The Wars of Light and Shadow II: All Darkness Met

Chapter 16

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Jasper

I watched as Lord Jadeite wiped sweat from his forehead and looked across the hallway to meet Amber's eyes.

"I've been a fool," he said. "Can you ever forgive me?"

She smiled timidly.

<<Father, have you gone mad?>> His behavior had just suddenly become so... bizarre.

He glanced at me. <<No, Jasper. Son. I'm not mad. Not anymore. And I have a confession to make. Amber is your mother. Anything she may have told you is probably true. I'm the one that's been lying.>>

My mind reeled. <<Then... I'm eight years old... And you stole me from her...>>

<<Yes. And yes. And rewrote your memories. And made you an adult, a Crystal Weaver, and a Negaverse general. Which reminds me, I have something here that belongs to you.>>

He took a small piece of purple crystal from his pocket and handed it to me. The moment I touched it, I knew it was indeed mine. And that everything else he had just said was true.

"I still don't remember her," I admitted. "Only you, and this place."

He sighed. "I may have done my job a bit too well. Now. I'm going to commit high treason. Care to join me?"

I stared. I couldn't help it. Treason... I wanted to do it. To go with him. But something was holding me back. Shadows swirled across my vision, distorting Jadeite's face, whispering to me that this was the enemy. No! He was my mentor, my friend... my father. I would not turn against him. I would not!

<<Fight it!>> Jadeite told me.

<<Don't worry,>> I replied. <<I have no intention of spending the next thousand years trapped here alone with a couple of thousand youma and that bastard Citrine!>>

I AM NOT YOURS! I screamed at the Negaforce. Slowly, as I continued to pressure it, the bonds that imprisoned my mind bent and relaxed. In the end, I was free of everything but the faintest taste of shadow that would never leave me, now.

I became aware that I was panting and sticky with sweat.

"So where do we go from here?" I asked.

"Beryl's throne room," Lord Jadeite replied. "Without Malachite and the others, we don't stand a chance against the Negaforce."

Citrine

The transition from darkness to light was not an easy one. The luminescent air of my old home was like fire to the touch. I immediately cloaked myself in a layer of shadow, but the fragile skin of my human body was already reddened wherever it had been exposed.

#Brothers?# I called softly, wistfully, but I knew that none had survived. And even if they had, what could they possibly want with a creature like myself, part human, part Empyrean, and part servant of the darkness?

I clenched the hand that wasn't holding the Silver Crystal into a fist. I had a job to do here, and indulging in self-pity and maudlin memory wasn't going to get it done.

Distances in the Empyrean realm aren't measurable by human standards, so it is difficult to say how far I had to travel to achieve my final destination, or how long it took. I just followed the strongest concentrations of light until I reached the place from where I had last departed this realm.

#What do you want?# The Eternal Light wasn't welcoming, but it didn't try to chase me away, either. Presumably it thought I couldn't hurt it. I was going to prove it wrong.

If it sensed my hostility, it must have been thinking in terms of a conventional attack, perhaps something along the lines of the fire tendrils the Crystal Weavers used. And that wasn't what I did at all. Instead of pushing or tearing or slashing or poking, I pulled.

The only statement my ex-god had time to make as it was sucked inside the Silver Crystal was #!!!!!!!!#.

But the plan didn't work out quite as well as I had hoped. The Crystal had more than enough internal space to accommodate the being I was intent on placing there. What I hadn't realized was that it was already occupied. The Eternal Light's... spirit, for want of a better word, had displaced something else. Something that wanted a new container. And in all this vast realm, there was only one available.

Me.

Somehow, I managed to keep a grip on my body as another's essence fought its way into my brain. A fountain of sparks was obscuring my vision.

<<I know you,>> it said suddenly.

<<I know you too,>> I realized. It was not a welcome thought. <<Some twelve hundred years ago, by the humans' calendar, you almost killed me.>> Two years ago, I would have sworn that the Crystal Weavers were extinct, except for one man. Now I had encountered some nine or ten of them in a relatively brief period of time. It made me wonder exactly how many of them had survived that old war. <<Get out!>>

<<No. You must understand, I would prefer not to be here either, Empyrean, but you've placed me in an awkward position.>>

I surprised myself by experiencing a pang of nostalgia. Here, at least, was an enmity I understood, one that had once filled my world. A world that was gone, now. <<What's your name?>> I asked.

<<Demantoid.>> The thought somehow had a puzzled flavor.

<<Demantoid,>> I repeated. <<And I am Citrine.>> I had given up on displacing this intruder. In the end, it mattered very little. It was only one of many.

<<I thought that your kind had no names.>>

<<'My kind' are all dead. Except me. I live among humans and similar creatures, now. Most of them seem to require labels for those they interact with.>>

<<I... see. Which still doesn't explain why you took a name in our style. Not that it matters. I wonder what your current master is going to think of your actions. Unless that creature you trapped inside the Crystal goes dormant, it's going to be essentially uncontrollable, you know. The two forces battling inside will make it impossible for anyone to harness the Crystal's power.>>

I smirked. <<I'm certain my Master can work something out in that regard. I'm more worried about what it's going to think of you.>> I wasn't certain whether I meant that to be a threat, a warning, a complaint, or an expression of worry.

<<Oh, don't worry, I'll stay out of its way. If it kills us, it's the only thing that profits, and I don't want to give us the satisfaction. Don't you think you should be getting back?>>

<<Shut up. I don't need your advice.>> And to prove it, I stayed there for several minutes longer before teleporting. It was odd that Demantoid's presence in my mind made me feel so comfortable. It was a reminder of a much simpler time and world.

I must be getting *ancient*, I thought with dry irony, fully aware of the humor. Isn't this longing for the 'good old days' the sort of thing often experienced by human elders?

Jadeite

I placed my hands flat against the ice, feeling the cold leach through my gloves and right down into my bones. The four figures within were arranged in two sets of two, and had managed to avoid the indignity of being frozen with ridiculous expressions on their faces. Maybe I should just leave them that way. They'd make a nice piece of statuary... No, I need them if I'm going to get out of here. Pity.

<<Can any of you hear me?>> I asked, not really expecting a response.

<<Jadeite?... you?>>

I shifted over so that I was directly in front of Nephrite, hoping that would improve my reception. <<Yes, it's me. I've come to get you out.>>

<<... too weak now... be useful. Save your energy.>>

<<Like hell. This is my fault, and I'm going to put it right.>>

I worked my way back around the crystal to Amber, Jasper, and the Scouts. Frowning, I surveyed the block of ice, examining the structure of the spells that maintained it, and cursing again because this was Zoisite's area of expertise, not mine, and he was probably too weak to help me.

"Excuse me!"

Sailor Mars's voice disrupted my train of thought. I glared at her. As usual, she refused to back down. "Are you just going to stand here all day?" she asked.

"I'm thinking," I snapped. "This is a complicated spell. I can't just wave my hand and melt the damned thing!"

Behind her, Mercury was scanning the block with her visor. "Uh, Raye --"

"And why not? Mars Fire Ignite!"

I threw myself to one side as her attack blazed past me. The blast of fire melted a crater in the ice that might have been as much as an inch deep. Even Mars looked a little nonplused.

"I see what you mean," she said.

I examined the ice crystal from all angles, and came to a conclusion.

There was no way I was going to figure out how to dismantle the thing before it killed those inside. Not alone.

I rounded on Sailor Mercury. My last hope. "Can you detect any weak points? Variations? Anything?"

She shook her head.

I punched the crystal right over Zoisite's frozen face. Hard. It didn't do anything except bruise my knuckles.

I must be the Negaverse's foremost expert on these things. How can I use that?

I circled the block of ice yet again. All right. I know it drains energy. Will it overload if I pour enough into it? Doubtful. It managed to contain Malachite's power, and he's far stronger than I. Hmmm. I wonder what happens if *I* try to drain it?

It was a simple technique, really -- sort of the magical equivalent of a short circuit. I touched the ice again and concentrated, trying to drain the energies in the crystal into the dark energies that permeated the room. For several minutes, nothing happened, and I began to despair.

Crack!

It was only a tiny fissure, opening right beside my hand, but under other circumstances, I might have thrown a festival in its honor.

The disintegration gathered momentum quickly after that. Shards of pseudo-ice began to fall to the floor. Then a larger chunk broke free.

"Isn't there anything you can do to speed this up?" Zoisite complained, his head and most of the left side of his body now free of the crystal's embrace. "My feet are getting cold."

In a few minutes, the crystal was in shards on the floor. Its victims pulled themselves loose, looking more than a little the worse for wear. Almandite was no more than semiconscious. Nephrite had to carry her out of the area now slippery with sharp crystal shards. The lower hem of Malachite's cape had been shredded by falling fragments. Zoisite, for all his arrogant bravado, was barely in better shape than Almandite.

"You do realize that this is one of the stupidest things that you could have done," Malachite said to me.

I shrugged. "Fine. Next time, I'll just leave you there."

"Don't mistake me. I'm not ungrateful." Malachite glanced down at Zoisite with a faint smile. "But we came here to do a job, and by using so much of your power to free us, you've decreased our chances of success far more than you would have by leaving us imprisoned."

"As I recall," Amber interjected, "our primary objective was to get these two --" she waved a hand in the direction of Jasper and myself -- "free of the Negaverse. Which we've done."

Malachite shook his head. "Not really, and in any case, the stakes are far higher now. Unless... Jadeite, do you still have the Silver Crystal?"

I shook my head. "I gave it to Citrine."

The slight narrowing of Malachite's eyes told me all I needed to know about what he thought about that. "Then we have to get it away from him. At all costs."

"Huh. I'd never have thought you had that kind of selflessness in you," Raye remarked.

Malachite smiled thinly. "It's purely enlightened self-interest. I somehow doubt that Beryl intends to let the five of us live. Our fate, as well as the human world's, hinges on the defeat of the Negaverse. And I don't think we can do that without the Silver Crystal. We tried that once, back during the Silver Millennium. We failed. That's how we ended up in this mess in the first place."

"And if we can't get it?" Jasper was the one who asked the question that was on all of our minds, I think.

"Then we're dead," Malachite said grimly.

Citrine

"You have changed the Crystal."

Fortunately for me, the great voice didn't sound angry. "Yes, my Master."

"You appear to have increased its potential power. I am plea--"

Sudden silence. I didn't dare ask what was going on.

"Beryl!" the Negaforce called suddenly.

She appeared beside me. "Yes, my Master?"

"You have failed me again! Both of you! Jadeite has broken my hold over him and helped his friends escape! I needed their abilities!"

"We will recapture them," I said instantly.

"No. They have proven themselves too dangerous. This time, make certain that you kill them."

Almandite

<<Are you all right?>>

I opened my eyes. They seemed unwilling to focus. All I could see was a pale blur leaning over me. "Nephrite?" I whispered.

<<Thank the gods!>> He squeezed me so hard I thought my ribcage was going to crack, then immediately relaxed his grip again. <<Sorry.>>

"I think I could sleep for a week," I muttered. Then, as memory began to return, "The ice crystal?"

<<Jadeite broke it up.>>

"So he's back on our side again?"

<<It looks that way.>> A sudden grin crossed his face, which was finally coming into focus. <<I think some of the others are confused by the fact that they're only hearing half of this conversation.>>

"Is it over?"

<<Not quite. Malachite wants to go after the Silver Crystal.>>

"And you?"

<<I don't think we have a choice. If we leave it in Beryl's hands, it will be only a matter of time before it's subverted. With that power added to its own, the Negaforce will be unstoppable.>>

"We have to go on, then." All I wanted to do was limp home to my mother's apartment and hide under the bed, but I didn't think my life expectancy would be very good that way.

<<Yes. Do you think you can stand up yet?>>

"I'll try."

He kept one arm around me as he set me down on my feet. I leaned on him as the room swung in lazy circles.

<<How does Malachite expect us to fight in this state?>> I asked tentatively.

Nephrite grimaced. <<We're not all in quite as bad a shape as you are, but I admit that it won't be easy.>>

"Uh, excuse me? Molly?"

"Melvin? How did you get here, and why are you wearing that ridiculous outfit?"

He might have blushed -- it was impossible to tell with his skin stained fuchsia. "It is you, then. I knew it."

"It's... sort of me," I admitted. "But please don't tell anyone."

"What happened to you? I don't understand."

"You don't want to understand." I turned away from Melvin to smile sadly up at Nephrite for a moment. He understood. "Let's just say that I had to make a difficult decision. Probably the worst decision of my life. Ever." It's never easy to choose between the people that you love.

"Nephrite! Almandite!" Malachite interrupted before I could say anything else. "Are you two almost ready to go?"

"At once, my Lord." Nephrite answered for both of us.

I sighed. "Good-bye, Melvin."

He didn't answer me back. I hoped he understood that this was supposed to be permanent and final.

I didn't want to force him to mourn me a second time.

The End of Chapter 16 - Goto Chapter 17


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