* * * * * * * *
Molly sat in the upper branches of an evergreen tree, watching her past drive away from her. Tears occasionally blurred her view of the car driving down the winding gravel path.
She shifted, trying to find a position that was comfortable. She still wasn't used to the grey uniform. It seemed to be designed to make relaxing difficult. But Nephrite had had it waiting for her when she had arrived that day, and it had seemed like the right thing to wear for the confrontation. The school uniform had definitely been wrong. It had belonged to the young Molly who had been Serena's friend. And that girl was dead.
She saw the swirl of pink out of the corner of her eye a moment before Zoisite said, "He won't be gone all that long, you know," and turned her face away.
"Look, I know you don't like me much."
Molly pretended not to hear.
"And I understand why. If someone had tried to do to Malachite what I did to Nephrite, I'd be doing a lot more than just ignoring him. You probably won't believe me, but I'd like to apologize anyway. I . . . when I remember what happened, it's like the memories belong to someone else. Or like I'm watching them reflected in a distorting mirror."
Despite herself, Molly turned to look at Zoisite. Malachite's lover was perched on a tree branch that should have been too slender to support him. He looked depressed, and much younger than his eleven hundred years. But then, doesn't he always?
"Can we please just start over? I can't claim that we'll ever be friends, but if we go on hating each other it'll be hard on all five of us. I don't want to have to fight you, Almandite."
"This is just . . . so . . ." Molly fumbled for words, wondering if she was speaking to Zoisite, or to herself. "After what you did, I should hate you, but . . ."
"But it's like trying to hate your hand, or your eye," Zoisite filled in. "I feel the same way about Nephrite. And I really did hate him, for the longest time . . . Damn Beryl anyway. This is all her fault."
Silence. Molly scanned the road below, but couldn't see her mother's car anymore.
"How long have you and Malachite, uh . . ." she began to ask suddenly, then blushed bright red.
Zoisite chuckled. "You really are an innocent, aren't you? Don't worry. You'll get used to us eventually. He and I have . . . been together--" Molly caught the amused gleam in his eye, and blushed again-- "almost since the beginning. He was thirteen and I was not quite nine. Chronologically, that is. Physically, we were already as you see us today. You'll be learning more about that over the next few months. It was about half a year after we met, if you're really that curious. You and Nephrite seem to be moving a lot faster, if you don't count the time he was dead."
Was that why I asked? "That kind of frightens me, you know. Having to grow up so fast." I'm starting to talk like one of them, too. I don't think I've said "kinda" in almost a week.
"It isn't easy," Zoisite admitted. "It must have been different for the original Crystal Weavers. You can see why they wouldn't want babies to have the kind of powers we have. So I guess it must have been easier for the adults if they went through their early childhoods fast. We just started too late."
You know, we've been talking civilly to each other for at least ten minutes. Maybe this can work. We're going to have to be able to trust each other if we're going to fight the Empyrean together.
* * * * * * * *
#Have you found one yet?#
#No, Ancient. Such substances are not kept on this part of the city. We will have to go further afield.#
#Then do so!# Can't they find one single, simple item? He knew he was being unfair, but the body he wore magnified his emotions and made them difficult to control.
#At once, Ancient.# If the Empyrean had been human, it would have bowed itself out of its senior's presence.
The Ancient ignored the technician's departure, instead examining the structure that was beginning to take shape on the roof of the abandoned warehouse. Only a few more days . . . He could scarcely believe it. With the entire city hunting for them, the Weavers will be easy prey. And once they are gone, the cleansing can begin, and we can at last be rid of these humans. The so-called Sailor Scouts were a nuisance, but not a true problem, and hopefully would be brainwashed like all the others. And I will at last be free of this material prison. It mattered not at all to the creature inside the physical shell that such freedom would most likely kill it. There were some fates worse than death, and it was already living one of them.
The Ancient stroked the carapace of the amplifier that would bring the humans to their knees, and waited for his servants to return with the crystals they needed.
* * * * * * * *
"Serena, you have to face the possibility that there's nothing left of her to save," Darien said.
"But of course there will be," the girl protested. "I managed to save you, didn't I?"
"I was captured by Beryl and forced into becoming one of them." The wind ruffled Darien's hair, and he looked down from the balcony at the street below. "Molly seems to have chosen to go to them. It's possible that, at some fundamental level, she doesn't want to come back. Remember, she said the Silver Crystal burned her. It never did that to me, no matter how deeply I got drawn into Beryl's scheming. And I always had you, Meatball Head. Molly's in love with Nephrite. That's going to pull her toward the other side."
"I . . . still can't quite believe it. I'd gotten so used to Molly not being part of all this, and now she's turning into a . . . a monster. Like them."
"I think you two should come inside," Luna said from the door to Darien's apartment. "There's something on the news that I think you need to see."
"The police are baffled about the thieves' motivations," the news announcer was saying. "Although unusually large, the stones stolen were relatively common minerals, hence of little value." He glanced aside, and someone handed him a new sheet of paper. "The police have just released surveillance footage of one of the thefts to the press."
The screen cut to a blurry black-and-white shot from a security camera. Although indistinct, the images on the screen were still more than familiar enough for Serena to identify.
"That's an Empyrean!"
They watched in silence as the creature burned through the door of a glass cabinet and took a large crystalline rock.
"I wonder what this is all about," Serena said.
"I don't know, but it can't be anything good." Darien was already halfway to the door. "You'd better warn the others."
* * * * * * * *
"The stars know everything," Nephrite intoned. "Show me what the Empyrean are planning!" He was expecting there to be no answer to the request. He had never had the power to foretell the future.
The image formed slowly: Empyrean laboring over some sort of machine.
<<Zoisite, what do you make of this?>> Nephrite sent the image with the thought.
<<I'm not certain.>> Zoisite's return sending was mercifully free of antagonistic overtones. <<It could be an amplifier, though. For magical energy. Not something I would like to fall into the hands of the Empyrean.>>
<<Is it finished, do you think?>>
<<Not quite. Um. They'll need some sort of very pure crystal as an amplifier. Diamond would be my first choice if I were them. The largest available unflawed stone. They'd be using other crystals for fine-tuning, but some variety of quartz would do for that.>>
Nephrite called upon the forces in his workroom to show him the largest unflawed diamond in the city. A jewelry store . . . Looks familiar . . . Molly's mother's place. Damn! I should have known. Isn't this what the humans call Murphy's Law?
<<You've found something?>>
Nephrite's surprise at the intrusion of Malachite's mind on his personal space only lasted for a second. <<I believe so, my lord.>> This is how it used to be. As Center, he knew all of us better than we knew ourselves. Quickly (since, at the speed of thought, everything is quick) he brought Malachite up to date.
<<We must keep watch on the store,>> Malachite stated. <<I will send Zoisite to take the first shift.>>
<<Should we warn the Sailor Scouts?>>
<<I think not. They will not be well-disposed toward us after discovering that Almandite has joined us. And in any case, their only effective weapon against the Empyrean is a danger to us. From now on, we act alone.>>
* * * * * * * *
He sat patiently at a table in a small cafe across from the jewelry store, pretending to sip at a cup of coffee. He would have preferred just about anything else, but ordering a beverage he despised was a way of preventing himself from devoting too much attention to his drink, or spending any more of Nephrite's money than was absolutely necessary. A year ago, we were at each other's throats, and now I'm trying to spare his fictional persona's drastically overstuffed pocketbook! Zoisite smiled thinly and leaned back in his chair. I suppose it's the lack of Beryl's influence. Now that Malachite's in charge, I don't have to worry about being displaced on a whim. It's a good feeling, in a way. I'd almost forgotten what confidence was like. Strange, that. I don't remember exactly what it was that happened back in those early days with Beryl, but it ruined my life for ten centuries.
He became aware that several of the cafe's other patrons were staring at him, and realized that his expression had twisted into something that most humans would have considered . . . bizarre, to say the least. He smoothed his face carefully and continued staring out the window, automatically noting changes in the scenery across the street. Malachite . . . No, not a good train of thought to follow here and now. I have to keep my mind on business. There will be time enough for the other tonight when I get home.
Home. When exactly had Nephrite's not-quite-there mansion become home? Well, given that my only other choices are the Negaverse, or the Earthan court of a thousand years ago, where we were never welcome . . . Yes, I suppose it is the closest thing I've had to a home since I was a child. I wonder what happened to my parents and my sister? Odd that I never tried to find out.
The young Zoisite had been the only son of a member of the Earthan palace guard. When his father had been crippled in an accident, it had been the end of the world for their little family. There had been no possibility of supporting four people, including two growing children, on half of a guard's pension. When Onyx had arrived and promised them a moderately large sum in return for Zoisite's "assistance", as he put it, the boy had gone with him willingly. And then he had met Malachite, and there was never any chance that he would choose to go back.
I didn't understand what it was that I felt for you at first. I was only eight years old, after all! I don't think that I was even consciously aware that I found you beautiful. All I knew was that I worshipped the ground you stood on. When you asked me to walk with you in the garden that night, instead of ignoring me or just tolerating me like the pest I must have seemed to be, I thought I was in heaven! And then, when you--
Zoisite jerked his thoughts back to the present once more as they threatened to become rather embarrassingly erotic. Tonight, he promised himself. Then, I wonder what's bringing all this back up right now? Those little timid questions of Almandite's? How odd. Who's that?
A familiar set of yellow pigtails was showing on the other side of the street. Serena. What's she doing here? The girl was followed by other familiar faces. Amy, Raye, Lita, Mina, and Darien. Looks like Scouts' night out. Is this just a coincidence, or does it have something to do with the Empyrean?
The Scouts were entering the store. Perhaps I had best check this out. Zoisite stood up, prepared to teleport . . . and stopped himself just in time. Human. Think "human". Disappearing in front of a dozen people is not a good idea. Neither is leaving without paying the bill. My uniform is distinctive enough that someone will probably remember me, and I can't afford the time or the energy to blank all their minds before I leave. He tossed enough yen down on the table to pay for the one untouched cup of coffee ten times over, then walked to the door and exited in a conventional fashion. What are we going to do after we get rid of the Empyrean? I don't think I could stand living like this for the rest of my life.
I don't believe it! I'm actually feeling nostalgic for the Negaverse!
He strolled into the store, exerting just enough power that the Scouts would feel disinclined to notice him. Now, I don't suppose you'd like to talk about your plans a little . . .
"Are you sure they'll come here?" Lita asked.
Zoisite smiled. Excellent.
"They just about have to," Mina said. "They've hit every other jeweler, mineral exchange, and science store on this side of town. This is the only one left."
"But maybe they've got what they want already," Lita said.
"I doubt it," said Amy. "They haven't taken anything at all from the last three places that they've broken into. I think they're looking for something specific, and they're checking everywhere until they find it."
Well, the "they" obviously isn't us, so they must be talking about the Empyrean. That fits in with Nephrite's divination. Good. Zoisite settled in to wait, keeping a weather eye on the Sailor Scouts. If they notice me here, there will be trouble.
He idly inspected the jewelry on display. Some of this is really very nice. Should I buy something for Malachite? No, he'd take it as evidence that I was distracted. Maybe some other time. We own so little now . . . When I have a moment, I think I'll go back to the Negaverse and see if I can find that picture of us together. After I . . . died . . . it must have been all he had left.
He had his back to the door when it swung open again, but he could feel the change in the atmosphere of the room. Even without looking, he was certain that an Empyrean had entered the shop. So. Nephrite was right. I suppose I should get used to that. He never had quite enough killer instinct to survive in the Negaverse, but his divinations are first-rate.
I'd better be careful. If Sailor Moon uses the Silver Crystal, it will go badly for me. He remembered Serenity's counterattack against Beryl during the assault on the Moon Kingdom, and the feel of the flesh being torn from his bones even as Beryl pulled them back into the Negaverse. I wish I could forget that. It took us nearly a century to recover.
Energy arched through the room. It's putting the mundanes to sleep. Good. That will make this a little easier. Now. There must be a way to trap it . . . Zoisite wished that there was a little more time to study the situation. His best plots were always his most convoluted. The Scouts are moving between it and the door. Wonder why it isn't paying any attention to them? Maybe I can . . . No, that won't work. I have to remember that I won't be able to teleport until it's gone again.
"I am Sailor Moon, the Champion of Justice! In the name of the Moon, I will right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!"
I wonder exactly what sort of misguided sense of fair play--or suicidal tendency--it was that kept us from frying her while she was giving those speeches and waving her arms around? If I'd done it that time I was trying to get the Yellow Crystal away from her, I would never have died . . . And Malachite and I would still be working for Beryl. Maybe that wouldn't have been such a good idea after all.
"Jupiter Thunderclap Zap!"
"Venus Love Chain Encircle!"
They still don't have any aim. But they're keeping it busy. I suppose that's what counts. What the--? A slender blonde man shimmered into view not ten feet away from Zoisite. Who is he, and what's he doing here?
"Mars Celestial Fire Surround!"
I guess he isn't one of the good guys. Zoisite dodged out of Mars's range. The stranger merely held out his hand and watched the Scout's attack bounce off an invisible shield that appeared at arm's length from his body. Then he was glancing around the room.
He wants something . . . The safe. And I'm the only one between him and it. Oh, well. I suppose that I can count on Malachite to bring me back if I get in trouble. Zoisite stopped exerting any power for the purpose of distracting people. Instead, he drew in as much as he could, concentrating it for attack or defense. I haven't done this since the Negaverse. It feels . . . different.
Everyone turned to stare at Zoisite, who was surrounded by a nimbus of green light. He ignored all but one. Concentrate on your opponent, said Malachite's voice in his memory. The blonde man was the important one. He was certain of that. The Empyrean was nothing more than cannon fodder.
The blonde man was smiling. "You think you can fight me, little mortal?"
"I've trained all my life to fight." Don't get angry. Just let him think you are. Then take advantage of his attempts to lure you into making a mistake.
"Is that supposed to impress me, boy?"
He isn't worth much in the insult department. You'd think he'd at least be able to figure out that I'm called that often enough that it long ago ceased to stick. "I'm not here to impress you. Enough talk!" If he won't attack himself, I'd better do the honors. A shard of crystal, more a test than anything else, exploded on contact with the other's shield.
"Perhaps you do know a little about fighting after all," the blonde stranger conceded. He wasn't smiling now.
They circled, both trying to avoid coming too close to their audience of Sailor Scouts. Neither expected the other to pay any attention if he tried to use an innocent bystander as a shield, and bystanders really didn't have many other uses during a combat. Why don't those airhead girls do something? Because they don't trust me, either, Zoisite answered himself. Looks like it's all up to me.
Then his eyes widened in shock, and he swore. That damned Empyrean! While he had been distracted, it had burned a hole in the door of the safe and was reaching inside. Zoisite diverted some of his power to his spirit crystal. He needed to stop the creature before it found whatever it was after.
A blow like a hammer struck him from behind, and Zoisite went down on one knee. Evidently I need a refresher course on how to fight two opponents . . . Sailor Moon was raising her hand to the Silver Crystal, now that it was too late.
"Cosmic Moon Power!"
Zoisite could do nothing further now, only shield himself and hope that the Crystal's power ran out before his did. The Empyrean and the blonde man disappeared. Dead? No. He had come to recognize the feel of an Empyrean's death. Teleported, then. Wonderful. How am I going to explain this to Malachite?
The flood of power from the Silver Crystal was cut off. Zoisite sighed and used a corner of the counter to pull himself to his feet. He felt tremendously weary.
He looked over at the Sailor Scouts and said scathingly, "I hope you realize that this is all your fault," before teleporting away.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 13
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury