The Crystal Weaver Saga: An Ill Fate Marshalling
by E. Liddell
* * * * * * * *
The brick wall felt cold and rough under my hand. Unfortunately, locating whatever Zoisite had found that triggered the black tunnel he had shown me was beyond my skill. The spell shimmering just under the surface of the brick was like a blank wall that rippled with dark energy traces.
As anyone can tell you, it's impossible to disentangle a length of string if you can't find the ends. And I was too worried to concentrate properly on the task at hand, although I would never have admitted it.
<<My King?>> It was Cuprite, hesitant, which was hardly surprising after what I had said to him earlier.
<<What is it?>> I asked, moderating my tone to keep it from being too sharp. I didn't want to send him into catatonic withdrawal.
<<I think what you want is here.>> His staff swung forward, and the butt end of it tapped the wall near my hand. I narrowed my eyes and glared at it. A shadow? Maybe just the least hint of one . . . It looked like the end that I needed. I placed the palm of my hand against it and concentrated.
Wind dragged at my hair, my cape, my limbs, pulling me forward. I had succeeded in opening the tunnel.
I turned to face the others. <<All right,>> I told them. <<We don't know what's on the other side of this, so we're going to have to be careful. I will go first. Jasper, you will follow. Cuprite, stay behind us unless you have some overwhelming reason to do otherwise.>> Jasper looked sulky. His shoulders were slumped, allowing the broadsword that he wore strapped across his back to tilt at an odd angle. He'd have sliced his ear off if he'd tried to draw it, or perhaps gash one of his wings. Cuprite was frightened. I wished that I had dared bring some of the others along on this, but Nephrite was searching the city--or rather, the Stars, but it amounted to the same thing--on the off chance that Zoisite wasn't where we thought he was, and Jadeite and Almandite were needed to hold the Negaverse together in the absence of the rest of us. Amber would have been worse than useless, and as for the Sailor Scouts . . . even after all this time, I didn't entirely trust them. Certainly I would never be able to convince them to follow my orders. And I didn't trust anyone else to be in charge where Zoisite's safety was concerned. In any case, this would be a good test of Cuprite's loyalty. And, as I'd told him, he would be useful bait. We knew that the Dark Moon wanted him.
I stepped forward, and the tunnel sucked me in. What followed was a stomach-churning hell-ride that sent me skidding across the floor on my side when I reached the far end. Not a position that has a great deal to recommend it when you're wearing a sword. I ended up crumpled in an undignified heap with bruises all over my ribs. I immediately disentangled myself and stood up, cursing Lois, or whatever her name was, and the designer of her little . . . torture device. I prudently stepped back from the black maw that marked the opening. Jasper came shooting out a few seconds later, almost cracking his head against a pillar, and cursing loudly and virulently when Cuprite slammed into him from behind.
<<Be quiet, you fools,>> I snapped at them, a task which should have been effortless. It wasn't. I felt as though something were dragging at my thoughts, and had to concentrate to make certain that they got through. <<Do you want to alert everyone in the area to the fact that we're coming? And Jasper . . .>>
"My King?" He glanced up at me, then went back to trying to disentangle himself from Cuprite.
<<Stop sulking,>> I ordered him. <<We don't have time for your childish petulance. Now-->>
Suddenly a scream of pain echoed out of the darkness.
"Answer me!" A woman's voice.
The reply was raspy and too low for me to tell what was being said, but I was reasonably certain that I knew who had said it.
<<Zoisite!!!>> I put everything I had into the call. But I can't feel him. Why? The connection between us was so deep and strong that I would have sworn that I would know if he was nearby even if I were unconscious. Or dead.
More conversation, softer, which I couldn't make out no matter how hard I strained my ears trying. Then the sound of the impact of flesh on flesh, wordless cries, and a feminine scream of outrage.
"Get him!" the woman's voice shouted.
<<Go left,>> I told Jasper, turning to the right myself. <<Cuprite, you stay here.>>
I wove a path from the shadow of one pillar to the next, trying to be as invisible as possible. Crashing and tinkling sounds were heard from somewhere up ahead, followed by voices--at least two, one of them a woman--cursing creatively. I continued on in the same direction, catching a glimpse of a dull grey streak flashing between two pillars. And there it was again!
<<Zoisite?>> As far as I could tell, the message dropped off into some black void and was lost. But something detached itself from the shadow of a pillar and came running toward me. A few moments later, I had an armful of green-eyed blonde. He had a black smudge on his chin, his gloves were gone, and the ribbon that normally held his hair back from his face was gone, leaving it loose to cascade down around his shoulders. And there was a spreading purple bruise on his face. But it didn't look like he'd been seriously hurt, and that was what was important. <<Thank the gods!>>
"I knew you would come for me," he whispered. "Don't you always?" And his hands slid upward to lock around the back of my neck and draw my head down. The resultant kiss was as long as circumstances permitted, which wasn't nearly long enough to satisfy me.
<<What happened?>> I asked as we separated.
"Just a little payback for that bitch Lapis," he murmured, and blushed.
<<What did she do, kiss you?>> I asked. There weren't very many things that made him red in the face, not after a thousand years in the Negaverse, but having a woman after him was one of them.
He blushed harder. I smiled.
<<What am I ever going to do with you?>> I asked affectionately. <<Now, do you have any bright ideas on how to get out of here? You know more about this place than I do.>>
"It's some sort of ship, I think," he whispered. "I don't think that there's any way in or out that's accessible without magic, and my powers seem to be mostly gone. But I guess you still have some left."
I concentrated, extending one hand. It took the better part of a minute before I felt something solid against my palm. Conjurations don't normally require more than a few seconds, or at least, not for me, and something this simple should have been a lot less work.
<<Here.>> I handed Zoisite the spear that I had made. If he was bereft of his powers, he would need some protection, since his size put him at such a disadvantage in unarmed combat. <<Do you know what's controlling the . . . anti-magic field, or whatever it is?>>
"I think so."
<<Then let's go break it,>> I stated decisively.
* * * * * * * *
I tilted my head sideways so that I could draw my sword, and felt the weight drag at my arms as I gripped the hilt. Most of the others thought that I was crazy to carry something of that size. I'll admit that it was probably a bit unwieldy, and would have been a lot more so for anyone without my kind of muscles, but it was a really nasty weapon, capable of smashing flat anything that it didn't cut through. And just then, I felt like smashing. I was mad.
It was Malachite's little remark about my "childish petulance" that had been the last straw. How dare he treat me like this was all my fault? How had I been supposed to know that Lois had been from the Dark Moon? It isn't exactly the sort of question that you ask a human, especially a prospective girlfriend. If she hadn't been, she would have thought that I was deranged.
What I refused to admit to myself was that the irritation was covering for a tiny little piece of icy fear that had been lurking inside me from the moment that I realized that although I could hear Malachite, I couldn't answer him back. Something was keeping my powers from working here. Even the glittering light of my spirit crystal, set in a massive ring on my right forefinger, seemed dimmed.
And then there was the other pain, also hidden deep inside me. Even though I knew now that Zoisite had been tracking Lois and not me, someone had to have tipped him off about my visits to the Earth Realm, and Lord Jadeite was still the most likely candidate. I hadn't realized how much I'd depended on his support and his . . . all right, yes, his love . . . until I'd found out that it was all an illusion. He'd been the only father I had ever known. But it had all been a lie.
Everything you know is wrong, I thought, and produced a grimace that might have passed for a smile--if seen from at least fifty yards away by someone half-blind.
Someone sobbed. But it wasn't me, even though I felt like it.
Damn, I can't tell what direction that came from . . . These blasted pillars make all the echoes bounce around . . . I continued to advance, but more cautiously. That soft sound could be the hunting cry of some creature manufactured by the Dark Moon, rather than an expression of human sorrow.
Was that a little bit of something blue, just protruding around the edge of that pillar? I heard the sobbing sounds again, much closer now. They could be coming from up there. I raised my sword and proceeded even more cautiously.
She had her back to me, leaning against the smooth blackness, and, as far as I could see, crying her eyes out. But even the back was familiar. I shifted the sword into a one-handed grip, and reached out to tap her on the shoulder.
"Jasper? They . . . they forced me," she wailed, almost incoherently. "I didn't . . . didn't want to hurt you--"
It was a great surge of enlightenment. Of course they forced her. I was right, damn it, and Malachite was wrong. She isn't from Nemesis at all. She's just a poor, innocent dupe.
I maneuvered my sword back into its scabbard-- something of a painstaking process, since I wanted to keep both ears--and reached out to draw her gently against me. Someone had tied her wrists in front of her, I discovered. A prisoner. She's a prisoner here.
"There, there," I said as I stroked her hair. "It's all right now. Everything will be okay. The nightmare's over."
And that was when I felt the sharp pain caused by something thin and cold sliding into my abdomen. I clutched at it, feeling the metal handle of a knife, slimed with something wet. My blood. Lois spun away from me, smiling, while I was still in shock. The rope had fallen away from her wrists--in fact, I wasn't sure that it had ever been tied in the first place--and I could clearly see the black crescent on her forehead.
"Bitch," I snarled. Then something warm and wet and salty filled my mouth, and I fell to my knees, coughing and retching.
She smiled. "So you really are a fool. How absolutely perfect! Sorry that I can't stay to chat, but I've got other fish to fry, so to speak. Bye." And she sauntered away, leaving me on my knees on the blood-spattered black floor, cursing her name.
* * * * * * * *
Is he really that blind? Can't he see that he's rescuing the wrong person?
I led Malachite the long way around, along a path that twisted among the mirrors and the pillars. He didn't seem to notice. He only had eyes for me.
I was pretty damned fortunate that Zoisite and I were of about the same height and build. Otherwise, this imposture would never have been possible. And even so, I dreaded the time when I would have to undress in front of the pale-haired King. Surely, after the many centuries of mutual affection that I was told they had shared, Malachite must know his lover's body . . . well . . . intimately. And although I'd gotten a good look at Zoisite when I'd stripped him to get his uniform, I wasn't foolish enough to believe that I had captured every nuance. Nor, in truth, would I have wanted to. The spell that I had used to warp the bones and muscles of my face to make myself over into Zoisite's image hurt enough. But this only had to work for a few days. If Zoisite remained incarcerated inside the Dark Moon's citadel for long enough, the power that governed that place would seep into his bones and turn him to our side no matter how hard he tried to resist. Then we could release him and send him back here to work on Malachite on our behalf.
Despite the dangers inherent in what I was doing, there was a thrill to it. That kiss--even though stolen and cut short by circumstance--had taken my breath away. There hadn't been anyone else at the Enclave that shared my . . . preferences. I'd had to confine what little experimentation I'd been able to permit myself to the most tolerant of my close male acquaintances, and neither of those liaisons had lasted more than a night or two. I'd never had a real lover before, and certainly not one like Malachite.
I touched a fingertip to Zoisite's spirit crystal, stolen to aid my imposture, and it vibrated like an angry wasp. A jolt ran up my arm, and I froze.
What in hell am I doing?
It was as though, for an instant, the choking layer of blackness that had been numbing my mind for the past several days receded, providing me with an instant of clear thought. I staggered to a stop.
What am I doing?
Lying to him. Stringing him along. Helping the enemy. I can't do that. I have to fight!
But if I tell him the truth now . . . That kiss . . . He'll kill me!
<<You will continue.>> The whisper welled up from deep inside my mind.
My own spirit crystal, part of the belt which I wore under my stolen clothes, felt warm against my stomach, and suddenly everything was fine again. Except that, in some tiny corner of my mind, the part of me that had attacked Lapis when she'd begun her takeover of the Enclave was raging and screaming and beating itself against the black walls that held it back.
<<Is something wrong?>> Malachite slid an arm around my shoulders, pulling me against him. I tried to smile.
"Just a headache, my love. I think it has to do with the way my powers are blocked." Except that they weren't, really. I was just trying to say what I believed Zoisite would have said. I only hoped that I understood his personality well enough to be convincing. "Come on, it isn't very far now." And I shifted the spear that he'd conjured for me to my other hand. I hoped that I wouldn't have to use it. I'd come to the conclusion that it wasn't my weapon.
The fragment of the dark crystal that provided our anti- magic and time-stasis fields stood in lonely splendor at the center of the circle of mirrors that was the closest thing this craft had to a control room. Malachite walked through the outermost layer of wards without even seeming to notice them, and I sighed with relief. Given the way that those defenses had been set, that had to mean that the imprint carried by people who had been exposed to the Negaforce was very like the one that Wise Man had imposed on me, which in turn meant that I might be able to survive in the Negaverse for a while.
Malachite stopped just outside the inner wards and extended a hand to apply gentle pressure to them. They gave, then sprang back elastically, just as they'd been designed to do for everyone except me and Lapis. Malachite frowned, then closed his eyes and raised one hand, curling the fingers loosely as though to hold the handle of something. When his eyes opened again, they were glowing with power, and what looked like a short, curved knife with a blade made up of pure energy formed in his hand. When the point of it touched the barrier, it passed through. he slashed the knife down in a long, vertical cut. The ward collapsed like a balloon while I stared, jaw hanging slack. How could he have generated something like that with the crystal fragment draining his powers? He's even more dangerous than we thought! And then the space between us and the crystal was empty.
<<Idiot woman.>> Malachite flashed me a quick, startling grin, which I found myself returning. <<She should have known better than to rely on something this simple for protection. Let's hope that this crystal of hers is equally poorly designed.>>
I hung back as he went to examine it. The full-sized Dark Crystal itself wasn't at all fragile, but this piece of it could probably be damaged if someone like Malachite applied his powers to it in just the right way. And when he clasped it between his hands and his eyes began to glow again, it was obvious that he'd found one of its weak points. Then I heard the sharp, musical ping! of the initial fracture, and the crystal crumbled into a little pile of shards.
"You'll pay for this," snarled a voice from behind us. I spun to stare at Lapis. She was really doing a wonderful job of acting. I only hoped that Grossularite was doing as good a job of pretending to be me. It would all have been a lot easier if we could have cast him as Zoisite, but warping his broad-shouldered, five-foot-eleven frame down to match Zoisite's and my slenderer five-foot-six would have taken weeks and been agonizing for him, so we'd been forced to relegate him to a role where he wasn't going to have intimate contact with the Negaversites and he could disguise his identity with a simple illusion that wouldn't have to stand up under touch. Sending Grossularite as himself would have been useless, of course. Cuprite would neither recognize nor trust him.
Malachite turned more slowly and in a dignified manner. "I doubt it," he said calmly.
And that was when the ship started to shake.
* * * * * * * *
It's no use, I decided grimly. He'll never find me here, not with the Weave-link blocked. I'll just have to wait patiently until Serena--pardon me, Neo-Queen Serenity-- wins the war against the Dark Moon in this time period, and hope that they turn me loose so that I can go home.
I'd already picked the locks on the chains that held me to the wall (and it was damned fortunate that they'd given me a split second in which to palm the stiff piece of wire that I'd used to do it when they'd stripped me), but there was just no way that I could get at the lock that secured the door to my cell from this side. The Gods of Darkness knew that I'd tried hard enough, but from the inside, the door was a featureless slab of stone. Anyway, there were guards outside--four huge, hulking droids--and I doubted that I could overpower them without either magic or a weapon.
And so I leaned back against the wall and tried to ignore the disturbing feeling of internal violation that resulted from my spirit crystal being in the possession of someone that I neither knew nor trusted. Sometimes, if I closed my eyes, I could almost get a sense of what the man who had stolen it was thinking. I'd even been able to give him a bit of a jolt when it had made contact with his bare skin. I hoped that had hurt him good.
Maybe I do still have a chance. If Malachite touches my crystal, I might be able to send him some kind of message through it. In the meanwhile, I might be able to make sure that that son of a bitch from the Dark Moon at least doesn't hurt him.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 11
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury