The Wars of Light and Shadow: An Ill Fate Marshalling

Chapter 3

© 1998/99 by E. Liddell


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Cuprite

February 7, 2002AD

I'd thought, at first, that this was some kind of nightmare. But I'd discarded that idea when I'd been through a week of it and still hadn't woken up.

Why can't I remember?

I didn't know how it had started. There was a gap in my memory that was almost three days long. I didn't think it was any sort of deliberate tampering. I might not have had all that much magic myself, but I was very sensitive to other people's, and I would have picked up some residue, however slight, if I had been bespelled.

I should be at home. But I knew that I couldn't go home. Even if I couldn't remember why I had fled. Something's wrong at home.

What?

There was no response from my faulty memory, but I felt a sickening sensation in the pit of my stomach. Something's really, *really* wrong, and I'm too scared to go back, or try to do anything to help! Pyrope, where are you when I need you? You were always the brave one, not me. I'm just a useless coward.

I'd gotten stuck with the supply run, and after that the next thing I remembered was waking up in an alleyway over a thousand kilometers south of my starting point, two and a half days later, exhausted from teleporting and with blood all over the knuckles of my right hand, where I'd split the skin punching someone or something, and with an urgency inside me that told me that I needed to leave this place as soon as possible. And so I'd stolen money and boarded a plane for the first place that seemed like it might be far enough away. Tokyo, Japan. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Then I'd sensed a residue of magic on the plane, unfamiliar, dark, and twisted, and I had almost teleported back off again. I would have, if I'd had the energy. As it was, I was airsick for the entire trip.

The airport in Tokyo had been more of the same: tainted with a twisted magic that made me feel ill. I'd found pools of the same all over the city, and had slowly come to the realization that they had been left by others like me, their power twisted by some outside influence. When I'd felt the touch of a stranger's mind against mine the day before, that realization had hardened into a certainty. There were others here. Somewhere. Even though, as far as I knew, there had never been an Enclave in Japan.

But I hadn't really had time to follow up on that, because that was when the monsters had begun appearing. I'd lost the first on a university campus, after hours of running, and had slept that night huddled in the corner of a classroom in a building whose lock I'd just barely managed to force with my powers. I'd been so tired that even the stink of formaldehyde coming from a lab somewhere down the hall hadn't disturbed me.

I'd still been a bit in shock when I'd woken up the next morning, and had been wandering through the suburbs in a daze when the second monster had attacked me. I'd run again. What else could I do? Me, trying to attack a thing like that... The thought was ludicrous at best.

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I spotted that gravel drive, surrounded by a sort of heat-haze shimmer that showed that it was protected from detection by casual human passers-by. Maybe I was past the point of conscious thought, and saw it only as a possibility of salvation. And then... a quadruple shock.

The sickening darkness that I'd sensed so often elsewhere in the city was present on that gloomy wooded hill, as well, making me feel violently ill so that I stumbled when I ran.

I spotted the barrier before I ran into it, actually, but it had been so impossibly powerful that I'd thought it was a hallucination and I'd just kept on going. The rather painful sensation of smashing into it had told me that I'd been right the first time, but too late to help.

And that was when he had shown up. He was tall -- much taller than I was, about six foot three or four -- and handsome, with long, curly auburn hair and an arrogant bearing. He wore a grey... uniform?... with orange trim. And he looked vaguely familiar, although I couldn't have said why. Suddenly, I'd started feeling very, very small, and all the more so when those brilliant blue eyes had caught at mine, and I'd felt the power in him. He was strong enough to move mountains. Certainly he was strong enough to blast an undersized upstart like me out of existence.

Pyrope was right, I had thought in awe. We *are* a degenerate race. This is what we were supposed to be.

I'd more than half-expected him to blast me. I think it's what I might have done in his place. But that was when I'd received my fourth shock (or fifth? Sixth? I'd given up counting) of the day, because that was when the other stranger had appeared.

I'd been beyond fear or shock as I'd witnessed their confrontation. Even the reappearance of the monster that had been chasing me hadn't been enough to snap me out of my overloaded daze. I'd stood there, looking my death in the eye, and I hadn't been able to feel more than a peculiar internal hollowness.

I certainly hadn't expected Nephrite to save my life, not when I'd seen that cold, suspicious look in his eyes. But he'd casually blasted the monster, as though that were a trivial matter, paying more attention, or so I'd thought, to it than to me.

Then the two of them, Nephrite and the man with the staff, had walked over to stand in front of me, and, with that weird clarity, I'd seen and accepted that the second man was my perfect double. Almost. He carried just enough darkness inside him to make my stomach lurch when he came within arm's reach, his eyes were oddly blank, and I didn't have pierced ears.

It was only when Nephrite had touched me that I'd finally snapped out of my dream state. The darkness in him didn't make me feel ill. Perhaps I was developing some sort of immunity. But it was... well... like someone dropping an ice cube down the back of your shirt. It attracted instant attention.

I'd actually managed to walk up the hill with them. In the instant that I'd laid my eyes on the sleek, expensive car parked in front of the house, I'd managed to place Nephrite. Or Maxfield Stanton, as he was better known. A multimillionaire and international celebrity, and we never suspected...

He'd sent someone off to fetch "the others" and taken me inside to wait, along with my staff-wielding doppelganger. And that brought me up to the present moment.

I was sitting beside my almost-twin with the staff on the balcony of Nephrite's house. To my left, the semi-mythical Sailor Scouts were seated in a half-circle. I'd been almost disappointed when they appeared. There was barely any feeling of power about them at all. Of the eight, only Sailor Mars and Tuxedo Mask seemed to possess the least bit of magic of their own.

To my right sat Nephrite and his... friends? Associates? I didn't know quite what the relationship was there. They all wore similar grey uniforms, and all radiated incredible amounts of power, especially Nephrite and the white-haired man at the center of the group.

All eyes seemed to be on me and my doppelganger. I swallowed and groped for something, anything, to say to these people.

"My King."

Startled, I glanced to my left. My double had shifted slightly in his chair so that he was facing the white-haired man, whose glittering grey eyes had narrowed at the sound of his voice. King? King of what? Nephrite had told me exactly nothing in the fifteen minutes or so that we had spent waiting for these people to assemble themselves.

"Who are you?" The question was voiced by the slender, green-eyed... man, I suppose, seated beside the tall one with the white hair. "What are you doing here, what do you want with us, and who gave you the right to wear that uniform?"

"Peace, Zoisite," the white-haired man murmured, lowering one hand to rest lightly on the blonde man's thigh. "The questions stand," he added to us, "although that last applies to only one of you."

"I'm here by accident," I blurted out before my seatmate could speak.

Grey eyes flickered in my direction for a moment, and a white eyebrow rose. Then the maybe-king turned his attention on my double.

"Your pardon, my King."

I shook my head. There was that title again.

"My younger self is not entirely correct in his statement that he is here by accident. There is a pattern in this matter which is larger than any of us understands."

What?

If those silver-grey eyes had become any narrower, they would have been shut. My doppelganger, unconcerned, nonchalantly tipped his staff, which had, until now, been standing at his side, over into both our laps. I found myself stroking it absently as I once more searched for something to say. There was magic here, too, but I found whatever was locked up in the staff pleasant and relaxing in comparison to the shadows that lurked in the corners of this place, and in most of its people.

"I am Cuprite, General of the Negaverse," my double added. "I come from the thirtieth century, the era of Crystal Tokyo's war against the Dark Moon. I was sent to warn you, my King. Among other things."

"By whom?" the white-haired man asked coolly. Meanwhile, I was wondering if it were possible to die from repeated intellectual shock. Time travel... the thirtieth century... his "younger self"... Oh my God, he's me!

"By you, of course. One moment, please." The other me reached up to detach something from the chain he wore around his neck. Seated as close to him as I was, I could see it clearly -- a plain, heavy ring, made of some silvery metal. He handed it to the white-haired man, who studied it for a moment, removing his left glove to compare it with another ring that he wore there. He was frowning when he handed the trinket back.

"State your warning," was all he said.

"An officer of the Dark Moon has been sent back into the past to eradicate you, and, if possible, all life on Earth."

"Well, that's certainly to the point," Zoisite said. "Could you be a little more specific?" The white-haired man glanced at the little green-eyed blonde, who smiled -- or was that more of a smirk? -- at him and leaned back in his seat. The king shook his head, his expression somewhere midway between bemused and exasperated.

"Regrettably, no, I cannot."

I caught the fringes of a few of the glares that were aimed at him after he said that, and those alone were enough to make me cringe, and yet my otherself sat there and endured them without flinching. Was he really blind? Most of what I had seen so far suggested that he wasn't, and yet...

"If I tell you too much, it could change the future," that stranger with my face was saying. "The most important pieces are already in your hands. Please, be content with that." And he placed one hand lightly on my arm, leaving no doubt as to what, or rather, who, the "most important piece" was. "My main purpose in being here was to prevent General Nephrite from taking any... rash actions." Like blasting me out of existence. Well, I suppose that's comforting. "Excuse me, please."

He stood up, hand still resting on the staff that now lay across my lap. I expected him to lift the artefact off of me and take it with him. Instead, space... inverted itself, I suppose, in the spot where he had been standing, and he was gone.

I looked down again as everyone's eyes turned to me. I still didn't know what to say.

Malachite

Enigmatic warnings, Generals from the future who appeared and disappeared without warning, the Dark Moon, strange Crystal Weavers... My head was beginning to hurt. So much for comfort, peace, and predictability. If it hadn't been for the ring, I would have assumed that the stranger was an enemy, but his presentation of the trinket had thrown me.

That ring. It was just barely possible that someone looking to trick me might have a platinum ring made to that same pattern. Perhaps it was even possible that they would be able to duplicate the inscription inside the band, where ideographs that hadn't been in popular use since the Silver Millennium spelled out "United forever -- Z&M". But it wasn't possible that anyone would have been able to duplicate Zoisite's signature on the subtle and intricate spell that was woven into this piece of jewelry as it was into the original. Zoisite didn't give me gifts very often, but when he did, I remembered them. And impossible to believe that this man had stolen it, when I was wearing the original on my finger.

A closer examination had shown a deep scratch marring the band. I wondered what had done the damage -- it was enspelled for durability, so the violence of the action had to have been fairly spectacular.

I turned again to our remaining visitor, whose name might or might not have been Cuprite. "What are you doing here?" I said it as calmly as I could manage.

"I don't know," he mumbled, staring at his feet.

"You must have come to Tokyo for a reason," Zoisite snapped. I didn't know whether it was just the uncertainty of the situation or my emotional state bleeding over into him that was making him so irritable. "What was it?"

"I needed to get away." The young Crystal Weaver's eyes had fastened on mine, pleadingly. "The monsters... I don't know what they are, but they're chasing me. I need help."

"Of course you'll have it. Whatever you need." Sailor Mars shot a sharp look at me as she spoke. I shrugged a little. What did you expect me to do? She would have made a good youma. She had the temperament.

"I... somewhere to stay. For now." He had turned toward the Sailor Scouts, and was staring at them intently. To my surprise, Sailor Uranus, who had been carefully avoiding my eyes since the meeting began, blushed. I suspect it had something to do with the short skirt. Rumor, back during the Silver Millennium, had said that she loved her job but hated the uniform.

"Then I suggest that he go with you for now," I said to the Scouts, and watched as everyone stared at me, astonished. I smiled thinly. "I'll admit that we could use the extra help, but I doubt this... child... has the temperament." Cruel, yes, but I wanted to give this long and thoughtful consideration before I let our unexpected visitor anywhere near the Negaverse. Bad enough that he knew where Nephrite lived. And I was hoping to spark some reaction other than fear or submissiveness in Cuprite. I wanted to know what he was really made of.

"Then it's settled," Sailor Venus said, and stood up, holding a hand out to the slender stranger. "Are you coming?"

He blinked a little and shook his head. Lifted the staff off his lap. That was another thing that puzzled me. Why had the other Cuprite left that staff behind? It was clearly a magical artefact of some power.

Our unexpected visitor left, surrounded by a gaggle of girls, carrying the staff in one hand.

<<You know, Malachite,>> Nephrite remarked, <<I'm beginning to wonder if you're completely out of your mind. What do we do now?>>

<<We watch and wait,>> I replied. And I go looking for answers about the Dark Moon. I already had an information source in mind, based on certain things that the Sailor Scouts had said. I didn't have enough pieces of the puzzle yet to make good decisions regarding what to do with the ones that I did have.

<<It probably won't take long,>> Amber put in. <<I have a feeling that something important is going to happen. Very soon.>>

Diamond

April 21, 2994AD

I gestured with the hand that held my wine glass. "I'm tired of waiting for this kid, but maybe by attacking her in her dreams, this time we'll capture her." It really was remarkably tedious. How long could a child like Crystal Tokyo's "Small Lady" continue to escape our grasp? "You've been very quiet, Sapphire. What are you thinking?" My brother really had been acting remarkably nervous lately...

"I think we're wasting our time," he said, fidgeting a little. "I don't understand why this silly child is so important to the great Prince Diamond."

I shrugged. Actually, it had been Wise Man's idea, like so much else, but it had seemed like a good one to me at the time. "Get her, we get the Silver Crystal," I replied.

"But Highness --" He hadn't addressed me as "brother" or just plain "Diamond" even once since the attack on Crystal Tokyo had begun. In many ways, I missed our old closeness, but if this was the price I had to pay...

"Chill out, Sapphire," Emerald interrupted. "If the Grim Man fails, I'll pick up where Rubius left off. You know, when you think about it, Rubius was really clueless!" And she giggled. Her laugh really got on my nerves, which was part of the reason I'd never responded to her not-so-subtle advances toward me. And she had all the intelligence and personality of a cream puff. The other reason that I ignored her was one that I preferred not to admit to in public.

"Emerald, stop it," I snapped now. "This is no laughing matter."

"Huh? Oh. Sorry, your Highness."

I took grim pleasure in her flustered look.

"Your Highness, I don't understand why you're so obsessed with getting that stupid Silver Crystal! Sure, it's power is considerable, but it's nothing compared to the Dark Crystal. The future is ours to take! Forget about muddling about in the past!" Sapphire's expression was pleading. I had doubts of my own, but I was hardly likely to admit them in such a public forum. Instead, I decided to invite the architect of the plan to explain himself if he could.

"Wise Man!" I called.

As always, he appeared almost instantly, saying, "Sapphire is wrong. Never underestimate the power of the Silver Crystal! It must be destroyed if you want to secure your dominance in the here-and-now!"

I glanced at my younger brother, who had subsided, but I didn't like the look in his eyes. I would have to keep an eye on him. I made a dismissive gesture in Emerald's direction. She hesitated a moment, then teleported away. I sipped my wine.

"Has there been any news from Lapis yet?" The question was mostly directed at Wise Man, but it was Sapphire who hesitantly replied in the negative. I frowned, and glanced at the cowled figure standing beside my throne.

Something wasn't quite right here. I would have to watch him, too.

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