The Wars of Light and Shadow - Chapter 4

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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"Onyx." Nephrite considered the name. "No, it doesn't seem familiar -- other than the obvious, of course."

"I thought of that too," Malachite said. "We were all named for minerals -- semiprecious and ornamental gemstones, to be precise. I always thought it was some conceit of Beryl's. Now I'm beginning to wonder."

"We're reasonably certain that Alexandrite was never in Beryl's service, and yet his name is the same as the rest of ours. There must be a reason."

"There's one other thing." Malachite leaned forward and sketched a symbol on the table with his finger: a five-pointed star within a circle. "Do you recognize that?"

"I believe the humans call it a pentagram. It's supposed to be a symbol for summoning occult power."

"Perhaps so. But that doesn't explain why we were all wearing belt buckles engraved with that symbol. And another thing. We were all wearing clothes of different colors, but as best I could tell all our outfits were of similar cut. Not quite a uniform, but close."

"And what were the colors?" Nephrite asked the question idly.

"It was a bit difficult to tell under all the grime. I only saw part of one of my sleeves, and it was stiff with someone else's blood, but I think it was grey. You were in blue, Zoisite in green, Jadeite in brown or yellow, and Alexandrite in dark crimson or maroon."

Nephrite stiffened as an image came briefly into focus before his mind's eye.

"What is it?" Malachite asked sharply. "What do you see?"

"I'm not sure. It was only a flash, and a bit confusing. We were only children, I think, and we'd been taken to a meeting somewhere. We were dressed in the colors you described. I guess that was what brought it back. They were arguing over us, but I only picked up a few words -- something about noble blood. And..."

"Go on."

"I don't know if this is significant, but you were standing beside me. Malachite, your eyes were as blue as mine, and you had black hair. There was this scratch on the outer edge of my hand. Nothing terribly deep, but there were beads of blood forming along it. Red blood."

"In my dream, my hair was the same color it is now. And you were bleeding green. And I don't remember being surprised about it."

"So something happened before Beryl captured us that bleached your hair and eyes, and changed the color of my blood. I do not find that a comforting thought."

"Neither do I," Malachite admitted.

Nephrite spent the morning in his workroom, doing divinations again. He was able to view himself and his comrades at various ages, and ascertained that Malachite's hair had gone white over a period of less than a year when he had been in his early teens. Something had distorted his aging rate, as well. The dark-haired Malachite had been a child, but he had grown into the adult Nephrite knew before his hair had bleached out completely. And they had all experienced a similar growth spurt, even Alexandrite, who couldn't have been more than six at the time. It isn't surprising that we're all a bit peculiar. In fact, I'm surprised that the younger ones managed to retain any connection to reality at all.

What Nephrite could not discover in any way, shape, or form, was anything about the mysterious Onyx. Whenever he tried to focus in on that particular individual, his crystal would flash and blind him, as it had during his inquiry about his resurrection. He tried leaving the crystal in his bedroom. The flashes became sourceless. Zoisite, called upon to monitor, determined that the crystal glowed whenever it acted to block an inquiry, even if it wasn't in the same room as Nephrite. At his request, Zoisite repeated the inquiry himself, and was blinded by his own crystal. At that point, they gave up. Zoisite, after requesting and receiving the loan of Nephrite's crystal, disappeared to points unknown. Nephrite himself decided to go for a drive in the city. Perhaps some inspiration would come to him there.

He wandered aimlessly down half-familiar streets until he realized that he was instinctively homing in on a specific place. That damned park. All the significant events in my life seem to happen there. All right, damnit. He parked the car and entered the area in the same place that he had on the night of his death. His first death. It appeared that he would, at some indeterminate point in the future, be privileged to receive another.

Even though it was day and not night this time, he had an eerie sense of deja vu as he wandered through the trees. There. They had been sitting at the base of that giant when Zoisite and his minions had shown up. Nephrite leaned against the tree, lost in thought.

"Mr. Stanton?"

He spun, raising one hand in invocation, then lowered it again when he saw who it was. "Molly. You startled me."

"I saw you wandering around. You looked kind of lost."

"Not really. This is the last place I remember being before I -- " died in your arms -- "disappeared last year. I was hoping that I'd find something here that would help me remember the period of time that I... lost." He knew that she would have heard about his supposed amnesia. It had been making the news in the States around the time he had left. "I haven't been having much luck so far." He sighed. No, not having much luck at all. I promised you once before that I wouldn't lie to you anymore. I've certainly broken *that* one.

"I'm sorry, am I bothering you? I can go away if I am."

"No, it's all right. I was just... thinking. This place is making me uncomfortable. We should go somewhere else." He felt her start of surprise as he draped his arm casually about her shoulders and urged her back toward the street.

"I'm kinda surprised that you want me around. I mean, I'm just a kid, and you're --"

"Sometimes age differences aren't the most important thing in the world," Nephrite said. And in any case, today I really *do* feel a thousand years old.

Whoa, reality check here, Molly. Me and Maxfield Stanton? And yet, there he was, walking beside her, with his arm around her, as though they were actually going steady. He looks worried. I wonder what's wrong?

Something seemed to catch his eye as they passed a small cafe, and he stopped. He was staring at one table in particular, where Serena's friend Amy was sitting with a blonde young man. Amy was waving them over. After a moment, Stanton shrugged and led the way inside.

"I didn't expect to see you here." It was Amy's table companion who spoke first after they had seated themselves. He made Molly feel uncomfortable, although she couldn't have said why. "Here, I believe this is yours." He placed a crystal pendant, about the size of Molly's thumb, in Stanton's hand. Stanton slipped the chain around his neck and shoved the pendant inside his shirt.

"Did you find anything?"

The stranger shrugged. "It's the same as mine. Beyond that..."

Stanton frowned. What are they talking about? Molly wondered. Then Stanton shook his head.

"I'm sorry, I'm forgetting my manners. Molly, this is Zoisite, an old... acquaintance of mine. Zoisite, Molly Baker."

Molly still didn't like the look of Zoisite's sly smile, and was relieved that he didn't offer his hand. Judging from the way they were watching each other, there was no love lost between Zoisite and Stanton, either. And Stanton had said acquaintance, not friend.

"And you've had no further insight on what happened?" Amy was saying.

"Nothing beyond what Zoisite must already have told you. We had a singularly unproductive morning."

Molly saw Zoisite aiming a narrow-eyed glance at her, as though to say, I know why he hasn't got anything more done. She found herself glaring back, and wondered what, other than his obvious sneakiness, made her dislike this man so.

"I'd best be getting back," Zoisite added, standing up. "The others will be wondering where I am."

"And I've got computer class in just a few minutes. Sorry." Amy began stuffing papers into the big book she was carrying. "I'll see you guys later."

"Bye," Molly said to the world in general as the two of them left, heading in opposite directions.

"I saw you cringing away from Zoisite," Stanton remarked. "He has that effect on a lot of people. Don't let it worry you."

"I wonder what they were doing here. It was almost like they were on a date, or something."

"I doubt it. Amy wouldn't be Zoisite's type." Stanton smiled, as though at a private joke. "Anyway, he already has a lover."

"Why does he dress like that, anyway?" The grey sort-of-uniform had been, Molly realized, part of what had made her so uncomfortable.

"I've never been sure."

You're lying, Molly thought. How is it that I can read you so well? We only met yesterday.

"Is there something wrong?"

"No, of course not." We seem to be saying a lot of that sort of thing. "Look, we'd better order something, or they'll kick us out."

"After you," Stanton said, waving a waitress over.

Once they'd accomplished that necessary bit of business, Molly said hesitantly, "Mr. Stanton?"

"Please, call me Maxfield." That smile of his had lost none of its bone-melting power through further exposure.

"Maxfield," she repeated obediently, and blushed. This is so familiar. I'm sure I must have met him somewhere before. "What was that crystal that Zoisite gave you?"

"To be honest, it was the only thing I was wearing when I woke up in the States last week. I'd been hoping that he'd be able to find something out about it, but as you heard, we haven't been having much luck unraveling our little mystery."

You're not telling me everything. "Does that have anything to do with what you were talking to Serena about?"

"We ran in to each other in the park, that night, a few minutes before my memories cut off. I was hoping she would remember something."

And what was a fourteen-year-old doing out that late? But I don't think you're lying, this time, or at least not entirely. Maybe stretching the truth a little. Then, oddly, I wonder how he'd look in a tuxedo?

"Why is it that I feel I've met you somewhere before?" she asked aloud.

Stanton shrugged, but she could tell from the way that he kept from looking directly at her that there was something he wasn't telling her again. He turned the topic of conversation to the weather and current events, and she wasn't able to think of another question to ask before he left.

I don't believe it, Zoisite thought as he walked down the street, in search of a concealed place where he could teleport without drawing any attention. He really *has* fallen for that human girl. I wonder if that will make him more or less of a nuisance.

It's funny. I can't even seem to get very irritated at him anymore. Without our competition for Beryl's favor to egg us on, it's like we're only going through the motions. Preoccupied, he turned a corner and ran into someone. The ex-Negaverse general muttered one of the meaningless phrases humans termed "polite" and tried to move on past. The stranger deliberately moved to the same side, blocking his way. Zoisite stepped back, sensing that something was wrong. The human's eyes, which had been shadowed by the hat he was wearing, were glowing. Human eyes weren't supposed to do that.

Beryl's onetime general drew in power, preparing to strike at the other. He almost -- almost -- relaxed as he felt his hair lift on a conjured wind, and he knew his eyes were glowing more brightly than the stranger's.

And then power fountained from the... creature, which was most certainly not a human, and Zoisite began to worry again.

He blocked the initial blast, but the power of it was such that he knew he could only resist one or two more such. The third would fry him to a crisp. What was he supposed to target? The head? The chest? For all he knew, this thing kept its brains in its ankles.

When all else fails, attack first, attack hard, and don't let anything put you on the defensive. Malachite's advice. Nephrite had died by defying those rules. And so, not because he thought it would help so much as because he couldn't see that anything else would work either, Zoisite attacked, blasting the creature again and again with all the power he could muster. It did nothing except prevent the creature from gathering its resources for a counterstrike. Well, that's something, anyway.

How had the Sailor Scouts dealt with these creatures? Sailor Moon had told Nephrite that they had defeated some, if this was indeed one of the same things, and all the descriptions Zoisite had heard suggested that it was. Also, Zoisite recalled, only Sailors Jupiter, Venus, and Moon herself had been able to do anything to the creatures. Jupiter and Venus' attacks were similar to the ones Zoisite had been using so far -- powerful blasts of electromagnetic energy that appeared to slow and distract, but not stop, the creature. What did Sailor Moon have that Zoisite didn't?

The Imperium Silver Crystal. Great. Of *course* she's just going to let me walk up to her and borrow it, with this thing trailing behind. The blonde man blasted the thing again, but he was beginning to tire. Wait. This stupid green rock that I'm wearing. Amy's computer showed it has having a structure similar to that of the Silver Crystal... It's worth a try, anyway. I can't keep this up forever, and it's about time it turned out to be useful for something other than disrupting divinations.

He closed his left hand around the small green crystal, while continuing to bombard the monster with his right. Green light spilled out between his fingers, and the crystal warmed in his hand. Instinctively, he locked his free hand over it, and felt an unfamiliar force radiating along his nerves.

Tendrils of green light shot out of the crystal and wrapped themselves around the creature he was fighting. It screamed, the first sound of any kind it had been heard to produce. It glowed brighter, turned green, and vanished with a bright flash reminiscent of the crystal's divination disruptions of that morning. Zoisite was left standing on a narrow deserted street, holding a piece of inert stone in front of him with both hands and feeling weak in the knees.

Gratefully, he collapsed onto a nearby bench, relaxing his grip so that he could look at the crystal again. It still felt warm, and there was a faint gleam about it that might or might not have been more than reflected sunlight. I don't understand. What are you?

The flicker of brighter light that ran up one edge of the stone might have been intended as an answer. Or it might just have been a shift in the angle of lighting.

#That,# the Ancient stated, #is not Onyx. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen this one before. He must be new.#

#Dangerous?#

#I'm not certain. Probably. He shows all the signs of being part of a Battle-Weave, and that's always bad news.#

#I do not understand. Please instruct me.#

#This is what I get for choosing a youngling as second-in-command of this expedition.# The Ancient wondered if the humans had similar problems with their young. #The Crystal Weavers always chose to perform their more complicated functions in groups. They called such a group a Weave, and it was intended to last for the lifetime of its members. The Battle-Weaves were formed specifically to fight us. A Battle-Weave consists of five members, each chosen for both his individual skills and an ability to combine well with the whole.#

#And this new Weaver belongs to such a group,# mused the creature who was called 'my lord' by everyone except the Ancient. #Are the others likely to be as strong as he?#

#It is quite possible that they are stronger.#

#What?#

#The creature we saw was not the Center of the Weave. The Center is always the strongest member of the group, since he must balance the powers of the others as well as his own.#

#But this one killed one of our warriors! Unaided! Even those humans that have been making such a nuisance of themselves must attack us three-on-one to have a chance of success. And you are saying that there are four other Crystal Weavers, as strong as or stronger that this one, loose somewhere on this planet?#

#They may not be a significant danger. The one we saw was a mature power, but he used a primitive attack, as though he had not been trained, or had forgotten most of his training. And I had a sense that his Weave was out of balance, indicating that one or more of his comrades may be dead... In any case, Onyx is still the prime danger. Find him!#

#As you will.# The younger creature wondered if human elders were quite so unreasonable as those of his species.

And somewhere in the city, a shadowy figure sat on a rooftop, considering the situation.

They've drawn first blood. I'm not quite certain whether that's good or bad. I had hoped that they would escape the attention of the Empyrean for a little longer yet. Well, what's done is done. I will have to work with what I have.

He coughed, and was not surprised to see the grimy surface of the roof spattered with dark blood.

The End of Chapter 4 - Goto Chapter 5


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