The Wars of Light and Shadow - All Darkness Met
by E. Liddell
* * * * * * * *
Finally, we found a smoothed, lit hallway. It might have been a cause for rejoicing if we hadn't also found a pool of orange blood, and a whole lot of trouble.
The body that belonged with the blood was that of a brown-skinned youma. Something had cut her throat. My stomach churned, and I guessed I was turning green under the fuchsia.
"Who are you and what are you doing here?" The cold voice, speaking from behind me, was familiar. Lord Jadeite. Somewhere off to my right, I heard Amber gasp. I started to turn.
"Move and I'll kill you both!" Jadeite snapped.
"Now. You. The youma. Turn to face me. Slowly."
I turned. Slowly. Jadeite had a ball of light in one hand and was staring intently at me. His eyes fastened on the pouch that I had tied to the crude rope belt that went with the servant's smock that I was wearing. He began to laugh.
"I don't believe it. The human boy! This is beautiful! Beryl is going to be very pleased. Give me the Crystal." He held out his hand, and after a moment I realized that the last sentence had been intended as an order for me.
"W-w-what crystal?" I was stuttering again. I hate that. It makes me sound like even more of a dweeb than everyone already thinks I am.
He scowled. "The girl's locket, fool. Give it to me."
With a heavy heart, I opened the pouch and gave him Serena's locket. I'm not quite sure what he did with it. There were no obvious pockets in his uniform.
"What are you going to do with us now, Jay?" Amber asked.
His scowl deepened. "You will address me as 'Lord Jadeite', human. If I permit you to address me at all." Then the smile was back. He scanned me slowly from head to foot. I felt as though his eyes were leaving a trail of slime behind. "I think I may try to turn this one into exactly what he pretends to be. As for you . . ." He looked at Amber and smiled even more broadly. "I think I'll give you to my student. He's still rather junior, so he doesn't have many servants of his own. You should be a welcome addition to his retinue by the time we're finished with you."
His hand snapped outward, and the ball of light became a pair of rings, each of which clamped itself around one of us, pinning our arms to our sides and making escape impossible. He made a beckoning gesture, and I felt the ring pulling at me, forcing me to take a step forward. When we were close enough, he teleported. A screen of blue flames concealed the darkness from us, but I still felt the cold.
When the flames cleared, we were in what looked like a sitting room. The winged man who had been responsible for bringing me to this horrible place was seated on a chair that had, for some reason, been reversed, so that the back of it was in front of him. He had a glass in one hand, and observed us coolly. Beside me, Amber stared at him, her face going white.
"Jasper . . ." she whispered.
He frowned, eyes narrowing, but didn't say anything.
"Keep an eye on them," Jadeite ordered the winged man. "I have a delivery to make." And he vanished in the midst of an irregular blot of blue almost-fire, leaving us alone in the room with the winged man, at whom Amber was still staring as though she had seen a ghost.
* * * * * * * *
We were almost down to the level of Beryl's throne room. A doorway across the hall opened onto the bridge which led through the mouth of the fanged skull and proceeded into the Queen's presence. We paused outside. It wasn't far now.
And then the world lurched and wavered around us, and we were . . . in a cage? Not outside Beryl's throne room, but in a small, dead-end room several levels higher up. I felt the relative position of the Negaforce jump to my right and down, and cursed myself for the worst kind of fool. We had walked directly into someone's trap. And I was betting that I knew whose.
"Beryl!" I growled, and slammed a fist against the field of dark energy that formed our new prison. "Show yourself!"
"Sorry to disappoint you, old friend, but I dare say she'll be by soon."
"Jadeite! You bastard!" Betrayed . . . How could he?
<<Feel the shape of the barrier-- >> I don't think Zoisite even knew that I had heard that thought, or that I was aware of the ice crystal he was creating. Despite the fact that we had intended to bring Jadeite out intact, if possible, I couldn't help but hope Zoisite would succeed in killing him. It would save me the trouble of doing so myself. The thought of having Jadeite's blood on my hands made me uneasy. It was too much like failure, which I have never tolerated well. Jadeite was a member of my Weave, and, although I might try to forget it, that meant I had certain responsibilities toward him.
"I thought you might like to know that we found this," Jadeite was saying. He held up something small and golden. The Moon-brat's locket!
"I wish you luck in figuring out what to do with it," I said, crossing my arms. It was imperative that Jadeite keep his attention on me and ignore Zoisite. "If Beryl thinks she can use it without it killing her, then she's even more of a fool than I thought."
<<Now!>> I think we both thought it at once. Zoisite spun around, flinging the ice crystal in Jadeite's direction with what I knew to be deadly aim. But even as I watched, the barrier warped itself into a new configuration and shattered the crystal. Zoisite swore. With feeling. Jadeite laughed.
"You didn't think I was that stupid, did you, Zoisite? The illusion is very subtle. Like the one that tricked you into entering my trap. It shapes itself to your expectations. The moment you come up with a theory about how the barrier works, the illusion confirms for you that it's so. One of my better pieces of work, don't you think? Now, if you'll excuse me, there's someone who's waiting for this package." And he vanished.
Zoisite growled, apparently inarticulate with rage. I put my arms around him, drawing him in close to me and holding him there while a bit of the tension eased out of his muscles.
<<Patience,>> I told him. <<There is a way out of this.>> I just wish I knew what. <<There must be. Jadeite's power, even augmented by the Negaforce, isn't as strong as both of ours together. And he's already weakened his position by telling us how he achieved this.>>
<<He could have been lying.>>
<<I don't think so.>> In his place, I would have, and Zoisite would have, but I was fairly certain that my love was underestimating the effect of negative energy on Jadeite's thought processes. <<The Negaforce may have amplified his powers, but it has also clouded his mind. If he managed to come up with an idea that subtle at all, you can bet that he used it. There must be a way we can break the illusion and gain some understanding of the true nature of the barrier.>>
<<Well, if you come up with any good ideas, be sure to tell me.>> Zoisite leaned closer to me. Then he suddenly looked up and laughed.
<<This is just too good!>> he stated. <<Oh, the illusion is beautifully set . . . but it's possible to think your way through what he must have done. There are only two ways he could have powered all this--either off his own personal energies, or off the concentrations of negative energy in this room. Now, a wise man would have powered the illusion off himself and the barrier off the room, but Jadeite is not wise. Notice anything funny about the energy flows in here?>>
<<What energy--? Ah.>> Suddenly the subtle sense of wrongness I had been feeling since Jadeite's first illusion had fallen away to reveal this room made sense. <<It's all going into the barrier, isn't it? So if we can manage to divert even a little bit of it . . .>>
<<Something is going to fall apart,>> Zoisite finished. <<Maybe the illusion, maybe the barrier itself, but certainly one or the other.>>
<<My love, you are the wisest and most wonderful man in this or any world.>> I just had to kiss him. Quickly. We were here on business, after all. <<Now all we have to do is figure out how to divert the stuff without making any real contact with it.>>
Zoisite smiled. <<Well, there is something I've been wanting to try for quite some time now, but I'll need your help.>>
His expression was making me a bit nervous. Zoisite's unsuccessful experiments tend to involve explosions or worse. But nevertheless, I asked, <<What do I have to do?>>
A moment later, we were both kneeling on the floor, facing each other. Zoisite reached out and took both of my hands in his.
<<If this works, we're going to give the Negaforce quite a stomach ache,>> he remarked.
<<It makes very little difference,>> I replied. <<Beryl will already have told it that we're here. I'm surprised that she hasn't come by to gloat yet. By the way, what happens if we do this wrong?>>
<<I have no idea. Best case, nothing at all. Worst case . . . we burn ourselves to a crisp.>> He shrugged. <<I've only tried small-scale experiments with this before.>>
I tightened my grip on him. <<At least if we do die we'll be together this time.>> I don't know what would happen if you broke my heart again . . .
Zoisite nodded. <<Um, would you mind lightening up a bit? You're cutting off my circulation.>>
<<Sorry.>> I relaxed my grip on his hands, keeping it just tight enough to make certain that he didn't get away.
<<Observe me, and do as I do.>> I felt his attention turn away from me and toward the pattern of dark power in the room. Carefully, I extended my own senses to observe. Jadeite had braided all the little bits of power into a neat strand and set them to fuel his barrier.
See? Instead of being thus, be thus and thus . . . In company with Zoisite, I projected a pattern very similar to that of the Imperium Silver Crystal, making it just different enough that it wouldn't burn us. The strands writhed and tangled and re-wove themselves at our direction. It would take a few moments for the changes to affect the barrier.
* * * * * * * *
"Jasper," the woman said.
I stared at her, feeling shaken. How do you know my name? I didn't move as Jadeite vanished with the Silver Crystal, unwilling to break eye contact with the human. Then the boy, in his pathetic youma disguise, coughed. It broke whatever spell she had been beginning to cast over me, and I looked away, quickly, and gulped down what little wine was left in my glass.
"Jas, don't you recognize me?"
I refilled my glass from the decanter on the shelf to my right, not daring to look at her again, and trying to hide the fact that my hands were shaking. "Should I?" I asked coolly.
"I'm your mother."
I laughed, hoping it didn't sound too forced. "Impossible! You're far too young." How old was I? Nineteen? Twenty? Suddenly, I couldn't remember. Damn. I must be drunk again, or almost. Nonetheless, it was ridiculous to believe that she could be my mother. At the very most, she couldn't be more than eight years my senior, and I doubted we were even that far apart in age. "Do I look like a child to you? Or a fool?" But my hands were still shaking. I took another gulp of the wine. It didn't help.
"I don't know what they did to you," the woman said. I risked a quick glance, and realized that she was staring at me. And there was something in her eyes . . . Pity? Pain? I couldn't have named it. It was something foreign to the Negaverse. "Jas, you're eight years old. Jadeite stole you from me only a few days ago."
"That's preposterous." I flexed my wings, which had been getting uncomfortably cramped. That had the effect of drawing her eyes to them. "I've lived in the Negaverse since I was six. Lord Jadeite has been my mentor for that entire period." Why am I telling her this? "I've never seen you before in my life." Another glance in her direction. Definitely pain this time. Stemming from my rejection of her, no doubt. I smiled. This was familiar territory. I could deal with this.
Why, then, did I have this vague desire to comfort her?
"Stop calling me that!" Every time she said that nickname, a pang of some strange emotion hit me. It wasn't something that belonged here. I had to get rid of it, and that meant getting rid of the source. I set my glass down firmly on the shelf with the decanter and rose from my chair. Three steps placed me in front of her. Forcing myself to look, not into her eyes, but near them, at her eyebrows, her nose, anything but those accusing grey eyes, I grabbed the collar of her shirt with my right hand and lifted. If I had dared look at them, her eyes would have been on a level with mine, even though she was at least two inches shorter than me.
She didn't resist me. Weak, I thought in disgust. Even the least youma would have struggled, realizing that I held her life in my hands.
"I am General Jasper, of the Negaverse," I said softly. "You will address my by that title, or as 'my lord'. Do I make myself clear?"
She said, "Yes," in a flat monotone.
I shook her. Hard.
"Yes, my lord," she corrected.
I opened my hand. Somehow, she managed to land on her feet.
"I'm glad we understand each other," I purred. "What Lord Jadeite thinks I can use a pathetic little mouse like you for, I don't know, but since he's made the offer, I'm not about to refuse it."
A single tear fell from her downcast face to the floor. I ignored it. Then she looked up at me, and I was caught again. Those damnable eyes held not a hint of anger, much less of the hatred I would have expected. They were only . . . sad.
"I forgive you," she whispered. "And I love you. Remember that."
The sound of my open hand striking the side of her face was loud in the sudden silence. The blow knocked her into the boy who had been standing beside her, frozen. They both tumbled down in a heap. There was a red handprint on her face. I fancied that I could even see where the seams of my glove had made slightly deeper indentations.
"It isn't your place to judge me. Slave." This is wrong, all wrong . . . "Speak out of turn again, and I'll kill you. Slowly. Do you doubt my sincerity?"
"No, my lord." She kept her eyes on the floor. Perhaps I had finally beaten her.
"Get up," I ordered. "Both of you." And when Jadeite gets back, I think I'm going to give his "gift" right back to him. It's just another one of his tests, and anyway, he likes her type more than I ever will.
But why did I still feel I knew her?
She picked herself up off the floor and stood in front of me. But she still wasn't keeping her eyes lowered, like a good little slave. Damn it, what's it going to take to convince her that I'm not her son? Moving forward, I gripped her chin with one hand, forcibly tilting her head up and back at what must have been an uncomfortable angle. Salt water slid from the corners of her eyes, blurring them and dimming their effect on me. Huh. Maybe I will keep her. She isn't all that bad- looking, even if she needs breaking in . . .
I bent down and kissed her savagely. She froze, her body rigid, and her tears doubled in volume. Ignoring the little voice in the back of my mind that was still insisting that this was wrong, I prolonged the contact.
"When you're finished there, we have more work to do," Jadeite said.
* * * * * * * *
I slipped out of bed, forcing myself not to look at Beryl's sleeping face. I felt like a total fool. I had sworn to myself that I would not do this, but this ridiculous body seemed to have a mind of its own. Or was my thinking being influenced by outside forces? The Eternal Light hadn't spoken to me since my explosion of temper in Beryl's throne room, but that didn't mean that it wasn't listening in on my thoughts.
<<Lord Citrine? Are you there?>>
<<What is it, Jadeite?>>
<<I have recaptured the Silver Crystal, my lord.>>
<<Bring it to the anteroom of Beryl's suite. I'll be with you shortly.>>
I sorted through the clothes that had been so casually flung on the floor a few hours earlier, and began to dress.
Jadeite was waiting for me when I slipped out the door of the bedchamber and into the front room. He held something roundish and golden cupped in the palm of his hand. Seeing me, he immediately placed it on a convenient table.
"You will, of course, inform the Queen," he said.
"Of course." I scooped the locket up and began to work the Crystal loose from its setting. Who do you really serve, Jadeite? Or do you even know? "Do you have anything else to report?"
"Youma troops under Lord Nephrite have broken into the East wing, the Sailor Scouts are loose somewhere in the building, and I've captured Lord Malachite and Lord Zoisite. Other than that, everything is perfectly normal."
"What? Why didn't you report this sooner?"
"It was my understanding that you and the Queen were . . . occupied. Now, if there's nothing further, I have some loose ends to attend to." He apparently wasn't about to accord me the respect he would have given Beryl, but he did give me a token nod before disappearing.
I went back to Beryl's room. It was best that I tell her everything now. As though I couldn't handle this myself-- Just thinking that gave me a headache.
The Negaforce is not fond of independent thinking.
Beryl was still asleep. I considered and discarded several possible methods of waking her. In the end, I bent down and brushed my lips against hers. Her eyes flickered open.
"What is it, Citrine?"
"Malachite apparently decided to mount an attack on us," I said. "Jadeite has captured him and Zoisite, but Nephrite is still loose in the building somewhere with an undetermined number of youma. Oh, and the Sailor Scouts are around here somewhere too."
"Malachite? Here?" Her eyes acquired a faraway look. I presumed that she was scanning the area for our shared enemy. "Ah." Her smile was chilling. She rose from the bed and reached for the dress she had flung casually over a chair a few hours ago.
"If you'll excuse me for a moment," I murmured, "there's something I have to do." I fled the bedchamber for the anteroom without waiting for her consent.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite was already dragging me forward along the hallway, toward the place where Zantisa was leading our forces against the youma of the palace guard. I steeled myself and gathered my powers again, making a mental note to ask for instruction in swordsmanship if I got out of this alive. The small- scale battle magics Malachite and the others had been teaching me to use were good enough for one-on-one combat, but too draining for the kind of sustained fighting I was doing here. Every youma I shredded pulled a certain amount from my reserves. And even if I'd known how, the inside of a palace corridor was no place to release a massive amount of crystal power. I'd just bring down the roof on my--and everyone else's- -heads.
I tried to stay a little back from the fighting proper, which wasn't all that hard. There's only so much room in a hallway, even a big one, and it was rare that more than four or five of us were fighting directly with more than four or five of the enemy. Nephrite was forcing himself to be always at the front, beside Zantisa, but then he was the leader, and the youma seemed to expect it. I had no such obligation. But there were still times when something slipped around the active attackers to emerge from one of the doorways dispersed along the hall, and then I, or one of the others, had to kill it before it attacked Nephrite from the back.
Every so often, a group of ten or twelve youma would split away from our forces and head for one of the objectives that Malachite and Nephrite had determined when planning this attack. At one junction of corridors, it was Zantisa that left, taking with her more than a hundred of our followers. We, ourselves, forged on deeper into the bowels of the late Queen Beryl's citadel. Our goal was Beryl's throne room. The plan had been that even if Malachite and Zoisite failed, we, and our army, might yet succeed.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 13
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury