Chapter 1: A New Home for the Holidays
Christmas at the Chans' was always an unusual sight, with the usually irate Uncle in an infectiously good mood. This year was no exception to that, despite the city recovering from Drago's rampage earlier in the year. There was, however, something unusually unusual this year.
“Aiyaaa! Finn, tree top is for star, not Disco ball!”
Uncle had hired the Enforcers as helpers during the battle with Drago, and the arrangement had stuck. There had been some apprehensions at first about giving them a second chance after the opal incident, but they had proven earnest in their desire to become people who didn't have to lie to their nephews about long disappearances. Hak Foo was an odd one out there, but the going theory was that he wanted in on the excitement that seemed to follow the Chans everywhere. Lately, however, the 'excitement' was in adapting.
“Maybe according to tradition,” Finn said proudly from next to the Christmas tree. “But I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit.”
“Don't listen to him, Unc!” Chow cut in from the couch. “He pulls this every time we let him at a tree.”
Chow just snickered as Tohru carefully plucked the Disco ball ornament from the top of the tree. It was at that moment that the door slammed open, startling Tohru into dropping the ball of mirrors and sending Finn diving to catch it. Chow nearly dropped his game controller, and the TV flashed a bright 'GAME OVER' screen.
“Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!” Jade bellowed from the open doorway. Before anyone could react, she'd darted into the back of the store and climbed up onto Tohru's shoulder. “So, what'd you get me, T?”
“Christmas Eve, Jade. You do not get to open gifts until tomorrow.” Jackie answered for Tohru as he entered the room after his excitable niece.
There was a loud “awww” as Jade dropped to the floor, landing heavily in her snow boots and thick winter jacket. She quickly perked up when she caught a whiff of something sweet on the air. “What smells delicious?”
“Oh, Ratso's baking cookies.” Finn answered from the floor.
No sooner had he said it than Jade was off, darting for the kitchen in the hopes of convincing the baker to let her sample the holiday treats a little early. Jackie was left shaking his head as he took off his own jacket and hung it on a hook by the doorway.
“That girl...” he muttered, before turning his attention to Uncle. “We managed to get what we were after, but it was not easy. Everyone is stocking up for the possible storm.”
“Pfeh.” Uncle waved his hand dismissively. “Waste of time, there will be no storm. Has not snowed in San Francisco in maaany years. Will not snow now.”
“I hope you are right.”
– – –
“So much for 'will not snow.'” Jackie sighed as he looked out the window at the blanket of snow settled over the street. More was coming down at a heavy pace, and it didn't look like it would be stopping any time soon.
Jade had a different opinion of the weather, pressing her face to the window with an excited grin and a shout of “White Christmas!”
“Yes. It is a good thing we got those snow shovels yesterday, isn't it, Jade?”
“Yeah, I guess...but I don't really wanna talk about work right now. It's Christmas morning! Presents!”
She took off, practically dragging Jackie the first few feet behind her, out of the storage room converted into a cramped guest room. Most of the city's larger buildings were in some form of ruins, and Uncle had been forced to make room for Jackie and Jade while their apartment building underwent repairs.
Downstairs, the former Enforcers were just waking up and clearing away their travel mattresses from the floor when Jade came tearing halfway down the spiral staircase before leaping over the railing. She nearly fell over, turning around so fast in her bare feet, before she dashed into the living room and grabbed the first present she saw with her name on it.
“Hey now,” Ratso chided. “Don't you think you should wait for your uncles and Tohru first?”
“Relax, I'm not gonna open it yet.” Jade said, the box already to her ear.
Instead of the rattling of the Christmas present, all Jade heard as she shook the package was the sound of Uncle's voice calling from the doorway, “Merrrrry Christmaaaas!”
Tohru was squeezing into the room behind Uncle, and Jackie had already made his way to the couch. Jade took that as her cue to start tearing the paper off her presents. Jackie had gotten everyone warm clothes, claiming they would need them if the weather kept this up. Uncle's gifts had been similarly uniform: quartz crystal pendants that he claimed were good luck and full of grounding Earth chi. She found it much easier to get excited about the Super Moose plush from Tohru, cookies from Ratso and video game from Chow, though Finn's introductory collection of music from the 70's just seemed lame. She'd been even more disappointed to find that Santa's present had just been a battery powered hand warmer.
By the time gifts were open and packaging cleaned up, the snow seemed to be slowing down.
“Well, I should probably see about clearing the sidewalks, before someone slips out there.” Jackie said, reaching for his jacket as he spoke. He was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder and Finn's voice.
“No need, Chanmeister. We'll take care of it.”
“That's right,” Chow added. “We're getting' paid to do this kinda stuff, right? Gotta earn our keep.”
“You guys just have fun with your holiday.” Ratso finished. Hak Foo was muttering loudly but illegibly, but didn't seem to have any real objection to the task as he was the first to stomp out the door.
“Huh.” Jackie shrugged as he put his jacket back. “I guess I will just put on some tea for when they are finished.”
Outside, Finn quickly lost interest in the task of clearing snow. Instead, he swung his shovel around like it was a warrior's staff.
“Look out, there snow'ay you can stand up to Finn's mighty moves!”
He twirled the snow shovel over his head, only for the uneven weight to break his grip and send it tumbling into the snow. Bending over to pick it up, he was met by a twin shovel-full of snow from Ratso and Chow.
“Get back to work!” They both shouted.
“Augh, that's cold!” Finn shouted back.
“Yeah, it's a lot colder than I ever remember it getting' in San Francisco before.” Ratso noted as he lowered his shovel.
“Then it's a good thing we ain't stuck in it, huh?” Chow responded. “Imagine if we'd still been livin' in one'a them apartment buildings and hadn't had nowhere to fall back on.”
Ratso put a finger to his mouth in thought as he looked at the broken skyline, then asked, “Hey, youse don't suppose Valmont was still livin' in one'a them, do ya?”
The thick, uncomfortable silence that followed was interrupted by a somehow British sounding sneeze. Following the sound led them to the delivery entrance of a closed store, where a pile of blankets was huddled under a short overhang, still covered in snow from the city's stiff winds. Peeking out of the blankets was a familiar, thoroughly miserable looking face, framed by white bangs.
“Valmont?!” Ratso and Chow said in unison.
“Big V?!” Finn said at the same time.
“I...have no clue who you're talking about.” Valmont said from his pile of blankets.
The three quickly set to clearing the snow off of their former employer. Chow crouched down in front of him and asked, “So, what're you doin' in this part'a town?”
“That's none of your ruddy business.” Valmont huffed.
“Your apartment get blasted by Doomsday Boy?” Finn asked. Valmont's indignant huff answered the question by itself.
“Hey, how about you stay with us?” Ratso offered. “It's kinda crowded, but we could make room...”
“I don't need your charity.” Valmont snipped, then sneezed. The sudden noise caused the snow piled up on the overhang to fall, leaving him again covered in snow. “Oh, very well.”
The three helped Valmont out from under his pile of snow and blankets and led him back the way they'd come, only for him to balk when he saw their destination.
“You're staying with the Chans?!”
“Yeah, it's a funny story, really...” Chow started.
“Y'see,” Finn continued. “Back when the end of the world was knocking, we offered to work for Chan's uncle 'cause, well, we didn't wanna see the world end.”
“And it stuck.” Ratso finished.
“I don't care.” Valmnont responded, turning around and crossing his arms. “I am not going to go begging the Chans for room and board.”
His statement was followed by a fit of sneezing as the wind picked up and blew the falling snow into his face. His indignant huff melted into a pout as he looked back at the brightly lit storefront, and the window showing a warm, dry interior.
Finn cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck before pointing out, “Uhh, Big V, you're kinda already sick. Do you really have much choice?”
“Oh...if I must.” Valmont deflated. “But only until this blasted cold is over with.”
– – –
“Lemme get this straight,” Jade said, squinting at the Enforcers from her perch on the front desk. “You want us to make room for Valmont to stay here until all this snow business is over?”
“Absolutely not.” Tohru said from one side of the room.
It was Jackie who disagreed first, with a sigh and shake of his head before he said, “I do not like it, either. But we cannot just leave him out in the snow.”
“Sez you.” Jade retorted. She had shifted her glare to the pouting man near the entrance to the store, who was looking at the window displays far too closely for her liking.
“Jade...” Jackie started, only to be cut off by Uncle.
“Is not in Christmas spirit to turn even greedy thief out into snow.”
“But Sensei...” Tohru started.
“C'mon, Big T,” Finn interrupted. “We're beggin' here!”
“We promise we'll keep him outta trouble!” Chow added.
In the display window, Valmont sneezed and unbalanced the vase he'd been looking at. He had to scramble to keep it from crashing all over the floor, after which he sniffled loudly and looked around in the hope that nobody had seen his moment of clumsiness.
“Besides,” Ratso pointed out. “He's sick.”
“Tohru sighed, defeated. He couldn't send a sick person out into the mercy of the elements, even if that person was Valmont. Jade was not so easily swayed, but Jackie cut off her protests.
“I am sorry Jade, but you are outvoted. We will just have to keep a very close eye on him to make sure he does not steal anything.”
Jade hrumphed, but an idea was already forming. If she couldn't get rid of Valmont, she'd just have to give him some incentive not to cause problems. The first chance she had to catch him alone, in the bathroom washing his face after so much sneezing, she cut off the doorway and crossed her arms. Valmont hadn't heard her coming, and he jumped and turned around when he saw her reflected in the mirror.
“When did you get there?”
Ignoring the question, Jade went right in to what she'd come here to say. Her expression and tone were hard, bordering on hostile, as she said, “Everyone else might've decided to let you stay here, but don't think that means I trust you for one minute. I'd better not catch you doing anything to hurt Uncle, Jackie or Tohru, or else.”
Valmont scoffed, “Or else what, you'll kick me in the shins?”
“Or else,” Jade answered. “I'll dig out my old shrinking spell and make you small enough to stomp.”
Chapter 2: Chilled to the Bone
“I don't suppose anyone could bring a sick man some tea?” Valmont called from the couch. He hadn't even been staying at the shop for a full day and already his objections at the idea had been forgotten in favor of milking people's sympathy over his illness for all it was worth. Whether out of habit, actual fondness or just a desire to avoid the complaining that came whenever the former crime lord didn't have anything to distract him from his misery, the Enforcers were always quick to answer his requests. This time was no exception, as Ratso brought a teapot and cup.
“Keep a close eye on him, Ratso,” Jade said, peeking over the top of the couch. “That tea set's an antique.”
“I don't want your bloody teapot,” Valmont retorted. “I just want this blasted cold to go away.”
“Uncle can help with that!” Uncle said as he walked into the room.
Valmont sat up straight under the blanket draped around his shoulders. “Really?” He asked. “Do you have the horse?”
“Even better! Drink this.” Uncle offered a beaker filled with a cloudy liquid.
“What is it? Some sort of potion that will cure my illness?”
“No,” Uncle answered. “Is garlic juice, very good for sick people.”
Valmont nearly choked on the foul smelling liquid.
“Are you trying to kill me, you old hack?!” He snapped.
“Young upstart does not know what he is talking about.” Uncle waved off the accusation.
Valmont met the retort with a pout and a grumble of, “I don't see why you can't just nip down to Section 13 and bring back that nag.”
“You mean aside from the million feet of snow outside?” Jade said, waving toward the front of the shop.
“Well, yes, obviously. I'm sure you lot have navigated worse.” Valmont responded.
“Well, for starters, the powers are back in the Talismans...” Jade began.
“Oh, jolly good! That means I won't have to deal with a recalcitrant animal!” Valmont interrupted.
“And the Talismans are back in Shendu.” Jade finished.
“WHAT?!” Valmont nearly fell off the couch in shock. “Then why are you all just...sitting around!”
“Because Shendu is back in underworld, where he belongs.” Uncle answered.
“But what about the Talismans?” Valmont's tone took on a whining pitch that set off a sneeze.
“Talismans not important.”
“What are you talking about? Of course the Talismans are important!”
“Talismans not important, keeping Shendu and Drago trapped in underworld is.”
“Much as I hate to be on the side of 'no more Talismans,' he's right.” Jade agreed. “Only way to get them back would be releasing Shendu, and no doubt Shendu Jr. would tag along for the ride.”
“Shendu what?” Valmont asked. “That blasted lizard has offspring and nobody told me? I auditioned to work for that cursed creature!”
“Sucks to be you.” Was Jade's only response.
Ratso showed more sympathy, patting Valmont on the shoulder as he said, “Aww, don't feel too bad. Finn, Chow and me got stuck takin' orders from him and we didn't have no choice about it. Cost us our jobs at the pettin' zoo, too.”
“You worked at a petting zoo? D'awww.” Jade said before Valmont could retort. The two went off on a tangent about animals, leaving Valmont's frustration to build until Finn and Chow provided a distraction by walking in from outside.
“Man, my back is killing me!” Finn complained.
“I know what you mean,” Chow said. “Seems like we clear the snow and then five minutes later it's right back where it started.”
“That is very strange,” Uncle noted. “Would have thought snow would have turned to rain by now.”
“Well it hasn't.” Finn grumped as he poured himself some tea from the pot still sitting next to Valmont.
Uncle 'hmm'ed curiously, then made his way to the front door. The moment he opened it, a frigid wind blew into the shop, setting the merchandise rattling. An antique wind chime jingled ominously as Uncle stood in the open doorway, eyes wide with shock.
After several seconds where it was apparent Uncle wasn't doing anything and the temperature indoors started to drop, Valmont shouted, “Close the door, you batty old codger! It's freezing in he-he-heatchoo!”
Despite the sneeze emphasized shout, Uncle didn't move. It wasn't until Chow took it on himself to close the door that the old chi wizard even spoke.
“This is no ordinary snow storm.”
“Well duh,” Jade answered from right behind him. “It's a blizzard in San Francisco. Mega weirdsville.”
Uncle shook his head and adjusted his glasses as he said, “No, snow is merely a symptom of a greater, underlying cause. Cosmic chi is out of balance.”
Chow looked at Jade for an explanation. Jade just shrugged in answer, then asked the question they were both thinking, “So...what's that mean?”
“It means snow is just the beginning!”
“The beginning of what?” Jade asked.
“Of many bad things.” Uncle answered.
“What kinds'a 'bad things'?” It was Chow's turn to ask.
“For that, Uncle must do research.” Uncle responded. “Come, you know Uncle's filing system, yes?”
“Uh...yeah.” Chow responded uncertainly.
“Good. Bring books on cosmic balance.”
“All of them!”
Chow gave a pleading look to the rest of the shop as he followed Uncle to the stairs and up to the library, but his only answer was the sound of Valmont sneezing.
“So much for a merry Christmas...” Jade huffed. “I can't even play my new game, because somebody decided to let that sit on our couch!”
“Excuse you!” Valmont objected. “Just where do you get off calling me a 'that', you insufferable child?”
“Where do you get off acting like you have any right to be here, after everything you've done to us?” Jade snapped back.
“You think I – atchoo! – want to be here?”
“I don't see you being anywhere else.”
“Because that blasted lizard's twice blasted offspring destroyed my place of residence. Believe me, I would much rather be anywhere other than here. Er....provided 'anywhere' had a roof and some form of heating, at any rate.”
“Then how about you go pay a visit to Kingdom Come?”
“Ooooookay there.” Finn cut in, putting a hand on Jade's shoulder to keep her away from Valmont. She was looking dangerously close to trying to hurt him. “Why don't we calm down before things get ugly here?”
“Yeah.” Ratso added. “Besides, I don't see no reason why you two can't share the couch.”
“Jade and Valmont both turned to stare at Ratso as if he'd grown a second head.
“Sit next to him?!” Jade asked, pointing dramatically at Valmont.
“I think not!” Valmont responded at the same time, with a tone of disgust.
Finn dragged a hand down his face in frustration before his eyes fell on the rolled up mattresses.
“Here's an idea,” He said. “One of you can sit on the travel beds!”
“Well it won't be me!” Valmont was quick to assert.
“Uh, hello?” Jade responded. “Can't exactly play my game from over there, can I?”
“C'mon, Big V,” Finn said. “They're not all that bad. Why don't you just take a nap? Sleep the sick off.”
“Hmmm...It does seem less uncomfortable than sleeping on the couch...” Valmont considered. “Though I would still much prefer a proper bed.”
“Sorry, we're fresh outta those.”
Valmont pouted, but sleep did sound like an appealing prospect. Finishing his tea, he stood up from the couch, blanket still draped over his shoulders. Jade was quick to turn on the TV and set up her game, a quietly smug air to her as she made herself comfortable on the newly vacated couch. As the title screen lit up, Jackie walked into the room from upstairs and looked around.
“Where is Uncle?” He asked. “I want to talk to him about this snow; we're going to have problems if it keeps building up.”
Jade didn't even pause her game's introduction as she replied, “Oh, he's in the study with Chow. Something about the cosmic balance and blah blah blah. Turns out the snow's some freaky magic deal.”
“Oh, okay.” Jackie responded, only to double take a moment later. “WHAT?! I thought we were done with all that!”
“You mean to say you don't go looking to get involved in that kind of thing?” Valmont cut in from the bedroll with an amused smirk. “And here I thought I had rotten luck with the supernatural.”
– – –
Gathering all of Uncle's books on even a single subject was a difficult task for Chow. Part of it was his height, but mostly it was the sheer number of volumes he had to carry. By the time he had them all piled on his employer's research desk, he had to lean on the nearest stack of books for support.
“Good,” Uncle said from the middle of the towers of research material. “Now bring Uncle some tea.”
“Chow let out an exhausted groan and said, “Can't Ratso do it? That ain't got nothin' to do with readin' Chinese.”
“Is Ratso's turn to clear snow.”
“What about Finn?”
“Finn makes terrrible tea!”
With another groan, Chow realized he was out of options.
“I ain't getting' paid enough for all this back breakin'.” He muttered to himself. But it was better than not getting paid at all, and it had the added bonus that his new boss might actually be able to keep him from being enslaved by whatever new force of darkness might show up. Almost as good, it didn't end with him either in the hospital or in jail every time things took a turn southward. So, despite his complaints, Chow dragged himself upright and out of the study, downstairs and past Jade playing her new game.
In the kitchen, Jackie had already set a kettle to boiling for himself. He didn't seem to be paying much attention to it, however, sitting as he was with his head in his hands.
“Uhh...you alright there, Chan?” Chow asked as he opened a cabinet for a teacup.
“Why do these things always happen?” Jackie asked, raising his head and looking at the ceiling as if it had answers.
“Ahh, you heard the news, eh?” Chow asked. Then an idea hit, “Soooo...as long as you's makin' tea anyways, your uncle's askin' for some.”
“I know. He always asks for tea when he does research, that is why I have made extra.”
“Do not mention it. Let me guess, he is running you ragged, isn't he?”
Chow groaned again at the reminder and dropped down into a chair. Jackie nodded in understanding and said, “Uncle can be difficult, especially when he has something on his mind. If you ever need help dealing with him, let me know and I will do my best.”
Chow gave him a look of surprise that slowly turned into an appreciative smile as he adjusted his sunglasses and said, “Thanks, Chan. You're a real good guy, you know that? And to think a year ago you was kickin' my butt.”
“That is because a year ago, you were a criminal.” Jackie said as the kettle whistled. He stood up and poured himself a cup of tea, then nodded toward Chow. “You should get the rest of this to Uncle.”
– – –
By the time Chow got back with the tea, Uncle was buried deep in one of his books. He only spared a short glance as his library boy poured a cup of tea and set it down in the only clear spot on the desk.
“Hm, that was quick.” He said. “Thank you, Chow.”
“Yeah, whatever. Can I sit down now?”
Uncle shrugged and went back to his books after a sip of his tea, a gesture which Chow took to be agreement. He all but collapsed into one of the free chairs in the study, but no sooner had he settled in and closed his eyes in hopes of a nap than he was startled by a victorious yell.
“Hatchaa!” Uncle shouted, pointing at a page in one of the first books Chow had brought him. “Uncle has found it!”
“You got a way to stop this snow?” Chow asked, sitting up straight in excitement.
“Snow not important,” Uncle responded with a dismissive wave. “Uncle has found a way to correct the cosmic unbalance causing the snow.”
“Po-tay-to pa-tah-to. Just as long as I ain't gonna be shovelin' snow for the rest'a my life.”
“Snow will stop on its own at sunset –”
“SWEET!” Chow interrupted, standing up in excitement.
Uncle responded with a shake of his head and continued, “But that is when the real problem will begin.”
“Come,” Uncle said as he stood up, book in his hand. “We must share this discovery with the others.”
– – –
At Uncle's insistence, everyone had gathered in the living room. Valmont was fast asleep in a corner of the room, giving them some peace and quiet for the first time all day. Jade had paused her game, mostly because Uncle was standing between her and the TV.
“Please tell me whatever is wrong this time will be easy to fix, Uncle.” Jackie said from where he was leaning against the back of the couch.
Uncle shook his head sadly and replied, “No such luck. A powerful concentration of evil chi tipped the balance between light and dark. Even with that power defeated, the chi of the world itself has been tainted.”
“Woah.” Finn and Ratso said at the same time. Chow mumbled something that might have been agreement, half slumped against the arm of the couch.
“So, who's butt we gotta kick to get things back in balance?” Jade asked.
“If only it was that simple.” Uncle responded. “We must travel to the four corners and center of the globe, where all of nature's chi passes through at some point.”
“Uhh, newsflash?” Finn interrupted. “The globe doesn't have corners. It's round. And I sure as heck ain't going to the center of the Earth! There's dinosaurs down there.”
“What is it with you and dinosaurs?” Ratso asked.
“Uh, have you seen the teeth on those things? Who wouldn't be afraid to run into one?”
“But everyone knows there aren't actually dinosaurs at the center of the Earth. Just lots of magma.”
“You can't tell me you've never seen Journey to the Center of the Earth. Dinosaurs, Ratso, I'm telling you.”
“Naw, that movie was just for fun. It wasn't even very realistic.”
Finn opened his mouth to argue, but was cut off by a swat from Uncle that made him wince, “Ow, what was that for?”
“You are interrupting Uncle!” Uncle snapped. “Besides, there are no dinosaurs at center of Earth.”
“Told ya.” Ratso muttered.
“Duh.” Jade added.
“Seriously.” Chow grumbled blearily.
“I knew that.” Hak Foo added, a little too quickly.
“So,” Jackie said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “You were saying, Uncle?”
“Right.” Uncle cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses. “Corners and center of the globe are not literal coordinates, but rather locations that correspond with the five basic elements that make up the world according to Chinese mythology: earth, fire, water, metal and wood.”
“So we find these 'locations'...and then what?” Chow asked through a yawn.
“Then Uncle will cast a spell to remove the excess bad chi, so that the world is once again in balance.”
“And, uh...hypothetically, say we fail or don't find these 'corners' quickly enough.” Finn said. “What then?”
“Uncle was getting to that! The longer the cosmic chi is allowed to remain unbalanced in favor of bad chi, the more powerful the forces of darkness will become. It is possible that beings long imprisoned by good magic may even wake and grow powerful enough to free themselves.”
“Yikes.” Jade said. “So what're we sitting around here for? Where's the first 'corner of the globe'?”
“It is not that simple.” Uncle answered. “The physical locations change with the flow of the Earth's chi. They could be anywhere with strong ties to one of the elements.”
“Oh.” Jade deflated.
“So, how're we supposed to find 'em? Eenie Meenie Miney Mo?” Ratso asked.
“There is a map.” Uncle said. “A piece of parchment that magically tracks the flow of chi. With it, we can deduce the locations of these five focus points.”
“Lemme guess.” Finn said flatly. “You don't have it.”
Uncle shook his head and opened his book to a page illustrating an island volcano. “No, but its location is well documented. It is kept here, protected by good chi spells to keep the forces of darkness from finding it and using it to deliberately tip the balance.”
Tohru groaned, already looking a little green. “Then I will...stay behind. I do not mix with sea travel.”
“Yeah, uh...I think I'll stay behind too.” Finn said. “Keep Big T company, you know?”
“Good, you can keep clearing the snow.” Uncle answered.
“Uh, on second thought, road trip sounds great!” Finn ammended.
“Time for some rock climbing.” Jade said with a grin.
Chapter 3: Jackie Chan and the Hidden Temple
“You can't just leave me behind! I'm a secret agent!” Jade whined as Jackie packed for the trip.
“You are an intern at Section Thirteen.” Jackie responded in exasperation. “It is not the same thing.”
“But Jackie! I can help! I even have my wilderness navigation merit badge from the Dragon Scouts!”
Jackie sighed as he clicked his suitcase shut and turned to look at his niece.
“There are different types of helping, Jade.” he responded. “And right now, we need you to help here.”
“Oh no, you're not putting me on snow duty, are you?” Jade asked in horror.
“Well, it would be nice if you helped with the snow. But no. Someone has to make sure our guest doesn't give Tohru a hard time.”
“You're leaving me behind to babysit Valmont?” Jade asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I can't exactly give the job to Finn, Ratso and Chow. They are too used to giving him what he wants.”
“We could just call someone up...”
“We are not hiring a babysitter to look after Valmont, Jade.”
“Because he is not a child.”
“...You didn't see how he acted at the hotel in London.”
Jackie let out an irritated sigh and said, “That is beside the point! You are going to stay here and help Tohru keep an eye on Valmont, that's final.”
“Tch, whatever...” Jade responded as she hopped down from the old chair she'd been standing on, shoving her hands in the pocket of her hoodie. “So, how're you getting there, anyway?”
“Commercial flights are canceled due to the weather, but Captain Black managed to pull some strings and get us a jet that should be able to survive the storm. From there, we have chartered a boat to take us to the island.”
“That's cool. I guess you'll be leaving from the military air yard then, huh?”
Jackie narrowed his eyes suspiciously and asked, “Jade...why do you want to know these things?”
Before Jackie could press further, Jade darted out the door and down the steps. Downstairs, she was greeted by the sound of Valmont coughing violently in his sleep.
“Hrumph.” She hmphed as she leaned against the couch. “This is all your fault. If you weren't hanging out here, Uncle Jackie wouldn't have an excuse to leave me behind.”
She got no answer, save for Valmont yawning and blinking blearily as he sat up. Nevertheless, an idea struck her and she grinned.
“But if you aren't hanging out here...hey Valmont!”
“Sod off.” He responded without even looking at her. “I will not endure your impetuous threats and asinine insults first thing upon waking up.”
“Wow, I see someone woke up on the wrong side of the bedroll.” Jade quipped, before adding, “And here I thought you'd want to come along on a trip to a warm, sunny island thousands of miles away from all this snow.”
– – –
“Ahh, sun, sea breeze, and best of all, no snow!” Finn said, stretching his arms to the sky on the deck of the modestly sized boat Jackie had chartered for the trip.
“Yeah, it's like we're on vacation!” Ratso agreed.
“This is my kinda Christmas.” Chow added.
“Still...” Ratso said. “I hope it wasn't a bad idea leavin' Jade and Tohru alone with Valmont.”
“Ahh, don't worry.” Finn responded. “Big T agreed to let Big V stay as a guest, right? I'm sure he'll keep the peace.”
A muffled sneeze sounded from somewhere on the boat and Finn turned to look at his cohorts as he said, “Gesundheit, Ratso.”
“I didn't sneeze.” Ratso responded.
Finn looked to Chow, who shook his head and shrugged.
“If you didn't sneeze, and you didn't sneeze, and I didn't sneeze, and everyone else is inside...” Finn muttered to himself. “Then who sneezed?”
“Sounded like it came from around back.” Ratso offered.
As the three rounded the wheelhouse to the back of the boat, indecipherable sounds of a muffled argument drifted up from below decks. With a shared nod, they carefully approached the hatch to the cargo hold and pried it open. Immediately, they could hear the full content of the argument.
“– for being sick!” Valmont said, arms crossed.
“You could at least try to muffle it!” Jade retorted with a huff.
“Oh boy.” Ratso said. The two stowaways jumped and looked up, realization dawning that they'd been caught.
“Uhh...you never saw us?” Jade suggested.
“J.C. Is not going to like this...” Finn said around a facepalm.
“What are you three doing in the cargo hold?” Jackie asked as he walked up behind the trio. “And what am I not going to like?”
“Your niece decided to tag along for the adventure.” Finn answered, jerking a thumb at where Ratso was hauling her out of the hatch and setting her down on the deck of the boat.
Jackie groaned and rubbed his face. “I shouldn't even be surprised anymore. Jade, I thought I told you to stay home and help Tohru watch Valmont!”
“Not an issue!” Jade said. “Valmont's here too!”
“Just so we're clear,” Valmont said as Ratso helped him out of the hold. “It was entirely the girl's idea. I was against it, but she wouldn't listen! So I...came along to make sure she doesn't get underfoot?”
“You liar!” Jade snapped. “You agreed as soon as I said there would be fresh air and eighty-degree weather!”
“Children and their imaginations, am I right, Chan?” Valmont asked. “Now...has anybody got a tissue?”
“We are almost at shore,” Jackie sighed. “You two can stay on the boat until we get back.”
“Fine by me.” Valmont said as he finished wiping his nose.
“But Jackieee!” Jade whined. “I wanna see the temple!”
“No, Jade.” Jackie responded. “We do not know what kinds of protections the temple has. It could be dangerous.”
“Hrumph!” was Jade's only answer.
“Besides,” Jackie kneeled down and lowered his voice. “Someone has to stay behind and make sure Valmont doesn't try anything funny.”
“Yeah yeah...” Jade grumbled.
“Don't worry kiddo.” Finn said, patting Jade on the head. “We'll make sure and get some pictures for you, alright?”
“Yeah, and souvenirs from the gift shop!” Ratso added, prompting everyone to stare.
“Uh, Ratso?” Finn started.
“It's a secret temple, it ain't gonna have a gift shop.” Chow finished.
“Aww...then where are we gonna get the little bobbleheads?” Ratso asked.
Finn slapped a hand to his forehead and said, “There aren't going to be any bobbleheads!”
Jackie turned to Valmont with a puzzled expression and asked, “Are they always like this?”
“Incessantly.” Valmont replied flatly. “Actually, they're rather on the ball today.”
Jackie gave a sigh, then looked at Finn, Ratso and Chow, still going on about gift shops and bobbleheads, and said, “Come on, we should start getting ready to disembark.”
As the three walked off, bantering among themselves about nothing of importance, Jackie turned back to Valmont and said, “And as for you, you had better not harm one hair on Jade's head while we are gone.”
“Don't worry, Chan,” Valmont said with a tone of forced cheer. “I wouldn't dream of instigating anything with the little tyke.”
Jackie seemed satisfied, but Valmont glanced down to see Jade giving him a dirty look.
“I'm sorry,” he said, unapologetically. “Were you hoping I'd promise not to defend myself, after you so blatantly tried to attack me just this – atchoo! – morning?”
“Just don't try any funny business with loopholes.” Jade responded. “Now, I've gotta see what this island looks like up close!”
– – –
The forest was thick and humid, though not quite a jungle. Light filtered down through gaps in the leaves overhead from a sun low in the sky, leaving the uneven forest floor a patchwork of brightness and shadow. It was trecherous terrain, especially as the ground sloped the closer they got to the base of the volcano, leaving most of the party moving slowly as Hak Foo charged ahead through the branches.
“MONKEY LEAPS BETWEEN TREES!” Came the shout from ahead as the others paused for breath.
“Uncle is too old for this. Cannot breathe thick forest air.” Uncle complained, leaning against a tree for support.
“At least our 'Black Tiger' is scaring off the local wildlife.” Jackie responded, pointing his thumb ahead. “We should not have to worry about any real wild animals trying to eat us.”
“Then what's that rustlin' in the trees?” Chow asked, edging closer to Ratso.
Jackie held up a finger for silence and, as Chow had said, he could hear movement from the direction opposite Hak Foo. Quietly, he crept up to the tree and pulled itself up into its branches, only to find them empty.
“Probably just the wind.” he decided as he dropped to the ground.
“No,” Uncle corrected. “Uncle has the willies! Dark forces are observing us, we must hurry to the temple before they strike!”
Despite a collective 'aww' from Finn, Ratso and Chow, the group pressed ahead. As the slope of the ground increased, the trees gave way to shorter bushes, and then to bare, rocky earth. The path was rough and untrodden, bu tUncle led them only a short way up before they came to the mouth of a large cave.
“Here,” Uncle said, pointing at the entrance. “Inside, we will be guarded against the forces of darkness.”
“Uh, great,” Finn replied. “But what's going to protect us from all the lava?”
“Technically it's magma while it's still underground.” Ratso pointed out.
“I don't care if you call it rock fondue!” Finn retorted. “No way am I going into another volcano.”
“Eww.” Ratso replied.
“That sounds gross.” Chow agreed.
Jackie pinched the bridge of his nose and pointed out, “It is a dormant volcano. All of the magma will be further down.”
“Told ya it's called magma.” Ratso said.
“Shut up, Ratso.” Finn responded.
But if you really do not want to go in,” Jackie continued in a raised voice. “We could leave you to guard against mountain lions.”
“I ain't fightin' no mountain lions!” Chow said as he ran into the cave.
“Wait for me!” Finn agreed.
“Don't leave me out here!” Ratso complained.
“Cowards.” Hak Foo commented as he followed at a walk.
“Jackie,” Uncle said. “There are no mountain lions on this island.”
“I know.” Jackie responded. “I just did not want to spend all evening listening to them argue.”
Inside the cave, a row of torches lined both walls. Once lit, they illuminated a wide pathway leading into the mountain, ending at a pair of stone pillars, coiled by carvings of maned, serpentine dragons. Behind the pillars was a gold plated gate, small holes worn in the plating to show the iron beneath.
“You three stay here.” Jackie said, pointing to Finn, Ratso and Chow. “Keep an eye out in case whatever was following us out there has humans working for it. Hak Foo, you come with us, in case the map has a guardian we cannot reason with.”
“Cool with us, Jack.” Finn said.
“Finally, I will get to see some action!” Hak Foo responded.
“Might get to see some action.” Jackie corrected. “It is possible that we will get the map and get out of here without any fuss.”
In response to the disbelieving stares from everyone present, Jackie sighed and said, “I can hope. Let's just get this over with.”
Inside, the temple itself looked brand new. Alcoves dotted the walls, holding gold vases, and the ceiling was set with metallic tiles representing scenes of nature in harmony. Four more dragon pillars held up the ceiling of a wide opening several yards down, each plated with gold. At the center of the room was a bronze pedestal topped with a sheet of glass.
“Amazing.” Jackie said as he looked around. “The cave must have protected the temple from the elements, and those heavy doors kept wildlife from entering. It is almost as if this place has been taken out of the flow of time.”
“Admire the scenery later!” Uncle scolded. “Get the map now.”
“Right. Let's go.” Jackie agreed.
As the three approached the pedestal, they saw that the glass top was protecting a flat piece of parchment depicting a world map, covered in ancient Chinese writing and faintly glowing pathways.
“This must be it.” Jackie noted as he pulled a chisel out of one of his pockets. As he set the blade at the join between the metal and the glass, three screaming voices caused him to jolt and nearly drop his tool. He looked to the hallway just in time to see all three of the former Enforcers run across the room and huddle behind him.
“What are you three doing here?” Jackie asked. “You are supposed to be outside, guarding the entrance?”
“M-m-mountain lion!” Chow explained.
Jackie slapped his free hand to his face and said, “There aren't actually mountain lions on this island. I just said that to get you to stop arguing about entering the cave.”
“Yeah, well, we sure heard one!” Finn countered.
“You ain't makin' us go back out there. No way, no how.” Ratso agreed.
“Fine,” Jackie agreed with a sigh. “Just don't touch anything.”
“Sure thing. Hey, say cheese!” Finn said, holding up a camera.
“Huh?” Jackie asked, then winced as the camera flashed. “Finn, please. I am trying to work here!”
While Finn shrugged and turned his camera elsewhere, Jackie rubbed his eyes and set back to work. He had barely managed to slip his chisel between the pedestal and glass covering when he was again interrupted, this time by a loud rumbling noise.
“I told you not to touch anything!” He snapped at the retired thugs.
“We didn't.” Chow responded with a shrug. True to his word, none of the three were anywhere near the hallway and its golden pottery.
Before Jackie could wonder at what had triggered it, the gold plating started flaking off the dragon carvings, revealing brilliant green scales and silver hair. The great serpents uncoiled themselves from the pillars and stalked forward on four short legs, staring forward with eyes that resembled pools of gold. Dispensing with caution entirely, Jackie jerked his chisel downward, prying one end of the glass plate up so that he could grab the map beneath it. But rather than pounce at him, the four maned ragons took off down the hallway, leaving the six explorers standing in confusion.
“If they aren't after us,” Jackie wondered aloud. “Then who – Jade!”
Chapter 4: The No Face of Evil
Unloading the hiking supplies from the boat had gone quickly and Jade and Valmont were left watching as the others disappeared into the trees.
“Ta-ta! Enjoy your trip, Chan! Take all the time you need!” Valmont called after, then lowered his voice. “Or better yet, don't return at all.”
A growling sound from behind caused him to jump, and on turning around he saw Jade glaring at him with her hands balled into fists.
Valmont took a step back and cleared his throat before amending, “I mean, I do so hope he returns safely.”
Jade wasn't satisfied, but she stopped growling and hopped down from the deck of the boat to the beach. Standing in the sand, she looked up and said, “Come on, we're gonna go make sure of it.”
“What?” Valmont asked and held up his tissue. “You're expecting a sick man to go tromping through the wilderness?”
Jade let out a growl of frustration that abruptly morphed into a look of thought. With a raised eyebrow, she responded, “You know, that temple's meant to represent metal. Bet that means it's got a bunch of gold just lying around.”
“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Valmont said as he jumped over the boat's rail and onto the beach.
“I thought you might say that.” Jade replied.
Following the other group's path through the forest proved simple, as the thick foliage was difficult to move through without leaving signs of passage. It wasn't until the ground started to slope upwards that they had to pause, giving Valmont a chance to breathe and blow his nose.
“Blasted humidity, as if I wasn't having enough trouble breathing.” he complained.
“Good thing we're almost there.” Jade replied. “I'm getting sick too. Sick of your whining.”
“Whining?” Valmont asked, offended. “Watch your accusations, you little brat, or I'll-”
“Shh!” Jade cut him off. “What's that sound?”
Reluctantly, Valmont paused to listen. One of the trees was rustling, as if something was moving in its branches.
“It's probably just a bird of some sort.” he decided. “Let's hurry to that temple before it starts raining droppings.”
“Eugh.” Jade agreed.
The pair hurried on before they could find out the hard way if Valmont was right, not stopping again until they found the entrance to the mountain cave. Peeking inside, they saw Finn, Ratso and Chow standing around an open gate, bantering back and forth.
“I don't suppose they'd listen if I just told them to let us past?” Valmont asked.
“Doubtful.” Jade replied. “Uncle Jackie probably has them on guard duty, to make sure I didn't follow him.”
“Well I didn't hike all the way here to turn back now.”
“Don't worry, I've got an idea.”
Jade took a deep breath and let out a loud imitation of a feline growl. The conversation in the cave immediately stopped, replaced by screaming.
“Wha- but there aren't actually jaguars here, are there?” Valmont objected.
“Probably not, but they don't know that.” Jade pointed out.
“Idiots and cowards.” Valmont griped. “Why did I ever employ those three?”
“At least they try. Now let's go.” Jade said, already running into the now empty cave.
From the entrance to the temple, Jade could easily see where everyone was standing around a raised pedestal, but she was quickly distracted by the decorative ceiling.
“Woah, it's like this place is brand new, but made like old stuff!” She commented.
“Made like valuable stuff, if you ask me.” Valmont responded, reaching for one of the vases along the walls. As soon as he removed it from the alcove, a loud rumbling sound shook the temple.
“Uh, Valmont?” Jade said nervously. “Maybe you should watch what you touch. These kinds of things tend to be booby trapped.”
“Please,” Valmont scoffed. “I think I can deal with some thousand year old security system.”
“Then tell that to them.” Jade said, pointing at four brilliant green maned serpents crawling toward them on vicious looking talons.
“Right, then.” Valmont said. “In my professional opinion, the best way to deal with security of this degree is...run.”
“Good idea.” Jade agreed. But as they turned around, they were met by two more dragons standing in the doorway, staring intently at Valmont.
Valmont clutched the golden vase close against him and demanded, “Coming here was your idea, do something!”
Jade immediately took a step away from Valmont and pointed with a shout of, “He did it!”
“That's not helping, you little-”
“Black hearted one, you are not welcome here.” one of the dragons growled. “Replace what you have taken and begone.”
“Oh, come now.” Valmont argued. “Can't I just have one little chunk of gold? You've got dozens of them here!”
“If that is your answer, then perish!” another of the dragons snarled.
As the creatures stalked toward Valmont, two jerked to a stop as a large hand wrapped around each of their tails.
“You leave him alone!” Ratso shouted. With a heave, he pulled them off balance and sent them tumbling into the other two.
The victory was short lived, as the dragons at the gate sprang forward. Valmont ducked to the side, leaving one of the great serpents flying toward Ratso.
“Uh-oh.” Ratso said, a moment before he fell under the torrent of scales.
“Ratso!” Jade shouted as she ran over to grab at one of the guardian's claws, doing her best to keep it away from Ratso's body.
The sixth dragon landed on the ground and turned back to face Valmont. As it crouched in preparation for another pounce, a high pitched battle cry sounded from behind it as Chow took a flying leap onto the creature's back. He barely managed to grab onto its mane before it shook its head around violently in an attempt to dislodge him.
While Chow was fighting to keep the last dragon occupied, the four Ratso had toppled managed to untangle themselves and stand. One of them made a flying leap to cut Valmont off as he made for the exit, leaving the other three to close in on him.
“'Scuse me.” came Finn's voice from behind one of the dragons as he tapped its tail with one finger. When it turned to look at the interruption, Finn swung his other fist directly at its snout, only to recoil in pain.
At the end of the hallway, Jackie looked on in dismay at the mess the three would-be helpers had gotten themselves into by jumping in without thought.
“We need to help them.” He sighed. “Hak Foo-”
“ANGRY CROW TAKES FLIGHT!” Hak Foo shouted, leaping into the fray without waiting for instructions. “MONGOOSE STRANGLES SNAKE!”
“Distract the guardians.” Jackie finished lamely. “Uncle, is there anything you can do to slow them down while I try to get the vase back from Valmont?”
“No.” Uncle responded curtly. “Good dragons are noble creatures, good chi will not harm them. But neither will they hurt a user of good magic.”
“It is something, at least. Can you try to talk Valmont into returning what he took if me and the others-” he paused as Finn ran past, pursued by a dragon, then finished, “If we can keep them occupied with things other than eating him?”
“Uncle will teach greedy thief some manners!”
Jackie nodded and took a running leap, just in time to catch Chow as his unwilling mount managed to toss him into the air.
“Thanks, Chan.” Chow said as he landed on his feet next to Jackie. “Guess I owe ya one.”
“Do not worry about it.” Jackie responded. “Just go help Jade help Ratso. I will handle things here.”
As Chow ran to help pry the dragon off of Ratso, Jackie sprang off the hallway wall to stand between the three closest dragons and Valmont.
“Wait!” he shouted, hands out in front of him. “Um...please?”
The central dragon's tail lashed as it regarded Jackie and growled out, “You protect the black hearted one?”
“Umm...not exactly?” Jackie responded. “But do you really have to try to kill him?”
“He desecrates our temple for his own selfish desires.” the dragon responded.
“Selfish?” Valmont cut in indignantly. “What's selfish is denying a man struggling against the horrors of poverty thanks to the forces of darkness ruining his life what he needs to get himself back on track!”
The dragon in the doorway stepped forward and growled, but before it could respond in words, a two fingered smack hit Valmont squarely between the eyes, courtesy of Uncle.
“Ow!” Valmont said. “What was that for, you old geezer?”
“You disrupt the balance of the elements!” Uncle shouted as close to Valmont's face as he could manage. “You want the forces of darkness to be able to attack us inside cave? Noooo? Then you will leave representation of metal here!”
“But...” Valmont complained. It was the combination of Uncle's menacing glare and the growls of the dragons that made him relent and put the vase back in its alcove. “Oh, very well. There, I've put it back, see? This is the part where you go back to being decorations and leave me alone, right?”
The dragons stared for several seconds before each went back to its own pillar, one breaking out of Hak Foo's choke hold in the process. They coiled around the supports, but remained flesh, staring intently at the group.
“Aww, they shredded my favorite outfit!” Ratso complained as Jade and Chow helped him to his feet.
“It's still your only outfit.” Finn remarked, straightening his jacket as he joined the others in the hallway.
“Jade.” Jackie said in a warning tone. “Explain.”
“You said to keep an eye on Valmont.” Jade explained. “He decided he wanted to check out the temple, so I had to come!”
Jackie sighed, then turned to Valmont and asked, “What happened to agreeing to stay with the boat?”
“I changed my mind.” Valmont responded simply. “It's not as if I made any promises.”
Jackie made a strangled noise of frustration, prompting Chow to cut in with, “Well, it's no real harm done, right? We've got the map, so let's just split. Sooner we get back home, sooner we can get some shuteye.”
“Yeah, he's right.” Finn agreed. “Moving snow, hiking through forests, battling dragons. I'm beat.”
“And Uncle cannot study map in such lousy lighting.” Uncle added in.
“Alright.” Jackie said. “Let's just go home and hope...whatever it is that was watching us earlier has gotten bored and left.”
“Watching?” Jade asked.
“Yes.” Jackie responded. “Uncle sensed some sort of dark being in the forest.”
“Well that's no problem of mine.” Valmont announced as he started for the exit. “Now if you'll excuse me, I'm getting out of here before those terrible reptiles try to eat me again.”
The rest of the group followed, with varying degrees of eagerness. They got as far as the tree line at the base of the mountain before a pale brown blur darted at Jackie. He narrowly dove out of the way, rolling and coming up facing his attacker. Where he had been standing before was a pasty skinned, bald humanoid. A pair of feathery wings resembling those of a hawk sprouted from its back, with another folded at its hips. But the most disturbing part came when it turned, showing its 'face' to be entirely devoid of features or openings of any sort. Yet despite its lack of a mouth, it spoke in a masculine, human-sounding voice.
“Well aren't you the slippery one.” the being said. “And here I was afraid this would be over before it started.”
“Woah.” Jade commented. “Who's the freakshow?”
“Do not know.” Uncle responded. “There is something familiar, but I cannot place it.”
“More importantly, what does it want?” Jackie asked.
“It's not obvious?” the faceless creature answered. “Then I don't think I'll tell you, let's see if you can guess.”
“It's not minions, is it?” Finn asked, taking a step away from the creature and toward Uncle. “'Cause if so, I'm putting it out there right now that me, Ratso and Chow already have a boss and aren't looking to jump ship.”
“Yeah,” Chow agreed. “And even if we didn't, we're done workin' for forces of darkness. It's just not a good business model.”
“And evil guys always treat us bad, too!” Ratso added.
The being tilted its head in a gesture suggestive of thoughtfulness, then said, “Giving orders isn't really my style, but there's an idea. I can let all of you do the hard part for me while I enjoy the show.”
It raised a single finger, pointed at the group, and a pulse of distorted air spread out from its fingertip to wash harmlessly over the expanded Chan Clan.
“Hah, that didn't even do anything!” Jade bragged.
“It uses chaos magic!” Uncle gasped. “Now Uncle knows why this being is familiar! It is Hundun, a being of primordial chaos! Good thing for us our Earth chi pendants protect us from spells of confusion.”
“Uh, boss?” Finn asked, pointing at Valmont. “Don't you mean most of us?”
The others turned to look at Valmont, who was standing to a hand to his head, looking puzzled. When he noticed Finn's pointing, his eyes focused for a second before going wide in terror.
“You!” He gasped and took a step back. “What are you doing here? I thought the Chans locked you away in Section Thirteen or...or something!”
Finn glanced over at Jackie, who shrugged his own confusion. Taking a step forward, Finn asked, “What're you talking about, V Man? I did my time at the city jail, and I work for the Chans now. Remember, there was that whole discussion about it this morning?”
Valmont reacted in a panic, swinging a punch at Finn with a shout of, “Get away from me, you horrid creature!”
Finn barely backed up in time to avoid the swipe, only to stumble backwards as his foot came down on uneven ground. The follow up kick sent him sailing into the trunk of a tree with a gasp as the impact knocked the air out of his lungs. The next punch would have broken his nose had Jackie not stepped in front of him and caught the blow.
“Valmont, what are you doing?!” Jackie asked. “Is this how you treat someone who's done everything he can to help you?”
Valmont's reaction was to look as if he'd seen a ghost. With an expression of absolute horror, he launched a swinging kick directly at Jackie's head. When the kick landed on an arm instead, he jumped back and snarled, “What are you doing here, you overgrown salamander? And – and what gives you any right to keep using my face?”
“What are you talking about?” Jackie responded as he ducked under a punch and used Valmont's outstretched arm to toss him away from Finn. “Uncle, what is he talking about?”
“Valmont has been afflicted by Hundun's spell of confusion.” Uncle explained. “He is being made to see those who approach him as those he fears and hates the most. Enemies that he would lash out at in rage and terror.”
“So he thinks I am Shendu?!” Jackie asked incredulously.
“Nobody he hates more in the whole world.” Finn responded. “Just tell me there's a way to fix it.”
“How about we knock some sense into him?” Jade suggested with a raised fist.
“You brat!” Valmont snapped back. “Shouldn't you be threatening Shendu and that blasted Oni, not me?”
“Wait a second,” Jade said. “Valmont sees Jackie as Shendu and Finn as an Oni, but I'm just me? ….Awesome!”
“Y'know what else would be awesome?” Finn responded. “Solving this without actually hurting Big V, that'd be awesome.”
“Uncle, is that possible?” Jackie called, holding up his arms to block a flurry of punches from Valmont.
“Yes,” Uncle answered. “But you must keep him occupied, while Uncle enchants an Earth chi charm so that it will break the spell that has been cast upon him.”
“I will keep him occupied.” Hak foo volunteered, only to be stopped by a swat to the forehead.
“No!” Uncle shouted. “If you get Valmont's attention, he will see you as an enemy as well. If he perceives enough opponents, he may flee and become lost in forest.”
“And that would be a bad thing?” Jade asked, to disapproving looks from most present.
“Let me talk to him. I'm sure I can get him to recognize me.” Finn said as he tapped Valmont on the shoulder. “C'mon Valmont, it's me, Finn. You know, the guy on your side during that whole 'Oni' thing?”
Valmont turned, but there was no sign of recognition on his face. Instead he swung a punch that hit Finn square in the face and sent the ex-thug flying onto his back.
“One more thing,” Uncle added. “Our words will not reach Valmont. All he hears will match what he believes he sees.”
Finn managed a dismayed groan in response. Jade stepped between him and Valmont with a crack of her knuckles and announced, “I'll keep him busy.”
“Please Jade,” Jackie shouted. “Stay back! You could get hurt!”
“Or she could hurt Valmont.” Chow added under his breath.
“If you think you can distract me so Shendu can get in a cheap shot, you've another thing coming, child.” Valmont said. True to his word, he wheeled on Jackie with a roundhouse kick. Jackie barely caught it on his arm and held up his other hand in preparation for the next strike, but instead Valmont sneezed loudly and wobbled.
“Gesundheit.” Jackie offered, ducking down and swinging a foot at Valmont's ankle while he was off balance. “Uncle, now!”
Uncle began chanting as Valmont landed hard on the ground. Valmont wasn't down long, however, rolling to his feet and facing Uncle with a snarl of, “When did you get here, you pruny old wizard? Well, no matter, I shan't let you curse me again!”
As Valmont charged at Uncle, Jade dove at the defunct crime lord's legs. The pair crashed to the ground with Jade clinging to Valmont's legs, doing her best to keep him from standing back up. While the two struggled on the ground, Uncle completed his spell and a beam of green light shot from his lizard wand to the pendant around Jackie's neck, enveloping it in a bright aura.
“Must touch crystal to Valmont to break the spell.” he explained as he put the dried lizard back in his pocket.
“Of course.” Jackie sighed. With a roll of his eyes, he removed the pendant from around his neck and approached Valmont, who paused in his attempts to escape Jade to look up in horror.
“No, get away from me!” he shouted, abandoning the idea of standing up in favor of scooting back. When he backed into a tree with Jade still holding his legs together, he held his arms up in front of him and desperately cast around for anything he could use as a weapon.
Jackie followed until Valmont ran out of room to flee, then crouched down and forced the glowing crystal into Valmont's hand. As Valmont's fingers closed around the stone, his eyes winced shut and he shook his head. When he opened his eyes again, he looked around in confusion and asked, “Chan? What are you doing? What happened to Shendu?”
“Shendu was never here.” Jackie explained, offering Valmont a hand up as Jade released his legs. “You were under the influence of a spell that affected your perceptions.”
Valmont's eyes narrowed in frustration as he pushed himself to his feet and brushed himself off indignantly. His tone was one of pure offense as he said, “I see that creature has seen fit to play me for a fool. Good thing you were timely in breaking that ghastly spell, or you could have had a real problem on your hands.”
Jade frowned up at him in disbelief, then put a hand to her chin in thought and asked, “Yeah, why was that so easy? That Hundun guy just cast and dashed. Doesn't make any sense.”
“I do not know. But the important thing is that he is gone and we have –“ Jackie began to answer, only to pause as he put a hand to his belt. “The map! It's gone!”
“Duh!” Jade said as she slapped a hand to her forehead. “Hundummy was after the map, and he used Valloser here as a distraction!”
“Excuse me!” Valmont objected. “Hasn't anyone ever taught you not ot call people names, you insufferable brat?”
“Hasn't anyone ever taught you not to be a hypocrite?” Jade shot back.
“Please, now is not the time to argue!” Jackie shouted. “Without the map, we cannot fix the cosmic imbalance!”
“No need to worry about that, Jackster.” Finn said, leaning against Ratso for support while he held his camera up in one hand. “I thought it looked cool, so I took a snapshot of it while we were in that temple.”
“Way to go Finn!” Jade commented, pumping a fist into the air.
“Then we must hurry.” Uncle announced. “Hundun no doubt wishes to exacerbate the imbalance in the cosmic chi. We must study the map and reach the corners of the globe before he does!”
“And then we kick his featureless bu –“ Jade started, only to be cut off by a forceful sneeze. “Oh no...”
“It sounds like for now, the only thing you will be 'kicking' is back with some hot tea and a box of tissues.” Jackie commented, earning a sniffly huff from Jade.