The Wars of Light and Shadow II: All Darkness Met

Chapter 7

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Jasper

"-- show you true power, boy --"

Pain ran through my body, spreading outward from the points where the other gripped my shoulders. Semiconscious at best, all I wanted was to fly away...

I woke to dim light and the faint sound of water dripping somewhere far away. Nightmare. Just a nightmare. No one would ever dare inflict that kind of pain on me. For a moment, I felt dizzy and disoriented. Then I realized where I was. My rooms. Lord Jadeite must have carried me home. Great Powers of Darkness, what were we drinking?

I hurt all over. That was when I realized that, like an idiot, I had rolled over onto my back. I quickly returned to a slightly less painful position. I felt like my memory was out of focus somehow. All right. Let's begin at the beginning. I am Lord Jasper, now youngest general of the Negaverse and Lord Jadeite's protege. He threw me a party last night to celebrate my promotion. I must have gotten very, very drunk, because I don't remember anything that happened between that first bottle and waking up back here. Mmph. Maybe some coffee will help.

I conjured the required beverage and forced myself to sit up. The room spun a little, then steadied. I took a sip, shuddered, then forced myself to drink again. I decided I didn't really like coffee, which was odd, because my remembered attitude toward it was just sort of neutral. Must be the hangover. Bleah. I think something crawled into my mouth and died.

After spilling hot liquid on myself and cursing, I conjured a little more light as well. The room that showed up in its harsh glare was small and Spartan. I had chosen the small two-room suite that formed my quarters more for proximity to my mentor's living space than for comfort. Not really fitting to the dignity of a general, is it? Perhaps I should move. I believe Lord Malachite's old domicile is still empty. But I knew that for wishful thinking. Even if Citrine's predecessor's wards still clung to the place, the castle Malachite and his lover had called home was still far too difficult for a neophyte like me to defend. And the former owner had probably left some interesting traps behind for the unwary -- or so the rumors said. No youma had dared venture into the living space of the two former generals since Malachite's defection, and I wasn't about to risk it. Not when the potential results included my beating out Lord Zoisite for the dubious distinction of Shortest Tenure as a Negaverse General -- by some eight hundred years.

I put down my empty mug and stretched. My muscles were painfully cramped, especially those in my shoulders and upper back. My own fault for falling asleep in that position. I forced myself out of bed and into the shower, wincing as the cold water hit my still-aching head. Damn. Water heater must have gone out again. You'd think they could at least train the youma to keep the plumbing in repair... A thought sufficed to warm the water sufficiently to make getting myself clean less of an ordeal.

Once out of the shower, I searched the bedroom for the grey uniform I had been wearing the night before. It was the only one I had, and I didn't think I was up to conjuring another just then. Well, not if I wanted it to fit.

Dressed, I stood in front of the full-length mirror which was one of the few luxuries my poor rooms held, making sure that everything was precisely in place. I scanned my reflection carefully from head to foot.

The man staring back at me from the mirror was of a little more than average height -- I stood eye-to-eye with Lord Jadeite, although I had a tendency to keep my gaze on the floor when in his presence, conscious of the difference in our status. My eyes were an odd shade of purplish grey, which stood out in a face that I couldn't help but notice was more than usually pale. Must have been some evening -- wish I could remember it. My hair was straight, dark, and fell to a point a few inches below my shoulders. I had automatically braided it back into a queue when I had emerged from the shower. Leaving it loose in the style favored by the ex-Lords Malachite and Nephrite might have looked better, but also gave it more opportunity to get in the way. I knew I was handsome. Even if I didn't catch the youma looking appreciatively at me on a regular basis, Beryl had never appointed an ugly general in the entire history of the Negaverse. I've always thought I could do with a stronger chin, though.

Surprisingly, the uniform below the face was immaculate. I hadn't been expecting that when I had fished it up off the floor, but there it was. Apparently Lord Jadeite had managed to keep me from disgracing myself too badly. The body under the uniform wasn't in such bad shape either. My chest and shoulders bulged with muscle. They kind of had to. It took a lot of strength to support my... extra appendages.

When I spread my wings, the tips touched the walls of the little room. I checked over the feathers, fearing that I had broken some when I had rolled over onto my back, but everything appeared to be in order. The deep V-shaped cleft in the back of my uniform which accommodated the bases of those wings had shifted a bit to one side, and I twitched it back into place, smoothing the small patch of down between my shoulder blades as I did so. The purple trim on my uniform precisely matched the color at the tips of the long feathers, which shaded down to grey at their bases.

Folded, the wings seemed more compact, but they were still large enough and distinctive enough to be noticed, even among the variously deformed youma who were the major portion of the population of the Negaverse. They had earned me the nickname of 'Dark Angel'.

I must *really* have wanted to fly away. The thought caught me by surprise. Now where -- That damned dream again! I had to put that out of my mind. It had only been a dream. Nothing more. Even before my promotion to general, I had been under Lord Jadeite's protection. No one would have dared to hurt me like that.

Unless they did it while Jadeite was away. I had forgotten that. How? needled a tiny voice at the back of my mind. Jadeite had defected for a brief period of time following his release from the eternal sleep that had been Beryl's punishment for his failures. I had still been too junior to be held to account for my wayward commander's behavior when he had originally transgressed against Beryl, but his loss had led to my being reassigned to Lord Zoisite. Fortunately, I had never attracted the diminutive junior general's notice. He seemed to try to make up for his lack of brawn by being ten times more vicious than any of his colleagues. After Zoisite had been lost, I had been placed with Prince Endymion, who had been too occupied with Beryl to care about those under his command. And after that... After that, it had been everyone for himself. I had lived from hand to mouth for over a year, trying to defend myself from the youma and find enough to eat in the devastated Negaverse.

I continued to stare at my reflection in the mirror, not really seeing anything. I could remember the details of my life, but many of them still seemed curiously fuzzy. I knew that I had started training under Lord Jadeite as soon as I was old enough to hold a practice sword, which meant I had been about six, but where had I come from before that? I wasn't a youma. I knew that instinctively, and anyway, youma average ten females for every male, and the males tend to be physically inferior specimens. Despite my wings, I was far too human-looking to fit the part. And youma don't become generals. Ever. That left one choice. I was of human descent, despite the wings, despite having lived all my life, as far as I could remember, in the Negaverse.

I shrugged. What did it matter, anyway? So Lord Jadeite had stolen me from a kindergarten somewhere. Why should I care? He had been my father and my family ever since. I owed my loyalty to him, to Beryl, and to the Negaforce, not to some human who just happened to have whelped me.

"Jasper! Jadeite! Report!"

Beryl's voice rang through my rooms. I winced. I'd hate to hear her really start to scream. With that in mind, I teleported immediately to the throne room. There was no sense in irritating her by keeping her waiting.

I appeared, as was my habit, some several feet above the floor, and spread my wings to control my descent as I dropped. Landing lightly before the throne, I went down on one knee. It probably wasn't necessary anymore, but displays of abject humility, even from her generals, don't appear to bother Beryl. Nor did I glance to the side as I felt the slight displacement of air that heralded my mentor's arrival. I didn't dare do anything that Beryl might construe as being disrespectful. That meant keeping my eyes on her.

She was seated on the precise center of the throne, her hands cupped under the crystal ball which hovered in front of her. Unlike the artefact that had been shattered during the battle with Sailor Moon in this very room, this ball was not mounted on a staff. In fact, it appeared to be slightly misshapen, but that could have been just a trick of the light.

Lord Citrine was leaning against the left side of Beryl's throne, his expression as unreadable as always. Flicking my eyes from his face to Beryl's, I somehow deduced that it was he, not she, who had desired our presence here.

At last, Beryl separated one hand from her crystal ball and made a lifting motion. I took this as permission to rise to my feet, and used the opportunity to flick a quick sideways glance at Lord Jadeite. His hair was in disarray, and he looked like he hadn't slept any better than I had. A slight mounding under his uniform showed where bandages were still wrapped around his shoulder, protecting the healing wound he had received during his encounter with the traitor-Lords Malachite and Zoisite... when? It annoyed me that I couldn't remember, but it had to have been during the last two or three days.

"You summoned us, m'Queen?" I wouldn't have dared to speak first, but Jadeite knew Beryl far better than I did, and stood a chance of being able to gauge her moods.

"Yes, I did. I have a special mission for the two of you."

"We are at the Queen's command."

"Good. Jadeite. Jasper. You will bring me the Imperium Silver Crystal."

Wonderful. We just got the worst job in the Negaverse. Nephrite, Zoisite, and Malachite all failed at this one. What is this thing she has about the Silver Crystal? She couldn't even touch it without being burned, so what good is it going to do her?!

Apparently, Jadeite was thinking much the same sort of thing as I was. "My Queen --"

It was Citrine who cut him off. "We cannot let our enemies keep such a powerful weapon, Jadeite. In Sailor Moon's hands, it ended our effectiveness as a fighting force once before. I shudder to think what might happen if it fell into the hands of Malachite, or some other with more power than the Scouts and fewer compunctions about using it." But there was an odd glint in his eyes. I had a feeling that he had put Beryl up to this. He wanted the Silver Crystal for reasons of his own.

"As m'Queen wishes." Apparently, Jadeite had given up on arguing.

"Excellent." Beryl smiled. No matter how many times I saw that expression, it never failed to chill me. "You are dismissed."

Jadeite looked toward me. I took that as a signal to follow his teleport, rather than returning to my quarters. We materialized in his rooms. Hmmm. He must have been up for longer than I thought -- there's no sign of last night's party here, and I know this is where we were when I started drinking...

Jadeite collapsed into a chair, wincing as he jarred his shoulder wound. I seated myself across from him. He didn't seem inclined to speak, so I broke the silence myself.

"Is it just me, or have we been set up for a suicide mission?"

"It may not be quite that bad." He was forcing himself to sit up a little straighter. I could tell. "We have the advantage of knowing who Sailor Moon really is. From there, it should be a short step to figuring out where to find her. We won't have to lure her out, the way the others did. And, with any luck, we should be able to steal the Silver Crystal from her without resorting to a direct confrontation."

"Should I try a divination?" Normally I would have expected him to do it himself, but he was clearly in a bad way.

He waved a hand casually in my direction. "If you like."

I closed my eyes. This would require concentration. My powers weren't overly well-suited to this sort of thing.

"Mighty Negaforce," I whispered, feeling the power gather within me, like dark lightning crawling along my nerves, "show me where... uh..."

"Serena Tsukino," Jadeite supplied.

"Where the girl Serena Tsukino can be found!"

I opened my eyes as the image coalesced in front of me. I didn't recognize the room, but there were at least ten people in it. On one side, a blonde girl who could only be Sailor Moon sat with four others her age, presumably the other Sailor Scouts. Across from them were the three traitor generals, the Lords Malachite, Zoisite, and Nephrite. Each group was glaring at the other. A little removed from the generals, two women sat alone. The first I recognized as Nephrite's bedmate Almandite. But the other... Who was she? Unthinking, I focused the picture in on her face. Blonde, with grey eyes, pretty in a quiet sort of way, but wearing an expression that was grim beyond anything I had ever seen, and, living in the Negaverse, I had seen a lot. And I couldn't shake the feeling that she was somehow familiar.

I heard an intake of breath, and looked at Lord Jadeite. He was staring intently back at me, as though expecting some sort of reaction. I frowned and returned my gaze to the strange woman's face. I did know her. I was certain of that now, although the context in which we had met continued to escape me. And I was equally certain that Lord Jadeite knew her, and knew that I knew her. She was the key to... something. I just wished I knew where to find the lock.

I banished the image. I would investigate her further, but I would do it on my own time. Lord Jadeite was concealing something from me. Admittedly, this is not unusual behavior in the Negaverse, but I sensed that this time whatever he was hiding was important. To me personally.

"Something tells me that this isn't a good time to try to steal anything from her," I said tentatively.

"Not with Malachite and the others in the room," Jadeite agreed. "Continue monitoring her for today. It's possible that she may remove the Crystal from her person for some reason. If she does, take the opportunity to snatch it. If not, we'll think of something else tomorrow. If anyone comes looking for me, I've gone back to bed."

He departed through the door in the far wall, leaving me sitting there, staring unseeing out a window into the perpetual twilight of the Negaverse. Who was the woman? I wondered. Why did even the memory of her, with her terrible expression, make me feel warm and safe inside? No one should have been able to evoke those feelings in a general of the Negaverse.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence. I hoped so. I didn't want to risk having anything interfere with my duties. But I would have to see this woman myself to be certain, and not just through a divination spell.

Serena

Zoisite aimed yet another blistering glare in my direction. I ducked slightly to avoid intercepting it, and turned back to the comic book I had hidden under my jacket.

Our meeting was entering its second hour now, and absolutely nothing had been decided. Most of the time so far had been spent on arguments between our two factions, with Lita and Raye on one side, and Zoisite serving as proponent for the other. Mina had made a few mostly pointless interjections as well. Amy, Malachite, Nephrite, Molly, and Amber had yet to say much of anything. Amy was probably working out a plan, and Amber was still a bit in shock, I think. As for the other three, I didn't have a clue.

I glanced covertly up at the tableau. Lita and Raye were both standing, and Lita had her fists clenched. Amy and Mina were leaning over the table together, with Amy pecking away at her computer and Mina looking at I knew not what, and the cats asleep between them. Zoisite, floating beside Malachite, who was leaning against the wall and showed no signs of sitting down, was still glaring at us Scouts. That was par for the course so far. Nephrite was pacing in the far corner of the room, looking a bit abstracted. Molly was sitting across from Amy and Mina, with one arm around Amber.

It still gave me a shock to see the girl -- no, woman, now -- who had once been my best friend wearing the grey uniform of the Negaverse. It made her look... I'm not sure how. Hard. Cold. Determined. Or maybe that was just the yellow eyes, which lacked any real warmth. We had been growing apart over the last two years, since I had become a Sailor Scout, but Molly had always been the same person. I was the one who had changed. Until Nephrite had come back.

I glanced over at the tall, auburn-haired man again. He also looked... not so much cold as distant. I had hoped, back on that night so long ago when he had first saved Molly's life, that his love for her would, some day, draw him away from the evil of the Negaverse. Perhaps I should have wished for something a bit different. He was away from the Negaverse now, just like the others, but that hadn't completely cleansed him of evil. Still, there had to be something worthwhile about him. My best friend had given up her entire life for this man.

"Enough."

I pulled my attention back to the center of the room as Malachite's voice cut across Raye's argument with Zoisite. Since the leader of the four generals -- when had I begun lumping Molly in with them? -- hadn't spoken since shortly after they had arrived, he had to have something important to say.

"We're wasting time here." He had placed his hand on Zoisite's arm -- in warning? Reassurance? Restraint? The slender, green-eyed general was still giving the rest of us a look that reminded me of poisonous snakes. It's a terrible waste, when you get right down to it. I mean, I really do love Darien, but Malachite is still one gorgeous guy, and seeing him waste himself on a weasel like Zoisite... Not that Zoisite isn't kind of good-looking too, in his own way, although he's emphatically Not My Type, but his personality makes Darien's behavior toward me around the time we first met look like a model of charm.

"We need to make an assault on the Negaverse," the white-haired man continued. "That is an established fact. Waiting for them to come to us gives them the advantage. This assault needs to be made as soon as possible, before anything else goes wrong. That is also a fact. A frontal assault is out of the question if we are to accomplish our objectives. Quite simply, we need to sneak in, rescue Jasper and Jadeite if possible, do away with Beryl and any other generals she may have collected, and sneak back out again. If possible, we should arrange for maximum confusion during our attack. Any of Zoisite's and my allies who have survived may be able to help us in that, but we will have to sound them out. That is best done by me."

I noticed Zoisite shooting a concerned glance toward his lover, and thought, Okay, maybe the little viper does care for someone besides himself. He's still a selfish little weasel, though.

"What little information we have been able to gather," Malachite continued, "suggests that Beryl has only one general in addition to Jadeite, known as Lord Citrine. Presumably, he was the man on the roof during Jasper's kidnapping. Otherwise, we know nothing about him -- not where he came from, not the extent of his powers, and especially not whether he has any... bad habits... we might take advantage of."

A sudden gasp from Molly caused us all to glance in her direction. "We do know where he came from," she said.

Malachite frowned, but it was Zoisite who said, "Perhaps you would care to enlighten us."

"The Empyrean," Molly said cryptically. I could tell from their expressions that the other generals understood what she meant and were kicking themselves for not realizing it sooner.

"Impossible," Malachite said flatly. "No one could have survived the wounds that man took. He's dead."

Molly, to my surprise, shot him a glare that rivaled Zoisite's. "In case you haven't noticed, so are we." Her hand went to her side, in about the area where she had been stabbed by a crude knife half a year ago. Malachite's hand rose, as far as I could tell without him noticing, to his chest, where his own attack, reflected by the Silver Crystal, had struck him. Zoisite made a similar gesture. I wondered how he had died. Nephrite made an abortive motion toward his shoulder. I swallowed and looked down at my comic book again. Somehow, it didn't seem nearly as funny as it had when I had started reading it. God, I'm sharing the room with a bunch of the living dead. These Sailor Scout jobs should come with a warning that they may be hazardous to your sanity.

Malachite waved a hand. "It doesn't matter who he is, or where he came from. But we'll have to be very careful of him. He may turn out to be even more dangerous than Beryl, whose weaknesses we know."

"All this doesn't exactly give us much in the way of a plan," Raye remarked.

To my surprise, Malachite held his temper in. "We can only do so much planning without knowing the lay of the land, so to speak. I had hoped to avoid having to return to the Negaverse before the beginning of the main assault, but it appears that there is no alternative. If I don't come back..." He exchanged a grim glance with Nephrite, then a long, speaking one with Zoisite. "If I don't come back, you will have to do as you think best, but be aware that Beryl will be alert to your presence. An unorthodox attack would probably be best." Nephrite nodded.

"You're taking an awful lot on yourself, Surfer Boy," Lita said.

I held my breath. Malachite's grey eyes glowed faintly with anger, and his hand closed tightly on Zoisite's arm, but his voice was still polite and calm as he said, "I am, of course open to other suggestions. The fact is that the enemy are trying to keep us operating in an informational vacuum, and succeeding damned well, I might add. None of our attempts at divination have netted us even one solid fact, and I doubt that Sailor Mercury's computer scans have been any more successful. A raid of the sort we are proposing requires us to know the enemy. If you have knowledge we lack, I suggest that you share it with us. Otherwise, I suggest that you remain silent." Well, perhaps not so polite as all that, but I had to give him marks for trying.

"He's right, guys." Amy had finally closed her computer, and was nudging the cats, who had gone to sleep on the table while Raye and Zoisite had still been arguing. "I don't like to admit it, but he's right. We do need more information, and, no, I haven't been able to find out anything with my computer scans."

Malachite nodded to her, as though to say, That settles that. "I don't think there's any point in us remaining here any longer, then. Excuse us." He, Zoisite, and Nephrite all disappeared in the midst of various familiar special effects.

"That man is an insufferable, arrogant, stuck-up prig!" Raye exploded the moment they were gone.

"You said that yesterday, too," Mina remarked, sounding tired.

"Well, I hate the way he orders us around! We're the Sailor Scouts, not some of his damned youma!"

"It's his job to know what to do."

We all turned and stared at Molly. She had been so quiet that I think some of the others had honestly forgotten she was there. And I might have expected her to defend Nephrite, but not Malachite.

"This is what he's trained for -- making plans and giving orders. I admit that he could be a little nicer about it, but remember, he has been dealing pretty well exclusively with youma for the past thousand years or so, and they're not easy to motivate." She kept her eyes on the floor, but her voice didn't contain even a hint of shame, or anger... or regret.

"That still doesn't give him the right to --"

"I won't listen to you slander him." Molly's calm voice cut across Raye's ranting. "I realize that you resent us. That's reasonable. But you haven't been doing well enough on your own to give you any right to criticize Malachite's methods, or anyone else's."

Raye just stood there, gaping. Molly finally raised her eyes from the floor. There was no hint in them of friendship, or warmth, or any of the other emotions that had once bound her to us. They were as cold as the light that glittered faintly from the crystal pendant she wore at her throat.

"If you'll excuse me," said Almandite the near-total stranger, "I think I should go join the others." She stood. "Are you coming, Amber?"

"I... think I'll stay here a while," the other woman said faintly.

Almandite shrugged. "As you wish." A column of yellow sparks swirled up around her, and when it cleared, she was gone. I shivered. Perhaps that wasn't such a good idea, because it drew Raye's attention to me.

"Serena, is that one of my comic books?"

"Uh..." I said intelligently.

"Give it back! I haven't finished that one yet!"

"No way!" I braced myself for the inevitable fight, as Luna, finally awake, drew in a breath to deliver a lecture on cooperation...

"Stop it!" It was almost a scream. I don't think any of us had believed Amber capable of producing so much sheer volume. "Stop it," she repeated, and I realized that her hands were shaking. And that tears were rolling down her face. Her life's been falling apart at the seams these past few days. I hope she isn't going to have a nervous breakdown. "Why do you all always have to be fighting?" she asked plaintively.

I glanced at the others. Even Raye looked a little ashamed.

"We're sorry," I said. "It's just the way we are. I guess we must seem like real brats to you, eh?" I went to sit beside her, dropping the comic book absently on the table in passing, and narrowly missing Luna. Raye immediately snatched it up. "Raye and I argue about everything." I put my arm around her. She leaned against me. I hoped that meant she was getting some comfort from the contact. "We don't really mean anything by it."

She tried to wipe away her tears, but only succeeded in smearing them around and making her face wet. "I'm sorry, too," she whispered. "It's just that I... I..."

"We understand," I said. "This isn't exactly something you could do in front of Malachite and Company. They aren't a very sympathetic bunch."

She smiled through the tears. "Actually, Almandite's okay, mostly. I can't believe that she's only the same age as you girls."

I sighed, feeling depressed myself again. "She was normal enough up until a few months ago."

"She was your friend, wasn't she?" Amber's tears had finally dried up.

"Yeah." I didn't feel like talking about it. "But there's nothing we can do for her now. We have to concentrate on getting your son back from the Negaverse."

Amber managed a tentative smile. "Thank you."

"Hey," Lita said. "It's what we do."

The meeting adjourned soon after that, when Zoisite arrived to pick up Amber. She didn't look all that happy about going with him, but there wasn't much we could do about it. It would have been really, really difficult to explain it away if she stayed with any of us, and it was obvious that she needed protection.

The End of Chapter 7 - Goto Chapter 8


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