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

Chapter 22

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No Time

I slipped around until I was half-hidden behind Malachite. Not because I was afraid, oh no. I was just worried that our unexpected visitor, whoever he was, might get a bit nervous if he noticed me conjuring my precautionary ice crystal.

<<Show yourself!>> Malachite ordered. I tensed, ready for action if it should turn out that this person was an enemy.

<<So you are the one.>>

He appeared out of the mists before us, moving slowly, apparently in an effort not to cause us any alarm. Shorter than Malachite was, but taller than me, dressed in white, his spirit crystal set into a crude band of hammered gold that circled his left arm just above the elbow. The almost-matching band around his right arm bore no setting. His hair was . . . incredible. Thick, wavy, untamable, streaked with all the colors of the rainbow and a few more that I'd have sworn that I had never seen before that moment, it poured down over his shoulders and shadowed most of his face. A pair of sharply slanted grey eyes, darker than my love's and deep enough to hide many secrets, peered out at us from between the strands.

Pyrope had positioned himself protectively between us and the stranger. Apparently I had wrought better than I knew when I'd ordered him to protect Malachite.

<<Welcome to the Nexus,>> the unknown stated. <<I will escort you to the final door.>>

<<A construct, like the caves?>> I wondered, relaxing a little, but still holding my ice spear.

<<Possibly,>> Malachite replied. <<No, probably. Even if time doesn't work quite the same way here as it does in the outside world, I can't see anyone just sitting here for over a thousand years to wait for us.>>

<<Three thousand years,>> the stranger corrected. <<I was placed here at the same time as the cave maze was constructed. I am the final guardian. I defend the heart of the demon ward against the unworthy.>> A moment's hesitation, then he added, <<I was beginning to wonder if Adamant's successor would ever arrive. You are . . . very welcome.>>

<<It's self-aware,>> I observed. Gods of light and darkness . . . At that moment I was bitterly jealous of our ancestors. Although not the strongest, I was the most magically adept Crystal Weaver in the Negaverse (with the possible exception of Demantoid, whose brains I was going to pick as soon as we got back), and I would still be unable to generate an image that did more than follow a preprogrammed sequence of actions. Actually, I wasn't sure that I could generate an image as lifelike and as sophisticated as the one now facing us. Or was it some sort of . . . magical robot? What I wouldn't have given to have time to study it! <<The level of magical sophistication that implies is incredible!>>

<<I know, beloved.>> Malachite couldn't generate quite my level of enthusiasm for this new tidbit of magical knowledge, but I could sense his sympathy. <<Maybe when this is over, we can come back.>>

<<Do you promise?>> I was only teasing, but his reply was serious.

<<Zoi, I don't know what bonding with this ward is going to do to me. I may end up having to stay here. Or . . . worse.>>

That was something I hadn't wanted to think about.

<<I hope not. It would be a truly dreary place for us to spend the rest of our lives.>>

He didn't reply, but I sensed a quick flicker of gratitude aimed in my direction.

<<So where is this "final door" of yours?>> Malachite asked the construct.

<<Here.>> It swept an arm out, and something solidified out of the mist just beyond the tips of its fingers. A doorway. Huge double doors made of white crystal, with a pentagram blazoned in light across their surface.

<<Interesting,>> Malachite observed. <<It must have been a Crystal Weaver symbol, before it was appropriated by the humans. I never knew that.>>

<<I am required to inform you,>> the construct stated suddenly, <<that others have passed through here recently. They came without my sanction, but I was unable to stop them.>>

<<Other Crystal Weavers?>> Malachite asked.

<<Mostly. However, I think that one of them may have been a demon.>>

Malachite and I exchanged glances.

"Wonderful," I muttered aloud.

<<I cannot enter the chamber that houses the ward. Good luck to you.>> And the construct disappeared again.

An image, I observed to myself, with satisfaction. Now, how do we open this?

Malachite had evidently been wondering the same thing, because he reached out and tentatively touched a point at the center of the pentagram. The doors swung silently open in front of us.

My lover turned back and shot a long look at Cuprite and Pyrope. "You two will stay outside unless one of us summons you." Then Malachite turned back toward the doors.

<<After you,>> I stated, nervously eyeing the glowing opening.

<<Guard my back,>> Malachite told me, and stepped through. I gritted my teeth and followed.

It was just so damnably bright! My eyes felt like someone had inserted live coals into the sockets with them. We were going to be lucky if we didn't both come out of this as blind as Cuprite! I had been standing there for at least thirty seconds before shapes started to resolve themselves out of the sea of light.

Malachite was in front of me, blocking the worst of the radiance. In front of him was a column of white light. Sometimes. It was fading in and out, so that from time to time what it was guarding almost became visible. Well, of course. Why shouldn't the ward's key be warded? The walls of the room seemed to be grey, but they were difficult to focus on.

"So glad that you could make it."

A person flickered into existence between us and the column of light. A person that I recognized. Her. The blue-haired bitch that had kidnapped me and tried to . . . tried to . . .

The rage that had gripped me robbed me of coherent thought. Instead, I shifted my grip on the ice spear that I still held.

This time, there was no Dark Crystal to protect her from me. This time, she had made a mistake.

I slammed into Malachite's shoulder, pushing him aside-- the first and last time that I have ever been able to do so--and leveled my weapon at her.

"Any last words?" I snarled.

She smiled. "I'm afraid that your assurance is a little premature."

They strode out from behind the column, single-file. Four of them, all men, all of them of what a human would have considered roughly average size. All Crystal Weavers of the Dark Moon.

"I'd say this was a bit more even, wouldn't you?" Lapis asked. "Give up now. Neither of you will ever get past us alive."

"Think again!" I shouted, and ran forward.

I never made it even halfway across the gap.

All five of them raised their hands in unison. Oh, hell, I thought, sensing the power that was gathering in the space between me and them, but I was already committed to my attack. There was nowhere I could go but forward.

Then something slammed into me from the side and knocked me out of the way. I hit the floor hard, losing my grip on my ice crystal, but immediately scrambled back onto my feet. What the--Oh, no!

Malachite stood where I had been standing, back arched, his agony echoing from his mind to mine. As usual, he had acted to save me, without a thought for himself.

How could a man who prided himself on seeming so cold really be so selfless?

He remained suspended there for a few seconds, and then slowly crumpled to the ground. Numbly, I stared, not at him, but at the blue-haired woman. Lapis.

I was selecting the precise segment of her throat that I was going to tear out.

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<<Wake up!>>

I was floating in a sea of light. It was very peaceful. Far better than the last thing that I remembered, which was dying in Sailor Moon's arms, murdered by Wise Man.

<<Wake up!>> the voice insisted again. I ignored it. <<Damn you, princeling, you're going to be dead for good if you don't do something right now!>>

I continued to ignore it, and float, deciding that if this was death, I preferred it over life.

<<Don't you want your revenge?>> the voice asked.

<<What do you mean?>> I hadn't intended to answer, but if this was what it took to make it shut up and go away . . .

<<Wise Man is using your spirit crystals--yours, your brother's, and those of all your people--to try to crack the Doom Phantom loose from its prison. Others are trying to stop them, but they're rather outnumbered. They need your help.>>

Wise Man . . . The source of all the evil in my world, destroyer of my dreams for my people. The one who had killed Sapphire and broken my heart in the process. Oh, yes. I wanted to make him suffer.

<<What do I have to do?>> I asked.

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I smiled as Malachite caught the brunt of my blast. That was the worst obstacle out of the way. Now there was only one more to go, the one staring at me out of faintly glowing green eyes, although how I could detect that manifestation of his power in such a brightly lit area was beyond me. Perhaps it was because his attention was so thoroughly focused on me. Actually, I was beginning to wonder what I'd ever seen in him. It was becoming obvious that he hated me, and I doubted that even the best brainwashing spell would be able to wall away that emotion for long. True, he was beautiful, but then so are we all.

I glanced thoughtfully to my left, at Ammolite. A little taller and broader in the shoulder than Zoisite, but not unappealing for all of that, and his hair was a similar shade of dark blonde. Perhaps, after this was all over . . .


He should have had better sense than to scream while lunging. I was surprised that Malachite allowed such lapses of discipline among his troops. Or was his lover above the rules that governed all of the others? In any case, the warning gave me enough time to move to one side, and Bixbite, the largest of my companions, stepped in to grab Zoisite by the wrists, wincing as the smaller man's ice crystal pricked his upper arm.

But he released the green-eyed Negaverse General immediately, making a thin sound that might have been a choked- off scream of pain. Lurid purple light glowed from the boomerang embedded in his side.

"You won't get rid of either of us that easily." Malachite's voice grated a bit, and he held his side as he rose to his feet, but it was obvious that he wasn't nearly as badly hurt as I had thought he was.

"I. Wouldn't. Be. So. Sure." I bit off each word as I spoke it, most of my mind elsewhere. There was a tremendous amount of power in this room. I'd been a fool not to try to tap it before.

White fire flared from my hands. Malachite quickly stepped forward, snaking a cape-wrapped arm around his lover and flinging the other hand up to define the interior of a shield, which glowed white as my attack struck it. I couldn't see through it very well, but I thought that the expression on Malachite's face indicated deep concentration. I was pressing him hard, then. I increased the force of my attack, and was gratified to see him step backward. Fortunately for me, I was between him and the major source of magical energy in the room, giving me greater resources to draw on. I ignored the twinges of pain that were now coming from my hands, and continued to fling the wildfire at Malachite.

Sudden, stabbing pain drove me to one knee, but I grimly refused to let my attack falter. I was going to redeem myself, no matter what. Wise Man would be proud of me.

<<Lapis, you idiot! Stop this! You're killing yourself!>>

<<Obviously, if a dead man is speaking to me!>> I replied, not sure why I bothered. <<Shut up, Diamond. Can't you see that I'm busy?>>

<<You can drain your own spirit crystal if you like,>> the dead man's voice told me, <<but I'm not going to let you drain mine. Or any of the others'. Not you, and not whatever spell that Wise Man has cast here. It's over, Lapis.>>

And the power I had been using to attack was cut off. Just like that. Malachite straightened, and lowered his hand. His eyes were very cold.

"Get them!" I snarled at my troops. That was the problem with these lesser members of the Dark Moon family. They didn't seem to be able to figure out what to do without someone ordering them around.

Malachite and Zoisite drew their swords. The King of the Negaverse was still favoring his left side, though. I hoped that it hurt.

I conjured myself a whip and threw myself forward into the fray, promising myself that this would be the last battle.

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