* * * * * * * *
"Really, Serena, why did you want to come here?"
"Mol, I . . . uh . . ."
"You spent all your money at the arcade again, didn't you? And now you can't afford to go to a movie. Serena, sometimes I really wish you would get your act together." Still, Molly reflected, the park is nice at this time of year. Even if something about this particular park always manages to give me the creeps.
"Give me a break, Mol--"
"Serena." Although she would have sworn that she had never heard this man's voice before in her life, it still managed to send shivers running up and down Molly's spine. Serena had turned to look at whoever-it-was . . . and frozen where she sat on the bench, mouth gaping open. Molly leaned forward to look past her.
What a hunk! Look at that hair . . . I don't understand why Serena is so dead set on Darien if she knows this guy. Molly looked up . . . and up . . . and up . . . Boy, was he tall! . . . into the stranger's startling blue eyes. She realized that he was staring at her. His lips moved soundlessly, forming something that might have been her name.
"Do we . . . know each other?" Molly asked hesitantly.
Whatever expression had been forming on his face disappeared again, and the glint of light she thought she had seen in those deep blue eyes drained away, leaving them cold. "No, we've never met." But then he added, "You're Molly Baker, right? Serena has told me a great deal about you. I'm Maxfield Stanton." And he held out his hand. Molly took it, blushing a little and wondering exactly when she was going to wake up from this dream. Then she froze, mouth gaping open, looking, she suspected, just like Serena.
"I recognize you now! You're that millionaire who disappeared last year!"
Stanton nodded. "It's a long story, and I don't have time to tell it right now. But I do have to talk to your friend. Alone." He withdrew his hand from hers. For a moment, his gaze took in a nearby stand of trees, and he shivered. "I hope we'll have the opportunity to meet again sometime soon." And he smiled at her. Molly thought her heart was going to melt.
Now, why did the same grove that always bothers me give him the creeping weirds? she wondered as the handsome man wandered off with her friend. And why does it feel like I know him? This is way weird.
* * * * * * * *
"All right, Nephrite," Serena said as soon as they were far away enough from Molly not to be overheard. "Start talking, and this had better be good."
Nephrite raised his eyebrows. "You've grown a backbone. I never thought I'd see the day."
"And you are supposed to be dead," Serena said.
"I was. I think. None of us are quite sure what happened."
"Us?" Serena prompted when he hesitated. "You mean there are more of you? Let me guess. You, Jadeite, Zoisite, Malachite, and Beryl."
"Not Beryl. As far as we can tell, she really is dead, and good riddance."
Serena shot him a surprised glance.
"You don't know what she did to us. Even we're only beginning to figure it out. But the others . . . Yes. You're right. We all woke up at about the same time, a week ago, but scattered all over the planet and weak as kittens. None of us knows what happened after Malachite died, except that you and Prince Endymion and the Scouts destroyed Beryl."
"It wasn't quite that easy. Beryl nearly killed us, too. And no one else remembers what happened."
"I had wondered why Molly didn't recognize me."
"Considering how depressed she was after you died on her, it's probably just as well. Do you still love her?"
The ex-Negaverse general sighed. "I don't know. Certainly there's still something between us. Even you aren't so blind that you could have missed that. If nothing else, I still owe her a chocolate parfait."
"Which doesn't explain why you came looking for me."
"We need to know what's been going on in the real world while we've been gone. Not the mundane news--the peculiar stuff that you Scouts always seem to be right in the middle of."
Now it was Serena's turn to sigh. "I don't know where to begin . . . I guess with Alan and Anne and the Cardians . . ."
* * * * * * * *
"Nice view you have here." As Darien whirled toward him, a rose appearing in his hand, Malachite held his arms out at waist level, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. Perhaps the fact that he was dressed like a human, in Nephrite's borrowed clothes, would help the effect. "I'm not the enemy. Not this time. I only want to talk."
The eldest of Beryl's generals watched expressions chase one another across the face of the former prince. Darien settled on cold distrust. "Why should I believe you?"
"You don't have to. I don't have the strength to fight you now. Strike, if that's all you can think of to do, but remember that I am not alone." He raised his chin, looking Darien in the eye, and hoping that he had guessed right.
Darien set the rose on the balcony railing. "Okay, if you want to talk, talk."
As he explained their predicament, Malachite wondered what it was that so bothered him about the prince . . .
* * * * * * * *
"One of us has got to scrub the stupid floors, and I'll be damned if I'm going to do it when it's your turn!"
Jadeite smiled ruefully. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Evidently Raye had found some other poor young man to torment.
"Welcome to the Sacred Temple at Cherry Hill. May I help you?"
The same indeed. "I'm here to see your granddaughter."
"Raye? You're probably out of luck. She already has a boyfriend."
"A snail could do this more quickly than you, Chad!"
This one sounds like a real dope, Jadeite reflected. To the old man, he said, "I need to talk to her about some mutual friends. It won't take long."
The old man shook his head. "Well, okay . . . Go 'round the back. Say, don't I know you from somewhere?"
"We may have met once or twice." Lucky that the old fool's half blind. I will never understand what it is about these people that fascinates Nephrite so.
He knew the way, having done floor-scrubbing duty himself during his brief tenure here. Around to the back and through the door, to where Raye was standing over a young man with a long forelock that covered his eyes. He was desperately in need of a shave. Jadeite strolled up behind them.
"Just a sec--YOU!"
"We need to talk. Please . . ."
She slapped him across the face. He held his temper in, knowing what Malachite and Nephrite would do to him if he failed.
"I suppose I deserved that. Would it help if I apologized?"
"I doubt it."
Jadeite sighed. I was right. This is going to be hell.
* * * * * * * *
Zoisite settled himself comfortably in the chair before speaking her name. "Amy."
"Zoisite!" The girl stared. "What happened to your voice?"
"This is what I really sound like," the slender man admitted, recognizing the instinct of a scientist. That's one thing that we share. "I was injured sometime during the Silver Millennium, and the damage never quite healed right. That was why I sounded like a woman when we met before."
"But we thought you were a--" Amy blushed.
"I . . . went a little crazy. For a while. I think we were all starting to lose our grip on reality toward the end. Chalk it down to being trapped in a pocket dimension with Queen Beryl for a thousand years. I really am a man. I always was." He grinned and smoothed his shirt flat against his chest. "You have to admit, I never did have much of a figure."
Amy started to laugh, then smothered it with the back of her hand. "I . . . Nothing I remember about you from . . . before . . . led me to believe we'd ever have a conversation like this one."
Zoisite chuckled. "I know. Would you believe that I'm even being civil to Nephrite these days? Most of the time."
Amy sobered. "Why did you come here? And how did you know who I was?"
"In reverse order, Jadeite told me, and, we need your help. Please." He explained recent events as best he could.
"Do you have that crystal with you? Maybe I can find out something by scanning it," Amy offered.
Zoisite lifted the chain off and held it out. "Help yourself." He leaned forward to watch over Amy's shoulder as she wielded her paperback-sized data computer.
"The material is like nothing I've ever seen before," the Scout admitted. "It's got a complex crystalline structure, but I can't read the composition at all . . . It's almost like the time I tried to scan the Imperium Silver Crystal. There's a lot of energy associated with it, but it isn't doing anything except maintaining a thin linkage of some sort with you. I wonder . . ." She stabbed at keys, calling up some bit of previously stored data.
"What is that?" Zoisite asked.
"My scan of the Silver Crystal. I told you they were similar! See?"
"Similar structure," Zoisite observed, "but not identical. Do you mind if I try something?"
"There's a sort of scan you can do to . . . Oh, I can't describe it. It's sort of like scanning for magical residues . . . Give that to me." Faster and stronger than the Scout, he managed to get his hands on the computer. "My signature . . . and someone else's, very faint. If it's persisted this long under such a strong overlay of me, then it must be the crystal's creator. If the others are the same, we may be able to find the person we want. Sorry," he added, handing the computer back to its rightful owner. "It's just that it isn't something that's very easy to explain, and I didn't think we had a couple of hours to work on it."
Amy shook her head. "My mother's due back any second. But it's an interesting problem. I'll think about it, and let you know if I come up with anything else."
* * * * * * * *
" . . . And there are these things that have been popping up just lately," Serena added.
"Things?" Nephrite asked.
"We don't know what they are, or where they're from. Mercury says that they're actually some kind of energy clouds, but they look like people to me. Actually, they've been acting a lot like you used to . . . except that they're perfectly willing to drain energy from animals and plants as well as humans. And, when they drain, they drain everything."
"You mean that they kill their victims."
"Yeah. Do you . . . ?"
"They're nothing I've ever heard of before. Certainly they're not from the Negaverse."
"This may sound weird, but I almost wish they had been. So far, we've only managed to kill three of them. The others have all gotten away from us. Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, and Tuxedo Mask can't do much against them at all, and they're more than Jupiter, Venus and I can handle. If you find out anything . . ."
"I'll let you know, of course. A favor for a favor. Take care." Nephrite closed his eyes and teleported home.
