Author's Note: Hello my lovelies, I'm back! And here is a lovely chapter to sate your appetites, and its the culmination of all that's been happening with Jade!
Hope you enjoy the chapter - and please pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease give me your reviews!
So much love and thanks to ilovedracoDH for being an amazing beta!
The Exorcism of Jade Chan
Jackie searched the entirety of Section 13 from top to bottom, and then once again to be absolutely certain that he had not missed a single nook or cranny. His heart was beating so fast, it probably looked like it flatlined. But where had she gone? Only this morning she couldn't seem to get out of bed, now she chose to play hide and seek?!
Sometimes, Jackie wondered how Jade hadn't made him grey all over with worry yet.
He'd received the report from the Section 13 doctor. It wasn't good news, and Jackie wanted to get Jade to the hospital right away. Despite how the circumstances weren't exactly normal, Jade needed expert medical care now. But as soon as he'd gone to her room – she was gone! Now, he was searching frantically all over the base, constantly on the edge of a panic attack. Where could a small sick girl run off to?!
He rounded the corner, heading back towards his room to see if Jade had returned there whilst he'd been searching for her. But instead, he found Captain Black marching down the corridor. The man seemed to be lost within a report folder in his right hand, a mug of coffee in his left.
"Captain Black!" Jackie shouted. He skidded to a stop in front of his friend, panting. "Have you seen Jade? She needs to be resting but I cannot find her anywhere!"
Black frowned. "You didn't know?"
"Agent Dave just reported to me that he saw Jade leave with Valerie about half and hour ago. Val said she needed air. I told him to report that to you… but looks like you've been all over the place, you likely didn't run across him." When Jackie was unmoving for too long, Captain Black's brows turned upwards in concern. "Is it really that bad, Jackie? Jackie!"
But Jackie couldn't hear him. He was already sprinting towards the exit.
Valerie kicked open her apartment door, her arms full with a blanket wrapped around the stone-cold child she carried. Why was she so cold?! The only reason she knew Jade was alive was from the rasping, wheezing breaths she took once every thirty seconds. That wasn't normal – it wasn't right! Kicking the door closed behind her, Valerie only had a passing thought for if anyone else in the building had seen her. She would deal with that later.
As gently but as quickly as possible, she laid Jade on her couch, unwrapping her from her blanket cocoon to check her face. Grey, sweating, eyes open but blank, and cold to the touch. Keeping her wrapped up, Val ran to her closet and rooted in the back until she found a mobile heater. Sticking it in front of the kid, she hoped it would help to warm her up – she shouldn't be that cold! It was only then that Valerie thought to check the apartment. The last thing she needed was for interruptions and having explanations demanded of her.
But no one else was home. Nat and Drago must've gone out. A part of her wanted to be worried, but Jade was her number one priority. The next thing to do was to secure the apartment. Closing the blinds, shutting out any way to look in from the outside, closing vents. If Val had learned anything in her time in San Francisco, it was that you could never tell when someone was watching you.
She checked on Jade once more. If it were possible, Jade looked worse than she had eighty-three seconds ago. Her breathing was getting slower, her heartbeat dangerously lethargic. Her hair was limp and dull, her skin was so grey it almost seemed transparent. The whites of her eyes were yellowed and dry. If one could define 'on the precipice of death', Valerie was certain this was it. She wanted to burst into tears, to scream – how she hadn't lost herself to despair yet was anyone's guess. That one hope urged her on, kept her feet moving, pushed her into action.
She ran to her bathroom, nearly slipping on the rug. With one, violent motion, she ripped off the shower curtain and stuck her left hand over the side of the bathtub. Staring at the thin, white scar along her palm, Valerie closed her eyes and concentrated deep down. She swam to the bottom of her soul, for that coiling presence that was her magic. She took it in her hand like a guitar pick, and then brought it to that string attached to her heart and plucked it. A shudder ran through her body as she felt the vibrations race out into the ether, calling to the one at the other end. A moment later, she felt a small tremor pulse back.
Valerie whipped her hand away a second before her bathtub was engulphed in flames. Thankfully, it only lasted a moment and the tiles around the bathroom shook off the effects of the blast. And there, crouched and uncomfortable-looking, even in his smaller form, was the fire demon.
"Shendu!" The relief that she felt at seeing him, that he might solve all her problems, was enough to make her weak in the knees.
"You called to me?" He said softly as he climbed out of the tub. His red eyes stared into her, guarded, his body language neutral. Stood in her bathroom, he looked utterly ridiculous when surrounded by such ordinary things as fluffy towels and pink toothbrushes. Quiet, waiting, it seemed that neither of them knew what to do next. The last time they had seen each other had been so emotionally confusing.
"I'm sorry." Valerie blurted. She abruptly felt guilty. It must seem like she was yanking on his emotions like a yoyo. "I didn't know who else to ask…"
His gaze softened. He placed one large clawed hand on her shoulder. "Where is the child?"
Valerie led him back into her living room. She'd moved her coffee table so that he had enough room to kneel in front of the couch. He peeled back the blanket to examine Jade. Neither shock nor revulsion showed on his face. In the two minutes that Val had been gone, Jade's eyes had turned from yellow to blood-shot red. She waited for his verdict. Her leg began to shake as the nerves grew higher and higher.
"Shendu, what's wrong with her?" she finally burst.
The demon sorcerer did not answer right away. Valerie had to bite her lip to stop herself from screaming in frustration. Shendu picked up Jade's right wrist between two claws and turned it delicately until he could see her palm. The diagonal line across her hand had started to turn black with inky veins spreading out from it. The flesh around the mark was inflamed and slightly swollen. It reeked of infection.
"This is her own fault." Shendu said, dropping Jade's wrist. "I need not tell you that the child is reckless and oblivious to all danger in favour of the adrenaline rush."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Her constant invitation of darkness is what has caused this." He stood. Turning to Valerie, his face was anything but kind. "She donned Tarakudo's mark, twice. She casts spells of dubious origin. She uses my talismans as though they were toys. Now it has gone too far. This is the work of Hsi Wu – he has made a connection with her."
Valerie felt her heart stop. "But how?!" Of course she'd suspected, but to hear it confirmed…
"Crudely and violently. Her being ill started right after she was freed from Tarakudo, yes? I imagine Jade Chan was changing: that much darkness must've started to stain her chi. It would've made them incompatible had it gone much further. My brother likely tried a spell to re-establish their spiritual bond, to make that part of him inside her begin to grow like a tumour."
"But I thought Others couldn't be bonded unwillingly. That's what you always said."
"This isn't a normal Other-bond." He held up Jade's disgusting mark for her to see. "The mark is on her right hand, not her left. This isn't about combining souls in order to grow more powerful together, this… this is consumption. Hsi Wu wants out of the Netherworld, and he is now using Jade as a vessel to get him out. He's slowly been filling her up, until the Sky-Chi was summoned to her, to be reunited with its master – I know it's there, I can feel it. That was what likely tipped the scales and has now lead us to this."
Her fingers scraped across her scalp. She started to pace. It took every ounce of willpower she had not to fall into a panic attack from all this information. "If he's had the ability to escape the Netherworld before now by gong inside her, why only do it now?"
Shendu glanced down at the girl, red eyes narrowing. "Maybe it didn't occur to him. Or perhaps it was a last resort. Had he tried this at any other point, he would likely have been unsuccessful. Her chi longs to merge with his, but because she has not consented, her body would have fought him and burned him out like a fever burning out an infection. But after what happened with Tarakudo, she was weak – physically and spiritually."
This couldn't be happening – things couldn't be this dire! Why couldn't the universe ever give them a break?! "So what happens now?"
It was easy to tell that Shendu was attempting to find the right words, but seeing as there was no easy way to say it, he just explained it plainly. "Hsi Wu will now be coming into her fully. The process could be done as early as tonight. When the transition is complete, the child will either be destroyed, because their chis cannot achieve equilibrium – the same as what almost happened to us," he referred to when his spirit had possessed Valerie in order to find the Book of Ages. She remembered it well, and how close she'd been to annihilation. "Or… she will become an abomination. A terrible amalgamation of both personalities. You wouldn't be able to know where he began and she ended."
Valerie's stomach heaved so hard she thought she would vomit on her living room floor. "Why?! Why would he do this?!"
"After a thousand years, my siblings will be willing to do anything, sacrifice anything, to get out."
"This is all my fault!" Tears welled in her eyes and Valerie could hear her voice breaking. She felt like the most wretched human being in the world. "She's been begging for my help, and I didn't listen!"
A grip on her wrists. A tug on her waist. Arms wrapped around her, her face pressed into hard and warm scales. Shendu embraced her tightly, allowing her tears to soak into him. Valerie's brain struggled to catch up at first. And then, she folded into him, and put her arms around him – as much as she could. It was so confusing, to realise how much she needed someone to bring her comfort, to show strength and offer it when she felt hers waning. In recent months, it seemed like she'd been alone in having to shoulder so much responsibility, quietly taking on the world's problems personally. It was exhausting. She leaned her head into Shendu's neck, just taking one moment to feel as if everything didn't always rely on her.
"Valerie…" Shendu whispered her name as he gently put her back down. He kept hold of her hands in one of his, the other crooked a finger under her chin and tilted her head up to look at him. His snout was only inches away from her face. "All is not lost. Hsi Wu is possessing the child, and there is only ONE unwavering rule when it comes to possession: it is only made irreversible if the victim invites the invading spirit inside them. If you invite another entity in, there can be no undoing it. Hsi Wu forced himself in. Jade did not invite him – she may have called the Sky Chi by accident, but she did not invite him in. That means there is still hope to get him out."
"Shendu, please – please!" She pulled her hands out of his grip only to tightly clutch onto his fingers. "You have to save her! Whatever you need to do, do it. I'll do anything, I swear!"
That seemed to make him pause. Slowly straightening, Shendu looked away at the floor. Was it Valerie's imagination or did he look slightly hesitant? Was he afraid she would deny his request? It made her nervous. But she was surprised when he flicked his wrist like a magician plucking a card from seemingly thin air, and held something in his fist. Another pause to study her face. What on earth was he hiding? Gradually, Shendu lowered his hand in front of her and uncurled his fingers. Valerie held her breath. Lying on his palm was a gold ring. Her gold ring. The wedding band he'd given her for the gala, the one he had stolen from her to make a show of villainy for Jackie.
"Have your ring back," he said in a small voice. "It belongs with you."
She would do one better. Immediately, Valerie plucked the ring out of his hand and slid it onto her ring finger of her left hand. Her wedding hand. Almost immediately, she felt something click into place inside her, like rediscovering something beloved that one had thought to never live without. It was frightening but exhilarating to be so happy at feeling the weight on her hand again.
Shendu was staring at her, wide eyed. She held up her left hand so that he could see the gold glinting in the light. "And if she lives, I promise you, I'll never take it off. Not even for a moment."
The mind is a curious thing. It is built by an individual, no two minds were ever alike. It was abundantly clear to Shendu, that were Jade Chan in good health, then her mind might be filled with Moose World resorts and comic book characters. How disgusting. At least with it crumbling and slowly falling apart, he wasn't assaulted at every turn by bright neon colours and a child's imaginative leaps in logic.
He sank deeper into the pits of her soul, finding wounds and corruption grow more prevalent the further he went. For a moment, he wondered if this should bring him any kind of satisfaction. Jade Chan had scuppered his plans on multiple occasions, and had declared herself one of his personal enemies. He should be cheering to see her suffer this way. But Valerie grieved at the thought of the child being hurt in any way. So he found himself feeling neutral on the subject.
Besides, he found Hsi Wu's current plans to be rather… distasteful.
At the very core of the child's being, he found what he was looking for. A manifestation of her diminishing consciousness, it was Jade Chan but thin and partially transparent. She was fading out of existence as Hsi Wu tried to eclipse her. All around her pulsed fleshy black tumours that tried to grow spidery tendrils towards her, attempting to ensnare her. Jade fought them, but it was clear that she was exhausted. And with every touch of the tendrils to her flesh, she grew a tiny bit more see-through.
Shendu floated above the battle. Upon seeing him, the child's eyes grew wide, fearful, desperate.
"N-no! I don't want anymore!" she moaned. "Go away!"
Obviously she believed him to be another invasion, or perhaps Hsi Wu had attempted to conquer her with visions of those she knew in real life or with nightmares. Either way, he didn't have time to dawdle. "Jade Chan. Pay attention at once! I only have a limited time here."
"I'll fight you all off if I have to…" She held up her fists. Whilst her back was turned, one of the growths reached out a tentacle-like spear to wrap around her ankle. The child screamed and whirled on her attacker. She battered it away, but grew dimmer in the process.
"Jade," Shendu growled impatiently. "I am not some part of him trying to devour the last of your soul, I am real. I am here. And I've come to warn you on how to end this nightmare!"
"Why should I believe you?" she demanded.
"Because you know I would rather not be here. I'd much prefer to sit on the side-lines as you destroyed yourself."
"Huh… that does sound like Shendu…" she mumbled thoughtfully. And then she gave him her full attention, her eyes clear of illusions. "So why are you here?"
"Valerie sent me."
"Of course she did." The ghost of a smile played at the edges of her transparent lips. "So you have a plan? You can stop this?"
"This isn't like your usual stunts, child," he told her bluntly. Maybe Valerie would disapprove of his tone, but in truth, the only way Jade was going to survive was if she understood the full implications of her predicament and what would be expected of her to get herself out. "No one is going to snap their fingers or wave a magic wand to undo all your troubles for you. Every time you've meddled with things you were warned against, one of your detestable uncles or your friends would save you from your own folly. But not this time. You've stepped too far, and now you have to pay the price."
Tears welled in her eyes. "What… what do you…?"
"You need to save yourself." He gestured to the cancerous growths around her, that seemed to be getting larger with every minute. "Hsi Wu is possessing you, and you need to be the one to cut him out."
"I've tried! I've told him to get out!"
"It's more complicated than that. The connection between one's self and one's Other is extremely intricate at the centre of a person's very being. You were born with a space inside yourself for him, and he for you. And when you touched and felt that electrical zap, that was pieces of you exchanging to stay connected forever. Hsi Wu has done something similar and has latched himself onto a piece of you. So in order to banish him from your body, you must sacrifice a part of yourself in exchange."
"That doesn't make sense!" she yelled. "What do you want me to do? Cut off an arm?"
"No. Something deeper. A part of who you are must now be banished with him. Your courage, or your insufferable impulsiveness, are good examples."
"No way! I'm not changing myself! I like who I am and I like my life exactly the way it is!"
"Yes. But if you cannot find it within yourself to let even a small part go, you'll lose it all."
Before she could respond, an unearthly screech came from the abyss at the edges of Jade's mind. Shendu recognise a fraction of the voice at the end of the beastly summons. Hsi Wu. He was preparing for his final assault. The next few minutes would decide everything.
"I have to go on alone, don't I?" Jade Chan said in a voice that finally betrayed how young and small she truly was. Shendu nodded, even though she wasn't looking to him. He watched her go, trembling at first, but then mustering her courage and venturing on. Shendu had to admit, that if it was one thing he could admire about Jade Chan, it was her bravery.
Best not to tell her that, he thought to himself, and then made his speedy exit.
Jade carried on alone into what Shendu described as "the centre of her being", but she just thought of it as her heart. Here was a place filled with the people she loved. Jackie, Uncle, Tohru, her mom and dad, and Valerie. They stood like glowing statues – or robots, really – ready to come alive when she interacted with her love of them. But now, the robots stood silent and grey and inert. Instead, there was an inky, bubbling mess staining the floor trying to spread its foul presence up the walls of the chamber. Upon her entry, the tar froze, and then morphed and contorted itself until Jade recognised the shape it took, and the red eyes and teeth it portrayed for facial features.
"Why hello, Jade!" crooned Hsi Wu's image mockingly. "Come to join me in one last dance before the final bell tolls?"
She ignored him, and soared right up to the centre of the chamber. Here, she imagined a pilar made up of stacks of… books? On the spine of each book there was something linked to her, whether it be a memory or a trait or a fundamental part of her personality. She combed through the shelves of books, trying to find one that she might want to discard. But every one she hesitated – I don't want to lose that! I can't afford to be without this! Out of the question! She thought, over and over again.
The oil that had moulded itself into Hsi Wu's shape climbed up beside her, staining everything it touched. It seemed to grow bigger every time she looked at it. "You can't win, Jade! And neither will I! Before the night is over, we will either be one – or destroyed!"
Jade frantically tried to search harder. There had to be something here she was willing to give up! Before she could make it far, a burning hot greasy touch encircled her arm and yanked her away. Jade screamed and struggled. Hsi Wu coiled his poisonous substance around her like quicksand, slowly growing up her body to drown her. The more he touched her, the smaller and less real Jade felt.
"I can't wait to wear your skin!" he crowed above her. "Imagine all the fun we're going to have, your thoughts and mine, together as one. We'll practically be someone new."
He turned. Jade caught a glimpse of the pilar of books behind him. One word on a spine stuck out to her. Pride. And she knew, right then and there, that that was the book she wanted to throw away. It was her pride, her selfish yearning for personal glory, that had always gotten her into messes like this. And so it must be that which she needed to give up.
Determination lending her some strength, Jade kicked and punched her way free of the toxic clutches of her Other. He screeched and tried to grab her again, but Jade dashed away. She raced to the bookshelf and snatched up the volume she desired. Hsi Wu charged for her, and Jade used the hefty book as a weapon, and clobbered it into his face. He splattered over the floor, though his liquid-like mass quickly began to reform.
Jade opened the book. The pages were filled with stories about how her pride had made her feel or how it had dictated her actions. The book was rather thick. The front of it was tainted where it had touched him, his residue lingering on the cover and on many pages. Staring at Hsi Wu's disgusting half-solid form, she took hold of several pages in her hand, and ripped them out.
He screamed in pain, and Jade too had to hunch over to combat the way her breath was stolen. It felt like someone had slashed her back open with a whip. She knew what had caused it, but she couldn't stop now. She tore out more pages. Hsi Wu writhed, his body becoming more like liquid with every page she destroyed.
"I won't let you!" he snarled, trying to form himself to grab her. "I won't go back to that hell! Either you let me in, or we both blow up!"
With one last surge of power, he tried to claw at her. Jade opened the book and held it in front of her like a shield. Hsi Wu's claws sank into the remaining pages and tore them out. Jade smirked. "Tails… you lose."
Hsi Wu let loose an unearthly scream. A fire started at the back of the room. It burned at his body and engulphed him in seconds. He twisted and tried to get away, but nothing could save him from the fire's reach. He screamed and screamed, even when his form was evaporated. Jade covered her face as the blistering heat, starved of food and now hungry for its next meal, came right for her.
Valerie knelt by Jade's body, eyes closed and brows furrowed, arms held out over the child. Sweat beaded on her forehead. Her left hand thrummed with magical energy. She repeated the spell Shendu had taught her, casting the incantation over and over again. It was a simple spell to keep Jade bound. But Valerie had been sat there for thirty minutes in a fixed position, concentrating as hard as she could so that her focus wouldn't be split on worrying.
Shendu had told her what needed to be done, and had disappeared. He said it wasn't astral projecting, not really. Apparently Hsi Wu had carved a path into Jade's subconscious when he'd forced his way in, and Shendu had used the same path to get a message to the girl trapped within her own body. Valerie had told him that as soon as his message was delivered, he should leave. She expected Jackie and the others to come looking for Jade soon, so having him here would only make them think the worst. She could handle the rest. All she had to do was continue this spell until Jade awoke. Either Jade would succeed and be back to normal, or Hsi Wu would win and there would be little Val could do to stop him. Shendu had placed a magical form of protection on her so that should Hsi Wu win and attack her, she would be sent straight to Shendu's side wherever he was. She didn't like it, but it was the condition he made her promise to in exchange for leaving her.
The minutes ticked by and still Jade did not awake.
Valerie felt a tear slip past her lashes. She wept quietly. This was all her fault. She'd killed Jade. She'd been so absorbed in her own problems that she'd refused to listen to someone else's. And now Jade was paying the price. Could things be different had Valerie known about this sooner? In the end, it was better to not question what might have happened, and instead focus on the now.
A tiny breath.
Valerie's eyes snapped open, her spell stopped.
A blue light zipped out of Jade's chest. Taking the form of a flute haloed in blue energy, it shot around the room as if with a life of its own. It floated, before it landed in a glass jar by Valerie's side, drawn there by the spell Shendu had place upon it earlier. She quickly screwed the lid shut – she wasn't going to take any chances. With that threat neutralised, Val turned back to her charge.
Jade was staring up at her – her eyes like honey.
"JADE!" Valerie screamed.
She dove for the girl, wrapping her arms around the tiny frame and pulling her close in a tight hug. Was this real? Was she real?! She didn't care, Jade felt real and warm and whole. Tears of happiness cascaded down Valerie's cheeks and soaked the girl's hair. Tiny hands returned the embrace.
"Hey, Val!" Jade croaked in a tired voice.
Valerie's voice was in not much better condition. "I'm so glad you're safe!"
"It's good to be back."
They pulled apart for a moment to get a good look at each other, to take in the trials they'd endured. Jade smiled, and Valerie could've sung from the mountaintops to see a little bit of the old Jade in that smile. But then… Jade's bottom lip wobbled. She tried to stop it, bit her lip, but then her cheeks were convulsing, and her eyes were filling up with tears. All at once, the dam burst, and Jade buried her head in Val's arms as she broke down.
"I'm so sorry!" she sobbed. "I screwed up! I screwed everything up so much!"
"Hey-hey-hey, shhhhh, it's okay…" Valerie whispered, rocking her back and forth. And it was. No matter what Jade had done, it was okay. So long as she was alive, Val would always be here to hold her as she did now. "I've got you. I've got you."
Jackie sprinted down the hallway, no other thought allowed to enter his head. He just had to keep running! At the door, he leapt and kicked, breaking the lock and almost throwing the door off its hinges. He immediately looked left to right. Where was she, where was she?! He swore that if Valerie had done anything to –
Valerie and Jade were coming out of the bathroom, steam in the room behind them. Jade had on her pyjamas but one of Valerie's short jackets on top. She looked… actually okay. Her hair was damp as if just from washing, but her skin had a healthy glow, and her eyes were almost as bright as they used to be. It was such a difference from the sickly girl he'd seen over the past week that Jackie almost didn't believe it.
"Oh, Jackie, hey." Jade waved when she noticed him. She didn't grin and leap into his arms. But she smiled, if a little tiredly.
"You didn't have to come all the way up here," Valerie said. "We were just about to head back to Section 13."
"J-Jade?!" Jackie fell on his knees before the child. He searched her from top to bottom, looking for any stray sign of illness that had been there just this morning. "Are you alright? What are you doing out of bed?! The doctor said you needed to stay–"
"Jackie," Jade said firmly, putting her hands on his to stop them shaking. "I'm okay."
"Why don't you go sit down for a minute, Jade." Valerie said, and Jade obediently went along to the couch. Jackie watched her go, mystified.
"Turns out," Valerie told him in such a quiet tone that Jackie almost didn't hear her, "it was worse than we thought. Hsi Wu tried to possess her."
"Possess?!" he spluttered, panicked. "I must tell Uncle–"
"I took care of it."
He stopped. "What?! How?!"
She held up a glass jar. Inside was what appeared to be a flute wreathed in a blue flame-like aura. It… it had to be the Sky Demon Chi. But… how was this possible?!
"I didn't know what was happening at first. I just thought some fresh air would do her good. But when we got here, she took a turn for the worse and when I touched her my mark showed me what was happening to her." She held up her left palm. "Jade is the one that finally drove him out, but she needed a little magical boost from me to help."
"If what you say is true," Jackie said slowly, "then why didn't you call Uncle and me."
She didn't miss a beat, her smile from earlier had slowly faded until now it was completely gone. "The situation seemed rather urgent. I didn't want to waste time waiting for the other pieces on the board to make their move."
It was a dig at what he'd said earlier, and honestly, he did regret his venom. But something in his gut wrestled with the urge to apologise. Jade looked healthy – better than she'd been in days. But she wasn't acting completely like herself. Maybe she was just tired, but Jackie didn't trust it. And Valerie's reply was too smooth, too filled with convenience for him to believe. There was a voice in the back of his mind, it told him that she was a compulsive liar. It said that after her outrageous proposal earlier today, he shouldn't trust her now. What had she done to Jade?
But then, when Valerie turned to walk away, he caught a flash in the light. He looked down. On her left ring finger – her wedding finger – there was a golden ring that hadn't been there hours earlier.
Jackie quickly collected his niece and the Sky Chi and left. That voice whispering in his had was getting louder… and he was inclined to listen.