The Wars of Light and Shadow II: All Darkness Met

Chapter 9

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Melvin

There was an instant of cold and absolute darkness as I slammed into the stranger who had stolen Serena's locket. Then I was pushed roughly aside, and fell to the floor. The stone floor, I realized. It should have been tile. The girls' locker room, judging from the brief glimpse I had managed, was an identical mirror image of the boys'.

I continued to lie there, on my stomach, staring at the floor just in front of my nose. The stone was grey and streaked with some sort of inclusions. I was at a loss to classify it. Somehow, it reminded me of the fossilized bones of some giant beast.

A booted foot prodded me in the side. I didn't move. I may be a bit slow on the uptake, sometimes, and maybe even a bit naive about how life works outside of the Internet, but I didn't exactly need to be the most observant person in the world to figure out that I was probably in big trouble.

"What are you going to do with him?" That had to be the second man, the blonde who had been holding Serena.

"I'll take him to see our Master, I suppose. If he survives the conversion process, he might make a useful sort of servant." That was the second man, the one I had tackled. I didn't like the sound of that if he survives...

The first man snorted. "I doubt he will. I mean, look at him." The boot prodded me again. "A little teleport left him out cold. Do you honestly think he'll be able to survive becoming a youma? You know the odds for males aren't good to begin with."

"Do you happen to know why that is? I've always wondered."

"Some quirk of the Negaforce's, I suppose. Also, the males are more likely to commit suicide when they realize what they've become."

"Are you certain he's unconscious? He could be faking it." The second voice was moving closer to me. I tried not to do anything too stupid, like scoot over into the corner. I really didn't like these guys.

A painful kick in the ribs. I bit back a scream. I'm not exactly used to pain.

"All right, so maybe he isn't." A rustle of cloth. I risked turning my head a bit to get a better look. The man with the wings had turned back toward his companion, which meant he was presenting his side to me. The side with the belt pouch. "Lord Jadeite, do you think -- "

Well, when opportunity knocks... Neither of them was paying any attention to me anymore, so I was able to lunge up, tear the pouch from the stranger's belt, and be halfway out the door before either of them realized what was happening.

I ran out into the hallway and tore around a corner, hearing the sound of booted feet behind me. And they were gaining.

Around another corner, through an open door... I panicked as I realized that this room seemed to be a dead end. Then I noticed the window in the far wall. This is stupid. Why am I doing this? I'm going to tear myself to shreds...

I wouldn't have expected wanton destruction to be so gratifying. I actually felt a sense of accomplishment as the window shattered outward, glass flying in all directions, and I went hurtling through. I was outside, on... a lawn? Maybe, if the grayish moss under my feet was supposed to be grass. But I didn't have much time to look around.

I ran. Off the flat lawn and into the broken, hilly land that surrounded it. I pounded up a ravine, then over the crest of a hill and into a stand of trees. Well, they sort of looked like trees.

I heard a curse from behind and above. Okay, he did have wings. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised he can fly, even if that makes more sense than the rest of this place.

I wish it had been some feat of ingenuity on my part that saved me from being found. The truth is, it was sheer dumb luck. I tripped over a rock and fell onto a mass of branches, which gave way beneath me. I plunged downward a distance of maybe twice my own height and landed face down on something squishy, which burst, soaking me in sticky liquid. Miraculously, it had broken my fall enough that I had managed to avoid taking serious damage.

I picked myself up. The fuchsia-toned goop all over my glasses made it difficult for me to see, but it was fairly obvious that this had to be a cave. I had fallen through a hole in the ceiling and landed on top of some sort of fungus-like growth. I'd better try to get away from here. They're sure to search for me, and it would take a blind man to miss that hole.

I struck out at random. Once away from the hole I had fallen through, I wouldn't be able to see anything anyway, so it didn't make much difference which direction I chose.

Malachite

"And then they what?!" With an effort, I managed to keep my voice down. Nevertheless, the blonde girl cringed. Rabbits. I'm surrounded by rabbits!

"They took the Silver Crystal," Serena repeated. I couldn't think of her as 'Sailor Moon' now. Not when it was possible that she would never be Sailor Moon again.

I hadn't really been asking for her to repeat herself. I had just been venting my irritation. Returning from a dangerous trip to the Negaverse to be dragged to a meeting with the Sailor Scouts and discover this hadn't been what I'd had in mind for this evening. I had wanted to spend it in bed. With Zoisite. Not that my intentions would have been to do anything other than sleep. It was almost two days, now, since I had managed more than a ten-minute catnap.

And now to have my plans ruined by this piece of colossal stupidity!

"What I had in mind won't work now." I kept my voice as calm as possible. I don't dare let them know that I'm afraid. "We have to act immediately." I gritted my teeth. This would be when the Scouts would protest. It seemed to be almost a matter of principle for them. It had been easier working with the youma. The denizens of the Negaverse were somewhat more likely to stab me in the back, but they didn't argue with me or force me to worry about coddling a bunch of fragile human egos.

But no one spoke. I realized that I had clenched both my hands into fists, and that my nails were biting into my palms even through the fabric of the thin white gloves that went with my uniform. I raked the Scouts over with what I hoped was a frosty glare, then turned it on Amber for good measure.

<<Careful, you're going to turn them into ice statues,>> Zoisite told me.

<<Do you think I care?>> I asked him.

"The good news," I continued, "is that we have several hundred youma on our side." I had been surprised at how many of Zoisite's and my followers were still left. Even a few of Nephrite's had managed to crawl up out of whatever holes they had hidden in and join in the fun. "And apparently Beryl doesn't have the Silver Crystal either. It was stolen from Jadeite and Jasper before they could give it to her." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Amber wince, as she did at every mention of what her son had become. "The description my informant gave me matched Serena's description of her friend Melvin." However, I was reasonably certain that there was something Zantisa hadn't told me. She always held something back. But then, she had lived in the Negaverse longer than anyone else I knew of -- longer even than Beryl. She knew the ways of the place. I had nicknamed her Chrysotile in recognition of that expertise. Not the name of a gemstone, which would have marked her as a general, but close. Very close.

"So what do you want us to do?" Serena was staring down at her hands. Looks like she's still in shock. These humans!

"Ideally, this will be a three-pronged attack. Nephrite will lead the army of youma in a frontal assault." Sorry, old friend, but it had to be one of us two. "Almandite will accompany him. You Scouts will slip into Beryl's castle through a side entrance, provide an additional diversion, and, if possible, locate and retrieve the Silver Crystal. And Zoisite and I will attempt to achieve our main objective." I don't know if we can kill Beryl, but I'm damned well going to try!

"And what am I supposed to be doing during all this?"

I had to admit that Amber was showing more courage than I had expected. "You stay behind. With Serena. The two of you have no powers and won't be anything more than dead weight."

<<You're wasting your time if you try to convince her to stay behind.>>

<<What do you mean, Nephrite?>> It wasn't like him to interrupt me like this. At least he had the good sense to do it in such a way that it wouldn't be noticed by the -- enemy? Odd, that I still thought of them that way -- that surrounded us.

<<I would have thought that the symptoms would be at least as obvious to you as to me. After all, we've both experienced something similar in our own lives, and you for much longer than I.>>

<<Nephrite -->>

<<She's in love with Jadeite, you prize fool. If Zoisite was the one trapped in the Negaverse, wouldn't you do your damnedest to go along on the rescue expedition, even if you knew there was nothing you could do to help?>>

<<Jadeite isn't exactly 'trapped in the Negaverse',>> I pointed out. <<It seems obvious, to me at least, that he went back of his own free will. And this isn't exactly a rescue expedition, either.>>

<<I know. But I've noticed that you haven't exactly been eager to tell her what you're going to have to do if you can't knock the two of them over the head, haul them back here, and lock them up until the Negaforce's influence wears off.>>

<<Why do you think Zoisite's the only one I'm taking with me? I can't trust the Scouts on this. I can't even trust Almandite -- she's still human enough that she'd hesitate if it came down to killing them. And I need you to lead the youma.>>

<<And you're afraid I might hesitate myself?>>

<<No. I think you'd have the same reaction as I would -- regret, but no hesitancy. It's been a long time since the five of us were children together, and there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I think that those of us who have survived know how to kill. Even if the victim is a friend.>>

Nephrite bowed his head. I became aware that I had been standing for long enough without speaking that the Scouts' stares were becoming more concerned than angry.

"Or that would be my recommendation," I said, picking up where I had left off. "However, I am not going to expend any significant effort in trying to stop you if you decide that your time is best spent in accompanying the Scouts, or Nephrite's army if he will have you. You aren't worth it. In fact..." The plan took form inside my head in a sudden flash of illumination. "In fact, if Beryl hasn't yet recovered the Silver Crystal, it may be to the benefit of all of us if Serena accompanies the other Scouts. It shouldn't take much of an illusion to convince them that we have the Crystal back ourselves."

Serena looked a bit dubious. Amber was staring pleadingly at Nephrite. As I watched, he nodded fractionally. She would be going with him, then. Good enough. And if she got herself killed, I wouldn't have to worry any further about erasing her memory after all this was over.

"I only have one question." Somehow, I wasn't surprised to find Darien, in full Tuxedo Mask garb, standing just inside the door. Not when we were conspiring to put Sailor Moon in the worst possible sort of danger. "When do we leave?"

"Now," I replied firmly. "The longer we wait, the greater the chances of Beryl recovering the Silver Crystal will become. I don't know if she can turn it to her use, but I would bet that the Negaforce can. If you're coming, get over here so that we can include you in the teleport radius."

"Why don't we just use one of those warp hole things like you had before?" Serena asked.

"Because there are only a certain number of them and they're all closely monitored." Nephrite saved me the trouble of answering. "Any means of transportation that can be used by an ordinary human is considered a security hazard in the Negaverse. And in any case, I can't recall any that come out anywhere we want to be."

<<Although it might be fun to dump the Scouts in, say, the lava pits at Temishar -- remember the warp Ninjana found that opens up about forty feet above? -- and see how long it takes them to roast,>> Zoisite observed privately to me.

<<Mercury would probably just freeze them over, and then where would we be? They're getting on my nerves too, love. Don't worry. It won't be much longer.>> Although I privately had a feeling that Zoisite's nerves were more due to our imminent return to the Negaverse than to the presence of the Scouts. I didn't have to probe him at all deeply to find out that his feelings about the place were as mixed as my own, if not more so. It was home, and yet it was at the root of all the evil we had done, and all the evil that we had become... I couldn't help but feel that the young man I had been, before Beryl and the Negaverse, would have been unable to bring himself to do the night's work I was anticipating to be ahead of me. Fitting that we should have to do this there, then. It gave me a sense of closure.

The four of us took up positions at the fringe of the group of eleven, each equidistant from the others. Except for Almandite, who would be under Nephrite's direction, we all knew the way as well as we knew our own names. Perhaps even better. Zoisite had come close to forgetting his a time or two, toward the end of our previous lives.

Slipping so much alien power, in the form of the Sailor Scouts, through the barrier that separated Earth and the Negaverse wasn't easy. Doing it without being noticed (I hoped) was even more difficult. As a result, we were a little off-target, and arrived a little higher above the ground than I had anticipated. We had all felt it better to err in that direction than risk ending up mired in the solid rock of the floor. We four landed upright, but Amber, Darien, and the Scouts, who hadn't been anticipating it, ended up in a heap on the floor.

Serena wrinkled her nose as she stood up and looked around the barren room. "Ugh. Where are we?"

"My castle," I replied. "One of the unused sections. I checked --" I wasn't about to say scouted -- "it out during my little side trip, earlier, and all the protections are still intact. No one will be able to get in or out without my knowing it."

"Does the plumbing work?" Almandite asked.

"Some of it." Plumbing in the Negaverse is legendarily bad, and the butt of many jokes. It's very difficult to convince youma to work at maintenance tasks. "Don't worry. We won't be here for long enough for it to matter."

Melvin

I staggered through those caves for hours, becoming steadily wetter, muddier, and hungrier. Never again am I going to try to be a hero. From now on, I'm going to leave things like that to people like Sailor V, and stick to studying inchworms. I wonder why they wanted Serena's locket? I had stuffed the little pouch in my pocket. There wasn't much point in trying to examine it here.

Was that light? I had been beginning to wonder whether the existence of light had been a figment of my imagination. But the smear of brightness -- still fuchsia-toned -- was growing brighter the nearer I came to it.

Some sort of glowing globes hung from the ceiling of the new tunnel which eventually intersected with the one along which I had been traveling. Unlike the natural caves with their rough walls, this corridor had a man-made look to it.

The sound of footsteps and voices forced me to duck back inside the opening of the crude tunnel. A group of... creatures... went walking by. All appeared to be female. All had very weird skin tones -- blue, purple, yellow, and in one case, orange and green marbled. Other than that, some of them looked almost human. Oh, and they all wore very skimpy outfits. I'd never seen the like.

A few minutes later, another similar group passed going in the other direction. Oboy, am I in trouble. If everyone around here looks like that, except for those two weirdoes in the grey uniforms, I'm not exactly going to be able to keep myself hidden for long. I looked down at my hands. Now that I had finally gotten my glasses clean, I could see that the juice from those mushroom globes I had landed on had stained my skin fuchsia. Not exactly my favorite color, but it did give me an idea. The glowing globes dangling from the ceiling were irregularly placed and looked organic. I managed to pluck a particularly low-dangling one, and vented a sigh of relief when it continued to glow. Okay, that's phase one. Now for phase two... I backed away along the tunnel I had entered by. Hopefully, it wouldn't take me long to find more of that fungus.

An hour later, I was back at the entrance to the well-lit corridor. And I felt like an idiot, which was hardly surprising, since I was half-naked. Most of my shirt had been sacrificed to stuff the upper portion of my new outfit, which consisted of my pants legs, ripped off and tied crosswise across my chest. I could only hope that my new figure looked convincing. The remaining portion of my pants covered necessary portions of my lower body, and incidentally, provided me with a pocket to hold the winged man's pouch. Every exposed inch of my skin -- and there was a lot of it -- had been dyed bright fuchsia, and, for good measure, I had rubbed some of the mushroom liquid into my hair as well. Fortunately or otherwise, there were no mirrors around, so I had no way of judging the effect. I could only test it, and hope that it achieved its purpose.

I stepped out into the corridor, chose a direction at random, and began walking. It wasn't long before I passed one of those groups of weird-looking women. A couple of them sniggered and made comments about my tailoring -- hey, try to create high fashion out of a Crossroads Junior High boy's school uniform sometime, without so much as a pair of scissors, and see how far you get -- but otherwise they ignored me. Once they were out of sight around the next bend, I leaned back against the rock wall and breathed a sigh of relief.

"You look kind of lost."

I blinked. She wasn't much taller or much better dressed than I was, with medium-green skin and shoulder-length dark hair. Except for her coloring and the two short horns that sprouted from her forehead, she was actually kind of cute.

"I'm new around here," I said tentatively, blessing the fact that my voice was high-pitched enough to be mistaken for a girl's.

"I guessed that." She reached out and tapped my glasses with her fingertip. I gathered that they weren't exactly common accessories here. Wherever 'here' was.

"I... uh... guess I am lost, at that." At that moment, my stomach rumbled.

Her look actually contained something resembling sympathy. "Looking for the dining hall, were you? I was just on my way there myself. You can come with me if you like. This place can be kind of confusing for the first little while."

"Thanks," I said.

She snorted. "Oh, don't think I'm doing this for free. Nobody does anything around here unless they expect to get something out of it, or unless it's an order from one of the Generals or from the Queen. I expect to collect on this favor some day."

I stared at her retreating back for a moment, then had to hurry to catch up. Well, if she thinks I'm a stranger here anyway... "I don't suppose you can tell me exactly where 'here' is."

"What did they do to you, just process you and turn you loose? Do you even know who you're working for?"

"Uh..." Anything I said might be a giveaway, so I decided to say nothing at all.

"If you're still unassigned, enjoy it while you can. It won't last for long, unless your lord decides to toss you out in disgrace. Do you know what your powers are?"

"I don't think I have any."

She smiled. Her teeth were pointed. They looked very sharp. "Don't worry. It'll come. You still look fairly human, so it's possible you haven't finished changing yet. When you do, you'll be powerful. I guarantee it. What's your name?"

"Melv --" I bit it off. Really intelligent. I've got to remember that I'm supposed to be a girl! Giving her a boy's name would be just plain stupid.

"Mel, is it? I'm Zantisa. Or some people call me Chrysotile."

"Have you been here long?" Maybe if I can keep her talking, I can learn enough to make sense out of this.

"You could say that."

We were climbing stairs now. Sounds of activity were filtering down from above.

"Um... Who do you work for?"

She froze in the act of lifting her foot to clear the next stair and shot a glare at me over her shoulder. What did I say? "No one, at the moment. Do you think I'd dress like this if I had a patron? Ever since Lord Malachite died, I've been living on Queen Beryl's charity."

"I'm sorry." I didn't need her angry at me.

"Stop acting like a wimpy human." But she was facing forward again, and climbing. "You're a youma now. Youma don't apologize for anything."

"I --" I stopped, not only because of what she had said, but because I wasn't quite certain what I would be apologizing for.

"That's better. You're going to have to learn to be more assertive, or some day soon, someone's going to run right over you."

We were at the top of the stairs now. A huge hall lined with long tables opened up in front of us, and from somewhere at the far end, the smell of something cooking wafted. The scent wasn't really all that appetizing, but I hadn't eaten in a very long time. My stomach growled almost continuously as I crossed the hall in Chrysotile's wake. She shoved through the massed people -- youma? -- without apologizing or waiting for them to get out of the way. A number of them glared at her, but none of them seemed inclined to argue. I intercepted some strange glances, but no one seemed inclined to bother me, either. Which was just as well. It looked like just about everyone else here was half again my height and could break me in half with their bare hands.

Chrysotile pushed her way to the head of the serving line, where we were each handed a plate of some stewlike brownish glop and a slab of grayish fungal stuff. I balanced the plate carefully, being unable to shake the feeling that the mass that coated it would crawl away if allowed to slide off. She found two empty chairs by the simple expedient of kicking them out from under their owners, sat down, and began to eat. I sat down beside her. It took only a moment for me to decide that the youma were never going to win any awards for their cuisine.

"Think of it as an incentive to get promoted," Chrysotile said. I wondered whether I had said something out loud, or whether she had just seen my expression upon tasting the slab of fungus. "The food improves a lot as you move up the ranks."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask how she knew. I guess she must have been somebody important once.

"Chrysotile," hissed a yellow youma as she walked past. "Meeting tonight. At his place. They'll be there."

Chrysotile didn't bother to acknowledge the other. I wondered who he and they were.

"Attention!"

The low hum of conversation died as everyone turned toward the big youma who stood at the front of the hall.

"A prisoner has escaped," her voice boomed. "By order of the Queen, we are all to search for him. He is a young male human, age approximately fifteen, dressed in black, with brown hair and wearing eyeglasses. He is to be brought, alive, unharmed, and with all his possessions intact, to General Jadeite or General Jasper. A reward has been offered."

Silence, then a roar of conversation. I couldn't help but notice that Chrysotile was looking at me a bit oddly. I hoped that didn't mean she saw through my disguise.

I lowered my eyes and began shoveling food into my mouth again. I had to find a way out of this nightmare.

The End of Chapter 9 - Goto Chapter 10


Author's Note:

I have a slightly embarassing confession to make. Remember how I said, in the Author's Notes, that there were 19 chapters in this thing? Well, actually, it looks like there are only 18. I re-numbered the chapters when I did the final re-write shortly before the first parts were posted, and somehow what should have been chapter 9 ended up being numbered as chapter 10. I've corrected that here, but the error seems to have been passed down through the rest of the text. (This is just for anyone who may later end up wondering what happened to the last chapter.)

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