Circles
by NaruMolly (aka Gwenne-chan, or Bard)

PART TWELVE: Change

* * * * * * * *

Cerulean squinted around the formerly barren clearing in no little wonder. The youma, most of them having never seen the sun, squinted, some even cowering from the warm light. The unicorns, moving from their places on the fringes of the Circle, ranged out to lazily crop at the lush grass and fragrant flowers. He felt a tug on the sleeve of his shirt, and looked down to see the unicorn foal pressing his head into his side, presenting the itchy skin around his horn to be scratched, but not damaging his clothing any more. Then he realized.

The spell had chosen him leader.

"Heya, Dreamer!"

He turned towards the voice, and got rather thoroughly hugged by Lita, her pony tail bobbing, sweat dampening a few tendrils of hair that had escaped from the tail during the dance. She still wore the blocky shoes that she had been given to dance in, her usual ankle boots tied together by the laces and slung over her shoulder. "Wow! You're the leader. That’s cool!"

Cerulean grimaced as a few of the minions and youma came closer, including the peacock-haired Gallia. "I--had no idea--"

"Of course you didn't, Lord," said Gallia shaking back her hair easily, smiling warmly. "Lord Nephlite said he didn't know who the spell would choose. And it is a good choice, I think." The other minions and youma present nodded their agreement. "I will gladly serve you."

Cerulean blushed a little, flustered. Lita patted his back, then blinked, seeing Melvin running across the clearing, his face pale. "Hey--Snoop. What's wrong?"

Melvin stared at the tall girl a moment, then pointed across the clearing to where the remainder of those present had clustered, teeth worrying at his lip. "Malcolm went down when the dance was over."

Cerulean exchanged a sharp look with Lita, then turned, grabbing her hand and quickly trotting in the direction of the crowd. The youma parted respectfully to let him through, as did the cluster of the birdmen that were in his path. He stopped, staring when he got to the center of the group, Lita at his back.

The silver-haired musician's body was sprawled bonelessly on the velvet grass, cradled against Bridgette's shoulder, her arms around him, and her cheek resting on his head. Cerulean's eyes widened and he gripped ZoŽ’s shoulder where she stood, with a curiously blank face, to one side. "Is--he dead?"

ZoŽ jumped, then her face flooded with worry. She bit her lip, eyes dark with concern, though she shook her head a little. "No. But he's hurt pretty badly. And Bridgette says she can't heal him."

Cerulean started in shock. "What? What is wrong that she cannot heal--"

"It's not that I am unable, Cerulean," Bridgette's voice rose, quavering in strain, "I simply do not have the power right now."

Cerulean stared, looking closer at the winged woman crouched before him. The strange woman's wings dropped, spread in the grass to her sides, the pearly feathers seeming duller, looking almost as if they were broken, or too heavy for her to lift and fold them back properly. Her face, when she looked at him, was drawn tight in pain and weariness. The hand she had impaled to spill her blood for the start of the spell was wrapped rather crudely in a scrap of iridescent cloth that she had obviously torn from the hem of one of the flowing skirts she wore. Blood had seeped through the gauzy fabric and smeared a bit on Malcolm's jacket where she supported his shoulder. "How is this possible?" he asked, concerned.

"Healing a world--is not easy." She closed her eyes, holding Malcolm closer, though the platinum-haired musician didn't stir in the slightest.

Cerulean waited for her to continue, but she didn’t speak any more, her cheek resting wearily against the stop of her unconscious ward’s head. He turned and looked for help from Jared and Nathan who both sat on the glass, looking as helpless as he felt. "Lords--what--"

"What you see here--the grass and flowers and sun and everything around you--it is nothing more than the surface of what must take place to revive our world," said Jedite, the more serious expression replacing Jared's helpless and worried one. But even he was concerned, his pale blue eyes wrinkled in a bit of concern. "It is not as simple as returning the plant life--"

Nathan sighed. "I don't s’pose," he said, holding Molly close to his side, Kali's head in his lap. "I don't s’pose y’know anything about--eh--ecosystems an’ geography an’ the like?" Cerulean looked at him blankly. "I s’pose not, then," Nathan said, shaking his head and sighing. Absently, the auburn-haired man reached out the arm not wrapped around Sailor Earth and twined his fingers in the foal's mane--as Cerulean realized he was doing with his own admirer. "It's no’ as easy fixin’ things as stickin’ a few plants an’ animals back on a piece of barren rock, y’know. You've got t’ make soil, make systems of rain work again--"

"Not to mention," said ZoŽ, her face taught, the jacket of her uniform tossed over one shoulder, her emerald eyes fixed on the fallen man, "plate tectonics. If you've got none of that, you're going to run out of land once you start the rains again, thanks to erosion."

"And there are many life forms here that you all take for granted," put in Nuada, his arms crossed, the crafted silver fingers of his magical, replaced arm drumming idly on his shoulder. "Earth worms, for example. Ants. Even something as mundane as bacteria in the soil to decompose the leaves that fall." The Sidhe lord shook his hair over his shoulder with a haughty toss of his head. "They must be either reintroduced, or turned back from whatever they have been twisted into, or this world is doomed to suffer an even worse fate than it did before." His dark green eyes scanned everyone, most people flinching under his intense stare until he came to rest on Bridgette and the fallen man. "Kae'ayla's lifeforce is committed to doing just that."

"Lifeforce--" That got everyone's attention.

Nuada raised a silver eyebrow. "Surely you all saw her use Blood Magic. That form of magic is always risky; even when you are relying on the lifeforces of others, as Beryl now does. But it--it had to be done, as it takes Blood Magic to counter Blood Magic."

Jared's lips pursed into a scowl. "This--'Balance' again."

Nuada turned his gaze on Jared, who managed not to flinch away. "What else is there, when it comes down to it? There are always sides, and sides will always battle."

Jared managed to glare back. Bridgette raised her head, the simple motion looking as if it took a concentrated effort. "There is no time for this; you must attack while Beryl's people are confused."

"And ours aren't?" said Rei.

Bridgette locked her tired, but still unnerving gaze on the raven-haired girl. "Granted. But at least you all had some warning; hers did not know that we intended anything other than gaining a staging ground to base our attacks from." She sighed, letting her head fall softly back to rest against Malcolm’s silver hair once more. "And I suggest that you all find something to mark yourselves as your own people. A banner, a sash--anything. In the thick of battle, with you all unfamiliar with each other, it will be difficult to tell friend from enemy."

"How about bloody sunglasses," muttered Nathan, tilting his head up to squint at the bright blue, cloud-dotted sky. "I'd gotten used t’ bein’ in darkness. It's bloody bright out here."

"What about Malcolm? And you? You said you can't leave here," ZoŽ said, biting her lip. "How can we possibly hope to fight without--"

Bridgette's eyes took on a dark gleam. "Always thinking of working with magic alone?" ZoŽ colored, looking down, then back up to her mentor, shaking her head a little. Bridgette carefully drew the gleaming arc of a silver and crystal sword from one of the sheathes at her side. "Use the obvious."

"I will stay with the lady and Malcolm as well," said Quicksilver. "My magic is for healing; I know little of fighting, and care even less for it. I can and will defend myself, though. As I will protect those that cannot protect themselves to their fullest extent." He bowed to Bridgette. His huge eagle fluttered his wings in a nearby tree, the crystal mail the bird wore tinkling. "And Aewlah will go where I do. He will play sentry."

"Melvin should stay, too," said Jared, coming looking up.

"But--"

Jared shook his head. "Look, kid, you're no good in a pitched battle, all right? Use those traps we've still got set up. " He looked at Malcolm's still form once more. "They're going to need help here, all right? You’re no good at straight fighting; stay back here where those brains you’ve got will be of use."

"But--"

Nuada nodded. "I will go battle; I will be needed, I think. But I will leave of my followers here to help you, Kae'ayla."

Bridgette looked up at him sharply for a moment, then nodded. "I suggest--you spilt up. There is a Gate on the far side of that hill there." She pointed through the trees to a verdant, flower-covered hill nearby. "Some of you go there. The others--take the anchor off the boat and let the whales pull you back to the beach we left from and take the gates from there; it’s very easy to sense the way."

"I'll go through th’ Gate," Nathan muttered, glancing at Malcolm. "I'm not settin’ foot on another bloody boat for at least a year."

* * * * * * * *

"What are those things that they are wearing?" asked Cerulean, watching Jared and ZoŽ in the bows of the ship, Jared apparently explaining the use of the glass orbs in the padded cases.

Lita looked over, then grinned. "Microphone headsets. So they can talk to one another. Bridgette's got one, and so does Nathan. Oh--here--there’s one for you, too." She held out another of the headsets and shook her head a little. "This was supposed to be for Malcolm, but--"

Cerulean took the headset curiously, looking at how Jared and ZoŽ were wearing theirs. Carefully, he settled them on his head, flipping the little switch that Lita indicated as the ship lurched into motion on the waves. "...'a three hour tour!.' " Jared's cheerful tenor rang through Cerulean's head.

"Jared Sims," came ZoŽ’s reply, as well as faint bit of static crackling, "sing one more verse of that damned song, and you're swimming."

Cerulean blinked. "I--"

"Hullo, Cer!" said Jared, turning and waving cheerfully from the bows to where Lita and Cerulean stood at the rail before the wheel.

"Hello, Cerulean. Figured the blasted thing out, then?"

Cerulean blinked at Nathan's voice. "Aye, Lord. How do--"

"Technology, not magic," said ZoŽ, her voice sounding amused. "Beryl won't be able to listen in as easily."

"Umm."

"We're in position here," said Nathan. There was a slight pause. "The girls, are making flower chains. We now look like we're all in a bloody May Day celebration."

"Should make you easy to spot," Jared's voice said.

A raucous noise filled the headset and Cerulean winced. Nathan had apparently blown a raspberry.

"That's very cute, Nathan," said Bridgette's voice.

"Trying to please, Bri."

"How is Lord Malcolm?" asked Cerulean hesitantly.

"The same," Bridgette seemed to sigh. "At least he is no worse."

Jared's voice came over again, but the tones and accent to the words were Jedite's. "And how are you faring?"

Bridgette paused a moment. "Trying to remember how to create moss again, Jedite."

There was a bit of laughter over the headsets, and Jared's light tones came over again. "Moss?" he spluttered between laughs.

"If you think that it is that simple, Jared, perhaps you would like to do this?"

"Um--I'll pass."

"About the attack--"

"Oh, we're ready with the gas bombs I made," said Jared. "Be sure not to go through the Gate without hearing me clear it first."

"I've no intention on ruining my singing voice, Jar. No worries."

"Like your voice was worth saving, Nate."

"Y’want to come over here an’ say that again, y’ass?"

Cerulean took the headsets off, his eyes a bit wide. "I think I can do without."

* * * * * * * *

Joerdan stared as the youma he had sent out as a scout came and bowed at his feet. "Commander--the changes are everywhere. Except--except the area around the Black Lake. Queen Beryl is gathering a large force there."

Joerdan nodded, pale eyes fixing on the horizon over the rolling waves. "Very well. Be prepared for an attack; and watch out for tricks and traps. Jedite has picked up cunning from somewhere."

"Yes, Commander." The youma moved off to join the ranks. Joerdan's adonni closed back around him, their masked faces facing outwards, always ready to guard. Frowning, he returned to staring across the waves, his already sore eyes watering in the glare from the unfamiliar sun.

* * * * * * * *

Darien sighed as Serena draped another flower chain over the brim of his hat, but submitted and then let her snuggle under his arm. "Nathan--what's going on with the people on the ship?" he asked.

Nathan pushed the mouthpiece back up away from his mouth. "Nothing much. They're still traveling." The auburn-haired man shoved a flower decked pony tail back over his shoulder, where one of the unicorns promptly began to pull the flowers out of the flowing locks with velvet lips--before sniffing and then chewing on Nathan's hair itself. The fiddler seemed not to notice. "We wait until Jared sends the signal, then open the Gate and go through fighting."

Nuada nodded. "Simple enough, except for getting to the place that we must. If what the young Commander said is true, there is no direct way to anywhere in here, and we will have to fight our way through at least five such gates." The silver-armed man shook his gleaming, silvery hair back over his shoulder.

Darien sighed, holding Serena closer. "It's the getting there that bothers me. As for Beryl--it will be almost a relief to get there."

Nuada nodded. "That is always the way. No matter how awful the end of something could possibly be, all look forward to it, for and end is always the beginning of something else."

"That sounds like something in a fortune cookie," muttered Serena with a giggle.

Nuada raised an elegant brow. "Perhaps such things should be taken more seriously when the advice is sound."

Serena shrank back, nodding a little and huddling more at her beau’s side. Darien watched the Sidhe lord carefully, his eyes narrowed. For all that Lord Nuada was closer to being mortal than Bridgette was--at least on a physical level, the Lord's stiff manner and aloof language made him seem even less human. The two of them met stares for a moment, but Darien was the first to look away. Nuada nodded, as if he’d expected it, and returned to keeping the waiting (and flower decked) minions in line. "What is it about him?" Darien asked Nathan under his breath.

Nathan scowled after the Sidhe lord a moment, then turned, wincing when the unicorn’s teeth pulled his hair. "Well, I s’pose--for all that he c’n die, he's not been about mortals for the past 10,000 years, now has he? Guess he hasn’t become all sensitive to mortal things like Bri is."

Darien paused, then nodded. "I guess that's right."

Nathan sighed, "So, Darien--how're ye and Serena doin’, then? I mean together wise."

Darien shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

Nathan paused. "Does the age gap bother ye? I mean, I'm no immortal anymore--at least I don't think I am anymore, but--Mol--"

Serena blinked. "Well--Molly's not exactly mortal either anymore. She's part of the Moon Court."

"Aye, granted, but--" began Nathan.

Darien frowned, looking down at Serena's head as she leaned back against his chest. "I--thought about it, sure. Serena’s only fifteen, and I’m--but--well--"

Serena paused. "But--we've been together so long--in the past and all. And--"

"But y’keep sayin’, Serena, that y’keep wishin’ for a normal life. Y’constantly go against that, though." Nathan spread his hands. "Not that I'm any different. Here I am sayin’ I'm not Nephlite or anythin’ special, an’ what am I?"

"A unicorn chew toy," said Mina with a grin, walking over with Molly.

Nathan sighed and rolled his eyes, though everyone had a good laugh, even the unicorn seeming amused. Darien paused a moment, then said, "Well, Nathan, I--it's just this; Serena and I are--well--I don't really want anyone else.

Rei looked at him sharply a moment, then sighed. Molly peered at Nathan a bit tensely, biting her lip, as though fearing his response. The musician nodded finally and freed his hair from the unicorn's teeth, a smile crossing his features. "Come t’think o’ it--Neither d’I, I just hope the bloody authorities can see it that way." He reached out and pulled Molly against his chest, kissing the top of her head gently.

* * * * * * * *

Jared squinted at the horizon, then leaned over the bows, yelling to the whales pulling the ship to stop and hold still. Cerulean, Lita on his arm stumbled forward as the ship lurched to a halt. "What is it?" He lifted his head to squint at the horizon.

"I can just see the shore. We should be in range for the bombs." Jared grimaced, loading a case of the deadly glass balls onto one of the catapults.

"You have done this before?" Cerulean asked, blinking.

"Nope."

"Great," groaned Lita, rubbing at her forehead.

"Relax, Jupiter," said ZoŽ hopping down a rope from the rigging. "He's a master of flinging things across the room with his spoon--I don’t see why this should be any different." She grinned.

Jared stuck his tongue out at her, then grimaced, his expression turning serious. "Wish I could see to aim the damned things, though."

"Perhaps one of us may assist you?"

They all turned towards the voice. A few of the bird men come over from where they’d been gathered along the rail, their strange, armored bird companions flying to land on the rails closer to the bow where they talked. "We are, after all," said one of the huge hawks, looking a bit smug, "known for our eyesight."

Jared blinked--grinned. "Cool."

"I am called Riversong," said the lead birdman with a strange sort of salute involving raising his empty hands before him. "My friend there is called T'uri," he pointed to the hawk that had spoken. "Permit me."

Jared nodded, backing away from his position in the point, letting the taller man approach. Riversong went to the rail, squinting. "There is a large group spread out along the shore line there." He pointed. "There seems not to be a well defined leader that I can see, though."

Jedite took over. "Joerdan would never make himself stand out without direct orders, and even more protection."

Cerulean paused. "Riversong--can you see any adonni?"

"What are they?"

"Large creatures--usually in black with painted masks on."

Riversong and a few of the others all peered at the shore. "Mm--yes. Several."

Jedite frowned. "That means there are several ranking people scattered out there." He scowled again. "What of the numbers?"

Another one, who introduced himself as Fallingleaf, looked closer. "It is difficult to say, with the forms of some of the creatures there, and the closeness of their press, but I would say that we are badly outnumbered--at least five to one."

"Nuts," said Lita, blowing her bangs from her face. "Any good news you can tell us?"

Fallingleaf glanced back at her, chuckling. "If it makes you feel better--it seems that these creatures, too, breathe."

"Well," said ZoŽ, "shall we see if youma have lungs?"

* * * * * * * *

"What's going on?" Serena asked bouncing on her toes, though still tucked in the curve of Darien's arm while Nathan paced, Molly standing to one side holding his sword for him.

"They launched th’globe-things that Jared made, but th’bird-folk cannae see because o’ th’ haze they're causin’." Nathan grimaced. "Bloody hell."

Molly watched him a moment, then moved up to his side, curling her arms around his waist. "Well--can't someone there make a breeze or something?"

"I--" Nathan broke off, listening to the low hum of someone's voice through the headset. "Hang on--it's clearin’ up over there." The small army that waited around the gate all leaned closer, intent on the former general’s words. "Damn!" More than half of the army flinched at the vehement curse.

"Didn't work?" asked Rei, grimacing.

"Neh--it worked--but they're bringin’ more in t’ replace those who fell." Nathan grimaced. "Guess it's time t’go, though."

Rei smacked her fist into her palm. "All right!"

* * * * * * * *

Joerdan glared as the seething, corrosive gas swirled harmlessly on the far side of the force wall he had erected about himself at the first wave of the strange projectiles. He smirked, glancing back at the gate as his reinforcements continued to pour through--many of them gasping, clawing at their throats as they, too, fell to the strange gas.

With a snarl, he sent a mental command to one of his youma that had managed to survive the initial gas attack. The creature nodded, concentrating its power and calling a breeze to clear the beach of the deadly smoke. He looked at the water, previously masked by the noxious cloud--and saw a tall ship of a design he had never seen before cutting rapidly through the water towards them, drawn by some huge water beast. Grimly, Joerdan moved to hide and wait his chance.

* * * * * * * *

"What's wrong?" asked Nuada, frowning as Nathan struggled before the gate, a faint sheen of sweat covering his brow.

"The bloody be-damned Gate's not bloody respondin’!"

"Damn!" Darien cursed. "We've got to get to them!"

"I know, dammit!" Nathan snarled back. "Shit--I'll have t’try t’blast it open." He looked around and sighed. "Everyone get your arses behind that side of the hill!"

"Nathan!" Molly moved up to his side.

"Get going, Mol-love. I dinnae want t’see that pretty hair o’ yours any redder if I blow this." He paused a moment and kissed her cheek. "I'll be all right. I've died enough, for one year, thanks." He winked.

* * * * * * * *

"Wow!" Cerulean stared at the Scout at his side as Lita blinked at the swath of destruction her lightning blast had caused. Charred corpses littered the path of the lightning blast. "When Bridgette said she was enhancing our powers, she wasn't kidding. It’s never done that before."

Cerulean sent a flare of his light-blast at a nearby youma, though the attacking youma were keeping their distance from them for the most part. "What was that that she gave each of you Scouts before we left--that thing she said to use as a last resort."

Jupiter shrugged, watching as the youma with the strips of cloth tied around some upper portion of their bodies to identify them as their allies, pushed their way up the beach. Riversong and his people fought up one side, their crystal blades swirling gracefully, sometimes flaring with the energy of spells. Their birds dove and tore at enemy eyes and their crystal mail crackled with energy as they, too, used magic. "I don't know. It looks like a rock to me." She shook her head a little. "Bridgette said to hold it and concentrate on it if I needed a boost, but she that I should save it, ‘cause it'd probably only work once."

Cerulean nodded, then spoke into the mouthpiece of the headset Jared had convinced him to put back on as another wave of youma--this one with an alarming number of adonni--came sweeping to fill in the holes in the ranks. "Lord Nathan! Where are you!?"

Nathan's voice crackled through the ear piece once, mostly smothered with wailing interference from the energies being flung around--just as the Gate flared to life. "Sorry--knew I should’ve taken that left, bloody turn at Albuquerque."

* * * * * * * *

ZoŽ ducked the adonni's swipe again, then grimaced. There wasn’t so much as a scratch on the damn thing, and she had broken two of her blades on its tough hide. And she had slashes on her arms and one over one eye that occasionally dribbled blood into vision.

She had known that the adonni were bad news, but she had had no idea how much power that Beryl had instilled in the things when she had warped them into what they were now. "What the hell were these things before?"

The earth beneath her feet suddenly shook, throwing her to the ground and stunning her. Fortunately, the adonni also went down, similarly stunned as a high voice called over the cacophony near by. "Earth Crystal Crash!"

A fissure ripped open the ground a few yards away, spilling several youma and one adonni that was preparing to kill one of the human mages Bridgette had brought with her--the same adonni who had killed at least one unicorn. Before it could react, a fissure ripped through the ground beneath it, and it fell, screaming into the darkness, the mage scrambling back and away. ZoŽ quickly looked back at the adonni she had been fighting. It was already getting to its feet--there was no time to even think about making another blade.

Quickly, ZoŽ scrambled to her feet and sprinted towards the fissure. She dodged past several battling groups, flinging away her tattered away jacket as she ran. She picked up more and more speed, but the adonni were deceptively fast for their size--almost blindingly fast, and it was hot on her heels. Grimly, she worked her arms, leaning lower--the fissure was coming up fast--and then--the edge--

--she leapt--pebbles raining from the edge of the cliff as her foot left--

--and she hit near the edge on the far side, nearly 10 feet away. She fell hard, scraping her palms on the rocky ground. She rolled to her feet and turned to see the adonni leap--

--and fall short, clawed hands grabbing the rock at the edge. ZoŽ blinked, then tossed her head, flecks of blood from the gash on her forehead flaring out to splatter a flower-decked youma who had stopped in his battle towards the next Gate to stare at ZoŽ’s leap. "Twelve years of ballet," she said, shrugging. Her eyes gleamed as she walked a bit closed to the crumbling edge of the fissure. The adonni growled up at her, daring to free one viciously clawed hand to reach for her leg. ZoŽ casually moved the leg he was reaching for out of the way--setting it down on the adonni's other hand. "Oops."

It fell with a hideous shriek. She leaned over the fissure, watching it bounce off a couple of walls before it fell out of sight into the thick darkness--nearly falling when the fissure started resealing itself. She caught her balance, and turned away, tossing her head and grinning at the stunned youma. "Well--what are you waiting for?! Let's go kick Beryl's damn head in!"

* * * * * * * *

Molly winced as the attack she’d used tore a huge hole in the ground, but it obeyed her wishes, not hurting anyone on their side. Nathan grinned strainedly at her. "Neat attack--might want to close that before someone falls in. He blinked, watching ZoŽ leap across it, loosing her adonni pursuer. "Like--now?"

She nodded, murmuring a softer command, the fissure starting to zip itself up as if it had never been. Nathan grinned, then flung a powerful blast of power at a nearing group of enemy youma. She turned to help him--when something struck her hard on the back, several parallel lines of pain flaring up in fiery agony she fell. "Molly!!!" Nathan screamed.

Yen was suddenly there, fire roiling in a controlled blast over the adonni who had struck Molly. The fire didn't seem to phase the masked beast much, but then Yen's jaws closed on it, crunching, ripping the thing to shreds in seconds. Enemy youma turned and started to run away from the raging dragon, but Yen took out several anyway while Nathan took the brief respite and thumped to his knees at her side. He grimaced, gathering her up against his own already blood smeared and torn jacket. "Ow--" she said faintly, managing a smile.

"Dammit, Mol--if I’m not allowed t’die, then ye are definitely not."

"S--sure, Nathan--" she slumped in his arms, then, her eyes rolling back in her head as she fell unconscious.

A heavy weight crashed into the back of Nathan's head, sending him slumping over her. Yen roared in fury, turning towards them--

But the dragon was too late.

* * * * * * * *

Jedite fell hard, breath driving out of his chest as he held the long gash in his thigh, his carefully gathered power flying away from his grasp as he hissed in pain. The sneering visage of Andracite--one of the minions in charge of the youma hoards--and one of Jedite's worst enemies--loomed over him with a black crystal blade. "So it ends, Jedite--and your life force goes to Beryl where it belongs--"

**Jedite! Let me forward! Now!** Rather than argue, the Negaverse general let the musician come to the fore. Jared quickly raised his hand, careful to keep the same furious look on his face as Jedite had been wearing. **Can you manage a bit of fireworks around my hand?**

**I think so--but I lost most of my power when we fell--it will take a moment for me to get a hold of it again.**

**Ever think of practicing more?** Jared ignored Jedite's mental snarl. **Just do it!**

Jedite sulkily complied and white-blue light swirled around Jared's raised hand. Slowly, Jared squinted one eye, pulling the raised hand closer to his eyes, even though the bright light hurt. Carefully, he pressed the thumb and forefinger close together, centering them around Andracite's head--at least in his vision. "What are you doing, you incompetent fool?"

Jared grinned madly. "Something I picked up from the mortals. Joerdan did tell you we had gained in powers, didn't he?" Jared let out a maniacal laugh that the worst B-movies would pay millions for. "Don't worry--it will only hurt for a minute--"

"What in--"

Jared grinned, squinting. "Don't worry--I'm only going to--crush your head!!!"

Andracite's eyes widened as Jedite increased the flare of energies and Jared brought his fingers closer together. Then a silver-metal blade poked through the minion's chest from behind. Blood splurtted from Andracite's mouth as he fell, surprise etched forever on his features. Nuada calmly leaned over, the dark blood of the fallen man running off his blade like water off a duck’s feathers. "Are you all right, Jared? Jedite?"

"Yeah."

**What in the name of the Black Lake did you think you were doing?!**

"Improvising, Jedite. Who would expect you--I mean me--to lower themselves to bad earthling humor?"

"What?"

Nuada helped the yellow-haired man up. "Come. We have a few more gates to fight through before we reach the Lake."

* * * * * * * *

Melvin jumped, hearing a loud cry from the direction of the beach. He ran over to Bridgette where she held Malcolm's still form against her shoulder. "They're here! They just hit the spray traps!"

Bridgette looked up, face pained, then she tugged off a shawl of the strange material her clothes were made of, and balled it up, gently laying it under Malcolm's head as she set him down gently, Quicksilver's cloak draped over him for warmth. "All right." She stood, drawing her sword, and setting the silver-etched crystal blade point down in the grass. She looked at the small handful that had stayed with them. "Get hidden--all of you. You too, Melvin. I only want them to see me at first."

"But you are weakened, Lady," said one of the Sidhe. "Perhaps--"

"You can die; I can not, no matter what the wounds. Get hidden."

The Sidhe paused, but sighed and bowed. "As you will, Lady."

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 13

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury