The Wars of Light and Shadow - All Darkness Met
by E. Liddell
* * * * * * * *
I tousled the boy's hair and grinned at him. "Goodnight, Jasper." The grin was beginning to feel less forced than it had two weeks ago, when I had first started joining Amber and her son for dinner. I had come more for the sake of a little variety in my diet than the company, truth be known. The responsibilities of a Negaverse general do not include cooking, and, unwilling to risk conjuring anything, I had been subsisting on pizza, fried chicken, and instant pasta since I had left Tokyo. How far the mighty had fallen!
"Goodnight, Jay." As always, Amber looked as though she would almost have liked to follow me back to my apartment. But she never did. I was beginning to learn to respect this quiet woman's courage and self-control. The latter wasn't something I had seen a great deal of in the recent past. Denizens of the Negaverse did exactly as they pleased, so long as what they pleased didn't put them at risk or offend someone more powerful --in which case they usually took out their frustration on some less powerful being, one who couldn't fight back. Amber never lashed out. Nor did she ever give ground on anything that she felt was important.
My musings took me as far as my own front door. I unlocked it and stepped inside. Catching sight of a little flashing red light, I sighed and cued the playback on the answering machine. The first message was a change-of-billing notice from the electric company. The second was an advertisement. It went on for long enough that I was tempted to blast the miserable machine out of existence. And then . . .
"Stanton," said Nephrite's voice. "Bad news. Beryl may be back. We need you here right away."
I stood staring into space for several minutes after that last, brief message had finished. Beryl may be back . . . Impossible! The words stirred up an assortment of feelings as tangled as those I had about Amber. And how did they find me here? How did Nephrite get my number?
I muttered curses to myself in half-a-dozen languages as I went to the bedroom. If Beryl really is back, this is going to be a long trip, I decided, and scooped all but a couple of my heaviest sweaters into the bag that had been so nearly empty when I had arrived. Then I stripped and changed into one of the grey uniforms. It was uncomfortable after so long in casual clothes, stiff and constricting, but it was also a reminder of who I really was. I had been so caught up in playing Jay Tsumeta that I had begun to forget about Jadeite. That was foolishness. Enjoyable though fooling Amber into thinking I was just another human might be, it was just that: foolery. A game. A facade. I couldn't allow myself to forget that.
Calm, I told myself. I didn't need to make an off-center teleport just now. Focus. An instant of coldness and absolute dark, and I was in a place I had sworn I would never visit again. The room was still dimly lit and largely empty, the futon and the chair I had "borrowed" from the balcony by the simple expedient of teleporting while seated still the only furnishings. I tossed the bag onto the latter item, then relaxed the barriers I had been holding so tight for so long.
<<It's about time.>> It would have to be Malachite. <<We've been waiting for you.>>
<<I came as soon as I got your message.>> Barely, just barely, I managed to keep myself from snarling. Calm. He doesn't need to know how I feel about him ordering me around.
<<Then I suggest you come out to join us. We have much to discuss.>>
My feet traced the path from my room to the balcony door almost automatically. I pushed it open to confront the others.
No, they hadn't changed at all. Malachite had finally found or made a chair that would accommodate both him and Zoisite without collapsing, because his lover was sitting in his lap. Nephrite and Almandite were seated opposite them, side by side, her hand resting lightly on his thigh in a gesture which I found somewhat suggestive. And directly opposite the door, staring me in the face, was the empty chair. My seat. For what it was worth.
Briefly, irrationally, I wished for Amber's presence as I strode over to take my place. I'm capable of telling when I'm a fifth wheel, I thought bitterly as I pulled out my chair, trying to avoid looking at the two couples who would be flanking me. Amber . . . What am I thinking? No matter who she's related to, she's only a human! She has no place here. Which reminded me of something else. I turned one of my coldest stares on Almandite. To my surprise, she glared daggers back at me without shifting her position. Perhaps I've been underestimating her. She might even survive a day or two in the Negaverse without Nephrite's support. But that isn't important.
"So what is it that's got all of your tails in a twist?" I said in the snidest tone I could manage, earning a glare from Zoisite and a thoughtful, level stare from Malachite.
"Someone has been gathering energy from the humans of the city again," Malachite said evenly. "We have reason to believe that it's the Negaverse."
"'Reason to believe'," I sneered. "Tell me another one." Being back here with them was bringing back all the memories I had been seeking to repress. Centuries in the Negaverse. Centuries as Beryl's toy. And before that, ten decades at the Earthan court, almost universally feared or despised as something not entirely human. And Alexandrite . . . I clung to the memories of the Negaverse, instead. They were far less painful. After the first few years with Beryl, I had managed to teach myself not to feel.
"Don't try my patience." Malachite's voice was still level, flat, and soft. "I've beaten you before, and I can do it again, Jadeite. But if Beryl is back, you are in as much danger as the rest of us."
"Am I really?" I lounged back nonchalantly in my chair. "I don't seem to recall anyone ever asking me if I intended to betray my Queen. Perhaps my best course of action would be to go and hand the lot of you over to her."
I heard a gasp from Almandite's direction, and Zoisite was glaring at me again, but I kept my eyes on Malachite. I had said those words mainly in hope of getting a reaction from him. The results were disappointing, to say the least. He tilted his head slightly to one side and simply watched me. I was wilting under the force of that silver gaze by the time he spoke.
"We all know that's an empty threat. If you go back to Beryl, chances are that she'll just seal you back up in a crystal again. As I recall, she didn't even wait for you to explain yourself last time."
He's right, damn him. He used to be a lot less perceptive. I guess escaping Beryl has been good for him. Nice to know that one of us is benefiting from the new state of affairs-- two of us, rather. I spared Nephrite a glance. His face was as unreadable as Malachite's. He always was the most aloof of any of us. I had Alexandrite, Zoisite had Malachite and vice- versa . . . Nephrite never had anything but his star charts. I wonder how he managed to stay sane. And why he was the one to land a girl, damn him, when I'm still alone. Always alone . . . I tried to push that feeling back down to the depths of my mind where it belonged. This is ridiculous! I am a general of the Negaverse, not some human weakling! I steadfastly ignored the little voice that said, But you were human first.
"I don't have to sit here and listen to this," I snarled, and made as though to stand up, not noticing until too late the warning blue-white glow of Malachite's eyes. A column of energy struck me in the chest, knocking me back into a seated position.
"I have had enough of this behavior from you." Belatedly, I noticed that the smooth calm of Malachite's voice hid an edge. I've managed to make him angry. Oddly, the thought was reassuring. An angry Malachite I knew how to deal with. I'd seen that facet of his personality often enough during our years in the Negaverse. "You will stay and you will listen. You will not make any further insulting remarks, nor speak at all unless I give you permission. Do you understand?"
I stared at him, sullen.
"Do you understand?" His eyes glowed even brighter, and wind tore at his hair. In his lap, Zoisite raised one hand to his spirit crystal, from which green light was spilling.
"I understand--Lord Malachite." I didn't dare imbue the title with the sarcasm I wanted to. Instead, I inserted a slight pause in front of it. Not enough to be construed as a true insult, but enough for everyone there to know what I really meant. Double-talk like this was an art form highly appreciated in the Negaverse.
I sat and pretended to listen while Nephrite and Almandite told their story. Underneath the stony facade I had cultivated for so long, I was seething. It would serve them right if I did hand them over to Beryl!
Finally, the meeting adjourned, and Malachite gave me permission to go. I teleported straight for a rooftop in the middle of the city, not bothering to change into less noticeable clothing. Changing back into jeans and sweater would have been tantamount to changing back into Jay Tsumeta, and I suspected that if I did that, the pressure would make my mind snap.
* * * * * * * *
I winced and rubbed at my forehead.
<<He's cut himself off again, hasn't he?>> Zoisite asked.
<<Yes. Yes, he has.>> I was having second thoughts about having called Jadeite back here. If any healing had taken place inside him at all, it appeared that his return to Tokyo had disrupted it badly. <<He's still in the city somewhere, though.>> Which wasn't really a good sign.
And then he teleported, again, and was lost to my senses.
<<Are you going to sit out here all day?>> Zoisite asked teasingly, playing with a strand of my hair.
<<Of course not.>> I stood up, lifting him (which was possible only because he used a touch of levitation to take the worst of his weight off me). <<We've warned him. If he doesn't want to work with us on this, that's his problem. He's on his own now. Let's go back to what we were doing when he arrived.>>
Zoisite's eyes sparkled. <<I thought you'd nev-- >>
Icy energy stabbed at my mind, and I fell to my knees, dropping Zoisite. Fortunately, he managed to use his levitative abilities to cushion his fall. I couldn't have caught him just then.
<<Malachite! Malachite, what's wrong?>>
"It's Jadeite," I forced out. "I don't know whether he's attacking me, or something's attacking him . . ."
There was one last stab of pain, and then I couldn't feel Jadeite at all. The bond between us was . . . not gone, but barred by impenetrable shadow. Corrupted.
My hands clenched into fists as I fought to keep my voice level. "I can't find him now. He's walled me off completely. If I didn't know better, I'd almost think that the Negaforce had him again."
* * * * * * * *
I perched on the edge of a three-storey drop, watching the people on the street below. It wasn't likely that anyone would notice me, anyway. Humans so rarely bother to look up. They seem to be racially blind to the concept of danger coming from above.
My heart leaped in my chest as I saw, in the distance, a woman with honey-blonde hair of a familiar shade. Amber? Of course it wasn't. I chastised myself for even thinking such a thing and moved to a higher rooftop, where I would be unable to distinguish the characteristics of the passers-by below.
I could have gone straight back to North America. Perhaps it would have been better if I had. Certainly, in that case, I would never have noticed the flare of dark energy coming from downtown and chosen to investigate.
Well, now, isn't this interesting. Three youma, posing as street performers, were gathering energy from passers-by. Low-key, and subtle. I wonder who thought it up? It doesn't seem like Beryl's style.
"You!" hissed a voice from behind me. I spun to face it.
A slender blonde man in a black-trimmed Negaverse uniform was standing there, staring at me. He wasn't anyone I recognized. Actually, that wasn't very surprising. Beryl had always drawn her top officers from among recently corrupted humans--or Crystal Weavers--so any new generals she had made since having her tail toasted by the Sailor Scouts were likely to be strangers. But it was obvious that he recognized me, and that was surprising. An ex-victim, perhaps?
"Who are you?" I asked, trying not to sound too hostile. No sense in looking for trouble.
His eyes narrowed. "You may call me Lord Citrine. Jadeite, isn't it?"
I nodded. "You're working for Beryl, then." It wasn't a question. A plan was beginning to form in the back of my mind. Perhaps there was a way in which I could purge myself of the memories, and give Malachite the Overbearing his just deserts. "I need to talk to her."
"Give me one good reason why I should trust you."
I shrugged. "I can't. But I'm still the Queen's loyal servant, and I have information which may work to her advantage."
"And that would be?" Sharp enough, this Citrine. I wondered what it would be like, working with him.
"The location of Malachite and the other traitors." I could have offered the identities of the Sailor Scouts as well, but I felt it was better to keep that in reserve.
"And in return you want?"
"I'll take your message. Wait here." Either Citrine hadn't had access to negative energy for long enough to develop a personalized teleport effect, or he didn't consider it worth the bother, because he just vanished.
"Lord Citrine, I--Lord Jadeite!"
"He'll be back in a moment--Elis, isn't it?" I said to the youma who floated just above roof level, holding a glowing ball of energy in one hand. "I'd suggest that you wait."
She nodded and settled to the surface of the roof. "It's . . . good to see you again, my lord."
I smirked. Even in the Negaverse, one occasionally found loyalty. Elis had been, and apparently still was, one of my personal little circle of youma.
"The Queen will listen to your proposal, Jadeite."
I stiffened but refused to turn this time. So, Citrine liked to startle people by appearing behind them. I would have to remember that.
"She requests your immediate presence," the blonde man added.
"I obey. Of course." This is it. I drew in my energies and teleported.
The echoing emptiness of the throne room took me a bit by surprise. Normally there would have been at least a few youma here, going about their daily business. But now, Beryl sat alone. Her throne was damaged, and the crystal ball that had floated in front of her for so long was gone. She didn't seem to know what to do with her hands.
"Jadeite," she greeted me. That fanged smile hadn't become any more pleasant through its absence.
"My Queen." I knelt before her, head bowed, deciding that this was a good time for a display of humility.
"Why are you here?" she asked.
"I wish to reinstate myself in your service, my Queen."
"So Citrine claimed."
I risked a glance upward. She was stroking the damaged arm of her throne with one hand, and still smiling.
"He also said that you knew where to find your former comrades."
"Yes, m'Queen. Malachite and Zoisite are living with Nephrite at his old base of operations."
"Which helps very little, since Zoisite was the only one who knew the way to Nephrite's home," she remarked.
I wasn't aware he was that secretive. How was he able to keep that information from her? "I know the way. Nephrite showed it to me himself."
"Then you will organize an attack on them. If it is a success, you will be reinstated."
"I beg to differ."
Surprised, I jerked my head up. Citrine was actually daring to contradict Beryl? Perhaps he isn't as smart as I thought. So why isn't she blasting him out of existence? The blonde man was leaning nonchalantly against Beryl's throne, and she didn't seem to object to that familiarity, either.
"Then what do you suggest?"
It was a good thing that I was kneeling instead of standing, because otherwise I would have fallen over. Even Malachite wouldn't have gotten that kind of response. There had to be a lot more to Citrine than met the eye.
"Reinstate him now. Expose him to our master's power. It's the easiest way to ensure that he won't betray us to his Weavemates."
The tenor of Beryl's smile changed as she glanced over at him. Hmmm. Are you sleeping with her, or does she just want you to? But even that wouldn't explain her behavior.
"Perhaps you are correct," Beryl mused. "Very well. I leave it in your hands."
Citrine straightened up. "Come with me," he said. I rose to my feet and walked over to stand beside him.
His teleport took me by surprise. It was over almost before it began, and I was standing in a room I had entered only a handful of times during my long years in the Negaverse. I swallowed, tasting bile. I was wrong before. This is it.
The floor under my feet was shaped like the lower jaw of some dire beast, fringed with stalagmite teeth. In front of me was the shattered globe which had once contained the red fluid that had held the Negaforce's life essence. But in the center of that, there was another, undamaged globe. Tiny though it was, it had the same basic appearance as the other. Apparently the Negaforce was not dead after all.
"Citrine. Why are you here?" The voice was as disturbing as I remembered, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
"My lord. I bring you one who would swear to your service." Citrine knelt in front of the globe, ignoring the shards that must have been cutting into his knees.
A tendril of dark power unfurled itself toward me. I forced myself not to flinch as the blackness touched my face.
"I know this one. He has been a satisfactory servant in the past. I accept him."
I stiffened my spine and stared straight ahead as the darkness wrapped around me. I had been through this once before. The first time, I hadn't been willing. This time I was. I welcomed the shadows as they blotted out Alexandrite's face, locking my emotions back inside the prison of ice from which they had begun to escape.
Invisible inside the darkness, I smiled.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 4
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury