The Wars of Light and Shadow: An Ill Fate Marshalling

Chapter 4

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Cuprite

February 7, 2002AD

"The nerve of that man!"

I was standing rather dazedly in the center of Nephrite's driveway, leaning on a staff whose origins I wasn't quite sure of and listening to Sailors Moon, Mars, and Venus, now detransformed, argue while Tuxedo Mask, or whatever his real name was, leaned against a red car -- not Nephrite's, but a much cheaper vehicle -- and pretended not to hear. The other Scouts were already gone, Jupiter and Mercury hitching a ride with Neptune and Uranus. I must admit that Uranus's mundane appearance had been a bit startling. I'd never have expected anyone with the kind of cleavage that she had to be able to look masculine.

It was only now that I was relatively safe, with the Sailor Scouts -- They *are* supposed to be the good guys, right? -- that the cold knot of fear that had been well on its way to becoming a permanent occupant of the pit of my stomach had begun to dissolve, and I was gradually becoming curious about the people I had met. The Lords of the Negaverse, whatever that was. What was the link between them and my people? That there was some connection was obvious. I'd recognized, belatedly, that the gems most of them wore at their throats were spirit crystals. Mine was -- I felt a sudden chill. Mine was at home, at the Enclave. If anyone figured that out...

We'd never learned exactly what, if anything, the crystals were for, but we did know that destroying someone's spirit crystal destroyed his mind as well. Maybe even his soul. We'd lost so much knowledge... Did Nephrite and his fellows remember what we had forgotten?

"Give it a break, Raye," Venus was saying. "You know what Malachite's like. He's interested in running his Negaverse, not in being nice to people."

"I don't believe you're defending that Negaslime!" Mars, or rather, Raye, exclaimed.

"I'm not. I'm just trying to be a realist, that's all. Malachite and the others are what they are, and your opinion of them isn't going to change them one iota. You've gotta just put up with them. Be glad that he didn't try to argue with us, and just let it go."

"Uh..." Even that inarticulate noise had the effect of drawing everyone's attention to me. "I hate to interrupt, but now that you've got me, what are you going to do with me?" And can we please get out of here soon? I was sure that I would start feeling better once we were out from under the shadow of the gloomy evergreens. It was odd, really. There was no snow on the ground here, even in the open areas, and the temperature seemed to be constant at a point somewhat colder than comfortable but still well above freezing. I discovered later on that Nephrite's home somehow managed to derive most of its weather conditions from the Negaverse despite being more or less suspended between universes. The one exception to this rule was the actual appearance of the sky, which was a confusion of grey mist during the day but showed the stars of the mundane universe at night. But I digress.

After exchanging looks with each other and with Tuxedo Mask, the Scouts all shrugged.

"I don't think we'd thought that far ahead yet," Sailor Moon admitted. "Uh, Raye... ?"

"Not a chance, Meatball Head," the dark-haired Scout stated decisively. "Not with Grandpa in the state he's in. No way."

Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask exchanged glances again.

"That leaves you on our couch, I guess," Tuxedo Mask admitted. "I hope that isn't a problem."

I snorted. "You should see where I tried to sleep last night. Or the night before. I'm in no position to be particular." Especially not if they could protect me from any additional monsters that might come along.

The car was crowded with five of us, but I didn't care. Trapped in a strange country with no money, no luggage to pawn, no prospects, monsters trailing after me, and a mysterious hole inside my mind... But at least I wasn't alone anymore.

That was something, wasn't it?

Jadeite

"...and then Jas said that he'd let me try setting the wards tomorrow. Isn't that great?" my daughter enthused.

I tousled her hair. "I'm very proud of you, princess." She had black hair, like her grandfather's, not blonde like mine or Amber's. But she did have my eyes.

It had been the strangest feeling, the first time I had held her, knowing that I had finally been able to create something worthwhile. Well, to help create it, at least. Amber was more than half responsible for it, too. But for so many years, I'd done nothing but destroy. Aventurine's birth had filled in a gap inside me that I'd only been half-aware of. The same internal hole that I'd tried to fit Jasper into, warping him ruthlessly when he turned not to be quite the right shape for it. That was what Beryl and the Negaforce had made of all of us. Destroyers. Distorters. Users. But Aventurine didn't remember the Negaverse under Beryl, and none of those old, bitter memories were in the least associated with her.

I straightened the collar of her jacket. Like the rest of us, she wore a grey uniform of the type that had become standard under Beryl. There was no colored trim on it, though. In another three or four years, when she was older and had proven herself able to carry out at least a few of the duties of a General, she would choose a color. We'd decided to make a kind of rite of passage out of it. There was no real precedent for a General-in-training -- Beryl's policy had been to throw us in to sink or swim, and Malachite's re-education of Zoisite didn't really count. And there was certainly no precedent for two Generals having a child. In Beryl's Negaverse, giving any affection to someone unable to protect him or herself would have been too dangerous.

"Dad? Are you awake?"

"Sorry," I said. "I must have been thinking too hard there, for a moment. You won't hold it against me, will you?"

"Of course not." Silly, her expression said. I shook my head. "Jas? Hey, where are you going?"

"Out," came the reply. I hadn't even heard him come in -- which, of course, only meant that he had teleported. "I just figured, under the circumstances, that I'd better not head off to the Earth Realm without telling anyone first." He'd discarded his uniform for what passed for civilian clothing for him, a plain pair of slacks and a heavy sweater with a V-shaped opening at the back for his wings. That he'd have to hide that last went without saying.

"Is either of you ever going to tell me what happened at that meeting?" Aventurine interrupted.

I sighed. <<I'm sorry,>> I told her privately, <<but it's Generals' business, and I'm not about to ask the King for permission to discuss it with you.>> And if she knows about it, the news must be all over the Negaverse, I added to myself. That wasn't good.

<<Not good at all,>> Jasper agreed, and I realized that I'd projected the thought. <<Now I really do have to go. Excuse me.>>

I frowned as he turned his back to me and summoned a Warp. From an idle excursion to the Earth Realm to sudden urgent business there. Something's wrong. Jasper had been acting oddly for several days now. What I didn't understand was why.

I'll need help on this. Keeping an eye on him would be a full-time job. It wasn't that I didn't trust my son. Quite the opposite. But I was worried for him. Twenty years of constructed memories didn't really make up for a lack of corresponding life experience. Unfortunately, that was something he refused to admit. He functioned well enough in the Negaverse, but I wasn't sure if he could manage the more complicated social interactions of the human world. I didn't want to see him hurt.

Jasper

I almost hadn't made it in time, between my father and that damned meeting. I didn't want anyone to know why I came here, or why my window of opportunity was so narrow. But she only came here once a day, and I didn't know where she came from, or where she went afterwards. It's difficult to trail a car on foot or by teleport.

Today, I promised myself. Today I'll ask her.

The cafe was busy, as usual. I stood in a shadowy corner, using my power to turn strangers' eyes away from me. Waiting.

She came in promptly at the usual time and took the last empty table. I waited patiently for a few moments more, then allowed myself to become -- noticeable, I suppose, more than visible, although it had that effect -- and strolled casually over.

"Is this seat taken?" I asked, placing one hand on the back of the chair across from her.

She glanced up, and I felt my face getting warm, which probably meant that I was blushing. Damn. I felt like the schoolboy I would have been, barring the events of six years ago, rather than the suave adult I had to be if I wanted to pull this off.

"Why, no," she said, after a pause just long enough to trick me into believing that she was enjoying my discomfort. "By all means, sit down." And she brushed a strand of blue hair off her forehead. The contrast between her hair and her milky-pale skin was striking.

I pulled out the chair and sat, a difficult manoeuvre for me at the best of times. How I managed to pull it off this time without knocking anything over with my invisible wings, I couldn't have said.

"So," I said, when she seemed inclined to remain silent, "do you come here often?" Great Gods of Darkness, I sound inane. Apparently I had been more correct than I knew when I had told Mina that working with youma didn't help one's social skills. And all the memories I had that weren't of the Negaverse were a child's. If she had been a youma, I would have been in bed with her by now, instead of trying to work up my courage to ask her if...

She smiled lazily. "Often enough." She's so beautiful... Why can't more human women be like this?

"Um," I temporized, stumped for conversational topics.

"But I don't think I've seen you in here before," she added, taking the burden off me.

"I don't usually get time off in the middle of the afternoon." True enough: I usually didn't get much time off at all. "My boss was kind enough to give me a vacation today." I've been spying on you for a week wasn't exactly the kind of line likely to attract her attention in a positive way. "What about you? Do you work around here?"

Another of those lazy, secretive smiles floated my way. "I'm... a freelance troubleshooter, I suppose you might say. My working hours and locations vary according to what the job of the week is."

I blinked. "Oh." Not exactly the reply I'd expected. "I'm Jasper Tsumeta, by the way."

"Lois Kuristalu. Pleased to meet you."

At that moment, the waiter arrived, and we had to order. But I knew, now, that I was going to manage it. I was going to ask her out on a date.

Lapis

Oh, it was such great fun to watch the great General Jasper blushing and stuttering like a schoolboy. I hadn't believed my luck that first time when I'd spotted him outside this cafe. I'd made a point of coming back every day at about the same time, and it had paid off.

I wondered if he realized that he'd attracted almost every female eye in the place when he had strolled over, and a few of the male ones, too. I suppose he's handsome enough, if you like your men big and muscular. I personally don't. When I'd first met Jasper, in Crystal Tokyo, he'd given me such an evil look... And then, later on, he'd ruined my life with almost malicious glee. I now had a chance to pay him back, and I intended to use it. Jasper was my access, my way into the Negaverse. And I intended to use him for all he was worth. And if that meant making him betray his king, why, so much the better.

Goto Chapter 5


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