The Wars of Light and Shadow II: All Darkness Met

Chapter 13

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Malachite

<<Zoi?>> I reached out and tested the fading bars of our cage with a fingertip. Not quite yet.

<<What is it?>>

<<I'm beginning to think I should have sent you to do this job alone. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to kill him.>> A human would have considered it a strange thing to feel guilty about. But then again, humans are rarely put in the position of needing to kill a friend in order to save the world -- and themselves. The truth was, I didn't give a damn about the human world. Its salvation just happened to be a by- product of the course of action that I found most convenient. <<Or at least, not in cold blood.>>

<<What about the others? Citrine and Beryl?>>

I shrugged. Citrine didn't matter to me one way or the other, and he was siding with the enemy. Beryl... I'm not sure whether the expression that crossed my face at that moment was closer to being a smile or a snarl. Oh, yes, I would enjoy killing Beryl.

<<When the time comes,>> Zoisite stated, <<you'll be able to do what you need to do. You always can.>>

I bowed my head. <<Not always.>> The memories were strong and bitter, even after all this time.

None of the others had been there, almost a thousand years ago, when I found Zoisite curled in a quivering ball outside Beryl's private rooms. I had known that she had called for him, some hours earlier, and I had known that it was getting harder and harder for him to obey her when she ordered him into her bed, but I hadn't expected anything like that. The physical damage had been superficial, mere scratches, but he was mentally and emotionally shattered, and to this day, I don't know how Beryl accomplished it. He hadn't even responded when I bent down to pick him up and carry him back to the rooms we had shared in those days, not far from Beryl's suite. If he had been merely human, he would have died in the weeks it took me to coax him to eat, to drink. It was over a year before he would look at me or respond to what was happening around him. A decade before he had spoken again. And almost a century before I could touch him again in anything but the most innocent way, or anyone else could touch him at all, without having him go into a fear-driven withdrawal.

I might have killed Beryl then. If I had been in my right mind, I certainly would have. But the Negaforce prevented me. It soothed me, dimmed the memories, locked my hatred up behind a wall of ice and darkness, where I couldn't touch it. And, after a while, I had genuinely forgotten.

Then she had attacked him again. I will never, ever forget the horror of being forced to stand by, impotently, while the only person I have ever truly loved had his life blasted away by that... that... I have no word for her. Calling her a snake would be an insult to ophidians. I wanted to kill her then as well, but the Negaforce had restrained me, wrapping my mind, once again, in bands of ice and darkness. It was then that I realized how much of a slave I truly was. And that there was no escape except the one that the others had found, which dismayed me not in the least. With Zoisite gone, my life hadn't been worth living. And so I had thrown it away. I had committed suicide by using an attack on the Scouts that I had known would be reflected back at me by the Silver Crystal. The only sensation I had felt when my own weapon had pierced my chest had been one of relief.

<<I failed you,>> I stated. <<Twice, I failed you.>>

<<No. You never did.>> His hand caressed my face. <<The Negaforce was too strong for you. It wasn't your fault. Anyway, if you still feel I've been wronged, and you want to make it up to me, bring me Beryl's head on a platter. Or have it stuffed and mounted.>>

I didn't want to think about what he might do with Beryl's severed head. <<Look, the barrier's almost down.>>

A groaning sound rose from somewhere far below us.

<<And the Negaforce has indigestion,>> I added. <<Come on, let's go and trash the thing.>> If we took out the Negaforce first, instead of last as we had originally intended, Beryl and Citrine's powers would be much reduced, and Jadeite and Jasper might come over to our side. <<We need to be gone from here before it recovers.>>

<<Do you think we can do it?>>

<<What, get out of here?>> I teased.

Zoisite scowled. <<No, deal with the Negaforce all by ourselves.>>

<<My love, there's nothing we can't do together.>>

<<Except destroy the Sailor Scouts.>>

<<We would have done that, too, if Beryl hadn't interfered. Hmmm. I think we go left.>>

Another twenty minutes would see us at our goal. And once we achieved it, nothing would stop us. Nothing.

Jasper

I jerked my head up, feeling oddly ashamed. Lord Jadeite was standing casually beside the chair I had vacated. I couldn't read the look on his face.

"I'm sorry, Father," I said, then kicked myself the moment the words left my lips. Now he's going to kill me for sure...

He only looked puzzled for a moment, then shook his head and shot a glance at the woman. There was a weird intensity to it. He *does* know who she is, and this is another one of his tests. I wonder if I'm passing?

Moving away from the chair, he circled the three of us slowly -- me, the woman, and the boy. When he touched my shoulder, I understood and moved aside, allowing him to take my place in front of the woman.

"Well, Amber," he said, "what do you think of my protege?"

"Why are you doing this?" There were still tears in her eyes. "You weren't like this before. Why are you acting this way?"

"My dear, what you saw before was a facade. This is who I really am." Jadeite appropriated my chair, my glass, and the decanter of wine.

"I don't think so," she said seriously.

"Speak when you're spoken to!" I drew back my hand to slap her again.

"Not now, Jasper," Lord Jadeite said. "I think I need to disabuse her once and for all of the notion that she ever had any importance to me."

"Was she your lover?" I snapped the question, lashing out to salve my wounded pride.

"Not quite." Those intense dark blue eyes stared at me over the rim of his glass. "But almost. I had gotten... rather too caught up in playing the part of a human for my own good. Tell me, Amber, do you wish things had gone otherwise?"

With detached amusement, I observed that she was shaking. Mmmm. He does have such a wonderful handle on these subtle torture techniques. Much better than Zoisite, really. The diminutive general had been inclined toward more physical tortures -- presumably, he still was. I wondered if the Lords Nephrite and Malachite ever tormented people for their amusement. Probably not. Nephrite was always too detached, and Malachite too goal-directed to play with his captives. The memories were so frustratingly vague! I knew I had known the older generals, perhaps not well, but I had known them. So why did I remember them only as vague snatches of images, the clearest of which had them dressed as ordinary humans?

"Would my sleeping with you have kept you from doing this?" Amber waved her hand in my direction, a gesture that took in the room in general.

Jadeite was still watching us both over the rim of his glass. "Perhaps." He smiled like a cat that has just caught some unfortunate mouse.

"Then maybe I can persuade you to undo at least some of it." She reached up and unfastened the top button of her shirt.

Jadeite laughed. "You overestimate your charms, my dear. You aren't worth annoying Beryl over, and you certainly aren't worth the loss of... my son."

"If you want her, then take her," I said. "I have no particular use for her. She doesn't look like she'll survive becoming a youma anyway."

"Appearances can be deceiving." For a moment, there was a hint of pain in Jadeite's eyes. It was almost enough to make me wonder if he cared for her after all. "There's more to this one than meets the eye. But then, you'd expect that from the Queen's sister."

I snorted. "You have to be joking." Beryl's sister? It was difficult to imagine two people more different than this mousy human woman and our forceful, dominating Queen.

"Well, half-sister," Jadeite admitted. "Nevertheless, it's possible that we may be able to find a use for her." He set his empty glass down again beside the decanter and stood up. "In the meanwhile, we do have one other detail to take care of." He nodded in the direction of the human boy, nearly forgotten during our conversation.

"You can't," the woman said.

Jadeite shook his head. "You shouldn't have joined Malachite's little assault party -- I assume that is how you got here? -- if you weren't willing to take the risks. But I don't intend to do anything particularly unpleasant to this one just yet. I'm just going to put him to work." A small gesture, and the boy was wearing a manacle of dark energy around his ankle. A full bucket of water and a scrub brush sat on the floor beside him. "There's no point in letting him get lazy, and we've been having some problems with the cleaning staff. Too many of them were killed during the period of disorder that followed Beryl's defeat by the Sailor Scouts."

<<Jadeite. Jasper. Report.>> Unusually, Beryl's summons wasn't coming at a completely inopportune time.

"I expect that floor to have a mirror polish on it by the time we get back," Jadeite snapped to the boy.

I considered the woman. She was, after all, technically my possession. Then I smiled. There was a trick I'd always been wanting to try, but the opportunity had never arisen until now.

I traced a symbol on her forehead with my fingertip. It flashed purple for an instant, indicating that I had set it correctly.

"Don't leave this room," I said. "If you try, the results will be... unpleasant." If she really was Beryl's sister, it was wise to take a few precautions, and if she wasn't, well, there was still no harm done.

I was still wondering what Beryl wanted of us when I initiated my teleport.

Citrine

I balanced the Silver Crystal on the palm of my hand. Such a small thing. So tiny, so light in weight, for an object that had been able to destroy the entire Empyrean nation. Such a minuscule trinket for an object that I hoped would be able to trap a god. If I could use it. Its power was twice barred from me, first because of my history as an Empyrean, and secondly, because of the Negaforce's taint.

#Do you hear that, you son of a bitch? I'm coming for you!#

There was no response. I hadn't expected one.

I slipped the Crystal back into my pocket. Before I could make any kind of use of it, there was someone, or rather, something, whose help I needed to enlist.

The Negaforce's room still had shadows clustering in the corners. I approached the globe that formed the seat of the creature's consciousness as closely as I could before kneeling. As usual, shards of the older, larger globe dug into my knees. As usual, I ignored them.

"My Master," I said.

"Citrine. Why have you come?"

This would require delicate handling. "My Master, I wish to report success in one of the oldest tasks you set for Beryl. The Imperium Silver Crystal is now in our hands."

"Excellent. It seems that I was correct in accepting you into my service. Now. Give me the Crystal."

I held it out. Dark lightning wrapped around it and lifted it from my hand. Blackness closed around it. Then the Silver Crystal flashed. The bindings on it failed, and it fell to the floor.

"It appears," the great voice murmured, "that this will be a more complex task than I expected."

<<You will never have us. Never!>> The voice was a stranger's, heard in the mind only, and generating pain that stabbed along my every nerve.

"Oh, but I will," whispered the Negaforce. "Citrine."

"Yes, my Master?"

"The corruption of the Silver Crystal will required much energy. It has come to my attention that there is unrest in my Negaverse. Some of my ex-servants have been spreading treason. I want the traitor youma dead and their energy brought to me."

"And their leaders?" I asked. Careful, careful...

"They are to be captured unharmed if possible, but take no unnecessary risks."

"As you will." And then the Crystal would be mine, and I would finally have my revenge... I rose to my feet, giving the red globe the same salute that I had seen Jadeite give Beryl. And immediately recognized my mistake.

"I did not dismiss you!" the voice roared. "You are arrogant, Citrine, and far too sure of yourself. Perhaps it is time that you learned a lesson."

I felt an odd sort of mental twist, and my body froze. I couldn't even blink my eyes.

"Become one with *my* will, and become mine," the Negaforce's voice whispered mockingly. "Now, dance, my loyal puppet --" My arms lifted, and I found myself performing a wooden pirouette. "You are *mine*. Do not forget, and do not provoke me again."

Control of my body was abruptly returned to me. "As my Master wills," I said. The anger I felt at being under orders was all too familiar. Then something cold slithered through my mind and drained away the heat of my rage.

"You are dismissed," the Negaforce told me. I bowed deeply before leaving.

<<Citrine.>>

Beryl's summons couldn't have come at a better time. I teleported for her throne room.

"Now, Jadeite, perhaps you would care to explain to me how Malachite escaped your little trap?" she was saying when I arrived.

"I have no idea, m'Queen." In the utter silence of the throne room, empty except for Beryl, myself, Jasper, and Jadeite, I clearly heard the sound of a drop of sweat falling to the floor.

"You disappoint me, Jadeite."

I quietly took up my usual station to Beryl's left, noticing as I did so that a murderous expression had flickered across Jasper's face. He would have to be watched. Jadeite had created him, and I wasn't certain where his true loyalties lay.

Although some human emotions will always be a mystery to me, any Empyrean would understand the concept of a divided loyalty and how it can affect one's actions.

"We will discuss your incompetence later," Beryl continued. "In the meanwhile, it has come to my attention that the Sailor Scouts are at large in the palace. I am aware that you lack the power -- and the intelligence! -- to deal with Malachite, but surely you can handle five little girls in sailor suits. I want them gone. Kill them, incapacitate them, or drive them away as you see fit. But if Endymion is with them, bring him to me. Unharmed."

"Yes, m'Queen." Jadeite vanished in a swirl of blue flame.

"Jasper. Malachite and Zoisite are somewhere on the lower levels. You are to track them, but under no circumstances are you to engage them. Keep me apprised of their position at all times."

"Yes, m'Queen." Jasper's teleport effect was a swirl of purple feathers.

"What do you want Endymion for?" I asked as soon as we were alone.

Beryl smiled, showing her fangs. "I still need another general. Endymion has served admirably in the past, in that and ...other capacities."

"But he's a human." It was only a token objection.

"Endymion is one of those rare humans who has a talent for magic. It is both a strength and a weakness. It renders him... corruptible."

"And what of Nephrite and his forces?"

Her smile widened. "I had to leave something for you to do. I will be in my rooms. Do not disturb me unless it is absolutely necessary." She stood up and teleported.

I brushed her floating crystal ball aside and perched on the edge of the throne. I didn't intend to move an inch. This room had to be one of Nephrite's primary targets, since it was the place he was most likely to find Beryl. There was a good chance he would come here. And when he did, I would be waiting.

Almandite

All resistance from Beryl's ex-followers evaporated abruptly some five minutes from our goal.

<<I don't like this,>> Nephrite remarked privately to me.

There didn't seem to be any good response. I didn't know enough to contribute anything to his observation except that I was also feeling uneasy.

There was nothing to do but go on. Along the corridor, past a junction, to turn right through a doorway. Nephrite stopped so abruptly in front of me that I ran into his back. He spoke a few phrases that I recognized as Silver Millennese curses, although I still don't know exactly what they meant.

Citrine smiled at us from where he was lounging on Beryl's throne. "So glad you could join me," he said.

The End of Chapter 13 - Goto Chapter 14


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