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

Chapter 18

* * * * * * * *

April 10, 2002

"Is there any word yet?"

I supported the cat's head so that she could drink from her bowl. "No, nothing. Anyway, it's too soon. If we did get any news right now, it would probably be bad."

Luna stopped lapping and sighed. "I know, but I can't help wishing . . ."

I sighed. "I know, Luna. I know." But if wishing worked, then we'd never have gotten into this situation in the first place. "Will you be all right for a little while, now?"

"I think so," the cat said. I deposited her gently back on her cushion and walked out the door. She'd told me that it made her uncomfortable when people teleported in front of her, and I didn't see any reason to make her feel worse than she already did.

I made my way back to the Negaverse, to the wing of the old palace which I normally shared with Jadeite and our children, but once there, I couldn't stay still. It was just so empty, with my husband and our son gone.

Our son. It was odd how I managed to forget for days at a time the man who had been Jasper's genetic father, who had almost ruined my life when I'd still been an impressionable teenager. Jadeite's love had finally healed the last of those wounds.

Will I ever see him again?

I choked back a sob. It's too damned empty here. I need to talk to someone, anyone. But who? Aventurine was at practice with Zantisa, and wouldn't really be able to do much for me even if I went and interrupted them. I loved my daughter too much to want to dump on her when I was in this kind of an emotional state. I'd just left Luna, and she needed to rest. I'd never had any social contacts among the youma. Looking back on it now, I could see that Jadeite had subtly discouraged it as being inappropriate for someone of my rank. I couldn't throw myself into my job. My normal duties mostly consisted of checking wards and trap spells, especially those hidden away in the outer reaches of the Negaverse, but Malachite, before leaving, had ordered me to stay close to home and keep an eye on Demantoid.

Demantoid. Well, he was someone at least . . .

I spoke a location spell. My control over my powers has never been quite as good as that of the other Negaverse Crystal Weavers, probably because I inherited my magic instead of developing it in the normal way. He's . . . where in hell is that? A disused section of the palace, partially destroyed by Zantisa and her troops during the last war against Beryl. I didn't think I'd ever been there. What is he doing? Was this the sort of thing that Malachite had wanted me to watch for? In any case, I teleported out to have a look.

My arrival was . . . weird. Almost jarring, in fact. The room was mostly dark, and the faintly glowing green veins that ran through the stone here had somehow been erased from the walls. It was very strange, feeling the total absence of the Negaforce's residue. I'd barely been outside the Negaverse since acquiring my powers.

Demantoid had his back to me. He was kneeling, head bowed, on the floor, in front of a low table. Or maybe an altar? But he stood up quickly and turned to face me as I arrived.

"Lady Amber. I did not expect to see you here."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to disturb you. I can leave if--"

But he was shaking his head. "The dead have had no one to mourn them for over a thousand years. I hardly think that they will notice if I spare a few moments now to speak to you."

"You're doing this for the ones who died during the Empyrean War," I realized.

"Yes. I lost both my parents and a younger half-sister in the last attack on our city. I never had time to commemorate their lives or their deaths, although my brother may have done something while I was locked inside the Silver Crystal. Certainly no ceremony was ever performed for my brother, and for all he did . . . he deserved better."

"Your brother." He can't mean the person that I think he means . . .

"Yes. My brother. Onyx."

"My father," I whispered. "I did what I could, but I didn't find out about his death until months later, and I didn't know what ceremonies, if any, he would have wanted. He never told me. The last time we saw each other, I was still too young to understand."

I looked up into my uncle's eyes as they registered surprise/pleasure/understanding.

<<Will you join me?>> he asked. I nodded.

We knelt side by side in front of the crude altar.

<<The white candle on the right stands for the gods of light,>> Demantoid informed me, <<and the stick of incense on the left for the gods of darkness, whom we must acknowledge, even if we never worship them, for they have made us what we are. The blue candle commemorates those who died in the War Against the Demons--which hopefully is not going to become the First War Against the Demons. And the red candle is for those whose lives we remember here today.>>

As I stared into the candle's flame, I felt a sense of peace, of something completed that had been unfinished for far too long. And for a few minutes, I set my worries about my husband and my son aside, and prayed for my father's soul.

