Seasons of Jade
The rays of light from the midmorning sun shined through a window into the small room inside the shrine. The young girl, still half-asleep on the bed in the corner of the room, blinked her eyes in the new light of the day. Her thoughts were still slurred as she tried to recognize that she was awake. She knew it was November, months were easy to remember. But what day was it? Monday? Thursday? It was some school day, she knew, and they were all the same… what difference did it make if it was Monday or Thursday or any other day of the week?
The girl rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. Having just entered the ninth grade, it was apparent she would have to endure this nightmare that was school for at least three more years. Why couldn't she just stay here and help her grandfather take care of the shrine? It was so peaceful here… so quiet… quiet? It was at that moment the gut wrenching realization set in that she had not been awoken by the alarm clock that sat on her bedside table. She forced herself hastily to a sitting position and grabbed the small device, trying to at the same time rub the sleep out of her eyes so she could read the digits on its face.
8:50 AM. Class started in ten minutes!
She literally fell out of bed as she ran, pulling her school uniform from its hanger in the closet. This can't be happening…how could I sleep in so late? her mind repeated as she got dressed as fast as she possibly could. She glanced at herself in the mirror… today she especially despised her uniform. The blouse and slacks she wore day in and day out were incredibly bland and uncomfortable. Ever since she had started going to the high school a few months before, she had hated her uniform with a passion. How the school counselors could have such bad taste in clothing was beyond her. But today she didn't have any time to complain…she had to get to school. Quick!
The girl forced all her books into the knapsack she carried, slung over one shoulder. She ran full force toward the door, only to come to an abrupt and rather painful stop as she tripped over a stray shoe near the door. Sprawled on the floor, she let loose a flurry of remarks and curses to school and her exceedingly bad luck. She finally slammed the carpet with her fist, letting out a growled yell. "Grandfather! Grandfather, how could you let me sleep in so late?"
* * *
In a quiet region of the small city of Oriaki, the sun slowly rose into its position in the mid-morning November sky. It was a chilly temperature outside, and the rays of light cast an array of colors off the freshly fallen snow. Small, dripping icicles hung off the temple roof of the Serenity of the Dragon Shrine, set upon a hill in the northern region of the city. It was not an extremely large shrine but contained the basic necessities: a separate dojo for martial arts training, a fire chapel for flame readings and chanting, and a large praying temple, meant for the civilians who would come and offer their intentions. It was a holy place, a solitude for those who wished solace, a place to find ones self…
There was also a separate section of the shrine no one took notice of. It was a small cottage connected to the dojo in the back of the hill. This was the home of the caretakers of the shrine, a young girl of the age of fifteen and her grandfather, Noriyuko, a skilled master of several fighting arts.
The older man now sat at a low table in the dining area of the house, partaking in his usual morning ceremony. He wore a traditional priest's tunic and large ceremonial robe. In a lotus position, he drank deeply of herbal tea from a small bowl and breathed in the fragrance of a scented candle he lit in the center of the table. His body was filled with an ultimate feeling of peace and tranquility… it was times like these that he lived for. He smiled to himself. If only times like these could last forever…
"Grandfather! How could you let me sleep in? I'm going to be so late!" an irritated female voice sounded from the upper floor of the cottage.
Noriyuko nearly dropped the bowl he was holding in surprise. As he finally collecting his wits, he reached up to remove his glasses and slowly massage his temples. "Jade, my child, you are fifteen years old. Should you or should you not be able to awaken yourself in the morning?" he replied, his voice old and weary. "You must learn responsibilities."
For the past eleven years, the older man had been forced to care for Jade, his granddaughter, without motherly intervention. Tera, his daughter and Jade's mother, had died from a severe fever when the child was only four years old. Jade's father, Vero, had then abandoned both of them shortly after. Neither of them had even seen him leave… he was simply there one moment, then gone the next. Noriyuko had then built the shrine in honor of Tera, believing that perhaps a holy building such as this might calm his pained soul. Fill the void that was now inside him… perhaps it had. Perhaps it hadn't. He couldn't really tell.
Noriyuko could hear the teenager still grumbling as she hopped down the stairs, struggling to manage one of her shoes on as she walked. "But you could…help out…once in…a while," she managed as she finally reached the bottom and stood in front of him, her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed, almost murderously. "How am I going to get there on time now?"
The older man calmly returned her stare almost with a friendly disposition. Jade was not very tall for her age and she definitely did not look like many of the girls her age Noriyuko had seen at her school. She was stocky in build, more muscular looking then most. She had alarming white hair that fell straight down her back in a large mass and striking green, jade colored eyes. No wonder her mother had named her after them…they seemed to start straight into a person's soul. Sometimes frightening, sometimes calm and kind, and other times incredibly sad.
The man finally picked up his cup and drank the remaining liquid within it. He finally smiled up, almost mischievously. "Well…" he began, scratching his beard a bit. "If I were, I'd start running."
* * *
Jade ran faster than she ever had before. Crossing Horizons High, the school she had started going to, was on the other side of the block. Why did it feel like it was another world away today? She had less than five minutes to get to class… maybe if she was fast enough she wouldn't be caught late. There was always a chance. Sometimes not very good odds, but there was a chance.
She knew she was in trouble when she could hear the nine bell tolls start to chime from the school's main clock tower outside the building…one…two…
No, she was going to make it! She had to make it!
Jade could feel the strength draining from her legs, her knees weakening from the long strides she was taking.
She had just reached the gates leading inside when she doubled over from a sudden shift in her stomach. It was a strange, sickening feeling…one she hadn't felt before. Jade forced herself to stand up and shakily walk inside the main school building. Running on an empty stomach will do that to you, Jade, she thought to herself as she stopped to look inside the now eerily silent halls.
Crossing Horizons was a huge school that one could easily get lost in. Its walls were lined with lockers on every side and portraits of past students and teachers. There were also countless numbers of trophy and award cases. The school was known for its challenging areas of sporting and academics. Jade ignored all of this as she bounded up the stairs and down countless halls until she finally reached her own.
Jade pushed open the door leading to her classroom and stood inside it, breathing heavily. Too late, she thought sourly as she surveyed the classroom. All eyes automatically turned to her, and she could hear a few people snickering about her tardiness. She didn't expect any compassion from them…to all of her fellow students, she was just the freak. The social outcast. And now, she was just the late freak, nothing more.
Ever since she had entered their grade, all the students had felt a disliking feeling toward her. She was different from them, that much was true. She often kept to herself and just her appearance set them away from her. Part of the reason she hated this atmosphere so much. To add upon the insult, their fear of her was apparent. She was known for her skill in fighting; quite a few of the older senior students had tried to pick fights with her. She had always won, using the techniques her grandfather had taught her, keeping a strong and silent demeanor as she did.
A lot of good that did her now.
Ms. Wun, her primary teacher, continued writing several notes on the chalkboard, not even turning to glance at Jade. Her sharp voice was crude and tinged with annoyance. "Ms. Jade, you are late."
Jade managed to keep her voice steady as she replied in an almost whisper. "Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry. I…overslept," she finished honestly.
She continued writing, as though she had no care about Jade's excuses. "Then perhaps some time out in the hall will help you to express your true sorrow, hmmm?" The snickers increased in volume, and Ms. Wun turned, glaring at Jade's other peers. "Anyone who wishes to comment may join her."
Silence settled itself throughout the room, and Jade fought the urge to turn red. She couldn't give any of them the satisfaction of knowing they had embarrassed her. Ms. Wun moved to the back of the room and retrieved two buckets, full of water. She must have those things on demand, Jade thought sourly to herself as she was ushered from the classroom.
* * *
As the minutes wore on, Jade could feel the feeling in both her arms starting to weaken as she held the bucket handles. She cursed her increasingly bad luck, the sick ways that school worked, the foul way Fate always treated her, she even went as far as to curse the gravity that was making these buckets so blasted heavy. She could hear the lessons Ms. Wun was going on about inside the room, and she knew that if she wasn't forced to stay out here, there was no way she could stand to be awake inside.
Jade smiled a bit to herself. Maybe punishments weren't all bad. Besides the fact that her hands were now completely numb…
"So, she-demon…how goes it?" an eerily cheery voice asked to the right of her.
Jade shuddered as she quickly recognized the voice. It belonged to Arashi, a tenth grader who she didn't even share any classes with. Of all the people in her new school, Arashi was the only one she actually had real problems with. It was Arashi who started all the first rumors about Jade and the shrine her grandfather ran, and it was she who always sent her, usually boy, friends (if you could call them that) out to attack her practically daily. She was the one who had also given her the nickname "she-demon." How was it she always knew when to show up just to make Jade even more miserable?
Jade only sneered at her in reply. She would not allow Arashi's comments to get to her. Ever since she had first started going to the high school, Arashi had made it apparent that she did not like the girl in the least. Jade couldn't even recall what had started their feud, it was a matter so small. Arashi had just been waiting for her to do something, anything, to give her some reason to taunt her. And that was when the trouble had begun.
But why was she here? Now? Of course Arashi was skipping class again, she always managed to do it without getting in trouble with the teachers. She had a way of keeping up a rather convincing innocence act when it came to her teachers and parents…and as far as Jade knew it had always worked. She was extremely deviant, getting other people to do what she wanted rather than doing it herself.
The older girl's voice awoke Jade from her thoughts. "Being late is not very becoming for you, she-demon. What? Were you up too late…" she stopped, laughing lightly. "Training perhaps?"
Jade narrowed her eyes a bit, increasing the power of the hold she had on the buckets. She would never give Arashi the benefit of knowing just how right she actually was. Don't even reply, Jade…you won't be able to control yourself, her mind reminded her.
Arashi kept walking, throwing Jade a rather cheerful, yet sardonic, smile as she did. She curled a few locks of her long, blond hair onto her finger and looked back at Jade, a hint of her mock innocence apparent in her blue eyes. Her voice rung as she spoke, very softly so as that she would not be heard by nearby teachers, "You know…if your mother were still around, maybe she could teach you some promptness. But I guess we all make mistakes, don't we?"
There was an unusual quiet in the hall. Only two sounds had followed the comment: a quick crashing splash as both of the buckets of water were dropped from Jade's hands and the sudden crack as she slammed Arashi into the hall floor. Jade had lost what composure had remained within her as soon as the words had escaped Arashi's throat. She physically outmatched her, and Arashi was too shocked by the power at which she had hit the floor to even respond verbally. Jade could feel her knuckles turning white from the pressure at which she held the older girl's uniform lapels. When she finally spoke, her voice quivered and proclaimed her extreme rage. "How…dare you…"
At the sound of her voice, Arashi finally blinked and focused on the form that hovered over her. Her eyes flashed first in anger, then something else…was it fear?…came into them. "Jade! Your…your hair! Look at you! What's happening to you?!"
It actually only took Jade a split second to realize that the pain in her stomach, that shifting, swerving feeling, had returned without her even knowing. She had thought it was the running on an empty stomach, but it was evident now that it was something worse. She pushed herself away from Arashi and sat awkwardly on the cold, hall floor. Something was very wrong…was her body going to explode? It felt that way…her uniform felt four or five sizes too small and she felt bigger, taller in size.
My body…my body! What's happened to me?! her mind kept racing. This was unlike anything she had every experienced. In some strange way, the feeling was both obviously frightening but also somewhat…natural. While Jade's mind obviously revealed both the fright and panic of her situation, something in the back of her subconscious said that this was supposed to happen. That this was something that was going to happen eventually.
But her panic won over the feeling, and Jade jumped to her feet and started at a sprint down the hallway. "I can't let anyone see me," she muttered to herself. Her breath suddenly caught in surprise at her voice…it wasn't hers! It was different, that was a definite fact. It was deeper, more accented toward some manner of speaking, but she couldn't quite grasp what. What had she become?
Jade turned the corner sharply, almost falling over her now longer legs. Natural instinct told her to duck into the girl's restroom she almost passed on her right. She thanked everything good and pure that no one was in there or in the hall…she really didn't want to run into anyone while she was in this state. She staggered to the sink, her eyes shut tight. She blindly turned on the hot water and gathered some in her hands, splashing it over her face. The near scalding heat tinged at the nerves on her cheek…it hurt. And she didn't wake up, so this wasn't a dream. But it couldn't be reality…She finally opened her eyes. And when she did, she had to hold the air in her throat to keep herself from shrieking.
It was not Jade who stared back at her now. This was a totally different person…totally. Her eyes remained the same eerie greenish color they had been, at least that much was true. But now her face itself had turned angular in shape, strangely dimensional. Her hair still fell in large strands down her back, but now there was a strip of almost gold-colored toning through the middle part. But her face was oddly different in some way…the actual nature of it was somehow stranger…
Jade eventually had to shake her head to keep from staying locked on the reflection. She turned away from the mirror and leaned her back against the sink in front of it. "Okay…I have to keep a hold of myself or else I will naturally go insane," she said to herself. "Of course, it's only natural that something like this would happen to me. Why is it always me anyway? And what has happened to my voice?!" She let out an exasperated yell and crossed her arms over her chest sulkily.
Jade suddenly felt herself become extremely weak in the knees. The physical contact between her arms and her body made her apparent of a suddenly sickening realization. Her chest, her stomach, every part of the front of her body…it was flat! She had lost whatever hereditary curves she had had before. She turned around sharply and nervously looked at herself. No wonder the uniform had felt tight and looked stranger than it had earlier…her body had broadened and reshaped itself. No wonder her voice had sounded different…her vocal chords were no longer the shape they were.
Jade was no longer who she was before…now she was most definitely male!
"No…" she let out a slow moan and fell to her knees in front of the sink. "This can't be happening… This can't have happened!"
Jade's mind was clouded with too many images that she could not grasp all of them. Ones of her grandfather, pictures of her mother, small glimpses of what her father might have looked like…panic made the images run wild in her imagination. She was afraid, more afraid than she had ever been before. Afraid of what she had become, afraid of what might happen to her, afraid of the truth that she really had never been like everyone else. But most of all she was afraid of the disappointment this might set in her grandfather.
This thought set her mind to remember a conversation with her grandfather from several weeks before… the images were cloudy and in disarray, but the voices were clear…
"Don't you want to settle down with a nice young man someday?" Her grandfather.
"Why? What difference does that make?" Herself.
"You are coming to an age at which you must think of things such as that, my child. A proper young woman starts taking fancy in the right man so that she marries the right one. Your mother always wanted her children to bring home a family…wouldn't you want to honor your mother's wishes? My wishes for you? It would please my old heart to see you as a woman among women…"
Now a new voice in her head was mocking her…it was feminine. Could it be Arashi's? No…she knew with a harsh realization whose it was: her own. "A disgrace, Jade. That's the best word to describe you. Ha! You are no longer even a woman, let alone can you hope to achieve any standing like that! How can you face your grandfather this way? Pathetic…truly pathetic."
Perhaps if Jade had not been in any other situation, she would have blocked out the voice or have gotten angry at herself for it. But now, with the conditions at hand, she was overcome with too much of the imposing sadness of the truth in her own words. A normal person would have been moved to tears, but Jade had never had any tears to shed. But the wrenching sickness of depression that engulfed her new body was enough to reduce her to a poor, sick state of a person. A man. A woman. Neither one. Both. It was too much for her to stand.
"Oy…I hate homework. Can you believe Mr. Markas gave us that essay for tomorrow? It's not fair!"
"Oh, you had his class already? I'm on my way there right now…it isn't hard is it?"
Jade's eyes snapped open at the voices. She didn't know whose they were…that much didn't matter. And at the moment, it didn't matter that she had been able to hear them extremely clearly even through the closed bathroom door. What did matter was that one of the voices was female and that its owner would probably be coming through the door any minute! Jade jumped up, desperately wondering where she could hide, where she wouldn't be found, some haven to shelter her…the stalls! Of course!
She leapt up to her feet and darted away from the sink toward the row of doors. Gotta hide, gotta hide!! she thought to herself. But of course in her mad scramble, she had failed to notice the spot of sink water in front of her…that is, until she found herself sliding across part of the floor and slamming into the wall. Her vision turned white when she made contact with the hard linoleum. And the door was opening…footsteps were walking in and coming closer…and the situation was becoming worse and worse...
Jade closed her eyes and wished that she could disappear. Or die. Something, anything to keep her from suffering the humiliation that was certainly ahead. Once I'm caught like this, it'll never end…there's no hope…there's no way I'm going to outlive this…was all she could think to herself as she lay there. She could hear the footsteps coming nearer…the voice was quiet now. But she knew the silence wouldn't last. It never did…
"Jade…what in the world are you doing?" a girl's voice chirped from above her.
Jade slowly opened her eyes. The girl was Kira, a ninth grader who she shared homeroom with. She was short and pale looking, and she was staring at Jade with an odd expression on her face. Kira had never been particularly mean to Jade, but she never talked with her around the other classmates. All that mattered to her was keeping the right reputation with the upperclassmen. So naturally now she would be concerned… "Are you okay?" she asked timidly. "You didn't break anything, did you? I failed First Aid and I don't think I could help very much…"
Jade stayed where she was, staring back at Kira, dumbfounded. "No, I'm fine…Kira, do I look any different to you?" She felt stupid talking to the girl like this, making it sound as if she was out of her mind. But it was something that had to be asked…
Kira stopped a moment, looking her over. "Nope, you look just as weird as usual! Did you do cut your hair or something? Or no, wait…did you actually iron your uniform for once?"
Jade ignored her ditzy remarks and rose up to a sitting position. She looked down at herself…she was smaller. Well, shorter anyway. She had the stocky build she had always had, but she was…plainer. She stood up, automatically feeling the large change in height compared to the one she had just been experiencing a few minutes ago. And her uniform…it was looser! She pushed past Kira and stood in front of the mirror. Her white hair was the same white colorless form she had grown up with. "Female…" she sighed softly, a brief smile touching her now female face. The sound of her voice was now noticeably higher as well.
Kira joined her next to the mirror and looked with Jade at the reflection for a few moments. "You know…" she commented, looking at Jade. "You would look cool with black hair. You might even look normal! Isn't that a weird concept?"
Jade glared over at her. Luckily, the lunch bell rang, and Jade's hunger won over her rising temper.
* * *
Jade sat amidst the loud, ringing voices of her grade's student body. Lunch was always like this, full of laughing and rioting talking and chatter…she could never stand the setting. It was merely another factor of school she was forced to endure day in and day out. But today it was different…her mind had blocked out everyone else around her as she tried to think. Tried to decide how she had transformed from one gender to the other. Female to male. If she had actually transformed truly. If she was going insane. There were so many options that her mind was cramped, swelling and seeming to bubble with the abnormality of it.
Jade was relieved to remember she had gym the next period. Her sweat suit she wore everyday was a few sizes too big for her, and she changed into it before she came to lunch. It was best to not be wearing her normal clothes if she was going to transform again…if she was going to be forced to endure the sudden change in size, best to do it comfortably. What difference does comfort make anyway? You should be focused on what's making you do this! she thought to herself.
Jade reached down and picked idly at the bun of the chicken sandwich she had bought from the cafeteria. She had never been particular to the food they sold at school…it could have been worse, that was true, but it wasn't the best either. She picked at one of the sesame seeds and held it between her fingers. Why couldn't she think straight now? She crushed the seed in her hand, letting the pieces fall back to the plate. "What can I do now? What is there to do?"
"You could consider actually eating the sandwich instead of demolishing it," a boy's voice remarked from behind and over her.
Jade looked up over her head straight into a pair of squinted, brown eyes that were nearly completely hidden by a mass of unruly brown hair. The boy was smiling humorously down at her. "Heya, Jade."
Jade should have known that Vahn Rohnan would eventually find her in the lunchroom. No matter how crowded it was, no matter how loud, the smaller boy always had a way of locating her, like a magnet to a piece of metal. He was a few months younger than Jade, but in physique he was her equal. She had trained him for a few years in her grandfather's martial arts, after the boy's father had been killed in an attack downtown. Before that, it was he who had taught Vahn some basic street-fighting techniques. It was after his father was killed that Vahn had come to Jade wanting a disciplined art. He had known her reputation in school, and why he had wanted to be taught by this outcast, this lonely wanderer, was beyond her.
But for some strange reason, Jade had complied. She was, honestly, impressed by his determination to find a style where he would learn fair fighting techniques and a squared artist's attitude. And from the way Jade saw it, she knew she was giving it to him. But he was still the childish little boy she always took him for…nothing would take that from him. And Jade found herself glad nothing did. He was the only true friend she had…a real companion. She would never hurt him, or even let himself be hurt by anyone else. She thought of him almost as a brother; if it came to trust, no one could replace him. Even when they would sometimes quarrel and tease each other, it was truly an almost surrogate family. And the bond that was between them could never be divided.
Vahn sat down heavily on the small stool next to her at the otherwise empty lunch table. He looked longingly at the sandwich that was sitting in front of Jade. "Are you going to eat that?"
Jade gave the boy a sidelong glance. "Probably. Why? Forget your lunch again?"
Vahn stared down at his hands and started to twiddle his thumbs guiltily. "So?"
Jade let out an exasperated sigh and smacked the boy unceremoniously on the back of the head. "What have I told you about that, Vahn? If you want to get the fullest out of my training, you need to have the energy to get through it. And for that you have to eat something…or I will not be responsible for the toll it will put on you."
The student looked up at Jade a bit smugly and smirked at her in reply. "You also always tell me about promptness to events you have to be ready for. Seems you didn't really adhere to that this morning did you?"
Jade automatically knew he had her beat there, but she ignored his remark and finally reached down to start eating the sandwich. The swerving feeling in her stomach was gone now, and she was quite hungry. Hungry enough to even eat this… Vahn, on the other hand, was almost drooling over what seemed to be a delicacy to him; he closely watched how she ate, with large puppy eyes, silently begging his teacher to help him out. Jade rolled her eyes and was finally forced to break off a piece of the meal to give to him. Satisfied, the boy smiled widely and became relaxed in his seat. "Word is you and Arashi had a little fight this morning during first period."
Jade swallowed the last piece of chicken and turned to stare down at Vahn, his news both surprising and alerting. "I wouldn't call it a fight actually…but what did she say about it?"
He shrugged absently. "Just that you freaked out and ran off down the hall. She thought you might have been sick or something…she said you looked weird."
Jade started to flex her knuckles, almost a tad nervously. "Understandable," was all she managed out. At least now I know no one knows yet…
Vahn was silent for a moment, staring intently at Jade. "And…?"
Jade narrowed her eyes in annoyance and raised her voice a bit. "And what?"
"What did she mean?" Vahn asked urgently, his voice excited as he rambled on a dozen questions. "Why did you run off? You never ran away from the fights! Why did you run away from Arashi, I mean of all people! Why her? You're keeping something from me, aren't you?"
Jade replied calmly by crossing her arms and resting her chin down, closing her eyes. She finally replied, almost silently, her face starting to turn an odd shade of red in an almost embarrassment, "I switched sexes."
Vahn was still asking so many questions that he almost didn't catch what she said. He became eerily silent and grabbed a hold of his teacher's sleeve and shook it, almost as if he thought waking her up would change what she had just said. "What? How in the world could you have done that? Jade, listen to what you're saying!"
Jade opened one of her eyes and stared back at Vahn. "Keep your voice down. Calm yourself and let go of me." She paused, narrowing her eye dangerously. "Now."
Vahn could tell by the obvious sincerity in her voice that Jade was serious. It was in the way she was acting today…normally by now she would have threatened to train him extremely hard that day or would have started snapping off at him about talking too much without thinking first. He let go and turned to her with an almost desperate look in his eyes. "Trust me, I won't tell anyone," he promised, keeping his voice low.
Jade finally opened both of her eyes and leaned one elbow against the tabletop, resting her head in one of her hands. "There's not much to tell…I just remember getting really peeved at Arashi, jumping her, and then…changing. It happened quickly."
Vahn's initial concern quickly changed to a wondrous curiosity. "And you became a guy? Wow…what was it like? Did it hurt? What did you look like?"
Jade raised a hand to silence him. "I have told you about asking too many questions, haven't I? Do you ever listen to what I tell you?"
"And haven't I always told you that you always manage to jump off a subject to contradict me? Now come on, Jade, tell me already!"
Jade sighed in exasperation. If there was one thing Vahn was good at, it was annoying her to the point of submission. "A lot of good that'll do you in a fight," she had told him once when he had succeeded at it. But this time it wasn't going to work. She stood up and slung her book bag over one of her shoulders. "I don't want to talk about it. I still have to figure it out myself and until then I don't have anything to say about it."
Vahn hopped up from his seat and jumped to her side. "Hey, that's not fair! You've got to give me something!"
"Life isn't fair, Vahn," she remarked simply, and began to walk away toward the cafeteria door.
"Hey, coward! Who you running from now?" a voice mocked from behind Jade.
Jade spun around to see a boy, a few years older than her, standing behind the table she had been sitting at. She recognized him as the captain of the school's football team, an athlete named Tomo. She also recognized him as Arashi's new…interest; she had seen them together a few days before. He had never spoken to her before, and Jade wondered with a growing annoyance what he wanted. "Are you speaking to me?" she asked, her voice edging slightly.
He smiled, his expression dripping with a sneering sarcasm. "Yeah, you're Jade, aren't you? The same Jade who finally started a fight she couldn't finish? The same Jade who ran away to hide when someone finally made a comment that seemed to strike a nerve?"
Jade felt her temper increasing, and she suddenly became unconscious of everything else around her as she walked over to face the one who was just daring her to beat him senseless. She ignored the growing number of people who were gathering around to see what was happening. She ignored the pleading voice of Vahn that was trying to tell her not to get in another fight. Nothing else mattered right then…except what this fool was daring to say. She dropped her bag at her feet and looked straight into the older student's eyes. "I don't run from anyone. And I never start fights at all, and when they come to me, I finish them."
The smile only widened at her response. "Oh, and I suppose you did a wonderful job of finishing the fight between you and Arashi this morning, hm? You think you're tough, but I happen to think you're nothing but talk. Puh…" He paused, laughing slightly. "Coward. Now we know what your old man really teaches you to do…run away!"
That had pushed Jade to the limit. Suddenly, Tomo's smile was gone and replaced by a look of almost disgust, twisted with twinges of fear that highlighted him within a moment. There were gasps from every corner of the room, and some people rose from their seats, backing away from the creature that now stood before them. At one moment Jade was staring level with Tomo's eyes, at the next she was a foot above him. It did not take long for her to realize she had changed again.
But this time she did not panic. In fact, this time she was quite aware what had forced her to this state. And what was now apparent in this new form…
Power. The raw power that gave her now an advantage over all her peers. And especially over Tomo.
She reached one arm out to grab a hold of the boy by his collar and hoist him into the air. He flailed about, wildly making strange, high pitched noises in distress. "You seem quick to comment on my choices…but can you finish this fight? Care to try?" she asked, her new voice now a growling menacing low.
Jade looked down to see Vahn grabbing a hold of the arm she was holding Tomo with. "You don't have control of your new body! Get control, Jade!"
The realization that came to Jade when she heard Vahn's pleas was almost alarming…she had thought she was in control. From her position she was acting and doing this with a free will…was this what true anger could do to a person? Was she so weak that she would give in to it? No…she had to get herself under her own way of thinking. Her grandfather's maxim suddenly alerted her mind in a loud call: A warrior who fights out of hate can never truly win.
Jade suddenly let go of the frightened Tomo. He scrambled out of the way nervously as Jade still shone with the anger that still radiated inside her. It was still there, still inside her…but she had it in check. She could control it. She took a moment to finally see where she was. Vahn was still standing beside her, with a somewhat relieved look on his face. But the others inside the cafeteria were still struck speechless, gawking at what had just happened. Some were nervously approaching, while most stood back.
Jade couldn't think of anything else to do but run.
Noriyuko stood outside the dojo, taking in the quiet scene around him. The first snows always blessed the shrine with an almost eerie silence and beauty. The tranquility that flowed from the place was breathtaking. But there was another use for the now extremely cold temperatures that came with the snows. It was a new season…a good season for training. The old man slowly removed the sandals from both his feet and the long priest's robe he always wore. He now stood with only a lightweight gi on, his feet already becoming numb with the icy chill and his body already becoming too aware of the potential cold that was setting in.
As Noriyuko started to warm up his muscles with a variety of stretches, he thought back to what his daughter would be telling him if she were still alive…something about him being too old for doing this sort of thing or catching pneumonia from not wearing enough. Jade, on the other hand, would join him without a second thought. He smiled to himself, it was funny to see how different the mother and daughter actually were. It would have been strange to see how they would have lived together…
Even now as he ran through a number of his katas he had mastered, he could still remember how Tera had described how it all began…
It was a wet and rainy afternoon in spring. The forecasters had predicted it would storm for a few days, that the storm system would come and go in about forty-eight hours. And when one had to walk home from school everyday in it, like Tera, it became an annoyance extremely fast. The seventeen year old girl ran full speed out the door of the school down the road, the puddles splashing her legs and soaking her shoes and socks. Her long, blond hair stuck to her forehead and knotted into a mess of tangles.
Why was it that Tera was the only junior at her high school that didn't own a car? Why was it that it had to rain extra hard just when she had to run in it? And why was it that she didn't even think to bring her umbrella that morning? It wasn't fair! At least home wasn't much further…
A fresh downpour suddenly let loose from the clouds above. It flowed into the girl's eyes, blinding her and keeping her from seeing the road in front of her. She reached one hand up to rub the water from her face, but it too was soaked and only worsened the situation. She was unable to see the sudden curve in the road that gave way to a steep hill…until she was suddenly sliding on her back down the muddy ravine. Luckily the mud had softened the incline, and she managed to not break any bones on the way down.
She continued the sliding ride until she suddenly made impact with a hard surface at the base of the hill. She slid into it with the side of her body, and she let go a gasp when she hit it full force. She thought it was most certainly a rock or boulder of some kind, judging from its jagged, metal feeling and its hard, round body. She managed to stand up, using it for balance. She looked up the path she had just taken and realized that getting back up the hill would not be so easy…
Tera stopped for a moment to take a look at what she had actually run into. The rain had given way a bit and she was finally able to see again. What she had thought was a rock was definitely not what it had seemed…no, this was something unnatural. It was made of gray metal, but parts of it looked broken and scorched, as if by explosion or fire of some kind. A section of the machine was red glass, shattered and crisscrossing in patterns across the window. She reached one hand out to touch the surface of the pod, and, in an almost response to the touch, a low moaning came from inside.
Tera jumped back in obvious fright from the sound. She had seen science fiction movies that had started out this way…scenes where some mutant creature with a few dozen extra eyes appeared from crashed spaceships such as this and dismembered unfortunate bystanders. She tried to unsuccessfully to scramble back up the hill, but the extremely large amount of mud disabled any hope of getting back up. Another louder moan came from inside the craft, shaking it slightly, and Tera was certain that her life was about to end…
But nothing happened. The shaking stopped, and Tera felt her heart slow back down from its extremely panicked state. If anything dangerous was actually inside the pod, she knew it would have already killed her rather than waiting any longer. And if she was going to be stuck down here with this…thing, she might as well know what she was up against. She gathered up every ounce of nerve she had within her and slowly made her way around the side of the craft she had not yet ventured to…
She nearly fell into the crater that the pod had made in the clearing. It had evidently crashed into the hill from this side, judging from the enormous hole that was now evident in the side of the landform. This portion of the ship was in the worst condition of all, judging from the way it had been peeled open like an orange skin. Now she finally had a view of just what lay inside…it was definitely not what she had expected it to be. What lurked inside, what had been making that noise, appeared to be a man! An actually normal-looking man! If it wasn't for his enormously muscular build that was obviously too large to be possible, she would have thought he was human! He had tan skin and shaggy black hair…this one looked to be an obvious fighter of some kind.
The man stirred again in his seated position in the ship. It was obviously meant for only one person, Tera could tell from how cramped he looked. The water was collecting in an overflowing puddle around the massive figure, and Tera suddenly became aware of a large gash that was bleeding on his forehead. The crash had obviously caused the man, or whatever he was, to hit his head on the way down. He was alive, that much she could tell from the moaning. But what was she supposed to do? How are you supposed to apply medical care to an alien?
Tera's first idea was to get him out of the wreck before she could do anything else. Of course, that was easier said than done…the man was literally the largest, and probably the heaviest, man she had ever seen. And was he solid! His muscles firmed his body almost to a rock. But she didn't have any choice, she had to do what she could! She leaned inside the ship itself, wrapping one arm under the man's armpit and the other around his neck. She braced both of her feet against the sides of the ship as best she could and summoned all her strength to slowly pull the man out of the craft. The muscles in her arms ached and strained with the weight she was forced to hold, and his body started to force her backwards. Combined with the friction of the rain and mud, he was forced backwards onto her and within a second all his weight had crushed the air from Tera's lungs. She used her legs to push the man off her and lay for a moment on the ground, catching her breath. "That takes…care of…obstacle number one…" she managed out to herself.
Tera crawled to a crouched position next to the prone figure that now was sprawled on the ground. She had to take care of that wound on his head…it seemed to be the only thing bleeding on him that she could see. She searched through her pockets for something, anything, she could use for a bandage. But, unfortunately, everything she was wearing was covered with mud and dirt. She thought it was an unmanageable situation until suddenly she remembered something she had brought in her backpack. She scrambled back to the place where she had slipped down the hill behind the pod and picked up her grimy bag. She unzipped a side pocket of the bag, and sighed in relief to find the still clean white handkerchief she had kept for emergencies. Although she had imagined using it for an emergency sneeze attack, not to give first aid to a man from another planet.
Tera walked carefully over to the fallen creature and knelt beside him, trying to be careful to keep a side of the cloth clean. She softly put it on the cut, and pressed down hard, trying to stop the flow of blood that made a small stream down the side of the man's face. She took a moment to actually look at the features of the obviously adult male…he was actually, she had to admit, handsome in a strange way. There were certain features about him she could learn to like. Of course, that was saying he actually survived to ever meet her…
There was a sudden movement in the man's face. Both his eyes slowly opened, focusing on the person that was above him. He muttered something incoherently and finally took notice of the woman's hand on his head. He grabbed her arm in an iron grip, snarling and throwing her away from him. "Don't touch me…" he growled, then fell backward in pain from the simple movement. He winced, holding his once again bleeding head.
Tera regained her posture from the surprise of the man's awakening and cautiously walked back in front of him. "I'm…uh…sorry. I didn't think you would wake up…I was just…well your head was…"
"Quiet!" the man snapped, annoyed. He kept one hand pressed to his temple, and he tried to arise using his own pod for stability. He fell back down to his other knee and started to complain to himself. Tera could make out some of his words about lousy malfunctions and curses to broken bones.
He tried to get up again, but this time as he started to drop, Tera managed to grab him to keep him from falling down completely. "You shouldn't try to walk!" she told him, trying to once again manage to handle his weight.
"Your grasp on the obvious is astounding, human!" he remarked as he sat back down again.
"You have a real gratitude problem, friend…" Tera commented as she sat next to him. "Now…do you want me to look at that thing on your head or not?"
The man muttered something once again incoherently.
Tera smiled brightly. "I'll take that as a yes!" As she set to work trying to tend to the scar as best she could, she tried to make some conversation with her silent patient. "By the way, I'm Tera. Who are you? Or more importantly, what are you?"
The man glanced back at his pod, silent for a moment. "I am called Vero. You need not know anything else."
Tera stopped for a moment, looking where Vero was looking. He was apparently assessing the damage, wondering if there was any hope of getting back to where he came from. Wherever that was. "You know…" she said as she continued. "You might be around here for a while. If you need someone to trust…it can be me."
Vero turned back to her. Something in his eyes were…softer than they had been a moment ago. And he slowly smiled down at her. "Maybe…"
Noriyuko arose from his stance he was in, wiping the sweat from his forehead. It was strange to think how the arrogant brute could have eventually fallen in love with the girl he was so quick to snap at. Even stranger was the fact of them going on to have a child together…
"Grandfather! Grandfather!" a voice called suddenly. It was coming closer and closer to the shrine, judging from how loud it was.
Noriyuko looked up in surprise toward the voice. From what he knew he didn't have any grandsons…who could this man be who was calling his name? And why did it seem to sound so familiar to him?
"Grandfather, help me! Please!"
Suddenly the person appeared through the doorway leading to the dojo from the outside of the shrine. He was a large man, and the strangest looking person Noriyuko had ever seen. He was struggling to breath, and Noriyuko called out to him, trying to talk to the person who stood before him as calmly as possible. "Why do you call me 'Grandfather'? You are no kin to me," he said. He was naturally in a loose stance, his mind unsure if this intruder was safe or not.
"I am! I am! You don't understand, I'm not who I used to be!" the man practically yelled at him.
At that moment, Noriyuko was almost certain this must be a raving lunatic that stood before him. Better to humor him though, rather than risk a psychotic frenzy he had heard people like this could get into. "I'm sure you're not…but you have to relax before I can help you. If you'll just come inside maybe we can straighten this all out…"
Something angry mixed with frustration flashed in the face of the other man and he clenched his fists, trying to control the rage that threatened to explode through him. "Can't you see who I am?" he managed through clenched teeth. "I'm Jade! Jade!"
Noriyuko struggled to hold himself back from collapsing. "What? What do you know of her?"
"I am her!"
"You can't be!"
"But it's true!" he cried. He sunk to his knees, looking burdened and unable to stand anymore. "Can't you see me?" He fell over to his side, his form shaking in an almost desperate fear. And…was it Noriyuko's imagination, or was he starting to shrink?
The older man stepped forward hesitantly and looked down at the form on the ground. Yes, he was a few sizes smaller now, he could tell that from how loosely the clothes he was wearing had become. And the gold streak of hair that was down his scalp…it was becoming entirely white with the rest of his hair. And the entity of his face was…changing. It took a little while, but Noriyuko was certain that he was now a she!
"Jade? You are my Jade!" he said, almost hysterically.
The girl stood up from her position, blinking. "I'm…back…again," she said, dumbly. She turned to her grandfather and shook her head, as if trying to clear it. Her jade eyes were clouded in a confused and startled haze. "Grandfather…what's making this happen? You have to know…"
* * *
It hadn't taken long for Noriyuko to explain to his granddaughter just what had happened between his daughter and Vero, the alien man. He paced back and forth across the wooden floor of the living room, in front of Jade who sat cross-legged on the floor. "You are a cross spirit…the product of the mixed souls of a human and a Sirajin."
"So what you're saying is that I'm not really alien or human, but somewhere in the middle?" Jade dropped her head into her hands, exasperatingly. "I'm confused…for the second time today."
Noriyuko stopped, kneeling in front of Jade and putting one hand on her shoulder, trying to offer some consolation for what she was going through. "It is natural that you are…and I can only try to explain what happened between your mother and father. It was not something for me to...pry on, if you know what I mean." He stood up, resuming his constant pacing. "Your father was a Sirajin, a race of warrior people. Their entire civilization was of a single male gender and they created more of their kind by storing their genes in separate banks. Understand so far?"
Jade nodded. As best as one can, she thought to herself.
"A while after your mother and father met for the first time, they eventually fell in love. I must say it was new for both of them, more for your father because of his inexperience with females. When your mother tried to explain the concept of having children, he somehow figured a way in which they could actually meld their life forces to actually form a new being your mother could give birth to. That was you.
"And I guess now it seems that your father's dominant gene has taken root in you. Brought out that side of him you have had dormant inside for years. And I guess that's also why you're so…different from the other girls you know. I know it must be a shock for you…"
Jade shook her head and fell backwards on the floor, covering her face with her hands. "That's an understatement. So do you think I'm going to keep changing?"
Noriyuko stood over Jade, looking down at her. "It seems to be connected with your anger. When you get really mad at something, you change. When you cool down, you change back. Or at least that's what I've gathered from what you have told me about the times you've done it so far."
"Sounds simple enough…I don't get angry, I don't become a guy. Easy."
Noriyuko raised one eyebrow. "Easy for you? Your temper changes as often as your clothes."
Jade glared up at the old man. "Good to know I have your confidence, Grandfather. And what about school? Everyone already saw me change!"
Her grandfather scratched his beard, deep in thought. "True…I have no idea what you're going to do about that…"
Jade pushed past Noriyuko and started to throw her arms about wildly, trying to vent some of her built up frustration. "This is just…perfect! Can this situation possibly be any worse?"
Almost in response, a loud crash shook the foundation of the entire shrine from directly outside from where the two were talking. Were the situation not as alarming, it would have been humorous to see the two jump from where they were standing into their individual defensive stances. A few seconds passed and they remained as they were, standing up only when they were almost positive that there was no attack intended.
Jade was the first to walk cautiously out of the shrine, scouting out just what had caused the sound. She started backwards when she almost ran into the man that was standing right outside. "Who are you? What do you want here?" she demanded. The occurrences of the day had not left her in the best mood, and she didn't feel like dealing with visitors.
Jade did not bother taking notice in how the man looked, let alone the feeling of ultimate power that seemed to be flowing from him as he only stood there. He wore a simple purple tunic, looking almost like a jumpsuit. He stared at her with passive blue eyes, his straight-angled face and jaw seeming impenetrable to what he was thinking. He stood straight and tall, his slightly muscled, slender body like a board and unmoving. He finally breathed four words, his voice cold and rigid. "Out of my way."
He walked by her, his steps flowing together so smoothly that he seemed to be floating. His mood seemed to be calm and cool as he stood in the center of the room, ignoring the two other people who were there. He seemed to be gathering himself, collecting his thoughts and trying to choose words to say. Jade could barely see him breath, he was so still. The stranger finally turned, and demanded in a voice slightly louder than the first time he spoke, "I feel his energy…where is my brother? I want him."
Noriyuko lifted a brow quizzically. "The only one here is myself and my granddaughter. There are no other people…"
His thoughts were interrupted as the man spun with the speed of a cobra and struck with one palm flat against the side of Noriyuko's face. The older man reeled back in a more surprise than actual pain. Yes, the strike had hurt him, but that wasn't what shocked him the most. It was the speed, the ultimately awesome speed behind it…he couldn't even trace the movement it was so fast. But his stall to recover from the hit had also opened him up to this incredible stranger. Within a second, he was hoisted up into the air by the collar of his tunic, with only the hot feeling of the man's hand pressed to his neck to tell him what was happening.
As his eyes started to blur with the loss of oxygen, he could hear the man's voice clearly through his ears. "I said I want him. Give him to me, or you end here." He seemed almost calm with the words he spoke, in a tone that could have been used to say "hello." He seemed to be almost…content with what he was doing! As if it was as simple as throwing away dirty laundry. But laundry couldn't do what he could…fight back.
But Noriyuko hit the floor before he could even move an inch. He hadn't been thrown, he knew that from the natural way he just dropped from the man's hand. He looked up at the man's face bewilderedly and was surprised to find his calm eyes widened slightly in an odd fright. Noriyuko followed his gaze to the other side of the room, where Jade stood, practically seething in anger. She was already in her new form, seeming that her body was getting used to switching more easily now. She glared at him with a murderous glint in her eyes that seemed to light their green aflame. "Don't touch him."
The man finally blinked, and his eyes resumed their calm, almost twisted serenity they had remained in before. "I knew it. I knew you were here…brother." His lip curled at the word with an almost humorous tone. "Will you not welcome me into your house? What kind of greeting is that to give to your sibling? I am Havor, your elder brother." Jade's visage took on a look of shock. "My brother? You can't be! There's no way…You're no brother of mine!"
Havor stepped over the fallen Noriyuko, keeping his eyes firmly locked to Jade's. "Human blood has made you weak, my brother. Your soul is tender, pampered by this earth's lifestyle. Crushing you will be all too easy…" His eyes seemed to take on a shine, brimming with what felt like obviously cruel intention.
Noriyuko arose and kept a safe distance from the alien as he made his way back across the room. "Your hatred is apparent in your actions. Why do you despise her so much? What has she ever done to you?"
Havor's originally straightforward face contorted in a sudden upsweep of rage. His sight seemed to cover both of the people that stood before him. His voice had raised to little less than a dull roar. "What did this hybrid do? This half-breed wretch?" He rattled off the names with a curled lip, his fists gathering to a shaking anger. "I didn't have a father because of you. He left my planet before I was even born and he never even came back for me! You dare ask what my dear brother, who is no more than a crossbred freak, did to me?" He smirked in a sick humor. "Now…I'll pay you back, my brother. One with blood like yours should not fear death…so prepare yourself now!"
A sudden light radiated from the very innards of Havor's body and suddenly engulfed the entire room. His once smaller muscles sprouted several inches in thickness and he howled in an animal savagery. Winds seemed to pick up from no where and blow through every crevice of the house. Noriyuko feared that the entire shrine would come crashing down with the sheer power that was being exerted from the alien warrior. A sudden surging wave of power threw the older man backward into the wall, and a sharp crack to the head suddenly brought on an onslaught of darkness and unconsciousness.
* * *
Were it not for the power her male form gave her body, Jade would have been blown back by the sudden change in Havor with his increase in energy. She squinted her eyes into the light, trying to keep herself from being blinded and unable to see where her opponent was. She could hear his screaming yell easily from where she was, despite the amount of noise it seemed the entire Earth was making with his power. "Fight me face to face, coward!" she shouted through the light.
Jade could not even see the sudden orb of pure energy that cleared the lighted area until it hit her head on. She knew she was dead when she first felt the burning extremity of the fire behind it…but it never came. She felt herself sail out the door of the house, but somehow the orb had only stunned her. She instinctively put her legs straight out behind her, landing haphazardly on the ground. She marveled at the fact she could still walk…it was plain fact that if she were still a girl the blast would have incinerated her…
Jade was snapped back into reality as her sight was clouded by the image of Havor's fist that was coming directly into her. The direct blow snapped her head back and her jaw felt the shock of the entire punch. She felt a warm stream of blood fall from her lip and nose. As the side of Havor's foot then sank straight into Jade's gut, she knew that there was no way she was going to win this fight. She doubled over in the absolute pain of the kick…her mind was reeling and her sight blurred as she lost her breath forcefully. She moaned, sinking to her knees and onto the ground.
Havor walked up to her calmly, looking down at her in an almost blasé manner. "Pity. You could barely control yourself from that weak shot, and here I thought maybe in your Sirajin form you would be a bit more…challenging for me. But I guess there's no point in grievances." He thrust one knee up, and the air sang as he dealt the crushing step that would crush Jade where she lay.
She curled her body around to position herself so she could catch his foot as it came down. She felt the bones in her hands bend and threaten to break as the energetic pain behind the thrust spread through them. Jade swung her other leg to connect solidly with the back of Havor's knee and he fell to his side on the ground behind her. She brought up the heel of her other foot to connect solidly with his neck, but received a shock as the more experienced fighter blocked it with one fist and curled his legs up beneath him to land back in a normal standing position. Jade took the opportunity to crawl to her feet, keeping her now nearly sprained ankle behind her as she readied a stance.
I have no hope of defeating him…but I only wish that I can muster a dignified offense. My life is going to end; all I really have left now is what dignity I can actually salvage. Jade could barely manage to gather her thoughts as Havor ran her down with a fury of mad punches and blows. She managed to block at least some of them, but her body started to lurch and dull with the continuous attacks. Her senses seemed to fade and run together at the same time. But she was aware enough to see the compact beam of raw electric energy sail into her, shocking her body and lighting her nerves with an awakening extremity.
Jade felt her awareness starting to dim, her mind giving into the nothingness that was threatening to overtake her. The pain would go away soon, that much was apparent now. She should embrace the darkness that seemed to beckon to her now. Her soul was giving in to it, letting her go toward it to rest…finally rest… But a sudden awareness delivered an awakening idea. She, the one with the ever iron will, was giving up. Giving in just because of some pain. No! No! Jade only you can finish this! her mind screamed suddenly.
"No!" she screamed, opening her eyes and pushing her energy to its limit. The pain was still there, present with liveliness that etched on her body. But it seemed less important, less essential to worry about now. Her determination now greatly overcame her physical feelings that were trying to hold her back. "I still live," she growled in a low tone.
Havor stepped back, slightly startled by the new upraise in his sibling's energy level. It was unnatural for anyone to go from such a weak state to a totally refreshed one. Jade smiled a bit cockily; it was a good feeling to see her brother taken aback, even if it was only a small bit. It upped her chances of getting in a good fight before even will power wouldn't save her.
Jade flew with every ounce of lift she could possibly achieve, streaking in to fly kick him straight in the chest. It was like kicking a tree trunk, swaying him back with the force of the hit but not breaking him. She had at least achieved some surprise in the tactic, that much she could see from the way he fell back more than he would have if he were prepared for it. She followed up with a round of short jabs and thrust punches toward his stomach and found with a great wonder that some actually slipped through his defenses. She finally tried one powerful uppercut to Havor's chin and she watched with a smug satisfaction as he reeled back, spitting out the blood from his now split lip. His figure shook slightly and Jade watched as he turned toward her.
She felt her stomach turn as she realized he was laughing. He was laughing!
"Congratulations," he remarked as he cracked his knuckles loudly. "You managed to catch me off guard a bit. Did you enjoy it? I hope you did, because the chances of a recurrence of that event will not happen again."
Havor calmly stood up from his slightly stooped position. He raised both hands over his head and closed his eyes, gathering everything inside of himself. Jade watched in twisted fascination as the energy started to collect…one bit at a time…into the area between his arms. It was a great burning mass of blood red flame and cracking power, containing his entire will and devotion to his cause. It swerved, forming a mighty sphere of destructive capabilities. Jade tried to calm herself as she watched in an almost slow motion as Havor heaved the huge ball with every bit of strength in his supernatural power…
Jade crossed her wrists in front of her, trying to muster the impossible amount of resistance it would take to repel the enormous death that would overtake her in mere seconds. She closed her eyes and prayed to God that she would at least be able to die an honorable death if it was not meant for her to survive. She could feel the heat sting her face and arms. Her mind wandered to the thought of what it would feel like to die…
But the actual death never came, and she opened her eyes to find a robe-clad body blocking the blast. Jade blinked her eyes to clear them and gasped when she recognized the figure. "Grandfather…" She was silent when the sphere hit, deflecting practically harmlessly from him. "What?" she asked more to herself than him. "There's no way…"
Noriyuko turned, smiling broadly. He revealed one of the temple's huge gongs in his hands, the front smoldering and pieces of it melting from the energy exerted on it. "See? They aren't just for ceremonial uses," he laughed lightly, dropping the now useless instrument to the ground.
Jade glanced back at the source of the attack. Havor was now shining in utter rage, but something in him…something that was radiating from him…was amiss. He glared back and forth from Jade to Noriyuko, his eyes darting like bouncing, burning coals. He finally stopped and pointed two of his fingers on his right hand outward toward Noriyuko. "You will not interfere, fool," he hissed, and he shot one single beam out. It was small, almost invisible. But it pierced like a dagger through the man's chest, cutting straight through his old heart.
Jade was taken off guard by this sudden change in events. She had not expected Havor to even bother with her grandfather, but he had…he had… she could only quickly catch his body as he sagged to the ground in one massive heap. There was barely any blood from the cut, save a small stream that poured from the hole through his body. Noriyuko managed a weak smile and reached up to touch Jade's face once, gently. After that he could only nod his head back and die.
Jade couldn't believe what had just happened. What had just happened to her. To her grandfather…the only family she had ever truly known.
The body that she held still in her arms became heavier as she became a girl once more. She couldn't breath, she could barely keep herself from just falling apart. Everything else was dissolved…the entire world was no longer there. Whatever had existed was no longer present. Jade couldn't even speak as she begged for her grandfather to come back. It was a silent plea, a hopeless, quiet, lonely plea that she knew in the back of her mind couldn't be granted. Her eyes were locked to the silent figure that lay in her arms…the teacher, the parent, the fighter. The one. The only one she had ever had…
Who was now torn away from her.
Noriyuko's words still hung fresh in her mind. Past words, words that had just been spoken that day…
Look how much you grow before my eyes everyday…
You're my little warrior…
It would make my heart soar…
If I were you, I'd start running…
I'm always here for you, Jade…
That's when Jade's tears started to flow. No noise escaped her, they just silently fell in rushing drops, streaking her bloody and dirty face. She gripped the man's tunic and held him to her, almost as if her presence would somehow bring him back. Almost as if her tears would rinse the death from him and make him wake up. Almost as if her silent hopes and desperation would change everything that had happened…
But it remained the same. Her grandfather was dead.
* * *
Vahn tapped his pencil nervously on the desk as he watched the clock attentively. He could hear his social studies teacher, Mr. Ton, going on about some balance between economics and global researching, but he ignored him and kept silent in his seat in the back of the room. It was 2:20…only ten more minutes…
It was safe to say Vahn wanted to get out of school as soon as he possibly could. Jade had never come back after she had run out during lunch, and he wondered where she had gone. Everyone was still talking about the strange things that happened in the lunchroom, some trying to grasp that what they had seen was only some sort of strange illusion, some trying to figure out how Jade could have been able to change. Perhaps Vahn would be one of the ones asking the same questions, if Jade had not foretold him about the change before…
Vahn turned to stare out the second story window. It was cloudy out, perhaps it would snow some more. It would be cold out, and knowing Jade she would be out training somewhere. Somewhere…she could be anywhere! The shrine, the dojo…when Jade did not want to be found, she was good at disappearing.
"Vahn…Vahn Rohnan!" The sharp sound of Mr. Ton's voice awoke Vahn from his thoughts, and he nearly jumped out of his seat.
The young teacher crossed his arms over his chest, swishing his ruler through the air, annoyed. "Perhaps you could answer for the class what the economic balance of Austria is bimonthly? You were listening, were you not?"
Uh-oh…good luck pulling this off, Rohnan. "Yes, sir, I was listening…" he started uneasily. "Uh…the economic balance of Austria…on a bimonthly basis?"
Mr. Ton rolled his eyes and frowned. "Thank you for repeating the question, now the answer, please."
The metallic sound of the bell rang throughout the entire school. Vahn leapt up from his seat and headed out the door, but not before a lengthy reprimand on being attentive in class and staying alert to what was going on. He just stood, with a solemn look on his face, muttering a quiet "yes, sir" when it felt it was needed. As soon as he was finished, the boy broke into a run, leaping down the stairs and out the main doors of the school. There was only one place to start looking for Jade: back at the shrine.
Vahn was running full speed when he came to the area of sidewalk in front of Jade's home and the main temple. He bent over, trying to catch his breath from the fast sprint. As he breathed in his nose, something caught his sense of smell…it was the scent of something burning. Something charred…he glanced up at the area behind the shrine. There was no smoke…what could it be? He looked at the surrounding area…there were no fires, no restaurants nearby. What could be causing that smell?
He stood up and ran around the perimeter of the yard to the back of the dojo. Something was going on, he could tell. What was that noise he was hearing? It was something continuous…something loud. It was…laughing. Someone was laughing hysterically. It made Vahn stop for a moment; the sound was cruel, yet triumphant at the same time…something was terribly wrong with this situation…
Vahn slowed his pace to an almost creep as he came out from around the building. It was a total scene of destruction. The ground was charred and some parts were lightly burning. The entire house was a wreck, and the area was dark with an unsettling aura of shadow. There was a man standing, his hands on his hips, laughing. It was he who Vahn had heard moments before…On the other side of the grass was two figures. One he recognized as Jade, but the other…the other seemed lifeless and blood was dripping from the robe he wore. Was it Vahn's far sight of the scene, or was Jade…crying?
He stayed out of sight as the man started to speak, still seeming to chuckle between phrases. "You surprise me, brother…to have a reckless human come and try to take over the fight for you. But at least it gave me an advantage. Your spirit is now broken and it's only natural your body will follow."
Vahn tried to contain his shock and surprise as the man gathered two balls of energy in each hand, surging them with increases of power. No normal human could do that! He knew that he had only one target in mind, and he knew that with his abnormal strength, the man could easily down the defenseless Jade. He knew he had to do something to buy his teacher at least some time to rejuvenate…
He sprinted full speed to where the man stood, moving with both the element of surprise and velocity on his side. Vahn swung both his arms in an upward arc as the man outstretched both his arms to fire the blasts. They connected under his elbows and his arms flew out awkwardly, the orbs flew in two opposite directions. They easily missed Jade, and Vahn felt a quick rush of relief before the stranger's fist landed squarely in his chest.
Vahn fell backwards onto the ground. He let out a painful yell, and he thought his chest would just cave in where he lay. It was like being struck with a sledgehammer at full speed. He opened his eyes to see the man's elbow coming straight towards his face and he quickly dodged his head to the side to just barely miss it. He could feel the force of the shot actually lightly skin the side of his face.
There was a moment of stillness between himself and the stranger. He watched as the man above him smiled savagely, baring his teeth in crude giddiness. "Another human on my brother's side? Perhaps I will toy with the child before I finish you off. Dear brother won't be going anywhere…he's too busy sobbing over that dead nothing."
Vahn curled his stomach into a ball and forced both his legs out, trying to thrust the man with both his legs off of him. He was shocked as the man grabbed both of his legs and swung him like a whip, letting him go in midair. It took Vahn a moment to register the fact that he was now several feet in the air and gathering speed and altitude. Gravity would soon be taking effect, and he knew he had to position himself some way that he wouldn't kill himself in the fall. He was startled to find the image of the alien man jumping upwards to intercept him on his way down. He switched his body sideways, dodging a straight, forward punch that would have connected with his stomach.
Vahn landed first, and he felt his knees absorb the connection with the solid ground. The stranger's jump was much more powerful and he was still soaring through the air. If Vahn could only think of some attack to use on him on the way down… his gaze fell to the gong that was still lying on the ground. A small fire that had lit to the grass nearby had kept it heated, that much he could tell from the portions of red glowing heat in the metal. He didn't have much time to try this, his body was falling now…
The boy grabbed the probably coolest side of the cymbal and hurled it like a discus into the air with all his might. It was quick throw, but the contact of his hand with even the cooler side scalded his palm, leaving a burnt line of red. He grabbed his hand and tried to sooth the pain as he watched the path the gong made through the air. It went faster than he had expected it, and caught the man at an off target. He heard him groan as it sliced through part of his side. He fell to one knee on the ground, grasping at the gash in his side. Vahn could see the blood seeping from beneath his hand. "You little wretch…" the man growled. The absolute danger the boy was in now was too apparent…
That was when the area exploded.
Vahn felt a sudden rush of hot wind push into him directly from behind. He turned, bracing himself against it and stared into a blue light that was coming from where Jade had been kneeling. What stood there…no, floated there a foot from the ground…was someone he had never seen before. It was Jade, yet not. Her body was female, she had not transformed to her male state again, although the golden streak through the center of her hair was oddly present again. Her body was surrounded by a boundary of blue flame and her hair floated around in swerving strands around her. Her tear streaked face was calmly raged and yet eerily sad at the same time.
Vahn could barely believe his ears when he finally heard her speak in a voice that seemed to penetrate into his mind. "Vahn…my ever faithful friend…thank you for what you've done. But you cannot stay here with me."
The boy suddenly awoke from the half-daze he was in. "What…No! No matter what you say I can't leave you! I won't…"
His teacher's voice grew in an angry sweep. "Don't be a fool! Listen to what I say and go! Now!"
Vahn was ever defiant. "Never! You need my help!"
He blinked as Jade suddenly disappeared from where she had been floating. She was just there one moment and then gone the next…She had suddenly flown with such extreme speed that Vahn could not even see where she moved to. He heard a sad voice speak to him from directly behind him. "Forgive me," it said in a command, yet asking voice. He couldn't even respond as Jade cracked her arm into the nerve in the back of his neck.
* * *
Jade watched silently as Vahn's body crumbled to the ground. The hit would only keep him unconscious, though the headache he was going to wake up with would make him wish he was dead. She silently hoped he would appreciate what she was doing for him one day. No, not today, that much was for sure. But maybe when he grew up a bit he would understand.
She turned to stare at Havor. This new form had filled her with an unconditional, fiery hate for this monster that stood before her. Jade felt every cell in her body pulse and add to her rage. He felt no remorse for what he had done…he didn't regret it. Her eyes nearly clouded over again in tears, and she yelled once more, screaming out all the pain and weakness from her body. She closed her eyes, charging the very air around her into a mass of cracking energy that spurted in lightning like streaks across her body. She reopened her eyes, feeling herself gather everything she had into what she would do to this creature. She spoke in a still, clear voice. "You have shattered the most important life I had, even if it wasn't my own. Forgiveness for one like you…could never be an option!"
Havor grinned with an almost renewed excitement. "Good! Perhaps now you'll take me more seriously!"
The air was filled with the sudden battling auras of both the combatants as they charged their forces to the peak. Jade was convinced the earth itself would split with the sheer power they were both exerting, but it didn't matter. Not much could matter now…the only thing that did was paying back her brother for what he had done. Justice.
The atmosphere cracked as the two warriors collided in an awesome array of skills and techniques. Jade was faster than she had ever been before, more precise in the blocks and counters that she delivered. The fight was fast, over almost as quickly as it had begun, but it was painful to both. Jade's new straightforward attitude kept her focus totally on the fight that was in process. It seemed like only within the blink of an eye that she had the upper hand on Havor, pressing him back with every hit.
Jade finally delivered a brutal spinning kick, throwing the larger man from his feet. Havor twitched convulsively, his mouth gasping for air. One of his eyes were swollen, and he glared up at Jade with the other one, cursing under his breath. She went down into a very deep stance in front of the fallen soldier and her eyes lit in triumphant vengeance. "Now you die."
The voice in her mind startled Jade from what she was doing. "Grandfather…?" She darted her eyes to where he had died. His body was still there…but where was that voice coming from?
Did I not say I would always be here for you, my child?
Jade felt her knees going weak, but she remained standing. It was…it was him…
Don't you remember what I said to you before? A warrior who fights out of hate never truly wins. A warrior who fights out of hatred never truly wins…
With every time the voice repeated the phrase, Jade slowly became aware of what had happened to her. What she had become. She saw herself, what she was doing. Was she just as cruel, just as barbaric as her own brother? Was she just as weak that she could control what she did? She looked down, almost seeing her brother for the first time. His eyes seemed a bit more frightened, a bit more desperate. She finally understood what her grandfather had meant, and she arose from her stance.
When she spoke, her voice shook, almost uncertainly. "Get up and go. Use whatever you means you had of coming here and leave me. Now."
Jade turned away from him. Her gaze went from the body of her grandfather to Vahn and then swept over the entire shrine. What remained of it anyway. So much had been lost in the fight…where could she even begin in fixing it all? Fixing the things that could be fixed…It was a tiring feeling. A sorrowful, regretful feeling.
Jade's thoughts were interrupted as a guttural grow sounded from behind her. Jade turned to see Havor managing to arise from his position. His anger was ever apparent, and he muttered slowly to her, "I don't need…pity…least of all from you…"
He turned, looking as though to attack her one last time. But instead he switched targets, aiming straight for the unconscious form of Vahn. Jade felt something within her snap and she knew she couldn't let anyone else have to pay for the fight between the two of them. She closed her eyes and focused all her will, all her dedication, all her energy to yield to her command. Slowly, ever so slowly, she could feel the power within her building…accelerating…
Until it exploded in one huge blast of might…
And all was still…
* * *
Jade sat in a lotus position as she looked at the shrine. The Serenity of the Dragon Shrine, the home she had known for years. The only home she had ever known. The flames that leapt up from it now danced across the mid- afternoon sky, clashing with the silent snow that fell. The smoke billowed in huge drifts through the air, darkening the already shadowy countryside.
The lone warrior knew what she was doing. Somehow this felt fulfilling in some way. Her grandfather had always said that creating the shrine was a way of him giving something back to her mother. To Jade, this was the way of giving back to both her mother and her grandfather. Giving back in some ways to her brother.
After the battle, she had not even believed what had happened…it was like a state of denial. Jade could barely understand how she had been able to final form and control the force inside of her. She could only remember seeing him threatening to kill the only person she had left…and finally letting everything go. There wasn't much left after that, she had found herself completely drained. But she took what was left both the bodies of her family members and sealed them within the shrine before alighting it. She thought of it as giving them a final resting place where they could never be disturbed.
Jade felt one tear fall down her face as she turned away from the inferno. It was strange to see how much she had changed within the last few hours. She had always scorned tears, believing them as a sign of ultimate weakness. But now, they seemed like the only form of comfort she had. This wasn't the way she wanted it to turn out. But it had, and there was nothing that could be done about it now but look forward. She didn't even have anyone left…
She had carried Vahn home minutes before, creating a good excuse by saying that he had fallen asleep at her house after training. Mrs. Rohnan was so used to Vahn's coming home with scratches and bruises that she didn't question his condition. She only smiled and thanked her for bringing him home. As Mrs. Rohnan closed the door, all Jade could do was take one last look at the boy and hope that somehow he would understand. And know why she had done what she did.
Jade walked over to the open space pod sitting outside the shrine. She had found it on the other side of the dojo after the fight, and she figured it to be Havor's means of transportation to the planet. Perhaps using it would fill the gap she had inside herself right now. Maybe she'd find someone, anyone, out there who could link to her past. She had fully inspected it, and she had easily figured out how to operate it. Maybe it was in her blood…
Perhaps even her father, Vero, was out there somewhere…
And she needed to find someone…
Jade climbed in and slammed the door shut.
* * *
It was a cold, dank laboratory in the slums of the planet Sira. The planet was black, desolate against the rest of the universe. It was the night hours there, and the male race was settled in their positions for the night. Some stood guard for the armed forces, most slept in their separate huts and bunkers. No one noticed the strange noises and sounds coming from the corner of the city…
Its meaning was deeper, twisted, stranger…sinister in some ways. It was cluttered with strange medical instruments and technical equipment. A small droid beeped and whirred across the floor, checking the readings on the object in the corner. It was a large, cylindrical biotank, the green liquid inside housing an array of cloned bodies of Sirajin. The DNA was symmetrical and it carried on only one warrior's genes. This was the common form of reproduction on the planet…but usually only in the main medical centers in the city's core.
The machine suddenly lit up…another body was going to be used. Within a moment, the capsulated top of the tank opened itself, and a large figure leapt out. The droid rolled over to it, dispensing a large white towel at its feet. The figure bent down and picked it up, wiping the goo and stale liquid from his black hair and tanned body. He wrapped the towel around his midriff and walked a bit unsteadily over to the mirror. "The technologies of this age are a dream…" he commented. "To be brought back from death so easily. Although the transition of souls from one body to the next leaves something to be desired…"
Havor smiled to himself. "Dear brother, I know you'll come looking. It may take you days, months, or even years. It might even take you a lifetime. But I'll be waiting. Your kind does believe patience is a virtue, after all…"
Havor turned away from the mirror. He had to train if he wanted to be ready to greet his sibling…
He couldn't help laughing lightly as he stretched his new body. Yes…Vengeance would be all too enjoyable when the time came around. And it would come around. It always did…