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The room was empty. Well, perhaps not entirely. The table was still there, with a circle drawn on the floor around it, as though for some ritual. An untidy stack of books sat on top of it, beside a roundish white crystal. But none of that was what I sought. I wasn't looking for something, I was looking for them.
"Demantoid? Rutile? Vermarine?" I don't know why I bothered calling. There was nowhere that they could have hidden, even from me, crippled as I was by the recent loss of my hand. And yet they had to be here, or at least Demantoid did. Even with our Weave unbalanced by the deaths of the others, I knew the location of my Center. And he was here. Somewhere. Alive, since the linkage was still intact.
I walked forward until the corner of the table dug painfully into my hip. He was right in front of me! I knew he was! And yet, I couldn't see him . . .
I looked down. The topmost book on the stack was an advanced manual of magics, one of the few we had been able to salvage from the library of the now-ruined fortress. It was open. On the Creation of Magical Artefacts, I read. No! He can't have . . . he wouldn't have . . . Was this why they gave me such a heavy dose of the painkillers last night? So that I would sleep through it?
I tried to pick the book up, but although my prosthetic hand had been melded with flesh and nerve and bone, and should have responded like the real thing, I still wasn't entirely used to it, and I succeeded only in knocking the book to the floor. It remained steadfastly open at the same page.
I stared at the white crystal that lay on the table with loathing. They gave up their lives to create this? They left me all alone for the sake of a few miserable humans . . .
A shimmer gathered slowly on the opposite side of the table. I started back. Demantoid?
The Center of my Weave still wore his battered, bloody armor, although it had been five days since the battle, and it hadn't done him any good there in the first place. His light green hair was singed off at several uneven lengths on the left side of his head. He had come that close to being caught in the blast that had killed the others. What I noticed the most, however, was that this wavering image of my leader--and friend--wore no spirit crystal. Normally, the green gem flashed from a ring worn on his right hand, but both crystal and setting were now gone.
Demantoid smiled sadly. "Onyx, if you're listening to this, you've disturbed what we left on the table. Before I explain, I have to apologize. I'm sorry that you had to be the one left behind. I didn't want it to be this way. If we'd had a choice . . ." The image sighed. "But we didn't, and so you're the one who has to carry out our final mission. I'm sorry," he repeated.
"You probably remember overhearing us talking about the defenses, and what would happen to the humans if the Empyrean ever came back, but I'm not sure just how often you were really conscious, so I'll spell it out for you. Those things, some of them at least, may have survived. If they have, they may yet come back and try to conquer our world again. I wish we could just have mounted an expedition to their home while they're still weak from fighting us and destroyed them completely, but that would require figuring out where they were from. I doubt we'll ever find that out now, or why they came here in the first place. Anyway, we needed to devise some other sort of defense. Something the humans could use, since there was no way to guarantee our own survival.
"If what we tried to do worked right, the crystal on the table in front of you is that defense. Take it to the ruler of the Moon Kingdom. That's my last command to you. My dying wish, if you will, although this probably won't exactly kill me.
"You're the last of us, Onyx, unless you can somehow find the Lost. I'm sorry. It's a terrible load to place on someone not yet out of his first century. Good-bye, little brother. Good luck."
As the image faded, I struck my clumsy metal hand against the edge of the table and cursed, first in my own tongue, which would now become a dead language, and then in as many human languages as I knew. Find the Lost. Thanks a lot, Demantoid. They're probably living somewhere in . . . what's that place they talk about in the barbarian lands of the distant west? Ultima Thule? Or maybe the Kingdom of Prester John. But first I have to take this thing that you poured your heart and soul into to the Moon Queen. Thanks a lot.
I took the crystal from the table and placed it in my pocket, still tasting the bitterness of utter worthlessness. An errand boy. That's all I am. I strode toward the door, quickening my pace as I felt the floor of the tower vibrate under my feet. The stabilization spells must be failing, and I can't reset them. Even if I were . . . whole . . . I'd never have the strength to do it on my own. It had taken all four of us to do it in the first place, even me, lending such poor help as my unbalanced system was capable of. Hands . . . It's odd, how necessary they are to guide the power. It concentrates in a tiny spot in the center of each palm. I suppose that's why we use hand gestures so often to focus our magic. They aren't absolutely necessary, but they make things much, much easier. Without my hand, I lost that easy form of focus and was reduced to doing everything the hard way. Rutile had suggested that fastening my spirit crystal to the prosthetic might let me gain back some of what I had lost. Perhaps I would try it.
I made it safely out of the damaged building, and gazed around for the last time at the remains of the city that had been my home. It was a ghost town now, and it wasn't likely that anything would ever change that.
In its prime, before the departure of the Lost, the city had been home to almost ten thousand Crystal Weavers. By the time I had been born, the combination of simple attrition and a low birthrate had reduced my people's numbers to less than a third of that. And then, scarcely ten years ago, the Empyrean had come. Ten years! It was remarkable how short a time it had taken to reduce all of us to dust. Except me.
Entire districts of the city, including most of the fortress that had formed its heart, had been seared by heat so intense that it had reduced the stone to glassy slag. That was how the other members of my Weave, Danburite and Ametrine and Schorl, had died. Demantoid and I had almost been caught in the same blast. The shock of feeling the others ripped away from me, their spirit crystals melting into the remains of the stone floor they had been standing on, had rendered me unable to shield myself in time. I had collapsed in shock, one hand burned away by the powers of the Empyrean, while Demantoid, in a rage, had flung himself into the thick of the battle. I know that I somehow rose again to fight and kill before a second, more final collapse. Demantoid told me so, and I saw the memories in his mind, but I have no memories of my own, except for an image of the last few seconds. I remember the final suicide strike by the members of our ruling council only as a blast of colored light flaming through the sky. That one image is all I have left to account for hours of battle.
When the others found me afterwards, I was unconscious, my entire body curled around the stump of my wrist. None of the three mostly uninjured survivors had been trained healers. There was nothing they could do to save my hand, although Rutile had been able to manufacture the prosthetic which enabled me to function, albeit clumsily. The loss damaged my control over my powers, to my rage and embarrassment. Only small children are supposed to lack that sort of control, to need someone to clean up after their mistakes. It was painful to be reduced, in the eyes of the others, to the status of a mere child.
That was why they didn't include me in their plans, I realized. They had been afraid that I would act like a spoiled, selfish child, and insist on joining in, to the ruination of them all.
I gathered my energies for the teleport. As usual, any act of power made my stomach lurch. The stump of my wrist throbbed, sending shooting pains up my arm all the way to the shoulder. Angrily, I forced the feeling down.
There was a flicker of shadow, and then the mountain valley was empty of anything except a few startled birds.
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Notes: "Ultima Thule" was believed by ancient geographers to be the northernmost area of the inhabitable world. The term later made its way into the English language under the meaning of "a remote goal or ideal", although it isn't exactly a staple of the common vocabulary. The "Kingdom of Prester John" was a medieval European myth, a country of wonders supposedly located somewhere in the East. Oh, and Onyx's Weavemate Danburite is absolutely no relation to the guy from the Sailor V manga (that was his name, right?)
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return to Index / go to Chapter 1
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury