The Wars of Light and Shadow
by E. Liddell

Chapter 10

* * * * * * * *

"Hey, Mol!" Serena panted, snagging her friend's arm on the way past. "It isn't like you to be late for school. Hurry up, or you'll be stuck in detention, like I always am!"

"I guess I overslept," the red-haired girl said as she jogged alongside her friend. "I've been tired all the time lately."

She does look pretty bad, Serena reflected. Must have some spectacular black circles under her eyes for her to be wearing those sunglasses. Funny, I would have thought she'd have more trouble keeping up with me than this. She doesn't get all that good exercise as a Sailor Scout.

The two skidded to a halt inside the school gate only minutes before the bell rang

Serena blinked. "Hey, what's with them?" Nearly three dozen people, blank-faced and looking like zombies, had trailed them into the schoolyard. Oh, I hope this isn't like the other day . . .

"I really don't think we want to find out. Come on, let's go inside." Molly took the lead now, drawing Serena forward.

The zombies followed them, pressing closer and closer. The two girls reached the front steps of the school, but the zombies were pressing them so closely now that they couldn't get the doors open. Molly stepped behind Serena as they closed in.

"Uh, Serena? I think now would be a good time for you to, uh . . ."

"I think you're right, Mol. It's no fun being crushed under a pile of wigged-out nuts! Moon Crystal Power!"

By the time Serena had finished her transformation, the two of them were backed up against the doors.

"Geez, what's wrong with this bunch? You guys can't step on Sailor Moon this way, you know!"

"Serena, I think you'd maybe better just skip the speech and get rid of them . . ."

A zombie stepped on Serena's foot.

"Maybe you're right," Serena said judiciously. "Moon Crystal Healing Activation!"

Perhaps it was just as well that Serena was looking forward at the zombies and not back at Molly while all this was happening. She might not have liked what she would have seen if her friend had been within her visual range.

* * * * * * * *

They're after me. Somehow, irrationally, Molly was sure of it. The Empyrean did something to them, and now they're after me!

"Moon Crystal Healing Activation!" Serena called.

The light radiating from the Silver Crystal hurt Molly's eyes even through the dark glasses she was wearing to help hide their changed color. What's happening? This is healing power. It shouldn't hurt!

Every exposed inch of her skin was stinging. What's wrong with me? Why is the Crystal hurting me? Does it . . . think that I'm evil? No. I'm not. I'm not! This is all wrong! But she remembered what had happened when Onyx had joined her to the others in the Weave. The Negaforce touched me. Through Malachite and the others. The Crystal can only acknowledge me as evil. What have I done?

Mercifully, the Crystal had finally had its effect on the zombies. Seeing that they were returning to full consciousness, Serena shut the Crystal off. Molly ducked behind her friend and tried to use instinct and her healing powers to combat what looked like a bad case of sunburn. She could only hope that none of the three dozen strangers standing around them and dazedly muttering things like, "What is our problem?" would notice the yellow sparks trailing from her reddened fingers.

Finally, the last of the redness was gone and the pack of puzzled strangers were clearing out. Serena abandoned her Sailor uniform in favor of her mundane school one.

"C'mon, Mol, we have to get inside! The bell's about to go."

"Serena, I--Oh!" Molly clutched at the doorframe for support. "I don't think I can . . ." Molly was fairly certain that the new pain wasn't the Silver Crystal's fault. It came from within, radiating from the center of her torso and out along all her limbs.

Serena steadied her. "You're burning up! Do you think you can make it as far as the nurse's office?"

Nurse! Molly nearly panicked. I can't go to the nurse, any more than I could go to the doctor when my mother wanted to send me! But I can't manage alone, and if I ask Serena to help me to class instead, she might get suspicious. And then I'd have to tell her that I was one of the enemy. Ex-enemy. Whatever. But she'd never trust me again after that. If anything, the tension intensified the pain, and Molly fell to her knees.

"I'll go get help," Serena said. Molly was in too much pain to do more than hug herself and shiver. She waited in a daze until Serena came back with the nurse.

The middle-aged woman felt Molly's forehead, then took her pulse. "Your friend is right. You are running a fever, and your pulse rate is almost double what it should be. I don't know how you managed to get out of bed this morning, but you're going straight to the hospital as soon as I can get an ambulance. Meanwhile, you'd better come inside and lie down. Do you think you can walk?"

Think of it as one of Malachite's "exercises", Molly told herself. The white-haired Crystal Weaver had spent the previous afternoon testing her endurance in any number of . . . inventive . . . ways. Thinking fixedly of what she would do to Malachite the next time she saw him, Molly forced herself to her feet. There she stood, vision blurred, clutching at the doorframe, until the nurse took her arm to help her inside. She took one step forward, then another. Her heart rate gradually slowed and her vision cleared as she walked. When she could no longer hear her pulse pounding in her ears, she lifted her arm gently free of the nurse's grasp.

"I'm fine now. Really, I am. I should be in class." It must be the crystal power. Have I been using too much of it? Or did I do something wrong during the healing? Not that it matters.

"I'll be the judge of that," the nurse said gently. "Your fever seems to have gone down a bit, but I'd like to check and be sure, all right?"

"I'm fine," Molly repeated, this time drawing on a bit of her power to lend conviction to her words. "I must have had a touch of sun, that's all. There's nothing wrong with me. You were mistaken."

"I was mistaken," the nurse muttered and shook her head. Her eyes looked glazed, as did Serena's. "Well, what are you two waiting for? Go along to class."

"Serena!" Molly shook her friend's arm, afraid that she had used too much power and turned her friend into a zombie like the ones they had encountered outside. "Serena, snap out of it!" I should just have told her. I don't deserve for her to trust me after this. Maybe the Crystal was right and I am becoming evil. Brainwashing people certainly isn't good.

Serena giggled. "Geez, I must really have been spaced out! We'd better get going, or Miss Haruna is going to be really steamed!"

The two ran along the hallway together, Molly lagging behind because residual aches wouldn't let her keep Serena's pace. I'm going to have to be more careful about how I use my powers. What I just did wasn't right, and since I can't count on the others to stop me, I'm going to have to remember to control myself. Molly sighed. Why is it that I think I'm not going to have much luck?

* * * * * * * *

Nephrite gasped and bent forward over the table.

"So, you feel it too," Malachite observed. The eldest general's face showed a faint sheen of sweat.

"What is that?" Nephrite grated. The pain was not as intense as he had thought at first, but the sheer unexpectedness of it had taken his breath away.

"Almandite. You were the one who observed that we were intended to function as a team. Well, now you remember exactly what that means for us."

"You knew!"

"Drawing Almandite into our Weave appears to have reforged the connections between us. We feel her pain--I, because I am the Center of the Weave, and you because of your love for her."

Nephrite raised his head to meet Malachite's eyes. The older man stared back, absolutely calm. "You really are a cold- blooded bastard, aren't you?" Nephrite said. "I remember why Onyx called you an ice blade, now. Cold, slippery, and very, very sharp. Beryl didn't even have to change you much to get you to work for her, did she? You always loved power. She just had to take away your sense of proportion."

"Not quite. My sense of humor was actually the earliest casualty. Beryl never did have much use for levity. Then, as you say, my sense of proportion. And lastly, my friendship for you and Jadeite. She tried to tear Zoisite and I apart as well, but never entirely succeeded. What he and I have turned out to be stronger than the Negaforce and Beryl's will together."

"We were never friends." But Nephrite had to lower his eyes again. He was afraid of what he would see in Malachite's steady gaze.

"Sometimes you can be terribly obtuse. We were always friends, right up until the Negaforce took us. The five of us were like brothers. Don't you remember?"

"I've been trying not to." All that had come back to him from those earliest years were a few scattered scenes and a sense of lingering pain.

"Fighting it won't help. I tried, for a while. It just brings back the memories all the more clearly in the end, as though resistance polishes away the tarnish of the intervening years." The grey eyes had gone distant. Nephrite wondered what Malachite was seeing. "Except for Zoisite, you and Jadeite and Alexandrite were the best thing to ever happen to me. I don't think anyone ever expected that five children who had sold themselves to a stranger would ever be able to make up any kind of a family. But somehow we did."

Nephrite couldn't help but see an echo of the younger Malachite in the chiseled-ice face of the adult, despite the millennium and more that separated Beryl's most trusted general from the intense, dark-haired boy who had worked so hard to throw off his lower-class origins and fit into the adult world of the Earthan court. "We did sell ourselves, didn't we? Each in our own way. I for a place to belong, the others to help their families . . ."

"And me for the sake of three full meals a day and a roof over my head that didn't leak every time it rained," Malachite said. "I didn't know, back then, that there was anything in the world that was more important."

"And the humans say that ignorance is bliss." The pain that had wracked his body had receded now to the point where he barely felt it. But there were other types of pain. He had almost forgotten that.

Malachite snorted. "Bliss is a figment of the humans' imaginations. Ignorance and understanding are both equally appalling states of being. There is no easy path, especially not for the likes of us."

The memories that Nephrite had repressed came clearer now. They had lived at the court of the King of Earth for a little more than a century, he and the others. The humans who formed the majority of the court had never been entirely certain what to make of them: five men, of indefinite but apparently youthful age, who possessed strange powers and had been trained to fight in a war that had never come. But by the time anyone had realized that last, Malachite had twenty years of favor trades behind him, and they couldn't be forced out. Not entirely. Instead, the courtiers set out to ignore them to death, and had almost succeeded. The little group had become more and more insular. In the end, that was part of what had made them easy prey for Beryl. They had no warning of the attack and no help from any quarter. Although their efforts had led to the escape of many of the members of the court, Nephrite was secretly certain that the humans had breathed sighs of relief when they had realized that the tiny group of Crystal Weavers were never coming back.

"We've always been alone," he said aloud.

Malachite's hand closed around his. "We've always had each other. That is what is important. Leave the humans to their games."

And I may be able to do just that, at least for the most part. Live among them, but never with them . . . Yes, I can do that. I already have. The question is, can Molly?

* * * * * * * *

"We went inside--with the nurse, I think, but why? Neither of us was hurt--and then it all just sort of gets blurry," Serena repeated. "I don't understand what happened."

"That's really weird," Mina said.

"I agree." Lita rose up on her toes to see how far along the line they were. "Boy, I sure hope this movie's worth it."

Mina smiled. "I'm sure it will be."

"Says the star," Raye observed. "Hey, what's that?"

Serena glanced in the direction Raye had indicated. "I don't see anything."

"There was some sort of really weird shadow on the wall near the mouth of that alley. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I have a bad feeling about it."

"So do I." Mina stared at the spot, but the shadow refused to reappear. "I think we should check it out."

"But then we'll miss the movie!" Serena wailed.

"Why don't you four go, and I'll stay to hold your places for you?" Amy didn't even bother to look up from the copy of Advanced Spanish Vocabulary that she was holding.

"Sounds good." Lita took a few steps away from the line. "Coming, guys?"

The four Sailor Scouts strode briskly around the corner, with Serena, as usual, bringing up the rear. Inside the alley, they stopped and stared. Six huge monsters crouched outside the back door of the theater. They seemed to be acting as a guard for the slender blonde man in the center. Is he their prisoner, or their boss, and how will we be able to tell?

Lita squinted. "Is it just me, or is that guy not wearing very much for this time of year?"

"Some kind of shorts, I think," Mina agreed. "No shirt, though. Anyway, this looks like Scout business to me. What do you say, guys?"

"For sure! Mars Star Power!"

"Venus Star Power!"

"Jupiter Star Power!"

"Moon Crystal Power," Serena added reluctantly. Oh, drat. I was hoping that we'd be able to avoid the monsters for a while. At least the Empyrean and the zombies aren't slimy or anything. With monsters, you never know.

The blonde man stood, hands on his hips, watching them transform. The monsters did nothing, just standing there. Is this weird or what? Why don't the monsters attack? Monsters always attack! Oh, well . . .

"I am Sailor Moon, the Champion of Justice! And in the name of the Moon, I'll punish you!" Serena used the shortest of her speeches, in the interest of getting this over with before the movie started.

The blonde man shook his head. "I really don't think so. I don't have the time for the likes of you humans." He opened the door to the theater, pausing halfway inside to speak to the monsters. "Finish them. I don't have time for their interference."

The monsters shambled forward as the Scouts began their various attacks.

"Mars Celestial Fire Surround!"

"Venus Love Chain Encircle!"

One monster, charred, toppled to the ground unconscious. Two others were trapped inside the coils of Mina's attack, bound back-to-back and unable to move. As Lita attacked a fourth creature, Serena nibbled at her lower lip. Do I use the Scepter or the Crystal? I can't tell whether they were ever human or not! Oh, well. I guess I'll try the Crystal. If I use the Scepter, and it turns out to be the wrong thing, there won't be any bringing them back afterwards.

Serena waved her hand. "Moon Crystal Healing Activation!"

One by one, the monsters stiffened, slumped, and turned back into human beings. Whew.

"Come on!" Lita said. "We've got to go after that blonde guy!"

The four charged through the door, only to find themselves in a maze of small rooms at the back of the movie theater. Which way? Eenie, meenie, miney . . . Hey, wait for me!

Lita, in the lead, pushed open a small door just to one side of the big projection screen to reveal . . . a theater full of zombies? No, not quite. A couple of them near the back are still trying to get away, but it's like they're trying to run underwater! And where's that light coming from? Serena looked up, and up . . . I should have known. The blonde man was floating some ten feet above the floor, with a ball of pure white light cupped in his hands. Periodically, a bolt of radiance shot to or from it, touching someone in the audience. Serena pulled out the Scepter. This was no time to hesitate over whether this was a real Bad Guy or a Good Guy that had been corrupted by the wrong side.

"Moon Scepter Elimination!" Power flowed from the Scepter, but it washed over the man without seeming to harm him. Damn! He's even more resistant than Rubius was!

"Jupiter Thunderclap Zap!" Lita's attack bounced off a thin transparent shield in front of the stranger without even attracting his attention. This doesn't look good . . .

A red rose zapped out of the darkness of the balcony corner and skimmed across the palms of the blonde man's hands, which jerked convulsively, dropping the ball of light. The light ball exploded upon striking the floor, releasing most of the radiance it had held back into the bodies of the near-zombies populating the theater, while the blonde man stared at his bleeding palms with utter disbelief.

"How DARE you?"

"Turning people into zombies is pretty low, pal," announced Tuxedo Mask, now standing balanced in plain sight on the edge of the balcony.

"They're only humans." The blonde man extended his arm in a pushing gesture. A column of light and displaced air shot from his hand toward Tuxedo Mask, who had the good sense to jump out of the way.

"Sailor Moon!" Darien called. "Use the Crystal!"

"Right." He can't mean for healing . . . "Cosmic Moon Power!"

The blonde man stared down in horror, then vanished before the Crystal's light could touch him.

"Did I . . . get him?" Serena asked hesitantly.

"I think he teleported first." Darien, landing beside them, had an angry expression on as much of his face as could be seen. "No, he's still out there."

"Great. That means we did all of this for nothing."

"Oh, I don't know," Mina said. "We might get free seats out of it."

"Guess again." Lita jerked her chin in the direction of the two ushers that were headed toward them.

"They'll probably think it was a publicity stunt. See ya!" Darien exited through the door the Scouts had entered by.

Mina stepped forward to meet the ushers. "Uh, look, I can explain everything . . ."

* * * * * * * *

#You failed! How could you possibly fail?#

#Do you think this is easy?# the Ancient snapped back at "my lord". #How was I supposed to know I would be vulnerable to physical attacks? If you think you can do any better, I will be more than glad to cede my place to you!#

#The loss of the amplifier will be difficult to make up.#

#Do you think I don't know that? But it could be worse. The construction of the transmission station is still proceeding as planned, and I have almost a thousand zombies scouring the city for the Crystal Weavers.#

#A plan which has met with very little success so far,# "my lord" remarked.

The Ancient snarled. He's getting more and more in to this embodied thing, "my lord" observed. I wonder how much of him is still one of us? #I am still in charge here! The Eternal Light appointed you my subordinate! You will not criticize my decisions. Or my judgment. Is that clear?#

#Very.# But we'll see how much longer that lasts. You're changing fast. I can't believe that the Eternal Light would place a human in command of Empyrean no matter what the circumstances.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 11
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury