The Wars of Light and Shadow: An Ill Fate Marshalling

Chapter 2

© 1998/99 by E. Liddell


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Mina

February 7, 2002AD

"And so Malachite wants you to do what if you find this guy?" I asked.

Jasper sighed. "Watch him. Find out what he's up to. We don't know why he's here, or whether he's a danger to us." I felt his muscles bunch slightly where I had my arm linked through his. "We don't think he's strong enough to be capable of hurting us, but he could be a spy for someone more powerful... or bait for a trap. If you run across him, well, just be careful, okay?"

"Oh, stop being so gloomy." I swatted him lightly on the shoulder with my free hand. "You've got a thing or two to learn about how to show a girl a good time."

He smiled a bit sheepishly and seemed to relax. "I guess working with youma isn't very good for building your social skills," he replied. "Sorry."

I shrugged. Anyway, it's not like we're in love, or anything. Jasper was more like a brother, or a best friend -- my confidant, defender, and, tonight, anyway, last minute substitute date -- than a boyfriend. We didn't expect to get more from each other than a little companionship. That was probably why my relationship with him had lasted longer than any of my real attempts at romance.

Most of my friends at the university envied me my "boyfriend". I mean, Jasper is this gorgeous guy, handsome-verging-on-beautiful, with the sort of muscles other guys work for years to get -- okay, he has wings, but none of them knew about that -- and he's also bright, and far more mature in most ways than any of the other guys that I was seeing back then. The perfect package. Almost. I didn't care that he was technically seven or eight years younger than I was, or that he was a Negaverse General and I was a Sailor Scout. But he was a Crystal Weaver, and I was a human being, and that made it unthinkable that we would be able to spend our lives together.

It takes a special sort of woman to love a man like that. Either she has to be willing to risk her life to join him in his immortality, with everything that implies, or she has to accept that she's different from the one she loves, and be able to live with that difference. People of the first type are very, very rare. I think people of the second type are even rarer, or, at least, I'd never known one. And, while I may be the second-biggest ditz in the world when I'm not being Sailor Venus, I'm not crazy enough to think that I have the kind of courage needed for either of those roles.

"Hey, Earth to Mina! We're almost back at your dorm!"

I shook my head and smiled. "Sorry. I must have drifted away for a while, there. I'm getting as bad as Serena used to be." I fished through my purse, looking for my key, as Jasper led me up the concrete walkway.

I turned to face him for a moment when we reached the doors. Any other guy would have expected a good-night kiss at that point, especially after having been out to dinner and a movie with me. Jasper just grinned, brushed a wisp of hair off my forehead, and said, "Take care, Mina." Then he took two steps to the left, which put him in a shadowy spot that none of the windows of any of the nearby buildings had a good view of, and disappeared in a swirl of purple virtual feathers. I sighed, feeling maybe just the least bit disappointed, and turned to unlock the door.

My room was on the second floor. Thankfully, I had a single this year, so there wasn't anyone there to disturb when I got back late. Not even a cat. I missed Artemis a lot, but the rules against keeping pets were strict. And I had another year to go before I would get my BA and be able to move out. My parents didn't live close enough to the campus to make living at home practical, unfortunately.

I fished my pajamas out from under my pillow and went over to draw the curtains so that I could change. I glanced idly out the window in doing so, and paused. Hello, who's that?

Someone was moving around out there, keeping to the shadows as though ... she?... didn't want to be observed. Then she was forced to cross a pool of dim light, and I could see that her skin was green. A youma? Here? I hoped not, for her sake. Malachite imposed some pretty severe penalties on any creature caught wandering around the Earth Realm in non-human form. Even Jasper had to be very careful to hide his wings when he was here. If it is a youma, she's in pretty bad trouble. I have to get her out of here before somebody else sees her.

I took a step towards the door, then hesitated. Even if the creature I had seen was a youma, there was no guarantee that she would recognize me as General Jasper's sort-of-girlfriend, a person entitled to know of the existence of the Negaverse. I couldn't go out there like this.

I went back over to the bed and dumped out the purse I had been carrying, pawing through the contents until I found my transformation wand, and held it up.

"Venus Crystal Power!"

Even with the risk of discovery, I preferred to transform in my dorm room. It would just be too embarrassing for any of the boys across the way to catch me half-naked if I decided to do this outside.

Then it was done, and I grabbed my jacket off the bed on my way out the door. I mean, it was the middle of February, and it was way too cold to go outside in my shirt sleeves, especially with my legs exposed by the short skirt on the Scout uniform. I've always been convinced that the damned things were designed by a guy.

I struggled into the jacket as I ran for the stairs. I didn't dare fasten it in front. It had to be obvious from the start exactly who I was, if I was going to convince that youma to let me help her.

Assuming that I could find her. I had to stop for a moment and look around as I rounded the corner of the building. Had that been a flicker of movement, off to my left? It was the right general direction, anyway. I would try it.

I caught a glimpse of green just vanishing into the shadows between the biology building and the music auditorium, and started to run, something that always somehow seemed to be easier when I was Sailor Venus than when I was just plain old Mina. There was probably some sort of subtle augmentation spell built into the transformation wands.

Yes -- there -- a moving shadow -- I was catching up to her. "Hey, there! Stop! I just want to help!"

Instead of stopping, she jumped straight upward to perch on the fire escape of the bio building.

"A Sailor Scout," she hissed, looking down.

"Yeah, Sailor Venus, at your service." Maybe. "Mind telling me what you're doing here?"

"That is none of your concern."

The clouds above us parted for a second, and moonlight shone down on the creature's face. And I knew. I hadn't seen one of them in years, but I knew. "You aren't from the Negaverse! You're a Dark Moon droid!"

She made a rasping sound that I think was supposed to be a laugh. "That is correct. I am from the Dark Moon. And what are you going to do about it, little Sailor Scout?"

Well, the angle was lousy, and I doubted that I could actually hit her, but since she had put it that way... "Venus Crescent Beam Smash!"

I succeeded in busting one of the braces that was holding up the landing she was standing on. There was a creaking sound, and the entire fire escape began to twist. The monster jumped down, hurtling toward me, her extended arm sprouting nasty- looking points and hooks as she fell.

I jumped, landing some several meters away. I could never jump that far as just-plain-Mina, either. There were a few compensations for the blasted short skirt.

"Venus Love and Beauty Shock!"

The droid performed the familiar scream-crackle-dissolve sequence, and became a pile of dust which slowly began to fade out of existence. In a few minutes, I knew that it would be completely gone.

I started to walk back to the dorm, unable to detransform because I had kicked my shoes off upon entering my room, and the only thing stupider than wandering around outside in February wearing a miniskirt is trying to slog through snow in your stocking feet. But I did zip the jacket all the way up, and rearranged my outfit to look as much like just-plain-Mina as possible. You see, in the rush to leave the room, I'd left my keys somewhere among the debris on the bed, and so I was going to have to pound on the door until Kazue, who had the room nearest the entryway, took pity on me and decided to let me in. Not really fair to her, given that it was something like two in the morning, but I didn't have much of a choice.

I remembered the damage I'd done to the fire escape, and winced. I wonder if I can ask Nephrite to make a *very* anonymous donation to the university to cover for that. He's the only person I know who'd be willing to give away that kind of money.

I'd have to call Serena and the others, too. Having the Dark Moon resurface after this long couldn't be a good sign. But hopefully it could wait until morning.

"Hey, if I hear anything about giant black crystals growing out of the pavement in the center of town on the Morning Report tomorrow, I'll know I was wrong, but until then..."

"What?"

I grinned at Kazue, who had just opened the door, all the while thinking to myself, Idiot! "Well," I improvised, "my Creative Writing prof wants us to write a modern legend sort of thing for our next assignment. I must have kinda been thinking aloud, that's all."

Kazue sighed in exasperation and shook her head. "Mina, I don't know where your mind is sometimes -- thinking about assignments on your way back from a hot date, yet! Was it that guy Jasper again? Geez, you really do take him for granted, don't you?"

"Guess so," I replied. Actually, girlfriend, you don't want to know where my mind was. Really. That's why people like me exist -- to keep people like you from having to think about things like that.

