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

Chapter 7

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My first thought when I woke up was fairly incoherent-- something along the lines of Aaagh. My head was pounding, my left arm ached, and I generally felt like I was going to be sick. What . . . ? Oh, yeah. Right. I fainted. I wonder where I am? I don't think this is Sailor Moon's apartment. It was too cold and too damp. In fact, it smelled almost musty. Like a cave, maybe?

I swung my arm out, fumbling around in the area beside the bed, looking for a light, or at least a light switch. Nothing. I sighed, cupped my good hand upwards, and used my powers to create a little ball of light, intensifying my headache in the process. Even that tiny amount of illumination stabbed at my eyes, but at least I could see the room.

It was pretty bare and desolate, actually. The only furniture, other than the bed I was lying on, seemed to be a wardrobe against the wall to my left. It was made of some sort of strange pale grey wood. There were two doors leading out. One was firmly shut. Through the other, at the foot of the bed, I could just see what looked like a bathtub. That, a few shelves, and two smooth globes whose function I couldn't begin to guess protruding from the wall, one above the head of the bed and the other near the closed door, more or less completed the picture. The walls were made of some kind of grey stone, veined here and there with narrow threads of green that seemed to pulse in the dim light.

I considered snuffing the light, closing my eyes, and waiting for it all to go away again, but the truth was, I was just too thirsty. I had to have been unconscious for a while.

I sat up very slowly and very carefully, then, when the room stopped spinning, swung my legs over the edge of the bed. It wasn't until I was actually standing that I realized how cold it was in here. It didn't help that whoever had brought me here had stripped me down to my underwear, either. Teeth chattering, I jerked a blanket off the bed and wrapped it around myself. The floor was bare stone, and seemed to suck the warmth out of my feet. I shuffled toward what I hoped was the bathroom as quickly as I could.

As I passed through the open door, light flared up inside the little room, and I was able to extinguish the tiny ball of magical fire that I had been carrying with me. My headache immediately reduced itself by two orders of magnitude.

The bathroom seemed normal enough, if you ignored the fact that the walls were made of that same green-veined grey stone and the fixtures appeared to have been grown in place. Someone had even left towels (grey again) and what I guessed was probably soap. The light was coming from a globe beside the door, similar to the two in the bedroom. So that's what they're for. Magic, obviously . . .

There was also a mirror over the sink. I look like hell. My face was so pale that the faint scars that stippled the skin, normally invisible, stood out in sharp relief. The scales that covered most of the rest of my body looked dingy and dull. I really needed a shower. Hello, what's this? I leaned forward and turned my head to one side. A tiny bead of metal glittered back at me from my left ear. Involuntarily, I reached up to touch it, and its duplicate on the other side. Earrings. I was wearing earrings. Now that my headache was beginning to go away, I could feel them, too, like tiny splinters of ice stuck through each earlobe. And . . . I checked again, just to make sure. There was no way of getting them off. It was like they were welded in place. But when I'd fainted, my ears hadn't even been pierced. Something very strange was going on. Well, okay, something stranger.

I had my drink and used the facilities and began to feel a bit better, although I discovered that I couldn't bear the touch of warm water on my aching left hand. There was a tiny reddened patch at the center of that palm, like it had been scalded, and all the tiny, ancient scars across the back of it were inflamed. I filed that among the other mysteries and went back into the bedroom.

I discovered that stroking the light globe over the bed turned it on, and used the resulting light to examine the contents of the wardrobe. There were three identical suits of clothing inside, all grey, all looking very much like the uniforms of the Negaverse Crystal Weavers, but without the colored trim. All of a size that looked like they might fit me.

The staff that the other Cuprite had given me was standing in the corner of the wardrobe, and I grabbed it before backing away again, leaving the door open.

I'm in the Negaverse, I thought numbly, the suspicion I'd been having for the past little while crystallizing into a certainty. And they expect me to stay here. That was obvious, or they wouldn't have had the uniforms made. And what if this isn't what I want? Did you ever think of that?

There was no answer, but I hadn't been expecting one. I hadn't even tried to project the thought. I walked over to the closed door that was most likely to lead out of the room, put my hand on the handle, and hesitated, remembering that I was still dressed in a blanket. But my only alternative was one of the uniforms . . .

Disgusted, I padded back over to the wardrobe and grabbed one. As I'd expected, it fit perfectly, although I felt like the jacket's collar was going to choke the life out of me. Unfortunately, I would have frozen without that additional article of clothing. The belt turned out to be some kind of weird, enchanted monstrosity that adjusted itself automatically to be just a little more snug than I found comfortable. I even found a pair of white gloves in the pocket of the light shirt that went under the jacket. I considered leaving them off, but it was just too cold.

I was just turning toward the exit again when someone knocked on the door. <<Are you decent?>> a voice asked inside my mind. It wasn't anyone familiar. In fact, it sounded almost like . . .

I opened the door. The girl standing outside looked like she was about two or three--the physical equivalent of a human twelve or thirteen. She had black hair and Jadeite's (How do I know his name? I wondered. As far as I could recall, we'd never been introduced.) blue-violet eyes, and she wore an unadorned grey uniform like mine.

"And just who in hell are you?" I growled.

"My name is Aventurine." Hands on hips, she studied me, and maybe it was just my imagination, but I didn't think she approved of what she was seeing.

"I want to see Malachite." Actually, I wanted to wring the white-haired son-of-a-bitch's neck, not that I thought I'd have much luck if I tried. If he'd asked me to come here, I might have agreed, or I might not have, but what really burned me was the fact that he hadn't asked, hadn't given me a choice. And that sickening feeling I had inside, as though some vital part of me had been corroded and coated in slime . . . that had to be something he'd done, too. Damn him! My hand tightened on the staff I was carrying. It responded by suddenly becoming red hot. I dropped it, too startled to make a sound. A quick check on the condition of my glove showed that whatever I'd felt hadn't been physical heat.

When I bent over to gingerly pick the staff up again, I realized that the surge of anger I'd felt when I was thinking about what Malachite had done to me was almost gone. Almost. There was still a kind of lurking, smoldering, subconscious resentment inside me that I decided I didn't want to examine too closely.

Aventurine, who'd been watching this display without any kind of expression on her face that I could read, said, "He was expecting that you would. Come on. This way."

We passed through a small sitting room, almost as sparsely furnished as the bedroom, and out into a hallway.

"We're kind of taking the long way around," my guide added, "but they said I wasn't supposed to teleport you yet. Actually, you're still supposed to be asleep."

She couldn't know how much I wished that were true.

After several minutes of walking, we crossed a bridge and pushed through a double door into one of the biggest rooms I'd ever seen. It took almost as long to cross it as it had to get there in the first place. At the far end, Malachite sat on what could only be a throne, with Zoisite floating in the air beside him and a dozen or so creatures that looked not unlike Dark Moon droids clustered around them. When I saw that, I stiffened and stopped in my tracks, but Aventurine just kept walking, apparently not noticing anything unusual. I had to run a few steps to catch up. Youma, I remembered suddenly. They're called youma. As with Jadeite's name, I couldn't remember where I'd heard the word.

When we were still several yards away, Malachite glanced up and appeared to notice us for the first time. He waved his hand at the youma, evidently dismissing them, and turned toward me, saying nothing. This time, I didn't try to look away when I met that cool silver gaze.

"How dare you?" I snapped.

A moment's silence.

"Aventurine," Malachite said quietly. "Go back to your lessons. This does not concern you."

"As you wish, my King." A swirl of multicolored sparks shot up from the floor to conceal her as she vanished.

"What about him?" I jerked my head in Zoisite's direction. By ignoring me, Malachite had deprived me of a target for my anger and maybe even managed to make me feel a little bit silly. I didn't like it.

"Zoisite and I have few secrets from each other. If you have something to say, then say it. My time is precious, especially under present circumstances."

"You kidnapped me," I said.

"I had you brought to the one place where you might be safe. It should be obvious, after the dismal display to which you were witness, that the Sailor Scouts cannot protect you from the Dark Moon. Nor do you seem to be capable of protecting yourself."

"That's none of your damned business!" I shouted--and the staff suddenly became red hot against the palm of my hand, making me drop it again. I waited for a moment, trying to calm myself before I bent down to pick it up.

Silver-grey eyes followed the artefact as it tumbled down. "You're going to have to be more careful with that. I hardly think that the Guardian of Time would appreciate you treating her possessions so cavalierly."

"It burned me," I muttered resentfully.

"I'm not surprised. It's the property of a Sailor Scout, really, so I doubt it's fond of negative energy, and you're seething with it right now."

"I'm what?!" Calm, I reminded myself. I took a deep breath. "Exactly what did you do to me, Malachite?"

"That's 'Your Majesty' to you," Zoisite corrected me, speaking for the first time. "Or at least 'my King'."

"There will be time for protocol lessons later." Malachite's eyes softened as he glanced over at his lover--How do I know that? Where did I learn all these details about these people and their world?--then hardened again as they met mine. "The Negaverse is filled with near-infinite numbers of wards and traps, some of them extremely dangerous, and all set to attack anyone who doesn't belong here. The triggers on most of them are set to exempt anyone bearing . . . a sort of characteristic magical taint, left by the Negaforce, the former master of this place. Which you now carry. I didn't think that you'd appreciate being a virtual prisoner here, unable to leave your rooms without an escort. Unfortunately, your system isn't accustomed to these energies, and they're making you irritable. I apologize for that. You were expected to sleep for at least another day, by which time the condition would have corrected itself."

Corrupted. I struggled with that one, aware, now, that my emotional state wasn't natural. I also had the nagging feeling that at least some of what Malachite had said was a lie.

"You could have asked me," I said at last. "You should have asked me. You didn't have the right to do this."

"We weren't volunteers either," Zoisite replied. "You'll live. Or you'll die. But either way, you're--" He fell silent suddenly, hand reaching up to touch the spirit crystal that hung at his throat.

"In any case," Malachite said, "you are not a prisoner here. Your official status is that of a General-in-training, which gives you a certain amount of authority if you care to use it, although you will have no duties. I strongly suggest, however, that you ask Jasper or Amber for a general orientation to supplement the information that was placed in your mind last night. If that's all, then you may go."

I bent down slowly to pick up the staff, which still lay on the floor at my feet. It felt warm and comforting in my hand again, now that I'd mastered my anger. Was this really so bad? Certainly the ambiance left a great deal to be desired, but if I was safe from the Dark Moon here, I'd put up with it. If only I didn't feel so sick . . . I seemed to be more than normally sensitive to this "negative energy" Malachite had mentioned. That made sense, I suppose, given my sensitivity to magics in general.

Since it seemed to be the normal method of transportation around here, I teleported myself back to the room where I'd first woken up, hoping to tire myself enough that I'd feel like going back to bed. It didn't happen. I felt far less drained than I would have expected. There was a lot of magic here, a lot more than back on Earth. Perhaps there were some advantages to living here after all.

Jasper and Amber. The man with the wings, and the blonde woman. I strode resolutely toward the door. Perhaps one of the youma would know where to find them.

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I'd better go check on Luna. But I'd just woken up, and it was nice and warm in our bed, and the thought wasn't too urgent. The little cat had been stable when I'd finally turned in the night before.

It wasn't concern for Serena's cat advisor that finally drove me out of bed. It was nausea. I suspected that I could control it with my healing power, once I found the cause, but in the meanwhile, better safe than sorry. I headed for the bathroom.

Something I ate? I wondered. But no, no sign of any abnormalities there. I spread my awareness out through my body, searching for anything unusual. And found a spark of life that wasn't mine. What the--? Some kind of parasite? Then another thought entered my mind. When was the last time that I . . . ? I was supposed to do something about it the day I got back to Japan, but then we found Cuprite, and everything's been in an uproar ever since, and Nephrite's been busy, too . . .

I pressed my forehead against the cool, grey stone of the wall as I performed another self-examination. No doubt about it. I'm pregnant. Gods of Darkness! The timing!

It wouldn't have taken much to abort it. A little pressure with my mind in the right place and a subtle change in biochemical balance, and it would be over. But I . . . just couldn't.

I've got a few months yet before it turns into a real problem, I consoled myself.

But if I have to fight, Nephrite will be worried. Maybe too worried to look after himself properly. I wasn't going to trade my husband's life for my child's.

Then I just won't tell him. Or anyone else. It was the Negaverse way. We all had secrets. Thankfully, Nephrite and Malachite had both been asleep at the moment I had made my discovery. Either of them could have sensed the emotional surge.

<<It'll be all right,>> I informed the unborn. <<Mommy's going to take care of everything.>>

There was, of course, no response. The tiny ball of cells that would eventually become my child wasn't even the size of a pinhead yet. From my experiences in helping Amber and Serena, I knew that it would be some time before I could even figure out if it was a boy or a girl. But for some obscure reason, reassuring it made me feel better.

I cupped my hand protectively over my belly as I went to look for my robe. I still needed to check on Luna.

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The last of them were almost aboard. They walked through the portal two by two, like the animals in the story of Noah's Ark. Odd, that I should think of that now. If anything, the spiked ball of my ship was becoming an anti-Ark, a harbinger of death and destruction rather than new life.

Everything had been prepared. Nemesis was ready for them. And they were ready for Nemesis. I didn't know what Wise Man had said to them in the personal interviews that he had insisted upon, but each Enclave Crystal Weaver had emerged helpful and docile and willing to please. It was difficult to believe that these weak folk could be the ancestors of the great Prince Diamond. They lacked not only his power and intelligence, but also his spirit.

I've never cared for men with limp personalities.

There was only one exception to the limp-and-helpful rule, an exception who was approaching me right now.

"We're almost ready." He didn't bow, or otherwise act subservient. I respected him for that. But then, Pyrope was different. For whatever reason, he'd emerged from his interview with Wise Man bearing the Dark Moon's symbol on his forehead, as none of the others yet did, and wearing his spirit crystal, a large black stone which glittered with red highlights, set into his belt. Since then, we'd worked side by side to embark the unwilling colonists, and, as far as I could tell, his loyalty to our cause was strong. Strange, when he'd been the only one who'd dared to stand and fight me when I'd taken over the North American Enclave. If he'd run instead, like his friend Cuprite, he might actually have escaped.

Cuprite. Now there was the thorn in my side. Wise Man desperately wanted the young Enclavite captured, for reasons he'd never seen fit to divulge to me. And I desperately needed to please Wise Man, so that I'd get the reward I desired, when we finally conquered the Negaverse.

I looked at Pyrope, but it wasn't him that I saw. It was another, equally delicate face, with slanted, jewel-toned eyes, set above a grey uniform . . .

Well, my love, is it enough? Will you want me, now?

I sighed, and returned to the present. "Excellent," I said to Pyrope. "Is there any report from Nemesis?"

"Ammolite says that the atmospheric pressure is holding nicely. It should be ready when we get there. Looks like loading's finished. Are you coming?"

"In a moment."

Maybe I could still use Jasper to get me into the Negaverse. He was remarkably gullible, that one. I'd never have believed it, not judging from my memories of what he was like during the Crystal Millennium. And maybe if I fooled him into sneaking me through the Negaverse's defenses . . . maybe I'd be able to catch sight of the other one. My one true love.


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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury