor. She realized she had forgotten to breathe, and could vaguely hear words in the periphery of her senses, feel Hartman's hand on her shoulder.
"Hope you didn't hog the hot water again." Repeated in her mind.
Then the world blurred, lockers flying past her a frightful speed, the sensation of her nails digging red divots into the flesh of her palm, and Drew's retreating back becoming closer and closer. Until he turned towards the sound rapidly approaching him.
As he turned, a small fist collided with his right cheek, the skin folding around the knuckles in slow motion before his body rocketed backwards, slamming hard into the far locker, bouncing off and hitting the floor in a daze.
Jade rushed forward, intent on repeating the action until the boy before her was gone from her sight. Gone from her life forever. Sweat poured down her brow and soaked the back of her neck, her pulse beating stronger and stronger making her temples throb, her jaw awfully sore as her molars crushed against one another.
Before she could continue, a strong arm wrapped around her and pulled her backwards, separating her from Drew who dizzily tried to stand, blood trickling down the corner of his swelling cheek.
"Jade, stop this immediately, you need to stop!" implored, holding her as tightly as she could as Jade thrashed in her arms, trying to reach the boy still on the ground.
Jade's stomach turned, bile reaching up into her throat as the world seemed to twist in her eyes, shifting like wet paint. The pulsing in her became unbearable, a gross rapid swelling and contracting deep inside her. Like an egg about to burst.
"HE DID IT!" she shrieked, fighting the growing sickness, "WHY?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME?!"
"She's CRAZY," Drew shouted back, his voice clumsy around his bloated cheek, "Just look at her! I didn't do nothin' to her!"
The pulsing was beginning to reach its crescendo, building beyond what she felt she could contain, the noise and sensation, sickly and wrong, blocking out all else. Hartman, worrying the poor girl was beginning to have some sort of fit, relaxed her grip.
Shutting out the world around her, Jade stumbled out of Hartman's arms, falling to her knees. Her hands were clutching her chest, wheezing for breath that wouldn't come.
"It'll be alright Jade," Hartman tried to insist, kneeling beside her, her face pale as death as she looked at her young student's state. "It'll be-"
Then the pulsing within her burst.
It came as a wave, a swelling sphere of force spreading out from the young girl, originating from her center. A boom droned out, sucking the air from the space around them and exploding outwards, the heavy bass nearly blowing out their eardrums.
The blast caught Drew and Ms. Hartman full in the chest, raising them off their feet and into the lockers on either side of the hallway, the wind and force stinging their faces and filling their ears with rough whistling. All the lockers around them deformed inwardly from the impact of the blast with a hollow metallic crunch. The sheer force caused the crumpled steel to continue shaking and vibrating against one another filling the room with an ongoing metal twang.
The linoleum burned and blackened, sizzling steadily beneath Jade's feet, filling the air with a noxious smell of melting plastic. The fluorescent lights above them hissed and exploded within the ceiling one after another, until the hall was covered in shadow only broken by the nearby windows shattered open from the blast.
Ms. Hartman could hardly breathe. The shock to her torso and back having taken all the wind out of her. The back of her head, just above her bun felt warm and wet, a feeling traveling down the back of her neck and down her blouse. Her face and hands were tender and sore as if singed worse than any sunburn she could remember. But her self-assessment was distracted by heavy breathing and choking in front of her.
While toxic fumes from the melted floor and crackling paint was making it hard to think, Ms. Hartman forced herself to look up and see the dark heart of this chaos that swallowed her into its world.
In the middle of this maelstrom, Jade clutched her ears as a growing shriek seemed to fill her consciousness oblivious to all the noise and smells besides, nothing mattered but blocking that awful shrieking. But it was to no avail. She wasn't able to stop a noise originating inside her own mind.
She could feel a coldness spreading deep inside, with her heart as the focal point and reaching outwards. It felt like something made of ice eating her away cell by cell and leaving something new and alien in their place. Everything that was her being twisted and absorbed by this force clawing frantically towards the surface. She could feel her thoughts becoming lost to a void of darkness and pain until she couldn't even remember her name.
From the outside, fighting to maintain her consciousness, Ms. Hartman could see something like blue dye beginning to spread up Jade's face and down to her fingertips, crackling like frost over glass. Jade's pink skin was being consumed by this blue and being replaced by something unnaturally smooth and poreless. Her nails darkened along with it until they were a glass-like and dark purple, nearly black.
She cried out and choked wetly on every shuddered breath, Jade's breathing becoming more rapid and frantic as the changes took hold. The noise from deep in her throat sounded sickly and torn. As with the invading blue, every noise from her throat seemed to become more blurred and distorted, as if in stereo. Two similar voices gagging and choking in disturbed unison from a single throat.
She could see the teeth in Jade's mouth following suit, lengthening and sharpening unnaturally into a zipper-like uniformity of triangular knives.
Her student's eyes began to look sickeningly bloodshot to Ms. Hartman. But then she saw the inflamed veins seemed to thicken and spread like gnarled branches. Attacking her light brown irises from all sides, crawling past the color in a path of conquest all the way to Jade's pupils. The blood branched and consumed until solid red spheres were all that was left. With a strange pulsing thrum, the red eyes filled from within with an unnatural inner light, two bloody beacons filling the shadowy hall.
Finally, as a crown to this grim alteration, Jade's hair seemed to rise up and spike even more than was normal for the wild-headed girl, becoming fierce and jagged purple-black locks casting shadows on her luminescent new eyes.
When all was finished, Jade collapsed hard to her knees, wheezing and coughing. A strange silence filled the space around them in conflict with the previous activity. Solid red eyes looked over at Drew, completely forgotten at her front. He looked dead to the world, hurt and dazed by the impact. Turning, Jade's new eyes met her teacher's for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
Ms. Hartman tried to speak, say anything at all. But the sheer shock of the spectacle and pain of having taken the blast from such close proximity made any words seem to stop dead in her throat.
Also, there was something else. As horrific as this event was, something about it was so upsettingly familiar. Memories of wings, and talons, poorly repressed as some fevered delusion coming to the forefront of her mind.
Jade's expression was unreadable, blank and confused like a newborn. She looked down at her hands like she'd never seen them before. Her fingers curling to feel the skin of her palms, before standing shakily back up. Her eyebrows knitted together.
She looked over and noticed Ms. Hartman's hand attempting to lift up as she summoned the strength to reach her. Jade paused and then seemed to be fighting a similar urge to reach back. But both were suddenly distracted by multiple heavy footfalls rushing to their location.
Jade glared wrathful daggers at the approaching faculty, and launched herself through one of the shattered nearby windows with inhuman strength and speed. Once through she ran. Her footfalls were completely silent and disappeared from Ms. Hartman's awareness in an instant.
And with that, Jade was gone.
"Helloooo, Uncle's Rare Antiques!" Uncle declared in his shrill accented voice, not minding the inappropriate volume he used in his greetings.
Uncle frowned deeper than was usual for the old curmudgeon as he listened to the voice on the other end. The school never called with good news for the family, his grandniece was a wild-hearted girl and he knew from ages of experience what sort of conflict that could bring.
But the urgency in the principal's voice was different, not giving any detail. Just telling her guardians to come in immediately. He turned a glare towards Jackie and waved him over from where he silently read the paper at the kitchen table.
His nephew frowned, but obediently stood and came over, holding his question for until Uncle finished with his call. He already had a grim sneaking suspicion as to what the nature of this call was already. They were due for a Jade-call after all, so this was no great surprise.
Uncle hung up the phone, and gave Jackie a concerned glare through his pince-nez glasses. "Jackie! Jade's school called, they need you to go in urgently!"
"Alright," Jackie sighed, ready for another exasperating meeting with Jade's teachers. Before he could take a step towards the door,Uncle grabbed him by the arm.
"One more thing! Uncle is coming with you!" Uncle stated, letting go and putting his hands on his hips.
"What? Why?" Jackie asked, thrown off, the old man hardly got involved with the day to day minutia of Jade's scholarly exploits.
"The phone call sounded straaaange to Uncle, they wouldn't say what went wrong, just to come in! Uncle's not sure how schools work these days, but didn't like the sound of that," he declared with finality. Jackie knew better than to dispute him when he had this tone.
"Fine," Jackie grumbled, not looking forward to seeing how Uncle's abrasive attitude would go over with Jade's teachers. He'd have to be a mediator on top of everything as usual where his Uncle was concerned.
He walked to the door expecting Uncle to follow, but the old man grabbed his wrist again halting his progress for the third time.
"One more thing! TOHRU!" he shouted into the back room, "Watch shop until Uncle gets back from Jade's school!"
With that, the old man turned and dragged Jackie outside by the wrist.
A few seconds after the door shut, Tohru's mammoth head stuck out from the edge of the backroom door, "What was that, Sene- ARGH!"
Tohru stumbled back clutching his head at a horrific vibrating chill snaked through his body, arching through his spine like bolts of lightning all the way to his extremities. Tripping over his ankles as he fell back, his giant body collided hard with the floor. The impact of his sheer girth landing shook the downstairs foundation, toppling display stands. He could hear the sound of ancient china and other fragile antiquities shattering against the floor. However, even as he feared Uncle's wrath over the destruction of his priceless wares, it was the furthest thing from his mind.
'The willies', he realized with dawning horror as he lay on the hardwood floor of the shop. The telltale sensation associated with a very particular branch of Dark Chi; The Oni. He hadn't felt the unpleasant tingle since their lord and master, Tarakudo, had been sealed away in the final mask. He had contented himself with the knowledge that he'd never feel such a thing or face the vicious demons it heralded ever again.
Bitterly, he realized he should have known better by now. Worst of all; the sensation had never been THIS powerful. Not even for Tarakudo himself.
The newly realized Chi Wizard stumbled to his feet. Praying his master was still within earshot of wherever he had disappeared to; yanking the front door so hard it tore off its hinges as he stuck his head through. He frantically looked left and right for any sign of the old wizard, or Jackie.
He bit back a curse; they were already out of sight.
Jackie always hated visits to the principal's office. Miss Hartman preferred to not delegate matters so it only went to her superior when it had too. In other words it meant a Jade call among Jade calls.
The maintenance van parked in front of the school seemed like a bad sign though he hoped it was unrelated. The two African American parents sitting looking quietly angry was not unexpected. He recognized Drew more from Jades many ranting complaints about the boy than the few encounters they'd shared.
What was not expected was the boy's bruised face. Or Hartman slumping in a chair to the side with bandages wrapped around her head and one of her glasses lenses visibly cracked. She looked sunburned and dazed. He felt a need to brace himself in case the woman slid out of the armless chair.
Seeing the steadfast teacher that had once knocked Drago himself into the ocean so out of sorts he expected to be the greatest of alarm bells.
Then that bell was drowned out by a realization. Jade, was not in the room.
"Mr. Chan and Mr. Chan please have a seat. I imagine you are wondering why I called you here?" the middle-aged balding Hispanic man said. Jackie would rather the man tell him straight away what happened, but he took the offered seat putting himself next to Mr. Jacoby while Uncle took the remaining seat near Miss Hartman.
"Where is Jade?" Uncle interrupted, voicing Jackie's own concerns. "Uncle and Nephew are here for Grandniece but she's nowhere in sight!"
"Uncle, please," Jackie sighed, but turned a questioning frown towards the school administrator. "Though I am wondering that myself."
The principal just frowned, thumbing at his collar as visible perspiration seemed to dot his temples.
"I'm afraid the circumstances of this meeting are rather… complicated," the principal began nervously. Several documents face down on his desk that he kept shooting nervous glances towards. "Simply put… there was an incident this morning, involving your niece, Jade Chan, and Mr. Drew Jacoby here. We're-"
"Your girl punched my son so hard, they found him sprawled out in the hallway," Mr. Jacoby growled out, his hand firmly on Drew's shoulder, his wife nodding beside him. Drew looked away towards the corner of the room.
"Boy can see straight yes?" Uncle scoffed, placing his hands on his hips and eyeing Drew unimpressed. "Then Uncle does not see problem! Children fight, your boy should worry more about not doing whatever got him punched out again!"
"WHAT did you say, you-" Drew's mom began, but Jackie quickly got between them, trying to defuse the conflict.
"I'm sorry, my uncle, he's from another time. Please do not be offended," he tried to pacify. Both Jacoby parents looked at one another and frowned, but their attention was refocused when the principal cleared his throat.
"I understand emotions are running high, here. But this isn't simply a disciplinary matter," he started, trying to take control of the room again. "Apparently a… photo has been… circulating among the student body. We believe the incident is tied to this."
Jackie leaned back, raising his eyebrow critically, "What sort of photo do you mean?"
"W-well…" the Principal, slowly, with a slightly shaking hand eased one of the pages off the pile towards the two Chans.
Uncle in his impatience snatched the page from the Principal's hand and flipping it over.
The air seemed to be sucked from the room as Jackie and Uncle recognized the image displayed. Neither Chans noticed the Jacoby's show the good taste to look away. Drew was still silent besides them, focused on the floor.
After the bald faced shock and dawning horror began to wane, Uncle silently snatched the other pages from the principal's desk and began shredding them to confetti between his aged hands. Jackie slumped boneless in his seat, staring forward.
Jackie was a calm and even-tempered man at heart. Hardly ever prone to a cruel word or mean thought about anyone, even despite his rather violent life. But as a result, he struggled, lacking any coping mechanisms for the boiling and building rage growing within him. His fists gripping tighter in his lap until his knuckles were bone white. Who would do that to his niece? Jade was a good sweet girl at heart, full of boundless energy and strength, if dangerously reckless. But who ever had done this would have wanted to hurt her, deeply, permanently. Jackie couldn't imagine who would do such a thing, but if and when he found out…
Drew briefly glanced at Jackie Chan's clenched fist and lost all color in his face, detailed tales of his abilities replaying through his thoughts.
Jackie stood and walked directly up to the desk looking down at where the Principal began to sink in his seat, Uncle contemptuously dropping the new confetti into the waste paper basket.
"Where is my niece," he asked, each word enunciated clearly, his piercing gaze focused down on the administrator. He didn't have time to waste on this pointless meeting, his charge must have been feeling such hurt and violation from this utter catastrophe. He needed to be with HER. NOW.
Knowing better than to waste anymore time, the Principal swallowed again and muttered breaking eye contact, "We… don't know."
Suddenly Jackie's fist struck the desk, a visible crack forming in the polished wood, making the principal and everyone else but Uncle jump. Every one of Drew's fears and Jade's tales confirmed themselves with that single action.
"She was last seen running from the school!" the principal started, holding his hands up reflexively in defense. "The faculty and local police are already out looking for her, we should find your niece soon!"
Gritting his teeth, Jackie turned and stumbled back to his seat, choking on his own impotent rage as he sagged back into his chair. He covered his face into his hands as he went over these awful facts, beginning to weight him down.
Uncle used this opportunity to lean forward and look the principal in the eyes. "Uncle does not understand what disgusting picture and runaway niece have to do with boy and teacher looking beaten and sunbuuurned!"
Jackie blinked and looked over at Uncle realizing he'd forgotten all about that detail in the face of the photo, marveling at the way the old man was able to keep a clear head in spite of this tragedy.
The Principal frowned, this time less in shame but a prevailing sense of frustrated confusion. "That, we're still having looked at. It seems like some sort of… wiring or gas leak triggered a blast in one of the west hallways. The whole area is a wreck, it's a miracle this is the extent of the damage as is-"
"No," Ms. Hartman spoke up for the first time, her voice dry and cracked, immediately getting the attention of the entire room. Her eyes were dazed and unfocussed and Jackie worried she may have had a concussion.
"Jade was… so angry, I'd never seen her like that before…" she mumbled, slumping forward clutching the sides of her aching head, trying to recall through a haze of pain, confusion and twisted memories. Jackie placed a hand on her shoulder, concerned for the educator's worn condition.
"She… blamed Drew for the photos, hit him and-"
"My son would never do something like that-" Drew's father began to loudly protest before two of Uncle's fingers smacked him in the temple.
"Let teacher speak!" he warned, silencing the man who winched and rubbed his head, surprised and upset by the surprisingly quick strike.
"She… got sick," Hartman muttered, struggling to put words to the impossible events. "Gagging and choking, clutching her chest! Then there was some sort of… explosion from her."
"An explosion?" Jackie asked, brow furrowed, trying and failing to understand the teacher's confused words.
"I'm sorry," the principal began. "I wanted to send Ms. Hartman to the hospital, but she insisted on being here for this meeting, she's normally-"
Uncle's smacked the Principal silent in exasperation. "Everyone needs to let teacher speak! Veeery important!"
Hartman frowned at the loud shrill old man, but continued on, feeling more confident in having her words being treated with the necessary value. "She… changed after the blast. It was just horrible. Blue skin, awful red eyes… then she ran! Just flew through the window and disappeared… I… I think I did that too, once…"
Uncle and Jackie exchanged a look and stood. A cold chill of recognition settling in both of them. Blue skin and red eyes, the way she had seemed back when they were trying to outrun the Demon Sorcerers, when Jade had been cursed by the Mark of Tarakudo. Taking on the identity of Queen of all Shadowkhan, she'd been as dangerous as any other foe they'd faced in that state, violent and erratic.
But what could have triggered it now? The mark was gone, the book destroyed, and the monstrous Oni were all sealed away in Section 13's vault.
Uncle didn't need to tell Jackie he had come to the same conclusion, before looking at the principal. Looking worried he'd receive another smack from the crazy old Chinese man.
"Tell Uncle where this hallway is!" he demanded.
"G-go out into the hallway and head left, you c-can't miss it. But-"
Uncle nodded to Jackie and both began to head out towards the hall, but Jackie noticed Uncle stop and look down at Drew, his eyes narrowed.
Drew looked startled when Uncle walked up to him with a purpose and yanked his head up to look at the old man's long craggy face. His parents looked about to push Uncle away from their boy, but a look from Uncle stopped them in their tracks.
"Uncle has seen true evil, looked it in the eye, spit in its face! So sit and be silent, your words are just the bleating of goats in Uncle's ears!" He looked back at Drew, terrified in his grip. "Look Uncle in the eyes, boy."
Scared of the horrible old man, but too scared to disobey, Drew found himself looking into the pair of cold brown eyes. They seemed to pierce right into his brain.
"Did you take the pictures of Uncle's niece?" he asked, soft and stern.
Terrified of what may have happen if he told someone who scared his parents so the truth, Drew couldn't help himself but lie right to the old man's face. "N-no, it wasn't me…"
Uncle searched Drew's eyes for a minute, Jackie beginning to consider separating them himself but finding himself rooted down by the thought; 'What if he really did it?'
Finally stepping away, Uncle glared down at Drew, "It was you."
Looking back at his parents, Uncle crossed his arms and stated, "There is darkness in the boy, Uncle recommends you take him home and caaane it out of him before it settles!"
Without waiting for the flabbergasted parents' response, Uncle marched out of the office, dragging Jackie by the shoulder.
'He was right,' Jackie mused, covering his nose to try to block the awful acerbic stink surrounding them. 'There was no way we could have missed THIS.'
Thankfully it was midday so the light through the shattered windows let them see most of the details of the devastation in the place of the destroyed fluorescents.
The area before them was a wreck, every locker on either side of the hall was crushed and deformed, and some indistinguishably crumpled into one another. A blackened circle spreading out from the center of the hall to almost either side was clearly the epicenter of this strange blast. The explosion seemed to have melted all the way down to the concrete; the linoleum surrounding the circle was bubbled and blistered. Even the paint on the wall was crinkled away almost to nothing.
Uncle and Jackie were stopped by a few maintenance workers trying to keep them away from the destroyed area. But Uncle shoved them off and sent them running, having no respect whatsoever for their expertise in this matter. All Jackie could do was shout a weak "Sorry!" after the poor workers.
"Feh, when plumbing is bad you call plumber, when electricity problem you call electrician, when Dark Chi is at work, you call Unclllle!" he declared in annoyance at the obstruction, cursing the Age of Reason not for the first time that day.
"Do you really think Jade could have done something like THIS?" Jackie asked, marveling at the gruesomeness of the scene. "I can hardly believe she could have become-"
Jackie felt the familiar sting of Uncle's smack, as the old man's shrewd eyes looked over the devastation. "Uncle must concentrate, nephew! Be quiet!"
With practiced ease, Uncle reached into his vest and drew out his petrified lizard, then began mumbling an old chant under his breath as he waved it side to side.
As Jackie watched his Uncle work, he thought to himself how he never really understood what decided whether or not Uncle used the blowfish over the lizard, or vice versa. It seemed random, in his eyes, but he wasn't any sort of Chi Wizard. When he'd asked once, the answer he got was curt and largely nonsensical. All he knew was that Uncle's brand of Light Chi wizards always used a magical catalyst made from something from the natural world.
The lizard glowed faintly, but from Uncle's expression he wasn't satisfied by whatever 'readings' it was giving him. He reached down and touched his index finger into the black soot at the center of the circle, then brought it up to his nose for a sniff. Finally, much to Jackie's utter surprise and disgust licked the soot up in thought.
His eyes bugged in his socket, and he pointed at Jackie, "ONI! This is the Dark Chi of Ooooni!"
Jackie's eyes narrowed, crossing his arms in confusion and concern. He'd been afraid of this outcome, but as inevitable as it seemed, it still threw him off guard. "But… HOW? She wouldn't have… couldn't have put the mark on herself again. The book was destroyed, and… she'd know better, right?"
As reckless as Jade was, she certainly wasn't reckless enough to apply the Mark of Tarakudo a second time after the disaster of the first.
"No, this has a different feeling from then," Uncle frowned, stroking his wrinkled chin. "The dark energy here wasn't applied gradually through a catalyst. It exploded allll at once."
Jackie struggled to think of anything to say to that statement, well outside his depth. "Well… any ideas what could have caused this then?"
"Dark Chi, powerful Dark Chi especially, soaks into the spirit deep, like sponge," Uncle explained, voicing his thought process for his annoyingly ignorant nephew's benefit. "Jade was exposed to such power for over a day. Removing Mark broke its hold, but any that had blended with her spirit would remain, dormant."
He looked up into Jackie's eyes, "Darkness reacts to darkness. It resonates with negative emotions, fear, sadness… anger."
Jackie's eyes widened, then narrowed, his fists clenching at his side. "The photo!"
"Yes," Uncle nodded, a sadness beginning to tug at his expression. "The pain Jade must have felt then, and now. More than enough to trigger the remains of the Oni King's taint."
Author's Notes: Never expected to write a JCA fic, but here we are. This story wouldn't have been possible without the extremely talented Eduard Kassel to help me with structure and planning. Not to mention he's the one who recommended the show to me in the first place.
Unfortunately, none of my regular editors are familiar with JCA so I was forced to do most of the editing myself, so please forgive me any grammatical slips.