The Crystal Weaver Saga: An Ill Fate Marshalling
by E. Liddell
* * * * * * * *
The sharp knock on the door snapped me out of my reverie, and I tossed the blue jacket over the back of a chair with a sigh. Six, almost seven years. More than half a decade. I should be over him by now. But I wasn't. I wasn't sure that I ever would be. Oh, Sapphire . . . I never realized how much he'd meant to me until I lost him for good.
Another knock, impatient-sounding. I forced myself to my feet. "Coming!"
I shot the deadbolt back and carefully opened the door a crack. I was at home alone today, and that called for caution. The days were long past when I could have blasted any unwanted intruder with magic.
Seeing who was on the other side, I stepped back a little, involuntarily, pulling the door a bit further open. The man outside seemed to consider that an invitation to enter, because he shouldered his way inside, dislodged my hand from the doorknob, and pushed the door shut again. Then he glanced around the apartment, assessing me, as well as the architecture and decor, with a critical eye.
There was something about him that reminded me of Prince Diamond, although superficially the only similarities between the two men were hair color and the fact that both wore capes as part of their everyday clothing. The real likeness was in the way they acted. You only had to look at either man to know that he was a ruler, although Diamond had been . . . younger-seeming, maybe almost vulnerable, in a way that my unexpected visitor was not.
"King Malachite," I said, thoughts racing. "This is an honor . . ." What's he doing here? What can he possibly want with me--with us? I'd met General Jasper a few times when he'd come to Rae's temple looking for Mina, and Serena had once introduced me to Nephrite and Almandite, but those casual social contacts hadn't led me to expect that the ruler of the Negaverse would ever turn up on my doorstep. What could he possibly have to say to me or any of my sisters that was so important that he would have to come here himself? We hadn't been anyone significant since . . .
My eyes strayed involuntarily to Sapphire's jacket where I had tossed it over the back of a chair, and I felt the sting of unshed tears. Since then. That was the last time we'd been important to anyone.
Malachite made a gesture which waved my words off into the realm of inconsequential trivialities. "I have some questions to ask you," he said, businesslike. "I need to know about your past with the Dark Moon. I'm aware that this is probably a painful subject, but . . ." And he quickly described the occurrences of the past few days. I found myself nibbling on my lower lip as he did so. It's a good thing I'm not wearing any lipstick--why am I thinking about that at a time like this? But it could be worse. At least they don't seem to be after us. I'd almost had heart failure when he'd begun the story, thinking that Katse and Avery and Birdy and I were going to be hauled back to the future against our will to fight in the hopeless war against Crystal Tokyo.
I wasn't even thirty years old yet, and I didn't want to die.
"I'll tell you what I can," I said quietly, "but I wasn't exactly Prince Diamond's confidante."
Malachite was pacing restlessly, making our apartment seem smaller as he did so. "You were Prince Sapphire's lover."
I shook my head. "I was his girlfriend, and not even that for very long. We never . . . never actually . . ." I turned away from him to hide my tears. Oh, Sapphire . . .
A warm hand fell to my shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Malachite said. Not a word that he used very often, I suspected, which made the gesture greater than it might have been, coming from anyone else. "I didn't mean to stir up painful memories. I know all too well what it's like to lose someone that you love."
I nodded silently and dashed the tears away. "What do you want to know?"
He lifted his hand away again, the brief moment of sympathy over. "Anything you can tell me about the officers of the Dark Moon--their names, personalities, abilities. Individual strengths and weaknesses. Concentrating on any who weren't killed six years ago."
I shrugged. "We worked with Rubius, mostly. He recruited us. I knew him and Sapphire. Anything I could tell you about the others would only be hearsay. I only met them a few times."
"Recruited you? Then you weren't originally from the Dark Moon?"
I could feel his eyes burning into my back as I turned to pace. "No, we were human. We were teenagers when Rubius recruited us, about four years before we returned to the past with him. He . . . sort of adopted us into his family, but Prince Diamond never really accepted us, and we didn't have any official standing. That's part of the reason why I don't really know much that could be of help . . ."
"Tell me anyway."
