Tuesday, April 11, 2017

TRIBUTE: Part Eight

"FINN." Jintong rose with the grace of a viper. Finn fearlessly met his golden gaze over Christie's shoulder. Christie whispered her name again.
   "What do you want?" She let go of Christie but maneuvered so that she was between him and the young man.
   Jintong gently told her, "Two new lives. Jack, doesn't your girl know what we are?" He drew aside his collar to reveal a hole in his neck, its edges smoldering cherry red, shadows beneath.
   Christie whispered, "What's wrong with you?"
   "You can't have us, "Finn told him, almost breathless with mad defiance.
   "The White Cat has already made the deal." Jintong didn't even look at her. He was watching Jack, smiling.
   "Do you think we're giving you tribute?" Jack spoke as Finn and Christie drew back. Finn looked around for Jade but didn't see her. Phouka had risen and was calculating the confrontation between Jack and the Zhi Ren. Jack continued, emanating danger, "You're mistaken."
   "You're nothing but the muscle." Jintong's voice was just as dangerously quiet as Jack's. "The White Cat is Reiko's lieutenant. Her word is law."
   "Finn." Christie sounded shaky. "What is this?"
   "A family feud. Don't worry." Finn looked around for Jade. Where was she?
   "What exactly did Phouka tell you?" Jack didn't take his gaze from Jintong. The tension in the air shimmered.
   "In exchange for the boy and the girl, we'll leave without letting our presence be known." Jintong spread his arms and Finn saw, out of the corner of one eye, quick movements around them. She heard rustling and crackling noises.
   Jack continued in that tone thrumming with violence, "What, exactly, did Phouka negotiate?"
   Jintong slid a glance toward Phouka. "I give you what you want if you leave without causing harm."
   "Finn." Jack spoke without taking his gaze from Jintong. "Have you and Christopher suffered any harm?"
   "You mean aside from psychological damage and nearly getting sliced by mirror shards?" Finn whispered, shivering--not from fear, but from the dark violence Jack's kiss seemed to have instilled within her.
   Jack's smile widened. "I'd call that harm, wouldn't you, Phouka?"
   "Most definitely," Phouka agreed with a droll humor Finn thought completely inappropriate for the situation.
   "That's not--" Jintong snarled. His gaze slid to Phouka. "Trickster bitch--"
   "Deal's off." Jack retreated with Finn and Christie behind him and Phouka guarding their backs.
   Jintong's eyes blazed. A wind spiraled around him, making his coat flap. "There are more of us than there are of you."
   Finn saw the tall, shadowy figures fluttering in the night around the temple and fear splintered through her. The figures resembled black paper cut-outs, but the light from the temple's lamps gleamed across flat faces like photographs or paintings . . .
   Christie was snatched from Finn. She screamed and reached out as he was dragged upward by a black kite shaped like a person.
   Phouka cursed and something flashed in her hand.
   The small knife she flung tore a hole in the paper shape of the monster dragging Christie into the air.
   Christie fell. He rolled up, scrambling back. "What the f--"
   "Christie!" Finn lunged and grabbed the knife. And froze.
   Jade had appeared from the temple darkness behind Christie.
   "Finn?" Christie blinked. He whispered, "There's something behind me, isn't there?"
   Finn glanced at Jack, who had drawn a long dagger and was pointing it at Jintong. "You forgot what Jacks are for." Jack spun and went for Jade.
   Jade swept forward.She unfolded a fan of black paper beneath Christie's chin. He went still. Blood glistened on his chin. Jade's eyes were burning black holes in her face. Finn recognized, in Jade, the desperation of something supernatural to survive. A weakness.
   "And you forgot how we can hurt them." Jintong smiled. "Unless you want the boy to die from the worst paper cut ever, you surrender."
   Finn was reminded of Alice in Wonderland's stand-off with the playing cards--
   She dove forward. She grabbed the fan from Jade. The paper crumpled between her fingers, but one sharp edge cut into her palm.
   Phouka grabbed Christie's hand and pulled him away from Jade, who stood staring at Finn. Jack was still, watching Finn, waiting, holding Jintong off with a black knife.
   Finn turned to Jintong. She tried to remember what she'd read in her father's books on Chinese mythology. She couldn't recall anything about Zhi Ren. All she could remember were stories of how to bargain with supernatural creatures. She said, "You can't have us. We don't agree to it, Christie and I. Most of all, we don't belong to Reiko. We're not part of her family."
   "I see"--Jintong straightened, all languor gone--"we've a girl who reads the proper books. You will agree, Finn. Or we'll kill you."

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