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

Chapter 11

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How did I manage to be so stupid?

I was crouching in a little hollow in the forest, trying to avoid being noticed by either group of combatants. Not too far away, Lady Almandite blasted a youma with a shower of glowing yellow darts. I ducked even further down, trying to avoid both the lethal needles and the greenish blood of the shredded creature.

This was dumb. Really dumb. In fact, I think following Chrysotile to that meeting was one of the stupidest things I have ever done in my life. I didn't want to get caught in the middle of somebody else's war, so what am I doing mixed up in this?

It was when I had gotten outside that Chrysotile had found me again. The first I knew of it was when she yanked me out of the crowd and said, "Mel, what are you doing here?"

Being kind of in shock, I hadn't answered.

"Oh, never mind." Chrysotile towed me a short distance away from the pack. "Stay here and don't talk to anyone until I get back."

I had sat on the ground and waited. When Chrysotile had returned, she had looked unhappy. Saying nothing, she had watched me like a hawk during the walk to what she had called a "Warp". And then she had forced me through it ahead of her, caring not at all about how I felt about the thing. I wouldn't have walked through that gaping black hole if I'd been given a choice.

The worry had been worse than the actual transit. It had just been another moment-of-freezing-cold-and-darkness thing, like the teleports. If it hadn't been for the color of the moss on the ground, slightly more grayish at the far end, and the bulk of some huge building looming at the horizon, I wouldn't have known we had moved at all.

And then we had marched toward the big building, which had turned out to be a whole lot bigger than I had thought. It was shaped vaguely like some sort of giant whale, but instead of a whale's--snout? What do whales have on the fronts of their faces?--one face of the building had been designed to look like a giant fanged skull. We approached from the side, which looked normal enough. In fact, I remember wondering whether it was the same building I had run from in a panic, with Jadeite and the winged man in pursuit.

When we had paused at the edge of the forest, Chrysotile had pushed me down into a hollow and told me to stay there, and then she had gone off on some business of her own.

The first hint I had of trouble was the scream, which had been abruptly choked off. Then I had heard the rustling of hundreds of youma rising up out of the woods to charge the other youma who were guarding the building. Which brings me more or less up to the point where I was dodging the bits from the youma Almandite--or Molly?--had shredded.

All I wanted, at that point, was to get away from the battle. So I guess it's reasonable that I followed the first retreating person I saw. I caught only a glimpse of her between the branches, but she was headed in the right direction, so I followed her, not caring who she was. Any youma would know more about how to get out of this place than I did.

I had been following her for several minutes when I finally got a clear glimpse, and realized that I had made a Big Mistake. Again. The person I had been following wasn't a youma at all. It was the mundanely dressed woman who had been up on the platform with the generals and the Sailor Scouts. And she looked just as lost as I was beginning to feel.

I took a step forward. I'm not certain what I meant to do, but it doesn't matter anyway. My foot came down on something that looked and acted like a normal dry branch. That is, it cracked, and sent me and the woman both jumping straight up in the air.

Deciding that the damage was done, I walked forward slowly, holding my arms out away from my sides, so that she could see that my hands were empty. Everyone around here except me seemed to have weird powers. I didn't know if she did, too, but it seemed best not to annoy her. I stopped immediately when she spoke.

"If you're here to take me back, be warned that I won't go."

"I'm not here to do anything to you," I said. "In fact, I couldn't take you back even if I wanted to. I'm completely lost."

"Well, I guess that makes two of us."

We stood and looked at each other for a moment.

"I guess any direction's as good as any other, then," I said at last.

"Guess so. Hmmm. I think I like that one." She pointed a little to my left. "Looks like there's less underbrush. You'd probably better go first."

So I went first. It wasn't easy, slogging through the matted undergrowth between the twisted almost-trees without enough light to see more than a few feet ahead. Just about everything seemed to have thorns on it, and I began to wish I'd opted for a little less realism and a little more protection when making my youma costume.

Branches obscured the ground on my next step forward into the dimness. Except that there turned out not to be any ground just there. The woman and I slid down a steep incline and landed on top of one another at the bottom. I thanked whatever gods might exist in this strange place that my glasses weren't broken.

"I don't think much of our chances of climbing back up that," the woman said, sliding her hand over the greasy soil of the steep incline down which we had tumbled.

"Me either," I muttered. Not ten inches from my nose, I saw a familiar-looking purplish fungal globe. The same cave system? Who knew? But the ground around here had to be riddled with caves and sinkholes. "There may be a way on through." There were shadows on the far wall that might have been tunnel entrances. Or I hoped so. Otherwise, we would be stuck here for so long that we might have to find out whether the fuchsia dye globes were edible.

She finally managed to untangle herself and get off me. "By the way, my name is Amber. Amber Jones."

"Mel." I gave her my alias.

"Huh. You never did tell me whether you were on Beryl's side, or Malachite's."

"I'm not on anybody's side," I replied. "I've only been here for a couple of days, and now that I am here, I just want to get out and go home." To my surprise, I started to cry.

"Here." She shoved a small packet of tissues into my hands. Gratefully, I made use of them. "How old are you?"

"F-fifteen," I sobbed. "I don't want to be here. It was stupid of me to t-try to be a hero. I just want to go home!"

She sighed. "So do I, Mel. So do I. That and save my son. Malachite and the others seem determined to use what happened to start a war with Beryl. I don't want that. I never did. All I want is for my life to go back to normal."

"G-guess that makes two of us." The flood of tears was slowly tapering off. "I think we'd b-better get moving, or we'll die of old age down here." I blew my nose one last time, and decided I didn't care if I littered down here. A little garbage might even improve the place.

One of the shadows was a tunnel, and it lead back into an all-too-familiar warren of rough-floored passageways which had to be navigated by touch. By the time I got home I was going to be an expert at spelunking in the dark with no equipment.

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I tried to brush the spot of orange blood off my cape. Forced to abandon the effort as futile, I instead watched Zoisite wipe his sword clean on the body of the youma he had just killed.

<<I don't like this,>> I remarked. <<This is quickly becoming one of the bloodiest covert operations I've ever been involved in. That's what--eight guards?--and we aren't even close to our objective.>>

<<Nine,>> Zoisite corrected. <<And you're right. I don't like it either. Unless a lot more youma survived than we thought, they've beefed up the defenses down here. It's almost like they were expecting an attack from this direction.>>

<<They probably were.>> I frowned. Damn that Citrine, he's just too good at this . . . <<Or I would have, in their place. The moment they stole the Silver Crystal, they attracted the attention of the Sailor Scouts, who would very much want it back. I wish there were some way we could track the damned thing. Then again, if we could do it, Jadeite could do it, too.>>

<<We'd better move on. Power concentration. Headed this way. It feels like it could be Jadeite.>>

Now that he had mentioned it, I could feel it, too. We abandoned the smooth, well-lit cellar tunnel once again in favor of the mostly unexplored rabbit warren of natural caves (assuming anything in the Negaverse is natural) that connected with it at random intervals. As far as I have been able to tell, that entire world is rotten with caves. You could walk from Beryl's palace to the castle I shared with Zoisite, a distance of some hundred or more miles as the humans would measure it, without ever setting foot above ground. Most youma live their lives without ever seeing the grey twilight mist which serves as a sky.

I stiffened as we hesitated at a junction of passageways and I heard a faint sound in the distance along one branch.

<<We're not alone!>> Zoisite stated the obvious as he froze in place beside me.

<<I know. It's probably just some lesser youma- -unless you're getting a feeling of power from them . . . ?>>

<<No, nothing. But if it's all the same to you, I'd rather take the other branch.>>

<<It's closer to the direction we want to go in anyway.>> Neither of us knew the exact configuration of tunnels down here, but we were both instinctively aware of the energy configurations inside Beryl's palace. The Negaforce was like a stationary beacon, and we were using it as a guide.

I stumbled and bit back a curse, wishing that I dared use my powers to make a light. The changes in texture of the negative energy that tainted everything in this place made it possible for us to perceive the walls and floor without actually being able to see them, but some finer details tended to be lost. Unfortunately, although a light spell was within the ability of the lowliest youma, there was always the possibility that the Negaforce would be able to distinguish between either of our power signatures and a truly tainted one. We had both agreed that it wasn't worth the risk.

Some ten minutes later, we emerged back into the corridors of Beryl's basement. Now we had to head downward. Downward, toward Beryl's throne room and private quarters, which was where we were expecting to find her.

The evil power was thicker here. I could sense it trying to invade my body. It was cloying. Choking. I swallowed hard to keep myself from gagging.

Here, at least, there were no guards. In the days when I had served the Negaverse, no enemy would have been able to penetrate this far. And no sensible enemy would want to. But Zoisite and I weren't being sensible. We were being desperate.

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I felt what was becoming a familiar surge of nausea as I ripped apart another attacking youma, wishing that I had the powers of a Sailor Scout instead of those of a Crystal Weaver. At least then I would be able to turn the attackers into nice, clean piles of dust instead of shredded mounds of bloody meat.

I had known that I was going to have to kill tonight. The others, Nephrite especially, had warned me about that several times. I suppose the concept of dealing death was just a little unreal for me.

Nephrite was somewhere up ahead, leading our troops from the front. When I had last seen him, his sword had been dripping blood onto the floor, and his uniform had been soaked with it. Fortunately, none of that blood had been of the particular shade of green that would indicate that it belonged to him. And there hadn't been any sign of damage to his shoulder, with which he always seemed to have particularly bad luck.

There were more than a few blood spatters on the front of my jacket as well. They dyed the cloth some improbable, mottled dark shade in the eerie twilight that seemed to pervade this place.

I want to go home, I thought, swallowing, this time, not to defeat nausea, but to hold back tears. I just want to go back to being plain Molly Baker, with no more complicated concerns in life than what I should wear tomorrow or whether I should date Melvin-the-school-braniac. But as I entered a lull in the fighting and caught sight of Nephrite up ahead, I knew it wasn't true. Going back to that normal child's life would mean losing the only thing that made this new life bearable for me.

"That's the last of them for a while, I think." His left hand, the one without the sword in it, closed on my shoulder. "Are you holding up all right?"

I turned and wrapped my arms around him, needing to feel him close to me, and not caring what was smeared on the front of his jacket. "I'm going to be glad when this is over," I said.

"So am I, my love. So am I. Zantisa! Keep them moving! It shouldn't be more than a few more hours now."

A few more hours. Then it would be over. One way or the other. Either Malachite's gambit would succeed and the Negaforce would be destroyed, or we would be standing before Beryl's throne in chains, waiting for our execution.

I pulled Nephrite's head down toward me for a desperate kiss. His lips tasted of the youma blood we were both so liberally spattered with. <<I'm frightened.>>

<<I know. You weren't ready for this. None of us really were. But sometimes, events just don't turn out the way we want them to. And we'd better get moving. This really isn't the time or the place for us to be doing this.>>

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"Which way?" I asked for what seemed like the tenth time.

Amy slapped her data computer. "I don't know. I can't get any decent readings."

"So we're just going to be wandering around?" Lita asked.

The expression on Amy's face told the rest of us all that we needed to know. We were lost.

"Well, I think we should go that way." I pointed at a randomly chosen tunnel, and hoped it went in something resembling the right direction.

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The Crystal Weaver Saga Index

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury