Choices - Chapter 3

© 1999 by E. Liddell


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Sumire

"And just what did you think you were doing here?"

We're dead, I thought when I got a look at the reception committee.

Zoisite was in the lead. Well, sort of. The taller blonde man -- General Jadeite, I recognized belatedly -- behind him was holding the Prince Consort by the upper arms, apparently to keep him from charging forward and attacking one or both of us. Zoisite must have been outraged, because his face was red, and he was straining to pull loose and kept trying to stomp on Jadeite's feet. The third... well, I don't suppose I can really call him a man, because he seemed to be about my age. He looked a lot like Jadeite, actually, but he had longish dark hair that he wore in a braid, and his uniform was trimmed in dark brown, not red. He was watching the other two and shaking his head. Then he seemed to come to some conclusion, and pushed past them, stopping about an arm's length in front of us. He and Cass stared at each other for a moment. Then he sighed, and spoke.

"Trainee Cassiterite, you're out of uniform."

"I'm sorry, General Alexandrite," Cass said. "I wasn't expecting visitors."

I stared at him, then at her. Oh, gods...

That kid was a Negaverse General.

He knew Cass, whose real name was Cassiterite.

Therefore, Cass was... what? A Negaverse spy who'd somehow insinuated herself into one of the most respected groups in Crystal Tokyo? I started to back away from her a little.

"In other words, you didn't expect to be caught," Alexandrite observed. Jadeite seemed to have managed to calm Zoisite down, at least a little, because he'd relaxed his grip on the Prince Consort. There was still murder in those green eyes, though.

"Well? I'm waiting," Zoisite prompted in a tone of voice that would have stripped the flesh off my bones if it had been aimed at me.

"We were looking for someone." I don't know how Cass managed to meet his eyes, but she did it.

Zoisite was practically foaming at the mouth. Jadeite put a restraining hand on his shoulder again.

"You're in a lot of trouble, young lady," the taller General said. "Smuggling a human past the border is bad enough. Bringing her in here, and at a time like this..." He shook his head. "Does anyone else know about this?"

"Morgan," Cass said. "The youma at the main information desk in Customs. Dad knows some of it, but not that I brought Sumire here."

Zoisite and Jadeite exchanged glances. I fingered the little charm I held and hoped that they'd get this over with quickly. Maybe they'd even tell me what had happened to Taro, and what he'd been doing here, before they executed me.

"We'll have to reassign the youma," the Prince Consort finally said. "And it should be safe enough to put Jasper on the need-to-know list, I suppose. I leave the question of what to do about Morganite to you."

Jadeite nodded.

"What about me?" I asked, too frightened even to blush in embarrassment as my voice squeaked.

It was Alexandrite who answered. "That's not our decision. I'd guess that --"

Then they all stiffened, seemingly listening to something that I couldn't hear. Even Cass. The three Generals exchanged glances, and nodded. Zoisite and Jadeite teleported away, leaving us alone with Alexandrite.

"You're both going to have to come with me," the young General said. "Orders."

Alexandrite

<<Cass, what in hell did you think you were doing? Do you have any idea how close Zoisite was to killing you?>> And how much do you know? Bad enough that she'd been found in the same place that Zoisite had been keeping the recaptured --

<<We were looking for someone,>> Cass repeated mulishly. <<And Zoisite wouldn't really have killed us.>>

<<Maybe not, but he could have made you wish that you were dead.>> A thousand years of residence in the final resting place of Beryl's victims had given me a rare appreciation of what my ex-Weavemate was capable of, when he set his mind to it.

Cass didn't reply. I took the opportunity to study her companion -- or her back, anyway, since they were both walking in front of me. Dark hair, Oriental skin tone, probably about thirteen years old. I frowned. There was the faintest hint of a familiar magic hanging about her. I wracked my brains, but I couldn't place it. All I managed to figure out was that it didn't belong in the Negaverse, which was hardly surprising since there's very little that really does belong in the Negaverse.

"In here," I told them aloud, opening the door to a convenient small room. <<Are you sure that I need to do this, my King?>> Gods, it felt odd to be giving Malachite that title, even after four years of practice. Even though he'd earned it.

<<Believe me, I wish it weren't necessary. I don't think that Cass would deliberately bring someone dangerous here, but under the circumstances, we can't be too careful. Anyway, answering a few questions won't hurt them.>>

I sighed. Typical Negaverse paranoia. Sometimes, this place is like an asylum that's been given over to the inmates. What that makes me, I just don't know. I'm one of them, but I think I'm sane enough. How am I supposed to tell?

I suppose it isn't paranoia if a sizable fraction of everyone really is out to get you, I thought, and shook my head.

"Sit down," I invited the girls. The human did so. Stubbornly, Cass remained standing. I ignored her, looking instead at the other girl. "What's your name?"

"Sumire." It was barely more than a whisper.

I sighed. "Well, Sumire, I have a few questions for you..."

Sumire

Cass was still pacing. In fact, I don't think she'd stopped pacing since Alexandrite had left us.

"How long are they going to leave us in here? What in hell are they doing out there, holding a garden party among the mushrooms? Damn it!"

I'd had enough. "Oh, for the gods' sakes, settle down! Climbing the walls isn't going to solve anything. If not knowing what's happening out there bothers you this much, why didn't you leave when Alexandrite offered to let you? You didn't have to stay with me."

Well, maybe that was true, strictly speaking, but I was glad that she had stayed. Even if she was a liar, a Crystal Weaver, and a Negaverse General-in-training, she was still the only person I actually knew here. And after Alexandrite's interminable inquisition, which had consisted mainly of him asking variations on "What were you really looking for in Zoisite's lab?" over and over again, I wanted to ask someone a few questions of my own. Not that he'd been obnoxious about it, or anything. I was just fed up.

Cass slapped the wall with the palm of her left hand, then came over and sat down across from me. The room that we'd been left in was actually quite a comfortable little sitting room. I hadn't expected to find any place so... normal... in this legendary abode of demons.

"Now, are you going to be honest with me for a change?" I asked. I'd re-knotted the thong that supported Taro's charm and hung it around my own neck, so that I could finger it as I was now doing.

"I guess I deserved that," Cassiterite admitted. "Okay. What do you want to know?"

"Are you really a Negaverse General?"

She closed her eyes. "In training. Yes. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I could see how you feel about this place, and I..." She shook her head. "I wanted you to be my friend," she admitted. "There are times when I hate being who I am. I mean, my mother's Sailor Venus, and my dad's a freaking Negaverse General, and neither of them has much time for me, and neither does anyone else..." She played with a lock of her hair for a moment, then sighed. "I guess I'm kind of lonely."

A Negaverse General and a Sailor Scout?

I had to admit that it was a good thing that I was sitting down. Must have been one heck of a romance. So she's -- what? Half Crystal Weaver? But she looks so human...

"You and Morgan seemed pretty friendly to me," I offered, mind in turmoil.

"Oh, Morgan." She waved him off into the realm of trivia. "He can be fun to be around, but we've never been very close. He usually doesn't have much time for anybody but his twin. And anyway, he's a full General now. He can't be bothered with kids like me."

"What do you think they're going to do with us?" I asked, deliberately changing the subject.

"I'm not sure," Cass admitted. "I would have expected them to take you away right after Alex finished questioning us, so that they could wipe your memory, and I should be on punishment detail by now. There's something wrong here that's bigger than just a sealed record on one youma. Which means that we're in equally big trouble."

"Great," I muttered. I'm trapped in a small room in the Negaverse, with a half-breed Crystal Weaver who's also the closest thing I have to a friend and ally at the moment, waiting for a bunch of other Crystal Weavers to choose my punishment for breaking into the Prince Consort's lab. What in hell did I do wrong? I didn't want my fate to be decided by a bunch of unhuman monsters. But Cass isn't a monster...

Before I could think of anything else to ask, there was a sharp knock on the door. Cass and I looked at each other. We both knew that the youma guards stationed outside had no reason to come in here, and if they'd been coming to take us away, I doubted that they would have bothered to knock, so who...?

Suddenly, Cass's eyes widened, and I could see her throat working as she swallowed. "C-come in," she stuttered.

The door swung open, and let me tell you, it was really a good thing that I wasn't standing up. If I had, I would have sat down rather abruptly.

"Equally big trouble," I thought. Well, I suppose that's one way of putting it...

Cass went down on one knee in front of the new arrival, right fist pressed to her left breast. "My King."

"Get up," Malachite ordered. "You are very, very fortunate that we need every available Crystal Weaver right now, Cassiterite, or I would make an example of you."

Cass turned a bit green, and scrambled to her feet. "Please, my King, I can explain --"

Malachite made a chopping gesture with his hand, and Cass shut up. "Stupidity requires no explanation," he replied quellingly. "Obviously, assigning you to your father for training was a mistake, one that will be remedied in the future. At the moment, however, I have more urgent concerns." He glanced over his shoulder and added, "You can come in now."

Three men filed in to join us. All were Negaverse Generals, but Zoisite was the only one I recognized. Of the other two, one was roughly of a height with Malachite, and had light green hair that matched the trim on his uniform, and dark eyes. He also wore the epaulettes of a senior General. The other man wasn't of any more than average height, with blue eyes and hair.

Malachite's eyes raked over me. To my surprise, he didn't seem very angry. More... resigned.

"Cassiterite, if you would perform the introductions?" he said.

Zoisite

<<Do you actually expect me to explain all of this to a human child?!>> I exploded as I seated myself in Malachite's lap. Not the most dignified position, perhaps, but there weren't enough chairs to go around, and it was better than standing -- in more ways than one.

<<I think we're going to need her help, beloved. Unless you've got a better way of figuring out where your creation might have gone.>> Malachite's expression never changed, but I could sense the amusement, exasperation, and affection that underlay his statement.

<<You know that I'm not a very good judge of people. That's why finding it is Jadeite's job.>> It would have been Nephrite's -- he was still our best diviner, since not even Demantoid could figure out what he did well enough to duplicate it -- but all his divinations had failed. Knowing full well what it was that Demantoid and Sapphire and I had created, I could understand why.

"Well? Is one of you going to say something?" That was Cassiterite, brash as always, and apparently recovered from the shock of having the four of us descend on them.

I felt Malachite draw breath to respond, but to my surprise, it was Sapphire who spoke first. The ex-Nemisian was normally so quiet that I often forgot he was in the same room with me. That's part of the reason we work well together, I suppose. He never says anything to set me off. And it helps that he's such a superlative technician, as well. I'm happier designing magical devices than building them, although I'm capable of either. Sapphire's abilities complement mine.

"I'm sorry," he said, not to Cassiterite, but to the human girl. "This can't be easy for you, I know. Please, just bear with us a little longer." And he touched his chest, lightly. With almost anyone else, I would have thought that he was fingering his spirit crystal, but he'd had his set into a brooch which he wore just below his top jacket button. There was no pendant hanging where his hand could reach it, unless he'd hidden it under his shirt.

"Something's really wrong, isn't it?" the girl said. I hadn't expected her to actually speak. "What happened? Where's Taro?"

"We don't know," Malachite admitted. "I should add that the only reason we are explaining any of this to you is that we need your help in finding him before a disaster occurs."

"A... disaster? But why? Taro wouldn't hurt a fly! What's going on here?" For a moment, I actually thought that she was going to lunge out and grab one of us by the collar.

"Perhaps, on his own, he wouldn't," my lover said. "According to the reports I've received, he was rather... deficient... as a youma --" The girl flinched when I spoke that word. "-- and if he hadn't shown such strong magical potential, we might not have accepted him." Not that we should have bothered even so, I thought. Potential is common enough, and Taro Kagami had never bothered to do anything about his -- or so Cuprite had informed me, when I'd asked. "But your brother is not himself at the moment. We believe that he is possessed."

"Possessed?"

<<Your turn, beloved,>> Malachite prompted me.

I shot him a sharp glance. He knows how I hate explaining myself. But it had been my project, even though I'd begun it on his orders. That made me responsible. For everything. Including explanations.

"Taro was on the cleaning staff," I began. "It was one of the few jobs here that he seemed... suited for." The girl ignored my implied insult, instead waiting patiently for me to continue. Why are human females always so weak and passive? "Unfortunately, we didn't dare use him around anything breakable. He was too..." I let the sentence trail away, unable to come up with a word that was both descriptive and not so insulting that Malachite would have my hide, later. In private, of course. Not that I objected to fighting with Malachite. There are so many interesting ways that you can make up with a devoted lover...

This isn't the time, I chastised myself.

"Clumsy," the girl said impatiently. "Yes, I know. I've lived with him most of his life, remember? What happened?"

"He stumbled into a shelving unit in my lab and knocked over a delicate piece of containment apparatus, which broke and released its contents." I shot a glare in Sapphire's direction as I said that. I still hadn't entirely forgiven him.

