Everyone had woken from a well deserved night’s sleep. Only Sage and Archer remained at camp, though. Jaycee had told the others she was going for a walk, and soon after she departed, James announced he, too, was going for a walk. Aiko, on the other hand, had left without giving any indication as to where she was going.
As Sage and Archer conversed, Aiko returned. She was carrying with her a long stick. “What do you think?” she asked, holding the stick out so the others could get a better look at it. Neither Sage nor Archer gave a reply. “How about an answer?”
“What’s that supposed to be?” asked Sage.
“It’s Jaycee’s new staff. I felt bad that she lost her other one, so I found her this to replace it. She’ll never be able to tell the difference.”
“It still has leaves on it,” said Archer.
After noticing the leaves, Aiko’s face blushed a bright red. “Uh, those? Well, they’re to distract the enemy. Yeah, that’s it,” she explained. Realizing that neither Sage nor Archer was convinced by her answer, Aiko became agitated. “Well, Jaycee can always just pull the leaves off if she doesn’t like them.”
Sage took the staff from Aiko and began inspecting it. Telling by the way he was looking it over, Aiko believed Sage was thoroughly impressed by her careful choice of wood. Without warning, Sage broke the staff over his knee.
“What are you doing!” exclaimed Aiko, ripping the broken pieces of staff away from Sage. “This was supposed to be Jaycee’s new weapon! You ruined it!”
“If that stick was all that Jaycee had to defend herself with, then she wouldn’t have stood much of a chance,” replied Sage.
Aiko stared sadly at the broken pieces of staff. “I guess you’re right,” she said. It didn’t take long for the Aiko’s attitude to change. “Well, at least I’m trying to help!”
James found Jaycee in the forest sitting on a log. She was doing nothing more than staring off into the distance. To James, she looked like something out of a dream as it felt like a lifetime had passed since he had last been alone with Jaycee.
Being so deep in thought, Jaycee didn’t notice James until he sat down next to her. She was startled a bit but calm returned to her when she discovered it was James who had joined her. “It’s you,” she said.
James cleared his throat. “I picked this for you,” he said, presenting Jaycee with a flower of a deep shade of purple. “This is your favorite flower, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yes,” replied Jaycee, accepting the gift. “Thank you.”
With neither not knowing what to say next, James and Jaycee sat in awkward silence and stared into the distance together.
“With a little time and a lot of hard work, I’m sure I can make Jaycee almost as powerful a fighter as me,” said Aiko before throwing a flurry of jabs. “There wouldn’t be a force on earth that could stand up to the both of us.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Archer. “Besides, before Jaycee took up the staff, I trained her in the art of the bow and arrow. I’m sure she remembers what I taught her.”
“Uh, the last time I checked, Jaycee’s weapon of choice wasn’t a bow or an arrow,” said Aiko. “Could it be she doesn’t like them?”
“Well, I haven’t seen Jaycee fighting with her fists recently,” said Archer.
“Sage, you decide. Which fighting technique best suits Jaycee? A graceful style of martial arts or Archer’s crude pointed sticks?”
“Why can’t she take up the sword?” asked Sage.
Aiko rolled her eyes. “Why am I not surprised by that answer?” she said.
“James, can I ask you a question?” asked Jaycee.
“Of course,” replied James.
“Have you ever thought about just giving Shadow Kahn what he wants?”
Hearing such a question caught James completely by surprise. “What?” he asked, unsure as to why Jaycee would be asking him such a thing. “Never. What could make you think I would ever consider giving in to that monster?”
“Because you can’t stop him,” said Jaycee.
“What do you mean? Of course I can.”
“There’s nothing I can say that will change your mind. You’re going to continue fighting regardless of what I say.”
“Why are you acting like this?” asked James.
Jaycee stood and began staring straight ahead. “Tell me something, James. Do you think it’s fair to those who care about you to continue putting your life at risk? Don’t those people matter to you? Don’t their feelings mean anything?”
“Of course they do,” replied James. “But what else can I do? I have to fight. Why don’t you understand? It’s because of the people who care about me that I fight.”
“But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can just leave.”
“What?” asked James.
Jaycee gazed into James’ eyes. “We can leave all of this behind,” she said. “If someone comes looking for us, we’ll hide. If someone chases us, we’ll run, run as fast as we can and no one will ever be able to catch us.”
“We can’t just run away. What about the others?”
“We don’t have to tell them,” said Jaycee. “We can leave now.” She then grabbed James by the arm. “Just you and me. That’s how it should have been from the start. There’s no sense in putting the others in further danger.”
“I can’t,” said James, prompting Jaycee to let go of him.
“But . . . why not?” asked Jaycee, tears forming in her eyes. “I can protect you. I swear it. If you come with me, then nothing bad will ever happen to you again. I promise. All you have to do is say yes.”
James lowered his head. “Please stop this.”
“But why?” asked Jaycee.
“You should already know why.”
Jaycee’s demeanor quickly became hostile. “You really are a fool,” she said. “Can’t you see that if you continue down this path, you will die?”
“What’s gotten into you?”
Jaycee once again grabbed James by the arm, but her grip was far more forceful than the first time. “You’re coming with me whether you want to or not,” she said, pulling on James. “I’m doing this for your own good, so don’t try to resist.”
It came as an utter shock to James to find that Jaycee possessed enough power to inflict such pain on his arm. “Stop it,” he exclaimed, pulling his arm free.
Jaycee stumbled back, then tripped over her own feet and crashed to the ground. She grimaced as she held the back of her head.
James immediately went to her. “I’m sorry,” he said, kneeling beside Jaycee. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.” When James reached his hand toward Jaycee to check for injuries, she slapped his hand away with incredible ferocity.
“Don’t touch me,” exclaimed an incensed Jaycee. “I don’t need your help. I don’t need anybody’s help!”
James had seen Jaycee upset before but never this angry.
“You’re always doing this to me,” said Jaycee, getting back to her feet. “You always treat me like I’m still just a child. I can only imagine how useless the others think I am if this is how you feel about me.”
“Nobody thinks of you that way.”
“Don’t lie to me,” said Jaycee. “In your eyes, all I am is a burden. I know it’s true.” Tears then began to form in Jaycee’s furious brown eyes. “Well, I was doing just fine on my own before you and the others found me.”
“Jaycee, I . . .” muttered James.
“Why did you have to find me?” asked Jaycee. “Why couldn’t you let me be?” She then forced the flower James had given to her into his chest. Having been unprepared for such an uncharacteristic act, James missed taking hold of the flower and to the ground it fell. “Why couldn’t you just let me be?” Jaycee then ran off.
James could do nothing but watch as Jaycee disappeared into the forest.
Having run as fast as she could from the scene, Jaycee’s energy quickly depleted. She stopped at a nearby river to catch her breath and collect her thoughts. Kneeling at the bank, Jaycee stared at her haggard reflection. Though the fight she had had with James was already over, the pain and anger were so fresh that it felt as if the conflict was still being waged.
“Why do such emotions have to exist?” asked Jaycee, swirling her reflection with her finger. “And why do they have to exist in me?”
Unbeknownst to Jaycee, the river began flowing more rapidly.
Feeling she had been gone long enough, Jaycee decided it was time to make her way back. She felt this way because she was well aware of how the others worried about her, adding credence to what she had said earlier to James.
Before Jaycee could depart, something odd caught her attention. Bubbles were floating to the surface of the water where she was resting. Jaycee could see no fish in the river, which fueled her curiosity all the more. She leaned in to get a closer look, and when she did, a hand made of water thrust from the river and clutched her by the throat. Jaycee attempted to remove the hand but was unable to grasp onto something made of water.
A magnificent looking woman made of water then began to rise out of the river. Jaycee was forced to rise, as well.
The woman leaned in so close to Jaycee that their faces nearly touched. There was nothing but malevolence behind the smile on her face. “Has no one ever told you?” she asked. “Ice melts, bitch.” A powerful surge of water then shot from the woman’s stomach, sending Jaycee skidding violently along the ground.
Jaycee was left battered from the attack but far from defeated. “Who do you think you are?” she asked, sounding more angry than afraid.
The question enraged the woman of water. “You arrogant little bitch,” she exclaimed. “You know exactly who I am.” The woman then made her way to Jaycee and loomed over her. “Perhaps what you need is a reminder.” She then grabbed Jaycee by the hair and pulled her off the ground, wrenching her neck violently as she did.
“Don’t do this,” said Jaycee.
“Oh, it’s far too late to beg for mercy now.” The woman’s free arm then became a rush of water that sent Jaycee crashing into a nearby tree. The blow was so fierce that it temporarily left Jaycee unable to move. “Let it be known that nobody crosses Alenia and lives long enough to talk about it,” said the one time demon of ice.
“Alenia,” said Jaycee.
“I don’t know how you managed to stop me the first time,” said Alenia. “But I assure you, my dear little Jaycee, it won’t be happening again. For there won’t be any of your cheap little tricks to save you this time.”
“I won’t tell you again. Don’t do this.”
What Jaycee had said prompted a boisterous fit of laughter to burst from Alenia. “Tell me something. Have you ever witnessed someone drown while still on dry land?” Alenia then paused to give Jaycee the time to fully ponder her question. “Well, you’re about to.” Wasting no more of her time, Alenia placed a hand over Jaycee’s mouth and sent a surge of water rushing down her throat.
Some of the feeling had returned to Jaycee’s body, but all she could do was kick her legs frantically and attempt to pull free.
“It’s only a matter of time now,” said Alenia. “Nothing can save you.”
Having quickly exhausted all of her energy, Jaycee stopped struggling. It wasn’t long thereafter when she closed her eyes.
“Giving up so soon?” asked Alenia. “Well, I can’t blame you. Your pitiful life never was worth fighting for. I’m surprised you lasted this long.”
As Alenia continued forcing water down Jaycee’s throat, for some reason, the water stopped rushing from her body. It was shortly thereafter when her arm exploded. Alenia let out a horrific scream as the pain from the unexpected event was just as excruciating had her arm consisted of flesh and bone.
Alenia staggered back, wailing violently as she did. When she finally came to a stop, she grabbed the ravaged part of her arm and regenerated the missing portion. “What was that?” she asked. “What the hell did just you do?”
Jaycee was now standing. Her head was lowered and her body was shaking visibly. “Why are you forcing me to do this?” she asked. “Why couldn’t you have stopped when I asked you to?” Jaycee then raised her head to reveal her glowing blue eyes.
“What are you?” gasped Alenia.
“I hate fighting,” said Jaycee. “Why must I be forced to hurt others to protect myself? Why is there no other way?”
“You bitch!” exclaimed Alenia. “The only who’s going to get hurt is you!” She then shot a rush of water from her hand. Without the slightest sign of trepidation, Jaycee faced the palm of her hand toward the water and deflected it.
“Damn you!” exclaimed Alenia, who then lifted her arms above her head. A tremendous funnel of water rose from the river, like a great serpent. When Alenia thrust her arms forward, the funnel surged toward Jaycee. Once again showing no fear, Jaycee did nothing but watch as the water crashed into an invisible barrier around her.
As Alenia continued her attack, a streak of blue light tore through the water and shot straight through her body. The onslaught of water came to an immediate halt and Alenia, who was now without most of her right side, fell to her knees.
Jaycee loomed over her fallen opponent. “Let the mistake that is your existence finally come to an end,” she said. An incredible energy then began emanating from Jaycee’s body, causing a great wind to begin swirling.
James and the others were roaming the forest in search of Jaycee when the most horrendous scream any of them had ever had the misfortune of hearing filled the air. This prompted the group to sprint toward the source of the awful sound.
Jaycee stood motionless where Alenia had spent her final moment. Her breathing was heavy and her eyes remained aglow.
“Jaycee!” shouted Aiko in the distance. “Jaycee!”
Upon hearing her name, Jaycee’s eyes returned to normal. She then turned toward Aiko’s voice just as the others were arriving.
“Jaycee, what happened?” asked James. “Are you hurt?”
Jaycee immediately threw herself into James, forcing him to embrace her. “Oh, James,” she cried, “it was horrible! This thing appeared from out of nowhere. It came right at me! I thought, I thought it was going to . . .”
“Don’t worry,” said James. “You’re safe now.”
“We heard you scream,” said Aiko. “Are you sure you’re not hurt?”
“No, I only screamed because I was afraid,” explained Jaycee. “That must have been what scared it off.”
“If there’s something out here, then we should be on guard,” said Archer.
“You don’t have to worry about that,” said Jaycee. “It won’t be coming back.”
The rest of the day was filled with far less excitement than its beginning. The group dined on fish and fruit for dinner, and when they were finished, they sat in complete silence around their camp fire before finally going to sleep.
It had been evident to everyone in the group that Jaycee was struggling with something as she refused to look at the others once they returned to camp. But for fear of upsetting her any further, no one had dared say a word to her.
Jaycee, who had only been feigning sleep, quietly rose from her resting spot. It wasn’t before long when she was bowing before her sleeping prince and ever so carefully taking ownership of his Sword of Heaven.
Shaking terribly and with tears falling from her eyes, Jaycee raised the magnificent weapon above James’ head. After a moment to ponder the consequences of her actions, Jaycee thrust the sword downward with every ounce of strength within her.
The night sky had become flooded with black clouds. They hovered above the earth as if to become the audience for the act soon to come.
Having left the others, Jaycee sat not far from the edge of a chasm and gazed at the flower James had given back to her upon her request. It wasn’t before long when Jaycee felt an unmistakable presence behind her. She looked back and found Shadow Kahn glaring at her. Immediately Jaycee pounced to her feet and began backing away.
Brandishing his Sword of Hell, Shadow Kahn made his way to Jaycee. “I gave you two options,” he said. “You were to either kill the boy and take the sword or you were to take the sword and leave the rest to me. But you chose to do neither. And for that, you must be shown the consequences that await those who disobey me.”
Jaycee looked back and found she was within a few short steps from a fall into the chasm. She knew it would do no good to continue backing up, so Jaycee elected to plead for her life, hoping Shadow Kahn possessed some small amount of compassion. “It’s not my fault,” she said. “These feelings, I couldn’t control them.”
“You fool,” said Shadow Kahn. “I never gave you emotions.”
“No, please don’t,” begged Jaycee.
“The only thing I hate more than failure . . . is mercy,” said Shadow Kahn. And with that, he ran his sword through Jaycee. Inadvertently, Jaycee crushed the flower in her grasp. She then slid off Shadow Kahn’s blade and toppled onto her side.
“You should live just long enough to tell the others what you really are. Perhaps the truth will help comfort them in their time of suffering.”
Having been unable to sleep very well, James woke from his troubled slumber. Finding his sword planted firmly in the ground only inches away from his face quickly shook him out of his lethargic state.
After James woke the others, the group set out to find Jaycee.
A rising sun would do all it could to aid the group, but a thick fog had formed overnight, making their search all the more difficult.
Through a break in the fog, the group discovered Jaycee in the distance.
Aiko immediately ran to her friend. “Jaycee,” she said. Aiko’s breathing came to a near halt when she discovered the blood on her back. “Jaycee!” she screamed, shaking her in hopes of waking her. “Jaycee!”
“Stop it,” exclaimed Sage. He feared further damage would be done to Jaycee, so he pulled Aiko away. Aiko immediately held onto Sage and buried her face in his chest, all the while crying hysterically.
“It can’t be,” said Archer. “Why?”
James knelt beside Jaycee just as her eyes began to open. “What happened?” he asked, tears forming in his eyes.
There was a faint smile gracing Jaycee’s lips. “I knew if I held on long enough,” she said, “then I would get to see you one last time.”
“Don’t say that,” said James, taking Jaycee in his arms.
“There’s no reason for me to hold on any longer. I had only one purpose, and I failed. My master had no choice but to destroy me. I can’t blame him for doing what he did. After all, what good was I to him?”
“What are you saying?” asked James. “You can’t mean . . .”
“He ordered me to kill you and take the sword,” said Jaycee. “But when our eyes met for the first time, I knew I’d never be able to hurt you. That’s where my master made the biggest mistake in my creation. He made me too real.”
“What are you talking about? Jaycee, what are you saying?”
Unable to look James in the eye, Jaycee looked away. “Please don’t call me that,” she said. “That’s not my name.”
“Of course that’s your name,” said James.
“No, I’m nothing but a copy,” said the false Jaycee. “A worthless copy.” She then opened her hand to reveal to James that she still had the flower he had given her. The false Jaycee’s eyes began to fill with tears when the flower’s condition was revealed to her. Not only was the flower crushed but it was also covered with blood. “I tried to be as careful with it as I could,” she said, “but I couldn’t protect it. It’s no longer beautiful.”
“It’s still beautiful,” said James.
“I don’t deserve this,” said the false Jaycee, trying to hand the flower back to James.
“No. I want you to keep it.”
The false Jaycee couldn’t help but groan as she attempted to get to her feet.
“You have to save your strength,” said James.
The false Jaycee mustered the strength to sit up so that her face was even with James’. She then leaned in and placed her cheek against his. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But we have to say goodbye now.” After delivering her message, the false Jaycee pulled back, tenderly caressing her cheek against James’. She then shakily rose to her feet.
With legs trembling visibly, the false Jaycee made her way to within a few steps of the chasm. “I don’t want you to see what’s going to happen to me,” she said.
“What’s going to happen?” asked James.
“I’m not like you. When I die, I’m going to disappear. It’ll be like I never even existed. I don’t want you to see that. I can’t bear making you watch me fade away to nothing. You have to understand. I can’t do that to you.”
Honoring the request, James looked away, prompting the others to do the same.
The mere act of standing was quickly becoming too much for the false Jaycee to bear as her body was losing what little strength it had left. “I never meant to hurt you,” she said, trying vainly to see James through her tears. And with that, the false Jaycee fell backward and into the chasm. “Goodbye, James,” she said.
After hearing his name, James rushed to the edge but all he could see in the chasm was a thickening fog. Unable to bear such a thing, James fell to his knees and began to weep.
The flower of a deep shade of purple landed at the bottom of the chasm. It was shortly thereafter when a pair of tears fell from above and landed on the petals.