* * * * * * * *
"I don't know, Molly. I can probably put together a setting of some sort, but I've never seen a stone quite like this one before, and I'm not certain what might damage it."
Molly cupped the little crystal protectively in her hand. "Look, can you just kinda work some wires around it, or something, so that I can hang it from a chain? It's important."
The jeweler sighed. "Well, okay. I hope you don't mind my using base metals, because that's all I've got in your price range."
"Whatever." The girl forced herself to place the crystal in his hand. Giving it to someone else was almost painful, and had been ever since she had picked it up the night before. My spirit crystal. And who knew what that was supposed to mean? To anyone else, it was just a translucent yellow rock that shaded to red at the center.
"This should only take a few minutes." The young man bent over his equipment.
"Jiro, are you back here?" Molly's mother stepped through the curtain that separated the jeweler's cubicle from the rest of her shop. "You know you're not supposed to do favors for my daughter."
"She's paying for my time, Mrs. Baker. And this should about . . . Ah, here we go. That'll be one thousand yen, for time and materials."
Molly counted out the bills. It was very nearly all the money she had. "Thanks." She took back the crystal, which was now in a sort of wire basket with a loop for hanging it at the top.
"Molly," her mother said urgently, "what's happened to your eyes?"
"Nothing, as far as I know."
Mrs. Baker frowned. "You aren't wearing contacts or anything?"
Molly's mother picked up a polished silver bowl that Jiro had been working on and handed it to her daughter. Her reflection was distorted by the curved surface, but Molly could see that her eyes had turned a color several shades lighter than their normal blue-green. They were really, really vividly green now, and the expression in them wasn't one she was used to seeing, either.
The girl put the bowl down and turned away. The coldness in her eyes had frightened her, and she didn't want to see it again. Was that why she had so carefully avoided looking directly at herself in the mirror when she had gotten dressed that morning?
"Molly, I want you to see a doctor," Mrs. Baker said. "Maybe a psychiatrist, too. We've all been through a lot lately, and--"
"I don't need a doctor. Or a shrink," Molly said. "I'm perfectly fine." Except that I don't really know who or what I am anymore.
"I think you do," her mother said firmly.
"I told you, I'm perfectly all right!" This miserable human has no business arguing with me! I'll teach her a lesson she'll never forget! Yellow light spilled out between the fingers of the hand that clutched Molly's spirit crystal, and she gathered herself to strike . . . My God, what am I doing?! I was about to attack my own mother! I could have killed her! The anger drained away as suddenly as it had come, leaving Molly cold and afraid. Nephrite, is this how you felt for all those years? "Mother, forgive me!" Molly turned and fled the store, leaving her mother and Jiro staring after her.
Part of me is them, now, and I don't know how to control it. I'm a danger to everyone around me. She remembered the look on Nephrite's face the first time he had saved her from one of Zoacite's monsters. He had been staring at his hand, looking as though he thought it had betrayed him. Onyx, why didn't I listen properly to what you were asking? Molly clutched the crystal to her, and cried.
* * * * * * * *
I don't know what to do, Malachite thought, staring down at the disembodied metal hand in his lap. It was a strange feeling for him, and not one he particularly enjoyed. You never really explained anything, damn you. If I knew how to bring you back, I would, just to slap you across the face. You bastard. Anger, at least, was familiar, and kept him from slipping any deeper into his growing depression. You expected me to lead them against the Empyrean, didn't you? Well, I have news for you. Even if I can get Zoisite and Nephrite to work together, Jadeite will never agree to Almandite's presence. Never. He despises humans too much.
I don't even know what it was that I did last night, that wiped so many of those creatures out. I was acting on instinct and need. I don't know if I could do it again. I need to remember, damnit! Why couldn't you have given us that back along with our lives?
The white-haired man sighed. Well, I did make you one promise. As did we all. I suppose I might as well keep it. A little power sufficed to snap the crude arrowhead from its setting. His hand closed about it. He ignored the pain from the cuts inflicted by the edges until he felt the stone snap in two under the remorseless pressure he was applying.
Rot in hell, you son of a bitch. When he opened his hand, blood dulled the edges of the crystal facets, erasing the elusive gleam that had formerly traced them out.
* * * * * * * *
Serena had just finished her lunch and was wishing there had been more of it. Why are school lunches always so small? Hey, maybe I should find Lita. She always has extra.
Just a sec--who's that? Melvin? Why's he sneaking up on Molly? Oh, this should be good . . . The blonde girl tiptoed over and hid behind a tree that would provide her with a good view of the action.
Molly looked up at Melvin, then back down at her lunch.
"Molly, I don't understand why you've been ignoring me. Is it something I did?"
"More like something you didn't do, Dweebmeister." Molly's voice had an unfamiliar edge to it. "Like get something resembling a life."
Melvin looked like a hurt puppy. "But . . . I thought . . ."
"Well, you thought wrong."
"Please, Molly, I--"
"What part of 'It's over' don't you understand, Melvin? Leave me alone!"
Ohmigod, her eyes are actually glowing. That settles it. Something did happen in the alley the night before last. Nephrite's done something to my best friend. And I'm going to find out what. Serena tiptoed back the way she had come.
* * * * * * * *
Instead of walking home from school with Serena that day the way she normally would have, Molly slipped into the girls' washroom so that no one would see her teleport. She had been experiencing irrational flashes of anger all day--although nothing on the order of what she had almost done to her mother the morning before-- and she was worried. Nothing's ever going to be the same again. Damn you, Onyx. Materializing in front of Nephrite's mansion, she realized that the bitterness she felt was also unlike her, and shivered.
Molly whirled. "Damnit, Malachite, don't do that!"
The white-haired man smiled, or rather, smirked. "Don't worry. You couldn't hurt me if you tried, so I sincerely doubt you'll do it by accident."
"It was my heart that I was worried about."
"In any case, it's good that you came here. If you're to be of any use to us at all, you're going to have to learn to use your powers."
"From you? I'd sooner kiss a toad."
Malachite smirked again. "I'm sure that can be arranged. Or you could always try to kill me."
"Quite." He folded his arms across his chest. "Come on, hit me with your best shot."
Molly's eyes began to glow, and her hair and skirt rippled in a sudden cyclone of air. Yellow lightning lanced out from her cupped hands, heading for Malachite . . .
. . . who wasn't there anymore. A hard push in the back sent Molly sprawling face down on the ground.
"Pathetic," Malachite said in a clipped, precise voice. "If you give the Empyrean that much warning of what you're doing, you'll be dead. Get up."
The girl glared at him. As she rose to her knees, she brought her hand around and flung a disk of light at him. Malachite caught it and threw it back, and Molly had to duck in a hurry.
"A little better," he said, "but lacking in force. You have a great deal to learn about control and concentration."
Molly sighed and stood up. It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon.
Malachite was merciless and often bitingly sarcastic. He avoided, countered, or blocked everything she threw at him. Molly decided that she really could get to hate him.
Okay, she thought after landing face down in the dirt for the fourth time. You're a sneaky, underhanded son of a bitch. Well, I can be sneaky too. When Malachite called for her to get up, she ignored him. He prodded her with the toe of his boot. When she didn't move, he cursed and bent down to check her pulse.
Molly struck, aiming a tiny, sharp dart of golden light at Malachite's face. He cursed again and slapped it away, but she had the satisfaction of seeing that it had left a bleeding gash along the palm of his hand.
"Serves you right," she said.
"I underestimated you," Malachite admitted. "Hopefully, I won't be the only one."
Molly touched his wounded hand, fingers trailing yellow sparks. As they watched, the narrow cut closed and disappeared.
Malachite wriggled his fingers, closed the hand into a fist, then opened it again. "Very good," he said. "You're better at that than Alexandrite was, at first. It isn't pulling at all."
"I don't even understand what it was that I did," Molly complained.
"We all apply our powers differently. You have special talent as a healer, like Alexandrite did. Unfortunately, healing is one of the hardest aspects of crystal power to master, and none of us can teach you very much. Jadeite used to know a little, but I'm not sure he remembers yet. You're going to have to be very careful. Applying your power wrongly could make things worse, instead of better, for an injured person." He extended his newly healed hand to help her up. After a moment, Molly took it and let him pull her to her feet.
"You know," she said, "you're acting almost human now. After what you've put me through today, I was beginning to wonder."
Malachite sighed. "In many ways, the four of us are just as human as you are. Even eleven hundred years as Crystal Weavers couldn't cancel that out completely. But Beryl tried."
Just as human as I am. You know, I think that's what worries me.
* * * * * * * *
#Why are you here?#
#Great One, I seek your guidance,# the Ancient replied. #This world has produced some powerful new foes. Our people cannot stand against them. We require assistance that only you can give.#
The voice of the sea of opalescent light replied, #We know of the Crystal Weavers. You once defeated many of them. What is so different about these?#
#The ones we defeated before were skilled in the ways of power, but they were soft. This new Weave is remorseless and ruthless. It is composed of trained fighters, who do not make the foolish mistakes we have come to expect of the embodied. And they are very, very powerful.#
The Eternal Light pondered. The Ancient could only wait for its answer. The racial memory and demigod of an entire race is not a creature to be hurried.
#You have never understood the ways of fighting of the embodied,# It said at last. #This defect can be remedied. You require power. We can give it to you. Are you willing to pay the necessary price?#
#Not without knowing what it is,# the Ancient stated firmly. It was not about to abandon the normal rules of self-preservation just because it happened to be dealing with a god.
#You will be changed,# was all It said. #Regardless of your success or failure, you will be unable to return to you brethren. You will become an exile, doomed to wander the fringes of the human world for the rest of your existence.#
The Ancient pondered, knowing that the god would not begrudge it the time. Was the sweet taste of revenge worth the asking price?
#I accept.# Its entire purpose in existing was to fight the Crystal Weavers. It had been very young during that first war. It had grown old planning its revenge. Beside this, eternal exile was as nothing.
The luminescent opal mist thickened around it, becoming almost solid as it shut out the light. #What's happening? What are you doing to me?!# Layers upon layers of thick coldness formed around the creature that had called itself 'Ancient'. Formed around it and became part of it, until it was encased in a thick, cold shell, its light dimmed and strangely altered.
The light reached it again through the darkness, but light was no longer the creature's natural environment. The light scalded. It burned. It wrapped itself tightly around the core of the already tortured creature and refused to let go. The layers of its cold shell drew close again, and it was trapped. Inside. With the light.
Cold. Excruciating cold surrounded this new being that had known only the heat of the Eternal Light's embrace in its few moments of existence. It opened its eyes (and wondered how it understood what eyes were.) Darkness. How strange.
Then it became conscious of precisely what had happened. It stared at its hands with a mixture of loathing and incomprehension. #Is the only way to understand them to become one of them? Please, Lord, do not do this to me!#
There was no response. It was locked away inside this . . . this body, unable to reach out to any of its own kind.
The creature that had been so eager to conquer a world huddled in a shivering heap.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 9
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury