* * * * * * * *
"We must assume the worst," Malachite said grimly.
Nephrite half-smiled. "The worst would have us all dead. But I agree. They will be coming after us, and with some weapon we are not prepared to withstand."
"We should strike first." Against all odds, Jadeite had remembered to shave that morning, and there wasn't a bottle in sight.
"I'm not sure about that," Zoisite argued. "I'm exhausted, and Almandite is only beginning her training. It might be wise for us to wait, at least for one more day."
"We don't have that luxury." Malachite stood up. "If we wait, they will be ready for us. At least this way both sides will be equally unprepared."
Molly said nothing, and remained seated as the others stood up and prepared to teleport. This is suicide. Zoisite is right--he's too weak, and I'm not ready. The others will be too busy protecting us. Dead weight again. I thought I was done with that. She tugged at the high grey collar of her jacket, trying to loosen it. There has to be a way our chances can be improved.
Nephrite's hand closed on her shoulder. "Are you coming?" he asked.
"There's something I have to do first." We need more help, and the rest of them can't ask. Because of me. That means I'll have to do it myself. "I know where to go. I'll join you there. Might surprise them." As if that's going to convince Malachite.
Sure enough, the grey eyes had narrowed thoughtfully. He's going to make me go with them. I know it.
But to her surprise, Malachite said, "If it's that important, then go. Just do whatever you have to do and get there as quickly as possible."
Zoisite, still weakened by his recent battle, was the slowest to teleport. Molly waited until the last pink flower petal had faded out of the world before standing up.
The feeling of disappearing from one place and appearing in another was still strange to her, and she had invented the column of yellow sparks to at least partially hide the transition. No matter what visual effects she used, however, she could still feel the instant of absolute coldness and the absence of anything beneath her feet that marked the change. She shivered a little as she reappeared in her mother's shop. Perhaps in another century or so, it would affect her as little as it seemed to affect the others.
Serena and the other Scouts were still there. She had been counting on that. Only ten minutes since Zoisite came back to report to Malachite . . . It seems like forever. They were all staring at her, which wasn't entirely surprising. Only Serena had ever seen her in the grey uniform.
"You're all in terrible danger," Molly said without preamble. "The diamond the Empyrean stole here was the last piece they needed for a magical amplifier. We still don't know what they're going to use it for, but it can't be anything good."
Molly cut her friend off. "We need your help." We? Yes, "we". I'm one of them now. I told Serena as much myself. "Serena, if you were ever my friend--help us. Otherwise, the Empyrean are going to slaughter us."
"I don't like this." Amy. Of course, she would have to analyze the situation.
"Neither do I," Lita admitted, "but that doesn't mean we should leave her in the lurch. Even if we don't like the company she's keeping. I'm going with her." And Sailor Jupiter walked over to stand beside Molly. Raye and Serena, the latter's eyes shining with what looked suspiciously like tears, immediately joined her. Mina and Amy hesitated only a moment longer. The six girls were left staring across an empty space at Darien. After a moment, he heaved an annoyed sigh and walked over.
"I don't trust you one bit," the young man said to Molly.
After what the others told me you've been through, I'm not surprised that you hate the sight of this uniform. Suddenly, she gasped and raised her hand to her shoulder. It felt like someone had driven a white-hot spike into it, penetrating all the way down to the bone.
<<Hurry up, Molly! We can't hold out much longer!>>
<<Nephrite? I'm coming!>> The pain receded after a few seconds, and she realized that it was his, not her own.
Molly gathered her power. She had never teleported more than one other person before, and never under these conditions. And she couldn't afford to get it wrong. If she arrived the least bit off-target, it might well be too late for the others by the time she got there.
* * * * * * * *
Mrs. Baker arrived at the store in time to see seven figures disappear behind a swirl of yellow sparks. One of them looked distinctly familiar. Molly? But how could she ever be sure?
* * * * * * * *
The four materialized floating some two feet above a rooftop. Nephrite's hand tightened into a fist. So many of them . . . This is not good. Behind a wall of monsters larger than any youma Beryl's ex-general had ever worked with, Empyrean were swarming around the not-quite-finished machine. At the center of the chaos was the blonde man Zoisite had described from his encounter at the jewelry store.
Malachite's hand rose to point at the enemy. White light blasted from it . . . and bounced off some form of invisible shield that appeared to divide the monsters from the Empyrean. The white-haired man cursed and dropped to the roof's surface, conjuring a sword in one hand as he did so. "It looks like we're going to have to go through them first." He waved the blade in the direction of the monsters, who were eyeing the four with some evidence of interest.
Nephrite landed neatly on his feet and conjured a blade of his own. No sense in wasting power. It looks like we're probably going to need it all before long. A gun might have been more effective, but he didn't have more than the most rudimentary idea of how to use one. During the Silver Millennium, such weapons, which slew regardless of the wielder's power or skill, had been considered "dishonorable", and he and the others had received no training in their use. But swords had been favored dueling weapons. They all knew how to use those.
They formed a circle back-to-back as the monsters close in. Jadeite was on Nephrite's right, and Zoisite on his left. Behind him, he could hear Malachite cursing again as their blades sliced monster flesh. Nephrite added a few choice words of his own as Zoisite, still abnormally weak, faltered under the onslaught. He parried a claw swipe that had been aimed at the younger man, but missed an attack aimed at his own right. He bit back a scream as a claw skewered his shoulder in precisely the same place as the thorns had gone in a year ago, scraping along the bone to emerge in the rear. Green blood poured down as the creature withdrew its natural weapon, soaking Nephrite's uniform and plastering his long hair to his back. He managed to shift his sword to the other hand, but he knew he was losing now.
<< Hurry up, Molly! We can't hold out much longer!>> Foolish of me. What can she possibly do except get killed along with the rest of us?
The girl's, <<Nephrite? I'm coming!>> overlapped with Malachite's, <<Did you have to go and do that?>> inside Nephrite's head. Dizzy with the combination of blood loss and the bizarre sensation of being three people at once, the auburn-haired man reeled back. He fetched up against Malachite, still trying to do his share of the fighting as Jadeite and Zoisite closed ranks between him and the monsters.
<<Staunch the bleeding, fool.>> Malachite somehow managed to communicate coherently despite the fact that he was still cursing steadily and slicing his way through the body of a horned, greenish creature. <<We can't afford to lose anyone now. Every fragment of power we can muster may not be enough against the Empyrean.>>
Obediently, Nephrite dropped the sword and ripped a strip from his tunic. I must remember to be absolutely certain to defend myself on that side during future battles. Either that, or ask Molly if she can teach me anything about healing. The hole in his shoulder was only bleeding sluggishly now. Clumsily, he tied the length of cloth around it.
"Mars Celestial Fire Surround!"
<<Nephrite? Nephrite, are you there? I brought the cavalry!>>
"I am Sailor Moon, the Champion of Justice! In the name of the Moon, I shall right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!"
"Little @#%$#%*&*# idiot!" Malachite muttered as he narrowly avoided the teeth of something hairy and purple. "You'd think that by this time she'd have given up on the speechmaking and learned to just do her job."
"At least she's learned to keep it fairly short," Nephrite remarked.
"Shine Aqua Illusion!" A jet of water knocked several monsters flying, and the three uninjured generals lowered their swords. The creatures they had been fighting were now lumbering across the roof to meet the new threat.
"Moon Crystal Healing Activation!"
It was Malachite who established a barrier around them to shield them. Nephrite was too tired even to try, as, he suspected, was Zoisite, and Jadeite still wasn't being especially cooperative.
<<I'm okay,>> Molly's voice said into Nephrite's mind. <<The Scouts are between me and the Crystal. Looks like it's working, too.>>
Sure enough, the monsters were shrinking down into humans under the Crystal's radiance. Including the dead ones, and the parts of dead ones. Where Nephrite's clothing had been spattered with yellow and blue blood, it was now rust red. Some two dozen bodies were strewn across the roof, most of them in pieces. Well, the coroners are certainly going to have their work cut out for them. I wonder what they'll write down for "cause of death"?
The Crystal's radiance faded, and Molly stepped around the pile of unconscious humans who had been the uninjured monsters. Upon seeing the signs of carnage that littered the rest of the roof, she turned pale and swallowed slowly. Sailor Moon, following her, turned green and ducked back around the sleeping pile. But Molly kept coming, running toward Nephrite and the others.
"You're hurt again!" Yellow sparks trailed over Nephrite's shoulder, and he felt the edges of the wound pulling together under the crude bandage.
"You seem to bring out the worst in me that way." He reached out with his good hand and ruffled her hair, leaving streaks of green and red behind.
"This isn't the time for a reunion," Malachite said.
Nephrite sighed. Right as usual, damn him. "So what do you suggest we do? I noticed that your best attack couldn't get through that shield of theirs."
"Foreign as such a mode of action may seem, we need to work together. If we all concentrate our powers on the same small area, we may be able to break through to them. Unless one of you has a better idea." Malachite was looking at Zoisite in particular, Nephrite noticed. The green-eyed man shook his head slightly, indicating that he had no better plan.
This is it, then. Each of the five placed one hand on his or her spirit crystal, and raised the other toward the faint heat haze distortion that was protecting the Empyrean. Nephrite pulled power in slowly, concentrating it and raising it to a level he had never before achieved. On either side of him, he could sense Molly and Malachite doing the same.
Each of them struck in his own way. Nephrite gathered a tiny point of white light in his hand and threw it. Molly used a raw bolt of power, Malachite an energy ball, and on Malachite's other side, Nephrite could just make out Zoisite flinging a crystal spear. Jadeite's attack was invisible in the roil of power, but Nephrite was certain that all struck the shield at the same time.
The shield flared white for a moment, but when that faded, the heat haze was still there. Nephrite bit back a groan. All that for nothing? And the Empyrean weren't swarming over the carcass of the amplifier anymore. It's complete? They're done? This is the end, then. We're doomed. He reached out and put his arm around Molly, not certain whether he wanted to comfort her or himself, but grateful for the contact.
They could only stand and watch as the business end of the machine pivoted around toward them. The blonde man who had been working with the Empyrean was standing on the thing's other side. Obviously, he's supposed to supply the energy. Who is he, anyway?
One pale, slender hand came up to caress an inset crystal. Actually, he looks like a bleached-out version of Zoisite. I'd better not tell either of them that. I doubt they'd appreciate it.
"So." The blonde man's voice echoed over the rooftop. It amplifies sound as well as thought. Great. Did they plan it that way, or is it just an unexpected dividend? "I wasn't expecting all of you to join my little party. It's a shame, in a way. I was looking forward to seeing my zombies tear you limb from limb. Still, it will be almost as satisfying to watch you destroy each other." Still smiling, he placed his other hand on the machine.
"Why do you hesssitate?" one of the Empyrean asked.
The blonde man looked daggers at the creature. "I've been waiting more than eleven centuries for this. You could at least let me savor my moment of triumph!"
"Sssavor later. Kill now!"
"I am still in charge here!"
"We will not ssserve a human. And it appearsss that that isss what you have become, with all this petty concccern for your emotionssss."
Nephrite caught sight of a flicker of red out of the corner of his eye. Must be one of the Scouts. What do they think they can do that we couldn't?
A red streak struck the barrier and fell to the ground, but the damage had already been done. The heat haze shattered like glass and fell in disintegrating fragments around the red rose.
"Now is your chance!"
Tuxedo Mask. And to think that I used to hate him!
Malachite was already sprinting toward the Empyrean, holding his spirit crystal in one hand while blasting them with the other. Jadeite was not far behind him, and he seemed to have finally gotten the hang of the technique. Nephrite, flanked by the weakened Zoisite and by Molly, whose much shorter legs were causing her to fall behind, flung himself forward, trying to catch up.
And that was when the world went insane. Power was pouring out at them from up ahead, forcing them backward. Malachite managed a step forward against it, then another, but it was clearly too much even for him. Nephrite found himself being forced over backward. His head struck the surface of the roof, dazing him again. Not one of my better days.
He couldn't see the amplifier clearly from where he lay, but he had the impression that the blonde man was grinning at him.
"A shame that Onyx couldn't be with you," came the comment. "I was particularly looking forward to killing him. It was his Weave that destroyed my troop during the Empyrean War, you know. Taking his hand wasn't nearly revenge enough. Oh, well. You will have to suffice instead."
He's an Empyrean? I would have said it was impossible, but I guess I'm looking at the proof.
<<Almandite!>> Malachite, having given up any thought of reaching the amplifier himself, seemed to be dedicating all his remaining strength to his sending. <<Go to the Scouts. Get the Imperium Silver Crystal from Sailor Moon. It's our only hope!>>
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 14
The Crystal Weaver Saga Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury