* * * * * * * *
"It looks pretty well trashed, doesn't it?"
Nephrite grinned as Malachite whirled to face him. The genuinely amused expression felt odd on a face too long used to scowling. "Have you found anything?"
"Nephrite. I should have known you were responsible for this." A faint flicker of energy began to gather around Malachite . . . Then it subsided again, as though the other lacked the ability to maintain it.
"Responsible for what?"
The white-haired man glared at him. "Zoisite and I woke up about a week ago, in a cellar somewhere in mainland China, without any clothes and too weak to use our powers."
"And I woke up in a similar condition somewhere in rural Montana. At least you two were in out of the weather. Does Zoisite have one of these too?" He held out the blue crystal on its chain.
"Yes. Yes, he does." Malachite looked more confused than ever.
"He? He's actually letting you use the right pronoun again?"
Malachite shrugged, and sat down on the edge of the broken throne. "His voice was normal again when we woke up. It was only after he took that throat wound that he started acting . . . peculiar. You know that. This seems to have restored some element of the confidence that he lost."
"It's strange, but toward the end, I don't think I remembered that he really was a he. Do you remember how he got that piece of shrapnel embedded in his throat?"
"Now that you mention it, no."
"Neither do I." Nephrite sighed. "Something is very, very wrong, but I'm still not quite sure what it is." He paced down the length of the room, bending down for a moment to examine a groove in the floor. It looked like someone had hacked at it with a sword.
"Malachite? I've found--YOU!"
The voice was deeper, and sounded simultaneously right and wrong, but the sentiment couldn't have belonged to anyone else.
"TRAITOR! WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO KILL YOU?!"
"Peace, Zoisite," Malachite said. "I think we're all in this together, and in any case, none of us is strong enough for a fight. Did you see anyone?"
"Only a few youma that fled at my approach." Zoisite sounded sulky, now.
"Any sign of Beryl?"
"Beryl's dead," Nephrite interrupted, straightening up. "The Scouts killed her."
"I'll accept that for now. You always were the best of us when it came to divinations." Malachite lifted a bundle of cloth from Zoisite's arms, then hesitated a moment. "I don't like the thought of doing this, but I like the thought of turning my back on you even less," he said at last, and dropped his pants. Nephrite watched amusedly as the elder general put on the uniform that Zoisite had brought him.
"What do we do now?" Nephrite asked at last. "There's obviously nothing here. Back to Earth?"
"What little we have is here," Zoisite said, placing his hand on Malachite's arm.
"I don't think this is a good place to use as a base of operations. The Negaverse always had a way of corrupting what it came into contact with, and I can't believe that our alliance will be any exception. Besides, I'm sure the plumbing is completely shot--it never used to last even fifteen days without maintenance, so I doubt it's survived fifteen months--and you're going to have a lot of trouble with produce deliveries . . ."
Zoisite scowled, but there was actually a hint of a smile tugging at one corner of Malachite's mouth. "It isn't like you to be flippant, Nephrite, but I suspect that in this case you may be correct. You have a base of operations in the humans' world, don't you?"
"Follow me . . . my lord." Somehow, it felt right to be giving Malachite that title, just as it felt right for him to be giving the orders. Nephrite was surprised at the genuine respect he felt for the older man.
What has happened to us? he wondered as he initiated the teleport.
* * * * * * * *
"There seem to be some rather strange gaps in our memories," Nephrite remarked, taking another sip of his wine. "Does either of you remember anything much before the attack on the Moon Kingdom?"
"Why should that be important?" Zoisite snapped suspiciously. His glass sat untouched on the table in front of him.
"I'm beginning to wonder if these--" Nephrite fingered his crystal-- "aren't something from our past. I know my memories begin to get hazy when I go too far back. Anything from much before the Silver Crystal almost killed us is just a blur. What about you?"
Malachite stared into the depths of his glass. "Pain," he said, after a moment. "Tremendous pain. And someone screaming. I think it was me." He shuddered and drained the glass, holding it out for a refill. Nephrite obliged him. "There's nothing else. But we must have come from somewhere. The Negaforce could only twist and destroy, not create. We're from somewhere outside of the Negaverse."
"I agree," Nephrite said.
There was a long moment of silence. They watched the sun rise over the city below.
"Do you realize," Nephrite said at last, "that our abilities are complementary? No wonder we failed so miserably against the Scouts. We were half-crippled by working at cross-purposes."
Malachite frowned. "I'm not sure I follow you."
Nephrite swirled the wine in his glass. "Think about it. You said yourself that my special strength is divination--seeing what others cannot. Jadeite knew people. He always knew how humans would react to something--not the individuals, maybe, but as a group. Zoisite, you could always fix anything--even the plumbing in the Negaverse." Nephrite smiled. "Alexandrite--" And his face drained of color as the others stared.
"Alexandrite," the auburn-haired man whispered. "Jadeite's little brother. Our healer. How could we possibly have forgotten him?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Zoisite had turned cold and suspicious again.
"I can't see him in the Negaverse, somehow. He must have died. He had a special rapport with the living world. Used to talk to animals. And birds. Especially birds. I . . . it's only flashes. He used to follow me around like a puppy . . . much as you used to do with Malachite." Now it was Nephrite's turn to drain his glass, spilling a little as his hands shook. "He was the youngest."
"Either you are putting on a very good act," Malachite mused, "or we knew each other before."
"Before the Negaverse. Yes. You know, I never did cast a divination for Jadeite. It's possible he could still be alive, somewhere."
"And that helps us how?" Zoisite asked.
Nephrite shrugged. "I think we all have some pieces to this puzzle. His may be the ones we need. Let's go inside. I'm going to need a focus for my powers."
They abandoned the empty bottle and glasses on the balcony table and went to Nephrite's work room.
"I don't think I've ever been in here before," Malachite remarked, gazing around with interest.
"You haven't," Nephrite confirmed. "I didn't create this place until long after we stopped talking to each other. Now." He closed his eyes and summoned the stellar pattern. "The stars know everything." The room darkened, and the galaxy took shape above him. "Show me where our brothers Jadeite and Alexandrite are!"
The first scene that appeared was the image of a blonde man staring out a window, the wind ruffling his hair.
"He's somewhere in the city," Nephrite said quietly.
That picture faded, to be replaced by another: a skull lying on top of a pile of anonymous bones. The background suggested a location somewhere in the Negaverse.
"Dead. But at least now we can be sure that he really existed. When neither of you remembered, I was almost convinced that I was going mad." Nephrite stood with his head bowed as the lighting returned to a more normal level.
"We need to go after Jadeite." Malachite could always be counted on to focus on the task at hand. "Together, I think. If he came back at the same time we did, and he hasn't been pouring out energy for teleportation and divinations, he'll be stronger than any of us alone."
"Agreed. We'll need to find you two some Earth-type clothes first, though."
"Why should we waste our time on such trivialities?" Zoisite seemed determined to be hostile, if only because the suggestion came from Nephrite.
The ex-Negaverse general occasionally known as Maxfield Stanton shrugged. "Why waste the energy on a teleport when we can drive?" he asked.
* * * * * * * *
"I'd still like to know what you intend to do if the police pull us over," Zoisite grumbled.
Nephrite shrugged. "I'll show them my driver's license, accept my speeding ticket meekly, and hope they don't look at the insurance and registration too closely, since they expired a few months back." He chuckled at the others' looks of surprise. "I spent a lot of time and effort creating my identity as Maxfield Stanton. He has a birth certificate, school records, and a passport as well as a driver's license and those nice fat Swiss bank accounts. Even his corporation really exists, although it's much smaller than the records imply. A little selective hypnotism to reinforce the records, and there are humans out there who would swear they've known me since I was a child."
"I never did give you enough credit for subtlety," Malachite remarked. "Perhaps the rest of us were missing something, keeping so much to ourselves in the Negaverse."
"We're almost there." Nephrite pulled over to the curb. "Try not to draw attention to yourselves. He's on the third or fourth floor of that building."
Nephrite supposed they looked as normal as any trio of men with long hair ever could. His clothes fit Malachite fairly well, considering, and the track suit Zoisite wore hadn't been designed to fit close anyway. Still, he winced just a little when Malachite slid his hand around Zoisite's waist, although, unless the smaller man opened his mouth, there was no way for anyone to prove that there wasn't a woman's figure hidden under all that bulky clothing. Zoisite's long- running female imposture had worked for a reason.
The entryway of the apartment building was, fortunately, deserted. They climbed the three flights of ramshackle stairs in silence, since the elevator was out of order.
Nephrite pushed the door to the fourth floor hallway open and led the way to the sixth door on the right. He knocked, reflecting that they might as well try the easy way first. There was no response, although he could hear someone moving inside. A door across the hallway opened instead.
"Good luck," the man inside that apartment remarked. "He hasn't been answering his door for a week now. The super said that if she doesn't hear anything from him by tomorrow, she's gonna break it down."
"He'll answer if we work at it long enough," Nephrite growled, and continued pounding. No response. He lowered his hand, rubbing his knuckles.
"This is getting us nowhere." Malachite was apparently short on patience. A faint glow formed around his hand. The occupant of the apartment across the way, stared, swallowed, then darted back inside and shut the door.
Nephrite placed a restraining hand on the white-haired man's arm. "You're doing things the hard way again, my lord. Step back." And Nephrite kicked in the door.
The offending portal swung through one hundred eighty degrees and struck the wall with a sound like a gunshot. Nephrite was surprised that it hadn't kept on going, since the walls appeared to be in none too good a shape.
Jadeite was standing against the far wall, in a defensive posture, his eyes glowing with power. "You'll never take me alive!"
"We're not here for that," Malachite said, following the other two inside and shutting the mangled door again. "Beryl's dead, and none of us has anything in particular against you. In fact, we want your help."
"Help?" Jadeite laughed. "Well, I must admit, that is an original story, Lord Malachite. Almost as original as your mode of dress. Have you sold out, then? Gone over to the mortals?"
"Don't ever underestimate me!" Malachite's eyes began to glow, and wind tore at his hair. It was an impressive display. Nephrite hoped that Jadeite wouldn't realize that that was all it was.
"Does the name 'Alexandrite' mean anything to you?" Nephrite asked, although he wasn't sure exactly what sort of effect he was trying to achieve.
Jadeite gasped and doubled over, as though the older man had punched him in the stomach. "What . . . ? Who . . . ?"
"Your brother, Jadeite," Malachite took up smoothly. "The one Beryl killed." Nephrite glanced at him in alarm. Certainly it was the logical conclusion, considering where they had seen Alexandrite's bones, but they didn't know the whole story yet. I wonder if we ever will.
"I can't . . ." But all the fight seemed to have gone out of Jadeite. A tear trickled from the corner of his eye. "I don't remember, really . . . but that name . . . I'm certain it meant something to me, once, something important . . . How did you know?"
"I remember a bit," Nephrite inserted into the silence. "He was a little shorter than you. Dark-haired. His eyes were an odd shade of brown . . . 'smoky' is the best that I can come up with.
"You woke up here about a week ago, didn't you? Alone, naked, and weak, with a crystal hanging around your neck. The same thing happened to the rest of us. We've decided to try to work together to find the answers. Are you with us?"
"I . . . I suppose I am," Jadeite said, with a surprised look on his face. "That doesn't mean I trust you, though."
"We don't trust each other, either." Zoisite spoke for the first time, shooting Nephrite a glare out of the corner of his eye as he did so.
"Someone's coming. We'd better get out of here." Nephrite opened the door and checked the passageway in either direction. The sounds were coming from just around the bend, in the direction of the stairs. "Damn." He went to the window. "Hmmm. It looks like we should be able to reach the fire escape from here. Come on!"
* * * * * * * *
The car was a little crowded with four of them, but they made it back to Nephrite's mansion without incident. Zoisite immediately stalked off to the room he was sharing with Malachite, presumably to change back into his Negaverse uniform. Nephrite went down to the wine cellar to find further refreshments. When he came back, Jadeite and Malachite were sitting at the balcony table. If he hadn't known the history of rivalry between Beryl's generals, they would almost have seemed companionable.
"We need to know what has happened in our absence," Malachite said without preamble. "Unfortunately, the humans seem to have a way of ignoring anything that does not fit their worldview. The only acceptable sources of information that come to mind are the Sailor Scouts and their associates. Which leaves us with the problem of finding them and convincing them to help us."
"Surely you discovered the identities of at least some of the Scouts." Nephrite placed the bottle on the table, with fresh glasses. "I discovered Sailor Moon's identity myself, but was killed before I could make any use of it."
"Zoisite and I know where to find Tuxedo Mask," Malachite said. "I must admit, Nephrite, you do have good taste in wine."
The other man shrugged. "As Stanton, I pay someone to stock my cellars. I just spirited the overflow away. Jadeite? Did you-- "
"Mercury, Mars, and Moon," the blonde man cut in. "Unfortunately, they'll recognize me, too, even if I disguise myself as a human, and that Mars . . . She's something else."
"We know four of them, then. That gives us each one target. Excellent. Nephrite, you will speak to Sailor Moon. Given the circumstances of your death, she may trust you more than the rest of us."
Jadeite shot their host a questioning look, but Malachite had not yet finished speaking.
"Jadeite, you will show Zoisite where to find Sailor Mercury, then go to Sailor Mars." The white-haired general held up his hand to forestall any protest. "I'm not doing this arbitrarily. You haven't been using your powers as much as the rest of us have, which means that you probably have better reserves, and therefore get the second worst assignment. I'll tackle Tuxedo Mask myself. We all have such a history of rivalry with him that I don't trust you or Zoisite to handle the job properly, and I think Nephrite is more useful elsewhere. Any questions?"
The younger men shook their heads. Then the three of them sat down to kill the bottle in earnest. The Scouts were school- aged girls, after all. There would be time enough to tackle them that afternoon, when they were more likely to find them alone.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 3
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury