The Wars of Light and Shadow: An Ill Fate Marshalling

Chapter 19

© 1999 by E. Liddell


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Jasper

April 10, 2002

<<Be careful! There's something down here that negates most of our magics!>>

It was all I could do to keep from plunging down from my perch to join in the fight on my father's side. Despite everything that had happened between us, I had no wish to see him killed, especially not if it meant that he would be ignominiously bludgeoned to death because the Dark Moon had denied him his powers.

The mission, I reminded myself grimly, and forced myself to sit still and do nothing. Although I didn't know how I was going to go about re-warding the Doom Phantom in its prison without my powers or Lord Jadeite's help, while I remained free, there was still a chance, however small, of succeeding. If I were imprisoned too, our chances dropped from slim to none.

I felt a small burst of satisfaction as my father felled one attacker with an accurately placed kick, and another with the edge of his hand, but they were hemming him in too closely for him to be able to make full use of his unarmed combat skills, and they had their powers, however small, and he didn't. Sheer weight of numbers brought him down at last, and I had to watch while they beat him senseless, feeling a cold lump forming in my stomach. If they killed him, was I equal to raiding his body for his spirit crystal and murdering one of the Dark Moon Crystal Weavers to provide his soul with a new body so that we could complete our mission? I had memories of killing in cold blood, but I also knew that those memories were false, part of the history that Jadeite had fabricated for me when I'd first arrived in the Negaverse.

Stop this, I ordered myself. This is not the time for maudlin imaginings! He'll be all right. He's a healer, remember, even if not much of one. He'll be all right. I repeated it over and over again, like a mantra, while they dragged him away.

They took him to one of the tiny shacks that they seemed to be using as housing and threw him inside, then... Well, I suppose that they warded the outside of the building, but to me it looked like a bunch of pointless handwaving. Up here I still seemed to have some use of my powers, but I couldn't perceive much of what was going on down in the settlement, magicwise. And that should have warned us. Isn't hindsight wonderful?

I continued to observe the Dark Moon's people for several hours, until I realized, in frustration, that they never stopped working. There was no day or night here -- we were too far from the sun. Instead, like the Negaverse, this place was perpetually starlit, sufficient illumination for Crystal Weaver eyes, although it would have been hell on humans. There was no time when working was easier or efficiency was greater, so they just went on around the clock, with individuals dropping out when they were too tired to do any more -- or when they were permitted? Stop worrying about trivia. But it left me without a convenient time to sneak into the settlement. I was too tall and bulky to pass as an ex-Enclavite for even a second, even if my wings hadn't made the attempt hopeless.

There has to be a way around that. I closed my eyes and turned away from the settlement, pressing my forehead against cold stone. If it had been overcast, I might have chanced flying down, trusting to human-influenced reflexes to keep those below from looking up, and landed on the roof of the building where they had imprisoned Lord Jadeite. Might as well wish for a good illusion spell, to make me look like one of them. They're both equally likely. Or are they?

Jadeite's final warning had been that something near the settlement negated most of our magics. That implied that some of them still functioned. If I cast a very simple spell, one that normally required only minimal power, with all of my strength, might it last long enough before bleeding away to get me into the settlement? Maybe if I cast it on something... The area did provide an abundance of rocks. I poked through the gravel until I found what looked like a quartz crystal, easier to work with than a chunk of granite.

Unfortunately, there was only one thing that would conceal the flare of power that would result from the actual casting of the spell. Distance. And having a hill between myself and the settlement wouldn't hurt either. Taking a small chance, I spread my wings and launched from the top of the hill.

I was surprised to discover how hard it really was to glide in largely still air without using levitation to provide additional lift. I landed halfway up the side of the next hill, unable to maintain enough altitude to reach the crest. This was a better position for what I needed to do anyway.

It's a good thing that the spells I cast on the little quartz crystal were simple ones, because the whole time I was laboring to do it, I was also hearing a nagging little voice inside my head that whispered, They could be killing him right now, and you'd never know. Any resentment I'd ever felt toward Jadeite, any anger at having Zoisite follow and spy on me, had evaporated. I'd realized that I had been acting like a sulky child, not even giving him a chance to explain. What mattered now was his survival.

It took two miserable hours of flying with muscles that burned from unaccustomed exertion, then of walking and climbing, to regain my vantage point above the settlement. From there, I trusted in the strength of my spells, and launched myself again. I wasn't up to any more gliding, but I did manage a controlled fall. I hit the ground, harder than I'd hoped, in the shadow of a boulder. By that time the nagging little voice inside my head wasn't so little anymore, but I couldn't hurry.

I ghosted furtively from shadow to shadow, trying to keep out of anyone's direct line of sight. I hadn't even tried to cast a real invisibility spell. Those were complicated and wouldn't cover for any noise that I made. Instead, I'd used a simple "Don't notice me" spell, combined with a few other things designed to distract anyone who was about to get a good look at me head-on. The result was more versatile than an invisibility spell, but also more fragile, and would dissolve the moment that I attracted attention to myself. Actually, there was no way to tell if it was working at all, or whether any positive results came from my own talents for spying and skulking.

I made it to the jail hut without incident. And then the problems started.

Just touching the wall sent a painful jolt, like an electric shock, through my body. Yes, it's warded, all right.

<<Jadeite!>> I called.

<<Jasper? Is that you?>> Faint, but there. I almost collapsed from relief.

<<Yes, it's me. Are you all right?>>

<<Lots of bruises, some loose teeth, and a couple of cracked ribs that I've been working on with what little healing power I can muster. Nothing that Almandite won't be able to fix when we get home. Can you break me out?>>

<<I don't know. Is there anyone inside there with you?>> That had been one of the reasons that I'd been afraid to try the door.

<<No. Why bother? The door opens inward, and there's no handle on this side. Without my powers, there's no way for me to open it. Simple, but effective. You shouldn't have any trouble from your side, though.>>

I nodded, although I knew that he couldn't see me. <<I'll try. Be ready to make a break for it.>>

I slipped around to the front of the building. The door was secured with a human-made padlock, but I'd had the benefit of Zoisite's instruction on manual lock-picking, and I kept a small piece of stiff wire thrust into my braid for emergencies. I found it, extracted it, and reached for the lock.

The shock was a lot nastier and more potent this time, and accompanied by a bright flash. I whispered a curse, and then another as I dropped my lock pick.

<<Warded!>> I stated, shaking out my stinging hand. <<I'll have to get out of here for a while -- someone must have been alerted when I touched it.>>

<<Go,>> Jadeite responded. <<If worst comes to worst, you can bring Malachite back to break me out when this is all over.>>

Instead of slinking back around a corner, I jumped straight up, forcing my aching wings to make a downstroke that carried me a little higher. I caught the corner of the stone slab that served as the hut's roof and pulled myself up. Roofs are always a good place to watch things from.

About thirty seconds later, a Dark Moon Crystal Weaver came pounding around the corner.

<<There's nothing here,>> he reported, carelessly transmitting the thought without any attempt to confine reception to a specific person. <<He must have tried to tamper with the ward from the inside.>>

<<Can he do that?>> came the reply.

<<I wouldn't put anything past this one. He's strong.>>

<<Okay, whatever. Are you coming back inside?>>

<<Nah, my shift was over ten minutes ago. I'm going to bed. It isn't my fault if that lazy fool Rubellite can't be bothered to make it to work on time.>>

<<Well, good night, then.>>

And it was at that moment that I jumped. One Dark Moon type, his friends on the guard rotation not expecting him back, and no one that he might be sharing sleeping quarters with knew that he was supposed to be coming back yet. I'd never get a better chance.

I was taller and heavier and ten times stronger than he was -- even without my powers -- and I was armed. In a few seconds, I had my sword at his throat.

<<Open the door,>> I ordered him, jerking my head toward the prison.

He looked down at the length of sharpened steel that I was holding, and swallowed. Very carefully. <<I can't. I don't have the keys,>>

And any attempt by him to tamper with the wards would probably have results similar to my attempt to touch the lock, earlier. I doubted that the Dark Moon was any more trusting toward its junior members than the Negaverse under Beryl. Could I endure the pain of touching the lock for long enough to pick it, and finish the job in the thirty-second window before anyone arrived to check on the alarm? I doubted it.

I looked down at the little man at the far end of my sword. A typical Enclavite-turned-Dark-Moon-flunky, from the look of him, slim and fragile, with an inverted black crescent on his forehead. His eyes were wide and frightened. They became more so when I smiled. You see, I had an idea. An incredibly audacious idea. One which depended on my strength of will for success.

I'd felt like such a loser when Lapis had stabbed me. Maybe this was my chance to redeem myself. Although I didn't want to think about the consequences of failure.

<<I want you to attune me to the source of your power, whatever it is,>> I told my prisoner firmly. I sure as hell hope that I know what I'm doing.

It didn't feel like much when he did it, really. Just a little twinge inside, and a sensation like my ears popping. Maybe it was because I'd used the same sort of energies before, and had built up a resistance. Or maybe it was just because I was a volunteer this time.

The little ex-Enclavite glared up at me from where I'd dropped him. Having been expected to be incapacitated for at least a few minutes, I'd bound him hand and foot with his own belt and strips torn from his shirt, and then used the rest of the shirt as a gag. Incredible that some descendant of these people was going to be strong enough to be a threat to us one day.

<<Up we go,>> I told him cheerfully, and applied a touch of levitation to boost him up onto the roof. <<I wouldn't wriggle too much if I were you. You might fall off and break something. And if you try to communicate with anyone, I'll make you wish that you had fallen. Clear?>>

<<Clear,>> he replied.

<<Good. You may yet live through this.>>

I strolled over to the door, calling up my powers again. It felt so very good to be able to use my magic. The past few hours had been hell.

Ignoring the lock, I sank my fingers into the substance of the door. Once I had a good grip, I swung my feet up and braced them on either side of the opening. This wasn't going to be quiet, but it was going to be unexpected, and hopefully would avoid triggering the wards that had been woven into the building.

I pulled.

The door didn't give way at once. In fact, it took me the better part of a minute, and I heard something in my left shoulder pop just as the hinges finally pulled apart under the strain. I'd acquired a number of varied bruises, too, so falling to the ground hurt. I just sat there for a moment, gathering my strength.

"Jas? That was pretty stupid. I'd help you up, but I'm in even worse shape."

I glanced up. There was Lord Jadeite, jacketless and with one eye swollen half shut. He recoiled as I turned in his direction.

"What have you done?" he whispered, staring at me.

I rubbed at my forehead. I hadn't had the opportunity yet to check my reflection for black crescents, and I didn't feel different... "It shows, does it?"

My father's expression was grim. "Oh, yes, it shows, all right. What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that it was the only way for us to complete this blasted mission," I snapped back. "You can't ward a damned demon if you don't have any damned magic!"

"True," he admitted. "I'm just not certain that this was the best way to go about getting it. But you're supposed to be a mature adult, and I don't have any business second-guessing you on this. Now let's get out of here before anyone comes to check on me and finds that." He nodded toward the ripped-apart door.

I climbed to my feet and handed him my bespelled crystal. It still had a bit of a charge on it, and I didn't need it anymore. We were about to get moving when a crushing weight of darkness descended on my mind and I reeled back against the wall of the prison shack, helpless.

"Jasper?" <<Jasper! What is it?>>

Speaking was too much of an effort. <<I think the Doom Phantom just noticed me for the first time,>> I managed, fighting the choking, clinging black stuff. <<It's stronger than the Negaforce. A lot stronger.>> And the fact that I had to accept it without obeying it didn't help matters. I forced myself to concentrate, reached out to part the Dark Crystal's influence around my father. I wasn't quite sure how I did it, but I knew that I had and it was working.

Suddenly, I felt my father's mind and power working with mine, forcing the darkness out and away. The Doom Phantom's influence over me wasn't completely banished, but I did get a breathing space.

<<We'll manage,>> my father stated firmly. <<Somehow. Now, we have to get going.>>

"There they are!"

We both glanced wildly around, but I couldn't see who had shouted, and I didn't think that Lord Jadeite could, either.

<<Toward the center of town,>> he ordered. <<Let's finish our job and get out of here.>>

Jadeite

I kept on sneaking glances at Jasper as we ran. I didn't want him to see me watching him (and there was always the possibility that I might trip if I didn't spare at least some attention for the ground), but I was worried. Very worried. Even more so than I had been while he had been dating that Dark Moon woman. I knew from my own experiences that once you've absorbed dark power, it's very difficult to get rid of, and if the Doom Phantom was more powerful than the Negaforce had been... Although it was possible that Jasper might be mistaken. He'd never known the Negaforce at its most powerful. It had never fully recovered from its attack on the Moon Kingdom at the end of the Silver Millennium.

But I still might lose him. Gods of light, what am I going to tell Amber if I do? What am I going to do to *myself* if I do? I should have insisted that he stay behind. Except that, if he had, I'd still be locked up in that little stone hut, awaiting execution or worse.

I funneled a little more power into the defenses I'd set within my son's mind, and tried to concentrate on running. By the time we get there, I'm going to be too drained to do anything. It's going to be up to him. Frightening thought. But supremely ironic, if he can use the Doom Phantom's own power to restrain it.

I could hear the footsteps behind us now. Three or four strangers, smaller people than either of us and more lightly shod. So few, we might be able to deal with, but if we stopped and turned to attack them, others might catch up.

<<You know,>> Jasper observed to me, <<we've been doing so much running and walking since we got here that we seem to have forgotten about other options.>>

<<I wasn't about to ask you to teleport us both,>> I replied, panting. Negaverse combat training doesn't necessarily prepare you for the kind of sprinting we were doing. And my cracked rib was throbbing every time that my stride jarred it. I was going to be very glad when this was over, and I could spend the next few days resting and being waited on hand and foot by compliant youma. <<I don't have the power to spare to move even one right now, not if I'm going to protect you, too.>>

<<I think I can handle it. One... Two... Three!>>

As my feet left the ground to begin the next step, it became dark and very cold for a split second. I'd never teleported while running before. Onyx had always used to say that it just wasn't done.

And I discovered why.

We reappeared just a little higher off the ground than we had been. If I'd been moving more slowly, I might have been able to save myself. As it was, I never had a chance. My foot came down on something, it slid, and I fell, twisting my ankle. Par for the course today, it seemed.

Jasper skidded to a stop a short distance away. <<It's a good thing that we don't have much further to go,>> he remarked, helping me up and positioning my arm so that it encircled the muscular solidity of his shoulders. <<Here, lean on me.>>

And thus we hobbled the last ten yards or so, the crystal looming above us. Jasper lowered me to the ground just within touching distance of it, and strode off to walk around the base while I sat and nursed my ankle. This job had been hard on me physically, but to be honest, I was glad that Jasper's and my positions hadn't been reversed. In his place, I wasn't sure that I would have had the nerve to give myself over to the Doom Phantom, and I agreed with him that it was something that had had to be done. I just wished that there had been someone else here to do it.

So this is what all of those human books mean when they say that letting go of your child when he's ready is the hardest part of being a parent. Considering that Jasper wasn't even really mine, it was surprising that I felt such a need to protect him. And that, I realized, was what drove a wedge between us before. I've been trying too hard to keep him safe. He's past that. He's been past that ever since I turned him into what he is today.

When you're eleven centuries old, just about everyone you meet seems like a child. It was a perspective that I decided I would have to discard.

