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

Chapter 13

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"What just happened here?" Things had moved so damned fast, with one stranger being exchanged for another . . .

Demantoid shrugged and said . . . something. It sounded vaguely like "Kavekha lorat mimniz?" In any case, it wasn't English or Japanese, and it didn't take a genius to figure out that he didn't understand me.

<<What happened?>> I repeated, this time using the mindspeech that transcended all language barriers. <<You've killed him, haven't you?>> Damn him! I hadn't realized it before, but the man on the bed had been my captive, and I'd wanted some say regarding his disposal. It was a strange feeling. I'd never had the impression that someone belonged to me before.

I guess the Negaverse is rubbing off on me, I reflected.

<<We exchanged places, that's all,>> Demantoid stated. <<He now rests within the Silver Crystal. It's for the best, really. He would never have woken up. Is that what you would have wanted for him?>>

<<Actually, yes,>> I responded. It would have been satisfying, somehow, for the stranger to suffer for trying to attack me.

A hand settled on my shoulder. I looked up into the shifting pattern of light that was a face, as perceived by my altered vision. A yellow glow. Almandite, then.

<<Cheer up,>> she told me. <<Things can't possibly be that bad.>>

<<Don't patronize me,>> I snapped.

<<I wasn't. Everything is relative, after all. And I guarantee that things are about to get so much worse that today is going to look wonderful by comparison.>>

I groaned. <<Thanks. That's just what I needed to hear.>>

* * * * * * * *


It had taken almost an hour to assemble everyone. In fact, there had been moments when I'd thought that we wouldn't find Jasper at all. He'd been blocking all of us. Hard. In the end, I'd had to turn the youma out to perform a physical search. Zantisa had eventually located him in one of the old palace's lower subbasements, near the room that held the shattered shards of the globe that had once served as the Negaforce's body. He slouched over the table now, near the foot, at Amber's left, with Cuprite across from him, and Demantoid on his other side.

I'd deliberately positioned the refugee from the distant past so that he was facing me. He might have helped us in the past, but that didn't mean that I entirely trusted him. Even with Beryl dead, we all still carry the scars we received in her service, and I think that we always will.

Now I shot Demantoid a sharp, impatient glance. Well?

<<My King,>> he began, <<I apologize for forcing this audience, but we don't have very long before— What's the phrase that the humans use?—before all hell breaks loose. Literally.>>

"Um, would it really be too much trouble for you guys to talk like normal people?" Sailor Moon asked from her place between Cuprite and Almandite.

<<Would someone mind telling me what she's saying? I never learned any of the human languages, and borrowing another's knowledge—>> He nodded to Cuprite. <<— was regrettably not sufficient to teach me.>>

"A moment, please," I told the Sailor Scout. <<Jadeite?>>

Fortunately, language implantation is a quicker process than extracting specific information. I waited until that detail was sorted out before I spoke again.

"You claim that there is a danger to us." Well, we all knew that there was a danger to us, but somehow I didn't think it was the Dark Moon that he was talking about.

"You mean you don't know about the demons?" Demantoid's frown matched my own. "Then we have more to do than I thought."

"The . . . demons?" Sailor Moon asked, sounding less than thrilled with the idea.

"Perhaps demons is not the right word. Devils? Evil spirits? Dark gods? It doesn't matter, anyway. All that you must know is that they are powerful, evil creatures. Three thousand years ago, we bound them away where they could harm no-one, but now the bindings are slipping loose. I think that you have all had a taste of the possible consequences."

"You're talking about the demons from the Blood Millennium. The ones that Queen Phoebe fought. And Adamant," I added. Testing. Nephrite's head snapped up, and I could see that he was annoyed with himself for not making the connection.

"Then you do know." Demantoid relaxed, his shoulders slumping slightly. "I was afraid that—"

"Your relief is premature," I interrupted him. "The human histories said that all of the demons were destroyed." At least, to the best of my recollection, and there were no written records left against which to compare my memories.

Pale green hair flew as Demantoid shook his head. "We—or our ancestors—lacked the power to do that. Even Adamant wasn't strong enough to do more than imprison them, even with the assistance of Queen Phoebe—your ancestor, Princess Serenity." He nodded to Sailor Moon, then returned his gaze to me. "It seems . . . very strange . . . that you don't know, living in a demon's lair as you do, and having battled the Empyrean, who were another demon's creation. Didn't Onyx tell you—"

I tried to exchange glances with Zoisite, but he avoided my eyes. He'd been doing a lot of that lately. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Nephrite doing the same thing, more successfully, with Jadeite. It was that last who actually said what I believe we were all thinking.

"He might have, if he'd had the time."

Demantoid fidgeted, twisting the ring that held his spirit crystal. "Then you didn't know . . . You had no idea that you needed to reinforce . . . Gods of Light! We're fortunate that they stayed bound for as long as they did!"

"I'm sorry," he added. "I'm dropping hints and making very little sense. All of the demons were bound in separate locations. Some of them, like your Negaforce, were pushed off into separate pocket dimensions like this one. Others—the more powerful ones—couldn't be shifted out of the universe of their birth, and so had to be bound to isolated planetoids. The plan was that they would continue floating alone in deep space until the universe came to an end, if necessary. Unfortunately, the demons apparently weren't in on the plan." He smiled thinly.

"And the Dark Moon is being run by another one of your demons, I suppose," Zoisite said impatiently. "I fail to see how this helps us."

Demantoid spared my lover a sidelong glance before continuing. "The demons' bodies were destroyed, and they were individually bound to their locations, but there were also two larger bindings that encompassed all the demons and could be used to hold them back if the location-specific ones failed. Since the larger spells had to be flexible, each was bound to a person as well as an artefact. Unfortunately, one of those spells has been mostly destroyed, and the other is now failing, and some of the demons are breaking their individual bindings. We must re-establish the major bindings, or it will soon be too late."

"Okay, let me get this straight," Sailor Moon said. "The Doom Phantom—which I thought I'd killed off with the Silver Crystal a few years back—is a demon that my great-great- lotsmoregreats-grandmother from the old days helped one of your ancestors lock up, and now you're asking these guys to help you stuff it back into its cage, along with a whole bunch of its brothers?"

"That's close, but it isn't just their help that I'm asking. We'll need yours as well."

"My help?" I'd often seen Serena look non-plussed, but never quite to this extent. "Why?"

"Because one of the bindings was anchored by the reigning queen of the Moon. Adamant apparently thought it would be safer if one of the . . . the keys, if you will, wasn't a Crystal Weaver, and Phoebe volunteered herself and her descendants. Adamant anchored the ward in her, and then created the Sailor Scouts to guard her and her line. Your mother, Queen Serenity, was the last to take on that hereditary responsibility."

"Which is why the Negaforce had Beryl kill her," I mused aloud. "And the other binding?"

"Was anchored by Adamant himself. It should have been bound to another after his death, but when the spell is activated, it draws part of its power from the Crystal Weaver to whom it is attached, and most of us—even most Centers—don't have the amount of magic required. In fact, I didn't think that it was possible for anyone else to be that strong . . . and then I met you, Malachite." And he looked straight into my eyes. "You're not quite what our ancestor was, but your strength should be . . . sufficient. I hope. If it isn't, we're all dead."

I felt . . . strange. I didn't want to spend my life anchoring some ancient and powerful ward. I wanted to rule the Negaverse.

The two need not be mutually exclusive, I encouraged myself. In fact, if we want to survive, they'd better bloody well be mutually inclusive.

It is a humbling thing to discover that the universe may have plans for one that one wot not of.

* * * * * * * *


I felt a sudden suspicion, and, after a moment's thought, voiced my idea aloud.

"You aren't aware of recent events, are you? You have no idea what's happened out in the human world. You think that the demons are our most immediate problem." Jadeite should have spotted this before I did. What's the matter with him? Then I realized that, even though his head was turned in such a way that it looked like he was watching Demantoid, he was really looking at Jasper. I frowned. There was some sort of tension between those two, faint but palpable. Their personal problems were really none of my business, but I was senior to both of them, and if this whatever-it-was started affecting Jadeite's work . . .

"Aren't they?" Demantoid asked softly. Then, "There's something more wrong, isn't there? Tell me."

I hesitated. "I think it would be easier if I showed you. With your permission, my King . . . ?"

Malachite nodded, and I gestured for Demantoid to stand up.

I teleported the two of us to the roof of the Stanton Enterprises building in Tokyo. The location didn't really matter, and it was an easy site for me to picture in my head. Even though I'd been expecting the ice, my feet almost slipped out from under me. I didn't understand how it could be so slick, when it was far too cold for a film of water to form on its surface. Demantoid did fall, landing on his hands and knees and somehow managing to catch himself before he sprawled out full-length. I winced in sympathy. The cold had to be stabbing right through all that metal he was wearing, too.

He muttered something full of sibilants—was that the original Crystal Weaver language? For that matter, had our people ever had a language of their own? How little we still knew, even after all this time!—and, instead of trying to move again, rearranged himself in a sitting position.

"Is it all like this?" he asked.

"Or worse." On the first day, I'd checked New York and London and a couple of other cities that I'd visited as Maxfield Stanton. The thickness of the ice layer had varied a bit from place to place, but the overall scene had been the same. And some of what I'd seen had been quite ugly, since anything that had been in the air had fallen to the ground and shattered as though it had been dipped in liquid nitrogen. Pigeon shrapnel all over the place. I'd carefully avoided visiting any of the airports. If we ever got it all thawed out again, it would be . . . messy.

"And so now you see why we need to hurry," Demantoid said.

"You're claiming that the demons are somehow responsible for this." It came out sounding very flat.

He shrugged. "It is a demonic spell, although its expression appears to have been distorted. However, if they could do this by accident, I leave it to you to consider what they might be able to do on purpose."

I smiled thinly. "I don't think that there's anything much that they can do to make things worse at this juncture. Nor will bottling up the demons reverse the spell. We know for a fact that it's going to last a thousand years before Serena and her Silver Crystal are able to break it. Perhaps you'd like to tell me what good demon-hunting is going to do us under those circumstances?"

"It will keep them from doing the same to you and your people."

I shook my head, but really, he was right. It's always better to be on the offensive. That's an elementary rule of war. If you're on the defending side, then your options are restricted. And it was inevitable that the demons would, eventually, come after us. It was in our best interests to attack them first.

<<I'm glad you figured that out,>> Malachite stated. <<Now, get him back here before either of you freezes.>>

The devastated Earth was so cold that even the Negaverse seemed warm by comparison, and normally our home isn't a good place for anyone who can't cast a heat spell. Demantoid's jaw was clenched as he returned to his position at the foot of the table. I think he did it to keep his teeth from chattering.

"It would seem," Malachite said once we were seated again, "that there are three things that we need to accomplish. If possible, Serena must restore the binding that was destroyed after her mother's death. The demon that was in charge of the Dark Moon—the Doom Phantom?" He glanced at Sailor Moon, who nodded. "—must be rebound to its original physical location, which I would assume is on the planetoid called Nemesis. And I must attempt to take Adamant's place and shore up the remaining ward."

"There are . . . complications," Demantoid said before Malachite could continue. "Serena will need the crown of the Moon Kingdom. I have only the vaguest memories of what happened while I was inside the Crystal, but what I do recall suggests that it's buried under about a ton of rubble somewhere on the Moon. I don't even know what object anchored Adamant's ward, or where you can find it, although I can tell you that that staff—" And he pointed straight at Cuprite— "is the key to locating it. In fact, it was created and given to Sailor Pluto for the sole purpose of leading Adamant's successor to the anchor's hiding place, should that ever become necessary. As for the physical ward on Nemesis . . . it's in the middle of enemy territory, and I think we can expect it to be well-guarded. And . . ."

"Kindly leave off with the melodrama and tell us," Zoisite snapped. It has never taken very much to fray his nerves, and he'd been even more jumpy than usual lately. Hell, mine were beginning to get frayed, something which a thousand years trapped in the Negaverse had failed to accomplish before.

"The demons' bodies were destroyed before they were confined to their prisons," Demantoid continued. "In fact, I believe that was considered to be our first line of defense—they can't leave their cells without possessing someone's body, and there are very few beings in the universe whose systems are capable of enduring that level of magic. A normal human whose body became possessed by a demon would burn out within minutes. Fortunately or otherwise, a Crystal Weaver's tolerance is rather higher. If the Doom Phantom is out wandering around, it's because it has taken over the body of a Crystal Weaver. And it may be looking for a replacement."

And the fact that any one of us in this room (except Sailor Moon) would make an ideal such replacement went without saying.

"Which holds equally true regardless of what we do, doesn't it?" Amber asked.

"Yes. It does." Malachite fingered his spirit crystal. <<All choices are bad.>> The thought slid along the linkage that bound us together. Presumably, the others heard it too, but it was difficult to be certain. Zoisite's eyes were shut, making him difficult for me to read, Jadeite was fixated on Jasper, and Almandite . . . I knew that something was bothering my wife (above and beyond what had happened to her human family and friends), and had been for several days, but I had yet to discover what it was.

"Jadeite and Jasper will go to Nemesis," Malachite continued. "Nephrite and Almandite will go with Sailor Moon. Since we have Sailor Pluto's staff and thus can access the timestream, you will return to the Moon Kingdom in the past—if we search the ruins in the present, we'll never find the crown in time. Meanwhile, Cuprite, Zoisite, and I will attempt to find the anchor for Adamant's ward." I nodded. Those were standard pairings, grouping people who often worked together—and, incidentally, keeping lovers and family together inasmuch as that was possible. Why, then, didn't anyone look happy about the order? There were all of these tiny wrongnesses between us. If I hadn't known better, I would have suspected a Dark Moon attack, an attempt to divide us.

"Demantoid, you will remain here," Malachite added. "If we fail . . . You are the most knowledgeable of us. You must train others and try again."

The green-haired man nodded in acceptance. "My King."

Malachite's eyebrows flicked upward for a moment. I was a little surprised myself. Despite the fact that Demantoid had once Centered a Weave in his own right, he seemed more than willing to give way to Malachite. I tried to trace down the reason why that disturbed me, and had to hide a rueful smile when I found it. It was just that I'd subliminally accepted Demantoid as one of us, meaning someone who belonged in the Negaverse, and that I expected certain behavior from him as a result. Even those of us who hadn't lived here under Beryl had . . . a hard edge, I suppose, a competitiveness, that Demantoid lacked. But that wasn't what I found humorous. No, the funny part was that both the worlds I moved in—the Negaverse and the human world of big business—seemed to bring out the same traits in people, and I'd suddenly developed this mental image of what would happen if I brought Zoisite with me to the next Stanton Enterprises board meeting. Businesspeople may have to learn to swim with sharks, but piranhas are a whole other story . . .

My smile faded. Nothing like that would ever happen, not while the Earth remained imprisoned in ice. I wondered if the humans were aware of what had happened, or if everything had just . . . ended . . . for them at the moment that the spell hit. For their sakes, I hoped that it was the latter.

Malachite pushed back his chair and rose from the conference table, signaling that the meeting was over. We'd have a few hours to prepare, and then . . . then we'd leave on the mission from which none of us might return.

* * * * * * * *

(Thirtieth century?)

I emerged from my trance state, tired and dry-mouthed, to try pounding on the door again.

"Let me out!"

There was no response. Nothing had happened outside in almost two days now. I hadn't received any food or water in that time, either. I hadn't been so thirsty since my initial capture by the Negaverse, when I'd spent a week chained to a wall in a dungeon not unlike this one.

"Let me out," I repeated, more softly, with one last blow of my fists. Then I slunk back to my corner, tears of frustration stinging the corners of my eyes. In the trance, I'd managed to pick up a few impressions of what was going on in the Negaverse from my spirit crystal, and what I had seen alarmed me. Damn it, he's going into danger with only that wimp Cuprite for protection and my double's there to backstab him and there's nothing I can do to help!

I wrapped my arms around my updrawn knees, hugging them to my bare chest, and prayed to every god I could name for Malachite's safety and my own survival. There wasn't much else that I could do.

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