Shades of Blue
Stores all over the city had been decked with holiday dress, a telltale sign that Christmas was soon to come. It would be a day that many would use to reminisce about the past, but not all memories relived would be pleasant ones.
Jaycee, Sage and Aiko hadn’t the luxury of perusing store aisles, though, as today was another school day and festivities would have to wait.
“It’s not as cold as it usually is this time of year,” said Jaycee, making her way through the school’s front gate with her friends.
“It’s global warming,” said Sage. “Eventually we’ll be celebrating Christmas in a tropical climate. We’ll all have holiday tans.”
“What are you t, t, two t, t, talking about?” stuttered Aiko, who was shaking from head to toe. “It c, c, can’t get any c, c, colder than this. You t, t, two are c, c, crazy.”
In her unusually bright office, Vice Principal Takagi was at her desk looking over a new student. “Let’s go over this one more time,” said the vice principal. “What is your name and where do you come from?”
“My name is Ai, and I’ve come from very far away,” said the girl.
“Excellent,” said Vice Principal Takagi, making her way to the new student. She then embraced her. “You’re different from the others. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes . . . my queen,” said Ai, embracing her master.
“So that means I’m expecting more from you than I did from all the others,” explained the vice principal. “Do you understand?”
“I understand, my queen. I won’t fail you.”
“Now, let’s get you to class. But would you wait for me outside? I have something I need to take care of first.”
“Yes, my queen,” said Ai, who then exited from the room.
“I’m doing the right thing, aren’t I?” whispered the vice principal, clutching at her chest. “I have every right to use her. She can do what the others couldn’t.”
Jaycee, Sage and Aiko were in class waiting for their teacher. When he finally arrived, everyone rose from their seats. Immediately after the teacher arrived, Vice Principal Takagi appeared at the door. With her was Ai, who had the same nervous look that most new students had on their first day.
“I hope you don’t mind,” said the vice principal, “but we have a new student joining us for a while. Her name is Ai and she’s from very far away.” Vice Principal Takagi was practically beaming as she introduced the new student.
“Hey,” whispered Aiko. “Those two look a lot alike. You think she might be the vice principal’s daughter?”
“How could the vice principal still have a figure like that if she’s had a child?” asked Sage. “And she’s far too young to have a daughter already in high school.”
“I didn’t know you had a thing for the vice principal. Maybe you should ask her if she wants to go on a date, you pervert.”
“Why don’t you take a seat in that desk over there in the corner, Ai,” said the vice principal. The desk suggested was bordered on all sides by vacant desks.
“Yes, my . . . ma’am,” said Ai before taking her seat.
“Those two do look alike,” thought Jaycee. “But they don’t act alike.”
As it did at the same time every day, lunchtime arrived. Jaycee, Sage and Aiko took to the usual classroom to eat. It was the same routine as always, but one thing was different about today. Ai was seated at her desk in the corner. There was a sadness about her that made Ai look as if she yearned to be part of the big blue sky at which she was gazing.
“The new girl’s not eating lunch,” said Aiko. “You think maybe her family can’t afford to send her to school with something to eat?”
“It’s best just to let her be,” said Sage. “Most people are too proud to accept charity. I’m sure she doesn’t want anyone’s handouts.”
Jaycee took half her sandwich and unopened juice box to Ai.
“Jaycee, wait,” said Aiko. Jaycee paid her friend no attention and went on as planned. “Great, that girl’s probably gonna yell at Jaycee for thinking she’s some kind of charity case. More problems are something we don’t need.”
Jaycee approached Ai, startling the new student. “Your name’s Ai, right?” asked Jaycee, taking a seat in the adjacent desk.
“Uh, yes,” replied Ai.
“My name’s Jaycee. I was just wondering if maybe you’d like half my sandwich. I saw that you weren’t eating and thought you might be hungry.”
“You want to share your lunch with me?”
“I always pack more food than I need,” said Jaycee. “It’s understandable if you forgot to bring a lunch with you, this being your first day and all.”
“Thank you,” said Ai, accepting Jaycee’s offering.
“Do you want to sit with us?” asked Jaycee. “There’s always room for one more.”
“Oh no,” said Aiko, watching as Jaycee and Ai approached. “She’s bringing that girl over so she can yell at us. It wasn’t my idea to take pity on her.”
There was no yelling involved in Ai’s introduction to the others. Instead, the four got off on quite the right foot. And when they finished eating, Jaycee, Sage and Aiko took Ai on a tour to better acquaint her with her new school.
Vice Principal Takagi was at the other end of the hall when the four exited the classroom. “That’s a good girl, Ai,” she whispered. “Lull those fools into a false sense of security. Make them think you’re their friend. And when they least expect it . . . kill them. Leave nothing behind but bitter little memories.”
As the group made their way down the hall, Ai stopped. What had caused her sudden halt was seeing a girl wearing a silk ribbon in her hair pass by.
“Those ribbons are popular with girls at our school,” said Jaycee. “But they’re really expensive. There’s a shop that sells silk, so most girls make the ribbons themselves, but it’s hard to work with such delicate material.”
“Hurry up you two,” said Aiko, who was already at the end of the hall with Sage.
After school Jaycee, Sage and Aiko took Ai on another tour. But this time it was a guided tour of the city. To be more precise, it was a tour of the group’s favorite places to spend their precious leisure time.
The game center was the nearest to their school, so that was the first place the group visited. Aiko wasted no time in jumping in front of a game and inserting a coin. She then proceeded to jerk the joystick and mash the buttons with unrestrained ferocity.
“Take it easy,” said Jaycee. “You’ve already broken two of these games.”
“Shh,” hissed Aiko. “Only we know about that. As far as the game center is concerned, those joysticks fell off on their own, and the humidity in the air made the buttons get stuck so deep inside the console that they’ll never come out again. You got that?”
“Uh, yeah,” replied Jaycee.
“Where are my manners?" said Aiko. "Ai’s our guest. Maybe she’d like a turn on this game. What do you say? Want to try?”
“I’ve never played a video game before,” said Ai. “What do I do?”
“It’s easy,” said Aiko. “All you do is use the joystick to move the little man around and push the buttons to make him kick and punch. You’ll do fine. Even Jaycee had some beginner’s luck when she first tried it.”
Ai took her place at the game. It took only seconds for her to adapt as she swatted down foe after foe on her way to the end of level one.
“If you like these games more than the rest of us, then how come you’re the worst at playing them?” Sage asked Aiko. “Shouldn’t all that practice make you at least a little less incompetent?”
“You want to know why I’m no good at these games?” asked Aiko. “Here’s why.” Aiko then latched onto both of Sage’s cheeks and began stretching his face as far as it would go. “Is this a good enough reason for you?”
Sage promptly did the same to Aiko.
So heated did the exchange of pulling faces become that the game center manager and some of his employees had to separate Sage and Aiko.
After things were calmed down, the group was thrown out and given a temporary ban from the establishment.
The group next made their way to the local bookstore. Once inside the group split into two parts. Jaycee and Ai made their way to the poetry section, while Sage and Aiko began scanning through the many magazines offered.
“Had I known those two were going to waste their time reading poetry, I never would have suggested this place,” said Aiko. “Poetry is such a girly thing.”
“You’re a girl,” said Sage.
“You know what I mean,” said Aiko, face buried in a comic book.
Ai had picked a book and was spending a prolonged time on one page. So curious was Jaycee that she felt compelled to ask Ai what it was that had enthralled her so. “It looks like you found something,” said Jaycee. “What are you reading?”
“This,” replied Ai, showing Jaycee the page she had been reading.
“Winter flower. That poem’s one of my favorites.”
“I like how the words sound. But I don’t understand what they’re saying.”
“Well, this poem is about life,” said Jaycee. “Things don’t usually grow in winter. But this poem is saying that when something does grow, it’s special. Kind of like life unexpected. A nice surprise for everyone.”
“Unexpected life . . . is nice,” whispered Ai, though she had whispered it loudly enough so that Jaycee had heard.
Aiko’s boisterous laughter could be heard in the furthest reaches of the store. “Sage, you have to read this,” she said, forcing her comic book on him.
“I don’t want to read that kid stuff,” said Sage, keeping his attention focused on his magazine. “Why don’t you try reading something like this?”
“Baseball’s boring,” said Aiko. “Here, try this. You’ll like it.” Aiko then tried to force her comic book into Sage’s hand.
“No, try this,” said Sage, trying to force his baseball magazine on Aiko.
Before long Sage and Aiko were grappling with one another, trying their hardest to force their literature and beliefs on the other. Shortly after the scuffle began, the bookstore manager and some of his employees arrived to break up the fight.
For all the commotion they had created, the group was kicked out of the bookstore and given a temporary banishment.
The last leg of the tour took the four to the group’s favorite café. On Sage’s insistence, Aiko would be paying for everything.
“Think you can keep from getting us banned from this place?” Sage asked Aiko.
“You’re the troublemaker,” said Aiko.
When the orders arrived, Jaycee, Sage and Aiko were all a bit surprised by Ai’s choices. She had ordered a bowl of ice cream and a cold drink, two unusual items for a winter day. But what was more odd was that both items were of a powder blue.
“It’s my favorite color,” explained Ai.
“Hey, blue is Jaycee’s favorite color, too,” said Aiko.
“My favorite color’s navy blue,” said Jaycee. “Navy blue and powder blue are completely different. They just come from the same source.”
Aiko shrugged her shoulders. “Blue is blue.”
The following day at school, Ai suggested to the others that she take them to her favorite place in the city. The new student had a meeting with the vice principal after school, though, so the others were to wait for her downtown.
Jaycee waited for Ai outside her last class of the day. When Ai appeared, Jaycee presented her with a powder blue silk ribbon. “This is for you,” said Jaycee. “Just think of it as an early Christmas present.”
“You bought me a Christmas present?”
“Let me put it in your hair,” insisted Jaycee. Ai turned around and allowed her hair to be put into a ponytail. When she was finished, Jaycee stepped back to take in her handiwork. “It looks really good on you.”
“Thank you,” said a blushing Ai, who then shared an awkward silence with Jaycee. “Um, I should get going before the vice principal gets angry.”
“Oh, right. So I guess we’ll see you tonight."
A short time later, Ai was standing before Vice Principal Takagi’s desk. And once again the room was unusually bright.
“I’m here as you ordered, my queen,” said Ai.
“I just wanted to check on the status of your mission,” said the vice principal.
“I’m going to do it tonight.”
“Splendid.” Vice Principal Takagi then made her way to her subordinate. “What’s this in your hair?” she asked, fondling Ai’s ribbon.
“It’s . . . just some ribbon.”
“Well, you certainly know how to adapt, don’t you? How could any of those naïve little fools ever know what you truly are?”
Jaycee, Sage and Aiko had been waiting downtown for Ai for hours. The sun had set some time ago, making the three wonder if they had been stood up. Before the group decided to call it a night, Aiko’s cell phone began ringing. “Hello,” she answered. “Oh, Ai, what? You want us to meet you where? Hello?”
“What did she say?” asked Jaycee.
“She said she wants to meet on the roof of Lake’s Department Store.”
Jaycee, Sage and Aiko ventured to the top of the department store, the fourth tallest building in the city. When they got there, they found Ai waiting for them at the far end of the roof. Her back was turned to them.
“Ai,” said Jaycee. “Why did you want us to meet you here?”
“Because this is my favorite place,” said Ai, not bothering to turn to face the others. “This is where my mother gave birth to me.” A gust of frigid wind then blew across the rooftop.
“This doesn’t feel right,” said Sage.
Ai then lifted her arms toward the sky.
“Ai, what are you doing?” asked Jaycee. “What’s going on?”
A swirling wind filled with ice crystals engulfed Ai. When it dissipated, something far different remained. A young woman with skin of powder blue and hair as white as the silken garment she now wore had taken the place of the girl the others thought they knew.
“She looks just like . . .” said Jaycee, whose memories of Alenia came flooding back to her. “But how?”
A boisterous laugh danced across the night air. Alenia then appeared at the far end of the roof behind Ai, black wings spread in all their glory before a now cherry moon. “Isn’t she beautiful?” asked Alenia. “Like mother, like daughter.”
“Ai’s your daughter?” asked a wide-eyed Aiko.
“So to speak. You see, this girl who stands before you was made out of my very own heart. Yes, believe it or not, I do have a heart.”
“This whole time,” said Sage, “she was playing us for fools.”
“Ai,” said Jaycee, timidly approaching her.
A gust of wind filled with snow and shards of ice slammed into Jaycee, bringing her advance to an immediate halt.
“You would be wise to stay where you are,” said Ai.
“When they said I had a heart of ice, they weren’t kidding,” said Alenia.
“Ai, we’re your friends,” said Jaycee, struggling through the whipping wind. “Why are you fighting us? This isn’t who you are.”
Sage summoned the Sword of Heaven. “Jaycee, get back here.”
Ignoring Sage, Jaycee marched onward.
“Can’t you see?” asked Aiko. “She was just using us. She was working for Alenia the whole time. She’s a part of her. She can’t get any worse!”
“I refuse to believe she wants to hurt us.”
Ai summoned a ball of snow and hurled it at Jaycee, striking her in the arm.
“Ai, please stop!” shouted Jaycee, who continued her advance despite the pain in her arm. “Tell me it’s not true. Tell me you’re not our enemy.”
“There are far worse ways a person could die,” said Ai. “And if you persist, then you will find out, so stop where you are.”
“No, I won’t!”
Snowballs began forming in mid-air, then hurling themselves at Jaycee. But their makeup was of a far less solid constitution than the first one, and when they struck Jaycee, they broke into pieces and fell harmlessly to the ground.
“What are you doing?” asked Alenia. “Kill her!”
A group of razor sharp icicles formed from the cold air circulating around Ai. This kept Jaycee from advancing further. The icicles then tore through the air. Each one missed striking Jaycee, but only by the narrowest of margins.
“Ai,” whispered Jaycee.
“I’ve seen enough of this,” said Alenia, vanishing within a cloud of black smoke. She then reappeared before Jaycee. With incredible ferocity, Alenia backhanded her across the face, sending Jaycee crashing to the ground.
“Jaycee!” exclaimed Aiko who, along with Sage, rushed to her aid.
Alenia then grabbed Ai by the throat and took her to the edge of the roof. The powder blue ribbon in Ai’s hair blew away during the struggle.
Jaycee wiped a trickle of blood from her mouth as Sage and Aiko helped her to her feet. “Let her go,” she demanded, summoning her staff.
“You want me to let her go?” asked Alenia. “Well, that’s completely up to Ai.” She then directed her icy glare at her daughter. “If I let you go, do you promise to obey my order? Will you kill them like I told you to?”
Ai had to struggle just to muster a voice to answer. “No,” she said.
“Then allow me to grant you your request, Jaycee,” said Alenia. And with that, she hurled Ai off the roof.
“Ai, no!” screamed Jaycee.
“It’s a shame that not all demons can fly, isn’t it?” asked Alenia.
Jaycee’s staff slipped out of her trembling hand. When it hit the ground, it disappeared. “How could you?” she asked. “She was a part of you.”
“The worst part,” said Alenia. “Honestly, what good is a heart to a demon? All she was doing was holding me back. And now that I’m rid of that nuisance, I can finally show this world what I’m truly capable of.”
“But . . . she was your daughter. Ai was your daughter!”
“And you turned her against me! If you hadn’t warped her mind, then I never would have done that! So you’re as much to blame for this as I am!”
“That’s a lie!” exclaimed Aiko. “Ai felt what it was like to have friends! You could never understand that!”
“You think I care about having friends?” asked Alenia. “Friends only get in the way. And they stab you in the back at the first opportune moment.”
“You’re sick!” exclaimed Aiko.
“You think I’m sick? Very well. Then let me show you just how sick I really am. My dear Jaycee, we can now call ourselves even. I took something from you, now you’ve taken something from me.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Jaycee.
“This isn’t the time for games!” exclaimed Aiko.
“Oh, I assure you,” said Alenia, “I am playing no game. What I have to tell Jaycee will finally put her mind at ease. For she has been struggling with something for years, and I am going to relieve her of that burden, once and for all.”
“It’s another trick,” said Aiko.
“Jaycee, you remember how your parents died, don’t you?” asked Alenia. “I assume you would have trouble forgetting something like that.”
“I’m warning you,” said Aiko.
“Fear not, for this is very good news. Jaycee, you need no longer blame yourself for what happened that night. It wasn’t your fault.”
“It wasn’t?” asked Jaycee.
“Of course not,” replied Alenia. “How could it have been your fault . . . when it was I who caused your parents’ demise?”
Jaycee’s breathing came to an immediate halt.
“And it really wasn’t that difficult. The roads were quite slick, which made it so easy for your father to lose control of his car when I appeared in front of it. Oh, you should have seen it, Jaycee. They bled so much. It just wouldn’t stop. And that makes me curious to find out if their precious little girl bleeds the same way they did.”
“Jaycee,” whispered Aiko, whose eyes were filling with tears as she watched her friend struggle just to breathe.
“You see what happens when you cross me? If you hadn’t taken Ai from me, then I never would have told you that. I hope you learned a lesson. Oh, and by the way, when your mother said ‘her smile’ before she died, she was talking about me.”
“If either of you tries to stop me,” said Jaycee, “I swear I will never forgive you.” When Jaycee’s staff reappeared in her grasp, she began her charge.
“Big mistake, you little bitch!” exclaimed Alenia.
When she reached striking distance, Jaycee slammed her staff across Alenia’s face. She then drove her weapon into her foe’s stomach, sending Alenia to her knees.
“I don’t believe it,” said Aiko. “Jaycee’s winning.”
After blocking her opponent’s next strike, Alenia grabbed Jaycee by the throat and lifted her several feet off the ground.
Sage and Aiko immediately charged.
“So, your friends want to get involved, do they?” asked Alenia, her face dangerously close to Jaycee’s. “Then let’s give them what they want.” And with that, Alenia threw Jaycee into them, bringing an abrupt halt to Sage and Aiko’s progress.
Alenia then floated into the sky. “Though I have a hard time believing it, I didn’t want things to go this far. But you’ve left me with no other choice.”
“Now what?” asked Sage.
“I know how disappointed you must be, seeing as you didn’t get much of a fight from your last opponent. So I’m going to give you a fight you won’t soon forget. Prepare to face the foe you hoped you’d never have to see again.”
Sage took his place before the girls. “I’ll take on whatever you have myself,” he said. This determination came from Sage knowing that Aiko’s duty was to be with Jaycee, so he would tackle the next foe on his own.
“I must warn you. The enemy I have for you is one that should not be taken lightly. You couldn’t beat this foe a thousand years ago, and you certainly won’t have better luck this time. So think. What enemy could I be talking about?”
“I know what enemy she’s talking about,” thought Sage. Memories of the creature made of black water immediately filled Sage’s mind. “We couldn’t defeat it on our own. But for the sake of the girls, I’ll have to find a way.”
Aiko’s eyes bulged. “The demon,” she thought. The demon Aiko had in mind was the one Shadow Kahn had placed inside of Sage. “I swore I would never let Sage find out about it. If Alenia summons it . . .”
“Well, let all of your questions finally be answered, for here she is!” exclaimed Alenia. A pillar of blue light then appeared between Alenia and her enemies. It wasn’t long before a silhouette became visible within it. “Behold! The unstoppable foe!”
The light faded away and what was left behind was something no one could have been expecting. Standing only feet away was the enemy the others truly had hoped to never again face. Staring down the group with her lifeless eyes was the perfect replica of Jaycee.