* * * * * * * *

No Time

I fell. The void had looked dark when I had seen it from above, but now that I was down in it, I was surrounded by swirling grayness. Again. Like the fog outside. Magic? My imagination? Or some property of the Timestream?

The Timestream. I'm still in it. The staff. Do I have any control? The artefact was still hanging from my left hand. I pulled it up to rest across my chest. There was no feel of lifting it against gravity, though. Was I falling, or floating? I'd long since lost any feeling of speed that might have been there originally. Lost, I thought, then, to the staff, <<Show me the way, please. I need to find my way . . . somewhere. Anywhere.>>

It flashed. Or that's what it looked like to my peculiar not-vision. I suspect it would have been invisible to anyone else. In its light, I could see dozens of infinitely thin lines of magical energy running through the mist. A green one hovering near my shoulder looked vaguely familiar, for some reason. I raised my free hand to touch it, and was surprised when my fingers encountered solid substance.

Then a thin beam of blue light shot from the staff, piercing the mist to reveal a narrow window through which I could see . . . well . . . It didn't look like more mist, anyway. I lunged toward it. No matter where it came out, it had to be a better place than this.

I plunged through the hole . . . and then I really was falling. I landed, painfully, on my back, in something cold and slimy and stinking. Before even trying to get up, I raised the staff again, hoping that the non-magical substances around me would at least reflect a little of its light and give me an impression of where I was.

Crystal. Crystal everywhere, prismatic crystal that fractured the light of the staff and reflected back hundreds of different colors. Magical crystal. Shattered magical crystal. I was lucky that I had landed in that foul little puddle of whatever, instead of on one of the piles of crystal shards that dotted the landscape. To my right was an area that had been blasted clean, with something growing out of the center of it. Something that I perceived as glowing grey, which might mean that it was evil. And . . .

The thin line of green light that I'd seen back in the Timestream was wrapped firmly around my staff, and led off into the distance until it was swallowed up by the grey. What that meant, I wasn't sure. What was at the other end of the line?

I decided to investigate. The alternative, after all, was wandering aimlessly around the deserted crystal city for who knew how long. At least this was something to do while I figured out what had happened and where to go from here.

Something about that looming grey monolith still managed to give me the creeps, though. I didn't like the thought of trying to cross all of the open ground around it. If anything inside wanted to attack me, I'd be a sitting duck while I crossed their firebreak, or whatever it was supposed to be. The Negaverse must be rubbing off on me. I'm getting just as paranoid as the rest of them! But maybe . . . maybe they're right. If Pyrope was able to betray me, why should I trust perfect strangers?

Pyrope. I'd thought that he was dead--why had they used an image of him to try to trap me, on board Lapis's ship, when they had the real thing available and on their side?--and maybe he would have been better off that way. Pyrope masquerading as Zoisite. Pyrope, with a black crescent on his forehead, trying to kill me. I couldn't believe it. No. Not Pyrope. Maybe it was just another illusion. But I knew that wasn't the case. He'd touched my mind, and I'd felt the unique texture of him under all the ugly grayness. I was an idiot for thinking that he was Zoisite, even for a little while. I should have realized that there was something odd the moment I saw that he wasn't green.

My hand tightened around the staff, trying to squeeze a little of that elusive, comforting warmth out of it. It remained inert and cold.

There has to be a good explanation for what happened, I told myself. When I see him again--then I'll ask him. But in the meanwhile, I'm wasting time.

I gritted my teeth, sighted along the green line, reminded myself that my survival instinct wouldn't let me materialize inside anything, should the grey thing turn out to be solid, and teleported.

I reappeared in the midst of a thick, choking, charcoal- toned darkness. There was latent evil power here. The floor under my feet and the wall to my left had the smooth texture of crystal. Not for the first time, I wished desperately that I could see, instead of fumbling through this magic-lit twilight, even though I was fairly certain that if my eyes had been in working order, I wouldn't have been able to perceive the green thread of energy that had led me here.

Not that that would be any real loss, I thought with disgust.

The shadows around me were finally resolving into a door-lined hallway. I was standing in an open doorway. Casting a glance over my shoulder, I ascertained that the room behind me was small, barren, and empty. It looked like a disused storage room. Or maybe a cell. The green thread spun away from me along the hall and disappeared around a corner. Should I follow it? Or leave while my skin's still intact?

Could I leave, even if I had wanted to? Or was there a power-deadening effect here, like the one on Lapis's ship? My vision didn't seem to be affected, but I didn't yet understand how it worked. I tried to levitate the staff, which should have been child's play even for me. Nothing. I was stuck here.

I heard scuffling feet and voices from the direction opposite the one in which the green light ran, and moved a bit farther back into the little room. I didn't dare remove myself completely from the doorway. If the room behind me really was a cell, and whoever was walking towards me decided, on some whim, to close the door, I would be trapped. Actually, that might happen even if it were a storage room . . .

Get a grip, I told myself, and froze in place, listening.

"--seems odd that we aren't supposed to open the door under any circumstances without Lapis being there."

"Idiot! Don't you know who's in there? There's a Negaverse General in that cell, and he's supposed to be the nastiest of the lot. Some of things that I've heard about him--"

I held my breath as they passed, but they didn't even glance in my direction. Two Dark Moon droids, their forms vaguely visible in outline, the gems on their foreheads sparkling.

I swallowed hard, shifted my grip on the staff, and crept along behind them. Pieces were beginning to fall into place inside my mind. This had to be Crystal Tokyo, in the distant future. To be more precise, it was a Dark Moon stronghold in the middle of Crystal Tokyo, and within a few days of the time period from which the other Cuprite had traveled back into the past. And if there was a Negaverse General here, he was in trouble, probably a prisoner, and it was up to me to free him. It was either that, or let Malachite mince me when he found out.

I think my conscious mind sort of went into overload and fainted when I figured that out, but my hindbrain kept me upright and moving silently along the corridor in the wake of the two droids. I peered cautiously around the corner as they settled into position on either side of the door through which the green thread of light disappeared. Half a day's combat training--I'm not ready for this . . . Then I straightened up, walked casually towards them, and, while they stared, said the first thing that came into my head.

"Excuse me, ladies, but could you possibly point me in the direction of Yellowknife? I seem to be a bit lost."

Then I swung the staff up and whacked the larger of the two on the chin. She actually fell unconscious at my feet. I still felt like a scared idiot, but at least I was a successful scared idiot.

Unfortunately, the other end of the staff failed to hit the other droid in the stomach. I guess we improvise from here on out . . . At least Jasper had tried to teach me the basics of self- defense. I raised the staff to something approximating a guard position, and waited.

The droid yelled something I couldn't make out, raised her hands, and sent a bunch of small objects that I couldn't quite make out shooting towards me. I ducked, but one of them still managed to clip me on the ear. I touched my free hand to the point of contact. My fingers encountered something warm and sticky. Blood. I'm bleeding. Son-of-a--

A tide of rage washed through my mind. I doubt that all of it was mine. Until I'd run into the Negaverse, I'd always been a pacifistic kind of guy. But I was full of negative energy, and lost, and alone, stuck in a situation not of my choosing, and above all, just plain fed up. I was just barely aware of dropping the staff as it burned the palms of my hands again, and launching myself at the droid's throat.

We rolled around on the floor together for a while after that. I seem to remember being smashed against the walls a couple of times, but I didn't feel any pain until after the droid stopped struggling and I hauled myself shakily to my feet. I retrieved the staff immediately. I needed its support. My knees felt weak. I can't believe I just did that. Two of them . . . They could have killed me! But I'd known that going in. So why did I do it?

I didn't have an answer, except to say that maybe I'd needed to do it. To prove to myself that I wasn't a coward, wasn't useless, could be an asset to someone.

Although attacking two droids to rescue a Negaverse General whose identity I didn't even know seemed like one hell of a way to go about it.

"Who's there?" a voice asked suddenly, from the other side of the locked door the droids had been guarding.

"It's Cuprite." I kept my voice as soft as I could, and hoped that I was being heard.

"Cuprite! Is Malachite all right? Is he with you?"

And those questions could only have come from one person.


* * * * * * * *


"Of course. Is someone else missing?" What I really wanted to do was scream at him to let me out of here, but I didn't want to frighten him away again. The young Enclavite had struck me as being skittish.

"In this time? I don't know. Just a second while I check the droids for keys." Thumping and clinking sounds became vaguely audible through the door. It helped that I had my ear pressed against it. "Damn. There's got to be two dozen on this ring . . . Oh, well, it can't be helped." Grating sounds, as he inserted a key and unsuccessfully tried to turn it. Then a second. And a third. My hands clenched into fists. Hurry up, damn you . . .

The door swung outwards so abruptly that I, still leaning against it, tumbled out into the corridor, skinning a knee against the crystal of the floor. I swore. Cuprite just stood there, blinking mildly at me with blank grey eyes. Was he the one from the future? But no, his uniform was still plain grey, without the red-violet trim of his future counterpart's. So much the better.

Purple just isn't my color.

"Give me your jacket," I ordered him.

"May I ask why?" But his hands were already unfastening it. Good.

"Because I don't want to wander around here in my undershorts," I replied dryly. "It's undignified, and anyway, I'm cold."

"You mean that you're . . . um . . ." Actually, he wasn't unattractive when he blushed. Still not my type, though. "I didn't realize that Pyrope had actually stolen . . . uh . . . I'm sorry, my lord!" he blurted at last.

I rolled my eyes. "Stop jabbering and give me the damned thing."

It was too short, and I couldn't fasten it properly, but it was still better than nothing.

"Now what?" Cuprite asked.

"Now we get out of here," I snapped. "And as soon as we're far enough from here for us to use our powers again, you're taking me back into the Timestream. I'm not leaving Malachite alone with that creep from the Dark Moon. Now which way do we go?"

"Uh . . . I don't know. I teleported in."

Gods of Darkness, give me strength . . . I bent down and grabbed a wicked-looking knife from the belt of one of the unconscious droids. "Then I guess we're just going to have to guess, and hope we survive long enough to find the way out."

I led the way along the hallway that led away from the cells, and down a staircase. I seemed to vaguely recall being dragged up several flights of stairs when I had first arrived, so down was probably good.

It's almost so empty that it's eerie, I thought as we crept along another short hallway. Where are all the Dark Moon types? Isn't this place protected at all? Even if they're short on troops, I'd at least expect some sort of spell-trap. Why haven't we triggered one yet?

Something clattered to the floor behind me. I turned to discover that Cuprite had dropped to one knee, panting, and that the staff had slid from his hands and rolled several feet down the hall.

"Are you all right?" I asked. Normally, I wouldn't have given a damn whether or not he was hurt, but at the moment I owed him a debt of gratitude. And he had demonstrated some courage in fighting my jailers. Perhaps he wasn't the useless coward that I had thought him after all.

"I . . . No. No, I'm not all right." His teeth were gritted, and his face had gone pale. "It's like someone's trying to suck the marrow out of my bones."

I checked him over quickly. No rings, no pendant, and his earrings were only small studs like mine . . . "Where's your spirit crystal?"

"I don't know. It was at the Enclave."

"And you knew that all this time and never told anyone?" The little idiot! How could he take such an incredible risk?

"Would it matter if I had? There wasn't anything you could do to get it back."

Smartass, I thought. "Well, we can't stay here. No matter how bad you feel." I helped him to his feet, wrapping an arm around his shoulders to support him. He had to retrieve the staff by himself, though. I didn't dare touch it.

He limped the rest of the way along that hallway and down a staircase with me before his knees gave way completely and he had to rest. Not wanting to let him do that in the middle of the corridor, I hauled him through a conveniently-placed archway.

"Five minutes," I told him as I sat him on the floor in a corner. He nodded weakly.

The room we were using as a refuge was huge and dark and almost completely empty, except for a raised platform at one end that supported a high-backed chair--No, who was I trying to fool? This was obviously a royal audience chamber, presumably the late Prince Diamond's, and the chair was a throne.

I climbed the two steps to the dais and seated myself. It was a bit silly, maybe, but I'd never dared even get close to Beryl's throne, and I'd never sat on Malachite's except in his lap. I wanted to see what it felt like, to sit there alone. To be a king, if only for a few minutes. I'd probably never have another chance. Prince Consort or no, it was unlikely that I'd ever inherit the Negaverse. If my beloved Malachite were ever to die, it would be the most powerful of us that took his place--Nephrite, or, failing him, Jadeite or Demantoid or Jasper. Only if those four were out of the way would I ever ascend the throne. There was a time when I might have assassinated them for the privilege, but no longer. Especially not Nephrite or Jadeite. Not my Weavemates. Not when I'd experience the sensation of their deaths along with them . . .

And if I ever do become king of the Negaverse, I am most definitely not going to hold audiences dressed in my underwear and a borrowed jacket! The edge of the stone seat was digging into my legs, and the damned thing was cold, too!

A pale glitter off to my left attracted my attention. There was a wine decanter sitting on the floor beside the throne. My throat, deprived of liquid these several days, suddenly felt very dry. Well, why not?

I picked it up and took a cautious sip. Almost but not quite vinegar. It had probably been sitting there since before I'd been captured. Careful, don't get drunk . . .

After several more sips, I felt much better. And Cuprite's resting time was up. I stood, stretched, and glanced around the room to see if I could locate any exits that looked more promising than the corridor from which we had entered.

"Well, I will grant you this, Lord Zoisite. For an intruder and ex-prisoner, you certainly don't lack gall!"

I turned slowly to face the voice. "Wise Man, I presume." I said it in the most arrogantly dismissive tone of voice I could manage. Unfortunately, it's difficult to do arrogant and dismissive while you're standing, shivering and three-quarters naked, in the middle of an enemy stronghold. The knife that I had taken from the unconscious droid was in my right hand, where Wise Man couldn't see it, and I shifted my grip on it, considering my options. Judging from what Malachite had told me about what Prisma had said to him, this was a creature of pure magic. There was no way that I could hope to hurt him with such a puny physical weapon. But I might be able to distract him with it.

I edged to the left, hoping to get around him and off the dais, which would put me in a position to run for it. Admittedly, that would mean leaving Cuprite behind, and with him, my easiest access to the Timestream, but I should be able to rescue him afterwards, if he survived. Or was it possible for him to die, when I'd already met his future self? Wise Man's hood swiveled in my direction as I moved, and I could tell that he was watching me.

"That's far enough," he said, just before I reached the edge of the platform.

"I don't take orders from you," I snapped. And then I threw the knife, and, without waiting to see if it had gone where I had aimed it, hurled myself left and down, striking the floor with my shoulder and rolling to my feet as a cry of rage erupted from behind me.

"Prepare to meet your doom, Crystal Weaver!"

I managed to throw myself out of the way of the first blast, but then I fetched up against a wall, and I knew that I couldn't hope to evade the second.

"Lord Zoisite! Here!"

Something bumped against my foot. Sailor Pluto's staff. No matter its source, it was a possible weapon. I bent to pick it up.

It was red hot against my palm. Swearing, I forced myself to grip it. Just one hand, and just for a few seconds . . . I swung it almost blindly in front of me as the skin of my hand turned red and blistered.

The sudden impact was shocking. I hadn't really expected to hit anything. The howl of anguish that followed was even more surprising.

"You'll pay for this!"

I dropped the staff and, cradling my abused left hand, looked up to discover that I had cracked Wise Man's crystal ball. The shadowy figure gathered the object to himself as tenderly as he might have treated his firstborn child, and evaporated into the shadows. I sighed with relief and headed back toward Cuprite's corner, prodding the staff ahead of me with my toes. Even that glancing contact came close to burning me.

The young Enclavite was sitting slumped in the floor in roughly the position that I had left him in. I shook his shoulder.

"Rise and shine--we have to get out of here! Cuprite?"

* * * * * * * *

No Time

I shifted my spirit crystal, and those of the other surviving members of the Dark Moon, a little ways away from the main group, as Wise Man had ordered me before departing. Then I spoke the word he had given me, completing the spell.

The crystals arrayed in front of me darkened as the energy began to drain out of them. It would be some time yet before the spell reached critical mass and began to wear away at the column of white light to reveal whatever was hidden within. The thing that Wise Man feared.

I had to admit that I was curious as to what it might be.

* * * * * * * *

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