Nephrite

I was still in bed that morning when I felt the peculiar jangling sensation that indicated that a stranger had just entered the wooded area surrounding our home. Almandite was still asleep, her left arm flung casually across my torso. I shifted it gently, careful not to wake her up, and got out of bed, muttering the invocation that should tell me who or what was trespassing while I searched for my clothes.

When the image of the slender, black-haired, blue-green- eyed young Crystal Weaver who had shown up in my divination of the previous day appeared in my mind's eye, I gave up on finding my clothes and conjured up an entire fresh uniform. And then the second alarm hit, in such a way that I was actually reciting my spell for the second time while in the middle of a teleport.

I reappeared on the gravel drive leading up to the house, just inside my second and much more powerful line of defenses. The creature that now appeared in my mind's eye was female and youma-like. But it wasn't a youma. Not with such a thick feeling of darkness enveloping it. Even in Beryl's day, nothing from the Negaverse had been quite that evil. Certainly, regardless of what it was, I didn't want it anywhere near me.

He came running up the drive and slammed into the ward not six inches from where I stood, invisible and waiting. If anything, he was even smaller and more delicate than I had guessed. Not a threat. Too fragile. Probably a bit clumsy, judging from his performance here.

A lot of people have thought things like that about Zoisite, too. Most of them don't survive to realize how wrong they are.

I allowed myself to become visible to him, and smiled thinly when he backed up several steps. So. Whatever he'd been expecting to find here, it hadn't been me. Or else he was a very gifted actor. And if that were the case, the creature, which was now rounding a bend in the path, might be with him instead of chasing him, which was what this was obviously supposed to look like.

"You. What are you doing here?" I asked sharply.

"Please, sir. I need... sanctuary." I think he would have been shaking then, if he'd had any energy left. As it was, he looked ready to collapse. An act? It seemed real, in all respects. But the fact that his fear was genuine didn't preclude his being someone else's tool.

I folded my arms. "And just why should I help you, now that you've led that thing onto my property?"

"Please!" He threw himself at the barrier again. His eyes were wide with terror. My right hand shot up and out. It was silly, really. I knew he was no threat, but years in the Negaverse under Beryl had left me with certain involuntary reactions.

Like suspecting everyone and everything, I realized with disgust. Face it, you're playing him like a fish. Even if he *is* bait for some kind of trap, he doesn't deserve this treatment.

"Lord Nephrite! Don't hurt him!"

One instant the space between us was empty of anything except the barrier. Then, suddenly, there was someone between me and the ward. Someone inside the ward, with me.

What kind of a joke is this? was my first, incredulous thought. Then, Twins?

The man inside the barrier with me was a perfect duplicate of the boy standing outside. Almost. The hair was the same, and the structure of the face, but where the boy wore human- style casual clothing, the newcomer wore the uniform of the Negaverse, grey trimmed in red-violet, and he carried a staff shaped like a key. It was longer than he was tall, but he held it with assurance, in what I recognized as a defensive position. And there was one other difference: the eyes. The boy's eyes were as I'd seen them in my divination of the evening before, sharply slanted and tinted a clear blue-green. The eyes of the man in the Negaverse uniform were shaped the same way and tilted at the same angle, but they were opaque grey orbs, apparently pupilless, and, I suspected, blind.

The tip of the staff swung upward as I reached towards him. I immediately lowered my hand. That staff was familiar, somehow, even though I knew that I'd never seen it before. Something I'd heard about, perhaps. Or read about. A very long time ago. And that something made me inclined to be wary of it. It was certainly more than just a staff.

"Who are you?" I asked, completely puzzled now. "What are you doing here?" Why are you wearing that uniform? Who gave you the right? And how do you know my name?

"There you are! Naughty boy, running away like that!" The not-youma had reached the last bend in the drive, and had spotted her apparent quarry. Damn the timing! I have better things to do right now than play games with cannon fodder! Well, this particular example of the species is never going to bother anyone again when I'm finished with her.

I focused my gaze on the precise center of the creature's chest, raised my hand, and let loose with a bolt of raw force. The not-youma looked a bit shocked when she discovered that there was a hole in her torso. She crashed to the ground, mere inches from my barrier and the young Crystal Weaver who was now plastered against it, and began to disintegrate. Frowning, I brushed past the maybe-General with the staff and stepped through the ward, which parted for me automatically, to examine the corpse. It fell into an even worse state of disrepair when I prodded it with the tip of my boot. Created and maintained by magic, from the looks of it. How... bizarre. I wonder if it would have bled if I'd just cut it. Crystal Weavers and youma do, but our bodies are only altered by magic, not constructed from it.

I turned back toward the boy, who had slid down into a sitting position, still leaning against the barrier. He froze when I extended a hand toward him. I ignored that, and touched his forehead lightly, with a fingertip. There was no sign there of the sort of darkness that had tainted the creature I'd just killed, or even the sort of faint traces of negative energy that I myself bore. Whoever he was, he was a Crystal Weaver, albeit the lowest-powered example of the type that I'd ever come across, and he was clean, which meant that none of us had been responsible for creating him. Some experiment of Onyx's which he'd never had the opportunity to mention to us? Or some survivor that he hadn't known about?

I looked up to see the other stranger stepping through my ward, staff in a neutral position at his side. He extended his free hand toward me, palm out. I placed my own against it, and immediately sensed the faint bitterness of a familiar taint. Stranger or no, this one was of the Negaverse. He was stronger than the other, but still unexceptional.

Actually, his actions had been more informative than his power signature. The fact that he had stepped forward when he had and offered me his hand indicated, first, that he wasn't blind, and second, that he had expected me to be suspicious and wanted to set me at ease. And that he had known that the ward was one-way, and thus would let him pass.

I sighed. "If there's an explanation for this, I think I want to be sitting down when I hear it," I said.

General Cuprite

I'd expected it to be more foreign, I suppose, given the thousand-year time lapse. But the feel of this place was exactly the same now as it would be then. I wondered if the huge, mostly empty house would be any different if I went all the way back to the point when Nephrite had constructed it in the Negaverse. Darker, I suppose. The things I'd heard about the Negaverse under Beryl implied that much.

What did surprise me was Nephrite's stop beside the answering machine in the front hall. I'd known, in the abstract, that the little appliance was there, but in the Crystal Millennium, telephone service had been supplanted by various forms of magical communication, so the little electronic box had been sitting in a corner collecting dust for several years. Thus, I was rather startled when a tinny voice spoke from it.

"Nephrite? It's Mina Aino. Look, I know it's the middle of the night, but I've had an... incident... here." And she went on to describe an attack by another of the Dark Moon's creatures, like the one that had followed my younger self up here.

I closed my eyes. You knew that Lapis was going to overshoot by two or three months, I reminded myself. And you knew that she would be established here. Just because you don't remember this message doesn't mean you didn't hear it -- if you'll recall, you were feeling pretty miserable by the time you made it this far. I touched my spirit crystal where it rested against the front of my uniform. The contact reassured me. Everything will be well. Even if I don't believe in myself -- *either* of my selves -- I have no reason to doubt the abilities of the others. It'll be all right. But I still winced a little. All right for me, yes, and for the Negaverse, and even the world at large, but I was condemning dozens of friends and relatives, people that I had known and loved, to what, to me, was as good as a second death.

Do I dare disturb the universe? The corner of my mouth turned up as I thought that tired old quote. More to the point, what can I possibly do here that wouldn't make things worse?

My hand shifted to brush against the ring that Malachite had loaned me, slung on the same chain as my spirit crystal. I swore to obey. My life is his. He charged me with making certain that the timeline retained its proper configuration, tampering and all. If I try to change anything, I betray that trust. Sometimes, there are no good choices.

I turned to Nephrite, who was standing there, waiting patiently.

"I think it's past time for that explanation now," I said.

Malachite

<<He what?>>

<<Turned up on my doorstep about ten minutes ago, being chased by a... a magical construct of some sort. And he's definitely scared of something. Keeps jumping at shadows. The other one isn't, though.>>

<<The other one? Nephrite, what in hell is going on here?>> When I'd contacted him this morning with the intent of asking him to perform a more thorough divination, I hadn't expected anything like this.

<<I wish I knew, my King.>> And that honorific said a lot about Nephrite's state of mind. I was always "Malachite" to him, not "my King" or "my Lord", except when he was faced with a problem that he felt was beyond his ability to solve, and needed my help. <<Here, have a look.>> And he showed me exactly what he was seeing at that moment.

<<Twins?>> I asked in surprise.

<<They claim not. The first one hasn't said much at all -- I figured it was probably best not to start interrogating him until we could all get together. The other one, the one in uniform, told me that he was from the future, and then asked to talk to you.>>

<<And your assessment?>>

<<Is that he's telling the truth as he knows it,>> Nephrite replied. <<Which admittedly doesn't mean that he's sane, but...>>

<<. . . you have no reason to think that he isn't,>> I completed. <<I'll get the others together right away. Was there anything else?>>

<<Actually, yes. Sailor Venus left me a message about being attacked by some creature that she identified as a "Dark Moon Droid". Apparently, they're easily mistaken for youma. I'm beginning to wonder if it wasn't one of those beasties that chased our young friend up here.>>

I frowned. Dark Moon... The term rang a very faint bell, somewhere in the back of my mind. An alarm bell, if I wasn't mistaken about the tone of it.

<<Round up the Sailor Scouts and have them join us,>> I ordered. <<The rest of us will be there in a minute.>>

<<Almandite is already on it.>>

I shook my head a little as he faded back out of my consciousness. What was it that I was thinking last night, about how nearly perfect my life here was?

Sapphire

April 19, 2994AD

I was crouched uncomfortably beside the Dark Crystal's control unit, performing the necessary calibration tests, when he walked in. I immediately rose to my feet, not so much because I respected Wise Man as because my original position would have put me at a disadvantage.

I'd known the cowled man from earliest childhood, as had we all, but I had never trusted him. I had never entirely understood why that was, though. Especially not when Diamond so obviously thought the world of him.

Diamond. Now, there was something else to worry about. My brother had... changed, since the attack on Crystal Tokyo. He'd become cold towards me -- towards everyone, in fact. Except for Neo-Queen Serenity. He spent hours, alone in his throne room, gazing at the images of her that he summoned. He didn't know that I knew. I didn't want to spy on him, but I couldn't help it. He was my brother and I loved him, and I was worried about him. Since he wouldn't talk to me anymore, I had to resort to watching from the shadows.

"Prince Sapphire."

It was an effort to drag my attention back to my immediate surroundings. "Wise Man," I responded.

The calibration instrument that I'd been using slipped from my hand at that moment, and I took a half-step forward as I bent down to catch it. My extended hand brushed against Wise Man's sleeve.

<<-- useless boy! Not like his brother... A thousand years of selective breeding, and all I get is *one* who *might* serve my purpose! I had such high hopes for this one, and all for nothing -->>

I scrambled backwards, breaking the contact. Actually, my powers are almost as strong as Diamond's. They're just erratic. They only operate at full efficiency when I'm scared stiff, or touching whatever I'm trying to get them to act on. That's why I'm so good with enspelled mechanisms, like the Dark Crystal's controls. Even knowing that, though, I still wasn't certain whether what I'd sensed from Wise Man had been real or not. But if it was...

I swallowed, and bent back over my work. Better that Wise Man think of me as just Diamond's quiet, technically-inclined, near-powerless younger brother. Better that he didn't see me as a threat to him. It would make it easier for me to watch him.

It would have been so much easier if there had been someone I could talk to, someone who could reassure me that no, I wasn't going mad. But Diamond had walled himself away from me, I didn't trust Rubius or Lapis or any of the surviving cousins even if they hadn't all been away on missions, and Emerald... Emerald would just laugh. And as for a certain other green-haired woman... I didn't dare admit, even to myself, that I still missed her. I'd offered her myself and everything else that I knew how to give, and she'd been too afraid to stretch out her hand and take it. Prisma had made her choice.

Unfortunately, I was the one left to live with it.

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