<<You know very well that there was no reason for him to need to make it shatterproof,>> Demantoid reminded me. <<And you were the one that said you didn't want to wait the extra two days it would have taken him to ward it against physical damage.>>

<<Do you actually expect me to apologize?>> Now that went beyond effrontery.

He shook his head. <<I know better. I just want to make sure that you remember this the next time.>>

"It shouldn't have done anything more than create a severe setback for us," the green-haired Crystal Weaver unexpectedly continued, letting me off the hook for the moment. "The entity inside the containment crystal was incomplete and shouldn't have been able to survive outside stasis. Or that's what we thought. We didn't figure out that it had managed to take Taro as a host until after he disappeared."

"What makes me think that this thing wasn't quite harmless?" That was Cass, again. Damn! If I hadn't known better, I would have thought at that moment that she was Nephrite's daughter and not Jasper's. She was certainly being too perceptive for her own good.

"It's an artificial demon," Malachite said.

"A WHAT?" And that was both the girls, at once.

"An artificial demon," my love repeated. "A constructed creature with a specific set of qualities and intended for a specific purpose."

"In this case, to commit suicide while annihilating another demon," Demantoid said. "Or at least, that's what we were hoping for. It's an effect that we managed to achieve once in the past by purest accident. Certainly none of our other attempts to destroy the surviving major demons have worked -- they're too strong to be killed even by a group of Crystal Weavers. All we can do is keep them contained, and if one of the wards that confine them should fail again..." He didn't have to complete the sentence. Even the human schools taught that kind of history these days. It would have been hard for them not to. The Ice Millennium had made a substantial impact on the lives of all the survivors.

It would have been easier if we could just have paired up the natural demons and let them annihilate each other, as the Negaforce and the Eternal Light had more or less done, but it hadn't taken a genius to see that that wouldn't work. The only reason that it had worked with those two was that they were complete opposites -- both equally evil, but one dark and the other light. They'd been natural enemies of each other as well as of humanity. There might be a few other opposed pairs that would work, but that still left us with hundreds of leftover demons. Three hundred sixty-two, to be exact, or so Malachite had told me. He should know. He has links to them all, since he's the anchor for Adamant's Ward.

But regardless of the number, that's why we were experimenting with artificial demons. It was our contribution to the attempt to fulfill the purpose for which we Crystal Weavers had originally been created.

Cass had found her voice again. "So what does an artificial demon do in its spare time?"

"It's a demon," I said in exasperation. "What do you think it does?"

"Discovering two youma who had been drained of energy was our first clue that it had escaped," Demantoid added. "We have had other cases since, but none in the past day or two. Which worries us." I glared at him. He waved his hands expressively. "Well, it bothers me, at any rate. Most likely, it's moved on to greener pastures. The Negaverse isn't a very good place for an energy grazer. We think it's gone to the Earth Realm. And we need to find it and contain it again before it causes a panic -- or worse..."

"Before it kills someone," Malachite said, but he and I both knew, even if the others didn't, that that wasn't what he really had in mind. It had taken him almost a decade to get the Negaverse promoted from the status of "enemy" to that of "necessary evil" in the minds of Crystal Tokyo's citizens. If word of this got out...

"Will you help us?" That was quiet, self-effacing Sapphire again.

"I... don't really think I have a choice," the girl said.

"Excellent," Malachite said. "In that case, you, Cassiterite, and Zoisite will join Alexandrite and Jadeite in the Earth Realm." <<Sorry, beloved,>> he added privately to me, <<but I don't want those two out of the sight of someone trustworthy for even a second. They're liable to do something stupid.>>

Well, I could understand that, given the trouble that they'd already gotten into. What Malachite left unsaid was that he wanted one of the people who understood the demon best along on this little trip. Since Sapphire's powers were erratic and Demantoid just wasn't ruthless enough, that meant me.

My own feelings about the mission were mixed. True, I could do with some action. I hadn't been in a real fight since that renegade youma had tackled the two of us in bed, and that was over a year ago. But I would have been happier if I weren't going to the Earth Realm. I don't much like humans. I never have.

<<I expect you to make it up to me tonight,>> I told him, and stole a quick kiss before sliding off his lap.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" I asked the girls. "Let's go."

Goto Chapter 4


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