Wednesday, April 5, 2017

TRIBUTE: Part Seven

JACK strode past her and she followed. Cherry blossoms--more paper, she noted with a shiver--were flurrying around them now instead of the false snowflakes.
   A girl appeared kneeling in the center of the pagoda, her kimono a glistening whiteness, her hair  fall of rose-pink around her mask-like face. Jack addressed her with careful respect, "Why are you with the Zhi Ren? They and the Mononoke were never friends."
   The girl moved slightly and Finn's mouth went dry.
   The girl was made of paper, from her robe to her skin, and the voice that issued from her was an uncanny ripple in the air. "We travel together. We, also, are outlaws."
   "Is that why you look like them?" Jack's sweeping gesture indicated the paper girl's entire being.
   "We tried to warn you. You must continue no farther."
   "Oh and why is that?" Jack leaned slightly forward, mocking intense interest.
   "We don't want to make enemies of the Ban Nathair."
    "The Mononoke. A Skriker. You all travel together. You're a Family. And there is already a Family here. By stealing Phouka, you've absolutely made an enemy of Reiko."
   "Phouka Fata came for the boy. She broke covenant law."
   Finn's heart jumped. Foreboding swept over her. Christie . . .
   Jack said with gentle menace, "What boy?"
   "The boy with the red curls. The poet."
   "No," Finn whispered as Jack began to curse venomously and softly.
   Then Finn was striding toward the pagoda and the paper girl. "No. Not Christie. He had nothing to do with this--"
   "They waylaid him on the road." The paper girl's eyes were midnight in her mask. She turned her attention to Jack. We want no trouble. We will not be part of this."
   A wind swept over them and the paper girl came apart, unraveling, leaving Finn and Jack facing the pagoda. On the other side, the path continued through a grove of cherry trees.
   "Christie!" Finn ran forward.
   "Finn." Jack caught her in the pagoda. She twisted to face him.
   "No. You don't get to tell me what to do. It's your world that's taken my friend and you're going to help me get him back."
   "Phouka tried to get him back and do you see her succeeding?" Jack had her right arm in a steely grip. His gaze was savage. "This whole thing has gone sideways and, as usual, you're running headlong into it--"
   "What do you want me to do? Stand here, useless, while you go on alone?"
   "I don't know what Phouka's intent was in bringing you with us, but I'm beginning to wonder."
   "Wonder what?" Finn jerked free. She ran down the pagoda steps, onto the path, with Jack beside her.
   "What she's up to. She knows this was a set-up. Why drag you into it?" He seemed to be speaking to himself.
   Finn halted, because they had emerged from the cherry trees into a forest of black bamboo. A red temple like those follies in large gardens rose before them. In front of it was a pool of black water. Upon the water glided swans of white paper, life-sized origami like the Mononoke girl. To either side of the temple, bound to its pillars, were kites constructed into the images of gold and black bats. Finn marveled at the terrifying, impossible beauty of it all.
   Phouka sat on the temple steps, her head bowed.
   "Phouka!" Finn moved around the pond, Jack a smoldering darkness at her side. "Where is Christie?"
   Phouka lifted a bleak face. She said calmly, "I've negotiated."
   Jack, his gaze on the shadowed interior of the temple, said, "Just how have you managed that?"
   "By promising something else." A shadow languidly emerged from the temple interior; a young Asian man in a black three-piece suit, his hair a golden mohawk. He leaned against one of the pillars. "Hello, Jack."
   Jack's expression was grim as he studied the new arrival. "I know you."
   "You know me." The young man's eyes flared inhumanly golden. "And you know Jade, though we look a bit different now."
   There was a wavering of shadow and light and Finn flinched as a girl appeared before them, very pale in a cocktail dress of green silk, her hair a sleek, black fall around her face. Jack whispered, "Jade."
   The Asian girl's burning, dark gaze fell upon him. She raised one bare arm and Finn gasped when she saw holes in Jade's skin, like burn marks with darkness beneath.
   "You remember"--the young man with the golden mohawk sank to a crouch--"what you did to her?"
   Swift as a flicker of insect wings, the girl was suddenly close to Finn, whose skin crawled as if she stood before a giant wasps' nest. Finn gritted her teeth and said to the girl, "Where is Christie?"
   Jade cocked her head, an inhuman thing trying to understand.
   "That's enough." Jack's voice was low as he gently drew Finn back from the creature. "I do remember you, Jintong. And your grudge is against me, not anyone else here."
   The young man nodded as if considering this. "But you've changed since San Francisco. You're a real Jack now. Ironic, isn't it?" Jintong rose. "Leave it to that Rangda bitch to Jack an exorcist."
   Finn glanced at Jack. Despite her fear, she felt she'd just gotten a clue as to who he was.
   Jintong said, gently, "Come on out, pretty boy."
   When Christie stumbled from the temple, Finn lunged toward him. Then Jack was, impossibly, in front of her. "No--"
   She dodged him and raced up the steps. Christie blinked dazedly when he saw her. She flung her arms around him, which was usually not something she'd ever do.
   "Finn . . ." he murmured.
   Jack cursed. "Now he knows your name."

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