The Wars of Light and Shadow - All Darkness Met
by E. Liddell
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"All is in readiness, Lord Malachite," said Zantisa's familiar voice from the doorway.
"Excellent." I twitched my cape back into place. If I was going to review the troops, it was best that I presented the same immaculate image that I always had. Worry, like anger, could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. "Nephrite. You're with me. Zoisite. Take the others to the armory. Get my sword while you're there."
It was a bit odd, feeling Nephrite's presence at my shoulder instead of Zoisite's as I strode down the hallway. Odd, but not unpleasant. It was good to have him back in his intended place as my second-in-command.
We emerged on a raised platform at the rear of the huge room that had seen intermittent use as a dining hall in the days when the castle was still inhabited. The massed youma greeted us with a roar. I closed my eyes and just stood, drinking in the sound. Power. Respect. Living as a near-fugitive among the humans, I had forgotten what they felt like. The knowledge that you are the one who can shape the lives of hundreds, thousands, millions of others, produces a feeling which has no equal.
In a strange way, I was home.
I opened my eyes again and gazed out over the seven or eight hundred multicolored beings who graced my hall, and I smiled. You are mine.
"You all know why you are here." I knew my voice would carry clearly to the back, aided not so much by standing spells (although there were those, too) as by good acoustics. "You all know whom we are fighting, and why." Scanning for individual faces, I spotted several I recognized, but many others that I did not. "Beryl's time as Queen here is done. She has ruined enough of our chances through her foolishness!" A purplish face in the third row back turned away from me. Odd. That one's wearing glasses. I wonder how she's been able to keep them from getting broken.
"Down with Beryl!" Zantisa shouted from the front row as she noticed my fractional hesitation.
"DOWN WITH BERYL!" The reply was so loud that I thought I felt the floor vibrate under my feet.
"However," I said when it quieted, "there are not enough of us here to win a pitched battle against her. She has thousands of soldiers. We are only a few hundreds. For that reason, Lord Nephrite will lead you while I go to rendezvous with our ally, Lord Jadeite. Beryl," I said with relish, "is in for a considerable shock." I smiled as the more forward youma laughed. Oh, yes. Dying was always a shock. What did it matter that her death wasn't going to take place in quite the way my soldiers expected? When they leaked my plans, as a few of them were certain to do, Beryl might deal with Jadeite for me and save me the trouble.
I faded back through the door I had entered by as Nephrite began to speak. I could sense the presence of Zoisite and the others in one of the smaller rooms just down the hall, and I wanted to join them.
The room had never been intended to hold five Sailor Scouts, Tuxedo Mask, and three Negaverse generals, not to mention Amber. There were only six chairs. Serena sat in Darien's lap in the largest, a position which I found reminded me touchingly of Zoisite. Zoisite himself was floating in midair some distance from most of the others. I walked over to stand beside him. No one had spoken yet. Silently, my love handed me the long, cloth-shrouded package he had been balancing across his knees.
The feel of it was familiar in my hand, even though I hadn't used it in uncounted centuries. When I unwrapped it, the metal of the hilt glittered silver, untarnished with time. It was only a sword, without any special powers or magic attached, but it held a lot of memories.
I smiled up at Zoisite. He smiled back at me. Normally, lovers exchange some sort of jewelry as a token that they're entering into a permanent relationship. Zoisite was the only person to whom it would have occurred to exchange weapons.
He wore the sword I had given him, a slenderer weapon than mine, made to his measure. No doubt he had secreted several knives around his person, as well. His deadly accuracy with ice crystals holds for just about any other type of projectile weapon. And it would be safer, where we were going, if we restricted any sort of conjury to a last resort. Beryl's power lay thick in her palace, and she was undoubtedly going to detect us if we used our powers to do so much as light a match.
"Are you two almost done there?"
I didn't bother to aim a frosty glare at Sailor Jupiter this time. Too much exposure might make her and the other Scouts become immune. Instead, I ignored her, centering my gaze on the little tableau of Serena and Darien.
"You've been using the time profitably, I see," I remarked to Zoisite. Serena appeared to be wearing her Sailor Moon uniform, complete down to the tiara and gloves. If she and the other Scouts hadn't confessed, earlier, that she needed the locket containing the Silver Crystal to become Sailor Moon now, I would never have looked deeply enough to detect the illusion. "Very profitably. It's good. Solid."
<<Hey, we're waiting for you,>> Nephrite remarked to me.
I drew in a deep breath. One more brief appearance in front of the youma, to give Nephrite and Almandite, and the Scouts that would be traveling with them on the first leg of their trip, their send-off. And then . . . Then Zoisite and I would go hunting.
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If I had been smart, I would have stayed in the palace servants' dormitory where Chrysotile had found us both beds. I had even gotten a shower--in freezing cold water, behind a threadbare curtain--and discovered that the stuff I had rubbed into my skin had left it permanently stained. That was going to be a problem if I ever got home, but probably was a good thing in the meanwhile. The coarse smock worn by the lowest orders of palace servants was both more concealing and cleaner than my battered school uniform bikini, so I had borrowed one from the shower room. No one had seemed inclined to argue. I still don't know whether that was because the smocks were universally hated, or because some of Chrysotile's aura had begun to wear off on me.
I had woken up in the middle of the night when youma began slipping out of the dormitory. Noticing that Chrysotile was one of them, and unwilling to risk losing my only source of information about this place, I followed them. The others must have thought Chrysotile had invited me along, because when they teleported, I went with them.
The utter bone-numbing cold had woken me up the rest of the way. I had stared around the hall where we had arrived in a panic, unable to get out again because I had been in the middle of a mass of tightly packed youma, all of whom were pushing the others, trying to get a little more space for themselves. And then, everything had gone quiet, and all the youma had turned to face forward. Not wanting to attract attention, I had done the same.
The two men standing on the raised platform were . . . impressive. I can't find a better word for them. And then the white-haired one with the cape stepped forward, and all the youma began cheering. I managed to pick out "Lord Malachite!" from the general commotion, and guessed that this had to be Chrysotile's ex-boss. Isn't he supposed to be dead?
His eyes scanned the front rows of our group as he began speaking. I turned away before he had quite gotten to me. Something about him convinced me that he would be able to see straight through my disguise.
I fingered the pouch at my side, wondering if the contents might have any value to these new strangers. Enough value to get me home? But did I really want to give it to them? A blind man wouldn't have been able to miss the fact that Malachite and the other man were wearing the same uniform as Jadeite and his friend had been.
Malachite retreated from the stage and the other man--Nephrite?--took his place as speaker. I didn't find Nephrite quite so intimidating, so, after a moment, I actually began to absorb his words. And I began to feel sick. God, they're fighting a war here. And it looks like I'm going to be in it with them.
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I was glad that Malachite had helped me prepare a speech in advance. Rabble-rousing has never been one of my greater skills, which was probably why I never had very many followers among the youma. All the stares were making me feel uncomfortable. I hid it with the ease of long practice.
And then Malachite and Zoisite were standing to my left, with Almandite on my right and the Sailor Scouts and Tuxedo Mask lined up behind me. A delicate mental push sent the attention of the youma back in Malachite's direction. Unlike me, he thrives on that sort of thing, and I think Zoisite has learned to like it for his sake. As I settled my arm around Almandite's shoulders and guided her into taking a step backward with me, I noticed that Malachite and Zoisite were wearing their swords. I hadn't even known that the weapons still existed. I did know that neither of them had been used since that disastrous day when we had been captured by the Negaverse. What sort of luck that suggested for our present venture I wasn't certain, and here in the Negaverse I lacked any stars to consult, if they could be convinced to respond to so trivial a query.
I allowed myself to smirk as I listened to Malachite carefully emphasizing his lover's title of "Lord". The image of what the slender blonde man would do if some unfortunate youma addressed him as "Madame Zoisite" was . . . interesting. I toyed with and discarded the thought of using the title myself. The amusement value wasn't sufficient to warrant a breach of the armed truce that Zoisite and I had been maintaining since our resurrection. We had been friends once, true, but as Malachite had remarked earlier, there had been an awful lot of water under the bridge since then. Ten centuries of bitter rivalry take more than a few months to erase.
Malachite and Zoisite vanished together, leaving Almandite and myself the center of attention. In the interest of getting matters over with as quickly as possible, I dismissed the main body of the youma. In moments, only a handful, consisting of Zantisa and Malachite's other carefully chosen captains, remained, leaving only after they had received their orders.
* * * * * * * *
I decided that I needed to find Chrysotile, but before I had the chance, Malachite returned, and a whole bunch of other people with him. Are those the Sailor Scouts? Okay, I guess these are the good guys. Maybe I can give Serena's locket to them and get out of here.
I tried to fight my way forward through the crowd at that point and get to Chrysotile. Then I glanced upward again and froze. That little blonde guy. Lord Zoisite, or whatever his name is. I've seen him before. A shiver crawled up my spine. Zoisite and the Sailor Scouts. Somehow, that was very wrong. Why was I thinking about graveyards?
Memory returned in a rush that left me feeling cold. They aren't the good guys. Are there any good guys? Trying to be a hero always seems to get me into a lot of trouble. I remembered, now. Molly. And that monster. In the graveyard. And Zoisite had been on the monster's side.
I looked at them again. The Sailor Scouts steadfastly refused to become anything other than Sailor Scouts. And I was certain that I had never seen Malachite in my life before, or the woman, dressed in ordinary clothes, who was standing at the back near the Sailor Scouts and trying to look invisible. But Nephrite . . . Nephrite reminded me of someone. He's a perfect double for Maxfield Stanton! And the other woman, who had been introduced as Lady Almandite, but who hadn't spoken . . . those yellow eyes . . . But it wasn't until those eyes skimmed over the crowd, meeting mine for a fraction of a second, that I realized where I had seen that look before. No. Not possible. Not possible! . . . Molly? Her eyes had been exactly the same color, and she had worn exactly the same expression, when she had attacked that monster at the school. The last time I had seen her alive.
Seeing the pendant at Almandite's throat, I realized that that clinched it. Molly had been wearing the exact same stone that day at the school. And I knew it hadn't been found on her body. A body that had been dressed in a yellow-trimmed grey uniform precisely like the one Almandite was wearing, if I could believe the report I had uncovered when I had hacked into the police database shortly after her death. They were the same person. I didn't understand how it was possible, but I had to believe the evidence in front of me.
I was confused. I couldn't figure out what to do, about Molly, or the stolen locket in its pouch, or anything, and so the opportunity was forever lost and I was swept out of the hall by a wave of moving youma.
* * * * * * * *
I handed the Sailor Scouts over to Zantisa with an internal sigh of relief. I have nothing in particular against them, myself--even our competition over the Silver Crystal was mostly just business as usual for me--but the presence of her former friends had been making Almandite uncomfortable, and some of her tension had been bleeding over into me.
<<What are our chances like?>> she asked me now.
<<Not good,>> I admitted. <<Basically, it depends on whether Zoisite and Lord Malachite can find Beryl and Citrine fast enough and deal with them without having to call for help. And then there's the Negaforce.>> I shuddered. The memories associated with that being were not pleasant ones. <<If it spots them before they can get it, we're finished. That's why we're making a suicide charge at the front gate.>>
<<Suicide . . .>>
<<Well, all right, maybe not suicide.>> I embraced her, holding her close to me and trying to communicate a confidence that I didn't feel. <<Malachite and I worked on that plan for hours. The chances of us actually taking any substantial portion of Beryl's castle aren't very high, but they do exist. It all depends on who Beryl sends to lead her troops. Jadeite isn't much of a tactician, but Citrine and Jasper are completely unknown quantities. Anyway, if we thought we had no chance of penetrating at all we wouldn't be trying it. Even Beryl is smart enough to recognize an obvious feint. And the Scouts should confuse the issue even more.>>
<<Can't you ask the stars what's going to happen?>>
I sighed. <<I wish I could. Look up at the sky when we go outside. There are no stars here, my love. The Negaverse doesn't have stars or moon or sun, or day or night for that matter. Just perpetual grey twilight. And without the Negaforce to back me, I can't drill through to Earth from here to ask the stars there. I'm afraid I'm just as blind as everyone else.>> Even I've never quite understood the form my power takes. Onyx had told me once that most Crystal Weavers skilled in divination tended to significantly prefer one method over the others, as with Sailor Mars' fire-reading, but even he had never encountered anything quite like my bond with the stars. My link to them goes so deep that I can't use the more conventional scrying methods involving fire, or water, or mirrors, or crystals. It's almost like they're two completely different modes of thinking. <<All we can do is try to watch them through the Weave-link, and hope for the best. And we should get going. Zantisa will be expecting us.>>
I guided her teleport to a low hill outside the walls of Malachite's home. The youma were waiting for us there. So were Amber and the Scouts.
"Are we actually going to have to walk the whole way?" the human woman was asking Zantisa.
"It would take too long," I said, cutting off the youma's explanation. "There's a Warp near here that should connect us to a point not far from Beryl's palace. We'll use that, since it doesn't matter anymore whether or not Beryl knows we're coming." She is going to be a terrible nuisance.
<<Then why did you agree to have her along?>> Almandite asked. Evidently, I had projected the thought.
<<Two reasons. First, because if she's with us, she can't be running around loose causing trouble for us. Second, because, depending on how deeply Jadeite's gotten himself reinvolved with Beryl, and on how deeply her son has been sucked into this mess, she may actually be of some use to us.>>
Almandite's eyes narrowed. <<What do you mean, 'how deeply he's gotten himself reinvolved'? And why do I have the strange feeling that this has something to do with whatever happened to Zoisite that the four of you don't like to talk about?>>
I could feel my face getting warm, and hoped the blush would pass unnoticed in the dim light. <<Well, it's kind of embarrassing. For all of us. But I suppose it's better that I tell you now than that Beryl or Jadeite tells you later.>> "Get the troops moving," I added to Zantisa.
<<Go on,>> Almandite pressed.
<<Um, well . . . Put yourself in Beryl's place, all right? Queen Serenity has just decisively defeated you and you've returned home to the Negaverse to lick your wounds. You don't have the power to return to Earth, and won't for quite some centuries, because negative energy builds up very slowly when there are no humans nearby to extract it from. Your only companions are a few thousand youma and four, if I dare say it myself, very good-looking men. Plotting revenge will only keep you busy for so long. Since Beryl isn't very imaginative, I think you can guess what she decided to do for amusement after she ran out of novel ways to torture Serenity to death.>>
<<You mean you actually . . .>> Apparently, she couldn't bring herself to think about it either.
I sighed. <<I didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Beryl alone isn't that powerful, but with the Negaforce backing her she could have annihilated any of us with a thought. Jadeite was the only one who showed any interest in her voluntarily, and I think that was only because he'd always been spectacularly unlucky in love before. As for Zoisite . . . Well, none of us, except possibly Malachite, knows exactly what happened, but I'd guess that the little weasel stopped being able to, well, perform, fairly early on. Beryl would have considered that the worst sort of disobedience. Whatever she blasted him with made him have a spectacular nervous breakdown. It took Malachite the better part of a century to put him back together well enough that he could go out in public again, and the better part of another century after that to retrain him to Beryl's satisfaction. It was around that time that Zoisite started . . . acting weird.>>
<<So you're afraid that Jadeite is . . .>>
<<To be honest, I doubt it. She got tired of him after a couple of centuries. But it's possible. Amber will only be useful to us if he isn't, I suspect.>>
<<Useful as what?>>
<<A bribe. A distraction. I don't know. It depends on the circumstances. Do you think you're going to be able to live with it, if I have to give her to him?>>
Almandite smiled tiredly. That hurt. I could remember a time when she had been happier. She almost never smiled spontaneously now, and the darkness behind her eyes almost matched what I saw in the mirror. <<We have to do what we have to do. Right now, the most important thing is that we win. The future of humanity depends on it. If that means giving up one person's life . . . she was the one that chose to come with us.>>
I turned away a little, mourning for a happy young girl with red hair who had had no inkling that her best friend was Sailor Moon or that the man she had a crush on was an inhuman immortal who served the Negaverse. Why must I corrupt everything I touch? The woman beside me now was my equal, or almost, and would be a fit companion for me through the centuries, but it hadn't been worth destroying that innocent girl in order to create her.
<<I chose.>> Evidently she had read my mind again. Yet another reminder that she was more empathic than the rest of us. <<Nephrite, knowing you . . . I could never have gone back to being what I was. Having someone die in your arms . . . changes you. Even if I'd never remembered it outside of a dream, I still wouldn't have been that same carefree girl. I wanted you back in my life. You showed me . . . Oh, I can't explain. Something wonderful. Something terrible. Something . . . You lifted me out of the world I knew and showed me the inside of a dream. And if it was a bit like a nightmare from time to time, well, real life isn't always all that wonderful either. I'm not making much sense, am I?>>
<<It doesn't matter. I think I understand.>> The inside of a dream. Was that why, if someone had offered me the chance to go back in time and relive the fateful day when I had met Onyx, I wouldn't have changed anything? <<Look, we'd better get moving. The main body of the army is already ahead of us.>>
Fortunately, it didn't take us long to catch up. There's something to be said for the ability to fly. And, unlike Malachite and Zoisite, we two were free to splash power around the countryside.
I skimmed low over the group of youma--so few! There had been a time when Malachite and Zoisite together could have raised an army five times this size.--and hovered beside Zantisa for a moment. She seemed to have everything well under control. Malachite had always made good choices in terms of subordinates.
It took us some several hours of marching across open country to reach the endpoint of the Warp. It didn't look like much. All an unknowing observer would have seen was a leveled hilltop that had been cleared of brush. The weakness in the fabric of space/time that was the Warp was invisible until activated. This Warp had been heavily used when Malachite's castle had still been inhabited, since it was the nearest convenient way to reach it from Beryl's palace for anyone who couldn't teleport. Why the Warp hadn't settled itself in a more convenient location is one of the great mysteries of the Negaverse, of whose fabric the Warps are a part.
I reached out and twisted it open, using my powers to prop it so that it would stay that way. It's an elementary energy manipulation known to almost everyone in the Negaverse, although few would have been able to hold it for long enough to allow eight or nine hundred beings to pass through. Normally the Warps are used for the transport of heavy goods, not major troop movements.
I watched the youma as they filed through the black gateway. They were a sorry lot and no mistake. Most of them weren't even warriors, but members of the servant classes. Some weren't even armed. Malachite's plan was good enough, but could I possibly managed to execute it with such woefully bad raw material?
Zantisa was the last of the youma to go through, following a particularly sorry fuchsia specimen who looked too human to be anything but a recent convert. Which was odd. I would have expected our youma followers to be old enough to have some nostalgia for the Good Old Days when Beryl had still had four generals. Perhaps this one had some particular grudge against Beryl or one of her present lackeys . . . or perhaps she was a spy. I made a mental note to keep an eye on her.
Almandite and I were the last to traverse the Warp. Once we were through, I withdrew my power and let it close again. The staging area at this end was just as disused as the other. I suppose that with the Warp itself not in use, no one would have had any good reason to make the half-hour walk from the palace.
This was where the Sailor Scouts were leaving us. We didn't bother with any good-byes. They simply set off, with their youma guide, toward a cave that would allow them access to the labyrinthine tunnels under Beryl's palace. Malachite and I had considered using those tunnels to get the army into the cellars, but had rejected the idea because of the difficulties involved in keeping a large group together in the convoluted underground passageways. I hoped that the Scouts would have better luck.
Almandite and I and the main body of our army struck out directly for the palace. Despite my earlier comments, we were not headed for the front gate, but for a bank of large windows that graced one side of the building. It would be guarded, of course, but in the end we had decided that it was our best chance.
Crouching at the edge of the forest, under the shadows of the trees, I conjured a sword, watching the guards as the hilt warmed slowly to the temperature of my hand. <<Now!>> I called, and faintly heard Almandite repeating the word to Zantisa and a picked group of other warrior youma some distance away. Ten of them sprang forward.
What followed was utter carnage. The guards hadn't been expecting our group, and most of them fell without a sound. Unfortunately, one of Zantisa's underlings missed her last target. A choked scream echoed off the palace wall and spread through the forest.
I sprang to my feet. The time for stealth was over. Summoning as much power as I could, I rushed forward to lead the charge. The blast that shot from my hand shattered both the windows and the wall between them. We were in.
<<Nephrite, have you seen Amber?>>
<<I thought she was with you!>> I narrowly missed being skewered on a youma's claws. Cursing, I swung my sword. It bit deep. <<I can't worry about her now! It isn't our job to keep her from committing suicide!>>
In the thick of battle, I lacked the concentration to communicate any further. In fact, the press was so thick that I was reduced to hacking with my sword, trying frantically to gain a little breathing space so that I could draw on my powers again. But I felt a shiver run down my spine. Perhaps the stars were trying to speak to me. If so, I didn't think it was a good omen.
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return to Index / go to Chapter 11
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury