Graveyard of Dreams

© 2000 by E. Liddell


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Author's Notes:

I honestly don't know what to say about this story. I'm still trying to figure out how Mina became such an important character in the Crystal Weaver Saga, and how I managed to get her into this predicament.

This story begins in the year 3005 AD, putting it, er, three years after the framing story for "Shade and Shadow" and some six years after "Choices". It is essentially a direct lead-in to "A Shadow of All Night Falling", and contains material cribbed form the original prologue to that story.

Send all feedback, constructive criticism, flames, and marriage proposals (no, not you, Sarel) to eliddell@despammed.com.


It was a day like any other day. Or at least, it started out that way. The entire royal family was supposed to make a public appearance that morning, as they did once or twice every month, and so there were four of us on guard duty: me and Lita and Haruka and Michiru. A day like any other.

Until it changed.

I remember standing up there on the platform, beside Rini. At sixteen, she was older than I had been when I had become Sailor V, but she still showed no signs of taking her duties as Sailor Moon seriously. Cass had told me, more than once, that Rini gave her a creepy feeling. I'd reprimanded her at the time, but looking at the princess now, I wondered if maybe I hadn't been basing too much of my opinion of her on my memories of the little pink-haired girl who had come back into the past, looking for a way to save her parents and her city. The young woman that I saw there that day was sullen and scowling, and she worried me.

It's odd how I can remember so clearly what I was thinking just before it happened. You would think that the events that followed would have pushed the lesser memories right out of my head. But it didn't happen that way. Every instant of what happened is etched in my mind, and I can't get rid of it no matter how much I want to.

I saw the flash as the sunlight reflected off something metallic, but I assumed it was just a belt buckle or a bit of metallic embroidery on the jacket of one of the servants, who had to be sweltering in the heat. Normally, I didn't have a very high opinion of my uniform as Sailor Venus, but I had to admit that the short skirt was more comfortable in the torrid summer weather than the servants' heavy clothing, and I hated to think of what my husband Jasper, official Negaverse envoy to this meaningless ceremony, had to be experiencing inside his greys. Except that he was probably using his magic to cool himself. All Crystal Weavers cheat when it comes to things like that.

There it was, that flash of metal again. I shook my head and reached up to rub my eyes. Damn. Heat stroke, maybe? I had been standing out here in the sun for a very long time. My head was starting to ache, and my mouth tasted of dust.

I was so stupid not to trust my own senses! If I'd recognized what I'd seen as the first sign of a threat, if I'd warned Serena, if I'd tried to get them under cover... Gods, gods, how I wish I had!

But instead it was Lita who reacted, Lita who turned, Lita who spoke the words that accompanied the weakest of her attacks, the one least likely to injure the hundreds upon hundreds of innocent bystanders that crowded the area.

"Jupiter Thunder Crash!"

And there were two separate and distinct sounds of thunder, which echoed through a sudden silence. Then other sounds took form in the emptiness. A shout that was as much surprise as pain. Something metallic, falling to ring against stone. A wet cough. And liquid, dripping.

It was Serena who caught Lita as she fell forward, ignoring the blood that smeared the front of her white dress. I leaped forward to help support them both. Lita wasn't exactly a small person, after all, and Serena had never regained her full strength after Phaeton's birth. Redness splattered my skirt.

A damned gun, of all things. A chemical-fired weapon loaded with solid slugs, obsolete since before the Dark Moon War. Such a poor, weak thing. And yet it had blown a hole the size of my fist in the center of my friend's chest. My oldest friend, or one of them. Why, why, why did it have to be Lita? Why?

I could hear other sounds behind me now, the sounds of a crowd that had been disturbed by the sudden violence up here. Shouts, and running feet, and, far above me, the sound of huge wings beating at the faint, hot breeze, as other defenders of the realm threw themselves into action. I paid no attention. All I cared about, just then, was the bundle in my arms.

Lita coughed again, weakly. "Serena, I'm... sorry..."

"Save your strength," Neo-Queen Serenity said, not an order, but a plea. "If you move or try to talk, you might not last until the doctors get here. Don't die on me, Lita. I couldn't bear it."

Sailor Jupiter smiled, or tried to. "Wish I... could promise... you that, but... I don't... think I'm ... gonna make it. Don't ... blame yourself... Serena. I was... born to... protect you. My life... may have been wasted... but at least my death... will mean something."

"Don't say that!" Warm, salty liquid dripped into my mouth as I opened it to speak, and I wondered how long I had been crying. "Your life wasn't wasted, Lita!" But suddenly, I wondered. She had wanted to run a restaurant, once upon a time, but her duties hadn't left her any time for that after the first few years, just as I'd never been able to fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher, or Amy, hers of practicing pediatric medicine. Lita had wanted a husband, and maybe children, but she'd been so haunted by the memory of Freddy that she'd never been able to make herself become attached to another man. She hadn't wasted her life exactly, but she could have accomplished so much more, if only she'd been free.

"Mina..." she whispered now, so softly that I could barely hear her, and had to bend forward to catch her words. "Promise me something."

"Anything."

I had to support her as she coughed again, splattering the three of us with blood.

"Something's wrong, Mina. Something's... wrong with... the whole palace. You and... the others... find out... who's doing it... and stop it. For me."

"Lita..." I don't know what I would have said, because at that moment, she coughed again and went limp.

I think I was in shock, after that. I remember freezing there and thinking, Haven't I been here before? I've never been able to remember the Silver Millennium much, outside of my dreams, but the scene that flashed into my head at that moment -- of kneeling among the shattered remains of the Moon Kingdom, cradling Lita's broken body in my arms, and hearing Zoisite, gloating, order me to "prepare myself" -- was too real to be anything but a memory. In any case, I stayed there, shaking, and didn't move until gloved hands pulled me to my feet, and a familiar set of muscular arms wrapped themselves around me.

I buried my face in the front of my husband's jacket and wept hysterically as he brought his wings up to enclose us, sealing us away from the world.

"Did you ca-ca--" I was sobbing so hard that I was stuttering, too, but he understood anyway.

"Not exactly. We had him hemmed in between the three of us, and he jumped out of a fourth-story window rather than let himself be captured. Broke his neck at the bottom." He sounded disgusted, and more than that... afraid? "I tried to cushion his fall with my powers, but it was like swimming through mud. Something's very wrong."

You, too? I tried to bury myself more deeply in his embrace, feeling a cold knot in the pit of my stomach that had little to do with Lita's death. Ever since we'd become lovers, the shadow of Jasper's wings had been my refuge. When he held me like this, it had always been as though the outside world, my duties as a Sailor Scout, his as a General, all of the horrible things we'd both seen in our lives, ceased to exist. Until today.

Something's wrong. But without knowing what, or where it came from, what could we do?

Reluctantly, Jasper released me. I was still crying, and wouldn't stop for quite some time, but we both had our duties. I did my best to bring myself back under control, forcing myself to listen to the conversations taking place around us.

Serena was crying, too, but they were the sort of perfect tears that didn't leave you red-faced and runny-nosed and stuttering. Darien was standing beside her, his arm around her waist, lending her tacit support as she faced the gathering in the square to prove to them that yes, she was all right. His other hand held the cane that he'd had to carry ever since the Dark Moon War in a white-knuckled grip.

Haruka and Michiru were arguing, not very coherently, but I could guess what they were fighting about. Those two had always chafed at the restrictions that Serena placed on our behaviour as Sailor Scouts. Personally, I didn't see what the problem was -- we were servants of the people, and we were supposed to set a good example by behaving impeccably at all times. But those two got really, really mad, sometimes, when ethics got in the way of winning. Not that they'd stoop to the level of the Negaverse and its "ends justify the means" philosophy, or at least I don't think they would. They just hated having to be perfect.

Rini was staring straight ahead, stony-faced, ignoring the turmoil around her. Little Phaeton was hiding behind her, staring at his parents with what looked decidedly like fear. Those two worried me. Prince Phaeton was such a sullen child, not at all like, say, Cass, had been, and Rini... I was becoming increasingly convinced that there was something wrong with Rini, and that it was part of the Something Wrong that Lita and Jasper and I had all perceived without being able to explain. And maybe there was Something Wrong with Phaeton, as well. And Sammy? He'd changed over the years, and not for the better.

Something really was very wrong.

I just wished I knew what to do about it.

The meeting we held at Raye's temple that night was just as depressing as the actual death had been. There should have been seven of us there (well, if you counted the cats), but instead, there were only four: Raye, Amy, me, and Artemis. I hardly ever saw my former feline guardian these days, and I'd been very surprised when he'd stopped me on my way out of the palace and asked me if he could come along. Now, he sat in my lap, and I was idly stroking him, trying to comfort myself.

Amy was silent, withdrawn, staring into the fire at the center of the room. Raye was pacing. She couldn't seem to stand still. And at our shoulders, there were ghosts: Lita, whose body was now laid out in state at the Palace, and Serena and Luna, who weren't dead, but I'd never even considered inviting them to this meeting. Not when Serena had, when I'd finally had a moment to converse with her in private, dismissed the combined suspicions of Lita, Jasper, and myself with a sweeping comment about the stress we were all under. Couldn't she see? Or wouldn't the "Something Wrong" let her? But even if there was Something Wrong, shouldn't Phoebe's Ward be protecting her heir?

There was an endless period of silence in the little temple room, until Raye broke it.

"Well, Mina? You're the one who called us all here. If you don't have anything to tell us, then say so! I, for one, have other things to do."

I stared at her. I knew she was hurting, but even so, she wasn't usually this nasty. And I said as much after I'd repeated Lita's last words to them, using it as additional supporting evidence for the Something Wrong. But they still both looked at me as though I'd grown a second head.

"Mina, I scan the palace every day with my visor and my computer," Amy said, as though she was talking to a very small child. "There are no malevolent influences there. None. You're all just imagining things."

"Either that, or you've been spending so much time in the Negaverse that you're beginning to get infected with their paranoia, even with this supposedly protecting you." Artemis reached up to bat at the pendant I wore around my neck as he spoke. It was an artefact that had cost Jasper a tremendous amount -- not in money, but in the intangible currency of favors with which the Generals pay each other for special services -- for he'd had it from Zoisite, and it had cost the diminutive Prince Consort several weeks' labor. Protecting a human from the traces of demonic magic that taint my husband's home isn't an easy task. I hadn't wanted Jas to make himself so thoroughly indebted to the most ruthless person in the Negaverse, but the alternative had been remaining Sailor Venus when I went home every night. Or becoming a youma, but that hadn't been an option.

I closed my fingers around the pendant. A protection against demonic influences. Could it be...?

"If that's all you had to say --" Raye began again.

I shook my head. "There's one other thing that I have to bring up. And you're going to hate me for it."

I now had their complete and undivided attention. Raye had even stopped pacing.

"Has it struck you guys that we've been getting a bit... stale, lately?" I'd rehearsed this speech in front of a mirror all afternoon. I didn't want to make any mistakes. "I know I screwed up this morning, because I was too complacent. If I hadn't, Lita might still be alive. And remember that kid with the toy gun, last week? And the 'servant' that almost knifed Sammy in the back a few months ago? We've lost our edge, people. Being a Sailor Scout is a young woman's job, and we're all almost forty." I could see the strands of grey in Amy's hair, and I knew that Raye's raven black mane owed more to a bottle than to nature, these days. "Cass is long past ready to become a full-fledged Sailor Scout, and from what I can see, so is your daughter, Amy, and that little miko that Raye's been training isn't too far behind them. I think it's time for us to retire."

"Don't be ridiculous," Raye snapped. "Sailor Scouts can't retire."

"Says who?" I snapped back. I was getting thoroughly fed up. Why wouldn't they listen? "In the old days, it happened all the time!"

"The old days?" Amy asked.

I rolled my eyes. "The Silver Millennium. I asked Nephrite and Jadeite, and they both agreed on that. Usually, the old Queen stepped down when her heir was about the age that Rini is now, or a little older, and the Sailor Scouts stepped down with her. Now, I admit that Rini isn't nearly ready to be Queen, but our kids are ready to be Scouts, and... they're going to have to replace Lita, anyway..." I swallowed. "It just seems to me that the rest of us should step down at the same time. Those kids are going to have to learn to work as a team, the way we did, and it'll be easier for them if we're not getting in the way." And I was just so damned tired, and I didn't want to see any more of my few remaining friends die...

"Raye, she may be right," Amy said, still staring into the Sacred Fire. "Nagare's certainly ready to take over from me, and Cass has been ready for years. Maybe it is time that we retired."

"Yeah, you need a little time for yourselves. You could even go back to chasing b--"

I clapped a hand over Artemis's muzzle, just barely in time. I knew what he'd been about to say, and I knew that it would just have hurt Raye. Ever since she'd broken up with Chad, any mention of boy-chasing had seemed to cut into her like a knife. Not that she'd be after a boy at this point in her life. No, she'd want a man, like Jas... if she wanted anything at all.

Raye sighed. "I just don't know. It seems like I don't know much of anything anymore. I need to pray for guidance. Unless one of you has something else to say?"

I wished that I had her faith. But I knew that no god's hand rested on me. I was just trying to muddle through as best I could, trying to choose the right direction when all the paths were obscured by shadows.

I practically fled back to the Palace, and then through the portal to the Negaverse. Jasper was waiting for me there.

"Any luck?" he asked as he enfolded me in his wings once more.

I sighed. "Not really. They wouldn't listen to me, Jas. It's as though something is making them not see what's going on right under their noses. I think I've convinced Amy to resign in her daughter's favor, though, and Raye may yet follow suit. That's something, at any rate, isn't it?"

"I just hope that's the right thing to be doing, under the circumstances," he said. "You may be playing right into its hands, whatever it is, by removing the most experienced Scouts from their positions of authority."

"Do you think I haven't thought of that?" I asked. "But I can't just do nothing."

"I know," he murmured. "I know."

And since we knew it would be a few hours before our daughter got home, we moved to comfort each other, there in the dark.

The changing of the guard took place a few days after Lita's funeral. Serena insisted on making a production out of it and holding a public ceremony in the throne room, in front of the media. The whole idea made me want to cringe, but I did it anyway, de-transforming in front of the cameras and handing my transformation tools over to Cass, as Amy and Raye, beside me, performed the same actions in the company of their heirs. The new Sailor Jupiter received her first wand from Serena. It would be some time before the Sailor Scouts were back up to full strength, because the new Jupiter had never transformed before in her life, and would have to work her way up to the more powerful tools that Serena still held in trust.

There was an unexpected presence up on the dais with the royal family. Normally, when a major political event took place in Crystal Tokyo, King Malachite sent Lord Jadeite as an official observer, and the blonde General mingled with the nobles who formed the front row of spectators. This time, Jadeite was nowhere in evidence. Instead a familiar grey-clad figure stood beside Serena. I saw a lot of General Almandite in the course of my duties as a bodyguard for the royal family, but I hadn't expected her to be there on that day.

I was even more surprised, afterwards, when she took me aside as soon as the ceremony was over.

"Jasper told me of your suspicions," she said, sitting opposite me in an alcove that she'd just finished warding against eavesdroppers.

I was instantly alert. "You've found something?"

"Not really." She made a frustrated gesture. "It's been difficult, for the past couple of years, for any of us to sense anything much here at the Crystal Palace. We would have noticed before this, but it seems to have been a very gradual phenomenon. Be careful. A fog like that is capable of hiding anything. All we know for certain is that there is something wrong here."

"So what you're saying is that you believe me, but you can't help. Jas could have told me that." What can I say? I was tired, and still grieving for Lita, and while Molly Baker might have been Serena's friend, once upon a time, Almandite had never been mine.

The red-haired General's eyes slid shut, and she said, "I wanted to tell you that you have the support of the Negaverse in making this investigation. Unofficial, but it's there. If you should need anything -- anything at all -- just ask. And that's Malachite's decree, not just mine. Blind spots like this make him just as nervous as the rest of us."

"Thank you." And I meant it. The Negaverse could be just as powerful an ally as it had once been an enemy -- the Dark Moon War had proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt. "Still, I don't know if it's a good idea for me to bring you into this. If you're seen meddling in Crystal Tokyo's business, it could cause trouble."

Almandite's eyes opened again. She looked as though she'd just bitten into something sour. "You'd think that we'd be able to get closer cooperation between the two governments, wouldn't you? But even the humans who know us are so damned scared of us... Serena only trusts me and Cass, and to a lesser extent Jasper and Nephrite. Darien only trusts your daughter, and only when he forgets that she's a Crystal Weaver. You'd think we sacrificed babies to the Doom Phantom, or something."

Odd, how I'd never realized that she was so bitter. "Do you ever wish you could go back in time and make a different choice?" I asked.

"No. Never." She shook her head, as though to send the very thought flying far away. "I love Nephrite. I'm sure you can understand that. But wouldn't you like to be able to go out for dinner with your husband without having to disguise yourselves? Well, so would I."

"There was a time when we did," I recalled softly. For the first few years after the Dark Moon War, the Negaverse could do no wrong in the eyes of Crystal Tokyo's people. Jas and I had been able to go anywhere we wanted together, without people even giving us so much as a weird look. "For years. It's just recently that things have begun to get uncomfortable." Then I froze. Just recently... Everything's started to go wrong just recently... It was only in the last few years that people had started to really distrust the Negaverse again. It was only in the last few years that assassins had started to show up in the Palace every other month. It was only in the last few years that Rini had really started to give Cass a creepy feeling. The last five or six years. "Do you think it's connected?"

Almandite frowned. "Maybe. Thanks for pointing that out to me. I'll mention it to the others. I just wish we could be of more help to you."

I smiled at her. "Don't worry about it. I was working solo for a long time before I joined up with the Sailor Scouts." Although I admit that that was a long time ago... "If worst comes to worst, I still have my Sailor V transformation widget. Serena didn't ask for it back, and I didn't offer." Hey, no matter what people say about me, I've never been a total bubblehead. I can think when I need to. It's just that it's easier not to, a lot of the time, although I can't get away with as much of that these days as I used to. "And Jas'll help me. In fact, I'm surprised that you didn't just pass this little message of yours through him, or through Cass."

"We thought about it, but we don't want Cass involved just yet, and we weren't sure that you wouldn't consider this wishful thinking if it came from Jasper, and this is too important for you not to think that we're taking it seriously. But you can send reports back to us through your husband, if you find anything."

Reports? "Hey, wait just a moment -- I'm not working for you."

"No, you're working with us, in the defense of Crystal Tokyo. Believe me, we appreciate the difference." And they would, too, given that weasel-wording was an art in the Negaverse. "Still, we'd like to know what you find out, if you don't think it compromises security here."

I looked up into the shadowed yellow eyes of a woman that I knew wasn't quite on my side, and nodded. "Just try not to sound so much like you're trying to recruit me," I complained.

"Sorry. I honestly didn't mean it that way."

I was sure that the apology was sincere, but I also think that Almandite didn't realize how thoroughly the Negaverse had warped her. "Whatever. Look, I have to go before anyone notices that I'm missing."

"Same here. And Mina..."

"Yes?"

"Good luck."

And we slipped back out into the mass of reporters and guests, each going our separate ways. I knew, even then, that I wouldn't be able to take her offer of help. Crystal Tokyo was already deep in debt to the Negaverse. If I allowed them to resolve this crisis for us, they would practically own us. Malachite as Emperor of Crystal Tokyo... would not be a good thing. The white-haired man was ruthless. Admittedly, the youma needed an iron hand to keep them under control, but the thought of that same grip squeezing the human world... Still, he was a proven leader. Would he really be so much worse as a ruler than Rini would be?

I sighed and turned to head for my rooms. It was so much easier when I was younger, and good and evil were obvious and completely separate, and all I had to do was what the cats told me. I'm not cut out for this subtle stuff. I just want to be a Sailor Scout again, with a clear-cut enemy in front of me.

But I wondered. Am I still fit to be a Sailor Scout? I had resigned, and yet there was a piece of jewelry that had come from the Moon Kingdom in the bottom drawer of my nightstand, back in the Negaverse, one that I had never even considered surrendering to Serena. Tacit disobedience, from one sworn to obey. Maybe Amy and the others were right, and the only reason I saw something wrong here at the Crystal Palace was that there was something wrong with me.

No. I couldn't believe that. Maybe, if I'd been the only one who had noticed this, it could have been just me, but I didn't think that Lita and Jas and I and Almandite and Malachite could all be wrong. No, there was something evil on the move in the Crystal Palace, and I was going to find out what.

It took me four years.

That seems like an awfully long time, until you stop to think about it. The Crystal Palace is a big place, and I had to examine every room and every inhabitant all by myself. And, like an idiot, I decided to work from the top down. It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, it was the royal family that seemed to be most affected by this, and their rooms were mostly on the top floor. And finding the Evil Thing; in the basement just seemed so cliché. But that's where it was.

At the bottom of a narrow staircase, on the other side of a magically locked door. Where I should have known it was all along, in hindsight. Even though none of us had thought that its influence could extend beyond the confines of its carefully insulated vault, constructed four years ago by Zoisite and Sapphire.

The Silver Crystal.

And I didn't know what to do about it.

I sat on the edge of my bed, with the Sailor V widget cupped in the palm of my left hand. I couldn't even get at the Silver Crystal. The door to the vault could be opened only by a Sailor Scout or a member of the royal family. Or maybe by a Crystal Weaver skilled enough to bypass the lock. But I was none of those things, not anymore. And neither was anyone that I dared ask for help. The younger Scouts wouldn't believe me. I still didn't want to draw the Negaverse into the affairs of Crystal Tokyo, and as for asking Cass or Jasper, either of whom might have been willing to help me and then forget they'd ever done it... well... in my place, would you have wanted to bring your husband or your child into the mess that you were facing? The very thought of either of them getting hurt because of this made me feel sick.

I know there were things I didn't think through well enough. There were probably ways that I could have tricked someone into letting me in, for instance. But I would have been ashamed to do something like that, and doubly so if I put an innocent person at risk. No, it was better to go alone, no matter what I had to do to pull it off.

Back to being the lone heroine again, I thought. Maybe it's for the best. Too many chefs make bad stew. Or something like that. I never have had a very good memory for proverbs and the like.

But that still didn't get me past the door and into the vault. I'd never arranged to have the lock keyed to Sailor V, when I could get in any time I wanted as Sailor Venus, and now I didn't have the authority anymore.

I weighed the transformation tool in the palm of my hand for a moment, and then dropped it back into the little hidden drawer where I'd kept it since my resignation, and slammed it shut. No, that wasn't the answer. And I finally knew what the answer was. But I was going to hate myself if I went through with it. Almost as much as I'd hate myself if I didn't.

Cass was back in the Earth Realm right now. On duty. And since she was a terrible housekeeper, she always left her suite here in Beryl's old palace unlocked so that the youma servants could get in to clean. She never seemed to think that anyone might enter her rooms who didn't have business there -- remarkably trusting, for my Negaverse-trained daughter. And remarkably fortunate for me.

I tried very hard not to remember that I was burgling the rooms of my own child as I rummaged through her dresser. Does she keep either of them here at all? Am I going to have to try to get into her rooms in the Palace? Terrible, terrible thought, not so much because it would be more difficult to burgle the Crystal Palace as because it would be far more embarrassing to get caught.

Artemis was right, I reflected, as my fingers closed on something long and thin and smooth. I am becoming corrupt. But I had to do this. I had to save everyone.

Didn't I?

The wand seemed ridiculously small, after so long. I stuffed it into my pocket, shoved the dresser drawer shut, glanced around the room to make sure that I hadn't disturbed anything else, and strode out into the hallway, headed for the Warp that led back to Earth.

I walked the halls as though in a dream, finally arriving at the head of the narrow staircase. This is it.

The sounds of the servants going about their business became muffled as I descended the stairs, headed for the little sub-basement that was locked against everyone except the Sailor Scouts and the members of the royal family.

The lock that Sapphire and Zoisite had created was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Anyone who hadn't known what it was wouldn't even have been able to find it.

I glanced nervously over my shoulder, but no one had followed me down. Yes. Now.

I pulled the wand out of my pocket and held it up. "Venus Power!"

It was the least powerful of the transformation tools, and the one I'd thought least likely to be missed immediately. I wasn't going to need much power here, I just needed to make sure that the lock recognized me as Sailor Venus, or it wouldn't let me pass.

I raised one gloved hand to the smooth panel on the front of the door. The portal swung obediently open, granting me a view of the tiny room on the other side.

It was furnished only with a four-foot-high stone pillar, on which reposed a cushion. And on top of the dark velvet, glittering balefully, the Silver Crystal sat. I glared at it. I'm going to get some answers this time, no matter what the cost.

Because that was why I'd come down here. To ask it why. To browbeat it into submission if I could. What else was I supposed to do? Destroy it? Don't make me laugh. It's a crystal. You know, a piece of rock. I would have needed special tools just to chip it, and believe me, stealing a transformation tool was easier than stealing a diamond drill would have been. I think.

I gritted my teeth and picked the little thing up. The ten years that had passed since it had last been used seemed only to have made it more corrupt. It gave off a sickening, malevolent aura now, to the point that even people that I would have sworn were completely magically non-sensitive couldn't stand to be in the same room with it for long anymore.

I closed my eyes and doing my best to clear my mind and enter a state of deep receptivity. I'd taken up meditation at Raye's insistence. Hopefully, it was finally going to come in handy now.

I focused my thoughts on one thing, one question: Why?

The Crystal laughed at me.

My eyes snapped open and I stared at it in horror as ribbons of dirty, greyish light shot from it, snaking around my arms. I tried to drop it, but it was holding me now, not the other way 'round, and I couldn't get it to let go. Godsgodsgods... This was stupid! I played right into its hands!

I screamed as the streamers twined around me to form a cocoon, but the room was isolated, below ground, and well-insulated, and I knew that no one would ever hear me. Tears burned my eyes. Jasper... Cass... Lita... I'm sorry.

And that was my last clear thought for fourteen years.

Epilogue

The door at the bottom of the stairs is open. He knows that isn't supposed to be the case. No doubt it has something to do with the reason that they've been summoned here, although why the Neo-Queen would want him and his daughter instead of those who had made the lock...

She waits for them inside. Her hair is silver now, not the gold he remembers from their first meeting, but he'd been a child then, and she, only sixteen. They are a millennium and more removed from that now.

"General Jasper, Lady Cassiterite," she greets them.

"Serenity," he returns, not giving her any title of courtesy as he glances quickly around the room. Sailor Saturn stands beside her Queen, but the dark-haired young woman refuses to meet his eyes. And beyond them, a familiar form in yellow-trimmed grey kneels beside a mound of... a body? It looks like a body. But it is difficult for him to force himself to concentrate on anything here. Two Negaverse-style light globes, recessed into the ceiling, provide the primary source of illumination for the room, but there is another light source, hidden by the kneeling figure, that seems to intensify the shadows in the corners instead of chasing them away. And there is... a subliminal buzzing? He can't put a name to it, really, but it is a sort of non-sound that makes him want to grind his teeth together.

Then a word snaps his attention back to what Serenity is saying to him. A word? No. A name.

Mina.

"We don't know what she was doing down here," the Neo-Queen is saying. "What we do know is that she's been hurt. Badly. It looks like she picked the Silver Crystal up off its plinth, and then something happened to make it turn on her and burn her. She was unconscious when Sumire found her."

But he has stopped listening again. Instead he is pushing past Serenity to kneel beside his wife's prone body.

<<Will she be all right?>> he asks the red-haired woman kneeling beside him. <<Almandite? Please tell me that she'll -->>

He is interrupted by a weary sigh.

<<I wish I knew,>> Almandite tells him. <<The burns aren't serious -- nasty, yes, but they'll heal if properly treated. But I think there's something worse wrong. Mina's a trained fighter, and she's been injured before. She shouldn't have passed out from something as relatively minor as this. I wish I dared probe her.>>

<<Why haven't you?>> The omission catches his attention instantly, as she no doubt knew it would.

Silently, she opens her hand and gives him a look at what she holds. A crystal pendant. A crystal pendant starred with fracture lines and blackened as though it has passed through a fire. Mina's protection against demons. Destroyed.

<<Whatever did that must have been immensely powerful,>> Almandite states. <<I didn't want to risk exposing myself to that without some sort of backup being available. Now that you're here, though -->>

She is unable to complete her thought, as her patient chooses that moment to whimper and try to move away from them. The Healer reaches out to restrain the former Sailor Scout, but the injured woman only begins to struggle. Jasper reaches out to help her, but is forced to jerk his hands back as his touch makes his wife scream and struggle all the harder.

There is now a red mark on Mina's bare arm, shaped like a handprint. Her husband stares at it, stricken, for in size, it precisely matches the gloved hand he placed there a moment ago. He can even see where the band of the ring that supports his spirit crystal touched her, because the metal seems to have caused damage even more serious than the cloth.

Almandite mutters a curse and reaches out a hand glittering with the golden-yellow sparks that are the visual manifestation of her healing power. She barely has time to touch her patient's arm before Mina recoils.

There is now a finger-shaped mark there, beside the handprint.

"Here, let me try." Cass kneels down beside her parents, and Jasper nods gratefully to her, breathing a sigh of relief as his daughter is able to touch her mother without causing any further burns.

<<I don't understand,>> Almandite states. <<I touched her several times while she was unconscious without causing anything like this.>>

Jasper glances down at himself, then at the other Crystal Weavers. He is in full uniform, as is Almandite. Cass is in civilian clothing. His glove, his ring, Almandite's healing touch...

<<Do you have any wards, or any other sort of spell, woven into your gloves?>> he asks the older woman, although he suspects that he already knows what the answer is.

She shakes her head. <<I'm wearing light warded armor under my jacket, of course, but I never bother to enchant my uniforms. I ruin them too quickly to make it worthwhile. Why?>>

<<Because I think it's magic that's hurting her.>> He gives that a moment to sink in before continuing. <<I have an insulation spell on my gloves -- I have a serious problem with cold fingers, otherwise... Everything that's hurt her was enchanted, or conducting magic at the time it touched her. But I suppose there's only one way to be sure.>> And he removes his ring and hands it to his daughter, ignoring the discomfort her touch on it causes him. It has been years since anyone but himself and his wife have touched it, and it feels... strange... for it now to be in the hands of another, even a deeply beloved other. But he forces himself to concentrate on stripping off his gloves and his jacket. The shirt underneath is not enchanted, and so he leaves it on, reaching out to gather his wife into his arms.

At first, she does not respond to his touch, and so he shakes her gently. Finally, she looks up at him, and what he sees in her face makes him want to scream.

Her eyes are empty. Totally, completely, perfectly empty. There is no sign of the love that should be there. No recognition. No intelligence, even. He uses every technique his father has ever taught him to search her face for any signs of the mind that he knows should be behind it, and finds nothing.

Convulsively, he pulls her against him, furling his wings around them both, drawing in a sharp breath through clenched teeth as he feels feathers break against the stone of the floor. He'll be up late tonight, imping. But that doesn't matter right now. Only she matters.

Maybe it's a temporary condition, he hopes. Gods of Darkness, let it be temporary, something that she can recover from, or I don't think I'm going to be able to stand it.

And they remain there, she crushed against him, he crying into her hair, until their daughter comes to pull them apart.

The End


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