The Crystal Weaver Saga: An Ill Fate Marshalling
by E. Liddell

Chapter 1

* * * * * * * *

February 6, 2002AD

I rang the doorbell. I could have teleported straight inside, but it would have been rude, and I had no desire to offend the owner of this place.

"Who is it?"

"Mom? It's me."

"Molly?" The door opened immediately. Apparently she had finally given up on dyeing the grey out of her hair, and was now letting it remain its natural sandy, faded red color. But otherwise, she was still the same. "Come in."

"I thought you weren't going to be back from the States for another week," she added as I stepped inside and kicked off my shoes.

I shrugged. "The deal fell through, actually, so even Nephrite isn't going to be staying more than another day or two. And anyway, it isn't as though I need to take a six-hour transpacific flight to get from there to here." My mother had accepted the idea of her daughter being a Crystal Weaver and a Negaverse General by simply forgetting about it as much as possible. I didn't really blame her for it, but sometimes I had to remind her that I had magical powers. Even if it made her uncomfortable. "I'll have to report in to Malachite before I go back, but I was hoping that we could have tea together first. I know I haven't been around too much lately, and . . . I miss you." And I want to spend as much time with you as I can, while I still can. I'm going to be alive centuries after you're gone, and I fully intend to store up as many memories as possible.

"What, that husband of yours isn't good enough company for you?" Mom asked as she moved toward the kitchen. She'd never entirely stopped being suspicious of Nephrite's motives. Not when he'd convinced her impressionable young daughter to lie and steal and run away from home for him. I'm not sure whether she didn't believe he had been brainwashed by Beryl, or she just didn't care. But she put up with him, for my sake.

"He's never more than a thought away from me. You know that. But it's nice to have a little reminder of normality sometimes." Even if I could never have it for myself again. Normal did not in any way describe my life. And sometimes I needed to remember why I'd chosen the life I had.

Once the tea was ready, we sat down at the little table in the kitchen. She hadn't bothered to cover it with a tablecloth today, and I smiled a little as I traced the lines of the picture I'd tried to engrave there when I was four years old. I couldn't claim that time stood still here. The Negaverse and the not-quite-there grey house on the not-quite-there hill on the other side of the city were both more timeless than my mother's home. But all my oldest memories were here.

I wondered where I would have been if none of it had ever happened, if Nephrite hadn't reappeared in my life six and a half years earlier, or if I'd just never met him at all. Engaged to Melvin, probably, or maybe even married already, with a kid on the way. I shook my head. Melvin. The Dweebmeister had improved a lot over the past few years--Zantisa had actually been forcing him to exercise, although I won't mention how, and he'd exchanged his too-heavy glasses for contact lenses--but he was still a bit of a geek. Nephrite was a hundred times preferrable, even with the Negaforce's shadow still lingering over him. But then, that evil had touched me as well, albeit not as directly . . .

"Molly? Are you all right?"

I smiled. "I'm fine. Just thinking." Serena and my mother were the only two people who still called me Molly. To everyone else I knew, I was Almandite, or Amanda Stanton, or "my lady" (that last mostly being used by the youma).

"Well, think of something a bit happier, then." It was only half a joke. She was genuinely concerned about me. She always had been, from day one. "I suppose I'll have to provide the distraction . . . Did you know that your friend Serena is pregnant?"

"Serena? No way!" My feelings were very mixed. Serena would be happy, of course. I knew how she had missed Rini. But the conception of her daughter brought us one step closer to the ice age that would destroy our civilization. We didn't know exactly when it would happen, or how. But if Rini was about to be born, then we didn't have more than four or five years.

"It's true," Mom was saying. "I spoke to her mother just last week. She was ecstatic over the thought of her first grandchild, and she was telling everyone in sight. I've been wondering . . . Is there a reason that you and Nephrite haven't ever . . . ?" It was as close as she had ever come to asking me directly.

"We're not ready yet." I wrapped both hands around my teacup. "Bringing a child into the world is a big decision to make at the best of times, and we have special complications to worry about." Like the fact that our child would be a Crystal Weaver and a future Negaverse General. Even if we'd wanted to try to raise him or her in complete ignorance of what we were, we'd never been foolish enough to think that we would succeed. So we really had no choice in either matter. Although the possible consequences hadn't seemed to disturb Amber and Jadeite. Their daughter had been born about two years ago now. "Don't worry," I added, forcing a smile. "We'll make up our minds soon. We both want our kids to have the chance to know at least one of their grandparents." And she was the only one left. My father was more than twenty years dead, and Nephrite's parents had died during the Silver Millennium. He couldn't even remember them anymore.


My head snapped up. It hadn't been a voice, not really, and certainly not a familiar one. Not one of my Weave, or Amber or Jasper. And that left . . . no one, as far as I knew. Well, maybe Demantoid, the spirit trapped inside the Silver Crystal. But I didn't think it had been him, either.

I frowned and looked back down into my teacup. Surely I'd been imagining things. But I'd mention it to Nephrite anyway. He was more experienced than I was. Maybe he would be able to tell me whether it had been a hallucination, or something real that I ought to tell Malachite about.

* * * * * * * *


<<And there's been absolutely nothing since then?>>

She frowned and shook her head. When I'd decided that I didn't need to be present for the rest of the Stanton Enterprises meetings in the US, I hadn't expected to be confronted with this immediately upon my return home. A strange Crystal Weaver. Or maybe nothing, just a transient hallucination on my wife's part.

My wife. I still couldn't think those words without feeling a little shock of disbelief run through me. It was so strange that, after eleven hundred years, I had finally found a person who meant so much to me. My wife. And my love. Almandite.

<<Well, there's an obvious way to set your mind at rest,>> I told her. <<Come on.>>

I had to remove the wards from the door to my workroom. I always sealed it when I knew that I was going to be away for more than a few hours, more because it was expected than anything else. The energies confined inside were powerful, but normally not dangerous.

I slid my arm around Almandite's shoulders as we walked together to the center of the room. It felt a bit odd to be standing there wearing Maxfield Stanton's clothing, but I hadn't had time to change yet, and I didn't feel that I should bother wasting my power on something that trivial.

"The Stars know everything," I murmured aloud, and felt the energies engage as I had designed them to, multiplying my powers. The light of the sunset, faintly visible through the stained glass windows, faded into the darkness of the familiar starscape. "Powers of the Universe, I seek your guidance. Show us the Crystal Weaver whom Almandite sensed today!"

A faint brush of warmth across my forehead, as though the Stars sought to examine my thoughts, and an image formed before us. A slim--man? Boy? I couldn't tell. He looked like he was all of fifteen or sixteen years old. Then again, so did Zoisite . . . In any case, he had short black hair and blue-green eyes which slanted sharply, almost exaggeratedly, upwards in his thin face. Definitely a Crystal Weaver, then, although what his fragile appearance might mean, I wasn't sure. He was dressed like a human, and not a particularly rich one, either: jeans, slightly worn at the knees, and a heavy, drab grey sweater. And he was lying sprawled on his back on a bed in a room that looked like it was probably too small to hold anything but him and the bed. The walls were bare and windowless, giving me no clue as to his location.

I let the image fade, after a moment, when the stranger didn't seem inclined to move or do anything interesting.

<<So I did sense something, after all.>> Almandite looked up at me. <<Poor kid. He looked half-dead, but too afraid to sleep. What are we going to do about him?>>

<<For starters, we tell Malachite,>> I replied firmly, reaching for the mind of the Center of my Weave. The moment he responded, I dumped all of the information on him, making it his problem. Then I turned so that I was facing Almandite, and bent down, sliding my arms around her and feeling hers reach up to circle my neck as our lips met. <<Now that that's done . . . I've been too busy for the past few days to enjoy your company even when you were around, and I intend to make up for lost time now.>>

<<And I'm going to help you,>> she replied.

And, for a few sweet hours, all thoughts of strange Crystal Weavers became irrelevant.

* * * * * * * *


"And what happened next? Please, Mom!"

I laughed and ruffled her bangs. "Not tonight, dear. I'll finish the story tomorrow. I promise."

Aventurine pouted. "Aw, Mom!"

"Is there some kind of problem here?" a voice asked from the doorway.

"Mom won't finish the story she was telling me," my daughter complained.

Her father smiled. "It must be some story. Maybe I should come and listen in tomorrow night."

"You're no fun!" Aventurine rolled over in bed to face the wall.

<<How much longer are we going to have to put up with this?>> Jadeite asked me privately.

<<I understand it's going to get much worse soon,>> I replied, stroking the base of the glowing globe embedded in the wall beside the door to turn it off. <<It's difficult to tell, really. What are the norms? She's obviously more mature than a human child of her chronological age would be, and in some areas I think she's actually on a par with her physical agegroup, but in others . . .>> I shrugged expressively as he stepped back into the hallway to make room for me to pass through the doorway.

<<In other words, we'll just have to wait and see. Well, we knew what we were getting into when we decided we were going to have her.>> As he reached past me to close the door to Aventurine's room, a slit in his jacket sleeve gaped open, exposing the fabric of the white shirt underneath.

<<What happened?>> I asked, fingering it.

<<Oh, that. I was hunting renegades through the outer reaches again. One of them got a little too close.>> Not all of the Negaverse's youma had submitted peacefully to King Malachite's rule. Hunting down the few surviving dissentors was part of my husband's job.

<<I wish you'd be more careful. One of these days, you're going to get yourself poisoned.>>

He cupped my face between his hands. <<I'm always careful. If I weren't, I'd have died before you were born.>>

I savored the kiss that followed. Even though we'd been married for six years now, the thrill of just looking at him, or touching him, and knowing that he was mine, had never entirely gone away. I'd always tended to fall for good-looking guys --my Crystal Weaver genes looking for a biologically compatible mate, I guess--and Jadeite was the best I'd ever found.

<<Where's Jasper?>> he asked.

<<Out with Mina again,>> I replied. <<We've got the place to ourselves. Just you and me-- >>

<<And Aventurine and five thousand youma,>> he observed.

That was one of the down sides to being a Negaverse General, and living in Beryl's old palace, which was still the center of government despite not being the present monarch's residence. You couldn't go anywhere outside our private quarters without tripping over one or more youma. But we had to take the good with the bad. This was the perfect place to raise a Crystal Weaver child, since magic was a commonplace here. Bringing up Aventurine in the Earth Realm would have led to a whole host of problems. But the only things keeping me here were my daughter and my husband, the man who, in a strange way, was almost my father's only legacy to me. Besides my sister's power, which was now part of my body, one faded photograph, and a handful of stories like the one I'd been telling Aventurine, I had nothing else left of the man who'd called himself Onyx Jones.

Stories. I frowned. Stories. Why should that be important? Something was nibbling at the back of my mind. Something about the stories my father had told me, and the strange Crystal Weaver that Almandite had sensed that afternoon. Something about people who had disappeared . . .

I banished the thought. They're just that. Stories. Not anything important. And I had a husband who was waiting for me to notice him again.

Later on, I was to wish I'd pursued the line of thought instead, but I didn't know that then. So I went off to bed with my husband instead, unknowing.

* * * * * * * *


I waited until Zoisite was asleep before getting out of bed. I couldn't help but smile as I looked down at him. We'd been through so much together. And now, here we were. Maybe the greatly changed Negaverse that we inhabited wasn't heaven in any normal sense, but it was close enough for me. Here, I had freedom and power, and, most importantly, I had the person that I loved the most in this or any other world with me, and no one would ever separate us again.

I grabbed my robe off the back of a chair to cover my nakedness as I padded through the door that led into my study. Even in the middle of the night, it was conceivably possible for a youma to come looking for me here, and I couldn't afford to blast any of them for disrespect. Cannon-fodder-type youma were easy to come by, since they could be made from animals, and not even the Sailor Scouts were going to protest if we decided to empty Tokyo's sewers of rats, but the officer youma, the powerful ones, the leaders, had to be made from humans, and part of my unspoken agreement with the Sailor Scouts was that I wouldn't convert anyone against her (or his--male youma are possible, but rare) will, leaving me with few candidates. As a result, I couldn't afford to lose any of the ones that I already had. Eventually, the officer shortage would take care of itself as those of us wearing General's grey reproduced, but in the meanwhile, I had something of a problem on my hands.

Nephrite's report of that afternoon about a strange Crystal Weaver in Tokyo was . . . something of a mixed blessing, I suppose. Onyx had claimed that he was the last survivor. Where had the stranger come from, then? Had he been some sort of project that Onyx had never mentioned, or had there been an offshoot of our race that our mentor had never told us about? This might be an incredible opportunity for us. It might also be a danger. I needed to know more.

It took some rummaging among the debris on an upper shelf to produce the flat sheet of crystal that I had once used for my divinations, back in the days when Nephrite and I hadn't been speaking to each other. I lifted it down and set it on the desk.

Seating myself before it, I smoothed my hands over the thin slab of milky white stone, whispering words that I hadn't used in years and focussing my mind on the origin of the strange Crystal Weaver. The warm vibration under my palms told me that the spell was active. The crystal was no longer white. Instead, an irregular dark blot had appeared in the space between my hands. I leaned forward expectantly, but I couldn't see anything recognizable.

The vibration and heat coming from the crystal became more pronounced as I focussed my will on it, trying to boost the spell. Was that a black, inverted moon crescent? I snatched my hands back when the crystal started to keen, a thin, high-pitched sound, but it was already too late.

I brought up a ward automatically as the crystal slab shattered, but flying debris still shredded part of the dangling left sleeve of my robe, causing me to utter a few short words in a Silver Millennium dialect, which I felt adequately described the situation. Something's wrong. Something's very wrong. I just wish I knew whether it was something wrong with our unexpected visitor, or just something connected to him.

I didn't think it was immediately urgent, and so I wasn't going to wake Nephrite up and ask him to do a more complete divination, but I would mention it in the morning.

* * * * * * * *

General Cuprite
The Timestream

Irritably, I jerked the staff back into its normal, vertical position. In the hands of its rightful owner, Sailor Pluto, it would have been just a staff, albeit one with some unusual magical properties. In my hands, it was more. A compass needle. And a key. But I didn't intend to go to the place that it wanted to lead me to. Not this time. And so it kept misbehaving.

Focus, I reminded myself. I was going somewhere specific, not just wandering aimlessly, and although elapsed subjective time here didn't affect anything in the worlds outside, the feeling of urgency was strong, and I didn't want to spend any more time here than I needed to.

I knew that Lapis, Prince Diamond's lackey, was behind me somewhere. The Dark Moon had never really understood the timestream, and couldn't find the entry and exit points without help. Rubius had followed Rini back from Crystal Tokyo to the twentieth century, and now Lapis was trying to follow me back to the twenty- first. Knowing the story as I did, I was aware that they would both overshoot. Emerald had come the closest to mastering the art of pinpoint navigation through time--odd, that she should actually have any kind of expertise at anything. I'd met her only once, but Zoisite's nasty remark to the effect that her brain had to be made of whipped cream had seemed to me to be all too accurate.

Concentrate. I knew better than to let myself get distracted here, even for a moment. There were too many branchings in the path that I needed to take, leading to the past, or the future, or time that never was, or time that might have been. Most travelers actually couldn't wander all that far off-course into the sea of possibilities, but I held Sailor Pluto's power in my hands, and thus had access to them all.

Almost there . . . The staff twisted again, pointing, finally, at the doorway that was forming up ahead of me, instead of the path through no-time that always attracted it. Soon, I would be back in twenty-first century Tokyo, ready to carry out my mission. If I could. If history was immutable, it would obviously be impossible for me to fail, but I had to act as though there were some possibility of change. If the risk existed, and I failed to take it into account, I was dooming not just myself, but everyone else in time- to-come.

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