-Jade, Juros, Jasper
-Justicia, Jungle, jail, jurisdiction
-Jaybird, Job, jackal, jackrabbit, juniper, Jack, Justify
"The Justification of Jade" (Part 2)[Previously, in Part 1]
Jade’s concentration wavered, and her right wing picked up a stray wind that nearly jerked her off course. “You jacked her?"
Troy spoke as if he didn’t notice the worry lacing her voice. “I needed to, Jade. This girl, she’s destined for greatness and she wasn’t going to get it, not where we left her—“
Jade broke off and scanned the city till she sensed the girl by her Gift. As they neared, she sensed something else: tragedy.
“Troy…” she murmured to her brother as they approached the house. “What have you done?”
Even from that height, she could see the effect of Troy’s jack. Crowds lined the streets, all converging on one location. As Jade watched, it became clear that some of the people weren’t moving at all. These were carried out of the way by their neighbors.
“I WANT IT!” screamed a high-pitched voice. “GIVE IT TO ME!”
A small explosion rocked the building, and the surrounding people jumped into action. Several of them went inside, and very soon emerged, carrying a young girl on what seemed to be a litter. The building teetered on the verge of collapse, but the girl still writhed. “I NEED IT!” she squealed. “BRING ME ANOTHER!”
Jade watched the people carrying the litter set it down on the ground, as a Gifted young boy raced forward and threw himself on the ground at her feet. The young girl bent down and grasped the boy’s arms. His Gift became apparent as a flurry of vines seemed to wrap themselves around the girl, completely covering her in greenery till she looked like a living plant in the shape of a small person. The boy collapsed on the ground, and the girl gave a little quiver, and the vines receded.
Jade ignored Troy’s warning and flew down to peek into the window of the small room recently vacated. He found her staring at a scene of utter devastation.
“Her family,” she murmured. “They’re all dead…”
“Hm,” Troy sighed. “Guess it was an unforeseen side effect of the jack.”
Jade turned on her brother in that moment. “Unforeseen side effect?” She cried. “Is that what you think this is? Troy, this is a direct consequence of your meddling, and you know that Juros isn’t going to stand for it much longer—“
“Jade and Troy! Come out!”
They knew better than to ignore Juros when he decided to enter the Realm. Angel and Shadow meekly exited the building. Juros had supplied a pocket dimension for them to converse in, shielding all of them from detection by the surrounding crowd. The juvenile victim of an untempered jack lay unconscious at his feet.
Juros folded his arms and frowned at Troy. “You would toy with these Gifted, turn the abilities we provide into godlike powers to be worshiped? You would twist and warp the good things we intend for your own perverse pleasure?”
Troy only shrugged. “I can’t help what these humans do with the powers we give them, nor how people respond—“
“You are out of line, Shadow!” Juros roared. “I cannot allow you to jeopardize the Realm further by your interference. As punishment—“ Juros extended his hand.
Troy gave a jerk, and Jade watched as his body seemed to divide, or fade into the shadows surrounding him.
“What are you doing?” Troy cried, but Juros was stronger. In one powerful twist, he separated Troy from the shadows he used, and two Angels came forward to catch the limp physical form. Jade stared at the body sagging between them. It looked like Troy, but not quite; it was a smaller, more delicate-looking thing. The Angels flew with it back to Justicia, leaving Jade hovering next to a pool of dark shadow.
“Umm, what just happened?” Troy’s voice emanated from the darkness beside her.
Jade flinched, but the shadow itself coalesced into a form she recognized, though this one seemed less corporeal, more like a copy of the brother she once knew.
“I have delivered your sentence,” Juros said. “Your physical body has been remanded to a cell in Justicia. The sum total of your existence in the Realm is now no more than the shadows that were once your vehicle.”
Troy coughed. “You mean… I’m not real?” He looked down and waved his hands, wafting forward without moving his legs at all.
Juros shook his head. “As for the poor young girl you have blighted in your foolishness…” He bent down and laid a hand on her head. “I cannot undo what has been done, but I can perhaps salvage the person she should have become. I will erase her memory of all that has transpired today, and Jade?”
The Angel broke off from staring at her brother’s new form and focused on her mentor. “Yes?”
“You will take the child to the castle, and see that she is taken in by the royal medical staff there. Perhaps they will be able to find a cure for her.”
Jade nodded. “There is one with the Gift of Healing, and another with the Gift of Magic there—I believe she will be well taken care of.”
Juros glanced down at the small form as Jade lifted the child in her arms. “See that it is done.”
Jade departed about her business, alone for possibly the first time since Juros allowed her and Troy to begin Gifting the Realm. She tried not to think of what would happen to Troy now; he had to face the consequences for his own choices.
She laid the child on the steps of the castle, calling forth the governess she knew lived there. Jade waited around the corner as she heard two people approach.
“What is it, Peraven?”
“Why… it’s a child! I wonder where she came from?”
“Hmm, we must bring her to the Infirmary immediately!”
She nodded and flew back to Justicia, satisfied that she had completed her mission.
Unbeknownst to the Angel, a small, dark shadow flitted around the windows of the Laboratory tower, where the royal scientists gathered, speaking in hushed whispers about the growing threat they were beginning to see in the Realm: mysterious powers and superhuman abilities distributed seemingly at random. When a young stranger arrived in the Infirmary whose blood contained evidence of yet another one of these “anomalies”, it stood to reason, said one of the scientists—a dark-haired fellow whose face no one could quite remember—that she should be the one they experimented on, since no one knew who she was or where she came from. Everyone agreed, though no one could quite identify this man, either—and no one seemed to notice or care when he suddenly vanished from their midst as they conducted their experiments.
Being an Angel without a Shadow was difficult, but Jade managed it as she always had: doing the best she could by the people of the Realm. Since becoming fully Shadow, Troy had ceased to work alongside her—and indeed, it felt, sometimes, like perhaps he might be working against her, using his jack to cause division between Gifted and UnGifted, or pitting the Gifted against one another. Jade countered it as best she could, but she knew from her time with Mother that building and cultivating something was naturally a slower, more arduous process than simply destroying it.
Some time later, Juros called her into his jungle.
“Sir?” She landed amid the foliage and waited for him to speak.
“Jade, what was the extent of the task I gave you regarding the Realm, the first time you approached me about your brother’s misdemeanors?”
Jade swallowed. “You instructed me to influence King Balwyn to integrate the Gifted, to call for more acceptance, and to keep the Seramis line on the throne.”
Juros lifted his head, but he still did not turn to face Jade. “And how has that fared?”
Jade felt her heart sink. “Not well, sir.” She didn’t need to say more; Juros already knew. He knew that the merchant she had Gifted with Charisma had been motivated to use it to warp the Gifts of his twin children; he knew that one twin in particular would be the one to used the twisted Charisma to remove the Crown Prince from the Realm entirely, thus exposing the younger brother to the insatiable power-addiction of the innocent jacked girl, now risen to be the Council-appointed queen of the now-derelict Realm.
“You know what this means, don’t you, Jade?” Juros asked quietly.
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Finally, Juros stood and faced her. “I cannot dismiss these allegations, that an Angel continues to fail in the tasks I give to her, that the more Jade is allowed to Gift the Realm, the more fragmented it becomes—not with Judgment Day drawing ever closer.” He sighed and pronounced those fateful words: “Here now is my justice.”
Jade stumbled, sprawling forward on her hands and knees as the Angel escorts tossed her into the jail cell. Her resolve crumbled, and she lay on the ground, weeping for all that she could have done.
“Don’t be scared,” said a familiar voice, one that she used to love—one that now sent chills down her spine. “Literally nothing happens down here. I should know.”
Jade looked up, and her eyes went immediately toward the limp, pale form sprawled on the floor of the next cell.
“Nope, not over there,” the voice came from the other side. Shadow-Troy materialized on the ground outside her cell. He sneered at his own body locked in the cage. “Don’t know why Juros assumed this would be any sort of punishment; I’m freer now than I ever was.” To illustrate, he walked right through the bars of her cell to join her.
“Troy…” Jade shrank back from him. “What are you doing here?”
He smiled and winked at her from under the dark locks of hair hanging in his face. “I’ve come to jailbreak you, sister.”
Jade watched her brother carefully. “Why me, though? Why couldn’t you just…” she faltered and gestured to his body next door.
Troy sneered. “And risk Juros destroying me completely? No thanks! He thinks he has leverage as long as he holds my body…” Troy stepped out of the cell and laughed. “Why should I care what Juros thinks?” He turned back to face his sister. “As for why I chose you—well, you do want to get back into Juros’ good graces, don’t you? I know you, Jade; it burns you to leave a job undone.”
The Angel leaned forward and grasped the bars of her cell. “I do!” She cried. “I can do it! I know I can! All I need is just one more chance!”
Troy steepled his fingers. “And if I help you,” he continued slowly, “You’ll let Juros know, and I won’t be persona non grata anymore?”
Jade blinked at the request. “I thought you didn’t mind being separated from your body.”
“I don’t, it’s just…” Troy waved a hand. “I don’t want anything to happen to it, you know? I don’t like this sneaking around business—but in my current position, I don’t have a choice. I’d at least like that back!” He folded his arms and regarded her. “So, I help you out, you’ll help me?”
Jade didn’t even need to think twice. “I’ll do it!” she declared, holding out her hand to shake on the deal.
Troy slipped his ethereal hand into a leather glove, grasping Jade’s hand with it and covering her hand with the ungloved Shadow. Jade felt her head begin to spin, spiraling down until she came to rest on a massive black surface. Troy’s face loomed large over her as he drew his hand out from between the bars of the giant cell.
“What happened to me?” Jade cried, hearing her own voice jingling in the high-pitched knell of many bells. “What have you done?”
Troy snorted as he lifted the Angel—now no bigger than a fairy—before his face. “Well, I couldn’t very well get you out when you were your normal size!” He scoffed. “I mean, really!”
Jade folded her arms. She even glowed like a fairy when she fluttered her wings. “Well?” she challenged him. “I’m out now. Change me back!”
Troy threw back his head and laughed. “Not so fast!” He dropped his gloved hand, forcing Jade to take flight to stay in the air. “I’m not going to let you fly about as an Angel, winning people over like you always do. No, I’m making this fair!”
“Fair!?” Jade squealed.
“Yes,” declared Troy. “I had to deal with a new form, so now you will, also.” He turned and began walking out of the cell. “Here’s how it’s going to be, dear sister: I got Prince Beren out of the Realm—if you want to be an Angel again, you’ve got to find him, convince him to return, and get him onto the throne like Juros wants. If you can manage that, the change I’ve made will wear off and you’ll be an Angel again. If not, I win, and Juros will probably crush you under his so-called ‘justice.’” They reached the entrance to the dungeons, at the very edge of Justicia. All the Realm lay spread before them.
Troy paused to wink at Jade one last time. “Let the games begin, little Jaybird!” he said, and disappeared into the darkness.
Jade felt the burden of her mission weigh heavy on her, but she squared her delicate shoulders resolutely. She would bring Prince Beren back to the White Castle, and Troy would answer for all that he’d done. There would be no more mistakes this time.
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: