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Omi shifted his weight, adjusting his position to sit more comfortably on Dojo’s back. They were on their way to retrieve the Sword of the Storm, which had just gone active. It was to be a straightforward and likely simple retrieval. Dojo seemed happy enough about that, but Omi was...less satisfied.

When they’d learned that Wuya had found herself a minion, Omi had been secretly thrilled. At last! A true challenge! A servant of evil to fight against! He’d been imagining grand battles, thrilling races for the Shen Gong Wu and perhaps, perhaps he would even get the chance to participate in a fabled Xiaolin Showdown!

But the reality had been less exciting. Wuya’s servant, who Omi had since learned was named Jack Spicer, didn’t seem particularly interested in the eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil. He’d only showed up to a handful of activations since their first meeting, and none of those had resulted in any Showdowns. They’d nearly reached one over the Monkey Staff, but when Omi had pulled out the Fist of Tebigong as his wager, Spicer had simply turned and left! He had no interest in fighting at all! It was downright boring.

Omi was tired of easy wins and anticlimactic confrontations. He wanted a challenge.

“That’s odd,” Dojo muttered to himself.

Omi leaned forward. “Is something wrong, Dojo?” Below them, the Mediterranean coastline glistened in the sun.

“I could have sworn the Sword of the Storm was somewhere around here.” Dojo peered down at the coast, brow furrowed. “But I’m not sensing it anywhere near here. It’s…” he sniffed the air, “...west. Way west.”

“It would not be the first time a Shen Gong Wu has moved,” Omi pointed out. “Particularly in cities, and I see a large one right below us.” He gestured down to the sprawl of shining buildings along the coastline.

“Yeah, that definitely wasn’t there fifteen hundred years ago.” Dojo resumed his westward flight, still frowning down at the ground. “Still, they usually stay pretty much where we left them. Dashi did something to them, I’m not sure what, some kinda magic imprint so people would more or less leave them be. Good thing, too, because otherwise they’d probably all be in museums by now.”

Omi tapped a finger against his chin. “Then how could it have moved so far?”

“Well,” Dojo said a little sheepishly as they left the coast behind them and moved out over open water, “I don’t want to get your hopes up, kiddo, but...uh, that imprint that Dashi left? It doesn’t work on magically-attuned people. People like monks, or wizards, or...y’know. I mean. It’s not entirely unlikely that an elemental Dragon found it and wandered off with it. Especially since it’s an elemental Wu.”

Omi perked up, leaning forward. “Another Dragon! Oh, that is most excellent news! We must find them at once! Perhaps they have already begun training with the Sword of the Storm! Perhaps they have already begun to master their element! They will need guidance, of course. I will be happy to do so!”

“Omi, Omi, hey! Calm down! I said they might be. It’s a real small chance. It’s more likely some kinda magic user or small-time Heylin baddie. We’re probably going to have to fight them for it.”

“That is just as excellent! Omi said brightly. “I have been in want of a good fight!”

Dojo grimaced. “Well. Hopefully it’ll be easy.”

They touched down hours later in a coastal American city that bristled with condos and casinos. The sky was darkening, the air warm and thick with delicious smells wafting from the restaurants and food stands that lined the crowded boardwalk. Omi gazed about himself with round eyes, taking in the bright colors and sparkling lights and throngs of tourists.

“What is this place?” he wondered out loud.

“Beats me,” Dojo answered from his perch on Omi’s shoulder, where he’d immediately relocated to after landing and returning to his smaller size. “I know we never left any Wu around here.”

“But you sense it here?”

Dojo nodded confidently. “Oh, yeah. It’s close. Keep an eye out; someone might be carrying it around.”

That was easier said than done; the boardwalk upon which they stood was crowded full of people. Families towing plastic pool floats, couples in sparkly evening wear, tanned young men and women in skimpy swimsuits...it was almost impossible to pick out anything in the crowd. Omi struggled to find a way through, finding himself pushed this way and that as people hurried along in one direction or another. He tried to look for anything that seemed out of the ordinary, but everything here seemed out of the ordinary to him.

The current of the crowd carried them down the boardwalk, past towering hotels and glitzy casinos, past souvenir shops bursting with novelty T-shirts and candy stores full of brightly-colored confections. It was as they were being hustled past one of the nicer casinos that Dojo let out a gasp and tugged on Omi’s collar. “There! Look!”

Omi looked. In a shadowy alleyway near the casino’s entrance stood two men. One of them appeared to be in his forties, with graying hair and a sharply sculpted, curling mustache. He was dressed in a tank top and jeans, and had a cord around his neck that tucked under his shirt. He seemed quite relaxed, almost unaware of the bustle around him. 

His companion was taller, carrying himself with a swagger to his broad shoulders. Younger, too; in his late teens or early twenties, dressed in cargo pants and a sleeveless hoodie that showed off his well-muscled arms, along with a circular pendant hanging from a thin cord around his neck. He was scruffy-looking, with wild brown hair that rose in a spiky mass above his forehead and hung down below his ears, the scraggly beginnings of a goatee making itself known on his chin, and the tattoo on his left arm that Omi could only faintly make out at a distance. But the most noticeable thing about this younger man was what he had slung over his back, held in place by a strap across his chest.

“The Sword of the Storm! You were correct, Dojo!” Omi pushed his way through the crowd.

“Great.” Dojo clung tightly to Omi’s shoulder as they were buffeted by impatient tourists. “And I suppose he’ll just give it over if we ask nicely?”

Omi didn’t seem to have heard him, having finally broken free of the boardwalk throng. Plastering a polite smile upon his face, he strode up to the two men with his head held high and his chest thrust out confidently. Dojo ducked down into Omi’s collar as they approached the men.

“Good evening, honorable stranger,” Omi greeted the younger man. “I am Omi, a monk of the Xiaolin Temple. I was wondering if I might ask a great favor of you.”

The man glanced at Omi out of the corner of his eye. “Oh yeah? What kinda favor?”

“Well,” Omi clasped his hands behind his back, “it seems you have come into possession of a sacred Xiaolin artifact. I must ask that you return it, as it holds great mystical importance.”

“A sacred artifact!” the older man said brightly. “How exciting!” He cocked his head to the side and looked down at Omi; Omi couldn’t quite place it, but there was something about the man that put him at ease and set him on edge all at the same time. He also couldn’t help but notice that the man had raised a hand to his chest, resting it over a slight bulge under his shirt where the cord around his neck ended. Curious. But Omi was not interested in anything around anyone’s neck.

The younger man rolled his eyes, taking a swig from the bottle clutched in his left hand. Omi could make out the details of his tattoo now; it appeared to be some sort of flag, a blue circle on a yellow diamond within a field of green. “If you’re saying I stole something from you, you might wanna check again, shorty. I don’t even know what a ‘Xiaolin’ is.”

“Oh no,” Omi said pleasantly, “I am certain you did not intend to steal it. I am speaking of the sword on your back. You found it somewhere, yes? On a beach, perhaps?”

The man’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, okay. Nice try, kid.”

Of all the responses Omi had anticipated, this was not one of them. He blinked. “Huh?”

“Oh please,” the man scoffed, “do you really think you’re the first person who’s tried to steal, buy, or lie my sword off me?” He gave Omi a quick once-over, from head to toe. “You’re definitely the youngest, though, so kudos on that. What are you, twelve?”

“I am sixteen!” Omi snapped, drawing himself up to his full height of 5’2”. “And that sword is not yours! It is a powerful magical artifact created by the great Xiaolin Dragon Grandmaster Dashi fifteen hundred years ago, and it is my duty to recover it and return it to the Xiaolin Temple! Finding it does not make it yours!”

“Uh, it kind of does.” The man crossed his arms. “What, you never heard of finders keepers?”

“No!”

“Wow, yeah, I should have guessed.” He nudged his companion with his elbow. “Can you believe this kid, Sal?"

Omi scowled. “If you will not relinquish the Sword of the Storm, I will have no choice but to take it from you by force!” He clenched his fists, straightening his shoulders. Dojo took the opportunity to slip out of his robes and find a safer vantage point.

The man laughed. “Oh, really? I’d love to see you try.” He unfolded his arms and gestured to himself; a bit of liquid splashed out of the bottle still clutched in his hand. “Look, I’ll even give you one free shot. Hit me.”

“Ah, er, Raimundo,” his companion spoke up, reaching out to place a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, “perhaps that might not be the wisest–”

But it was too late. Omi had already launched himself forward with a cry of “Lotus strike!” His attack landed square in his opponent’s stomach, catching him off guard and sending him - and his drink - flying.

Omi landed lightly in a crouch, with a small grin. His opponent landed much less gracefully: on top of a nearby trash can with a resounding crash.

“Perhaps, most dishonorable stranger,” Omi chirped smugly, “you might wish to pick your battles more carefully.” He pranced over to where the stranger lay groaning on the ground. “After all, I am a trained Xiaolin monk! And you are only a common–”

He was cut off by a well-placed kick to the gut, and then it was his turn to be sent flying by an unexpected attack. He sailed out of the dark alley and landed on the crowded boardwalk; there were startled gasps and yelps from the crowd, and people stopped what they were doing to stare.

The stranger emerged from the alley, stepping into the harsh yellow light of the street lamps. “The name,” he growled, brushing an empty burger wrapper off his arm, “is Raimundo , punk. And you got no idea about picking fights.”

“Oh dear,” his companion sighed from the shadows.

“Here we go,” Dojo muttered from his vantage point behind the trash cans.

Omi got to his feet. “If a fight is what you wish, then so be it.” He settled into a battle stance, one shoulder raised and the other lowered, sinking into a half-crouch. “But I warn you, I have trained all my life in the art of combat!”

Raimundo approached him, stretching his arms behind his head. “Six years of capoeira,” he said, “and three on the road. But sure, your fancy little flower strikes or whatever are definitely gonna show me what’s what.”

Omi scowled. “Bold words, dishonorable stranger. We shall see who is shown what is what!”

“Huh?” Raimundo stopped short, blinking. “Dude, that doesn’t make any–”

“YAH!” One hundred and fifty pounds of Xiaolin monk crashed into him, knocking him to the ground. However, Raimundo didn’t stay down for long; he rolled over, avoiding Omi’s next strike, and scrambled up to his feet while drawing the Sword of the Storm. Omi came at him again, and Raimundo swung the Sword at him with all his might–

–and overbalanced as the Sword phased harmlessly through his attacker, sending him sprawling to the ground once more.

“What…?” Raimundo sat up, staring at the Sword still clutched firmly in his hand.

“Ha!” Omi pointed at him from where he’d landed a few feet away. “An amateur’s mistake! A true warrior would know that the Sword of the Storm cannot be used as a common weapon!”

“Yeah, right. Like that’s ever been a thing.” Raimundo jabbed the Sword in his direction. “I don’t know what you did to it, but if you think that’s gonna stop me, you got another think coming.” He rolled to his feet, still holding the Sword. 

“I did nothing!” Omi leapt to his own feet. Slowly, the two opponents began circling each other, pacing around the space that had opened in the crowd as people gathered to watch. “It is hardly my fault if you do not know how to use this Shen Gong Wu!”

“It’s not a Sham Gone Woob, or whatever the hell you keep callin’ it,” Raimundo snapped. “It’s my sword, and I know how it works.” He brandished it, catching the light of the street lamps. “I’ve never had trouble cuttin’ anyone down with it before, and I don’t plan to start now.”

“You will not cut me down!” Omi pointed at him again, still circling. “Even if you could, I am far too skilled! You should surrender now, and spare yourself a most humiliating defeat!”

“You talk a big game for such a little squirt,” Raimundo said, “but you got no idea what you’re dealing with. Don’t you know who I am?”

“Do you not know who I am?” Omi snapped back.

“You’re an uppity little brat who’s about to get his butt handed to him.” Raimundo rolled his eyes. “Can we skip the trash talk and get back to the fight already?”

“If you insist!”

Omi launched himself forward, but this time his opponent was ready for him. Raimundo sprang out of the way in a neat cartwheel that brought him over to Omi’s right side, and then struck out with his foot in a kick that Omi only just managed to dodge. Omi ducked under Raimundo’s outstretched leg and popped up for a solid strike to his chest.

The hit sent Raimundo stumbling back to the other side of the circle. He shook his head to clear it and quickly slipped the Sword of the Storm back into its strap before charging back into the fray.

The next several minutes were a blur of fists and feet as the two opponents did their battle. Omi’s fighting style was brutal and precise, with every form executed perfectly, but he hadn’t ever fought an opponent like this. Not in a real battle. Raimundo’s form, as Omi was quickly learning, was less refined but bore a ferocity learned from years of experience. This was a man who had been in fistfights before and knew how to handle himself.

Though neither of them wanted to admit it, they were a fairly even match. Indeed, as the fight wore on, Omi found to his surprise that he was enjoying himself. This was far different from sparring with Master Fung, or even with Master Monk Guan.  This was a fight that technique alone could not win. He had to think on his feet! He had to improvise. And the flips and kicks and handsprings that made up his opponent’s fighting style were unlike anything he’d ever seen. It was new! It was different!

But the battle was beginning to drag on, and Omi did have a job to do. If he could not win the battle on his martial arts prowess alone, he would have to get creative. Ideally, he would unleash a devastating blow with his elemental powers...but his powers were less potent without a source of water to draw from. And with the crowd surrounding them, there was a good chance that he would catch an innocent person in the crossfire.

So, Omi thought to himself as he reached inside his robe for one of the Shen Gong Wu he had most recently acquired, I suppose it is best that we take this elsewhere.

“Getting tired yet, kid?” Raimundo swept low, managing to knock Omi off his feet. He scoffed, towering over him as Omi scooted back. “What, you resorting to a weapon now?” He nodded to the Wu that Omi had slipped onto his hand. “What’s that even supposed to be, huh? Some kinda whacked-out brass knuckles?”

“No,” Omi said with a smirk. “They are the Golden Tiger Claws!”

“The what?” Raimundo said blankly, and then the wooden boards beneath them disappeared as the two fell through the portal that Omi had opened under their feet.

They landed on the flat, well-trampled sand of the beach, which was largely deserted now that darkness had fallen. Omi recovered quickly and hopped away, settling into a battle stance. Raimundo, being unprepared, managed only to land flat on his face. He pushed himself up with a snarl, and then blinked at the darkness of their surroundings.

“What the hell?” he said aloud, and glanced behind him. There was the boardwalk, and the very confused crowd that had been gathered around them. There was a small commotion, and then Dojo hopped up to peer over the railing at them, followed closely by Raimundo’s companion. Raimundo swung his head back to Omi. “Okay, buddy, I don’t know what you just did, but don’t think this fight is over.”

Omi flashed him a nasty grin. “Oh, dishonorable stranger,” he said cheerfully, “it most certainly is.” He flung his arms up and shouted, “Shoku Neptune Water!”

“What the heck is that supposed to mean?!”

The hiss of waves meeting sand grew quiet, and the darkness around them grew darker. Then a massive wall of ocean came crashing down and knocked them both off their feet.

When the water receded, the two were left coughing on the sand. Omi had managed to sweep Raimundo down the beach a good dozen yards, but he’d also managed to lose hold of the Golden Tiger Claws. They sat half-buried in the wet sand, midway between him and Raimundo.

“So we’re fighting dirty now, huh?” Rai shoved himself up to his feet and clenched both fists by his side. “Fine. You asked for it! Now you’re going to get shanked!”

Omi spat seawater from his mouth and rose to his own feet. “I do not think so!” he shouted back. “The Sword of the Storm belongs at the Xiaolin Temple!”

“Can’t we just cut our losses and get out of here before someone gets hurt?” Dojo yelled down from the boardwalk. The crowd had lined up along the railing. Dojo was perched on it near the center of the crowd next to Raimundo’s companion, who had procured a bag of popcorn and was placidly munching on it.

“No!” both combatants shouted. They exchanged one last baleful glare, and then they charged.

Omi aimed straight for the Golden Tiger Claws. If he could grab them before Raimundo was able to land a hit, he’d be able to teleport away fast enough to catch him off guard, and hopefully to grab the Sword of the Storm in the process.

Unfortunately, he failed to realize that Raimundo wasn’t going for him until he laid a hand on the Claws, only to find another hand gripping it from the other side.

“Hey!” Raimundo snapped. He yanked at the Golden Tiger Claws, trying to pull them from Omi’s grasp. “Get your own weapon!”

“The Golden Tiger Claws are not a weapon!” Omi snapped back, tightening his grip. 

“Yeah, right.” Raimundo rolled his eyes. “It’s sharp and pointy and…uh. Wait. Why’s it glowing?”

Omi blinked and looked down. Sure enough, the Golden Tiger Claws were glowing with a bright, ethereal light. His eyes grew round. “A Xiaolin Showdown,” he breathed.

Raimundo stared at him, baffled. “A what?”

“Dishonorable stranger!” Omi shouted gleefully, and thrust a finger into Raimundo’s face. “I challenge you to a Xiaolin Showdown for the Golden Tiger Claws! I shall wager my Mantis Flip Coin against your Sword of the Storm! Do you accept?”

Raimundo just blinked at him. “A what?” he said again.

“A Xiaolin Showdown!” Omi bounced on his toes. “A magical contest in which two warriors compete to win a Shen Gong Wu! Each warrior wagers one of their own, and the winner obtains them all!”

“A contest, huh?” Raimundo pursed his lips. “Okay, sure. Count me in, I guess.”

“Excellent!” Omi’s bouncing was now a full on hop of anticipation. “Let us begin!”

“You have to call the game, Omi!” Dojo shouted down to him.

“Oh! Yes, of course!” Omi slowed his excited hopping for long enough to consider his challenge. He glanced off down the beach, down to a pier a good distance away. The pier was lit up with brightly-colored lights, and a Ferris wheel towered over the rest of it.

“That pier!” Omi pointed to it. “We shall race to it! And the first to the top of that wheel shall be the victor!”

“A race?” Raimundo looked down at him and snorted. “With your stubby legs? Sure, I’ll take that bet.”

“Then let us begin!” Omi leaned forward, eyes gleaming. “Let’s go! Xiaolin Showdown!”

The Golden Tiger Claws glowed even brighter, and lifted itself up and away from their hands as their surroundings began to change. The boardwalk unraveled plank by plank, flying down to lay a path under their feet. The sand around them vanished, replaced by swirling, starry water that lapped against the planks. From the water, boxes and slabs of brick and concrete festooned with bright blinking lights and neon rose up to hover in the air on either side of the track, bearing a rough resemblance to buildings. The boardwalk stretched ahead of them, forming a track of tricky twists and sharp turns, and at the end of it the Ferris wheel turned steadily, with the Golden Tiger Claws floating just above it.

“Whoa,” Raimundo breathed.

“This is not what I had anticipated,” Omi agreed.

“Showdowns!” Dojo called. He and Raimundo’s companion had been relocated to the top of one of the floating structures, giving them a clear view of the track. “What can I say? They’re never quite what you expect.” He snatched a handful of popcorn from his seatmate’s bag and called out, “Gong yi tanpai!”

Omi, correctly assuming that the Showdown had begun, took off like a bullet. Raimundo followed him a moment later, cursing loudly in a language that Omi did not recognize.

The two of them raced down the track, flying past the bright colors and flashing lights. The track was uneven, riddled with obstacles to vault over and leap off; garbage cans, wooden crates, lampposts. Truly a challenge befitting a Xiaolin warrior! Omi attacked it with glee, his every leap and bound striking sure and true, bringing him closer to victory with each passing moment.

Ha! he thought to himself as he skidded around a sharp turn. This victory shall be an easy one! No common street thug could possibly match my skill!

“Outta my way, shorty!”

Omi ducked on pure instinct just before he felt the whoosh of something passing over him. It was Raimundo, who hit the ground, rolled, and came up running.

If he wasn’t in the middle of a Showdown, Omi would have stopped short in disbelief. He was skilled, yes, but Raimundo was fast. And he was moving through the course with an ease that matched Omi’s own, though his technique left much to be desired.

The sound of something falling brought Omi’s attention back to the race, and he jumped just in time to miss the garbage can rolling his way. Ahead of him, Raimundo leaped up to grab a lamppost and send it crashing to the ground behind him, creating yet another obstacle in Omi’s path.

“Hey!” Omi shouted, vaulting over the fallen lamppost. “You are cheating! This is most disgraceful!”

“Call it whatever you want,” Raimundo shouted back to him. He drove his elbow into a stack of wooden crates and sent them tumbling to the ground. “It won’t stop me from winning!”

“That is not against the rules, is it?” Raimundo’s companion asked Dojo from up on their vantage point. Dojo had produced a small, well-thumbed book and was frowning at one of the pages.

“Nah,” he said, and scowled at the mess of crates on the track, “but it should be!”

Omi couldn’t dodge the crates in time; he kicked through one and punted another out of his way. Still, Raimundo’s dishonorable methods were paying off. Omi’s speed was flagging, and if these distractions continued it would only get worse.

Time for a change in tactics, then.

With a shout of “Mantis Flip Coin!” and a toss of his Wu, Omi launched himself off of the track, flipping through the air. He landed vertically against one of the floating slabs of building, and immediately kicked off it to launch himself at another one across the way. In this way, he bounced himself down the track at an impressive pace - and well out of range from any more of Raimundo’s underhanded tactics.

Raimundo, sprinting along the track below him, glanced up and back over his shoulder. “Oh, come on!” he yelled. “Are you serious?”

“I told you!” Omi called back, smug as could be. “You stand no chance of winning against me!” He leaped from the slab of building he was braced against to a bright neon sign, and then back down to the track, where he used the momentum from his landing to carry him into a furious sprint.

With the Ferris wheel looming close ahead, the two were neck and neck. They jockeyed for position, bumping into each other as each attempted to be the first one to reach the wheel. 

Omi managed to reach it first with an impressive leap that landed him on the wheel’s nearest spoke. He began climbing immediately, but he’d only made it a short way up before a hand wrapped around his ankle and yanked. He responded by kicking out with his free foot; it hit flesh, and he heard a yelp and a loud curse from his opponent. His ankle was released, and Omi scrambled up the spoke as quickly as he could. 

The wheel was turning, the world tilting around him, and soon he was more running up it than climbing. With each step, his path became easier. Omi could see the Golden Tiger Claws at the top of the wheel, shining like the glory his victory would surely bring.

And then Raimundo flipped up from below and kicked him square in the stomach.

Omi sailed through the air and hit the top of the carriage at the end of the spoke. He nearly slid off the edge, but grabbed it and hauled himself back up.

The carriage rocked wildly as Raimundo leapt onto it, but he didn’t seem fazed by the movement at all. He was focused only on Omi, the Sword of the Storm held at the ready. “I’m done playin’ around!” he declared, and swiped at Omi with the Sword. 

Omi flinched back reflexively, but of course the Sword passed harmlessly through his torso like the air it was meant to shape. This didn’t faze Raimundo either, as he came at Omi again with another swipe.

“You think you’re tough, kid?” he snapped, whirling around to aim a kick in Omi’s direction. “You think you’re hot shit because you know a few fancy tricks? Please!”

“I am the most tough! I am a Xiaolin Warrior!” Omi retorted, and followed his retort with a beautifully executed Monkey Strike that would have made Master Fung proud. But the motion of the Ferris Wheel threw off his aim, and he missed kicking Raimundo in the head by a few scant inches.

“Yeah, right.” Raimundo ducked under his next kick, coming up near the edge of the carriage. Above them, the Golden Tiger Claws were drawing near. “I know your type. You’re a spoiled brat. You’ve had everything handed to you. You’ve never had to fight for anything.”

Omi growled. “At least I know how to fight! This has hardly been a proper Showdown at all! You have not even used your Shen Gong Wu!” He advanced on Raimundo, driving him closer to the edge.

“Oh, what, you’re gonna throw a tantrum now? Because I’m not playing your little game the way you wanted?” Raimundo tried to take another step back, but his foot met only air. He placed it quickly back on the carriage, but he was trapped. They both knew it. And for the first time, Omi saw a flash of trepidation in his opponent’s eyes.

“I do not need to throw anything,” he said, and crouched down. “It will only take one blow for me to claim my victory!”

He launched into his final strike, and as he did he could see Raimundo raising his sword one final time as they both braced for impact.

The impact hit. But it was Omi who went flying, blasted off the carriage by a sudden gust of wind. It was so unexpected that he didn’t even realize what had happened - that his hit hadn’t landed at all - until he was halfway to the ground. He looked up just in time to see Raimundo step away from the edge of the carriage and reach for the Golden Tiger Claws.

Their surroundings returned to normal in a flash of light, and Omi landed heavily on the beach. He pushed himself up, spitting sand out of his mouth, and sat back, feeling stunned from more than just the rough landing.

A short distance away, Raimundo was staring at the Sword of the Storm. The expression on his face looked as stunned as Omi felt; he didn’t seem to have noticed the two new Shen Gong Wu tucked into the crook of his arm.

“Ah, wonderfully done, primo!” Raimundo’s companion announced cheerfully as he came up behind him and slapped him on the back. “What fun! What excitement! You put on quite the show!”

“Yeah, sure,” Raimundo said as he continued to stare at the Sword.

“And these!” Quick as lightning, Raimundo’s companion snatched the Golden Tiger Claws and Mantis Flip Coin from Raimundo’s arm and held them up to admire them. “Now these are interesting!” He put the Golden Tiger Claws on one hand and gave them an experimental swipe.

Omi stared blankly at the two men, his mind still replaying the last seconds of the Showdown over and over. How had it happened? How had his winning blow turned so sharply to a losing one? He hadn’t even heard his opponent activate the Sword of the Storm. And now here he was, sitting in the sand. Defeated. His first Xiaolin Showdown, and he’d lost it.

“Hey, kiddo.” Something patted his left thigh, and he glanced down to see Dojo looking up at him with a sympathetic expression. “How’re you holding up?”

“I do not understand it, Dojo!” Omi gestured to Raimundo, who was watching with a bemused expression as his friend hopped around, waving the Golden Tiger Claws. “I do not understand how I could lose to someone so unskilled! I am a Shoku Warrior! I am the Dragon of Water! I have trained for years to master the art of combat! And yet,” he looked down at the sand, and his hands curled into fists, “I have been defeated.”

“Eh, don’t get too down on yourself.” Dojo clambered onto his shoulder. “You can’t win ‘em all, you know? Losing’s just part of the game.”

“But I should not have lost!” Omi flung his arms into the air in his frustration, nearly sending Dojo flying. “I had victory within my grasp! If he had not activated the Sword of the Storm at the very last second, I would have won!” He lowered his arms and folded them over his chest with a huff. “I did not even hear him call its name.”

“Well, uh.” Dojo coughed. “I think there’s a reason for that, kid. The reason being that he didn’t.”

“...What?” Omi turned his head to look at the dragon on his shoulder. “He activated it without calling its name? That is impossible.”

“Nah.” Dojo shook his head. “I don’t think he really activated it. It’s more like...he channeled its powers?”

“Channeled its powers?” Omi echoed. He looked back to Raimundo just as his companion successfully activated the Golden Tiger Claws, hopped through the portal, and reappeared a few feet away with a triumphant cry.

"It was the Tiger Claws, not the Cheetah Claws! I was close.” Raimundo’s companion dusted himself off, and then turned to wave at Omi as he linked arms with Raimundo. “It was a pleasure to meet you! But I am afraid that my friend and I must be off.”

“Off?” Raimundo blinked. “Wait, Sal–”

“Golden Tiger Claws!” his companion shouted, and the two men vanished through a portal in the sand beneath them, leaving behind a darkened beach and the confused shouts of a few lingering bystanders.

Omi stared at the spot where they’d vanished, still trying to make sense of it all. Dojo sighed and patted his neck.

“Well,” he said, “there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, I’m pretty sure we just found one of our missing Dragons. The bad news is, I don’t think he’s gonna be too keen on becoming one.” He frowned. “And now we have no idea where he is.”

Omi closed his eyes and got to his feet. “No,” he said. “But I do not think this is the last we will see of him. And if he truly is another elemental Dragon, I will find a way to bring him back to the Temple.” He opened his eyes. “But for now...I suppose we must go home and inform Master Fung of my shameful defeat.”

“Hey.” Dojo patted his shoulder. “You’re still learning. Master Fung’ll understand.”

“I certainly hope so.” Omi frowned up at the sky. “I only wish I knew where they’ve gone.”

“Eh,” Dojo shrugged. “It’s probably not too important.”

Chapter Text

Raimundo’s evening had taken a turn for the decidedly weird.

It’d started out normal enough, trawling around the more touristy bits of Atlantic City with his mentor and travel companion, Salvador Cumo. They’d planned to hit up some of the casinos, maybe scam some rich tourists out of their pocket money, and then hit the town.

Then some kid had showed up with a talking lizard and some kind of obnoxious sense of entitlement to Rai’s sword, and things had only gotten weirder from there. 

The weirdness was contagious too, apparently. That was the only explanation for what had happened at the end of the Showdown. Because Rai’d had his Sword for more than two years now, and it had definitely always been able to hit people, and definitely never made...wind...or whatever that had been.

And if all that wasn’t strange enough, his mentor had decided to test out those weird Claw things he’d won by dumping them both into some kind of portal. Great.

Luckily, they weren’t in the portal for long. It spat them out on a cliff, but it wasn’t like any cliff Raimundo had seen before. The stone beneath his feet was pitch black, for one thing - whatever that volcanic rock was called, he thought. The really sharp kind. Shiny. If that weren’t weird enough, there was no ground visible over the edge of the cliff. Just clouds of thick, swirling fog that masked the ground from view. They could have been forty feet up or four hundred; there was no way to tell. But the weirdest part wasn’t the ground or the fog or even the ominous blood-red color of the sky.

No, the weirdest part was definitely the monster-shaped mountain in front of them, with a jagged opening shaped like a mouth. A literal cave mouth. And the two smaller caverns higher up, the ones that looked like eyes, were glowing - looked like there was some kind of fire behind them. This wasn’t just some random creepy cave, either; there were braziers lining the edges of the cliff, burning bright. Clearly, someone - or something - had put them there.

“Why’d you bring us out here?” he asked aloud, turning to scan the horizon. There were a few steep mountain peaks poking up here and there, but otherwise the fog was all he could see.

“To visit an old friend,” Salvador answered from behind him. Rai turned to see his mentor marching right into the open maw of the cave as if strolling through a field of daisies and not into almost certain doom.

“Whoa, whoa, hey! Are you sure about this, Sal?” He darted after him, trying hard to repress the instinctive shudder of fear as he passed under the jagged stalactites at the cave’s mouth. Seriously, was this place even real? Was any of this actually happening, or had he slipped and hit his head on the boardwalk?

Sal didn’t look much bothered. “We have nothing to fear here, Raimundo. Trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong before?”

“There was that time in Singapore,” Rai muttered, eyeing the cave walls uneasily.

“This will be nothing like Singapore.”

“Sal, we’re walking into some kinda fuckin’... supervillain lair here! You seriously expect me to be cool with this?! This place looks like bad news.” And it felt like something out of a nerdy videogame. 

Sal looked at him, calm and collected as could be. “Trust me, primo,” he said. “I won’t let any trouble find us here.”

“Why’d you bring us here, anyway?” Raimundo cast an anxious glance back to the entrance. He was half expecting it to slam shut behind them like the monstrous mouth it resembled.

“Ah,” Sal glanced down to the Shen Gong Wu on his hand. “This particular friend is a bit of an expert when it comes to magic and mysterious artifacts. I suspect he will be quite interested in what we’ve found.”

Rai blinked. “Since when do you know about magic stuff?”

Sal shrugged his question off. “I don’t, really,” he said lightly. “That is why we’re here.”

They came to a wooden gate at the back of the cave, which struck Rai as kinda weird. Before he could ponder too heavily on it, Sal had knocked sharply on the wood with three short raps of his knuckles.

The gate rose, and Rai’s breath caught in his throat.

From the outside, he’d been expecting…fire, mostly. Maybe some lava. More of that black stone. But the inside of the mountain was overwhelmingly blue and white. Pristine marble gazebos and towers, cascading waterfalls, trees and foliage scattered throughout…it was beautiful. Peaceful. Reminded him of a fancy spa or something. Maybe Sal’s “friend” wasn’t so bad.

Then he heard the growling.

Every hair on Raimundo’s body stood on end as, throughout the cavern, cats began to appear. Not housecats, no. These were freaking lions and tigers and jaguars, and they were all prowling towards the open gate with teeth bared and hackles raised. Rai tensed, reaching over his shoulder to rest his hand on the pommel of his sword. Even if it couldn’t actually hit the cats, maybe swinging at them would scare them off. Or maybe he’d get lucky and get another one of those blasts of wind. 

Salvador stood still next to him, completely unbothered. Not for the first time, Rai wondered if his lack of fear was an act, or if the guy just didn’t know how to be afraid.

The cats moved closer, until there were about three or four flanking them. Three or four that Rai could see ; he had no doubt that there were more lurking nearby, ready to pounce. He squeezed the Sword of the Storm a little tighter, but didn’t pull it out just yet. That might provoke them into attacking, and he didn’t want to push his luck.

“Well, well. Salvador Cumo. Now this is a surprise.”

Rai’s head snapped up, eyes scanning the room for the source of this new voice. He spotted it eventually: a figure standing at the top of the grand staircase in front of them. From this distance, and with the light source behind the figure and casting it into shadow, he couldn’t make out many details. He kept his hand on the sword.

Sal tossed his arms wide, beaming. “Chase! It has been too long, my friend. You are doing well, I hope?”

The figure didn’t move. “Well enough. What brings you here? I trust you have a good reason for your…unexpected arrival.”

“A reason! Do I truly need a reason to visit a dear friend?” Sal continued to beam up at the so-named “Chase;” Rai couldn’t see his face, but he was pretty sure his mentor was broadcasting Smarmbrow Number Seven at full blast.

“Yes,” Chase said flatly. The cats surrounding them let out soft growls.

Sal’s expression dimmed a few watts. “I see. Then yes, I do have a reason. One you should take great interest in, if my suspicions are correct.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Golden Tiger Claws. With a flourish, he thrust them into the air, turning them back and forth to catch the light. “There! You see?”

“Where did you get those?” Chase’s voice had gone soft, but it had also sharpened. Something about it - the quiet intensity behind the words - sent shivers down Rai’s spine. And not the good kind. 

“That,” Sal said smugly, “is quite the tale, and one I would be happy to share. Over tea, perhaps?”

There was a pause, and then, “Very well. Come in, but do not touch anything.

“Honestly,” Sal muttered, “you break one vase and you never hear the end of it.” But he breezed past Raimundo with a smile, and after one last wary glance at the cats, Rai trailed after him.

He wasn’t letting go of his sword any time soon, that was for sure.


 

If he hadn’t spent the last hour brawling for magical thingamabobs, Rai was pretty sure this would qualify as the weirdest hour of his life. It was definitely shaping up to be the weirdest day, no question there.

“Chase,” it turned out, was some dude going by the name “Chase Young.” He’d introduced himself in a way that made it clear he expected Rai to know who he was, and he’d sneered disdainfully at Rai’s blank expression. He was kind of strange looking, decked out as he was in a suit of bronze armor. The armor cut an intimidating figure, but underneath it he looked kind of twiggy. Young, too. He couldn’t be any older than Rai was, despite his acting otherwise. Nineteen, maybe twenty. Rai would bet he could take him in a fight, easy, if it weren’t for those cats.

“An apprentice, Salvador?” Chase said now as they sat around a table under one of the open canopies. “I hadn’t figured you for the mentoring type.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Sal said cheerfully, reaching for the plate of cookies in the center of the table.

“Indeed.” Chase’s eyes swiveled to Rai, looking him over. The dude had slit pupils, like a cat - and the spooky part was that Rai didn’t think they were contacts. The way the pupils expanded and contracted was way too real. That and the pointy ears were enough to clue him in; something was seriously off about this Chase Young guy.

Rai had discreetly moved the Sword of the Storm to his side when they sat down. He felt its weight there now, a reassuring reminder that if they had to fight their way out, they could. Sal didn’t seem to be worried, but it wouldn’t be the first time a meeting with one of his “old friends” had gone sour.

“When did this happen?” Chase was asking Sal now as he poured the tea. “I was under the impression that you were running solo.” There was an undertone of suspicion to his words.

“About three years ago,” Sal answered easily. “He needed a guiding hand, and I…well, these bones are not so young as they used to be.” His eyes sparkled as he said it, as if referencing some inside joke. “It has worked out splendidly so far. We’ve had quite a few adventures together, haven’t we, Raimundo?”

“Yeah,” Rai said absently. He took a cautious sip of his tea, expecting it to scald his lips, but it was just the right temperature. Huh. It was pretty good, actually. It wasn’t sweetened, and he usually couldn’t stand tea that didn’t have at least a little sugar tossed in to make it taste like more than just hot water, but this tea actually had a flavor to it. Lightly floral, and very smooth. He took another sip.

“Adventures indeed,” Chase said, and Rai nearly spit his tea out when he looked up to see those weird slit-pupiled eyes staring intently at him. After a minute, he realized that was wrong - Chase wasn’t staring at him, but at the Sword at his side. Rai shifted uncomfortably and stared right back at him. Those freaky eyes glanced up to him, and Chase’s eyebrows rose before he turned his gaze back to Sal.

“To business, then. I would be most gratified if you could share with me the tale of how you came to possess these Shen Gong Wu.” He took a slow sip of his tea. “I trust you’re aware of their rarity and their value, else you would have pawned them off already.”

“I certainly have worked out the trick to these little beauties, yes,” Sal said, twirling the Golden Tiger Claws around on one hand. “Instantaneous travel! Such fun! And this little number! Such lovely craftsmanship!” He pulled the Mantis Flip Coin out of nowhere and tossed it onto the table.

“You found them on your travels, I assume?”

“These?” Sal tossed the Claws into the air and caught them in his hand. “No, no. These were won, fair and square.”

“Won?” Chase leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “From whom?”

“Some punk kid,” Rai piped up, leaning back in his seat. “Talked a lot of shit, but he couldn’t bring the heat.”

“Oh, I’m not so certain about that,” Sal said cheerfully. “He certainly gave you a run for your money!” 

“Sure, but I still won.” Rai took another sip of his tea. “That whole thing was weird as hell, though.” He glanced down to the Sword. “I’m still not sure what that windy thing was.”

“‘Windy thing?’” Chase echoed. He raised a condescending eyebrow. “I assume you are referring to the Sword of the Storm’s ability to create strong gusts of air. Were you not aware of what would happen when you invoked its powers?”

“‘Invoked its powers?’ Dude, I didn’t ‘invoke’ anything. I was just holdin’ it up and whammo!” Raimundo gestured with both arms for emphasis. “Huge blast of air outta nowhere.”

Chase’s eyebrows flew up to the top of his forehead, and for a brief moment he looked shocked. Then his eyebrows lowered and his face drew up into a considering, contemplative expression. “That,” he said, “is quite interesting.”

“If you say so.” Rai shrugged. “It was just bizarre. That whole fight was bizarre. I’ve never met a kid who fought like that. He was like some kind of kung-fu robot!”

Sal sipped his tea. “And that little lizard friend of his was quite the conversationalist.”

“Conversationalist? I don’t think I saw you exchange more than two words with the guy.”

“No,” Sal agreed. “Mostly, he ate my popcorn.”

Rai snorted and took another sip of his drink, and glanced to their host when he came up for air. Chase was looking at him - and this time he was looking at him, and not his sword. His eyes were piercing, scrutinizing - Rai squirmed a little. He felt kinda like a bug under a microscope.

“What’s your problem?” he grumbled, shooting Chase a nasty scowl.

“That sword of yours,” Chase said, rather than answering his question. “I assume you won it along with the others?”

Rai reached down to grasp the hilt of his sword on instinct, his fingers tightening around it possessively. “No,” he said. “It’s mine. I found it on a beach a couple years ago.”

Chase’s eyes sharpened, the pupils narrowing to slits. “Did you now,” he said.

“Yeah,” Rai said defensively, “I did.” Seriously, why did nobody believe that? “It was just sittin’ there in the sand, so I took it. Finders keepers, y’know?” He jabbed a finger in Sal’s direction. “Ask Sal. He was there, he’ll vouch for me.”

“No need for that. I take you at your word.” But Chase’s gaze didn’t falter. His eyes were burning into Rai with an intensity that he swore he could feel on his skin. Yeah, he definitely felt like a bug under a microscope. Or an ant under a magnifying glass. It was creepy, but more than anything it was confusing. Rai couldn’t think of anything he’d done or said that would have warranted this level of scrutiny.

He set his cup down and squinted at Chase. “Why do you care how I got it?” he asked. “Why do you care about any of this, anyway? Who exactly are you?”

Chase raised an eyebrow and shifted his attention to Sal. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” he drawled. “You haven’t told him a thing, have you?”

Salvador, who was merrily stacking cookies on his plate, glanced up and shrugged. “Ah,” he said, “there was not much I could tell. Xiaolin Warriors? Shen Gong Wu? You know that I am hardly an expert on these things.”

“His ignorance may cost you,” Chase said. “Now that the Shen Gong Wu have awakened, the Xiaolin and Heylin sides will both be vying for their control and growing stronger. You’ve already crossed paths with a future Xiaolin Dragon, and established yourselves as his enemies. Do you think he shall simply allow the two of you to proceed as you have, unimpeded?”

Sal laughed it off with a wave of his hand. “I am no Heylin, Chase,” he said.

“Perhaps not,” Chase allowed, “but I tend to doubt that will matter to an overzealous young warrior such as Omi.”

“Wait, wait.” Rai leaned forward, sticking his head between the two men. “Are you sayin’ you know that kid I fought?”

Chase turned his gaze back to him. “Yes, I know of the so-called Dragon of Water.”

“Seriously.” Rai gave him a look. “And you didn’t think you should mention that you know him because…?”

Chase returned his look with a sneering curl to his upper lip. “I do not know him. I know of him. I make it my business to keep up to date on the dealings of the Xiaolin Temple. I have been observing young Omi for some time now, but without Shen Gong Wu to procure or the proper circumstances under which to develop his powers, he was no threat to me.” He glanced down to the sword at Raimundo’s side, and then back to him. “But now I see that circumstances have changed.”

“So what?” Rai sat back in his seat again and reached for his tea. “I don’t see what any of that stuff has to do with us.”

“I can see that,” Chase said dryly, and then he turned to Sal. “Salvador,” he said. “As it happens, I have a proposition for you.”

“Oh do you now?” Sal said, raising an eyebrow. Rai spat his tea out onto the table.

"A business proposition,” Chase said, looking highly unamused. “Don’t be crude.”

“Ah, you’re no fun,” Sal said with a wave of his hand

“What, now you got some kinda deal for us?” Rai squinted at him suspiciously. Something was off about this guy; he was setting all of Rai’s well-honed instincts off like so many car alarms. 

“Yes, as a matter of fact.” Chase folded his hands on the table in front of him. “Consider it an employment opportunity, of a sort.”

“Employment?” Sal sat up a little straighter in his seat.

“Of a sort.” Chase reached out and picked the Mantis Flip Coin up off the table. He held it up, turning it so it caught the light. “I hold very little interest in the Shen Gong Wu,” he said. “They are of little use to me, and I do not lower myself to rely on them to win my battles.” 

“You going somewhere with this?” Rai asked, eyes narrow. Next to him, Sal put a hand to his chin.

Chase glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “I do not wish to possess these trinkets for myself,” he said. “But there are certain Shen Gong Wu that I would prefer to...keep out of certain hands, shall we say. Some that the Xiaolin should not be allowed to hold. Others that would prove a threat to my power in the possession of other practitioners of evil.”

“And that, I expect,” Sal said, “is where we come in?”

“Yes,” Chase said. He turned the Mantis Flip Coin over between his fingers. “It would be a simple arrangement, really. All you’d need do is ensure that the Shen Gong Wu I specify do not fall into the wrong hands. Use them, hide them, do what you wish. I care little, so long as you can provide proof that they have been retrieved. I expect, given your talents,” he glanced at Sal as he said this, “that the task shall not prove difficult.”

It sounded straightforward enough, which meant there had to be a catch. “You better not think we’re doing this for nothing,” Rai warned him. “Friend or no friend, we don’t work for free.”

Chase looked at him with a faintly amused look to his eye. “Of course,” he said easily. “You will be compensated for every Shen Gong Wu you retrieve, in addition to the privilege of keeping them for yourself. And,” he placed the Mantis Flip Coin back on the table, “I am also willing to train you, Raimundo, in order to better prepare you for future confrontations with young Omi.”

“Train me?” Rai snorted, and then he laughed out loud. “What, are you kiddin’? I don’t need training. I can take care of myself.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Chase said calmly. “I am aware of the sort of trouble that Salvador is so very skilled at attracting, and I am certain that you’ve learned to fight your way out of it with great ease. But if you expect to be able to hold your own against a Xiaolin Warrior, particularly one that can conjure tidal waves with a mere thought, you will need to know how to counter their techniques.” 

Rai had opened his mouth to argue, but at the mention of “tidal waves” he took pause. Was that what the big wave on the beach had been all about? Because, yeah, that definitely wasn’t something he could just kick away. That was straight up magic , the same way that the Showdown had been magic, and those teleporting Claw things, and whatever the heck had happened to his sword. Rai was used to fights he could win with a well-aimed punch and a well-timed kick, but he couldn’t punch magic. He glanced at Sal, hesitant.

Sal, for his part, looked thoughtful. His face was calm, but his eyes were sharp as he looked at Chase and said, “This is a quite generous offer, old friend. Combat training for the retrieval of a few trinkets? It is too kind of you.”

“Kind? Hardly.” Chase waved a hand. “Consider it insurance on my part. Neither of you have any combat experience when it comes to Xiaolin Warriors or Shen Gong Wu. It would be foolish to send you after them without ensuring that you are adequately prepared.”

“Fair enough,” Sal allowed. He folded his arms over his chest and turned his head to Rai. “What do you say, primo? It would be a fun change of pace, I think.”

Rai bit into a cookie and chewed contemplatively. He still didn’t trust this Chase Young guy as far as he could throw him, but he couldn’t deny that the training offer was tempting, and it made sense. He couldn’t win a fair fight against that warrior kid as he was; the victory in the Showdown had been a fluke and he knew it. And Sal – he glanced at his mentor, who was patiently waiting for his response. Sal seemed willing to give it a shot. Of course, Sal was willing to give most things a shot, including things that ended up with weapons being thrown around or police being called, but hey. They’d gotten out of way shadier deals than this before. They could handle whatever this Chase Young tried to throw at them. He swallowed his bite of cookie.

“Yeah, okay,” he said.

Sal gave him a little nod, and then held a hand out to Chase. “My friend,” he said, “you have yourself a deal.”

Chase took his hand and smiled, showing his teeth. Raimundo swore he saw fangs.

Oh boy, he thought to himself. What have we signed ourselves up for?