The Wars of Light and Shadow - All Darkness Met
by E. Liddell

Chapter 8

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<<Are you sure it's going to be all right?>>

<<There's no certainty in any of this, but I don't have any reason to believe that I won't come back intact. Zoisite, are you crying?>> I brushed a tear away from the corner of his eye. <<Don't worry. By this time tomorrow, it will all be over, and, well . . .>> I glanced pointedly at the unmade bed that was very nearly the only piece of furniture in the room we shared.

<<I'll be waiting,>> he promised, but I still tasted salt tears on his lips when I bent down for one last kiss.

I had to be very careful in teleporting from Nephrite's mansion to the Negaverse. I had to avoid the Negaforce's notice, and Beryl's wards, plus my own . . . But at last it was done, and I stood in a familiar room.

Dust coated every available surface--the rumpled silk sheets of the bed, an old shirt still lying on the floor where I had flung it on that last night . . . the back of the picture frame lying face down on the dresser. I reached out and righted it. It had eventually become too painful, after his death, to see Zoisite's face staring back at me every time I walked past. But now . . .

I picked it up and slipped it into a convenient pocket dimension, since I couldn't carry it around with me for the several hours I could expect to spend here. Only Jadeite had dared come back to the Negaverse again after that first, hurried investigative trip, and he'd had reasons that overrode his natural sense of caution. I had always meant to retrieve the photo, but the existence of the Negaforce had held me back. At least something positive was now guaranteed to come out of this trip.

I'll need the notes from my study, and a prominent display of weaponry might not be a bad idea either . . . Already making plans, I strode down the hall toward the staircase, and skipped the third step from the top to avoid triggering a trap. Zoisite has always been of the opinion that the best burglar alarms are those that wake you when the burglar starts to scream, and I had never seen any reason not to accommodate him. It was a relatively safe outlet for the bloodthirstier side of his personality--anyone wanting to burgle the home of Beryl's chief general would have to be out of her mind, and while most youma are fairly stupid, the insane ones don't often survive for long.

The trap triggered by opening the study door was a little more discriminating than the one on the stairs. I held my breath as I felt the brief tingle associated with its magical scan, only too late thinking to wonder if it would recognize me now that I bore almost none of the Negaforce's taint. Fortunately, Zoisite had wrought better than I would have believed, and the trap ignored me.

I collapsed onto the chair behind my worn desk with a sigh of relief, then coughed as I breathed in some of the dust I had raised. I made a mental note to ask Zoisite, if we survived, to devise a ward against dust. Then I just leaned back in my chair and relaxed for a moment. The atmosphere in the room was familiar and soothing, and I realized that I had missed it.

Now. To work. How quickly I would be back with Zoisite depended on how quickly I could find and talk to the right youma. I brushed more dust off a sheaf of papers, realized that I couldn't remember what they were about, and decided that this was going to take a while.

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I paced the halls restlessly. I was already beginning to hate this place. Dark, gloomy, empty rooms, and dark, gloomy, emotionally unstable companions. Even Almandite had been snappish since the meeting with the Sailor Scouts. Not that I had seen much of her. She and Nephrite seemed to be intent on spending as much time as possible alone together. If I had been thinking rationally, I wouldn't have blamed them, not when it was possible that this would be their last night on Earth. But I wasn't feeling very rational just then.

Choosing a doorway at random, I unexpectedly discovered myself outside on a balcony. At first, I thought I was alone, but then I noticed a slender, upright figure standing over by the railing, nearly invisible in the dimness. There was no moon tonight, and the house and the pine woods managed, between them, to block most of the stars.

Almandite? The person was slender enough, but the shoulders were perhaps a little too broad, the hips definitely a little too slim, and the posture far too militarily erect. Zoisite, then. I hadn't seen the green-eyed man since Malachite had left for his appointment in the Negaverse, and I didn't particularly want to see him now. The vindictive little snake was the last person likely to offer me any comfort.

Wishing to avoid any encounter, I turned to go back through the door. But my arm brushed against something, and even the minimal sound that it created was enough to alert Zoisite to my presence. He whirled toward me, a ball of light blossoming to life in his upraised hand.

"Don't do that!" he snarled, catching sight of me. "I could have killed you!"

"I doubt it." I was feeling belligerent, and I really didn't care how dangerous this man was. It was past time that someone took the arrogant little bastard down a peg.

"Don't," he said flatly. "I've killed thousands of humans in my day."

"In Beryl's service, no doubt," I goaded.

The glitter in the green eyes went beyond malicious or angry. What I saw there now was a purity of hatred beyond anything I would have believed was possible. But he shrugged. "What difference does it make?"

I was taken aback. "None, I suppose."

His smile still held an edge of malice. "I'm glad you realize that." He lowered his hand, closing it into a fist. The light he had created was extinguished, plunging us both back into darkness. "Now go away and leave me alone."

Perversely, I didn't want to, even though I had originally intended to do just that. "Why should I? It's a free country."

His hand went up again, silhouetted blackly against the stars, then just as suddenly returned to his side. He growled in what I would presume was irritation, then turned back toward the railing. I couldn't help but feel smug.

"Do you have any purpose in remaining here other than irritating me?" he asked after some moments of silence.

"We humans have a saying," I said. "'Misery loves company.'"

"There's only one person whose company I want right now." The raw pain in his voice took me by surprise. It was so easy to believe that Zoisite's only emotions were anger, hatred, and spite, and forget the tenderness and, yes, love, he displayed toward Malachite. I'm being incredibly selfish. The person--as far as I can tell, the only person--that this man really loves, is out there tonight risking his life for my son.

"I'm sorry," I said. It didn't seem like enough.

"Forget it. I should know better than to expect a human to understand."

"Humans love too," I corrected softly.

"Not the way we do. Malachite and I have been together for a thousand years. The depth of that bond is beyond your understanding."

The image of Jadeite's face drew itself up out of my memory for a moment. Maybe I don't know, but I think I would have liked to find out.

Staring past Zoisite and into the blackness of the forest, I shed a single tear for what might have been.

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The morning after the meeting, I woke up late and had to rush off to school, as usual. The first period of the day was gym class. I changed out of my school uniform in the locker room, feeling, as always, a twinge of discomfort when I had to remove the locket with the Silver Crystal inside it. Since Rini had stolen it, I had never felt safe leaving it anywhere, but school regulations wouldn't let me wear it to gym. I couldn't help casting glances back over my shoulder as I walked out onto the field. Of course, that meant I got hit on the head by the volleyball the other kids were using to warm up. Fortunately, it wasn't moving very fast, and I was able to just shake it off. Every brain cell I ever had that was susceptible to death through impact died long ago.

I wasn't the only one who got hit. Melvin also failed to notice an oncoming ball. He had been acting kind of strange- -I mean, stranger than usual--since the news of Molly's death had reached him. I felt sorry for him. First she had dumped him (in favor of Nephrite, with whom he'd never be able to compete in a million years, but he didn't know that), and then, before he'd been able to come to terms with it, she had died. And he didn't know that her death hadn't been permanent.

He continued to sort of mope around during the game, until he got himself hit again. The teacher, apparently somewhat worried that he'd been really injured, sent him to see the nurse. I was so busy watching him that I tripped and gave myself a painful bruise. Not that that was entirely a bad thing. An exaggerated limp got me sent inside as well. No more gym class! I was ecstatic, and it hadn't really hurt that much.

I caught up with Melvin, who was dragging his feet, some several yards from the locker room. I decided to duck inside and grab the Silver Crystal while I was there, instead of waiting until after I had finished with the nurse.

Pushing the door open, I saw someone--someone older--standing by my locker. What's the janitor doing here at this hour of the day?

That isn't the janitor! And I didn't know how I could have made that sort of mistake for even a split second. The stranger was wearing a Negaverse uniform, for one thing. And he had wings growing from his back, for another.

"So glad you could join us, Sailor Moon." A hard hand clamped over my mouth, and I recognized Jadeite's voice. He had to have been hiding behind the door. "As you can see, you're already too late."

The other man turned toward us, holding my locket up in one hand and wearing a triumphant smile. My mind was so numb that for a moment I could only think, Wow, what a hunk! It really isn't fair, you know. Aside from Darien, every good-looking man I've met since becoming Sailor Moon has had really nasty habits, like stealing people's energy or trying to take over the world. It isn't that I want to be unfaithful to my One True Love or anything, but sometimes I wish destiny would at least give me a little time to look around, so that maybe I'd appreciate my guy more after I saw how lousy all the others were. Hey, it's a thought, and according to Luna, I don't have very many of those, so I guess each one should be cherished.

"Excellent, Jasper," Jadeite added. Whoa, wait a minute here! Now that I knew what to look for, I could see a vague resemblance between Amber and the young man with the wings. He sure has grown . . . I wonder how they managed that?

"It appears we have succeeded where the others have failed," Jasper said with a smile that reminded me of one of Zoisite's. "If I may ask, what are you going to do with her?"

"She's helpless now," Jadeite said. "As soon as you get that safely back to the Negaverse, I think we can just let her go."

"Your wish is my com--"

"Hey, you there! What do you think you're doing?"

Melvin?! I guess this was just destined to be a day of surprises.

Jasper slid the locket with the Crystal into a pouch that was hanging from his belt and raised one hand in what I guessed was the beginning of an attack. "Get out of here, boy, before you get hurt."

"Stealing is wrong!" Melvin came barreling into the room, aiming, as far as I could tell, straight for that pouch. Jasper teleported just as the shorter boy slammed into him, disappearing in what looked like a shower of purple feathers. And Melvin vanished with him.

As soon as they were gone, Jadeite pushed me roughly away from him, into a convenient bank of lockers. I was too stunned to do more than stand there and try to deal with the pain of my fresh bruises as he teleported away.

Well, I observed wryly as I retrieved my wrist communicator from the locker, at least now I have a real reason to go see the nurse. That hurt!

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