* * * * * * * *
"I'm surprised they didn't try to trick us," Zoisite said, leaning back in his chair.
"We can't be certain they didn't." Jadeite winced as he spoke. He had come back to the mansion with several bruises on his face and refused to explain the cause to anyone.
"I doubt that they would have gone to the trouble of inventing an elaborate lie just on the off chance that we would happen to show up on their doorsteps." Nephrite had turned his chair so that he faced out into the perpetual gloom of the pine forest, toward the city beyond.
"If they were responsible for our resurrection, they would have known that we were coming."
"You're too suspicious, Zoisite." Malachite reached out to put one hand on his lover's arm. "I can't see any reason why they would want to bring us back to life. Even if, for some improbable reason, they needed our power, I doubt any of them are so foolish as to believe we can be trusted, or controlled, even if they could bring themselves to apply some form of coercion. No. If it had been them, they would either have brought Nephrite back alone, or skipped over us altogether and revived Queen Serenity."
"But who does that leave?" Jadeite shifted restlessly. "Beryl would have contacted us already if she were still alive, so it wasn't anyone from the Negaverse. The only other people who have heard of us are the Scouts."
"Someone from the Silver Millennium," Nephrite said, "or perhaps someone from the future who had heard of us from the Scouts."
"Which brings us no nearer to discovering who our unknown benefactor is," said Malachite. "Perhaps Zoisite was correct in showing his crystal to Sailor Mercury. We may need to enlist her help further."
The meeting broke up after that. Malachite and Zoisite went inside together. Jadeite vaulted over the balcony rail and walked off into the woods, presumably intent on blowing off some steam. Nephrite remained on the balcony, alone, watching the city lights through the screen of branches. Molly . . . Where are you tonight?
* * * * * * * *
He awoke in a darkened room, panting and feeling above him in the darkness for something that wasn't there. Then he noticed the reassuring weight of Zoisite pinning his left arm to the bed. A nightmare. Only a nightmare.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm sorry I woke you, love. It was just a nightmare . . . Or . . . Will you help me with something?"
"Anything. You know that, Malachite."
He rolled over onto his side, curling his free arm around the younger man. "That dream," he whispered in Zoisite's ear. "I don't know why, but it was almost exactly like the memory I pulled up during Nephrite's little question session about the Silver Millennium this morning. I need to know what happened, Zoisite. We need to know what happened. I'm hoping that if you hypnotize me while I'm concentrating on that memory, and on the dream, I'll re-experience that slice of time."
"I was never very good at that sort of thing . . ."
Malachite smoothed a stray curl of hair back from his lover's forehead. "All I ask is that you try."
"All right. Look at me--"
Not unusually, Zoisite had underestimated himself. Malachite felt the bedroom receding from around him, and he was dumped in the center of . . .
PAIN! And darkness. His wrists were chained somewhere above his head, and, even if he had been able to reach the floor, he couldn't have stood up. Something was very wrong with his left ankle--perhaps broken, but definitely sprained--and the soles of his feet felt like they'd been burned. Or flayed. Blood, dirt, and old, dried sweat matted his hair to his forehead. But the worst part of it all was that he knew that Zoisite was hanging from a similar set of chains somewhere nearby, badly injured, and there wasn't a thing he could do to help. He could only dangle there, unable to move, and listen to the others' breathing.
<<I think he's getting enough air now, my lord. I can channel a little healing power through the wall behind us. I just wish they'd hung him beside me.>>
<<Alexandrite?>> It took all of Malachite's resources just to send the message. The part of him that was remembering, rather than part of the scene, noted that he was almost as drained as he had been upon waking up in the cellar. <<Will he live?>>
<<Not if he doesn't get some water soon. He lost a lot of blood. Those bastards! I don't know why they bothered to take us alive if all they wanted was to kill us through dehydration and abuse!>> A muffled sob drowned out Zoisite's rasping breath for a moment.
Malachite half-sensed Jadeite trying to comfort his younger brother. The sobs became more hysterical, then stopped as though Alexandrite's throat had been cut.
<<My love,>> the eldest general tried, but Zoisite was still unconscious.
It could have been hours or days later that the youma came. Trapped in darkness, there was no way Malachite could tell time. But then the door swung open, and a little light entered their prison. This misshapen creatures unchained Alexandrite first, which made sense, since he was nearest the door, then went around to Malachite's other side. The white-haired man turned his head, trying to watch, but all he could see beyond Nephrite were the creatures' backs. He didn't know who they were unchaining until they carried the unconscious body across in front of him.
"ZOISITE!" After so long without water, his voice was only a hoarse croak. He knew that a normal human would have been dead long since. But that didn't matter. The only thing that was important was that these animals were dragging his lover across the floor in front of him. Malachite ignored his broken ankle and abused feet and pushed against the wall, trying to swing his body forward. He managed to wrap his legs around the neck of one of the youma, and squeezed with all the strength he had left in him. If there had been only one or two, it might actually have worked, especially since Alexandrite noticed what his superior was doing and threw himself against the youma holding his left arm, but there were fully a dozen of the ugly creatures.
When they had extracted their fellow from his clutches, they beat Malachite to within an inch of his life, and Alexandrite fared little better.
So that's the mysterious Alexandrite, the modern part of Malachite thought as the youma dragging the younger man paused in the doorway. He was shorter and slenderer than any of them except Zoisite, with dark brown hair and odd, grey-brown eyes. Trained to fight, but not a warrior by nature, I think.
<<Don't worry, my lord,>> came Alexandrite's thought. <<They wouldn't be taking an unconscious man to torture. I'll take care of him.>>
And then the door was shut, and the three survivors were alone.
<<You did what you could, my lord. Don't blame yourself.>>
<<I have to. I was the leader. You were my responsibility. Even you, Nephrite.>>
<<Don't worry. I made mistakes enough for the both of us. My fault. Ouch.>>
<<I tried to smile.>>
Malachite remembered the side of Nephrite's face he had seen in profile when the door had been open. It had been bruised and distorted with swelling.
<<Malachite, if we don't get out of this one . . . it's been great knowing you.>>
<<We'll get out of it. I don't know how yet, but we'll get out of it.>>
<<You never give up, do you? I suppose that's why Onyx chose you as our leader.>>
<<Not exactly. I know when to give up. And that time isn't when you're being tortured by some bitch like Beryl.>>
Some interval of time passed before the youma came back. They splashed dirty water on their prisoners--who were so grateful to be able to let a little moisture run into their mouths that they didn't care what was in it or where it came from--then unchained Jadeite and dragged him away.
<<I guess I'll be next,>> Nephrite observed. <<They seem to be taking us in order of age.>>
On their third trip, the youma were not alone.
"Bring them both," came the order from the taller figure in the center. Malachite could hardly believe his eyes. The voice was wrong, but he was certain that his eyes weren't deceiving him.
<<Watch out,>> Nephrite sent. <<There's something wrong here.>>
<<No, he's come to get us out! I'm sure of it! Zoisite!>>
A sly smile creased the corner of Zoisite's mouth. <<Malachite. How pleasant to see you again.>>
Malachite swung back as far as his chains would let him. The touch of his lover's mind had been unspeakably foul, like that of a rotting hand dipped in slime. <<What did they do to you?>>
Zoisite giggled. Malachite shuddered.
"You always were soft, 'beloved'. You'll learn better soon enough."
Nephrite and Malachite were dragged along a hallway and into a huge room. Jadeite lay on the floor to one side, naked and unconscious, with patches of some slimy fluid on his skin. Beyond him, Alexandrite's body had been flung in a heap like so much refuse. If Malachite's nose didn't deceive him, the youngest of his command was not only dead but beginning to rot.
At Zoisite's command, first Nephrite, then Malachite was flung full length onto the floor in front of the strange column that formed the center of the chamber. Black light reached out to wrap around them. Malachite pounded and pounded on the energy bands that entrapped him, but they were too strong. The darkness thickened . . .
And he blinked and shook his head, and realized that he was lying in Zoisite's arms, on their bed in Nephrite's mansion.
* * * * * * * *
Somewhere far away, in a realm of light where shadows would not dare to settle, a vaguely man-shaped figure stood, with an amorphous cloud of energy hovering before it.
#Well?# The peremptory question was not transmitted in any mode that a human would have recognized as speech, but it was still communication.
#We can't find him, my lord. There is interference.#
If the humanoid figure had been material, it would have frowned. #What kind of interference?#
#Conflicting signatures, my lord. Five of them, all in the same very small area of the planet. If I didn't know better, I would almost think there was more than one of them down there.#
#Impossible. The Ancient has sworn to us that all others were killed. It must be some kind of trick.#
#Perhaps, my lord.# Disagreeing would have meant the creature's life, after all.
#Return to your brethren and attempt to resolve this.#
The humanoid figure brooded. It had to be a trick. Either that, or the old Crystal Weaver had recently empowered others, who would be inexperienced and easy prey.
Why, then, in this place where it was never dark, did he see a shadow coming between him and the sun?
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 4
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury