The Wars of Light and Shadow II: All Darkness Met

Chapter 4

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Amber

I knocked again on the door to Jay's apartment. There was still no answer. It wasn't like him.

I hadn't thought much of his non-response at first. We hadn't made any plans to get together again when we had last met three days ago. When he wasn't at home the next evening, I had just assumed that he had gone back to his suicidal drinking habits, which was frustrating after he had begun spending the evenings with me and Jasper instead of at bars, but not completely unexpected. But three days of complete absence just didn't fit the pattern we had set for each other over the past few weeks.

I glanced quickly in either direction along the hallway, then tried the doorknob. To my surprise, it turned under my hand. Jay had always struck me as the sort of person who would lock his door religiously, even though, as far as I could tell, he didn't own anything beyond a few changes of clothes.

I slipped inside the apartment, hoping that I wasn't about to discover him at home asleep and make a total fool out of myself. Inside, everything was dark and quiet, except for a small red flashing light off to one side.

An answering machine. When had he gotten that? I hadn't even known that he had a phone. I shrugged. Perhaps he sent out for pizza occasionally. It was really none of my business.

The living room being as Spartan and empty as ever, I moved forward to check the bedroom. Empty, in that there was no one here. I flicked the light on.

The bed was unmade and disarranged. The door of the wardrobe gaped open. There was nothing inside except a couple of folded sweaters. Everything else was gone.

I went to check the bathroom. No razor. No shampoo. The bar of soap beside the sink was bone dry and hadn't been touched in days.

The kitchen. Empty. Completely. The only thing in the refrigerator was part of a leftover pizza. The cupboards were bare. So now we discover the real reason why he's been joining us for supper. He must be one of those types who can burn water.

All in all, the apartment looked as though he had packed up and left, and probably in a hurry or he would have thrown out the pizza. I went back to the living room. Perhaps the answering machine could help me. There was nothing anywhere else, no indication of where Jay might have gone, and I was beginning to be worried that he was in some kind of trouble.

There were three messages on the machine. The first was from the electrical company. The second was an advertisement. But the third...

I played it back again. "Stanton," the man's voice identified itself before going off into a brief but unintelligible spate of Japanese. Well, I guess that proves that the guy in that photo was probably Maxfield Stanton. I thought so. I replaced the tape with a fresh blank and switched the machine back to 'answer' before leaving the apartment.

I went up two floors to visit a friend of mine. Yukiko Sanders was half Japanese, and I knew that she spoke at least a little of the language.

It took a little work, but I managed to avoid telling her that I had, well, borrowed the tape without asking. She listened several times in silence to the brief message.

"Whoever he is, he's very worried about something," she said at length. "He said something like, 'We have a problem. Beryl may be back. Get here as soon as you can,' then hung up without saying good-bye."

Back at Jay's, I picked up the phone and punched the number that should tell me where the last call in had come from. I wrote down the series of digits I was given. They didn't mean anything to me, but I could tell by the length of the number that it didn't correspond to anything in North America. Japan, then. Why am I not surprised?

I went home to make the call. There was no point in running Jay's phone bill up when I wasn't even sure that this had anything to do with his disappearance.

"Moshi moshi!" said the voice at the other end of the line when I eventually got through. I interrupted it before it could spout any additional incomprehensible words.

"Do you speak English?"

"Of course. Stanton Industries, ma'am. How may we help you?"

"I need to speak to Mr. Stanton." Or that was my best guess.

"I'm sorry, he isn't here today. If you'd like to leave a message, I can give it to him whenever he comes in."

"My name is Amber Jones, and I'm calling from Halifax, in Canada. If it's possible, I'd like to speak to Mr. Stanton regarding a mutual friend, Jay Tsumeta." I gave the receptionist my number, then hung up. There was nothing I could do now but wait.

I went to bed that night without knowing whether I'd really accomplished anything. When the phone finally rang the next afternoon, I wasn't in any hurry to pick it up, thinking that it was probably just my aunt, who tended to call every week at around that time to gossip and ask whether I'd found myself a boyfriend yet. But it rang so insistently that I eventually lifted the receiver and said, "Hello?"

"Mrs. Jones? This is Maxfield Stanton."

I was so startled that I nearly dropped the receiver. Before I could say anything, he continued, "I'm sorry to disturb you, but if you know where Jay Tsumeta is, it's very important that you tell me. Right now. His life could be in danger."

"I'd hoped that you would know where he was," I replied. "I haven't seen him in four days, and I was beginning to think that something was wrong."

"Well, that's one way of putting it. It sounds like you haven't seen him since he left to come here. We'd hoped, when he went storming off, that he'd at least go back where he came from, but I guess that hasn't been the case. Good-bye, Mrs. Jones. I apologize again for --"

"Wait!" I almost screamed it. "Look, if he's in some kind of trouble, I need to know."

"I'm afraid I can't tell you anything more. There are several other people involved, and they'll all be safer if their names aren't spread around."

I stiffened as a hunch suddenly reared its ugly head. He died saving a good friend of mine -- "Mr. Stanton, did you know my father? Onyx Jones?"

The response was a startled comment in Japanese. I didn't have to know the language to realize that whatever Stanton had just said was probably quite obscene.

"Was he a tall, thin man with black hair? Missing his right hand?"

"That's him," I confirmed. "Jay said he died in Tokyo a little while back. He was mixed up in this, wasn't he?"

Stanton's next remark was quite enough to confirm that. "That means that you're in danger as well. Especially if I'm right about what happened to Jay." A few moments of silence. Then Stanton sighed. "I suppose there's no good way out of this. Jay knows who you are and what you look like. He'll be able to find you no matter where you go. Depending on whether he's in this willingly or not, that could be very bad news. I hate to ask it on such short acquaintance, but you're going to have to drop everything and come to Tokyo. At least if you're here we stand some chance of being able to keep you safe."

"I can't do that!" I exploded. Curiosity and worry about Jay were all very well, but... "I have a job here, Mr. Stanton. If I leave on such short notice, I'm going to lose it, and I have a child to support."

"If that's your only worry, I'll reimburse you. Money is not a problem. Your survival, and your child's, is. You two are going to be on the late flight out here tonight. Tickets will be left for you at the airport counter. I'll meet you at the airport myself. If Jay shows up before then, be very careful of him. In the meanwhile, stay away from strangers." He hesitated. "Mrs. Jones, did your father ever give you any jewelry? Possibly a small, unfaceted crystal stone? I'm not sure what, if anything, the setting would have been."

"No, nothing like that." And what does that have to do with anything? Mr. Maxfield Stanton, you are going to have a lot of explaining to do when we finally meet.

"I'll see you in about twelve hours then. Good-bye." And I was left holding a receiver that was spouting a dial tone. I slammed it down and went to the closet where I kept the suitcases. I'm going to have to get packed before Jasper gets home from school... How am I going to explain this to him?

In the end, I didn't have to. My son seemed afraid that this unexpected vacation would evaporate if he asked too many questions. He was very quiet all the way to the airport.

As Stanton had said, our tickets were waiting at the counter. We had been routed by way of Toronto and Vancouver -- a total of twelve hours of travel, between flying and waiting. That wasn't unexpected. We were traveling almost exactly halfway around the planet.

As the plane took off, I wondered exactly what Jay was involved in that worried Stanton so. Drugs? Some sort of espionage? It had to be something criminal. And which side was Jay on?

I fell asleep still staring out the window and wondering.

It was the middle of the night in Tokyo when we landed there. After spending so much time cramped into airline seats -- although admittedly Stanton had gotten us first-class tickets -- Jasper and I were both feeling cranky. My son sulked and dragged his feet on the way off the plane, and I snapped at him several times as a result. Customs was backlogged, several aircraft having come in at the same time, and the signs leading to the baggage claim area were less than easy to decipher. By the time we had our suitcases back, I was at my wits' end.

"Are we going to bed yet?" I didn't blame Jasper for being tired, but I didn't need his questions and complaints just then, either. Patience, I told myself. As soon as we find Stanton, hopefully we'll have some answers.

"We have to find someone first," I told my son. I scanned the crowd. Stanton should have been easy to spot. The pictures and film footage I had seen of him when he had been in the news a few months back had shown a tall man with long auburn hair. Just about everyone around us had black hair. But I couldn't see him.

The sounds of a loud argument taking place in an alcove were attracting the attention of much of the crowd. I was too tired to protest as the human tide pulled us forward.

I couldn't tell what the two men I was hearing were arguing about, and the crowd in front of us was too thick for me to be able to see them, but the longer I listened, the more I became convinced that the deeper of the two voices was familiar. And there weren't many people around here that I would be likely to know. I began to push my way forward, hoping that Jasper would be able to stay with me.

Stanton and a shorter, slenderer blonde man were shouting and gesticulating at each other, ignoring their audience. A red-haired woman appeared to be trying to calm them both down, but she wasn't having much luck. Isn't the other guy the pretty boy from that photo of Jay's? I wonder what the problem is.

Nephrite

"They did what?" I tried to keep my voice down. The last thing we needed to do was attract more attention.

"Raided your little hideaway, that's what. The teleport shields bounced them, but not hard enough. Whoever was in charge -- it wasn't Jadeite, I didn't recognize him at all -- was strong enough to make sure they still landed inside the perimeter. And then they slipped through the rest of your defenses like they weren't there." Zoisite tossed his head and smiled evilly. "So I did a little clean-up for you. Don't worry. I fried the bodies afterwards."

"Did you get the one in charge?" I made a mental note to ask Malachite not to leave Zoisite at home alone again.

Zoisite's smile faded. "No, unfortunately. He was too damned good. Now, if I may ask, what are the two of you doing at the airport? Looking for Jadeite?"

"Actually, no. We're here to meet someone," Almandite responded for me.

"Who?"

I smiled thinly. "A friend of Jadeite's. I thought Malachite had told you about her."

"I still don't understand why you feel it's necessary to drag even more humans into this."

"I think her life may be in danger." Malachite had said much the same thing as Zoisite had, when I had told him what I had done. They were all concerned that Almandite's attitudes were rubbing off on me, I suppose.

"You're going as soft as that idiot Sailor Moon! Protecting these creatures -- what do you think you are, some kind of hero?"

I felt my smile twist. A hero. Yes. I'd like to be.... "That isn't important. What we need to do now is find her. Her flight should have gotten in half an hour ago."

"And do you even know what she looks like?" Zoisite was still in a bad mood.

"No," I admitted.

"Trust you not to be able to plan anything right." Zoisite's eyes flashed green as he glared at me. I sighed. It was going to be a long evening.

Amber

Somebody pushed me from behind, bumping me forward as another stranger forced his way through the crowd. He entered the tiny clear space around Stanton, the other man, and the woman, and the size of that space instantly tripled. When I looked up into those silver eyes, I could see why. They were incredibly cold, colder even than Jay's had become after the one time we had kissed.

He turned toward the arguers with a toss of his head that sent his long white hair flying, and put his hand on the blonde man's shoulder, speaking softly to them both. Stanton and the other abruptly stopped shouting, although they were still glaring daggers at each other. The third man turned toward the crowd and said something in Japanese, then (I would presume) repeated himself in English.

"All right," he said. "The show is over for tonight." Now clear out, those silver eyes seemed to add. And, within seconds, everyone did. Jasper and I were the only spectators left. The white-haired man turned toward the blonde and continued to talk to him. Stanton turned away and seemed to notice us for the first time.

"Mrs. Jones, I presume," he said, offering his hand. I shook it, noting that he had a very firm grip. "I'm sorry about this. There was an unforeseen occurrence that is probably going to lead to a substantial change in plans."

"Is it... something about Jay?" I asked.

"We don't know." It was the white-haired man who spoke, turning toward us. The blonde, still looking sulky, had an arm around his waist. "Zois didn't get a look at the people involved."

"But you suspect." I didn't find the tall stranger nearly so intimidating now that he wasn't glaring at me. In fact, I found him quite... striking. That hair of his formed a wonderful contrast for his tan, and his face... Well, let's just say that Jay Tsumeta didn't look like anything special by comparison, and when I'd first met Jay, I'd thought he was one of the best-looking guys I had ever seen.

"We suspect," he agreed.

Jasper yawned. Obviously, this was all going right over his head.

"Shame on you." The woman spoke for the first time. "This isn't the time for long explanations. They've been traveling for a long time. The least we can do is get them to a hotel."

"And we're all forgetting our manners again," Stanton added, smiling. He had a very nice smile. "Amber Jones, meet Zois Edwards -- " That was the sulky pretty-boy blonde -- "Mal Grey -- " The white-haired man nodded, but didn't offer his hand -- "and my fiancee, Amanda Baker." The woman did shake my hand. Huh. They didn't mention a fiancee in the papers six months ago. This must be recent. Then again, with her looks, I'm not surprised he's moving fast.

"Please excuse us," Grey said politely. "We'll meet you there, Max," he added to Stanton, who nodded acquiescence. The white-haired man took the boy called Zois by the shoulder and steered him toward the door.

"You know," Stanton observed as we set off in the same direction, "I had expected you to look more like your father, or at least like your half-sister -- what is it?"

"My half-sister," I said through numb lips. "I didn't know I had a half-sister."

Stanton exchanged glances with the red-haired woman who had linked her arm in his. "Beryl was your father's daughter by a previous marriage. I'm sorry. I'd assumed that he had at least told you that she existed."

"You seem to be assuming an awful lot of things. Why don't you just assume that I'm totally ignorant and explain everything from the beginning?"

Stanton sighed. "Because we haven't quite decided how much to tell you yet. That was part of what Zoisi -- Zois and I were arguing about. It's a very complicated situation." He stopped beside a red sportscar and opened the trunk. "I hope there's enough room in here for everything."

Well, I told myself as I sighed in frustration, it isn't as though I'm awake enough to absorb an explanation as complicated as this one promises to be anyway.

Stanton's driving style turned out to rank somewhere between New York Cabby and Homicidal Maniac. I was very, very glad that I had put my seatbelt on when I had gotten into the car, and even gladder that I had insisted that Jasper do the same.

"Where are you taking us?" I asked during a lull in the traffic.

"To a hotel," Stanton replied. "I considered having you stay with us, but to be honest, we don't have anywhere to put you unless you want to sleep on the floor. And in any case, Zois's report of this evening makes it inadvisable. However, one of us will be staying with you full-time, just in case. Mal drew the short straw for tonight."

We screeched to a stop in front of a thirty-storey building which I assumed to be the hotel. And an expensive one, too, judging from the solicitousness of the staff and the decor in the lobby. Stanton went up to the desk while Amanda stayed with Jasper and I. My son sat down in a convenient chair and fell asleep almost immediately. Noticing that, I shrugged and exchanged wry grins with Amanda.

"I take it that nothing happened while we were gone."

I started. I hadn't heard them walk up, but there were Mal Grey and Zois, standing beside us.

"Nothing at all. We weren't even bothered by so much as a teenager in a sailor suit."

Grey and Zois both smiled, and I wondered what the joke was.

"All set." Stanton was back as well, handing one set of keys to me and the other to Grey. "You're on the top floor. Suite 3110. We'll see you in the morning." He and Amanda linked arms again and headed for the door.

"Be careful." Zois, now facing his companion, reached up to stroke Grey's face.

"I always am. You know that." Grey glanced quickly around the lobby before bending to brush his lips against the shorter man's. Okay, so now I at least know what's with these two. I guess my virtue is safe from Mal Grey tonight. It's almost a shame -- they're such a good-looking pair.

After their kiss, Zois walked away, no doubt intending to meet up with Stanton and Amanda outside. Grey watched the other man's departure until he passed through the doors and out into the night, then turned toward me, with the faintest hint of a smile lighting his silver eyes. "You know, I think half the reason he was so angry at Max tonight was that he was annoyed about the sleeping arrangements."

I didn't quite know how to respond to that, so I turned my mind to more practical matters instead, reaching down to shake Jasper's shoulder. My son was evidently very tired, because he failed to respond. I was about to try again when I felt Grey's hand on my arm.

"Allow me," he said, and pushed me gently aside. He barely touched Jasper, but the boy's eyes snapped open as though he'd been stung by a bee.

"Is it time to go?" my son asked, sounding wide awake now.

I glanced at Grey. "You know, if you could bottle that, you'd make a fortune selling it."

He shrugged. "It's a knack. I could have carried him up, but I think it's better if I have my hands free."

"Just in case," I filled in when he didn't seem inclined to. He nodded, unsmiling.

I was becoming more and more convinced that either these people were paranoid, or I had become involved in something very big and dangerous indeed. That feeling was reinforced when Grey insisted on not only entering our suite first, but on Jasper and I staying out in the hall until he had made a thorough inspection and done I knew not what in the bedrooms. Three bedrooms, I was glad to note. It was bad enough that I would have to be sharing space with a strange man, especially one as physically imposing as Grey. I couldn't imagine having to sleep in the same room with him.

He sent us off to bed immediately. I couldn't help but notice that the room he chose for himself was the only one with a balcony opening off it. It was as though he was as afraid of something getting in from the outside as he was of something getting in from the hall.

I drifted off to sleep still wondering what was going on.

The End of Chapter 4 - Goto Chapter 5


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