Little Lies - Chapter 2

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Athena

I laughed.

"What's so funny?" Alex asked, but he was grinning too. I had only known him for a few minutes, but I liked him already.

"It's just that I can't imagine Queen Eos as a misbehaving child." The reigning queen was a mature woman of considerable poise and impeccable manners. She was also my distant cousin, although I'd never really met her until I had been presented to her the day before.

"We're all young once." Alex's smile became a bit strained. Not for the first time, I thought that there was something a little peculiar about him. He was young and handsome and looked to be in his mid-twenties, which would make him about my age, but sometimes... "Anyway, that particular incident's a bit of a legend here at court. After all, I know about it." Which meant that it was very famous indeed, since, like myself, Alex appeared to be a member of the poor-noble-relation class that formed the bulk of the court's population. He wasn't likely to be a royal confidant. "So, Athena, I don't think I've had a chance to ask you what you're doing here, other than skimming off Her Majesty's charity like the rest of us."

"I'm supposed to be studying magic at the University. I'm only living here because I get free room and board. Which reminds me, what are you doing here, other than sponging off her Majesty? You don't seem like the type who just lazes around all day gambling away his stipend."

Alex grimaced. "Which is a good thing, since I don't have a stipend. I'm a healer. I usually work in the palace infirmary."

My eyebrows rose. He seemed very young for the job. "No stipend at all? Were you disowned, or something?" A bit blunt, but suggesting that his family's financial situation was less than good would have been worse.

"My family is --"

"Hey there, little brother, who's your friend?"

I spun around, startled. The man standing behind me, grinning, had short blonde hair and was just as handsome as Alex, if not more so.

Alex rolled his eyes. "Athena, this is my brother, Jay. Jay, this is Athena, a distant cousin of her Majesty's."

Jay bowed gracefully, a movement which presented his athletic body to full advantage. "Charmed, my lady."

I laughed again. "Oh, I'm no lady. There hasn't been a title in my family for three generations now. The Queen is a very distant cousin -- in fact, I'm not even entirely sure how we're related."

"I stand corrected," Jay replied.

At that moment, a page came up and tugged on Alex's sleeve. Evidently, he was wanted at the infirmary. He bowed politely to us and excused himself.

Jay and I stood for a moment in companionable silence. I felt strangely comfortable in his presence, as though I'd known him for years.

"So you're a student of magic," he said presently.

"I have some small talent." Actually, it was more than a small talent. I had one of the strongest raw magical gifts the outer worlds had seen in years. "But magic must be a commonplace here. After all, there are Crystal Weavers living at court."

Jay had an odd expression on his face.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

"No, I was just surprised that you knew about them." His smile was back, full force. "Most of the court seems to tend to forget that they're here, especially since they rarely use their powers in public."

"Are any of them here tonight?" I had to admit that I was curious. The Crystal Weavers were little more than legends on the small moon of Saturn where I had been born. I'd heard rumors of hideous monsters, and of fabulously beautiful, unhuman creatures, but factual information was quite scant. All I knew was that even the least powerful Crystal Weaver possessed more magic than any ten of the most powerful human mages in history. Which made me more than a little jealous.

"Oh, they all are, somewhere." He scanned the assembled throng of partying nobility, then pointed. "Do you see the tall man over there, talking to the Prince Consort? That's Lord Malachite."

I looked where he had indicated. At first glance, my first Crystal Weaver sighting was a little disappointing. I'd been expecting someone a little more... unusual. Then I cast a small spell to magnify what I was seeing, and the tall man's face snapped into sharp focus, seeming as though it were barely an arm's length away.

He was gorgeous, with fine, aristocratic features, and slightly slanted grey eyes that lent a subtly alien cast to his face. For an instant, as I watched, his eyes flashed blue-white with restrained power. Then he looked directly at me and nodded politely. I blushed and looked down. His beauty attracted me, but the thought that this wasn't really a human man provided a repulsion that was stronger than the attraction.

"May I have this dance?" Jay asked suddenly, pulling my attention back toward him.

"Um... I don't actually dance very well," I blurted out.

"Don't worry, I think I can compensate." He took my hand and led me out onto the dance floor. Looking up into his blue-violet eyes, I decided that I would like to get to know this man better.

Jadeite

It had been seven years since I had last seen her. But I had never forgotten.

She was a completely different person, now, from that shy girl who had come to court to be presented to King Endymion. She had gained in maturity, poise, and confidence. But then, so had I.

It felt strange to be looking down at her face. My strongest memories of that meeting in the hallway were of her looking down at me, and the feel of her hand in mine, when I had so briefly held it outside her room.

What is this feeling? I wondered, as the music became softer and slower, and I found myself drawing her closer to me. I didn't want to ever let her go.

Is this love? Is this what Malachite and Zoisite feel, whenever they look at each other? And does she feel the same way about me?

Onyx

I leaned down and spoke in my wife's ear. "Is that for supper?"

Startled, she jerked her head in my direction, almost landing us both in the hospital with concussions. "How many times do I have to ask you not to do that?" she asked, clutching at her chest. But I could see her smile, and I knew she didn't mean it.

"I'm sorry," I murmured contritely, wrapping my arms around her from behind.

"You are a terrible man," Talina said.

"Then why did you marry me?" I kissed her lightly on the cheek.

She laughed and leaned back against me. "I suppose I like terrible men. Yes, this is supper, or it will be if you let go of me in time for me to finish it."

I released her and went over to sit at the kitchen table and watch while she finished preparing dinner.

I had never dreamed, when I had first arrived on Mars, that I would ever be so happy here. I had moped around for the first two or three months after my arrival, but then I had met Talina, and everything changed. Without a doubt, she was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

I had been a little uncomfortable at first with the thought of dating a human. Admittedly, Malachite and the others had proven to me that Crystal Weavers aren't different from humans in any significant way, but my childhood training had run deep. Fortunately, Talina had made it clear from the first that she didn't care what I was. And I had no one else left.

I had also been a little uncertain about the idea of marriage. Most Crystal Weavers don't choose a lifepartner until they're at least a quarter of a millennium old, and I hadn't even been 150. But Talina had insisted, and I knew that by the time I had passed the arbitrary milestone of my 250th birthday, she would be dead. That was the problem with living among humans. She and I weren't going to have more than a few decades together no matter what I did.

I might have tried to make her a Crystal Weaver... but I didn't dare. If I tried and failed, and I knew that it was possible for the transition to kill, although it had been rare in the old days, I would have lost even those few years that we would otherwise have had. I found the thought intolerable, and thus never broached the subject with her. That was one of two defects in an otherwise perfect life.

"Onyx, have you seen Beryl today?"

And that was the other. Beryl. My daughter. And, as usual, it was all my fault.

When I had first held her in my arms, only hours after her birth, my precognitive abilities had detected such a shadow on her that I had almost fainted on the spot. It had made the taint that I sensed on Malachite and his Weave seem minor by comparison.

Beryl was my daughter, and I loved her. I wanted to save her. And so I infused her with my power, hoping that it would be enough for her to protect herself.

And that was my mistake.

Some people are born with an abnormal sensitivity to crystal power. The worst cases experience an allergic reaction and die soon after empowerment. Beryl's case wasn't so severe, and she didn't die, but her powers were stunted and her body was twisted.

Talina had never blamed me. I would almost have been happier if she had. I wasn't sure whether Beryl blamed me or not. We never spoke of it.

I shook my head. "I haven't seen her at all today. I thought she was going into town." If she had been in trouble, I would have expected some form of communication, although we usually avoided entering telepathic mode with each other.

"Mom? Dad?"

The voice was a little hoarse, but I recognized it instantly. "Beryl? Are you all right?"

My daughter limped into the kitchen and sagged into the chair beside mine, her long red hair veiling her face. Talina bent over her immediately.

"Gods, honey, what happened?" When my wife brushed our daughter's hair away from her face, I could clearly see the bruises.

"Those two new boys... The ones living at Eda's old place... But I fixed them good. They won't ever hurt me again." But I could hear the bitterness in her voice. Probably all she had wanted to do was make friends, but her appearance was against her there, and she didn't really have enough power, or enough control, to protect herself without injuring people. "Don't worry, Dad," she added, evidently guessing some of what I was thinking. "It wasn't anything permanent."

"For this, I would have considered it justified." My hand hovered a fraction of an inch from her bruised face. I was afraid that I would cause her more pain if I touched her. I was more afraid of what would happen if I didn't, and she thought I was abandoning her. <<I love you,>> I told her silently, <<and I'm sorry.>> I had hoped to coax her into a smile. She could be pretty when she smiled, even by human standards.

She didn't answer, and I could see from the look in her eyes that, although she would never say so and perhaps didn't understand it herself, no apology would ever be enough.

Jadeite

<<You know, if you keep on sitting there without moving and staring off into space, someone might mistake you for a piece of ornamental statuary.>>

I started. <<Oh. Hello, Nephrite.>>

<<What's with you these days, anyway?>>

I glared at him, but it seemed that he wasn't about to go away. With a sigh, I gave in.

<<I met a girl,>> I explained.

He grinned and slapped me on the back. <<Congratulations. It isn't as though there's a shortage of them around here. Is there something special about this one?>>

I frowned at him. <<This isn't one of the serving girls. She's pretty and she's educated and I like her very much, but...>>

<<But?>> he prompted.

<<She only knows me as Jay, a poor noble relation. She doesn't know that I'm Lord Jadeite the Crystal Weaver. And I'm not sure that I can tell her, because I don't know what she'd do. I don't want to lose her, Nephrite.>>

<<This is serious, then.>> His grin faded, and he glanced upward. <<Do you want me to...?>>

I shook my head. <<No, this is something I have to work out for myself.>> One of Nephrite's divinations might well resolve my doubts, but if it told me that I was going to lose Athena, I didn't think I would be able to bear it.

<<Then I guess you're just going to have to decide how long you're going to be able to keep your secret, and how much it's going to hurt her when she finds out.>>

I scowled. <<What do you know, anyway? You've never been in love.>> At the time, I didn't want to admit to myself that I knew exactly how Athena would react if she found out, and it wouldn't be pretty. It was willful blindness, I admit it. I'm too good a student of human nature to miss such an obvious element of someone's behavior.

<<Very well, then, I defer to your judgment.>> My mind's ear caught a hint of acridity in Nephrite's reply. He walked away without saying anything further.

I buried my face in my hands. What am I going to do?

Beryl

I flung myself face down onto the bed, ignoring the pain from the gradually fading bruises I had received in the fight three days ago. The boy who had given them to me had come off worse. The spikes on my wrists are useful in close combat. That's about all they are good for, except making me ugly.

I slammed one of them into the bedding now, deriving some minimal satisfaction from the act of destruction as I tore into the mattress. Foam padding erupted from the rent. I dug my fingernails into it. I would have liked to rip it to shreds, but experience had taught me that spraying little bits of yellow foam all over the room made it much more difficult to put the mattress back together afterwards, even with magic. So instead I decorated the foam and the ripped sheets with my tears.

Why, oh, why couldn't I just have been normal? A normal human, a normal Crystal Weaver, it didn't matter. Just... normal. The tiny shred of power that burned inside me wasn't enough to compensate me for the fact that most people saw me as a subhuman monster. Father claimed that the problem was that that was how I saw myself, and my will was strong enough to distort the manifestation of my power.

Sometimes, in his presence, I could almost forget what I was. In his eyes, I was just another one of his people, perhaps a little stranger than most, but not ugly. Even my mother sometimes looked at me with a strange mixture of exasperation and pity that wounded me to the core, but my father never judged.

<<Beryl.>>

<<Who's there?>> It wasn't the touch of my father's mind, which I knew as well as my own. Could it be one of those from Earth? Malachite and his people? The five humans who had been fortunate enough to become what I never could?

<<Beryl,>> the stranger repeated. It didn't seem to be human at all, not even as much so as I was.

<<What do you want?>> I asked.

<<Come to me, Beryl.>>

<<Not until you tell me what you want!>>

The voice didn't reply. I waited for it, but it didn't come back. Not that day. I knew that when it did, I would answer it. There was something seductive about it.

Athena

Jay mumbled something into the pillow as I slipped out of bed, but fortunately he didn't wake up. I was feeling a little restless, but didn't particularly want company.

I went into the sitting room, the only other room in my little apartment, and lit a lamp. Then I pulled a spellbook off the nearest shelf and settled in to study.

The Crystal Weavers, with their ability to impose their will on raw magical energy, had it easy. A merely human mage usually has to shape magic indirectly, using words and gestures -- and, at the crudest level, physical objects. A really good mage can refine a spell down to a point where casting it requires only a few whispered words or seemingly innocent gestures, but the need for those props is always there.

I opened the book to a page detailing one of the spells that I was supposed to learn. It was a relatively simple enchantment used to detect magic. I whispered the words and glanced around the room. A few minor magic-endowed objects that I had created as test pieces during laboratory sessions appeared to my enhanced vision to glow faintly.

There was also a brilliant golden glow coming from the cracks around the bedroom door. To the best of my knowledge, there was nothing in there that should have been capable of pouring out such power. I padded over to the door and opened it, and was immediately forced to throw up my arm to protect my eyes.

The glow was coming from Jay. I had never seen anything so intense before. How could his body contain it?

I shut the door gently, hoping that he was still asleep. During the several minutes it would take the spell to fade, I wouldn't be able to look directly at him. What I didn't understand was why his body held such a concentration of magical energy.

I ticked off the possibilities on my fingers. He was the greatest mage in five generations, and either didn't know it or had chosen to keep it from me. He was some sort of magical construct, which actually made a certain amount of sense when you considered that he was too good-looking to be true. Or some small but extremely powerful magical object had been implanted in his body, and its power had gradually bled off into the surrounding tissues. None of them was entirely satisfactory as an explanation, but I refused to consider the one remaining possibility that was nibbling at the back of my mind.

"Aren't you getting a bit cold?" He was leaning casually against the doorframe. I hadn't even heard him open the door.

"I guess I am," I said, realizing that I was hugging myself tightly.

He strolled over and put his arms around me. "Come back to bed," he whispered in my ear.

I let him draw me back toward the bedroom, but deep inside, I already knew that something was wrong here. And I was afraid.

Beryl

I adjusted the neckline of the dress and turned slightly, trying to get a different angle on my reflection. It didn't improve matters any. Oh, what's the use?

I forced myself to examine my mirror image objectively. The body underneath the dress was good enough, I suppose, and my clothes were cut to hide the bony spikes that grew from my shoulders and wrists. The face might have been pretty enough in a vulpine sort of way, if it hadn't been for the eyes. I've always hated my eyes. And my hair. I've often felt that I should hire myself out as a beacon. The damned stuff is definitely a bright enough red to be seen from miles away. It was distinctive enough to be noticed even on Mars, where red hair was common.

<<Beryl.>>

That damned voice again! It had been interrupting my thoughts more and more often over the past few days. I wished that it would just shut up and go away.

<<Beryl. Come to me.>>

I felt a tug from... Well, it wasn't really a direction exactly, in the sense that left or right or up or down is a direction. I don't know how to describe it.

I looked back at the mirror.

<<Come to me,>> the voice insisted.

I clenched one hand into a fist. Then, before I could think about what I was doing, I teleported, a task for which I barely had the power, and let the pull that had accompanied the voice draw me where it would.

Darkness. I emerged in total darkness, able to tell that I had arrived somewhere only because the absolute cold of whatever dimension Crystal Weavers enter when we teleport was gone. I was too weak to conjure a light. I could only lean against the -- post? Pillar? Stalactite? -- that brushed my left arm, and try to catch my breath.

"Welcome, Beryl." The voice was outside of me now, and I could feel the power behind it. It resonated in my very bones, making me shiver -- but not with fear, no. With hunger. "I have a task for you. Fulfill it faithfully, and you will have all the power you have ever dreamed of."

"What do I have to do?" I asked.

A baleful red glow illuminated the room. The floor on which I stood resembled the lower jaw of some giant beast, with stalagmites for teeth. In front of me sat a large red globe filled with some kind of fluid. It appeared to be embedded in the wall.

"I require your assistance. Long ago, I was imprisoned in this place, my body destroyed. In order to recreate it and escape, I require life energy. I require much life energy. You will bring it to me."

"I... I'm not sure..." The thought of great power was a tempting one. With this being, whatever it was, backing me, I would be able to... to... To teleport without collapsing afterwards. To hide my differences from those who didn't already know of them, and to punish those who had insulted me in the past. But taking life energy from unsuspecting people...

"Let me give you a sample of what I have to offer," the voice suggested.

A black tendril of energy snaked out from the globe and twined itself around my body. I felt it seeping through my pores, filling up an emptiness inside me of which I'd never been conscious before. Here was ultimate pleasure, everything I'd ever wanted or needed. I laughed loudly, not caring if it sounded maniacal. Now they would pay. I had the power to make them pay, all those sneeringly superior humans. I would make everyone pay. But most especially, I would extract payment from Malachite and his Weave, for stealing my birthright from me. I, not they, was the true descendant of the last of the Crystal Weavers. And I, not they, deserved the power. They had no right to it, and I would take it from them and make them my slaves.

"You will want to examine your resources. They are considerable. I already have many followers, although none of them have your power. You will lead them."

I laughed again, and this time the voice, no longer strange, laughed along with me. Yes, I would lead. I would conquer the human worlds and send those who had mocked me to feed my new Master. I would be the queen of the universe. And no one would be permitted to stop me.

Jadeite

"Something's wrong, isn't it?" I slid my arms around Athena and felt her go rigid for a moment, before she made the necessary effort to relax. That had been happening more and more often over the past few days. Ever since I had woken, that night, and found her already up and at her studies.

I couldn't understand what had happened. It was obvious that she suspected what I was, but how had it cropped up as a piece of spontaneous inspiration in the middle of the night? And ever since then, she had been distant, even cold. It had ruined whatever we might otherwise have had.

There was only one thing left for me to do.

"I have a confession to make," I told her. She tensed, waiting. I let her go and stepped away a short distance. "I'm a Crystal Weaver."

The color drained from her face, leaving it a pale mask.

"My proper name is Jadeite," I added. "Don't tell me that you hadn't guessed."

"That you were lying about something... But not this. I didn't see -- wouldn't let myself see... Please. I need to..."

"Go," I said. She fled.

I sat down on the edge of a bench, hiding my face in my hands, although, as usual, I didn't cry. In fact, I'm not sure that I could have.

I had known that I would lose her, sooner or later. But I hadn't expected the magnitude of the hole it would leave inside me. Had I been falling in love with her? I didn't know. I still don't know.

<<Are you all right?>> Alexandrite asked.

I looked up, almost expecting to see him there, although I knew that he usually worked at this time of day. <<I'll heal,>> I told him. Hoping that it was true.

<<Jay... She just wasn't the one for you, I guess. Give it time, and one day...>>

<<No,>> I stated firmly. <<Never again.>> I didn't want another bleeding wound ripped open inside me by the next woman, and the next, and the next one after that... Never again would I leave myself open to that kind of pain. I swore it. Everything that I had left in me to feel would be directed at the few people I knew would never hurt or abandon me. My Weave. And my brother.

Onyx

<<Beryl? Beryl?>>

I sighed, and said aloud, "It's no use. She's gone."

Talina was half-leaning, half-sitting on me, her face buried against my chest. I stroked her hair, feeling the tears stinging at my own eyes, and a phantom Darkness looming close over my shoulder. Whatever had happened to Beryl, I knew that it had been the beginning. The catalyst. The shadows of the future had thickened into deepest night, and I didn't know whether any of us would come out intact.

I slid my hand inside my shirt. I'd had them mounted on chains, and now wore them where I wouldn't risk their loss: the spirit crystals of Malachite and his Weave. I was crippled, and Beryl was lost, and that made the Silver Crystal, and these five, our only hope.

The End of Chapter 2 - Goto Chapter 3


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