The Wars of Light and Shadow: An Ill Fate Marshalling

Chapter 6

© 1999 by E. Liddell


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Jadeite

It's been a long time since we've had a meeting after midnight, I thought, smothering a yawn. Proof positive that things are heating up again, I suppose.

We'd all crowded into a small sitting room in Nephrite's house this time. With Cuprite on one couch and Serena on the other, it was standing room only, but no one seemed likely to complain. Fortunately, the only outsiders present this time were Cuprite, Sailor Moon, and her husband. If all of the Sailor Scouts had been there, the crowding would have been intolerable.

<<Do you know what's going on?>> Jasper slipped into place on Amber's far side. He was dressed in civilian clothing, not his uniform. I wondered what he had been doing.

<<Not yet, but I think we're about to find out,>> I replied. Almandite, who had been kneeling beside Cuprite to work on his burn, was finally standing up and backing away from her patient. Nephrite drew her gently against him, and she sagged into his embrace. I wasn't about to say anything about her weakness. I knew from experience just how tiring healing could be.

I could see Malachite displaying the faintest signs of tension as he called the meeting to order, although I think that Zoisite and I were the only ones who noticed. Nervousness on his part was generally not a good sign, but I was still surprised to hear about the attack on Sailor Moon's apartment, and the form it had taken. Wholesale destruction of that sort indicated either desperation or idiocy on someone's part.

It was Nephrite who said, "We think they were after Cuprite, but unless one of you knows something that I don't, we still have no idea why."

I glanced at the slender figure still sprawled unconscious on the couch. So. It all came down to him. I think we'd all been expecting that.

Beside me, Amber stirred. "I guess we wait for him to wake up, then."

"That might take a while," Almandite remarked. "It isn't just his hand that got burned. There's damage and inflammation of the neural pathways almost all the way up to the brain. I'd guess that he was trying to use something too powerful for him. Anyway, it's probably going to be two or three days before he's conscious enough to answer questions."

There was a moment of grim silence.

"We don't have that kind of time," Malachite stated. "The Dark Moon might attack again at any moment, and it's quite possible that they might strike here next, which would give them an easy way into the Negaverse."

"Not to mention the incalculable amount of damage they might do to the city," Darien muttered, and was rewarded with a sharp glance from Malachite. Even after all this time, there was still some residual rivalry between the two, although I'm not certain that they themselves were aware of it.

"In any case," our King concluded, "it's obvious that we need to know what he knows."

I decided that I didn't like the direction this was taking. If Almandite couldn't wake him, then we couldn't question him, and that meant... I really didn't like the direction this was taking.

"Jadeite."

Oh, hell... "My King?" My response was purely reflexive. Please, let him want something, anything else --

"You know what to do," Malachite said, and nodded in Cuprite's direction.

Oh, yes. I knew. Although I hadn't needed to do it since Beryl's day.

Stripping information from someone else's mind is easy. Any Crystal Weaver can do it. Unfortunately, doing it without seriously damaging the subject is difficult. I'd experimented on hundreds of youma over the years to teach myself the technique, and I still failed about a quarter of the time. The remembered results of those failures made me feel ill, now that the Negaforce wasn't there to wall my emotions away.

<<He still has a better chance with you than with anyone else,>> Amber told me.

<<I know. I know. Gods of Light and Darkness!>> If I refused, Malachite would just order in someone else, probably Jasper or Zoisite. I'd tried to teach Jasper the technique, but to my knowledge he'd never actually used it. And Zoisite was a mindraper, pure and simple. If he tried this, there wouldn't be much left of Cuprite, afterwards.

<<If it's any consolation, Jasper didn't hurt me. I think that those of us with Crystal Weaver ancestry have a special sort of resilience that ordinary people don't.>> Amber gave me a little push toward the couch. <<You know, it's at times like this that I realize how far you've come -- how far we've both come -- since that first meeting in the hallway. You wouldn't have cared, back then. And I wouldn't have understood.>>

I turned toward her for a second, reached out a hand to touch her face. <<I know,>> I repeated. And it was true.

I shouldered between Darien and Jasper and knelt down beside Cuprite, marshaling my powers. I didn't really need to touch him -- in fact, I could have done this from my original position halfway across the room -- but it made it easier to focus my intent, like the hand gestures we use with attack spells.

The surface of his mind was full of confusion, fragmentary images... a woman's face, with an inverted black moon crescent on the forehead, half-hidden in shadow. Monsters, most likely Dark Moon droids. A group of small houses in a clearing in the forest. Other faces, delicate ones with slanting, jewel-toned eyes. Crystal Weaver faces. And us... I repressed a smile as a caricature of Zoisite slid past in front of my mind's eye.

I steeled myself, and made the first cut, peeling back the surface layers of his mind to expose the memories I needed. Recent memory...

I let the door swing shut behind me with a thud as I lowered my suitcases to the floor. <<Hey, everybody, I'm home!>>

Silence, complete and absolute, was the only reply to my mental greeting.

<<I could use a hand unloading the truck,>> I stated, testing.

Was something wrong? Had they evacuated during the two weeks I had been away on my prolonged shopping trip? Surely not. They would have found a way to get word to me...

"Cuprite? Is that you?"

I gave a heartfelt sigh of relief. <<Pyrope. Thank God! For a moment there, I thought I was the last one of us alive!>>

My cousin wasn't smiling, and there was something... wrong... about him. I'd always been unusually sensitive to the texture, if you will, of our individual magical abilities, but this was so strange that I couldn't tell for certain just what was out of place.

<<Is something wrong?>> I asked.

"No, nothing's wrong. It's just that there's someone we want you to meet."

<<Is that all? I thought for a moment there that someone had died.>> He already had his hand on my arm, and was dragging me toward the main entryway. <<Hey, don't I at least get a chance to take off my jacket?>> Dear friend, almost-brother, what's wrong with you?

"That can wait." He was almost like an automaton, his speech monotone, his language perhaps the least bit stiff. His shirt looked like it had been slept in, and his hair was standing up on end. He'd always been disinterested in his appearance, but this was an order of magnitude worse than anything I could remember. Something was very wrong. Why wouldn't he touch my mind?

<<Okay, okay, if it's that big a deal...>> I followed him through the door that led to the main dining room -- dining hall, really, I suppose. Everyone was in there. I mean everyone -- men, women, children -- all thirty-some-odd of the Crystal Weavers of the Enclave. Between the people and the furniture, the room was packed. And somewhere near the center, where the press was thickest, there was someone whom I didn't recognize, someone who wasn't one of us. Then the crowd parted, and I saw her.

Her hair was shoulder length, a powder blue color that anyone not familiar with what magic can do to your body would have said was unnatural. Her clothes were the same color, but the blue of her eyes was deeper and more vibrant. Her skin was very, very pale, as though it had never been touched by the sun. And I could see a lot of it, because her clothes, such as they were, really belonged on a beach somewhere.

"So," she purred. "You're the one that got away."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Was she a Crystal Weaver? I couldn't tell. She didn't have the eyes, and there was some kind of shadow hanging around her, making her difficult for me to read. I noticed for the first time that she had a black crescent moon painted on her forehead. It was inverted, with the horns pointing downwards.

"You will," she promised, and something in her eyes made me try to step back, but the crowd had closed in behind me. My eyes raced frantically from familiar face to familiar face. They all looked dead. Their eyes were like glass balls, staring at nothing. Seeing nothing.

"Look at me," the strange woman purred, and when she said it, it was almost a compulsion. I squeezed my eyes shut and turned my head, but she had my chin in her hand and was forcing me to turn again, back toward her...

With only a split second to decide what to do, I jerked my head free and teleported. Not many people remembered that I could. It was a rare power in the Enclaves, and I'd decided a long time ago that it was probably best not to flaunt it.

I landed in the hotel room where I'd been staying for the past two weeks, since it was a location that was fresh in my mind, and scared the living daylights out of the unfortunate maid who was in there making the bed. At least it wasn't a place anyone else would think to search for me at... I shuddered, trying to shake the memory of those dead eyes. Trying to make myself believe that it hadn't been real.

The security guards decided that I was trespassing, and threw me out of the building. I suppose I should have been grateful that they didn't have me arrested. Exhaustion and shock landed me face down in an alleyway, and when I woke up, I couldn't remember how I'd gotten there. The only thing I knew was that I had to get out of the country, so far away that they would never find me...

I shook my head, pulled myself loose from Cuprite's mind for a moment. I'd never entirely gotten used to that -- the weird blurring of personalities, the sense of living someone else's life. Especially when that person, in his memory, made decisions that I wouldn't have. I'd been trained to stand and fight, not to run.

Those few minutes of memory that I'd found took care of the immediate past and the question of what he was running from, but there were other things that had been bothering me about Cuprite -- bothering us all, I think. Why hadn't we known about him and his people?

I sighed. Well, the additional risk to him at this point was minimal. Probably, if there was going to be any damage, it had already been done, and I needed to know.

I peeled back another layer...

They didn't remember where they came from, barely even recalled that their people had called themselves Crystal Weavers. Nor did they understand their powers. Their oldest histories were only about twelve hundred years old, and the oldest stories spoke of fire from the sky, a fire that had killed almost everyone. Only a handful of very young children had survived, hidden by the adults to protect them from what they knew was coming. None of the survivors had been more than six months old -- a physical six years, but they'd still been hard put to survive, even with their powers. None of them had more than begun their training, and none of them understood what they were.

They'd eventually become part of a human community, raised among humans, marrying humans, having children with them, but they hadn't known how to pass their powers on, so their children had lived and died as humans, lost to them, until, in desperation, one of them guessed, and experimented... and succeeded. Almost. He was able to pass his immortality and his basic power to a child, but for some reason that none of them understood, the seed that he planted inside the boy's mind failed to grow as it should. Still, it was better than nothing, and it became their custom.

Most of the original group had died in the war that ended the Silver Millennium, and the chaos that followed, and the few that survived that died over the next few centuries -- of accident, of disease that they could have combated with their powers if they'd only known how, of simple hopelessness. Only their descendants remained, and they were weak shadows of that first group. For protection, they banded together, hiding their powers from everyone except their own. Their settlement became known as the Enclave.

A second Enclave was colonized from the first during the eighteenth century, settling on a tract of marginal forest land in North America, just as the first Enclave had formed on an inhospitable rocky island that no one else wanted. There might have been more, but their numbers grew only slowly, partly because of generally low fertility, and partly because, in order to hide their secret from the world, they'd had to kill any child that couldn't pass for human...

I withdrew again. The plight of a total stranger still couldn't stir more than a rudimentary feeling of pity inside me (at least, when I wasn't causing it), but Cuprite's memories were strong and personal (and what they'd had to do to him as a child so that he could pass had been, in his memory, as bad as the worst torture I'd been subjected to at Beryl's hands -- perhaps even worse, because he hadn't understood), and it was impossible to separate my emotions from his while I was inside his mind. Objectively, I could understand why they did it. The accusation of one could have meant the destruction of them all. Subjectively, I could only remember the secondhand pain of a young man who didn't understand just how dangerously intolerant humans could be. I personally had encountered the sort of human attitude his elders had feared, during the Silver Millennium, but my powers had protected me from any real persecution. These people didn't have that advantage.

I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to sort out my impressions. Mass murder of all the adults, probably by the Empyrean, given the timing, leaving a group of inexperienced children who had botched the empowerment procedure on their descendants, losing several generations altogether... I glanced at Malachite and Zoisite. Their ancestors? In any case, even the empowered descendants had possessed only very weak magic; so weak, in fact, that they hadn't been detected by Onyx or by the resurgent Empyrean seven years ago. And they'd allowed themselves to become severely inbred, which must in and of itself have compromised their ability to pass for human...

"Well, don't keep us in suspense," Zoisite snapped. I sighed. By Malachite's decree, the little blonde was senior to me and just about everyone else except Malachite and Nephrite, which meant that, within reason, I had to obey his orders.

I kept my report concise and to the point. No one interrupted. In fact, the silence continued for several seconds after I had finished.

"Is there anything else, or can I finish putting the poor kid back together now?" I prompted when no one seemed inclined to speak.

Malachite nodded. "It might be wise to give him a concise history of the Negaverse and what we know about the Crystal Weavers before you do." I knew that he was talking to me, but he was looking at Serena and Darien, evidently not wanting to have to argue with them later, which he'd probably have to do if we went behind their backs. Neither of them spoke, and he seemed to interpret that as assent, nodding to me.

I grimaced -- implanting knowledge was even more of a pain than extracting it -- but I bent to the task all the same. Cuprite deserved at least that much benefit from what we'd put him through.

"So," Malachite said when I was done at last. "They want him, specifically. Just to complete the set? Or is there something more?" His eyes drifted to the key-shaped staff that Cuprite had been given by his future self, brought with him when we'd moved him to avoid the risk associated with potent magical artefacts in untrained human hands. Sailor Pluto's staff. I recognized it now, and wondered how I'd been so blind at the conference this morning.

<<I wish we had more of the pieces to this puzzle.>> I'm not sure whether Malachite wanted the thought to be overheard or not.

"I think I may have one for you, although I don't know how useful it will be."

I was surprised -- no, shocked -- when she spoke. Amber usually said very little at these meetings, self-conscious because, even after six years, she hadn't evolved the streak of ruthlessness necessary to fit in. Personally, I didn't think that was a bad thing, but Zoisite tended to disagree. Vocally. But there was none of that uncertainty about my wife now, even though I could detect nervousness in the way she was tugging at her brown-trimmed collar.

"Then let's hear it," Malachite invited.

"I think I know where they came from -- his people, I mean." And she waved a hand in Cuprite's direction.

Everyone else froze, and I could feel a single thought resonating through my Weave, amplified by all five of our minds. It was, What?!

Amber

I'd followed what I could of my husband's journey through our guest's mind -- easier said than done, especially considering that he and I weren't part of the same Weave. In some ways Jadeite was a lot closer to Malachite and the others than he would ever be to me. I'd accepted that a long time ago. If there were parts of him that I never would have, or understand, well, there were parts of him that belonged exclusively to me, too. But something that he'd found inside Cuprite's head had sparked a train of thought that had nothing to do with our relationship.

My vague memories of my father's stories had been nibbling at the back of my mind for quite some time. People who had disappeared. The Lost. The name came to me suddenly. And it hadn't exactly been part of a story.

When I was very young, I'd once asked him what had happened to the people in his stories after the stories were over. He'd given me a strange look. I can still remember the look on his face, and the exact words he spoke.

"Are you sure you want to know, Princess?" That had been his nickname for me. Princess. "Most happy endings really aren't, and the things that happen afterwards can be quite nasty sometimes."

But I'd been young and curious, so I'd badgered him until he gave in. And that was when he'd told me about the Lost, the people who had vanished. He'd never mentioned them again. Perhaps he'd never had the chance. He'd vanished himself a little more than a month later, and I'd never seen him again. Or, at least, not alive. A few months after I'd married Jadeite, Malachite had given me, privately, the remains of my father's spirit crystal. I'd taken the shards to a certain place in the Earth Realm, and buried them beside the bones of Alexandrite, my husband's brother.

I'd always thought that all of it, the stories my father used to tell me about that fantastic kingdom of sorcerers and the demons who were their enemies, had just been a fiction created to amuse a young girl, but knowing what I did now, I realized that his stories could have been history. Crystal Weaver history.

Unfortunately, even though my memories of the conversation were clear, most of the information wasn't very useful. All that I could tell Malachite was that there had been some sort of... difference of opinion, or something, that had caused the Crystal Weavers to split into two groups, and that one of them had then disappeared. Not really all that helpful. The look Zoisite gave me as I talked began to make me wish that I'd never spoken up.

"Was there any mention of what the 'difference of opinion' was about?" Malachite's frown was thoughtful, rather than irritated like his lover's.

I concentrated. "It was... about the ordinary humans. The Lost wanted to help them, to teach them magic. The others thought that they should leave them alone."

Malachite nodded. <<Write down everything you remember about your father's stories. Please. It could be important.>>

<<So much for our chances of getting any sleep tonight,>> Jadeite remarked privately to me.

<<Sleep? What a radical concept. And here I thought you had something else in mind...>>

<<Ha!>> He leaned down and kissed me on the tip of the nose. <<At this rate, Jas and Avi are going to have a little brother or sister before the end of the year.>>

<<I don't think so,>> I replied seriously. <<I've been careful.>> Fertility control is more complicated for Crystal Weaver women than it is for the men, who, after all, just have to perform a little selective internal temperature adjustment now and then, but it really isn't all that difficult.

"Enough, both of you," Malachite said aloud. "Meeting adjourned. Get to bed, all of you."

<<Mind if I hitch a ride?>> I asked Jadeite. Since we were standing practically on top of one another anyway, an attempt at teleportation by either of us would have brought the other along. I just wanted to make it official.

<<Well, if you do, we really aren't going to get any sleep,>> he teased, wrapping his arms around me.

Malachite

<<Go,>> I told Zoisite. <<I'll catch up with you later. There's something I have to do, first.>>

He nodded and vanished. All of the others were already gone. Except for Serena, Darien, and the unconscious young Crystal Weaver on the couch.

The former Prince of Earth was bending down to help his wife get to her feet.

"Stay for a moment," I said to them. "There's something we need to discuss."

"And what would that be?" Darien's tone of voice was icy. Seven years later, and he still didn't trust me. Nor I, him, I admitted ruefully, realizing that my right hand was clenched into a fist. Fortunately, it was concealed from him by my cape. I'd thought we were over this. Or had we just been avoiding each other? I could count on one hand the number of times that we'd spoken since I'd become King of the Negaverse.

"Him." I waved a hand in Cuprite's direction.

"What about him?"

I forced myself to relax, to take no notice of his tone of voice or the tension in his body, as his wife said, "Darien, please," and put her hand on his arm. A little of the stiffness bled out of him, and he looked a bit less like he was poised to spring at me, but he was still uncomfortable. I might not have Jadeite's level of skill in reading human expressions, but I could tell that much.

"What," I asked, "do you intend to do with him?"

"What do you mean?" Darien apparently hadn't been expecting that question.

"You took Cuprite home with you this morning. Tonight, your home was attacked by people looking for him, and your wife was seriously injured. Where are you going to send him next? Which of the Scouts is going to be the next to volunteer to have her life destroyed? Sailor Jupiter? Uranus and Neptune, perhaps?" I took it for granted that those two were living together. Their relationship had been common knowledge during the Silver Millennium. "And more to the point, you failed to protect him. Cuprite may be the key to whatever is going on. We can't afford to let him fall into the Dark Moon's hands."

Darien snorted. "I should have known that it would all come down to something like that. You are one selfish bastard, Malachite."

I looked him directly in the eye. "I am what this world and its people have made me," I said. Including you.

"Stop it!" Sailor Moon's shout was so loud that I was surprised it didn't wake the subject of our discussion, who slept on, oblivious. "Darien, don't you see? He's right," she said, once she had our attention.

"Serena --"

"No," she said. "No arguments." There was a surprising depth of pain in those blue eyes. I'd never seen her look like this before, and, judging from the look on his face, I don't think her husband had either. "We can't help Cuprite. I don't think that all of us together would be strong enough to protect him for long. And it's pretty well certain that the Dark Moon is going to come after him again. Even I can see that. I think that the Negaverse... is his only hope. I don't like it either, but I don't think we have any choice." And she sighed. "Let's go, Muffin. Molly put Luna in another room down the hall, and I'd like to check on her before we turn in."

I waited until I could no longer hear the sound of their footsteps before I closed the door. I didn't want them interrupting me now.

I perched myself on the edge of the couch where Cuprite lay, still asleep. He looked... very young. To my surprise, I felt pain over what I was about to do to him, and maybe even guilt. You're going to hate me for this. And he'd have every reason to. But I hadn't been able to come up with another answer. I needed to bind him, to make certain that he wouldn't slip through our fingers. I'd waited too long as it was, and almost lost him. I couldn't afford to risk that again.

Slowly, carefully, I placed one hand on his chest and the other on his forehead, and reached deep inside myself, looking for the tiny flaw that the Negaforce had left there. As a pattern, it would suffice.

Then I stopped, and reached for the staff that was leaning against the wall not very far away, ignoring the warning heat that seeped through the fabric of my glove to scorch my palm. I tipped it over onto the floor and used the tip of my boot to push it under the couch that Serena had been lying on. I didn't return to Cuprite until it was completely hidden.

I didn't think it was alive or self-aware in any sense of the word, but somehow I still didn't want it to see what was going to happen next.

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