I hadn't been away from the Dark Moon for so long that I couldn't recognize a royal command. And so I described them. There had been about a dozen, not counting the four of us: Wise Man, the Princes Diamond and Sapphire, their cousins Rubius and Emerald. Five other, more distant cousins, all male, all with unfortunate names like Bixbite and Ammolite, whose eventual fates I didn't know. Lapis.
Malachite was silent for a moment after I was finished.
"Why those names?" he asked suddenly.
"I don't know," I admitted. It could have been just some sort of family tradition, but I didn't think so. Lapis had chosen her new name when she joined us--joined them. For the first time, I realized just how much Katse and Avery and Birdie and I had been kept on the outside, as though they'd never fully trusted us.
"Sapphire asked me once, when it looked like we were going to get serious with each other, if I'd agree to be properly adopted into their family," I reminisced aloud. It had been an offer that Lapis had accepted, if I remembered correctly, and that was when she had been renamed. I said as much, adding, "He said something about not wanting to marry a mortal . . . But when I started asking questions, he backed off." We had broken up less than a week later, and I had almost forgotten about the conversation.
"Did any of them ever use the term 'Crystal Weaver' in your presence?" Malachite's eyes were strangely intent as he asked it.
"No, I don't think so." As though I could possibly hope to remember something like that, after so many years!
Malachite inclined his head. "Thank you for your time." He didn't bother to use the door on the way out, and I couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy as he teleported. Magic was . . . a real convenience. But that didn't mean that I wished for mine back. Not when the cost had almost been my soul.
Now, what was that all about? I wondered as I went to hang Sapphire's jacket back up in the dimmest, darkest recesses of my closet, where it belonged. One of the crystals sewn to the front of it caught the light as I picked it up, and I felt a sudden, irrational surge of . . . hope? Was that what it felt like? I had almost forgotten. The question of what I was hoping for wasn't one I dared examine too closely, so I put it out of my mind.
* * * * * * * *
"Seeing some woman," Zoisite mumbled from somewhere near my ear. "He's getting pretty obsessed. Shame, really. He's a good-looking guy, and he's wasting himself on a girl . . ."
"Are you thinking of cheating on me?" I teased. After eleven hundred years, we both knew exactly how likely that was. But I didn't really want business to intrude into this private moment of ours. After spending the afternoon talking to Prisma, I needed to relax more than I needed to know the state of affairs in the Negaverse. My earlier question had escaped in a moment of weakness. At least I now knew more about the Dark Moon. For what that was worth.
"Not at all. I just wish he had better taste," Zoisite stated.
I chuckled lazily. "We can't all be as wise as you, beloved." I rolled us over so that he was underneath me, pinning him, and I kissed him thoroughly.
"Mmmmm . . ." <<But it worries me,>> he continued. <<I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about her . . .>>
<<Well, what does she look like?>> I asked.
An image flickered briefly inside my mind: Jasper and a slender, pretty, blue-haired woman, seated at a table in a coffee shop.
<<Actually, his taste isn't so bad as all that,>> I remarked.
<<Are you thinking of cheating on me? With a . . . a female?! Malachite, how could you?>> He couldn't wriggle out from under me, but he did turn his face aside.
<<Of course not.>> I rolled off him and made a conjuring gesture that was second nature to me by now. A pale pink rose flickered into being in the palm of my cupped hand, and I gave it to him. <<You know that I'll never love anyone but you, Zoisite. Ever.>> And to prove it, I kissed him again, just below the ear, on the chin, on the throat. After a moment, he relented, and set the rose aside so that he wouldn't stab either of us with the thorns when we got beyond the kissing stage, freeing his hands to begin peeling my shirt off. And anyway, Cuprite is far cuter than that woman. The young Crystal Weaver reminded me in some ways of the young Zoisite that I'd first fallen in love with, far more vulnerable than the man who was now . . . Well, that's private. But I found that open quality of his almost as attractive as Zoisite's fierce love and devotion. Almost.
But I had to admit, that woman bothered me, too. A blue-haired woman . . . Hadn't Prisma told me that Lapis had blue hair?
<<Keep an eye on Jasper and his lady for me. Just in case.>>
<<Nephrite? What in hell--?>> Normally, he and Almandite would have been in bed themselves at this hour. I might have snapped at someone else, but I knew Nephrite wouldn't have disturbed me--or permitted himself to be disturbed--for anything unimportant.
<<Trouble,>> he reported grimly. <<We're at Sailor Moon's apartment. You'd better get over here. It isn't pretty.>>
* * * * * * * *
I tossed and turned restlessly. The bed always seemed empty when Darien wasn't there, but he'd had to work the late shift tonight. It happened. And much though I missed him at times like this, there was nothing I could do to keep him here. We needed the money, especially if we were going to support a child.
Not just a child, I reminded myself. Rini. Strange, in a way, that my unborn daughter already had a face, a voice, and a personality, as well as a name. Strange. But comforting.
She'd been an annoying brat when I'd known her. But she was my annoying brat, and now that I was a little older and wiser, I could see that she'd just had all the worst traits that she'd inherited from me and Darien brought out by the incredible level of stress she'd been under. Asking a five-year-old kid to travel back in time to save her parents was a bit much, after all.
But if Rini was about to appear, then I was going to become Neo-Queen Serenity. It was a bizarre thought. Me, the queen of the world? I wondered what it would feel like. I had only the vaguest memories of what it had been like to be her, during those few minutes when Rini and I had used the twinned Silver Crystal to fight off the Doom Phantom.
The Silver Crystal. I glanced over to where it sat on the dresser, hidden inside my locket. I didn't wear it to bed. I had once, but that had been years ago. We weren't in enough danger anymore to make that necessary.
But even as I thought that, I wondered. Cuprite was out in the main room, sleeping on the couch. He hadn't said much, but what little we'd pried out of him had been enough to tell us that the Dark Moon was after him. Still, there was no reason for them to come looking for him here . . .
"Whaaaat?" I sat up, trying to figure who had spoken. It hadn't been Luna's voice, and anyway, it looked to me like she was still asleep. No, it had been a man.
<<Princess, you are in great danger!>>
My eyes finally fastened on the locket that held the Silver Crystal. It was glowing. Green. I'd never seen it do that before.
<<Quickly! You must transform into Sailor Moon!>>
Green light, and the Silver Crystal . . . "Demantoid?" I whispered. I'd almost forgotten about him. He'd been silent for six years. Why was he speaking to me now?
<<There's no time!>> the anguished voice shrilled. <<Hurry!!!>>
I flung the blankets off, and lunged for the dresser, grabbing the locket. "Moon Crys--"
There was a tremendous explosion, and the outside wall crumbled. The shockwave sent me flying across the room. I hit my head on the wall, and, dazed, let the locket roll out of my hand without completing the formula.
Strong hands grabbed me by the collar of my nightgown and lifted me up so that my feet were dangling at least a foot from the floor.
"Where is he?" a voice hissed.
The creature hurled me aside in disgust before I could finish the sentence. I landed with my face touching something small and bloody and limp. Luna. And all I could do as the droid ripped the bedroom door off its hinges was cry and pray that we'd survive long enough for Darien to get home, because even if I'd had the locket, I was in no shape to fight anyone now.
* * * * * * * *
Try though I might, I couldn't sleep. The problem wasn't the quality of the couch I was lying on--actually, it was quite comfortable--or even the events of the day. The problem was that, every time I closed my eyes, I was back in the clearing that bordered my home, at a point in time just before the gap in my memory began. Something had happened there, and it was beginning to drive me crazy that I couldn't remember what. For all I knew, I could have left my family in terrible danger, all forty or so of my surviving relatives, uncles and aunts and cousins . . . Pyrope, my third cousin and best friend, the family black sheep . . . Had the monsters, the Dark Moon's droids, been there too? Was that what was so terrible that I had blocked the memory of it?
And why didn't I run to the other Enclave? I wondered. Odd that the thought had never occurred to me before. There were others living on that rocky little island off the European coast, more distant relatives. Almost a hundred of them, several of them with more magic than any of my closer relatives, although nothing even close to the powers that Nephrite and Malachite and the others possessed. But if I'd been that afraid, if I'd wanted to protect myself, I should have gone there. Why hadn't I? In fact, I'd never even considered it, and contemplating it now, I felt the same cold dread that had welled up inside me when I'd considered going home.
Was something wrong there, too?
I sighed softly, and reached out to stroke the staff that the other Cuprite had given me this morning. Mysteries. I was surrounded by mysteries. Once upon a time, Pyrope and I had talked about leaving the Enclave, our little home in the forest, and going out into the human world to search for excitement. Now I only wanted the dull boredom of our everyday routine at home. Some people are never satisfied, I guess.
I realized that I'd continued to stroke the staff as I thought, and pulled my hand away from it. That was another thing that puzzled me. Why was the feel of that strange magical artefact from the future so comforting to me? I knew it was magical. My sensitivity was sufficient to detect a repulsion spell cast on a dust mote by a mouse. For all the good it did me. My sixth sense still wasn't enough to spot the Dark Moon droids before they got close enough to attack, making it of little use under present circumstances.
Light flashed from the cracks around the bedroom door for a second, and then was gone. The floor shook. I threw off my blankets and grabbed the staff, not caring that I was mostly naked. Somehow, I didn't think that whatever was coming was going to care much about my state of undress.
There was a creak, and a snapping sound, and then something was ripping the door to the bedroom off its hinges--had it climbed in a window? No, when it, or rather she, finally moved, I could see the hole in the wall of the room beyond. Not exactly a great way to enter unannounced. I don't think this critter is very bright. Small consolation when you're facing something half again your height and twice your weight that's got blood on her mind, and your only weapon is a staff with some kind of spell on it that you don't know how to activate, even on the off chance that it might turn out to be something useful. If I used my own magic against her, I might actually be able to give her a paper cut, or maybe a small bruise, I thought. Obviously, she did something to Sailor Moon to put her out of commission, or she wouldn't still be standing there staring at me . . .
Damn, I'm an idiot! There is one thing I can do!
<<Nephrite!>> I screamed with all the power I had in me. <<Nephrite, Malachite, anyone!>>
<<Wha--Cuprite? This had better be good.>> Nephrite sounded irritated, but at least he'd answered.
I shoved the image of what I was seeing in his direction. <<Does that look good enough for you?>>
A spilt second hesitation. <<Yes. It does. I'll be right there.>>
The thing jumped at me, and I flung myself out of the way, sliding past it and through into what was left of the bedroom, where someone--a small, slender someone, not another droid--was bending down to pick something up off the floor. As she touched it, there was a flare of green light, and she jerked her hand away, cursing softly.
<<Your time will come,>> a voice remarked from somewhere, but I wasn't paying any attention, because the flash of light had revealed the stranger's face.
She had shoulder-length blue hair and light skin, but the feature that caught my attention was the black crescent moon on her forehead. When I saw that, it all snapped back into place. I knew her. I'd only seen her for about two minutes when I'd met her before, but they'd been the most significant two minutes of my life.
Her eyes widened, and she smiled, reaching for me. There was no way I was going with her, but the shock of having my memory return was slowing my reactions. I tried to swing my staff at her, and missed, overbalancing. My free hand came down on the little golden object that she had been trying to pick up when I had first seen her. It was the locket that Sailor Moon had been wearing, still glowing with a mysterious green light.
My fingers curled around the locket without any attempt to do so on my part, and the green light flared brighter and ran up my arm. I couldn't move. It was like I'd become a passenger inside my own head. Someone else was in control, and that person was bringing the staff up between me and the strange woman.
"He isn't yours, Lapis." The voice that came out of my mouth wasn't mine, either. If I'd had the energy left, I would have curled up quietly in some distant corner of my brain and gibbered.
"And who are you to decide--" the woman began.
My puppetmaster curled my mouth into what might have been a faint smile. "I'm not anyone important, but we all do what we must."
A bolt of white light shot from the staff and hurled the woman backward through the hole in the wall, and my body suddenly returned to my control.
<<Cuprite? What happened?>> Each of Nephrite's words created a separate and distinct burst of pain inside my mind.
"I don't know," I muttered, as the locket fell from my hand. I'm not very proud of what happened next, even though I was always the first person to admit that I was no kind of fighter and didn't tolerate violence very well.
* * * * * * * *
I lunged forward to catch him as he fell. It had only taken us seconds to get here, seconds for us to disentangle ourselves, get out of bed, conjure clothing, and teleport. And for Nephrite to kill the Dark Moon droid that had been about to attack Cuprite when we arrived.
For Cuprite, it had apparently been a few seconds too many.
I could sense Nephrite, somewhere in the background, talking to Malachite, but that wasn't my primary concern right now. I lowered Cuprite gently to the floor, then frowned as a faint, coppery smell teased at my nostrils. Blood. But there wasn't a mark on Cuprite. Who was bleeding? I couldn't see anyone else. Great Gods of Darkness! Serena! She must have been in bed, and if her locket is out here--lying beside Cuprite's slack hand, when she should have had it--
Picking my way across the debris that covered the floor of the bedroom was torture, but I couldn't see well enough to risk a teleport. I didn't want to make Serena's condition any worse by accidentally stepping on her.
"Molly?" It was barely more than a whisper, but it was enough to draw my attention to the tangled bundle of white nightgown and blonde hair lying beside the little scrap of bloody fur. Seconds later, I was crouched beside Serena, probing her with my healing powers to determine the extent of her injuries.
"The baby?" she whispered.
"Rini's fine," I assured her. Indeed, the kid had to be leading a charmed life. Serena was bruised and battered, with several cracked ribs and a broken arm, but her unborn daughter didn't seem any the worse for wear. "Actually, I'd feel a bit more comfortable if we could take you to a human doctor, but I don't know how we'd explain this. It was the Dark Moon, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. Oh no, Luna!"
I followed her eyes to the bloody piece of black fur on the floor beside her. "Is that--? Just a second." A quick touch ascertained that, yes, the cat was alive. A knife-edged piece of metal about the length of my hand, probably part of one of the girders that held the building together, had been rammed through her body, miraculously missing anything really vital.
Serena tried to prop herself up on an elbow, but lay back again with a gasp of pain. She'd been trying to use the broken arm. "Will she be okay?"
I shrugged. "Hey, I'm self-taught as a human doctor, and not even that as a vet--but I think she'll pull through. Expect her to be out of commission for quite a while, though. Serena, what happened here?" I could feel Nephrite sort of . . . mentally leaning over my shoulder, I suppose you could say. He was just as curious as I was.
She frowned. "Demantoid woke up and tried to warn me. I'm not sure why. I was just about to start transforming when the wall blew out and a Dark Moon droid grabbed me by the collar and started asking me where "he" was. It threw me across the room. I hit my head on the way down and I think I was a bit dazed after that, because I don't remember much. Is Cuprite okay?"
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "He kind of fainted into my arms. He's got some kind of burn on his left hand." I hesitated, then added, "I think he may have been trying to use the Silver Crystal."
<<I don't think he knows how,>> Nephrite stated.
<<No, but Demantoid did. Does,>> I corrected, not really sure whether the spirit trapped inside the Silver Crystal should be considered dead or alive.
Just then, I heard the front door of the apartment open, and Darien's voice saying, "What in hell--Serena!!!" I also heard the distinct sound of flesh striking flesh as Nephrite grabbed Serena's distraught husband to keep him from trying to rush to her side and breaking his neck on the chunks of wall littering the floor.
"I'm okay, Muffin!" my friend called.
"Everyone's here, then." Malachite's voice floated in from the main room. "Excellent. I suggest that everyone leave again as soon as possible. Even given the inefficiency of the human emergency services, we have no more than ten minutes left before someone shows up to investigate the explosion that must have taken place. Nephrite, with your permission, we'll make use of your home."
I bent immediately to the job of stabilizing Luna, ignoring the crunch of Nephrite's boots on the plaster and debris as he came over to help move Serena.
Malachite had once told me that he didn't like mysteries. I was beginning to understand his aversion. Who could possibly like a circumstance that endangered your friends, and, for all you knew, yourself as well? And Mom. I never even thought! The other Cuprite warned us about an attack against the Negaverse. I don't think the Dark Moon is above using our relatives as levers . . . I'll have to do something about that. Ward her apartment. Whether she wants me to or not. I'd been trying for years to convince her to let me, but now her safety was more important to me than her feelings. I would have liked to assign her a full-time youma guard as well, but enough youma to reliably stop a Dark Moon droid would be noticed. I didn't want to draw attention to her if they didn't already know about her.
A Dark Moon droid grabbed me by the collar and started asking me where "he" was. And there was only one person that "he" could be. Cuprite, you're going to have a lot of explaining to do.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 6
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury