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

Chapter 14

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Somehow, it just wasn't what I had expected. Or perhaps I was still just a little numb. It hadn't struck me, before, that the world I had known was gone, vanished while I slept. I would spend the rest of my life among these strangers, my family dead, my Weave gone. Those wounds were still fresh for me. I hadn't had time, when the Empyrean War had ended, to mourn properly, and I didn't know the circumstances of my brother's death at all. And these others he had trained had fully developed powers but seemed to have no more control over them than idiot children. Nephrite's teleport had been jarring, huge amounts of energy wasted, and Malachite . . . Malachite truly frightened me, far stronger than anyone of my generation but with only the most rudimentary idea of how to channel and control what he had. And this was the person who would take Adamant's place as our leader?

Better him than no one, I reminded myself. It was that lack of leadership that had torn our people apart and left us easy prey for the Empyrean. We'd replaced Adamant, who had effectively been our king, although he'd never claimed the title, with an elected council that had essentially waffled its way to death, and I didn't want to see that kind of mistake made again. And whatever else Malachite was, he was also a leader and a ruler. A king. My king, unless I wanted to start the arguments and the division all over again. There weren't enough of us left to survive that.

I adjusted my jacket again and glanced in the mirror. Military tailoring is always flattering to an athletic figure, and the Negaverse uniform was no exception. I'd chosen light green trim and silver epaulettes set with dark blue stones, and I looked quite sharp.

Malachite's motivations in allowing me to wear those particular decorations were a bit more questionable, however. He and his other senior Generals would be leaving on their various quests in less than an hour's time. If none of them returned, did that mean that I would be in charge here? Bemusing thought. If it hadn't been my people's last sanctuary, I would have wanted no part of this place, tainted as it was with the subtle scent of a demon's corruption.

I glanced over at my armor, which I'd dumped onto the still-bare mattress of the bed when I'd removed it. There were still rusty bloodstains on the metal. Never again, I thought, and shuddered. No, I would do whatever I had to see that history didn't repeat itself.

<<Demantoid, I have some instructions for you. Come here, please.>>

<<Of course, my King.>> I stretched out my mind, located him, and teleported.

* * * * * * * *


My own preparations didn't take very long. I'd already given Zantisa and Amber their necessary last-minute instructions. I was counting on my most trusted youma captain to keep an eye on Demantoid. After that, I went back to the castle that Zoisite and I called home, to pick up the sword he had given me, once upon a time.

I sat on the edge of our bed for a while, holding the weapon in my hands. The pale blue jewel set into the pommel winked at me as I turned it this way and that, but I didn't really see it. Instead, I thought about the man who had given it to me--not that Zoisite was ever far from my thoughts, but this, the first gift he had ever given me, evoked, not the proud General that I worked with every day, or even my playful lover, but the boy who had first, tentatively, offered me his heart. I didn't often dwell much on what had happened during the Silver Millennium, but those few memories were ones that I treasured.

I stood up, looping the swordbelt around my waist as I glanced at the photograph that had long ago regained its pride of place on the dresser. Zoisite looked back out at me, smiling just a bit nastily, while my image held him and looked down at him. Together. Yes. We always had been, except for those few bleak months at the end of my tenure with Beryl. Two parts of a larger whole.

Why, then, did I have the feeling that, since the world had ended, he was trying to push me away from him? It wasn't anything that he actually did, more little things that he didn't do. I didn't find him waiting for me in odd corners, anymore, to draw me aside for a few sweet moments stolen from both our busy schedules. In fact, I'd barely seen him at all for the past two or three days. He hadn't even joined me in bed at night. It was as though he didn't think that I was worth the effort. And the link between our minds seemed to be blocked. I was unable to pick up more than the vaguest sense of his presence, and he would only speak to me aloud. What was he hiding?

No time, I told myself. Not even an hour remained of the time I had allotted for our preparations, and there was still one more person that I needed to talk to. The bedroom, however, was obviously not an appropriate place for such a conference. Instead, I went to my private study. Amber's transcriptions of her father's stories were still stacked in an untidy pile on one corner of the desk. Beside them was an even more untidy pile of crystal shards from the divination device that I'd shattered . . . four, five days ago? It seemed like an eternity.

<<Demantoid, I have some instructions for you. Come here, please.>> Actually, he was very nearly the last person that I wanted to talk to right now, but I didn't have the luxury of being able to indulge my personal wants right now.

<<Of course, my King.>> And he was there. To my eye, our uniform still didn't look quite right on him. I think it was something in his posture. He wasn't assertive enough, or maybe forceful enough. Yet. Zantisa would teach him.

Is this really the person that I want to leave in charge here? Actually, the answer to that was no. But he was the only one that I could spare who was capable of assuming a leadership position. I would have preferred Nephrite, or failing him Jadeite or Jasper, but I needed them all for the tasks I had assigned them. It had to be this near-stranger.

It wasn't that I felt any great love for most of the youma that I was leaving under his control, but ruling this place was my job, and it was a matter of pride for me to see that it was done right. Pride, and my love of power. A poor ruler seldom retains his position for very long in a place like the Negaverse, and, unlike Beryl, I didn't have a demon to back me up if my subjects started to get restless.

"You summoned, my King?"

I nodded, folding my arms. We stared at each other in silence for several moments.

"I make you uncomfortable, don't I?" Demantoid asked abruptly.

I shrugged. "Trust doesn't come easily to anyone, here, and I know very little about you."

"Is that why you called me here? To talk about myself?"

"No." I studied him again, wondering if I was mistaken and wishing again that Jadeite was himself just now, so that I would have his observations to back me up. "You pity me, don't you? In fact, you pity all of us."

He flinched a little, more out of surprise than anything else, but that tiny motion told me that I had been right.

"Well, don't," I said, giving him my best freeze-them- with-a-glance look. He appeared to be suitably chastised. "We are all survivors here, and I think that some of what we've lived through would have destroyed you, if you'd been in our places. Don't be so much of a fool as to underestimate us, and don't get too comfortable on my throne, because I intend to reclaim it one day."

He inclined his head. "I will take that under consideration, of course. Is that all?"

I checked the time. "It's going to have to be. We leave in a few minutes, and I have to join the others. Good luck."

* * * * * * * *


<<Are you almost ready?>>

<<Give me a moment more,>> I requested-- well, more like ordered, really. I was feeling depressed and irritable, and the spot under my ribs where Lapis's dagger had entered my side ached, although Almandite had healed the wound itself immediately after our return to the Negaverse two days ago. She hadn't been able to replace all of my lost blood, though, and I still felt lightheaded if I overexerted myself, a fact which I was trying to hide from everyone. Youma don't respect the weak, and in the old days, an injured General had been a prime target for assassination. I didn't think that I had any enemies of that caliber just now, but I couldn't entirely discount the possibility, either.

And then Malachite had just had to team me up with my father for this little expedition! Not only was Lord Jadeite the person most likely to notice my secret weakness, but I was fairly certain that he had requested that we be sent together, so that he could keep an eye on me. And since he was senior, I didn't dare confront him regarding it.

I stripped off my jacket, ignoring the twinges from my side, and lifted the object that I'd had the youma prepare for me off the bed, prodding its rubbery surface as a test. The light pseudo- breastplate wasn't quite as good as real armor, but, combined with my wards, it would turn most blows from anything but a really sharp or heavy weapon.

I refuse to make an idiot out of myself in the same way twice.

My jacket was barely large enough for me to fasten it into place over the extra layer of protection, but I eventually got it and strapped my sword on overtop, so that the weapon dangled vertically between my wings. The harness applied pressure to my side even through the armor, intensifying the ache, and I snarled silently at my image in the mirror. Damn Lapis, anyway!

And damn it all, why did it seem like everyone that I loved, or thought I did, was turning on me these days? Well, okay, let's be honest here. Mom hasn't, but she spends most of her time with Avi, not with me. Avi hasn't, but she's just a kid. Mina . . . never had the chance, and, anyway . . . Did I love Mina? I didn't think so. Weird though it seemed, I'd seen a lot of love while I'd been living in the Negaverse. I mean, all of the other Generals, my parents included, came in pairs. And I knew that what I felt for Mina wasn't anything like what any of those couples felt for each other. We didn't have the same kind of absolute need for each other, or the same certainty that what we felt was forever. No, I was fairly certain that I didn't love Mina.

But I was sure that I missed her.

I glanced around my room again. There were probably a dozen things here that I would be able to use, but I wouldn't know which ones they were until we got to Nemesis, and once there we wouldn't dare conjure anything or return here. The risk of someone noticing the surge of foreign magic was too great. And there was a limit to what I could carry, especially if I wanted to bring my sword along. I sighed regretfully and headed for the door.

Lord Jadeite was waiting for me in the hallway outside my suite. He, too, wore a sword, a short, broad-bladed weapon vaguely resembling a Roman gladius.

<<We'll arrive a few hundred feet above the planetary surface,>> he stated without preamble--and unnecessarily. I wouldn't have been foolish enough to expect a pinpoint accurate teleport over that kind of distance when we were headed to a place where neither of us had ever been before. <<Are you ready?>>

I nodded curtly. I'd already said good-bye to my mother and to Avi, and there wasn't anyone else here who mattered. Not anymore.

A curtain of blue flame rose before my eyes, and there was an instant of absolute cold before we reappeared above a barren, desolate landscape.

The war against the demons had begun.

* * * * * * * *


I was the last to reach Malachite's throne room. I gripped my staff--or Sailor Pluto's staff, which was really the point- -more tightly as I crossed the threshold, and swallowed. Five pairs of eyes turned toward me. I think. I still wasn't used to having everyone in my world reduced to shifting layers of shadow and light, and it was hard, sometimes, for me to distinguish faces. I didn't have any trouble telling who was who, though. Malachite, at the center of the group, glowed brilliantly white, like a fallen star, with Zoisite, muted dark red (odd that he was the only one who didn't glow the same color as his spirit crystal) to his left. On his other side, Nephrite, almost as brilliant a blue as Malachite was white, and Almandite, swirling yellow and red. All four of them bore the grey shadow that I believed to be the mark of the Negaforce, their onetime master. I wouldn't have been able to see Sailor Moon at all, not in that company, if she hadn't been wearing the Silver Crystal, which was brilliant enough to compete with Malachite.

I saluted as I'd seen the others do before I lost my vision.

"At your command, my King," I said.

"Do it," Malachite ordered.

I inclined my head and raised the staff, holding it across my body and parallel to the floor. I'm still not certain how I knew exactly what to do with it. Perhaps the artefact itself provided me with the knowledge. This was, after all, what it had been designed for. Perhaps it was even its destiny.

I concentrated, watching with detached fascination as red-violet energy flowed from my hands to meld with the multicolored light that was the staff. The artefact's glow intensified, and I felt an impulse to swing it back to the vertical. I twirled it in my hands. I . . . It was like some sort of demented fireworks display, I suppose, at least to me. I don't know what the others might have seen. Light shot from the top of the staff, went straight up in the air about ten feet, and then spread out to the sides in curving streaks to form a sort of dome over the six of us. Once it was complete, the dome began to fill with mist, as though the very air were suddenly charged with magic. As it thickened, the dome itself gradually faded, until we were standing in the middle of an empty, misty plane.

I lowered the staff, grounding it beside my foot. So this is the timestream. I was feeling completely out of my depth again, an increasingly familiar sensation that was almost welcome in this weird new world.

"Sailor Moon." Malachite's voice brought me out of my distracted state. "You are the only one of us who has ever traveled in this way before. Can you find your way to the past from here?"

"I'm not quite--Oh, that must be the door over there. Yup, no problem." She sounded almost cheerful.

"Good luck, then." There was a pause, during which Sailor Moon, Nephrite, and Almandite must have moved off together. "Cuprite, you must be our guide from here. Is the staff trying to tell you anything?"

"Give me a moment," I requested, and turned slowly in a circle. I was three-quarters of the way through that turn before the staff became anything more than an inert length of metal. When I reached that position, it quivered, and seemed to tug at my hand. "I think we go this way," I said, extending it to point.

"Then go, and stop wasting our time." Zoisite said. Was he always so prickly?

I sighed, and began to walk slowly in the direction that the staff had indicated for me.

* * * * * * * *

The Timestream

The others faded away into the mists behind us as we walked towards the shadow that I had spotted. It changed slowly from a vague, dark blur into an elaborately carved doorway, marked with the phases of the moon and other, more arcane symbols. The door into the timestream proper. I remembered it well. Seven years ago, Sailor Pluto had tried to kill me here, unable to determine my identity through the mists. I waited for her to appear again and challenge us, but there was nothing, only the door drawing steadily nearer. But there was . . . something . . . on the ground directly in front of it. I bent down for a closer look, but all I could see was a darkish splotch.

Nephrite knelt down beside me and prodded the blot with a gloved fingertip. "Blood, I think," he murmured. "Not too fresh, but not more than a few hours old, either, assuming that time means anything here."

Which left the question of who it belonged to and where they were now.

"Sailor Pluto should be here," I said numbly.

Nephrite shrugged. "Based on the evidence, I would guess that this is either her blood, or that of an opponent. Consider. As the Guardian of the Gate of Time, she should be here. Instead, she is missing, and her most potent weapon is in someone else's hands. I would guess that there was a fight here, that she was seriously but not fatally injured, and that she went to the future for help. But investigating this isn't our job. I assume that we're going to have to go through the door. How do we get it open?"

"I don't know. Sailor Pluto did it before." I wasn't sure whether or not I should find his guesses regarding what had happened here comforting or not. Obviously, he didn't believe that Sailor Pluto was dead, but I didn't like the thought that something able to take her on had passed through here.

"Then we'll have to experiment," Nephrite said, and reached out to touch the portal. Light flashed from the crack between the two doors, and there was a sound . . . well, it wasn't quite like the sound of rushing wind, but more like a movie sound-effect intended to imitate that kind of sound, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the doors opened, not all the way, but wide enough for us to get through. Nephrite snatched his hand away from them as though the contact had stung, and shook it, hard.

"Go!" he snapped at Molly and me.

"Together!" I insisted, remembering what had happened the last time. "We have to hold hands." I reached out to take Molly's, and she leaned past me to grab her husband's. We stepped through the doorway together, into darkness and roaring wind. We might even have been blown back through the door, if it hadn't immediately shut behind us.

"Was it like this last time you were here?" Molly shouted to me over the wind's howl.

"Actually, I think it was worse!" I shouted back. I think it was the first time that she'd spoken that day. Certainly she'd been a lot quieter than usual.

Nephrite waved his free hand, and the wind just . . . went away. Or parted around us, or something. We stood in the middle of an island of unnatural silence and calm. It was eerie.

"What do we do now?" he asked, his voice echoing a bit. It's like we're inside some kind of bubble, or something. Hey, cool!

This isn't the time to be thinking about things like that! I scolded myself. You have a world to save, remember? If Raye had been there, she would have said, "Same old Serena!" in that snide voice of hers. And I guess she would have been right. Once the weirdness around me reaches a certain level, I start to turn right back into the airhead that I was back in junior high. I guess it's my way of coping.

"We have to concentrate on our destination," I replied, remembering what Sailor Pluto had told us on that long-ago trip.

"In that case, we're going to have to decide exactly what our destination is," Nephrite mused, "something that we should have thought about before coming here. Obviously, we need to reach the Moon Kingdom sometime after Queen Serenity's coronation but before the final battle with the Negaverse. However, that still leaves us with a twenty-year period to choose from."

I shrugged. I didn't really care one way or the other. My memories of the Moon Kingdom were--and had always been-- very fragmentary, except for those covering that last terrible period before the Negaverse came. "What would you suggest?"

He frowned. "A month or so before the attack on Earth's palace, I suppose. I had a verifiable, if rather vague, position at Earth's royal court in those days. It should at least get us through the door."

"You sound like you think that no one's going to recognize me," I said. I'd had this sort of vague idea in mind that all I'd have to do was identify myself at the palace gates, and we'd get in to see Serenity right away.

Nephrite smiled, with the sort of nasty twist that always made me feel uncomfortable around the Negaverse Generals. "As far as they're concerned, Princess Serena is a fourteen-year-old child, not a slightly pregnant woman of twenty-two, and if the Lunar court is anything like the Earthan one was, she'll be surrounded by guards who never let her out of their sight. If you try to convince them of your identity, they'll just assume that you're an impostor who has somehow stolen the Silver Crystal. If we run at that point, they'll assume that we're guilty of something. If we allow ourselves to be captured, they'll find out that Almandite and I are from the Negaverse, and probably assume that we're spies. And spies are usually shot. I have no intention of dying again. We'll do it my way."

Molly squeezed my hand a bit, as though to tell me that he really didn't mean that the way it sounded. I squeezed it back. I know.

We fixed our minds firmly on our destination and strode off into the darkness.

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