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Jenny "Jinx" Li
Maybe the shop owner was in on it, too, and had provided the swords? Or could a reality TV program be involved somehow?
Still pondering the possibilities, she parked her car in the lot of the EZ Pawnz, got out, and almost walked right into the tall, dark man in the long, black coat, whom she noticed was brandishing a katana.
Wait, a what?
"My name is Julian De Rossa," he told her coldly, his tone harsh and menacing. "I have long searched for the legendary sword Qiong Tong. Give it to me or die."
Overloaded beyond hope of recovery, Jenny's brain took a time-out to reboot. "Huh?"
"Give it to me or die," he repeated.
She blinked. "The sword?" Then, seeing the strange man's impatience growing, and noticing how sharp and well-suited for carving up store clerks that katana looked, Jenny's brain got back to work. "Oh! The sword."
She swallowed nervously, suddenly very aware of her precarious situation, and abruptly decided on the proper course of action.
"Here! Take it!" she cried, quickly flinging her sword at the surprised man hilt-first and then running full-tilt toward the store while he fumbled with it.
Flinging the door open, she scrambled inside, slammed it shut behind her, and only then chanced a look back into the parking lot.
The strange man was gone.
The rest of the day was more than a little surreal for Jenny. As it happened, the sword the customer had sold the day before was *not* in the store as it should have been, and there was no record of it having been sold to anyone else. She tried calling her friends, but no matter how hard she pressed, none of them admitted to having played any kind of prank on her.
At the end of her shift, with a sigh of resignation, Jenny rang the sword up and paid for it herself. Better that than risk being accused of stealing from the store. Then she went home.
When she found the sword waiting for her in her bed again, her poor, overtaxed brain drew the curtains shut and flipped off the lights for a little while.
In fact, she was sure she hadn't!
Jenny sparred expertly against an invisible opponent for a few more moments, as if to reassure herself that she wasn't, in fact, dreaming, then set the weapon aside, shaking her head.
Maybe this would all make more sense in the morning, somehow.
"You!" he growled, taking a menacing step toward her.
Frantically, Jenny began looking for a likely escape route. Her car? No, she probably couldn't get back in and start it in time.
"You can have the sword!" she said quickly, trying to offer it to him hilt-first. "I don't want it!"
"I won't fall for that twice!" he snarled, lunging at her.
Jenny barely managed to bring her sword up in time to avoid being decapitated. The unfamiliar impact rattled her, and she backpeddled -- desperately, frantically, and only just barely parrying the swordman's attacks. Even with her unexpected, newfound skill with the blade, she quickly realized it would only be a matter of time before Julian broke through her defenses and cut her to ribbons.
Or would it?
As Jenny began to relax and settle into her rhythm, she noticed a strange thing happening: Julian's masterful attacks were becoming clumsy and awkward. Amateurish, even. The look of bewildered frustration plainly written on his face told her this development was as unexpected to him as it was to her.
"Problems?" she asked curiously, casually ducking a painfully telegraphed swing.
"Shut up!" he snarled, flailing at her with another wild slash. She effortlessly captured his blade with her own, then snapped it down along the length of the katana to clip his hand. With a cry of pain, he dropped the weapon, holding his injured hand.
And then, feeling the tip of her sword under his chin, he froze.
"I think it's time for you to go," Jenny told him, hoping he couldn't hear the terrified tightness in her stomach. "And don't come back. Ever."
According to the passage, the origin of the sword was shrouded in mystery, but its name referred to "fortune and misfortune" (which, despite being part Chinese herself, Jenny hadn't known, as she never learned the language). It was believed that the sword bestowed great fortune on its owner and great misfortune on everyone who opposed its owner.
She would have to visit the local Magick & More tomorrow to try to learn more, she decided. Luckily, she had the day off, so she could take the time. Sword still in hand, she went to bed.
She would never even know about the hacker whose computer had unexpectedly fried its CPU that very night while he tried to invade her machine.
Making a beeline for the customer service counter, she addressed the clerk, a pimply faced teenager whose nametag identified him as "Mike."
"Hi, I was wondering if you could tell me more about this sword? I'm pretty sure it's magical."
The clerk took it and looked it over carefully for several moments.
"Um, I'm still, y'know, new. I'm, um, I haven't, um, been trained on, like, on, um, like on item ID yet," he managed to stammer out after a few moments of pointlessly staring at the sword.
Jenny sighed. This could end up taking a while.
"Could you get me someone who has been?"
Faced with this incredible intellectual challenge, Mike spent several long moments thinking. Jenny fancied she could see the gears slowly grinding together.
"Oh yeah, like, um, I think, um, what's her name, um, the swords department supervisor, can like, um, can help you," he said finally.
Jenny waited, looking at Mike. Mike looked at Jenny. Several more moments passed.
"Could you please call her?" she asked finally.
"Oh yeah! Um, like, hold on a sec."
Another few moments.
"Hey, um, Lisa, what's, um, the number to, um, the swords department?"
Finally, the supervisor of the swords department, a middle-aged woman whose name turned out to be Patrice, appeared to rescue Jenny from Mike.
"Ahhh, yes," she said after Jenny told her her story and explained her experiences with the sword, as well as what she'd learned from last night's research. "It seems you've already learned most of what I can tell you. There are three more things you should know, however."
"First," she said, "Qiong Tong is intelligent and self-aware. When it feels the time is right, it can speak with you."
"Second, it chooses and bonds with its owner, and once it does, it will always seek the person out. As you've already found, you can temporarily lose Qiong Tong, but as long as you live, it will always find you again."
"Third, Qiong Tong, by its very nature, attracts trouble."
"Trouble?" Jenny echoed.
"Trouble," Patrice confirmed. "Like the swordsman who attacked you."
"How do I get rid of it?"
The woman chuckled. "As far as I know, my dear? You don't."
Nearby, a man who had been listening to the conversation looked hard at Jenny, sending a mental command to her to follow him.
She never even noticed.
"Qiong Tong," the sword corrected.
"Qiong Tong." Jenny realized she was hearing the voice in her head. It sounded like an ancient Chinese nobleman, or perhaps just what she imagined an ancient Chinese nobleman might sound like. "My name is not 'sword.' It is Qiong Tong."
"Oh." Jenny sat in silence for a moment, then decided that maybe she should try asking some questions.
"Why haven't you spoken to me before now?" she asked.
"You never spoke to me before now," the sword pointed out.
"That's n -- okay, that's true, but it's a silly answer!" Jenny imagined she heard the sword chuckling at her.
"Okay, then why me? Is it because I'm part Chinese?"
"Oh, then let me guess: you're about to tell me I'm some warrior of destiny, like I'm the next in a long line of people who are born to wield you, like to fight vampires or something crazy like that. Is that it?"
"I think, perhaps, you have been watching too much television."
Jenny let her head hit the steering wheel. "Then why?"
"I just felt like it."
Jenny looked at the sword incredulously. "You just felt like it?"
"And you're just going to keep following me around, aren't you?"
"And I can't get rid of you, can I?"
"Not a chance."
"Shit," Jenny said, with feeling. The sword just chuckled again.
Starting up her car, she drove off, leaving the sorceress who had followed her out of the store to try to puzzle out why, exactly, her spell had failed.
Hacking apart an evil artificially intelligent robot whose heavily armored shell somehow completely failed to protect it from her attacks, Jenny reflected that in a strange, crazy kind of way, she was beginning to enjoy the strange turn her life had taken. After all, had her mundane, routine existence before *really* been better?
She even had a name now! Before beginning to spectacularly fail to hurt her, Perfect Zero had referred to her as "that Jinx bitch." Jinx. Jenny "Jinx" Li. She wasn't just some random store clerk anymore! Why, some might even say --
"If you don't hurry, you'll be late for work," Qiong Tong reminded her.
But wasn't she really still just Jenny, the random nobody who until recently worked as a clerk at the EZ Pawnz?
"Yes," the boy repeated, looking up at her. On the surface, he looked as though he couldn't be more than 10. His manner and the strange look in his eyes told a different tale. "You're still just Jenny, the random nobody."
Where had he come from, anyway? And how did he know what she was thinking?
"Your sword is disrupting some of my powers," he admitted, "but that isn't one of them." His eyes were glowing now, twin pools of liquid flame.
Jenny looked around. The street was empty. They were alone.
"Who are you?" she asked, taking a step back and drawing Qiong Tong. Now she faced not a small boy but a full-grown man with blazing red eyes, brandishing a black-bladed scimitar. A demon, Jenny realized.
"My name isn't important," he replied, "but you may take this with you into death: Nergal sends his regards."
Apparently, his skill with a sword was another thing Qiong Tong wasn't impeding.
He was on her then, never giving her even a moment to regain her feet. Calling on reflexes she didn't realize she had -- and perhaps never did have, before -- she just managed to avoid being cut in half a dozen separate times, parrying and rolling away as he rained blows down on her.
Still, she knew she was only delaying the inevitable. Finally knocking her sword out of the way, he drove in with a hard slash she had no way of stopping ...
"H-h ... how??"
"You know how," Qiong Tong told her.
"Did I just teleport?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"DIE!" roared the demon.
"Better see to that," Qiong Tong advised helpfully.
Jenny found herself spending so much time just trying to avoid being cut in half that she could barely even begin to mount an offense of her own. Even when she did manage to get in a glancing blow, her attacks just bounced off of the demon's apparently armored skin.
"I can't beat him! I can't even fight him!"
"No, you can't," the demon sneered.
"Yes, you can," Qiong Tong said in her head.
The demon paused and looked at her oddly. "How what?"
"Just keep trying," Qiong Tong said mysteriously.
"Great," Jenny spat sourly. "I feel sooo inspired."
"Enough of this!" the demon roared, charging again. But his foot caught unexpectedly on the curb, spoiling his attack. Jenny took the opportunity to lunge and almost managed to strike him squarely for the first time before he recovered and parried the attack.
Despite the successful parry, Jenny felt a subtle change in the flow of the battle. On the surface, her opponent was still the superior combatant, even given her newfound abilities. Yet somehow, everything seemed to find a way to go against him.
He was briefly blinded by a car's headlights. He tripped over a cat. Bird droppings plummeted from the sky for the sole purpose of striking him in the eye.
And when, despite all of that, he managed to knock her weapon to the ground, he slipped on a patch of ice at the same time and fell flat on his back, giving Jenny just the time she needed to dive for Qiong Tong and then suddenly teleport back to skewer the demon ... right through his unprotected other eye. To her surprise, the attack was instantly fatal.
"Well struck," Qiong Tong commented. "That was the only unarmored part of his body."
"I was aiming for his chest," Jenny murmered.
"You did this, didn't you?"
"Why didn't you help me like this before?"
"I just didn't feel like it."
"I hate you, Qiong Tong."