<<Well, we're in the right place,>> Jasper stated as he completed his circuit. <<That... damned mirk is thicker here than anywhere else. But I'm at a loss regarding what we're supposed to do about it. Just set a ward around the edges and hope for the best?>>

I shrugged. <<Unless you have a better idea. Come on, help me up.>>

"There they are! Get them!"

Jasper glanced in the direction from which the voice was coming, and then bent down quickly to grab my arm. He used his free hand to steady himself against the huge crystal.

Which turned out to be a mistake.

Black fire gouted from the crystal and ran up Jasper's arm. I could feel it, testing, prodding at both the defenses I had helped him set and at the fringes of my mind. It wanted him, but it would have been quite happy with me, too. Both of us were fairly strong as Crystal Weavers went. Certainly taking either of our bodies would be easier than using the inferior material that the Enclavites provided to breed for a vessel. And neither of us was strong enough to keep it out. At best, one of us would survive.

And it had to be Jasper.

That was obvious. I was powerless unless he was there to protect me from the Dark Crystal. He would have to be the one to trap the Doom Phantom. And that meant that I had to sacrifice myself.

Perhaps becoming a heroic type hadn't been such a wonderful career move.

I discarded all of my defenses, all the little wards and tricks and traps that I normally used to prevent foreign magics from invading my mind. The Doom Phantom could have worn its way through them eventually, like the Negaforce before it, but I was afraid that it would prefer Jasper's undamaged body and already contaminated mind over my battered self. And so I disregarded all of my self-preservation instincts and opened myself to it.

Jasper had gotten his hand off the crystal, but a portion of the Doom Phantom had already been trapped inside of us. Inside of me, rather, because the moment I made up my mind to let it in, the black fire flowed out of Jasper.

I jerked my arm out of my son's grasp. <<Go!>> I ordered him, breaking the chain that held my spirit crystal and forcing it into his hand. I had at most a few minutes of lucidity left. <<Finish it!>>

He seemed about to say something, but hesitated and substituted a grim nod instead. Meanwhile, I was fighting for my survival against the darkness. It was a losing battle. I could feel it encroaching on my mind, bit by bit.

It wasn't like the Negaforce. That entity had been vast and evil, yes, but it had also been... cold. Passive, perhaps. It had used others to do what it felt needed to be done, participating directly in its battles only when cornered. The Doom Phantom seemed to be a more active creature. Its essence, inside me, felt hot, not cold, inflaming negative emotions instead of walling away positive ones.

Someone grabbed me by the collar and lifted me up, asking me questions, but I didn't have any attention to spare for him. Not even when he slapped me across the face. Need to hold it, need to hold it... No!

It was so simple, so obvious. So elegant. I laughed. The Dark Moon Crystal Weaver who was gripping my collar stared at me as I noticed him for the first time.

After all, he was my salvation.

I placed my hands over his and pushed.

As black fire gouted from my fingertips and into the stranger's body, I felt the Doom Phantom's panic -- or, at least, the panic of the fraction that had invaded me, since the demon was apparently too weak to sustain any kind of a linkage with this fragment of itself unless assisted by my physical contact with its prison -- at being forced into an unacceptable vessel. The Enclavites had so very little power that there was no way that one of them would be able to sustain even a part of the creature.

That fear evidently transferred itself to the creature's new vessel, because he dropped me as though I were red hot and staggered away. Exhausted and dazed and aching, I lay on my side on the ground and watched as little tongues of black fire danced over the stranger's skin. Then they became larger. The flames actually consumed his entire body, while he lurched around and tried to beat them out. He didn't scream -- I don't think he had a tongue left after the first few seconds. It was... remarkably ugly, even to someone who had watched Zoisite and Beryl torturing the enemies of the Negaverse.

Somehow, the victim managed to stay upright even after his flesh had burned up and blown away. For several minutes, the charred skeleton remained standing there. Then it slowly turned toward me, skull grinning vacantly.

So that's where Wise Man came from, I thought. Jasper, I think you had better hurry.

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