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

Chapter 8

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Jasper

Odd. Iíd almost think that there was someone following me.

It was more sensed than seen, a glimpse of a streak in a familiar shade of medium-dark grey vanishing around a corner or upward onto a rooftop, the sound of a footfall from above where no one should ordinarily have been. Subtle. But I had my memories of twenty-odd years in the Negaverse to guide me, and even if most of them were false, they honed my instincts and made me just a little suspicious of everything and everyone. So. Someone was watching me, here in the Earth Realm. Why, and what was I going to do about it?

I need to know who it is. The street was almost deserted. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Nothing . . . Nothing . . . The faint sound of a bootheel scraping against some hard surface, from above and to my right. Hmmm. I glanced up, but saw nothing. A faint breeze coming from behind and to my left carried a vaguely familiar scent in my direction, but when I turned to look, there was nothing there, either.

I glanced around. Not a human in sight. There was a nice, shadowy alleyway to my left. I stepped into its mouth and teleported.

I reappeared several hundred feet up in the air, and spotted something crouched on the rooftop that had been to my right. So there was my unseen watcher! Not human. It was blue-skinned and far too tall. It probably wasnít a Crystal Weaver, either. The obvious conclusion was that it was a youma, bent on using whatever information she acquired for blackmail. Not as common a practice as it used to be, and she had to be damned stupid to try to play that game with a General, but it happened. One thing was certain: Malachite wouldnít blame me for eliminating her. A creature of such idiocy would contaminate the gene pool.

I glided down toward her, landing behind her so that I could inspect her while she turned. Eight feet tall if sheís an inch. Whew. I wonder why I donít remember seeing this one around?

ďAnd just what do you think youíre doing?Ē I asked frostily. That crystal set into her forehead . . . why should I think that itís important?

ďHunting,Ē the creature replied insolently.

ďFor what?Ē Why not play the game to the fullest? Surely the creature knew that she was already dead.

ďWarp holes,Ē came the reply. ďBut I certainly wouldnít object to catching a Negaverse General, too!Ē And tentacles shot out towards me. I jumped, using a little power and a sharp downward stroke of my wings to carry me up and over the creatureís head, while my mind belatedly screamed, Dark Moon!!!

I cupped my hands and formed a ball of power between them. It wasnít my trademark attack, but I wanted raw power rather than pinpoint accuracy. Let these Dark Moon lackeys see that it was dangerous to mess with the Negaverse!

I threw. There was a tremendous Phwoom! as the energy ball struck its target, and the droid mewled thinly as she burst into flame. Fortunately, she burned quickly. I donít know how much of that I could have stood.

ďZoi!Ē

What the-- A flurry of pink flower petals swirled past my left arm, and I heard something behind me snarl. I furled my wings and dropped quickly back to roof level in an attempt to put myself out of range. I landed just in time to watch Zoisite ram an ice crystal through the body of a second Dark Moon droid, a green creature with a double set of insect-like wings. It had been coming up behind me while I had been distracted with its comrade.

<<And what were you doing here?>> I asked my senior, privately. <<Spying on me, too?>> That hint of a familiar scent that I had noticed on the wind just before getting myself tangled up with the Nemisians had been the faint floral perfume that Malachiteís lover always seemed to carry with him.

<<Well, I certainly didnít come along on the off chance that I would be needed to save your fool neck,>> he replied, landing to inspect his fallen victim. To me, it looked done for--not only had he put an ice crystal right through it, but it had been smashed up pretty thoroughly in the fall--but he put another two ice crystals through it anyway. Zoisite was nothing if not thorough. <<Youíre supposed to be a General, Jasper. Draw your own conclusions.>>

<<So you were watching me.>> There was no other explanation. The question was, who had asked him to? He wouldnít have been doing it on his own for no reason at all. He considered me too far beneath him to be worth that kind of trouble, and I knew it. Someone doesnít trust me. Someone close to me. It isnít Momís style, and Zoisite wouldnít listen to Aventurine. And the only other person who knew that I was spending extra time in the Earth Realm was . . . Lord Jadeite. That hurt. That really hurt. Father, why couldnít you trust me? I trusted you. Iíd patterned myself after him for the past several years, all of my life that mattered. And now . . .

I smiled bitterly. Iím acting as though betrayal were something new. Gods, he must have considered me such a fool . . . Welcome to the Negaverse, Jasper Tsumeta. Check your morals at the door, please. There wonít be any reminders until itís too late.

Preoccupied, I let my feet follow their usual path along the street. I was nearly at the cafe when I almost ran into someone.

ďIím sorry, I--Mina?Ē She was the last person that Iíd expected to meet here. As I steadied her, I realized that I was feeling a little bit . . . guilty? Why? There was nothing between us, was there?

ďHey, Jas!Ē She grinned up at me, not seeming to realize that anything was wrong. ďWhat are you doing here in the middle of the day? Did Malachite give you time off for good behavior?Ē

ďNot exactly . . .Ē

ďHmmm. Well, I donít suppose that, being an officer and a gentleman and all, youíd be willing to buy lunch for a starving woman? I havenít had time to eat yet, and Iím kinda broke again . . .Ē

ďActually, Iím meeting someone.Ē It came out sounding flatter than Iíd meant it to. Minaís smile faded.

ďWell, okay, if itís that important to you . . . See ya around.Ē And she walked away, not bothering to look back.

ďJasper? Who is she?Ē Lois asked from behind me.

I shrugged. ďOh, just some girl I know. Come on, letís go inside.Ē

But I still felt guilty. For no good reason. I tried to stir up some anger against my father for having Zoisite spy on me, but couldnít muster more than a smoldering kind of resentment. I didnít understand why I was feeling this way. It was as though Iíd lost my sense of direction or something. I couldnít remember experiencing anything remotely like it, either in my human life or as an officer of the Negaverse.

Maybe Iím growing up. They do say that itís supposed to be disillusioning. I snorted. A brief tenure in the Negaverse under Beryl should have been sufficient to dispel all of my illusions. Why, then, did I seem to be discovering so many new ones today? I guess there are some things that you just donít notice until theyíre broken.

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Mina

What just happened there?

I made a sharp left into an alleyway, intending to watch Jasper from that convenient hiding place, but I didnít quite move quickly enough. By the time Iíd taken up my position, he was already stepping through the door of the little cafe just down the street, his arm around some blue-haired stranger-woman. Oh. Geez, Jas, why didnít you tell me? I thought that we were friends, at least. Did you think Iíd be jealous or something? The only part of it that hurt was his lack of trust--or at least, thatís what I tried to tell myself as I headed toward Litaís restaurant, intending to bum a meal off her. I didnít quite manage to convince myself. Seeing him go off with that girl had stung a lot more than it should have.

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Zoisite

Stupid young fool. Whatís his problem?

I perched on the rooftop to watch Jasper walk away. I didnít bother following him. Now that he knew I was watching him, my surveillance would be compromised. Perhaps it would have been better if Iíd let that second droid skewer him. Iíd been more than half-tempted.

Besides, I knew where he was going. That cafe, or whatever it was. To meet with his blue-haired paramour. He insisted on arriving several blocks away, so that she wouldnít spot him teleporting or leaving a warp terminus. Once there, heíd have a cup of coffee with her and talk a bit before she had to leave. On my previous two visits, Iíd waited outside while he sat in there for an additional half-hour or so, daydreaming, I would presume, and then followed him when he came back out. Today, I was going to do something a little different. Today, I was going to follow her.

I teleported to my usual vantage point, on a rooftop that gave me a good view of the front door of the shorter building, and sat down to wait. Since I had nothing better to do, I considered various ways to punish Jasper for forcing me to sit out here in the cold, ranging from the cruel to the unusual, and including not a few that were both. Iím good at that sort of thing.

Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Any time, now.

Actually, it was a little longer before she emerged. Just long enough for me to get thoroughly annoyed and start wondering whether she had gone out the back. I followed her down the street, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, making no particular effort to conceal myself. Humans almost never look up.

She turned left into in alleyway after about five minutes. Handy things, those alleyways. Tokyo had a lot of them. Not only were they useful shortcuts, but the shadowier ones could be used to conceal almost any kind of magical activity. Not that humans normally used them for the latter purpose. This one, however, was . . . a dead end? Was she lost?

Lois, or whatever her name was, stretched out her left arm and placed the palm of that hand flat against the graffiti-coated back wall, closing her eyes. There was a trembling in the air, and the brick wall vanished. In its place was . . . a warp hole? No, but something vaguely like.

<<Malachite!>> I called.

<<What is it, beloved?>> I could almost feel his arms closing around me from behind, warming me as the mere application of power that protected me from the winter winds never could. That was only wishful thinking, of course. It wouldnít be real for a few more hours yet.

<<Jasperís little friend is more than she seems to be.>> I quickly described what I had seen. <<Iím going to try to follow her, and see where her little bolt-hole emerges.>>

<<Be careful,>> he replied. <<Donít take any unnecessary risks. I donít want to lose you again.>>

<<I donít intend you to.>> Gods, I loved him so much! I wasnít going to let any harm come to him, and I knew that my death would be the worst kind of harm.

<<Iíll see you tonight,>> he murmured, and turned his attention away from me again. But I could still feel him in the back of my mind. I always could. We were never completely apart. I touched my spirit crystal with a gloved fingertip, and smiled.

Damn, didnít the street cleaners ever do the alleys? Something repulsive, half-concealed by a light covering of snow, squished under my boot as I landed. I scraped the sole clean on a convenient board and strolled over to the wall-that-wasnít-exactly. I placed one hand against it at head height, leaned my forehead against the back of my glove, and concentrated. Yes, some sort of set spell, and the trigger point was . . . there! I nudged it gently, and the wall dissolved into a black hole. Taking a deep breath, I stepped through.

Negaverse warps take you quickly from point A to point B, without much sense of an in-between. This thing was more like a wormhole rollercoaster ride, or at least thatís the best way I can describe it. Round and round and up and down with turns at impossible angles. My stomach spent a lot of time bouncing around in various improbable directions. I gritted my teeth and endured.

After what seemed like an hour, but was actually probably only about two or three minutes, I tumbled out the far end of Jasperís girlfriendís transport device, skidding across a smooth, hard floor. I struck a pillar growing up out of it feet first, and managed to kill my momentum. Unfortunately, the noise I made had probably been audible for a considerable distance. I sprang to my feet, activated every form of magical misdirection I could think of, and hid myself in a shadowy corner. So. While we wait for the inspection team to arrive . . . where in hell am I?

Somewhere dark, obviously. Black stone polished to a mirrorlike sheen. And not a few actual mirrors, as well. I couldnít detect any sort of internal floor plan other than that. The pillars and walls seemed to be randomly scattered about.

I yawned. Damn. Evidently I hadnít gotten enough sleep last night. Malachite had been tossing and turning again. It would feel so good just to sleep . . .

I pinched myself. Hard. Pretty subtle spell. I didnít even feel it being cast. But a general counterspell should take care of it . . . I executed one, becoming more and more tired with every second.

It didnít work. The last thing I remember thinking as I sank to the floor was, Idiot. This isnít a spell. Itís some kind of gas.

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Malachite

<<Zoisite?>>

No response.

<<Zoisite? Are you there?>>

Nothing. He was very busy. I hoped. The alternative was that he was unconscious. Or . . . No, I wonít even think that. Besides, I would have felt him die. I did before.

With an effort, I choked the train of thought off again, instead reaching out along the linkage that bound the two of us together, Weave-member to Center. And struck a wall of darkness. No. No!

It wasnít until I opened my eyes that I discovered that my hands were clenched into fists.

It could just be that there is so much foreign dark energy in the area that heís entered that itís blocking the link, I consoled myself. Who knows where that pseudo-warp comes out? Iíll give him an hour to report back, or for something to happen. If heís stalking someone, I donít want to mess things up for him by suddenly appearing and giving him away. And I turned back to the papers on my desk, trying to convince myself that I really wasnít worried. I failed. But suddenly, my eye wandered across a paragraph so interesting that it actually managed to provide a distraction.

I was reading Amberís collected memories of her fatherís bedtime stories. The words that had caught my eye were, ď--and then Phoebe, Queen of the Moon--Ē. Phoebe. Founder of the Lunar Dynasty, if I recalled correctly. That had been ancient history even during the Silver Millennium. Phoebe, and her war against the demons. The Blood Millennium, which had preceded the Golden Millennium, which in turn had preceded the Silver. I wished I had studied more history. If Onyx had been telling the truth, and if Amber had remembered correctly, and if I was interpreting all of this the right way, the Crystal Weavers had been involved in the Blood Millennium War. Deeply involved. In fact, it looked almost like it had been their war, and Phoebe merely a side issue. And the name ďAdamantĒ came up again and again. Who had he been? A Crystal Weaver, obviously. A leader? Probably.

I consulted my internal timesense again. Ten minutes had passed since my attempt to contact Zoisite. Even with such an intriguing puzzle ready to hand, it was going to be a long hour.

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Lapis

Itís him. I donít believe it.

When Iíd felt the intruder control systems activate themselves, Iíd expected Jasper or Cuprite or some curious human with a touch of magic and a lot of luck. Certainly I hadnít expected this.

I bent down and delicately brushed a lock of blonde hair away from his forehead. I lost my heart to you for no reason at all. Did you even know? Or care? I suppose not. I was a human woman, after all. That made me beneath your notice. Well, perhaps not if Iíd been a warrior or a Sailor Scout, but I wasnít either of those things, and I certainly wasnít a Crystal Weaver. Not then. Not that youíd remember. For you, it hasnít happened yet, and I intend to see that it never does.

I remade myself for you. I sought out the Dark Moon and gave myself to them, to gain power and immortality and become worthy of you. Ironic, isnít it, that that meant I would have to fight against you? But Wise Man owes me. Maybe that will be enough to convince them to let me keep you. With Malachite gone, there will be nothing to stand between us.

I sighed, and touched the crystal earring that dangled from my left ear with a fingertip. Years of loneliness and pain and a transformation that had almost killed me, all to reach this point. Maybe now Iíd finally have a chance at true happiness. Even if Wise Man still had my spirit crystal. Even if I was still condemned to serve him, and through him, Prince Diamond. Maybe. Iíd begun to have my doubts regarding the robed figureís loyalty. Who could tell what hid in the shadows of that hood? But Iíd continue as Iíd begun. I had little choice. It would mean my life to do otherwise.

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