The Wars of Light and Shadow
by E. Liddell

The Other Chapter 7

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"Hey there, Jay! What'll it be?"

"Just bring me a bottle and a glass and keep it coming." Jadeite sank down onto a chair. Miserable humans. He knew from experience that the bartender would cut him off after the second bottle, forcing him to find another drinking establishment and repeat his performance. He suspected that it was partly because of this that he never quite managed to get drunk, only depressed, maudlin, and hung over. Miserable, miserable humans! I wish I was back in the Negaverse, not that the youma are any better company, but if I try to leave, Malachite will kill me. Damn him! At least I was at peace with myself when I was working for Beryl! Now . . . Now he was saddled with continual flashes of memory he didn't want and a tremendous burden of guilt. Alexandrite . . . No! I don't want to remember!

He gulped down sake. As usual, it didn't help much. He could still see his brother's face in his mind's eye. It always began this way. First the face, then the voice. Flickering scenes of the two of them together. The youma prodding him into the room, and the tremendous anguish as he saw the body. He had fallen to his knees beside it, reaching out to touch . . . And then, the scene was cut off as though someone had sliced his memory in half. And that was somehow worse than all the rest.

He fought back tears as he poured himself another glass. Tears! I'm going just as soft as the rest of them--Nephrite with his human girl, Malachite refusing to discipline me or back Zoisite against Nephrite, and Zoisite himself unwilling to do anything more spiteful than fling the occasional insult! We're turning into a bunch of weak, sentimental . . . humans!

Mechanically, he poured and drank, poured and drank, until the bartender refused to bring him another bottle. Still stone cold sober and enraged, Jadeite strode out into the night to find another bar.

* * * * * * * *

"Say, Mol, wasn't that Jadeite?"

"It kinda looked like him, didn't it? I wonder what he's doing here."

"I doubt it's anything good," Serena said, getting a stubborn look that Molly knew all too well. "Let's follow him and see."

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Molly said. "I mean, it really isn't any of our business."

"Molly, I'm a Sailor Scout, remember? If it involves Negatrash like Jadeite, it's my business."

Molly gradually allowed herself to be persuaded. She and Serena trailed Jadeite toward his next port of call, unaware that they were not the only ones doing so.

* * * * * * * *

#He is coming.#

#Excellent. Block the alleyway.#

The dark man, who was hunting the hunters, mouthed a curse. I was hoping that they would separate. Now I'm going to have to take them all at once. Miraculously, once he had begun this stalk, his coughing had stopped.

A disheveled Jadeite entered the alley, trailed at a distance by . . . two young girls? This was the last straw. He had to act now. He checked to make certain that his right hand was properly covered by the glove that he always wore, then stepped out into the open, placing himself directly in front of Jadeite.

"It's a pleasant night, isn't it?"

* * * * * * * *

"Who's he?" Molly whispered to Serena.

"I don't know," her friend whispered back.

The figure blocking Jadeite's path was tall but thin. Or so Molly thought. It was impossible to see much of him except his all- enveloping coat and the hat that shadowed his face. She had the impression that he looked unhealthy. There was something wrong with the color of his skin, although the dim lighting made it difficult to tell just what.

"Get out of my way." Jadeite tried to push past, but the stranger grabbed at his elbow. The unknown had to be very strong, because he succeeded in stopping Jadeite in his tracks.

"I wouldn't go down there," the stranger said. "The Empyrean are waiting for you."

"The Emp--Who are you?" Beryl's ex-general asked sharply.

The other looked back over his shoulder. "There's no time. They're calling reinforcements. We have to get out of here!"

"Why should I believe you?"

"Have your instincts completely deserted you? You should be able to tell that I'm telling the truth. I don't have the time or the strength to fight you, Jadeite. Please."

"How did you know my name?" Jadeite was trying to pull away again. The stranger, however, was still the stronger, and was pushing him back the way he had come.

It was that moment that the Empyrean commander chose to attack. Eight glowing figures materialized to surround the two men.

"I can't teleport!" Jadeite was saying.

The stranger sighed. "I did try to warn you. Neither of us is going to be able to leave until we finish them."

"Mol, can you see anyone else near here?" Serena asked her friend urgently.

Molly tore her eyes away from the two men for long enough to glance around. "I don't think so."

"Good enough," Serena said. "Moon Crystal Power!"

Molly gaped. She wasn't able to return her attention to the battle until she heard the stranger speak again.

"I suppose it's as good a night to die as any," he said, and flung aside the hat and the trenchcoat. Underneath it, he was dressed in a severely fitted black tunic and trousers a bit reminiscent of the Negaverse uniform. His ribs showed through the cloth, and his skin was an unhealthy gray color. His black hair, lackluster and sprinkled with grey, hung almost to his waist. Only his eyes seemed alive--feverishly bright, in fact. "It was bound to happen anyway, and sooner rather than later."

He's dying, Molly realized. From the way he looks, he can't have more than a few days left even if he survives this. I wonder why he's wearing that glove?

"Back off, scum! I am Sailor Moon, the Champion of Justice! On behalf of the Moon, I will right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!" But Serena had chosen the wrong moment to make her speech.

A blow knocked Molly away from her friend, and she was terrified to see an Empyrean gripping Serena. The blonde girl was fighting it, but her movements weren't very well coordinated, and it was obvious that she was losing.

"Nephrite!" Molly screamed for the second time in less than a day. "Help me, Nephrite! I need you!"

He appeared beside her in a swirl of crimson smoke. "What's going--Onyx!" Nephrite was staring at the stranger as though he were an apparition.

"Perceptive as always, Nephrite. It's a shame we're not going to have a chance to get properly reacquainted." Onyx smiled. Oddly, his teeth gleamed black. But Nephrite was already turning toward the Empyrean holding Serena, one hand on his crystal. Blue light separated the creature from the girl, and it vanished with a pop! Serena collapsed. Molly caught her halfway to the ground. Her friend was unconscious.

Jadeite, meanwhile, had his own crystal out and was fumblingly trying to use it against another Empyrean, but he seemed to be having trouble figuring out the technique. Light had formed about his hand, but it seemed unwilling to reach out and coalesce into the streamers that Nephrite was using.

Black fire trailed from Onyx's hands, killing every Empyrean it touched. Yet it seemed that no matter how many they destroyed, there were always more Empyrean to mount the attack. If they didn't pop like soap bubbles, there'd be piles of bodies as high as I'm tall, Molly thought, and shuddered.

"Is this a private party, or can anyone join in?" Zoisite's voice inquired from above.

Nephrite glanced up. "Where have you two been?"

"Look out!" Until Onyx shouted, neither Molly nor Nephrite had noticed the Empyrean poising itself to spring. Nephrite whirled, but wasn't able to meet the threat in time. If Onyx hadn't flung himself between them to take the brunt of the attack, it was possible that Nephrite might have died.

The dark man collapsed at Nephrite's feet as a surge of white light from above wiped out the Empyrean. Malachite had entered the fray. He and Zoisite systematically destroyed the remaining Empyrean while Nephrite knelt beside Onyx. Molly gently laid Serena down on the ground and went over to join him. A much abashed Jadeite joined Malachite and Zoisite at the wounded man's other side.

"Let's not waste time with offers of comfort," Onyx said before anyone else could come up with appropriate words. "Even without that Empyrean, I wouldn't have had much longer to live. I'm sorry. I wanted to make it all up to you." He coughed, a hollow rasping sound that left blood on his lips.

"You brought us back to life," Nephrite said. "That was enough."

"Is there anything we can do to help you?" Molly asked hesitantly.

Onyx's laugh turned into another cough. "I'm dying, girl. Ever since I lost my hand in the Empyrean War, back during the Silver Millennium, I've been slowly poisoning myself every time I use my powers. Damned prosthetic's killing me, but without it, I wouldn't be much more than an ordinary human. It wouldn't have mattered, except that I was the last."

"The last?" Zoisite asked.

"Of the Crystal Weavers. That girl over there--" he waved his gloved hand in the general direction of Serena-- "holds our masterwork."

"Your people made the Imperium Silver Crystal?" Molly wasn't quite sure who asked it. It had to be what they all were thinking.

"Well, somebody had to, don't you think? We knew the Empyrean were going to come back. It was meant to be the last mortal line of defense, although I suspect it ended up being used in ways that none of us had anticipated. Only four of us survived the war. The other three poured out their life force to create the Silver Crystal for the ruler of the Moon Kingdom, but I was newly maimed and useless for any complicated Weaving. It took me years to rebalance my powers to the point where I could do anything worthwhile. Years before I could have created you."

"What are you saying?" Malachite sounded suspicious.

"Years after the war, the King of Earth asked for my help. He didn't think that the Crystal would be enough to protect his people, especially since it was thousands of miles away, on the Moon. He wanted a first line of defense. Another Crystal was out of the question. Making just the one had been the work of three of us, and I was alone, maimed, and already beginning to feel the initial effects of the poison. My only other choice was to empower a small group of humans in an attempt to create new Crystal Weavers. I succeeded, but only just, and two of you nearly died. After that, I refused to try again. The king was not pleased. A few years later, he banished me from his planet. I spent the next few decades on Mars. You stayed behind, at the Earthan capital. I had never completed your training to my satisfaction, but then I had never been certain that I ever would. Before the war, I had been a simple hunter, not a teacher or a Weavemaker. I didn't have all the skills.

"While I was on Mars, I met a human woman. We . . . got along very well, and I made a terrible mistake, although I didn't realize it at the time.

"I named our daughter Beryl, in the tradition of my people, and tried to empower her, as our people have done with our children since time immemorial. Unfortunately, Beryl turned out to be very sensitive to crystal power. Her first exposure almost killed her, and warped her body out of all proportion to what she managed to absorb. On her own, she was never even a tenth as powerful as the least of you. Then, one day, she accidentally opened a portal to what she later named the Negaverse. It . . . twisted her. What had been a mild resentment of you, and of the ordinary humans among whom she never belonged, flared into a terrible desire to destroy and enslave." Onyx's eyes flickered shut for a moment. "I didn't realize what was happening until too late. I'm sorry. I didn't know how evil she had become until I felt Alexandrite's spirit crystal crumble under my hand . . ." He coughed again. This time, it took several minutes for the spasm to subside. "I don't have much time left, and there is one more thing I have to do. Help me sit up."

Malachite and Zoisite supported the dying Crystal Weaver to a sitting position. The dark man fumbled the glove off his right hand. The appendage underneath was an articulated wonder of darkly gleaming metal. Set into the back of it, just below where the knuckles would have been, was a primitive arrowhead chipped from black stone.

"That is my spirit crystal," Onyx said. "I want you all to promise me that, when I'm dead, you'll destroy it. The poison has corrupted my spirit as well as my body. I don't want to be brought back as some pitiful twisted creature . . . Promise me. All of you."

The four Negaverse generals made the promise. Molly found herself saying the words along with them, so deeply had she been drawn into the story.

"Girl," Onyx said when they were done, "you love Nephrite, don't you?" His fever-bright eyes burned into Molly, who nodded. "Do you love him enough to give up your family, your friends, and any hope you might have had of a normal life?"

"I don't understand. Why are you asking me these things?"

"There are supposed to be five here, not four. Before I die, I must replace Alexandrite, and you are the logical candidate. Without a fifth member, Malachite's Weave will remain unbalanced, and it is probable that all of them will die. But I will not force you."

"Don't do it," Nephrite's voice said harshly in her ear. "It could kill you. I don't want to lose you, Molly."

Molly turned to look into the depths of his deep blue eyes. And she made her decision.

"Do it," she said. "I'm tired of being monster fodder and of putting other people in danger because they're trying to save me."

"Take my hands," Onyx said, holding them out.

The grayish flesh Molly held in her right hand was hot with fever, contrasting with the cool metal she held in her left. As Onyx's eyes began to glow, she felt Nephrite's arms close around her from behind. No matter what happens, at least we're together, she thought, and smiled.

Molten lead washed up her arms. Unable to draw in enough breath for a scream, Molly whimpered. The heat and the pain went on and on and on, in waves that gradually centered themselves on some point inside her brain. She was pulled in four directions at once. The minds of Beryl's generals surrounded her own. She felt a little of the darkness that hounded them bleed into her, and knew she would never be the same.

<<Molly, are you all right? Molly!>>

The girl shook her head. "I must have fainted." But she was still kneeling on the ground in a narrow alley with Nephrite supporting her, holding Onyx's hands. The dark man's eyes were closed now, and she thought he was dead already until he spoke.

"Almandite, I'm sorry. There wasn't enough time . . . Good luck to you all." His hands released Molly's, and the one that was flesh rather than metal twitched convulsively. A small stone in the shape of a teardrop fell from it as his breathing stopped. Molly couldn't even bring herself to be shocked as she reached forward to pick it up. This had been a night of upheavals.

"Almandite?" she wondered aloud.

"He meant you," Malachite replied, as though it should have been obvious.

As they watched, Onyx's body disintegrated into sparks and dust. His skeleton held together for a moment longer than his flesh-- strangely, the bones were black--but then it fell apart as well, and blew away on the wind. Only his metal hand was left. Malachite picked it up.

They were still kneeling there when footsteps pounded up behind them.

"Serena!" said a familiar voice, as several people saw the unconscious girl.

"Did we miss anything?" Lita asked the group kneeling on the asphalt.

"Nothing important," Molly replied.

* * * * * * * *

#Are you telling me that you poured reinforcements into a hopeless battle?# The Ancient was almost beside itself.

#There was no reason to believe that the entire Weave was going to show up!# "my lord" protested frantically, knowing as it did that it was fighting for its life. #In any case, the battle accomplished its purpose. We now know the strengths of the other members of the Weave.#

#You utter fool! Do you realize what these creatures have done? Half of our effective fighting force is gone, and we have not succeeded in harming a single one of them!# And, the Ancient mused, I have never before encountered a Weave so terrifyingly strong . . . I wish that some other had survived to continue this battle. I was never high enough in the councils to know what the limits of our foes' capacities were.

We have only one chance left. I must consult the Eternal Light, and hope that it sees an answer to this.

The Ancient vanished from that place and time, leaving its subordinate uncomfortably aware that it had not been vindicated.

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return to Index / go to Chapter 8
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury