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

Chapter 9

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"Yeowch!" I snatched my hand back from a smoldering mat.

Jasper sighed and rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You're going to have to learn better control than that. Come on, let's take a rest."

Gratefully, I sprawled on a non-burning area of the floor, letting the cold stone beneath the mats sap the heat from my sweating body. "I did try to warn you that I wasn't any kind of a fighter."

I still wasn't quite sure how I'd ended up here. We'd started with a whirlwind tour of the Negaverse, and somehow, during that time, I'd let myself be persuaded that I needed fighting lessons. Well, in a way I suppose that it was true. If I learned to defend myself, the Dark Moon might stop considering me such an attractive target. And releasing some of the dark energy that Malachite had stuffed me with felt good. But it was still damned hard work, and Jasper was a vicious taskmaster.

"I know. That's I'm trying to make you into one." Jasper folded his legs neatly under himself and sank to the floor beside me, the tip of his left wing just brushing my hand. "Theoretically, you are a General-in-training, the same as my little sister. And, to be quite honest, as you are, you're a disgrace."

"Is that all there is to being one of you? Fighting?" After his commentary, I was feeling a little nettled.

"No, but our major job is controlling youma, and they don't respect much except superior force." He began idly examining his wings--checking for broken feathers, he had told me earlier.

"D'you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

"No, go ahead. I'm here to help you learn." Maybe, I thought. The question is, why? I was beginning to wonder if Malachite hadn't ordered Jasper into this. The winged man certainly didn't seem happy with my presence.

"All right, then. What's with the earrings?" I ran a fingertip over the silver bead in my left ear, which still throbbed.

His hand reached up to touch his own, which were small silver loops. "As I understand it, they were Beryl's idea. As one of the others may have mentioned to you, there are quite literally hundreds of thousands of set spells in the Negaverse. Most of them are things like wards and triggers for traps. They have to use some criteria to choose the people they're going to let past. Some of them just check to see whether or not the person approaching them is of the Negaverse. Others are a little more selective, and the earrings have a set spell on them that identifies us as friendly to most of those. There are exceptions, though, like the wards guarding Malachite and Nephrite's homes, so don't get too confident. Even the wards that will let you past log the fact that you were there, and anyone authorized to pass the ward can call up the . . . history list, as it were." He smiled thinly.

"Uh . . . set spells?" I said.

"What did they teach you back at that Enclave of yours?" Finished checking his wings, he furled them behind him.

"About magic? Not much. Most of us don't have enough power to do anything with anyway. Believe it or not, by Enclave standards I'm stronger than average."

"I hate to think what that says about the rest of you," Jasper muttered. "Anyway, it was a rhetorical question. What do you do when you use your powers?"

"Ummm . . . I just think about something in a certain way and it happens?" I knew it wasn't the answer he wanted, but I didn't quite understand what he did want.

"Sort of. You think about something in a certain way, and that engages the Crystal Power--the magic that you possess, which may engage the ambient magic field as well, if the spell is big enough--causing it to provide whatever it is that you want. Most spells are cast that way. A set spell is a bit different. It starts out the same way as an ordinary spell, but then the caster ties the ambient magic field into it as a permanent power source, and withdraws his personal energies without canceling the spell. Unfortunately, once that's done, the spell doesn't respond to its caster in quite the same way anymore, making it difficult to change or redirect. Most set spells are tied to a geographical area or to an object--in fact, magical objects are always the result of set spells. Do you understand now?"

"Sort of." I fumbled at the collar of my jacket. The thing was so damned stiff! How did they ever stand it?



"How old are you?"

"Thirty-three," I replied, puzzled. He made a choking sound.

"Damn Malachite anyway." Jasper slammed the heel of his hand against the floor. "He could have taken over your education himself, or told one of the other original Four to see to it, but no, he had to stick me with the responsibility for educating someone more than twice my age . . . This is embarrassing. You look so much like a kid that I've been treating you like one. I'm sorry. Can we start over?"

"I wasn't offended," I said. Especially if this means that you're going to stop treating me like a minor nuisance and start treating me like a person. "You really do know more about magic than I do. All I know is what I've been able to work out for myself. So no hard feelings." I offered him my hand. He shook it.

"How old are you?" I asked him afterwards.

"Chronologically? Fourteen. Mentally I'm a bit messed up, because I have about nineteen years' worth of false memories running around inside my head, and it's difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy sometimes."

"Whoever did that to you must have been a real bastard," I commented.

"Possibly." He sounded bitter, for which I didn't blame him.

<<Jasper. Cuprite. I need you. Now!>>

"And so much for the practice session," Jasper said. "Come on, get up. The last thing we need to do is make Malachite mad. He doesn't sound like he's in the best of moods right now."

I groaned and staggered to my feet, then stretched out my hand. My staff, which I had left leaning against the wall while we worked, jumped toward me and slapped against my palm. I closed my hand around it, then nodded to Jasper.

I hadn't even intended to bring the staff with me, but it had quite literally jumped at me when I'd tried to leave it behind, and when I had picked it up to put it back in its corner, it had felt so oddly comfortable in my hand that I had decided to keep it with me. Very strange. And disquieting. But I still couldn't bring myself to put it down--in fact, I would probably be sleeping with it tonight. Even though it had burned me twice more over the course of the day.

The swirl of purple feathers that had hidden us from the world dissipated, depositing us in what I assumed was Malachite's private study. Malachite was pacing in the narrow space behind his desk, his cape skimming the walls whenever he turned around. His face was set and expressionless, but I could see his hand occasionally stroking the hilt of the sword he wore at his left hip.

<<Zoisite is missing,>> he stated without preamble.

<<I haven't seen him in over an hour, my King.>> There was an edge to Jasper's words. I thought he had been more irritable than before after he had returned from his midafternoon break. What had happened?

<<I know. He was following your dear little friend, and he should have returned some time ago. I can't reach him. Either he's deeply unconscious, or some dark power has blocked the linkage between us.>>

<<He was following--But I thought that I was the one that he was spying on! What would he want with Lois, anyway? She's just a human.>>

<<Oh?>> An image flashed into being inside my head, and, I would assume, inside Jasper's as well: a blue-haired woman placing her hand on a wall, and that wall dissolving into a dark tunnel under her palm. And she was familiar. Very familiar.

<<She's the one who attacked the Enclave!>>

Malachite's eyes bored into me. <<I suspected as much.>> He turned that dangerous silver gaze on Jasper. <<You endangered us, Jasper. You know better than that.>>

<<But my King, I didn't think-->> Jasper began.

<<Precisely,>> Malachite snapped. <<You didn't think. Which is why you're going to come with me to help repair the damage.>>

Jasper bowed. <<Yes, my King.>> I suspected that his thoughts were in an uproar. I knew that mine were.

<<My King, what does this have to do with me?>> I asked, trying to be as polite as possible. I hadn't quite mastered Negaverse protocol yet, and I could see from the look on Malachite's face that this wasn't the time to experiment.

<<You are going to be bait,>> the white- haired man stated.


His eyes flared a dangerous blue-white. <<I can force you, if need be. For your own sake, don't make it necessary.>> And he could. He could break me in half, or make me go up in flames, or whatever he pleased, any time he wanted to. Either he wasn't worried about the Sailor Scouts' opinion of him anymore, or the danger to his lover superseded everything else.

I bowed my head. <<My King.>> It seemed to be the only safe response. But I still had the most terrible feeling inside.

I gripped my staff more tightly, feeling a gentle warmth seep into my palms through my gloves. It comforted me, but only a little. I could still hear the little voice somewhere deep inside me whispering, I am going to die.

I should have gone back on the run instead of staying here, not that it seemed I had much choice at the time or could have found my way out of this place even if I'd wanted to. And now he's going to drag me kicking and screaming out to face my worst nightmare. God sure has a sick sense of humor.

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I had the most tremendous headache when I woke up. Every movement made me feel as though my skull was going to shatter into little fragments and spill my brain out on the floor. Gods, what a repulsive thought . . . I hope whoever gassed me with that stuff breathed a little of it himself. That thought cheered me a little, allowing me to maintain my composure while I attempted the painful procedure of forcing my eyes open. Limitless darkness and a small piece of a pillar, just visible out of the corner of my left eye, greeted my efforts. Judging from the feel of the surface underneath me and the fact that my arms were dangling down to a lower level, someone had lain me, face up, on a bench. I decided not to try turning my head just yet, and wished, not for the first time in my life, that I could trade some of my talent for magical artifice for a little healing ability.

"Oh, you're awake!" said an annoyingly cheerful voice. The smiling face of Jasper's girlfriend appeared in my field of view. I wanted to snarl at her and put an ice crystal straight through the black crescent moon on her forehead, which provided a convenient target, but the thought of moving enough to do that was enough to make me cringe. Internally, that was. Doing it for real would have been just as painful as making any other movement.

"What in hell do you want?" It probably came out a bit slurred, since I didn't dare move anything but my tongue, but hopefully she would get the idea.

"What do I want?" She smiled mysteriously, and then she leaned down . . .

I sputtered and rolled off the bench when her lips actually brushed mine, not caring about the pain. There are some things that are worse than even the worst headache.

"How dare you?" I snarled. "Do you think I'm some kind of prostitute that you can hire to play out your sick fantasies?" <<Malachite!!!>>

The inward call fell away into silence, unanswered, and I felt my rage turn into icy fear. I was completely alone inside my mind, for the first time in years. I'd have to beat her by myself.

I swallowed, hard, and used the bench to help pull myself to my feet. Time to see if I really deserve these epaulettes that I'm wearing, or whether I'm just a follower in a leader's uniform. I was used to having Malachite present, if only in my mind, to direct me. I always made such a terrible hash of things on my own.

Oddly, the blue-haired woman's smile hadn't faltered. "Bluster all you like," she said. "There is a fragment of the Dark Crystal on board this ship. Since you're not attuned to it, my dear Zoisite, your powers will be useless while you're within its influence. I came prepared, you see."

"You're from the Dark Moon, aren't you?" Actually, it was pretty obvious, but at least while she was talking she wasn't . . . trying to . . . er . . . Anyway, I needed to gain a little time to figure my way out of this.

She inclined her head. "I am Lapis. I serve Prince Diamond of Nemesis. But now that we've been properly introduced . . ." Pinned as I was against the bench, I couldn't move out of the way when she reached up to stroke my face. Instead, I slapped her hand down, and was surprised when she drew back from me.

I suppose it was because I was so used to being smaller than everyone, and because I'd always seen her in Jasper's company before, and he makes anyone who isn't at least six feet tall look small, but I hadn't realized how tiny she really was. Like Cuprite, she was maybe five foot three at best, giving me a good three inches on her. And I was forty pounds heavier, too. So the physical advantage, at any rate, was mine. What a strange feeling. What a pleasant feeling.

"Don't touch me," I said, narrowing my eyes and doing my best to copy Malachite's most formidable scowl. "I may be your prisoner, but that doesn't mean I'm your plaything." Although with my powers off-limits, I doubted I could stop her if she were really determined. What I wanted to do was irritate her just enough so that she'd leave me alone for a while and give me a chance to study this . . . well, whatever this place was. Perhaps I could find an exit that I could use without magic, or even some method of sabotage.

She backed off. I don't know whether it was what I said, or the image I was presenting, or whether I just got lucky for once. But she backed off.

"Lapis? Are you there?"

"Pyrope," the woman greeted. "Yes, I'm here."

I had hoped that she was alone. Apparently, no such luck. The man who stepped out from behind a pillar was of about my height and weight, and, like my first captor, bore the Dark Moon's crescent symbol on his forehead. The red-black stone set into his belt buckle appeared to be a spirit crystal. Great. Another one. I really am in trouble, aren't I? One of them I might have been able to overpower, but two? Just on the off-chance, I waited until Pyrope was looking at her instead of me, and lunged at him. My extended hand struck a ward, and sent pain screaming up my arm. I had to fall back towards the bench, snarling a curse. The subject of my attack ignored it completely.

"I think we're going to have company fairly soon," the man said. "What are you going to do with him?" And he waved his hand in my general direction.

"Take him to more secure accommodations, I think," Lapis replied, and smiled at me. I glared back. I don't think so. I tried to jump at her again, and discovered that I couldn't move anything from the neck down. My arms and legs quivered, but it was like I was working against some sort of very stiff restraint.

Pyrope chuckled. "I think the strength of my powers exceeds the strength of your muscles. Hmmm. You know, Lapis, I think I have an idea."

Judging from the way the expressions on their faces changed for the next several seconds, they were holding a private conversation, but I could sense none of it. The loss of my magic had left me deaf, dumb, and blind as well as crippled.

Lapis was smiling when they finished. "Oh, yes," she purred. "I like that. Although . . ." She glanced significantly at Pyrope. "Are you sure you're a good enough actor to pull this off?"

He smiled back. "I think I can keep it up for long enough. Do you think you can convince one of the cousins to go along with this?"

"If not, you can see what your silver tongue can do. Actually, getting a Droid is probably going to be harder. A lot of them died in the initial attack, and Prince Diamond has been rationing them ever since. But first of all, don't we three have a little trip to make?"

And they both turned back to me.

"You know, Lord Zoisite," Lapis cooed, "you might actually find out that you like the future. Crystal Tokyo used to be a pretty nice place. Now come along . . ."

Pyrope's restraints tugged at my body, forcing me to my feet. I fought him every step of the way, but to no avail.

<<MALACHIIIIIIIITE!!!!!!!!>> I screamed, but the only reply was unending silence.

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