Saturday, August 5, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter J (Part 1)


The List:
-Jade, Juros, Jasper
-Justicia, Jungle, jail, jurisdiction
-Judgment Day
-Jaybird, Job, jackal, jackrabbit, juniper, Jack, Justify

The Result:
"The Justification of Jade", Part 1

"Jade Angelica, what in the Realm you doing?"
The common housewife stood with her hands on her hips as she nailed her foster daughter with a particularly vicious death glare.

Jade, for her part, tried to ignore the woman she called Mother as she persisted in hopping about atop the tall thatch roof, spreading her wings to catch the sunlight.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" She called back. "I'm just spreading my wings for a bit!"
Mother wagged her head. "My dear, we talked about this. You get up on the roof, people will see! Come down, silly child! Why don't you content yourself with the arbor Father built you?" She gestured to a small shelter, close to the ground, with plenty of room for the girl's growing wingspan, but completely walled off from prying eyes.

Jade wrinkled her nose, but she glided down to join Mother on the ground.
"It's so stuffy in there!" She complained.

Mother opened her arms, and Jade willingly accepted the warm embrace. "Yes, but it is also safe. Remember, you're not like other children in the Realm."

Jade had to acknowledge she was right, even if Mother couldn't possibly know how right she was. She wasn't even from the Realm—in fact (though he would never confirm it directly) she was pretty sure she knew the being who had made the Realm. But she didn't need to burden Mother with theories and speculation.

"Now," Mother continued, walking with Jade to a grassy corner of the courtyard. "Help me decide what to grow for supper."

Jade felt the warmth unfolding within her. Mother always knew how to make her feel better—and nothing made Jade feel as good as when she could use her abilities to give Gifts to Realm-dwellers. For Mother, she had given the gift of Planting, so that she wouldn't have to struggle with crouching in the dirt, pulling weeds, handling seeds, or suffer through a bad harvest.
"Oh, how about jicama?" Jade suggested. "And jofra-beans, and jelly-berries!"

Mother laughed and ruffled Jade's hair. "That sounds like an excellent meal to have along with the roasted jackrabbits Father will bring home from the Forest." She turned to the bare little corner and waved her hand. Immediately, tiny green sprouts pushed through the turf, curling and winding their way toward the sky. In a matter of minutes, leaves unfolded, blossoms transformed into fruit, which expanded and ripened till Mother nodded.

"I think that's enough," she said, and picked the ripest fruits to use for their supper. Jade offered her the basket and she piled them inside.
Jade moved to follow her, but at that moment, a breeze ruffled her wingfeathers. She stopped and turned back. One of the shadows under the juniper tree wobbled, and seemed to wave invisibly at her.
Mother already stood in the doorway of their small house. “Are you coming, Jade?” she called over her shoulder.

Jade sighed. “Not tonight,” she replied reluctantly. “I need to go. I’ll be back as soon as I can!”

She could see the disappointment on Mother’s face, but she covered it with a jovial smile. “All right then,” she nodded tossed Jade a sprig of jelly-berries. “Be on your way! Send my goodwill to your brother.”
“Thank you, Mother!” Jade cried, and sprang into the air to catch the wind that blew.

The shadow from the juniper followed her as she ascended toward the clouds.

“Don’t suppose I could get some of those berries?” A voice joked beside her.
Jade glanced over at the grinning boy riding the jet stream beside her.
“Of course, Troy,” she said. “Mother sends her goodwill.” She paused in her climb to offer him a few of the small, juicy morsels.
Troy—his dark hair hanging over his eyes as he seemed to rest on the air itself—munched on the fruits happily enough, but he snorted at Jade’s words. “Don’t know why you keep calling her that; she’s not really our Mother.”
Jade kept her wings wavering at a steady beat to keep her aloft. “But she is a mother, and technically, we don’t have one—so I chose my own!”
Troy finished his berries and tested the shadows surrounding him for one he could ride upon. He raised a dubious eyebrow at his sister. “Would it kill you to act like an Abnormal, Jade?” He found the perfect shadow and took off ahead of her.
“Well, excuse me!” she retorted, zipping after him. “I don’t know if it occurred to you, but I happen to be flying just now, so I don’t know how much more Abnormal you want me to be!”
Troy led the way across the white expanse, headed for the dip where the clouds parted, giving them access to the Realm below. “Just remember that you have a job, Jade—and no part of that involves becoming one of them.”
Jade sighed. “I know,” she said. “I just—“ Her voice broke off as the sensation overwhelmed her. Someone was ready to receive a Gift! She flew to where the feeling pulled strongest, and pointed to a young woman just in the act of drawing water at the well. “There!” she said.
Troy moved in behind her, keeping a prudent distance. “Don’t get caught,” he warned.

Jade rolled her eyes and slowly drifted down toward the woman. Her head was bent, her eyes fixed on her work, when Jade deftly delivered the Gift of telekinesis, her favorite. No sooner had she done so, than the jug in the woman’s hand slipped and fell, headed for the unfathomable depth of the dark well—if she hadn’t reached at that moment, and her Gift halted its fall. Jade enjoyed the stare of wonder on the woman’s face as the jug returned safely to her hand, still full of water. The wonderment vanished as her hands gripped the handles, and, after glancing around to make sure no one had seen it, the woman trudged on her way, resolved to think no more on the subject.

Jade glanced up to see Troy almost sneering at her.
“What?” she drew herself up defensively.
“You’re too gentle with them,” he stated bluntly, landing on the ground and walking leisurely toward the town.
“Gentle?” Jade followed him, but stayed in the air. He could pass for human, but her wings always prevented that from ever being a luxury she could enjoy. “I gave her what she needed.”
Troy snickered. “No more, no less!” he quoted in a mocking voice.
Jade shook her head. “You’d better hope Juros doesn’t hear you talk like that.”
Troy threw up his spread hands. “Why would I care what Juros thinks? All he’s worried about is making sure us Abnormals do our jobs and get the Gifted ready for Judgment Day.”

Jade felt the weight of responsibility settle on her with just the mention of the word “Judgment.” That was a day most of the Abnormals anticipated eagerly, the day when Juros would call the Gifted of the Realm to give an account for the way in which they had utilized the Gifts that Angels like Jade had given to them.
She frowned at her brother. “I think Juros has to worry so much because Shadows like you worry too little, Troy.”

“Ha! As if there was anything to worry about!” Troy fell silent as they reached the edge of town. Jade could hide in the clouds and still follow him, but it wouldn’t do for him to be seen talking to someone no one else could see. Juros remained adamant that the Abnormals could be better utilized if their interactions were as played-down as possible.

Indeed, many of the Realm were beginning to notice the effects of the Gifts, and acknowledge that some people merely had super-human abilities that made them different from others. Jade liked to be subtle, to give Gifts that aligned naturally with a person’s need or occupation. That way, they wouldn’t all be like her: forced to hide, separated eternally from those around them merely by virtue of the way they looked. In her mind, that wasn’t a Gift, it was a torment.

Jade watched her brother crouch against a wall. He’d spotted someone who might know him. That was the risk they ran every time they visited the Realm together. Every day, there were more Gifts to distribute, but the more people received Gifts, the more chance they had of noticing Troy in the past, and possibly drawing the connection between seeing him and the advent of their strange abilities.
“I just think you are to easy on them,” he whispered into his hand, but Jade heard him as if he spoke right in her ear. “Juros too; it’s as if he can’t make up his mind.” He watched a young girl hold her open hand over the mouth of a jar, filling it with a stream of water issuing from her palm. “He wants Gifted? I can show him Gifted!”
Jade saw his hand drop. “Troy,” she hissed, “don’t!”

The girl with the jar flinched as a sudden torrent of water burst from her hand, shattering the jar and spilling in a huge waterfall from the place where she stood. People cried out and dashed out of the way of the unexpected river, while the poor girl could only hold her hands out before her as the massive overflow gushed in a raging fountain.
“Troy!” Jade reprimanded her brother, but the girl had already cut off her Gift. She stood, drenched and sobbing as the astonished people gathered around her, everyone talking at once. Troy could walk freely across the square and not one of them would even register seeing him, since their attention was fixed fully on the amazing event.

“Admit it,” he muttered softly, “it was a little funny.”
“It was not!” Jade snapped back from her post in the sky. “You’re supposed to justify the Gifts I give for the benefit of the recipient, not your own perverted entertainment!”
“Perverted?” Troy retorted. “Hardly! I am looking out for the person’s best interest. What’s the point of even having a Gift if nobody notices? What do you suppose Juros is trying to achieve?”

“He’s not trying to achieve anything but the betterment of the Realm, and that calls for Gifting!” Jade braced herself as she watched Troy continue on to his next mark, a young boy on the castle grounds she had Gifted at birth with the ability to produce light in his hands. He’d been using it lately to read books late into the night, and she would often fly to his house in secret, to hear him read stories by the light of his own fingers.
“Troy, what are you—“
Jade stopped speaking as the boy came out of the house, glowing fist held aloft like a torch.
“Jasper?” He called into the night. “Jasper!”

As the boy made his way down the dark path leading across the road to a neighboring copse, Jade felt the increasing sense of dread.
“Troy, he’s in danger,” she warned. “He needs more light!”
“I know,” Troy whispered back, waving his hand toward the boy.

Jade watched the fist catch flame, and the young boy could finally see the area around him. He stared in awe at the fire engulfing his hand without consuming it, and then resumed searching for his pet.
“Jasper! Here, boy!”
The bushes in front of him rustled. The boy took a hesitant step closer. “Jasper?” he queried softly.
“That’s a jackal.” The bright light of the boy’s hand made the shadows deeper, so Troy could conceal himself just behind the bushes right in front of him without fear of being seen. “He’s going to need more.”
Jade floated down and landed in the canopy, drawing the boy’s attention briefly, but still staying out of his sight. “Don’t go too far, Troy,” she responded. “Just a little bit—“

The boy looked back at the growing, expanding fire, and Jade saw him lifting his other hand, watching it ignite and raising it to join the hand already shining. Now he held both hands in front of him like a flaming shield, just in time for the jackal to leap out of the bushes. The boy wheeled backward out of reflex, though the fire would offer reasonable protection from the beast. That slight movement, though, brought the flames too close to a nearby bush—and very soon, the boy’s hands weren’t the only things flaming.
“Troy!”
“It’s not going to hurt him, Jade! Watch!”

Alerted by the fire, the boy’s father came running, and very soon, the large brown dog lumbered into the area to save his young master. The boy’s flame extinguished, and he threw his arms around his father, hugging him in relief as he welcomed Jasper’s frantic affections.
“See?” Troy materialized in the tree alongside the Angel. “I told you it would work out.”
Jade frowned and shook her head. “We should head back to Justicia. I think we’ve done enough for today.”

Troy sniffed. “You mean I’ve done enough for today.” The two of them departed together, flying high above the clouds and rising higher, far beyond what the eyes of the people below could possibly see, to the celestial city of Justicia.
“You tell me I don’t do enough,” Jade said. “When everything you do seems to make things so much worse for everyone. Do you want Juros to throw you in jail?”
“You coddle the people, Jade!” Troy reprimanded her. “Our Gifts are special—they are powerful. The people need to recognize that power, and they can’t do that when you insist on distributing the abilities in such pitiful amounts!”

Jade opened her mouth to respond, but Troy vanished into a bank of shadows. She sighed and turned to the small hovel she called home. No one had ever questioned her decorating choices, but Jade had taken not a little pride in furnishing her little corner of the heavens to look exactly like Mother’s house. She curled up between her folded wings and tried to forget about Troy’s juvenility.

Many cycles later, Jade received a summons to appear before Juros. His jurisdiction was modeled after a lush jungle. He stood in an open glade, beside a trickling river and lined with trees.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” Jade asked, folding her wings close behind her.

Juros smiled. It relieved so much of her anxiety to see him so joyful. She couldn’t imagine someone so powerful feeling anything short of the constant burden of duty, but Juros bore it with fantastic strength and a level of joviality that raised the spirits of all the Abnormals.
“I did,” he replied. “Tell me, how is Troy handling his responsibilities?”

Jade felt her stomach tighten again. As supportive as he was, Juros also had the ability to pinpoint exactly what was troubling each of his subjects, and call them to deal with the issue rather than suppressing it.
“He’s not, sir,” Jade knew that her mentor expected nothing less than honesty from her. No need to mince her words. “He continuously tries the bounds of Justification. Many times, it’s jacking the Gift too far and placing those around the Gifted person in danger. Sometimes, he augments it to the point when it evokes a state of euphoria, and the person will keep using their Gift to show off or to keep feeding on that power.”

Juros’ face filled with concern. “Like an addict on a very powerful drug,” he surmised.
Jade nodded. “A drug they only have so much control over,” she agreed.
“But what of his nullifying? Surely if he jacks too far, he should know to correct it.”

Jade shook his head. “I’ve tried to tell him that, but he only tells me that the humans need to learn to live with that much power if they’re going to have any say in Judgment Day! He…” she shivered. “He believes that giving them Gifts within the scope of what is possible is not…” she faltered. Jade hated disrespecting Juros like this, but Troy was rapidly getting out of hand, and she didn’t know what else to do.
“Not what?” Juros prompted, bending down to hold her gaze.

“He says it’s not trusting the people enough. I have only seen him nullify once, when a Gifted I had given Earth-manipulating abilities recognized him and attacked. The jack made him violent, and Troy had to nullify his Gift completely or he would have destroyed the entire village.”
Juros stroked his chin. “Rendering the Gifted impotent, I assume?”

Jade nodded. “When someone would turn his own jack against him, he would rather render them akin to being unGifted than allow them to experience the Gift in any kind of moderation.”
Juros nodded slowly. “I see,” he mused.
Jade gave an uneasy flick of her wing. “What should I do, sir?”
Her mentor gave a heavy sigh. “Perhaps it is time for the people to recognize Gifted. Perhaps if they were more integrated, Troy’s jacks won’t veer so wildly out of control, since there would be others with a similar Gift who can help mitigate the situation.”
Jade tilted her head quizzically. “So… King Balwyn, then?”
Juros nodded. “Let him see the use of his Gifts and those of his subjects. He has been wielding his own Gift well, and I think such judicious restraint will aid in encouraging moderation in the people.”
Jade gave a sweeping bow. “Very well; thank you, Juros.”
He waved to her. “Judgment Day is at hand, young Angel; we must be prepared!”

Jade mulled over the advice Juros had given her as she and Troy set out for the Realm again. She needed to come up with a way to inspire Balwyn to take the opportunity to spread awareness of the Gifted; she knew that he had already been planning such a program, that all he lacked was the assurance that the people would receive his words.

She hardly noticed Troy’s location till he popped up right next to her. “What’s on your mind?” he asked, his dark eyes full of concern—or wariness.
Jade waved aside her musings. “Oh, nothing really. I was just recollecting one of the infant girls I Gifted, the one who needed attraction to receive the amount of care that would ensure her survival.”
Troy’s eyes glinted. “Her? Oh yes; I remember jacking her Gift to boost her confidence when she was a girl.”

Jade’s concentration wavered, and her right wing picked up a stray wind that nearly jerked her off course. “You jacked her?”

TO BE CONTINUED....

 This story (and next week's installment) is a continuation of my previous series, "The Clan of Outcasts". If you've been following the series, you may have recognized some of the characters referenced here--did you? Follow the hyperlinked text earlier to read more of the series!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D