* * * * * * * *
We were just outside the front door, with those creeped- out zombies stepping on our toes, Serena repeated to herself for what had to be at least the hundredth time. Anything, even this, was better than trying to concentrate on her math class. I turned into Sailor Moon and zapped them with the Crystal. Molly was standing behind me. The zombies woke up and I tried to get them to take off. Once they were all gone, I stopped being Sailor Moon, 'cause the bell was about to go and I knew we had to get inside if we weren't going to be late. I turned around to face the door, and . . . Nothing. Just like there's been nothing the other forty-seven times I've tried to reconstruct this. I must have told Molly that we had to get inside. But then I went to get the nurse instead. Why would I have gone for the nurse? One of us must have been hurt. But I was fine only minutes later, so it wasn't me. Then it was Molly. Serena stared at the back of her friend's head. When did her hair get so long? It was an inch shorter than that a week ago. All right. Molly was hurt. I must have tried to help her inside. But the next thing I remember is the nurse telling us to run along to classes.
Okay. One of us is hiding something. I know it isn't me. So it must be either Molly or the nurse. Serena sighed. Normally, I wouldn't suspect Molly at all, but with Nephrite back in her life, I wouldn't put it past her to do something to me if she thought it was important to him. And she really has been acting weird since that night I got knocked out in the alley. So I've got to try and get her alone so that I can ask some questions. But that won't be easy, not the way she's been disappearing every day when we aren't in class. I wonder if she's seeing Nephrite? Anyway, I'm going to have to catch her on the way out the door.
"Serena, do you think you can tell us the answer?"
Serena muffled another sigh. "I don't have the slightest idea, Miss Haruna," she replied. Today, then. There's no sense in putting it off.
* * * * * * * *
Molly threw her schoolbooks together in a hurry. She knew Malachite would be waiting for her, and he could get very impatient when she wasn't punctual. Far be it from him to assume that there were demands on her time, like her teachers' long-winded lectures, that were outside her control!
"Mol, I have to talk to you."
"This isn't a good time, Serena." Molly picked up her bag.
"There doesn't ever seem to be a good time lately," the other girl replied. "It won't take long, and it's important. Please?"
"If it really is important." Knowing Serena, it won't be, but Malachite deserves to be kept waiting, even if he's going to take it out on me. "Make it quick, though."
"Mol, what happened yesterday morning?"
"What do you mean?" But Molly was afraid that the question lacked conviction. She knows, or she's guessed . . . something.
"I don't know," Serena said seriously. Now that's a danger sign. She actually is serious about this. "It's like I can't remember anything that happened after I toasted those zombies. You didn't call Nephrite in or anything, did you?"
"No. Why would I want to do that?" Finally, an honest statement.
"C'mon, Mol, I must have gone to get the nurse for a reason. You were hurt, weren't you? And you called Nephrite to help. I don't mind really, and I can understand why you wouldn't trust the nurse, but why did you let him erase my memory, too?"
"I didn't call him," Molly repeated. "As far as I know, Nephrite has never been within a hundred yards of Crossroads Junior High."
Serena gave her an odd look. "But you do remember what happened."
"Of course I remember." Oh, why had she said that? It came to Molly belatedly that her best defense might have been a claim that her memory was equally fudged. "After the zombies left, you changed back from being Sailor Moon. I was feeling a bit faint, but you managed to convince yourself that it was something more serious and went to get the nurse. When the two of you got back, I was fine. You were looking spaced out for a while there. I'm not surprised that you don't remember. And I really have to go now, Serena. Bye."
Molly practically ran down the hallway. Hearing Serena following, she increased her pace. Damn. That practice she gets running to school every morning is really paying off. I don't think I'm going to be able to get out of her sight.
Molly burst through the front door of the building . . . and immediately dodged back. Sheets of rain were pouring from the sky. When did all these clouds come in? I don't remember noticing them out the window.
"Great," Serena said, coming up beside her. "Now we're both going to get wet. I wonder what's with them?"
The last comment apparently referred to a bunch of people, noticeably bereft of umbrellas or rainwear, who were approaching the school in a group, threading through the pack of cars and busses that were trying to get to the doors to pick up students. Their behavior was looking unpleasantly familiar to Molly. Great. More zombies. They really are hunting for me, then. There's no other explanation. I have to get away.
Serena was already ignoring them. "Say, Mol, isn't that your mother's car? Maybe we can both hitch a ride."
The zombies were at the gate now. "I don't know if that's a good idea." If I run back into the building, I might be able to teleport before she can see me . . . No, then I'd have to explain where it was that I went. I could hypnotize her, but there are other people out there besides her and the zombies, and I don't think I could get to all of them in time.
"Don't be silly!" But Molly had caught Serena's attention. "What is it that you're afraid of? Oh!" The zombies were less than ten feet away, and Serena had finally clued in.
"Let's get back inside," Molly said, and they tried, but a bunch of other students was coming up behind them. If we all go together . . . Yeah, that might work.
"Hey, what's the holdup?" Melvin developed a sort of hurt puppy look when Molly glanced in his direction, so she let Serena field the question.
"Get a clue, Melvin, can't you see that it's pouring out there? Even you can't actually want to get soaked."
"Is that all? Have no fear, ladies!" Melvin whipped an umbrella out from under his arm with a flourish. "I checked the weather report on the Internet last night. This umbrella should be big enough for the three of us!" He tilted the umbrella forward as he stepped out of the shelter of the building. There was nothing that Molly and Serena could do but follow. I hope this works . . . well, they wouldn't be after Melvin, after all. The three were surrounded by other students as they moved forward.
"Say, Melvin, heard any good gossip lately?" Serena asked, probably trying for a distraction. Even Melvin couldn't be quite so clueless as to miss the zombies.
"Yeah, I heard that the Sailor Scouts actually came to the premiere of the new Sailor V movie at--Excuse me, people, we're coming through here!"
Instead of moving aside, the zombies crowded in closer. Even Melvin was beginning to look a little worried. They were being crowded back toward the wall to one side of the gate. So what are they going to do now, trample us to death?
"Excccelent," hissed a voice from somewhere in the rainy gloom. "We have thisss one now. And one will sssserve as bait for the otherssss."
That isn't a zombie, it's an Empyrean! The glowing figure, shrouded in a globe of radiance that evaporated the rain as soon as it touched it, floated above the crowd. Everyone was staring. They want to use me to get at Nephrite and the others, Molly realized. Well, I'm not going to let it happen. I can't afford to let it happen! A gentle tug on the chain from which her spirit crystal hung drew it out of its hiding place inside her shirt. It only took the least bit of concentration to make it glow.
Molly jumped for the top of the wall surrounding the school's courtyard, praying that she wasn't about to make a fool of herself. Malachite had only demonstrated the power-assisted high-jump technique to her the previous day, and the one time she had tried it she had jumped too far sideways and nearly put herself through the wall of Nephrite's mansion. This time it worked, or perhaps it was only the fact that a ten- foot jump required less power than a thirty-foot one, and therefore there was less that could go wrong. She reached the top of her arc just above the wall and landed neatly.
Everyone was staring at her now, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered. She had made her decision, and now she was going to have to live with it. Mother, forgive me, she thought, glimpsing a familiar face leaning out of a car window, and tasted salt tears mixed with the rain.
She raised her left hand, the one holding the crystal, toward the Empyrean. "You wanted me," she said. "Well, here I am."
It was backing away. Backing away! She had revealed herself for the sake of a creature that wouldn't even face her without the assistance of thirty-odd zombies to foul her aim. Oh no you don't! Streamers of yellow light enwrapped the creature and sent it flowing down into oblivion.
Molly looked down from the wall and met Serena's eyes. The look of utter disbelief on her friend's face was almost comical. After a moment, she couldn't bear it any longer. She shut her eyes and teleported.
* * * * * * * *
Serena could only watch in shock as a column of yellow sparks swirled around her friend. When it cleared, Molly had vanished. She's . . . is she . . . one of them? What did Nephrite do to her? Beside her, Melvin looked like he was about to faint.
"Steady." Serena put her hand on Melvin's shoulder.
"But . . . I don't understand," Melvin said plaintively. "How did she do that?"
The Negaforce. It has to be. "I don't know." That explains what happened yesterday, anyway. It was Molly that wiped my memory. But why? She must have done something that would have let me find her out. Why couldn't she trust me with this? I thought we were friends.
Serena pushed her way forward through the now-quiescent crowd of zombies, not knowing or caring whether Melvin and his umbrella were still behind her. I doubt she would have gone home. That means she's probably at Nephrite's. And the only way I know of that I could possibly find my way there is by using the crystal he gave her. She probably doesn't need it anymore, so it should still be in her room. Hey, I'm actually using my brain on this one! Luna's going to be proud of me!
"Serena, did you just see what I saw?" Mrs. Baker's face was white as she leaned out of her car window.
Serena nodded. "And I don't think it's a good sign," she added, surprising herself with her grimness. "Look, if we're going to find Molly again, I need your help."
"What do you know about all this?"
"I can't tell you. It isn't just my secret." But I'll bet that you're going to find out. Nephrite and the others know my secret, and I don't think they're going to be terribly conscientious about keeping it. Great. My name--and Amy's, and Raye's, and Darien's--could be all over Tokyo by this time tomorrow if I do this wrong. "I need a ride over to your place. There was something that Molly had that I hope might help us find her."
"If you say so."
Serena swung the car door open and got inside without waiting for more of an invitation. "Hey, Melvin," she said before closing it, "maybe you'd better go home. You look kind of shaky."
Melvin swallowed and nodded. It's probably a good thing he doesn't remember that time in the graveyard, or that Tuxedo Melvin business, Serena reflected. If he did, he really would freak.
Even in Tokyo traffic, it didn't take all that long to get to the building where the Bakers lived. Serena waited impatiently while Molly's mother unlocked the door. As soon as it was open, she shot inside, headed for her friend's room, noting in passing that the heat damage in the entryway had been repaired. Now, what color was that crystal? And will I even recognize it? I only saw it the once. She ransacked Molly's drawers. Not that, or that . . . Aha! This has got to be it. The crystal was a clear pale blue. It glittered with something that was more than reflected light. Odd. All the crystals I remember them using before were dark. I wonder why Nephrite went in for pastels this time?
"Did you find it?" Only when she spoke did Serena realize that Mrs. Baker had been standing in the doorway the whole time.
"I think so." Serena slid the crystal into her pocket.
"So where do we go now?"
"Actually, I think I should go alone," Serena said. Less chance of her finding out that I'm a Sailor Scout that way.
"No, you aren't."
And I guess that's that, Serena thought. Oh, well. We can get there more quickly in her car than I could by taking the bus.
She directed Mrs. Baker through the city streets to the base of Nephrite's hill, then took the crystal out of her pocket. Okay. We're here. So now how does this thing work? Feeling just a little silly, she concentrated on the rock, trying to ask it which direction they should take.
The crystal vibrated in her hand and tugged her arm toward the left. Serena let it. When her hand had come around to about a forty- five degree angle--straight up the hill, if it were really there, she noted--a thin beam of light speared out from it. Serena's eyes blurred as the rainy street shifted and twisted. An opening appeared between two fenced lots which had looked as though they bordered directly on each other. It led to a gravel drive that wound upward among trees.
"Turn here," Serena told Mrs. Baker.
No sooner had the wheels touched the gravel than the street behind them vanished, leaving them driving among the pines in a grey drizzle that wasn't quite rain anymore. Gloomy, Serena thought. If I'd ever bothered to think about it, this is just the sort of place I would have expected Nephrite to hang out.
After several minutes, they emerged into a clearing among the trees where a recent model red sportscar was parked out in front of a huge building that looked almost like a cathedral. Serena swallowed. This is it. Mrs. Baker appeared to be beyond shock as they emerged from the car.
"Sailor Moon," hailed a voice. Malachite was standing just inside the open doorway of the building, wearing a grey Negaverse uniform that brought back some very bad memories for Serena. "We've been expecting you."
"Give Molly back this instant, you Negaslime!" Serena didn't bother prefixing the words with Moon Crystal Power. Malachite knew who she was. That ought to be enough.
"Brave words! But I doubt you're going to back them up, without your Sailor friends along."
"Lord Malachite, is this really necessary?" Nephrite, Serena identified the voice. Now we're getting somewhere.
A slight gesture from Malachite repelled the mist and drizzle as he stepped out of the doorframe's shelter. Now that's just like the Malachite I remember. Actually, he's been acting typical all along, which is slightly weird under the circumstances. I can't believe that they'd have gone through all this trouble just to trap me. Nephrite emerged behind the white-haired general, positioning himself at the other man's left. And behind him . . . Molly?
Serena's jaw was beginning to feel like it was perpetually unhinged. Her friend was wearing a Negaverse uniform with bright yellow trim. The green bow was gone from her hair. She looked tired and sad, but not in the least regretful, as she positioned herself beside Nephrite. As if I can read expressions that well. Let's hope I'm wrong. She was followed by Zoisite and Jadeite, who arranged themselves on Malachite's other side.
"Who are you people?" Molly's mother was the first to break the silence. "What have you done to my daughter?"
Malachite seemed about to say something, but Molly spoke first. "They haven't done anything to me. I did it to myself." Serena stared. Her eyes are yellow. When did that happen? "Maybe it was a little dumb. I don't know, and it's too late now anyway."
"Molly . . . Come home? Please?" But Mrs. Baker sounded more tentative than commanding.
"I can't. Please believe me. If I go home now, I'm going to put you in danger. Those zombies are hunting us, I'm sure of it. And anyway, this is where I belong now." Tears formed in the clear yellow eyes, and Molly turned to bury her face against Nephrite's chest. He closed his arms gently around her.
"Listen to me, Molly," Serena said urgently. "They've brainwashed you. These are dangerous people. If you stay with them, there's no telling what they could make you do." It sounded weak in her own ears, and she wasn't surprised when Molly failed to look up, but it did give her an excuse to move closer to the grey-clad quintet. Get them to let go of each other, grab her, and get away to somewhere where I can use the Silver Crystal to cure her . . .
"You're wasting your time," Nephrite said. "It's too late to change anything, even with your Silver Crystal." Is he reading my mind? "She's too much a part of us. Pull her out of this, and you may well kill us all."
"And that," Malachite stated, "would destroy the best potential weapon this world has against the Empyrean." The blue-eyed girl and the grey-eyed man glared at each other. He's serious. I wonder just how many of those things they took out that night in the alley? Why did I have to let my energy get sucked out by that Empyrean? I'm sure that whatever happened, happened then. If only I knew. Then maybe I could be certain that Molly was in this voluntarily.
The worst part of it is, if I believe him, I almost have to let this slide. Speeches aside, we need all the help we can get against those Empyrean things.
"And why should I believe you?" Another step forward . . . "It isn't as though you've never double-crossed me before."
Malachite's smile was as cold as she remembered. "Feel free to try the Silver Crystal, then. It's as much certain death for your friend as it is for the rest of us. It will amuse me to watch you flay her flesh from her bones by your power . . . Believe me when I say that it is not a pleasant process."
"Stop it!" Molly pulled away from Nephrite to place herself between Serena and Malachite. "Stop it, both of you! I'm tired of all this fighting! You all treat me like I'm some sort of bad behavior prize! Well, I'm not!"
Serena couldn't help but notice Malachite and Nephrite exchanging a glance that clearly said, teenagers. Malachite gently but firmly caught hold of Molly's shoulders and pushed her aside.
"I could stop her from going with you," said the most powerful of Beryl's generals to the girl who had been his archenemy, "but I hardly think it's necessary. You'll see." He turned and went back inside, Zoisite going with him. After a moment, Jadeite followed them, leaving Serena and Mrs. Baker alone with Molly and Nephrite. The four looked at each other. Surprisingly, Nephrite was the first to lower his gaze.
"Mol . . ." Serena raised her hand to her locket and the Crystal set there. "Will you at least let me try this?"
Molly shook her head. "It burned me when you used itto heal the zombies yesterday morning. Please, just go."
"It isn't supposed to do that," Serena said, puzzled.
Nephrite sighed. "To us, it is. The Silver Crystal doesn't really heal. Its so-called healing mode just strips away any evil powers possessed by whatever it's aimed at and restores the natural flow of an individual's energies. Because of what Beryl did to me and the others, our powers are tainted, and the Silver Crystal sees them as evil. Unfortunately, even temporary loss of our powers is capable of killing us, since they're all that holds our bodies together. Molly isn't quite that far along yet, but if you were to use the Crystal on her, it would be . . . damaging."
Molly suddenly gasped and went pale. Nephrite immediately put his arms around her again, for support. "Are you all right?" he asked her.
"I think so." But she still clung to him.
"She needs to go to a hospital," Mrs. Baker said immediately.
Nephrite shook his head. "There's nothing they could do for her that we aren't doing already. The only cure for this is time."
"I don't care what you've brainwashed her into believing," Mrs. Baker said. "My daughter is ill, and she needs to go to a hospital, now. If you won't take her, I will."
Nephrite said nothing. Nor did Serena. She doubted very much that Mrs. Baker would be able to get Molly away from a determined Negaverse general, even with her help. Molly's mother glared at the grey-clad pair. It was Molly herself who finally spoke.
"Mother, forgive me." Before Mrs. Baker could make any kind of a response, Molly held her hand up at chin level and blew across the flattened palm in a classic gesture. A cloud of yellow sparks whirled away from her, enveloping her mother. Mrs. Baker's eyes rolled up, and she crumpled bonelessly to the ground. Nephrite stepped forward to catch her.
"We're going to have to erase her memory of this, I think," he said. "There are already too many people who know about us . . . and about you," he added to Serena, who was still staring at her friend.
"How could you?" Serena asked.
"Serena, it's . . . I don't have a choice anymore."
"Sometimes there are no right solutions," Nephrite observed as he placed his hands on Mrs. Baker's forehead.
Serena glared at him. "That's just the sort of thing I'd expect a piece of Negasleaze like you to say!"
Nephrite sighed. "Sailor Moon, you may not believe me, but we were just as much Beryl's victims as the rest of you. She twisted us, and it's beginning to look like none of us will ever entirely straighten out." He carried Mrs. Baker's unconscious body over to her car and put her in the back seat. "None of us asked for any of this," he added, voice muffled by the car door. "Please, don't judge us by what we became."
I almost wish I could believe him. But I don't think there's much chance of him being truthful now. Not after what he's done.
Serena kept silent as Nephrite drove her and Mrs. Baker down to the bottom of the hill. She didn't even say anything when he took the crystal she had used to find the path up and smashed it against the car door.
There has to be a way to get her away from them. There has to be a way, and I'm going to find it.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 12
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury