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

PART THIRTEEN: Casualties of War

* * * * * * * *

Pain. That is all there was. Pain and blackness. It was an even darkness--it was everywhere and everything at the same time. Then, the darkness lessened to a thick gray. And he gained a name. Malcolm. Groaning, his eyes flickered open.

He lay on the ground, body cushioned by the soft, velvety grass, a heavy cloak draped over his body. His head was turned slightly to one side, and his cheek rested on a soft, folded pile of strange, iridescent cloth. **Where--oh--Bridgette’s clothing.**

Bridgette. The Negaverse. The dance. The spell.

He gathered his strength, grimacing at the terrible weakness that held him prone, and turned his head. His vision was blocked, however, but the lush grass. He found himself staring at one of the strange, violet flowers that he had seen Bri grow back in his chambers. For some reason, more than just that recent association, the strange, rose-like flowers were familiar. **What is it--I remember--something to do with them and Bri--or is it Nate and Bri--** He shook his head a little, having to flinch at the pain even that little motion caused. Pushing back the pulsing blackness stubbornly, he carefully levered himself up enough to see over the grass.

Bridgette stood before him, her slender frame taught with the effort that it took her to keep standing, her long hair billowing back freely in the sea breeze. The red-gold and silver curls moved about her wings, ruffling and curling around the feathers. Her shadow, tossed on the ground by the warm, bright sun overhead, was lined in a brilliant cobalt light, even the billow of her hair lined. In her uninjured hand, she brandished a crystal and silver sword. Through the weariness, she bore a general air of wariness, her sword held in a guard across her chest as her eyes remained fixed on something Malcolm could not see.

Again, it was strangely familiar--and easily one of the most beautiful things he could remember seeing.

There was utter silence on the Island, other than the rustle of the wind-teased leave and grasses, and the occasional cry of a sea bird. "Bri--" he grimaced as the croak of his voice. "What--"

She started, turning to look at him, her sword lowering, a deep worry lurking in her dark blue eyes. "Malcolm--" her dark, luminous eyes filled with sudden worry. "Malcolm--stay down."

Malcolm tried to move some more; to sit up--but could feel only a faint tingle from everywhere but his head. His head, however, hurt abominably. "What--"

"Keep still, Malcolm. Please--and lay back down. They’re going to--"

Fire erupted before her, the heat searing at him, even where he lay.

Malcolm cried out, falling prone once more. For some reason, the grasses seemed to block out the intense heat that he’d felt. "B-bri!" He struggled, trying to gather the energy to sit back up, but unable to--

--as the sound of a large number of things charging, screaming battle cries, filled his ears.

* * * * * * * *

Jared cried out, pitching forward as a line of fire cut across the back of one leg. He hit the ground hard, driving his breath out, momentarily stunning him. **Roll to one side! Quickly!** Jared thrashed a bit, managing to comply to Jedite's frantic mental command--

--and a taloned claw smashed down into the ground where he had been only seconds before. **Get up! Or we'll both die!**

Jared rolled to his knees, pain faring from a hundred minor wounds, but none greater than the burning in the back of his calf where hot blood poured from the deep gash, soaking his pants and pooling on the ground. He had a hundred other cuts--another nasty, burning one that went from one ear, across the eyelid and to the corner of his far temple. He put weight on his injured leg, trying to get to his feet, to obey Jedite’s commands--

---and pitched forward again, crying out in pain. He hit the ground once more, too tired, feeling too weak to move his shaking arms to push himself back up, even to a sitting position. The creature above him roared in triumph and raised a claw to strike--

--and a black crystal blade plunged into its unguarded chest.

ZoŽ swung into Jared's graying vision, her face smeared with blood and other nameless fluids. She yanked the blade free of the creature’s chest, kicking it to fall over, then crouched at Jared’s side, face softening in concern under all the gore. Jared bit his lip, looking at his friend, noting that she, too, was badly inured--the arm not holding the blade, for instance, was hanging uselessly at her side in a sling made from a length of torn, stained fabric. It looked like her shoulder blade had been snapped, from the way it dangled. "Come on, Jared," she slipped her good arm under his shoulders. "We've got to keep going. One more Gate--and it’s the catacombs before the Lake."

"I can’t--not on this leg--" Jared coughed. "Get going yourself."

"Not a chance, two-face. Now get up, dammit--this hurts."

**Yes, get up. I'm not going to become the power behind one of Beryl's spells.**

Jared groaned, but sat up. He was about to protest again, when one of the unicorns came over and grabbed the shoulder of his tattered jacket, hauling him up to his feet, nudging his arm over its blood-flecked shoulders. He leaned heavily on the broad back, lifting his other hand to wipe blood from his eyes, looking around.

Most of the fighting had stopped. Their people were moving cautiously towards the last Gate, their numbers swollen by deserters from Joerdan’s forces. All of them, however, looked ragged and worn--many of them sporting injuries just as serious as his. And there were faces missing--and far too many twisted bodies lying about. Jared grimaced, looking around once more, a cold pit growing in his stomach. "Where--where's Nathan? And Molly?"

ZoŽ grimaced, shaking her dirty hair back from her face. "Joerdan got away with them."

Jared cursed, and limped between her and the unicorn. "I'll kill that bastard. I swear."

ZoŽ snorted, leaning down and ripping a length of cloth from her jacket to bind up the wound on Jared’s leg as best she could with one arm. "Take a number and get in line," she growled.

* * * * * * * *

Nathan stirred groggily, blinking his eyes open. Grimacing, he lifted his head where it rested something warm and soft. Groaning, he held a hand to the back of his head, feeling a blood-caked lump there in his tangled hair. "Who are you?"

He waved a hand turned towards the voice, his other one still holding his aching head as he looked around, taking in his surroundings.

Bars surrounded him, the area dark--obviously a deep cavern. But the darkness was too thick, even for a cave; the air was too rank for anything normal. "Oh bloody hell." He looked to one side, only moving his eyes.

The Black Lake.

"Shit. Just what I bloody needed."

"Who are you?"

He finally turned to see the owner of the voice, and he paled. "Oh bloody hell; you're Molly's mother."

The terrified woman blinked her wide eyes. "I--yes. Who--" she squinted. "Wait--you’re that musician."

"What's left o’ me," Nathan said with a weak grin that turned into a grimace. He flinched, pulling his hand away from the back of his head when his fingers encountered the stinging gash that was the source of the blood back there. Then he started. "Mol! Mol was--" he looked around, finally realizing that he’d had his head resting on the Earth senshi’s stomach. He grimaced, pulling his hand away from the back of his head to look at the blood. Then he gasped, gathering Molly to his chest. "Mol--" he felt at her jaw frantically.

"What about Molly?" Mrs. Baker looked closer--and gasped. "What happened to her?! Why is she dressed like that? Is she hurt?"

Nathan sagged in relief when he found her pulse, cuddling the unconscious girl close to his chest and pressing his face into her hair for a minute. When he spoke, his voice was muffled. "She got ‘er back raked by an adonni, Mrs. Baker. An’ she's dressed like this ‘cause she's Sailor Earth." He lifted his face from her hair, looking around in the blackness, but they seemed to be alone near the Lake.

"What?!"

Nathan kissed Molly's slack forehead, cradling her in his arms. He sighed, tilting his head down with a wince and carefully moving to rest his cheek on top of her head, his fingers twining in her hair. "Mrs. Baker--how did--Molly an’ I get here? Who brought us?"

"The-same man who brought me here. Tall, dark curly hair--" She shuddered. "I--I didn’t notice Molly until you sat up.

Nathan spat out a string of curses. "Joerdan. Damn. Y’know--I’m really getting’ sick o’ that bastard."

She blinked. "How--do you know these--these people?"

Nathan looked at her, shifting his grip on Molly, sighing. He shivered, and winced, wishing that he had a cloak against the thick chill. "I--" He sighed, looking to the oily surface of the Lake nearby, watching it writhe, occasionally lashing out, trying to reach them in their bared cell. "Do you remember--Maxfield Stanton?"

"Yes--but--he's dead; he left Molly his estate," Mrs. Baker replied. A frown appeared, crossing her features. "And what are you doing? Are you after his fortune?"

Nathan snorted. "E’en had I need o’ it, Mrs. Baker, it was mine in the first place."

"What?" Her voice was offended, scowling at the musician and at his unconscious daughter.

"I was Maxfield Stanton, Mrs. Baker; but I’m no’ anymore. He died, an’ he gave Molly what ‘e ‘ad, t’try an’ make up for the pain he caused her."

"But--how?"

"Reincarnation, I guess. Least that’s wha’ Bri told me an’ the others, e’en if it doesn’t make sense."

"But--he was alive barely two months ago--how could you be reincarnated from him if--"

Nathan gave her a humorless smile. "Please don' remind me; it's already given me more headaches than y’can imagine." Nathan leaned against the bars of the cage, hand holding Molly's head against his shoulder.

They were silent a moment, both watching the Lake. "What--do we do now?"

Nathan sighed. "M’powers are exhausted, Mrs. Baker, e’en if m’head didn't already hurt too bloody much for me t’even think about somethin’ as simple as a light. And the bars ‘ere--" he tapped them with a hand, wincing when blue-hot energy arched from the bars to singe his fingertips. "They’re ‘tuned t’cancel m’powers out." He shook his head. "We just wait; no’ much else we can do."

"But--"

"Th’others are comin’. All we can do is wait." Sighing, he rested his cheek atop Molly’s head once more, turning his eyes to the Lake once more. "Where in hell is Beryl?"

* * * * * * * *

Malcolm put turned his face into the cloth his head rested on to protect it on as a Bridgette's sword cleaved through the chest of a youma. Its acid blood splattered all around, some of it sizzling into the ground, bare inches from where he lay. He could feel more of his body now, but it hurt to even twitch a finger. All around him, a battle raged--unicorns, Sidhe, and the birdman Healer fighting in a ring around him--keeping the creatures back, out of the Circle. Even Melvin fought, the carved staff that Bridgette had given him clutched in his hands, his glasses long since fallen from his face. He was dotted with burns and bruises and cuts, but his face was grim as he just kept fighting. Overhead, gouts of white-hot fire roared from Feolin’s maw, the dragon’s cheerful expression gone into one of cold fury as he, too, fought.

But they were slowly being pressed closer and closer together, their ring closing tighter and tighter around Malcolm. There were just too many of them, though his side continued to cut down so many of the enemy that they were piled around them like a grisly wall.

Malcolm, closed his eyes, and slowly, painfully, struggled to his knees.

Bridgette looked back over her shoulder, catching his movement from the corner of her eye. "No! Malcolm! Keep down!"

Then she choked, eyes turning back to stare at the minataur-like creature whose blade was buried deep in her chest. The creature grinned in triumph, exposing rows of razor-sharp teeth as her blade dropped from numb fingers. All around, the fight seemed to stop. Every eye turned to watch the tall, winged woman take a half-step back. Her hand rose slowly, painfully, to grip the blade, the edges slicing into her hand, dropping her luminescent blood to the grass. The minion took a step backwards, unbelieving, its hands falling from the hilt of its blade, staring in shock. Bridgette pulled the blade slowly from her chest slowly, each inch spilling more of her blood on the ground. A trickle of blood appeared at the corner of her mouth, and she choked a little as it finally came out, more blood flowing from the wound and down her chest. She turned the blade in her shaking hands, raised it--and lopped the minion's head off in a single blow--

--and she fell to her knees, choking, hands at her chest.

"No!"

Malcolm wasn't sure who screamed, but the fight suddenly renewed itself with a terrible ferocity. Feolin joined in the fray more, leaping and rending, chewing and even swallowing dozens of the attackers at a time. "Lady!"

Bridgette raised her head to look at Quicksilver who had started fighting his way towards her, the ranks closing in to compensate for his absence. "N-no--keep--keep fighting. I--will--re--" she crumpled to her side.

Quicksilver started to protest, but sighed, bowing and turning to take his place in the line once more. The Healer’s face was grim, and his blade struck with a controlled fury, easily finding vital spots, downing his opponents in one or two blows.

Malcolm managed to crawl to Bridgette's side, his shaking hands obeying him enough to clutch at her shoulders and check at the hinge of her jaw for a pulse. She was still breathing, though raggedly, exhaustedly. Blood frothed at her mouth with each painful exhale, but she was still breathing. Somewhere, he summoned enough strength to gently roll her over, ignoring at the pain it cost him.

He gasped in horror.

**No one could live with those wounds.**

Burns covered her whole front, the wound in her chest only the most recent in the macabre plethora of horrible wounds she bore. Her eyes flickered open, peering up at him, the dark-blue eyes glazed in pain. "M-mal--"

He watched her mouth twitch into a strained, pained smile. Even now, she was trying to be soothing; to care for him. "Why--" he asked, voice pained as he gently touched her cheek, tears springing from his eyes to track down his dirty cheek as his hands hesitantly touched her face.

"I--told you. I--cannot--die--" she managed, though her voice was barely audible, especially over the din of battle. She choked, more blood coming from her mouth, as well as her nose, and she slumped back against the ground, breaths rasping in her throat. But she still tried to roll over and get her hands under herself to push herself up and continue fighting.

Malcolm caught a flash of movement coming towards them from the corner of his eye--or was it that he sensed it. He looked up to see a tall, serpentine youma break through the defenses, heading straight for them with a wickedly curved blade raised to strike.

Malcolm snarled, shoving his own pain back, reaching beyond himself to something else, shaping a gleaming arc of power in his hand. All he could see was Bridgette’s ravaged body, and the deep pain in her dark eyes. "That’s a nice thing to know." He clambered to his feet, swaying unsteadily, but his face set and determined, a burning anger welling deep inside him as he turned and faced the approaching youma, his pale eyes filled with fury.

* * * * * * * *

"I don't like this," commented Riversong, looking about, his face grim. His hand strayed over a long cut on his arm, then up to where Fallingleaf's beaded headband was tied around his left bicep where the dying man had secured it as he had died.

Jared, leaning heavily on the shoulder of the unicorn stallion, Tuli, ZoŽ hovering at his other side in case he should fall. He sighed, running his free hand wearily over his face, looking around at the silent blackness that was just on the other side of the open Gate. "Tell me about it." His posture changed a little, a grimaced of discomfort crossing his features as Jedite took over. "Aye. The Lake is never silent like this."

"We're still some ways from it, Lord," said Cerulean, wiping sweat and blood from his face as he came back from checking the ragged army, Lita at his back. "There is a full mile between us and the Lake, Lord, as the bird would fly--and all of it is a maze of passages." His face turned even grimmer as he shook his head some. "It is perfect for an ambush, I fear; an ambush that we cannot afford to fall into."

Nuada strode over, his clothing tattered and torn, but still somehow still free of blood. "Aye. But an ambush that is known need not be completely problematic."

"And just what do we do if Beryl starts using Nate, Mol, and Mrs. Baker as shields?" ZoŽ demanded.

Nuada fixed his ice green eyes on her. "You must ask yourself a question, then: should the good of the few out weigh the good of the many?" ZoŽ's emerald eyes widened, then narrowed. "I know he cares for you--your friend does--but would he prefer that perhaps just he die, rather than all of you? All of these people?" Nuada’s hand swept to indicate the army, several nearer ones ducking as though expecting him to cast a spell.

ZoŽ glared at him a moment, then turned away angrily. Cerulean frowned. "With all due respect, Lord, every person counts towards the health of the whole. We have lost far too many already for use to even think about loosing three more--or even one more."

The Sidhe man nodded. "You must decide which way the Balance swings for yourselves. I have left that behind me. I am here at the request of Kae’ayla, and I will command my people as you see fit." He spun and strode back to his position, tattered cloak flaring behind him.

Jared snarled, his hamstrung leg resting lightly on the ground as he glared after the Sidhe Lord. "For all that his kind has left that mucking about in the Balance thing, I think I'd trust Beryl more than him." Lita raised an eyebrow at him, resting her chin on Cerulean's shoulder, her blood-caked hair falling about her face messily, her bruised and cut arm curling around Cerulean’s waist. "Well--maybe not, her. But Bridgette's a hell of a lot more--"

"Human?" Cerulean smiled faintly. "Well--nothing to be gained by waiting but opportunities for even a gram of surprise."

* * * * * * * *

Nathan sighed, blowing a strand of hair from his eyes as he rested his back against the bars of the cage, Molly cradled in his lap. Molly's mother huddled against his side, seeking comfort in his presence despite his admitted helplessness. His head still pounded, completely driving away any thought of magic, even had he not been trapped in the kind of cage they were in. He shifted his grip on Molly one more time, as something she was wearing dug into his ribs, bothering one of the nastier wounds he had taken. When he moved her carefully to rest more against his shoulder--it clanged to the black stone floor of the cage.

Her transformation wand.

Sighing, Nathan picked it up and started to tuck it back into the little magical pocket of space that she kept it in--then paused, peering intently at the top of it at the symbol.

A circle quartered by a cross. Bridgette's sign.

"What in--"

Molly stirred, then winced, her eyes opening, looking up at the fiddler in confusion. "N--Nathan? M'back hurts."

He kissed her forehead gently, sighing and shaking his head a little as he stroked her hair back from her face with a tender hand. "That's ‘cause yer back got shredded pretty badly, Love." She grimaced, and moved a bit, flinching, and settling down against his shoulder once more. "An’ m’head got a nice lump, too, but don't worry." He nodded a little towards his side. "We seem t’ve found yer mother."

She blinked, turning her head to see her mother huddled beside the musician, her eyes closed, sleeping exhaustedly. "But--how--and why is it so quiet? Where are we?"

Nathan grimaced. "Well--like I said, I went an’ let Joerdan bash me o’er th’head right proper. So we got captured an’ dumped here by the Lake."

Molly blanched. "So we're--"

"Saved us some walkin’, at least," Nathan said, attempting for a little humor.

"But--where is--the army? Beryl's army?"

Nathan frowned, sighing and shifting a little once more against the bars. "In th’catacombs, likely--waitin’ t’jump our people." He sighed. "As fer Beryl--damned if I know."

* * * * * * * *

"Why not let me go in first?"

Jared jumped at the booming voice, grimacing and clinging to Tuli’s shoulder when the sudden movement sent burning pain up his leg. The dragon-shaped tattoo wound around Mina’s forearm came to life, peeling away and vanishing, reforming as the huge form of Yen before him. "I--uh--"

"My scales are more protection than your frail flesh; any of you." The dragon’s head bowed, as though shamed, the bright golden eyes closing. "And the Lady told me to protect the young girl--and I did not fulfill my obligation well enough--I let her be taken."

"You prevented them from having a chance to kill both Sailor Earth and Lord Nephlite, Dragon," Cerulean corrected, joining the group staring at the entrance to the maze of catacombs that led to the Lake. "Had you not attacked, they would have surely been struck down, rather than captured." The commander glanced at the entrance to the catacombs that the ragged army milled about before. "And--I do not think you would fit."

There was flutter, and a wave of heat, and the small form of the firebird perched on Rei's shoulder. It chirped a few times, and Yen nodded, as though the song made some sense to him. "Naraew is correct; do not think that my full form will hinder me. I can adjust; I am a dragon."

"Umm--"

Yen nodded to Jared. "Besides--there is always--this option--" He turned his head to the entrance of the catacombs--and breathed. Fire poured forth, white hot, raging into the catacombs before them, only a little of it flaring back out of the entrance, and none of it coming close to any of the allies.

Everyone stared, then a ragged cheer went up amongst them all. Jared grinned ruefully. "Oh yeah--forgot that dragons could do that," he said sheepishly. He leaned back, and accidentally put weight on his bad leg, nearly falling. He clung to Tuli’s neck for a moment, cursing, biting back pained tears at the raging pain. "Damn." The unicorn looked into his eyes a moment, then knelt, nosing the injured man up onto his snowy back.

Once Jared was safe aboard the unicorn, Rei turned and grinned at the dragon, hand idly scratching at the firebird's elaborate crest feathers. The enormous beast’s fiery breath cut off finally, the stone around the entrance glowing red with heat, though it was quickly fading back to the normal, bubbled black. "There." The dragon turned to the leaders, bowing his head respectively. "I will be here should you need me for anything else." His huge form flared again, and returned to coil about Mina's forearm, though this time, he took the form of a bracelet.

Cerulean shook his head ruefully. "Amazing." He sighed, waving over his commanding youma. "Once the passages have cooled, proceed--with caution. I don’t want anyone else hurt--check all directions for attack or traps."

* * * * * * * *

"Malcolm!"

The silver haired man crumpled to the ground, collapsing over one of Bridgette’s out-flung arms. His breath came raggedly, his whole body trembling with fatigue and pain. Quicksilver tossed away his sword as Feolin fiery breath disposed of the last of the attacking force, and ran over the blood-slick grass towards the fallen man.

Malcolm paid him no mind, instead focusing his blurring sight on Bridgette’s blood-smeared face as she rolled weakly towards him, tears streaming from her dark eyes. Weakly, Malcolm reached a hand across touch Bridgette's cheek tenderly, despite the way it shook. She managed to lift her hand to cover his, her tears spilling over their joined fingers. "Malcolm--no--n--not again--please--"

Malcolm managed a smile as the healer threw himself to his knees beside Malcolm in the grass. Quicksilver swore in the strange, liquid language of his people, his blow-glowing hands moving to hover over the sweat-soaked silvery hair. "Un--until next time--Bri. I--l-love--"

Strange. He had thought it would end in darkness, not light.

* * * * * * * *

"You dropped yer thingie," Nathan said softly, handing Molly her wand back, as he got up slowly, painfully, leaning heavily on the bars of the cage when he swayed at the pounding of his head.

"Oh. Thanks."

"Have y’looked at it, Mol? I mean, really?"

Molly shook her head. "No. I haven't really had a chance to."

"Do it." Nathan peered around in the darkness, trying to find anything to do other than just sit and wait for Beryl to come kill them.

Frowning, Molly looked at the wand--and her eyes widened. "It's the same thing that's on the medallion that--" she picked the locket up off her chest--then blinked, noticing the missing dragon.

"It's th’ old symbol fer Earth, Mol--the one th’ Greeks an’ all used."

"Then what's it doing on Bridgette's locket?"

Nathan shrugged, spreading his hands helplessly. "Yer guess is as good as mine, Luv. I--remember most everythin’ about the Silver Millennium now--sides from the end bit--an’ she was never without it, then. An’ she claimed it had been th’symbol o’ her people."

Molly's mother stirred, then looked up, blinking at Nathan, then around them fearfully. "What--"

"Shh." Nathan's eyes scanned each of the bars. "I heard a loud noise a moment ago--sounded like fire or somewhat. We--"

"That's precisely what it was, Nephlite."

He spun, staggering and swaying a little at the pain in his head.

Beryl stood there, flanked by fully a full score of adonni, a huge army clustered at her back--all on the far side of the cage from the Lake. "You--"

"And while they waste their energy going through the catacombs, I will wait here for them and pick them off as they come through the door." Beryl’s face twisted into a sneer. "Already one of you traitors is dead; along with Her."

"That--that's--yer lyin’!" Nathan's hands clenched into fists.

Joerdan stepped forward from just behind Beryl. "Oh no--Malachite lays dead on that cursed Island. Our troops are decimated there, but they accomplished that much." He smirked and nodded to someone behind the irate fiddler.

Nathan spun just in time to see Molly and Mrs. Baker being roughly caught and gripped by adonni through the bars of the cage as it melted away. "You will watch the rest of them die, Traitor, and then you will join them," Beryl said with a sneer. "And then yours, and the rest of their pitiful life forces will help me destroy this world once and for all."

Nathan could do nothing as two adonni came to grip his arms as well, hauling him and his two former cellmates after Beryl and Joerdan. "Malcolm--" he whispered.

* * * * * * * *

"Where the hell are the rest of the troops?" growled Cerulean, kicking a youma from the point of his blade. "There aren't nearly enough in here for what Beryl commands--even with the decimation of her earlier defeat."

"It’s too much to hope for that Yen toasted the larger part of them, I guess," Jared said with a sigh. "Course I'm not complaining, for all the troubles it means. Mean’s they’re still guarding something down there, which means Nate and the others might still be alive."

ZoŽ flung the headset away. "Damn! No word from Bridgette for hours!"

"And Nathan's set was smashed when he got captured," affirmed Darien grimly, "So we can’t check in with him, even were he alive."

"And if it worked--the Lake is known to interfere with magic and other things," Gallia said grimly.

"We can assume a trap around the entrance into cavern with the Lake, then," Nuada said. "And I doubt that Lady Bridgette is any danger, despite her weakness."

"What about the others? Melvin may be annoying, but I wouldn't want anything to happen to him," said Mina, biting her lip in worry.

"They are stronger than you think, I believe--even that ridiculous, small boy. And don't forget, Yen's other-worldly brother was there to guard them all; no one laughs at a dragon."

"So--what do we do? Just walk into the trap?" asked Lita, smiling weakly as Cerulean placed a hand on her shoulder.

Nuada paused, rubbing his chin, considering. Rei frowned, glancing at Mina, then at Nuada. Finally, she leaned over closer to Mina. "Why are you asking him?" asked Rei. "I thought you didn't trust him."

Nuada turned to look at her sharply, then to Jared and ZoŽ. Jared grimaced, but Jedite came forward. "I may not trust him personally, but Jared claims that Nuada has long held the reputation of a great warrior; sometimes even held as a god of battles. Who better to turn to for strategy?"

Mina nodded. "Besides--we’ve got to trust each other now. If we don’t--" she bit her lip, looking around at the battered army.

Lita nodded, drawing her forefinger over her throat making a cutting noise.

* * * * * * * *

Joerdan shoved Nathan roughly to his knees on the stone ground before Beryl, while the adonni shoved both Molly and her mother down at his sides. Molly bit back a groan as she swayed dangerously, the rough treatment reopening several of the long furrows torn into her back. Nathan raised hate-filled eyes to the Commander. "Still makin’ yerself feel better by tossin’ the weaker an’ the wounded about?"

Joerdan kicked Nathan hard in the ribs, filling Nathan's ears with a sickening crack and knocking the other man to his hands. But Beryl backhanded Joerdan hard enough to send him to the ground. "I loose patience with you doing things without my orders, Joerdan. No one will have the pleasure of killing the traitor but me."

Nathan grimaced, swallowing blood, but looking up fearlessly at Beryl as he got back to his knees. "Good bloody luck, bitch. I’ve a nice record fer showin’ up again. An’ I don't plan on breakin’ it."

Beryl sneered. "Oh, I fully intend on you coming back. It will hurt her more as I kill you over and over." Beryl sent a small burst of power, knocking Nathan flat again.

He lay there, curled on his side on the hard stone, his breath rasping. Molly grimaced, ignoring the pain in her back long enough to move and pick his head up off the stone. She gently settled it into her lap, stroking his face gently, wiping the blood away from the cuts, a cold hatred slowly forming in her once-warm eyes.

* * * * * * * *

"No--"

The pain in Rei's voice brought tears to Jared's already stinging eyes. The senshi of Mars knelt on the stone, feeling every wound she’d received with the simple motion. Mina knelt beside her with ZoŽ on the other side, her face pale beneath the ragged, filthy hang of her hair. Serena sobbed brokenly into Darien's chest, and tears etched their way down his dirt and blood-smeared cheeks, his mask having long since been lost.

Rei picked the little unicorn foal's head up off the ground, placing it in her lap and gently stroking the silvery mane back from the still, staring eyes. Lita let out a furious blast of lightning and Cerulean a flare of blinding light at the creature who had killed it, though the damage was already done. "No--no, not Kali."

Cerulean's eyes were suspiciously wet when he turned back from the creature's corpse, though Lita blasted it a couple more times for good measure before she, too, turned back, openly sobbing. "One more thing Beryl shall pay for."

"We--we can't just--leave him..." Mina sobbed.

"We have to--" Serena whispered. "We've left so many--" Jared turned to look at her sharply, then nodded, noticing the strain around her eyes.

"She's right, Miss Rei. When we win this--we'll--we'll take care of him."

Nuada strode back, face impatient, then softening the slightest fraction, seeing what had delayed them all. "Oh." Reaching up he tugged open the clasp of his cloak, and gently bent, taking the little body from Rei and carefully wrapping the little foal up in the silken folds. "There--should we get in too much danger, his body will be sent Underhill where he will be--taken care of. But we must go on. I can get no word from Bridgette, which means she has not the power or the time to spare. As to your other friends--we must assure that the living live."

Rei looked up at him, then nodded, the tears mixing with angry fire. Lita came back over to Cerulean and rested her face in his shoulder while he held her close, hands in her hair.

The army resumed its slow march forward, warily, with many frequent glances back at the silk-wrapped bundle on the black stone. Cerulean was only glad his foal was back on the Island--it was probably safer there.

* * * * * * * *

Quicksilver watched helplessly while Bridgette, recovered from her wounds thanks to a bit of quick healing, from him cradled Malcolm's limp form to her chest , tears streaming openly down her face. "Lord Healer--"

He turned, seeing one of the Sidhe that had stayed to fight at the Circle. The elf's armor was scorched and dented from blows made by the Iron blades of some of the attackers. "Quicksilver. There are no lords amongst my people." He sat on the splattered grass, his bird at his side. "What was it you wished?"

"There are no more in the area enemies in the area, nor do we foresee any more coming here. The sea is clear as well. We would like to join our Lord Nuada if we may."

Quicksilver grimaced. "Go, then. I--have seen enough warfare for this lifetime." Cerulean's foal, Nhim nosing Bridgette's hair curiously.

The Sidhe who had spoken nodded, and turned, speaking to his fellows, as well as a few of the other would-be guardians. The larger number of them headed off towards the Gate, though some still stayed in their guard positions. Feolin lay curled around the Circle, his head resting on his foreleg close to Bri and her motionless burden. Melvin sat on the gory grass to one side, leaning on Feolin's huge toe, new glasses, courtesy of one of the Sidhe perched on his nose. "Is--she gonna be all right?"

Quicksilver sighed. "I don't know; perhaps. It is up to her, of course."

* * * * * * * *

**Remember.**

Malcolm felt a wetness on his face. **Blood.** he thought. After a moment, he revised that thought. **Tears. Who's crying?** Someone held him. Someone lurked in the back of his mind. **But the Light had said--** Feeling was slowly returning to him. The Someone in his mind slowly became less a presence, and then more words. Mumbled at first, but growing clearer as his awareness of his body grew as well.

**Slowly.**

Malcolm waited, the strange booming/soothing voice guiding him through.

* * * * * * * *

"Your majesty--they are nearing the entrance," said the youma, bowing.

Beryl nodded. "Very good. Come--bring the traitor and the humans."

The three were jerked roughly to their feet, and pushed into motion. But once the three captives got their feet moving, they were left alone for the most part, assumed to be harmless due to their weakened states. But a cold fire burned in Nathan's heart--an ache for Malcolm. Somehow, he knew Joerdan had been telling the truth with that earlier jibe. They were taking his family away from him again. And Molly's eyes were cold where she leaned half on her mother, half on Nathan, and the look of pure hatred on her once gentle face hurt him even more.

"Here is good enough." Beryl sneered. "The first through will have a surprise, I think," she sneered, raising her hands.

Nathan looked down at Molly a moment, nodding to a few nearby boulders. She blinked, then moved only her eyes to look where he indicated, before nodding back, gripping her mother's arm tighter. Nathan raised his head and spoke softly, his voice deceptively sweet. "Oh--Queen Beryl--"

She scowled, dropping her hand and turning towards the musician angrily. "What?"

Nathan's fist connected with her jaw. Stunned, the Queen fell back, and Nathan grabbed Molly and her mother and ran for the semi-shelter of the boulders at top, stumbling speed. He ducked a wave of energy, summoning strength from somewhere to raise shields around them all, stumbling when blast after blast crashed into the magical wall, but he managed to keep them up. "God--that felt good, though I think I broke m’bloody hand. I've been bloody wanting t’do that for centuries."

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 14

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury