The Crystal Weaver Saga: An Ill Fate Marshalling
by E. Liddell
* * * * * * * *
February 8, 2002AD
<<Cuprite, you stay here.>>
And, with that curt order, Malachite and Jasper vanished into the gloom, going in opposite directions. I sat down cross- legged on the floor, with my back against a pillar and my staff in my lap, and wondered which of those Gods of Darkness that Jasper had sworn by once or twice during our tour (a million years, it seemed) had it in for me.
That staff. Even when I made a conscious effort not to touch it, my hands always seemed to return to it eventually.
Nothing happened for what seemed like a very long time, but was probably only a couple of minutes. The complete loss of whatever sense I used to detect magical nuances seemed to be throwing my timesense off as well.
A darker shadow moving among the pillars caught my eye. One of the others? But it didn't seem to be making any effort at concealment, and it wasn't tall enough to be Malachite or bulky enough to be Jasper. Nor did it move like Zoisite--the blonde man had struck me as being vaguely feline. Her. It has to be. I rose to my feet, and my hands clenched around the staff, my only weapon. I waited.
But the person who stopped some twenty feet away from me was a man, not a woman. A familiar man.
"Pyrope," I breathed. Friend and relative and almost- brother. We'd been born barely two years apart, which, for the Enclave, was very close indeed. Tears stung at my eyes. "You're all right." I couldn't believe it, even with the evidence right in front of me. "I thought . . . something had gone terribly wrong. That she had you all."
He shook his head. "Lapis, you mean? Most of us threw off her control after a few hours, but you were already gone. We've been looking for you ever since. Christ, can you ever make yourself hard to find when you want to! But that isn't what's important now. Let's go home, old friend."
"I . . . can't." It hurt to say it, but I could feel the stiff jacket of my Negaverse uniform, fitted tightly around my body as though to choke the life out of me. "I'm sorry. I can't get away right now. If I did, I'd endanger you." The relatively mild consequences of just talking back to Malachite had shaken me badly. I didn't even want to think about what he'd do if I betrayed him, and if I went home right now, I knew that that was just how he'd see it: as treason.
"Don't be ridiculous." Pyrope was wearing a peculiar belt buckle, one that I'd never seen before, silvery metal set with a black stone that picked up red highlights whenever a stray gleam of light reached it. Or were those just reflections? And why did I care? He was safe. They were all safe. That was what mattered.
I lowered my staff and stepped forward. Even if I wasn't going with him, I wanted to see him up close, to prove to myself that he was real.
I glanced in the direction of the pained rasp, saw Jasper clutching at a pillar as though his life depended on it. He looked like hell, and there was a dark, wet stain on the front of his jacket, half- concealed by his hand. Was that--could it be--blood?
"Are you okay? What happened?" I started toward him.
"Stay back!" He let go of the pillar to raise one hand in my direction. I backed off again. My powers appeared to be gone for the moment, but I wasn't sure that his were. "I'm not going to get taken in again! Him, who's he?" And he gestured in Pyrope's direction.
"I might ask the same thing." My cousin stepped forward to stand beside me.
And that was when several things happened at once.
There was a sound of crystal shattering, somewhere in the distance.
My powers, my special magic-sense, returned in a rush.
Jasper cursed and reached for his sword, glancing over his shoulder.
And I sensed something evil, dark, totally and absolutely wrong, standing beside me. And I instinctively swung my staff . . .
. . . at Pyrope.
There was an explosion of light, and I think the floor shook. I'm not quite sure, though, because I was flying backwards through the air at the time, and blinded by the flash. My last thoughts before my head cracked against a pillar were:
Oh, hell, why can't I ever get involved in a fight without doing something embarrassing?
And, At least I wasn't even almost sick, this time.
And then there was a sudden explosion of pain, and darkness.
* * * * * * * *
What in hell was that?
The awesome vibration had stopped almost as quickly as it had started, but there was no doubt in my mind that something had happened.
<<Nephrite, is that you?>>
<<Were you expecting the Tooth Fairy? Of course it's me. What did you just do up there? I think the entire planet felt the backlash. I was divining you at the time, and the whole structure of the spell just collapsed. I didn't think it was possible for that to happen.>>
<<I'm as mystified as you are,>> I replied. <<Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a very annoyed Dark Moon type here who wants to rip Zoisite and me to shreds.>>
Actually, from where I stood, it looked like Zoisite was more likely to rip the woman to shreds. I still couldn't feel more than the dimmest sense of his presence (Why not? inquired some skeptical back corner of my mind), but his entire body was poised to lunge forward at her. I touched his shoulder.
<<Quickly,>> I told him. <<We're in the middle of enemy territory. This is not the time for games.>>
He glared at me, then lowered his hand with a regretful sigh. "Oh, well. Don't tell me that you're going to let her live?"
<<My King, we need you here. Now.>> The message was borne on a wave of agony. <<Cuprite's unconscious, and I'm . . . too weak to . . . help him . . .>>
<<Jasper? Jasper!>> There was no response. I glanced over at the woman. Her ward was in place now, and it looked like a strong, secure one to me. I could probably break through it, but it would take time. Time that Jasper and Cuprite might not have.
<<We have to go,>> I told Zoisite.
"If that's what you think is best." But the expression on his face wasn't one of disappointment. Relief, perhaps? Myself, I was more irritated. It disturbed me to have to leave an enemy alive at my back, but I didn't have a choice this time. My supply of allies was too small. I didn't want to waste any of them.
We teleported, arriving near our original point of entry into this insane place to discover three unconscious bodies and a staff lying on the ground. The large patch of blood across the front of Jasper's jacket left no doubt as to the cause of his condition. Being no healer, there wasn't anything much I could do to help him except create a barrier that would keep his blood inside him where it belonged until we could get him home. There wasn't anything at all we could do for Cuprite and his obvious concussion.
The third man, however, mystified me. He would have been about Jadeite's height, with long, blonde hair done up in a complicated braid, and the facial structure and slanted eyes of a Crystal Weaver. He also had a black moon crescent on his forehead, making it obvious where he'd come from. And he was, inexplicably, lying there unconscious without a mark on him.
<<Are we leaving him?>> Zoisite queried, hoisting Cuprite and his staff.
<<No,>> I decided, <<we're bringing him. He may be useful as a hostage.>> I summoned a warp and tossed the stranger through, then picked up Jasper and followed Zoisite into the black hole.
* * * * * * * *
September 11, 1995 AD
"You're right," I gritted out. "I must set aside personal feelings for the good of the family. It's what the Earth deserves! But remember, you're only here to advise! And this by no means changes anything between us. Once we've conquered Earth as our own, I'll make inquiries about your blatant act of insubordination. Now, be gone!"
As soon as I was alone, I slammed my right hand, clenched into a fist, against the palm of my left. The nerve of the bastard! How dared he? How dared he kill my brother and then pretend that everything was all right? I should have killed him, blasted him right there and then, as he'd blasted poor Sapphire. Sapphire, who had tried to warn me against Wise Man's treachery.
I turned away from the Dark Crystal. Its glitter, once so full of promise, now only seemed to illuminate my foolishness. My wrongs.
Serenity, would you understand? I doubted it, somehow. She ruled a realm of light, I one of shadow. She could never understand the compromises required, the evils accepted. Despite my white clothing, I'd always been a creature of the darkness.
Malachite might have understood, I suppose. He and I were far more alike than I and Serenity. I almost regretted sending Lapis into the past to destroy him. No, I did regret. Lapis had always been Wise Man's creature, although she did lip service to me. But then, weren't we all Wise Man's creatures? He'd been mentor to generations of Nemisians, our guide and guardian for more than a thousand years, ever since our ancestors had been exiled from Earth.
Or had that been another lie?
Deeply troubled, I let my feet follow whatever path they would through the lower reaches of our little domain here in twentieth-century Tokyo. My own image, reflected back from smooth, dark crystal facets, mocked me with the crescent moon stamped in the middle of its forehead. Sapphire's mark had vanished, right there at the end. Did that mean that he'd somehow pulled free of the tangled web of evil and lies that had ensnared us, a web whose full extent I was only beginning to discover? I needed his counsel so badly . . .
Well, maybe I can at least have the next best thing, I thought, realizing where I was. I pushed the door to my left open and entered the small room beyond. And stared, aghast.
They're gone! How--why--?
The room should have glittered with light. There should have been dozens, hundreds of tiny crystals on the shelves that lined it, each adding its own faint, unique glow. But they were gone. The spirit crystals of all the Nemisians had vanished from what should have been the most secure room on the planet, past, present, or future. With them went all our history, the last memories of what our people had been before Nemesis. Sapphire's crystal was gone. And so was my own. Stolen.
Wise Man! was my first thought. No, I'm jumping to conclusions. There are others who have access to this place. Lapis. Bixbite and the other cousins. And Wise Man could have coded the lock to anyone else that he pleased. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find his pink-haired pet on the access list. The question is, why would anyone do this? If they'd wanted power over me, or even over all living members of our family, they wouldn't have needed to take the crystals of the dead.
Someone--a friend, an ally, an enemy, a stranger, I couldn't tell which--held my life in his hands. My crystal was still intact, somewhere, or I would be dead. And it hadn't been used against me. Yet. Somehow, I suspected that it wouldn't be. But of what other possible use were those tiny pieces of us?
A faint tingle running down my spine was my only warning that the ward I'd placed around the Dark Crystal had been breached. The Sailor Scouts were coming. I had preparations to make, then.
I forced myself to shelve the mystery of the spirit crystals, leaving it as something to investigate later. If there was a later.
For me, there wasn't.
* * * * * * * *
February 8, 2002 AD
"S'rena? Wha' happened?"
Luna's voice was a little slurred. Molly had told me that the cat had broken her jaw, and that it would take time before it was properly healed--something about bone density at the site of the break. Still, slurred or no, it was a very welcome sound.
"You're all right!" I almost picked her up and hugged her, but remembered myself in time. "We were so worried!"
"Where are we?" Luna craned her neck, probably trying to see more of the world than the basket she was lying in.
"At Nephrite's place," I replied. "Our apartment's kinda in rotten shape since the droid blew the wall out, and it's going to take Darien at least a few more days to find somewhere else, so we're staying here for now. It was that or descend on Lita, and her apartment isn't very big. Besides, Molly didn't think you should be moved again before you woke up, and I wanted to keep an eye on you. And we're probably better protected here than down in the city." It was weird that the safest place for us was the home of a former enemy, but life's often strange that way.
Before I could say anything more, we were interrupted by a column of yellow sparks swirling into being in the corner. It vanished to reveal Molly. Thankfully, she was dressed, not in a Negaverse uniform, but in jeans and an oversized cream silk shirt that had to have been stolen from Nephrite's alter ego Maxfield Stanton.
"So, how's the patient?" she asked. "Awake, I see. That's good."
"And hungry and thirsty and confused," Luna contributed, "which I think you'll agree is not so good."
"I think we can fix--"
Somewhere, very far away, something rumbled. Something large. I could feel the vibrations through the chair I was sitting on.
"That wasn't natural," Molly said grimly. "A spell, cast in the Earth Realm, and a powerful one, if we felt the fallout here. Come on. I want to take a look outside."
I did, too. I was beginning to have a feeling that something Very Bad had just happened. I grabbed Molly's arm, and either she understood or she decided that it would be faster just to teleport with me attached, because the column of yellow sparks formed around us both. When it cleared again, we were outside the house, near the foot of the drive that led back out to the real world. Frost-rimed grass crunched under my feet as I took a step forward. The cold was arctic.
"The temperature in the Negaverse is constant to within a few degrees," Molly said softly, "and it's the major factor contributing to the climate in this place. We don't experience much change with the seasons. I'm almost afraid to find out what's at the end of the drive, after seeing what it looks like here."
I couldn't answer. My teeth were chattering too hard. Molly touched my arm, and I felt something settle around me like a second skin, warming me. One of her spells, no doubt. We stepped out onto the gravel of the path together, and followed it slowly down past the last bend . . .
Molly understood the meaning of what we saw an instant before I did, and the color drained from her face.
"No," she whispered. Then, louder, "No! Not yet! It's too soon!" And, so softly that I almost couldn't hear it, "Mother . . ."
The sidewalk, and the street beyond, were encased in a layer of ice easily an inch thick. Must have been one hell of an ice storm, I thought. And then I noticed something. There was no sound, no noise at all, except for the two of us breathing. No sound of traffic on the larger streets beyond this quiet residential district, which would surely have been cleaned almost immediately no matter what the weather. No sounds of people going about their daily lives. Just . . . nothing.
Our world was devastated by ecological disaster. The entire planet froze over and all living beings were placed in a state of dormancy. They slept until the thirtieth century, when Neo-Queen Serenity came to the throne and used the powers of the Silver Crystal to re-awaken the planet.
It's too soon, I echoed in terrified realization. We should have had at least another year!
I fell to my knees in the middle of the street, ignoring the supercold ice that burned my bare knees despite Molly's spell of warmth. Oh, Darien . . . How am I ever going to manage without you for a thousand years?
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Interlude
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury