Choices - Chapter 5

© 1999 by E. Liddell


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Sumire

I don't believe this. How could I possibly be Sailor Saturn? And now I'm on my way to see Neo-Queen Serenity and King Endymion. I wonder when I'm going to wake up. And whether this was supposed to be a dream or a nightmare. Seeing my brother as a youma had really shaken me. But he is still my brother. He is! And I'm going to save him.

I just wished that I could convince myself of that.

I shifted the Silence Glaive to my other hand. It was a really vicious-looking weapon, a long pole with a wicked curved blade at the end. It was also heavy and awkward. At least we hadn't taken the monorail this time. Since they no longer had to worry about spooking the demon, my three-Crystal-Weaver escort had opted to teleport.

The Crystal Palace was beginning to look almost familiar to me. Although I'd never seen the courtyard where we arrived before, I could identify the shape of the private wing looming above us and guess where we more-or-less were.

Alexandrite and Jadeite exchanged glances, and then both turned to Cass.

"I think maybe you'd better..." Jadeite said. He never finished the sentence, but Cass seemed to know what he meant. She made a face and fished through her pockets, producing her own transformation wand.

"Venus Star Power!"

Did I look like that when I was transforming? I found myself blushing. Gods, that's embarrassing! And I did it in front of four guys, too! Not that Zoisite was probably interested, or the demon either, but still...

"Is something wrong?"

I started. "Don't do that to me!"

"I'm sorry," Alex said, with a smile. "I didn't realize you were so wrapped up in your own thoughts that you didn't hear me walk up."

I found myself smiling back. Alex did seem to tend to have that effect on people. He didn't have the tremendous presence of, say, Malachite, who made you want to either worship him or kill him. Alex was just shyly charming in an accessible, human sort of way. Human. It was a strange thing to think, about a person that I knew was anything but, but I just couldn't bring myself to believe that he was some kind of monster.

"It's okay," I said. "Am I holding up the parade, or something?"

He glanced over to where Jadeite and Cass were standing. "Yes, sort of. We are in a bit of a hurry."

"Well, then, lead on."

Jadeite and Alex seemed to know their way through the palace just as well as Cass did, even though they didn't live there even part time. I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever learn to find my way around, when everyone was insisting on dragging me back and forth so quickly. The hallways passed in a blur again. At one point, I tripped someone with the blunt end of the Silence Glaive, but I couldn't do much more than say, "I'm sorry!" before I was pulled around a corner and out of sight.

Jadeite began to slow a little as we entered what I managed to recognize as the front area of the Palace, where the throne room and the areas open to the public were. The rooms were larger here, with vaulted ceilings that rose high above us.

We finally came to a stop outside a huge pair of double doors. Doors which I recognized, although I'd never seen them in person before. The doors to Neo-Queen Serenity's throne room. My mouth was dry, and I almost dropped the Silence Glaive. It was as I was fumbling desperately for a better grip on it that the doors swung open.

"Their Lordships, Jadeite and Alexandrite, Generals of the Negaverse!" boomed the voice of an unseen herald. "Their Sublimities, Sailor Saturn and the Younger Sailor Venus!"

It's a good thing that Cass took my hand and drew me forward just then, or I would have just gone on standing there in the doorway until I dropped the Silence Glaive on someone's foot, probably my own, wondering how I'd suddenly become a Sublimity, whatever that was.

Inside, the throne room was even more impressive than it had seemed on the thousands of newscasts where I'd seen it before. Even a wide-angle camera view couldn't convey the sheer size of the place very well. There seemed to be half a mile of open, empty white carpet between the doors and the two thrones at the far end.

Jadeite and Alexandrite were striding forward, moving slowly enough to seem majestic but quickly enough that they could expect to get to the far end some time this year. I felt like some small rodent scampering in their wake. Cass didn't seem to notice, but I was beginning to learn that her usual unconcerned facade was more than half bravado. After what she and I had done today, she couldn't really be feeling all that comfortable here.

When we finally came to a stop in front of the dais that supported the thrones, Jadeite and Alex saluted the occupants Negaverse-style, fist-to-heart, and bowed. Cass let go of my hand and went down on one knee. After what I was afraid was a noticeable hesitation, I did the same, keeping my eyes carefully on the floor.

"Sailor Saturn."

I couldn't help it. I looked up... straight into a pair of immense blue eyes.

"We welcome you to our court," Neo-Queen Serenity continued. She was dressed the way she always was in the newscasts and the pictures in my history texts, in a long white gown. Not quite the same white gown, though. This one had been retailored to fit over her bulging abdomen. She was quite pregnant. She was also very pale. Sick? Or was this second child draining her energy? I knew that she hadn't been making very many public appearances since it had been conceived.

Seated beside her, her husband, King Endymion, wore a lavender tuxedo. I wasn't sure whether that qualified as a fashion statement or a fashion crime. He wasn't bad-looking, I suppose, for an old man of thirty-six, but I didn't have time to spare him more than a glance.

"Thank you," I manage to croak, belatedly adding, "Your Majesty."

Serenity smiled. "We will speak later," she told me, and it was a measure of her charisma that I actually found myself anticipating the encounter. "Lord Jadeite, I understand that you have an urgent message for us."

"Regrettably so, your Majesty." Jadeite sounded calm and collected, but I was close enough to him to see him shifting his weight, fidgeting ever so slightly. "My master's greetings, and he regrets to inform you that Crystal Tokyo is in grave danger."

Cassiterite

I felt vaguely ill as I listened to Jadeite speak. He'd very carefully glossed over the question of who had created the demon. He'd also neglected to mention that it had been running around in the Earth Realm unsupervised for several days, and had probably drained a whole bunch of people during that time.

He's lying. Why? It must be on Malachite's orders. Relations must be more strained than I thought. Or else... they've always been keeping secrets from each other. More so than I thought. Both my worlds. Oh, I wasn't a naive fool. I'd known that the two governments weren't completely open with each other. The Negaverse, especially, had secrets to hide. But in this case there was so much at stake. It just didn't seem right...

It came to me as a revelation. They've been sheltering me from all this, haven't they? Looking back now, I could remember innumerable conversations among the Negaverse Generals that had suddenly stopped or gone to private mental communication bands the moment that I'd shown up. I'd always thought that it was because I was just a trainee, a child, but now I was beginning to wonder.

I'd always occupied a unique position, balanced between Crystal Tokyo and the Negaverse. I suppose that no one had wanted to endanger that. And so they had kept me from learning any potentially compromising secrets. Until today.

Serenity stared gravely down at us. I wondered what she was thinking. Despite my position here at the Crystal Palace, I'd never really gotten to know the Queen, any more than I was closely acquainted with King Malachite. She was just too far above me. And too much older. She was my mother's friend, not mine. I was just part of her guard.

I almost wished that I'd never tried to help Sumire. If I hadn't, I'd be up on the dais now, standing to the left of the throne, in front of Sailor Jupiter. Pretending to guard the Queen. I'd often wondered just how necessary the Sailor Scouts really were. Serenity was the people's darling. Everyone loved her. There'd never been an attempt to assassinate the Queen of Crystal Tokyo. That was so very different from the Negaverse. Malachite was feared and respected, but I don't think that anyone except Zoisite could be really said to love him, and he suffered five or six assassination attempts in the average year. From what I'd seen, he shrugged that off as a normal hazard of his job.

And what does that mean for me? I wasn't going to be allowed to stay suspended between two worlds forever. In another four years or so, I was going to have to choose: either to continue my apprenticeship as a Sailor Scout and take over my mother's post when she retired, or to become a Negaverse General with everything that implied.

I was a Crystal Weaver, and the Earth Realm had little or no use for someone with my powers. But I still couldn't imagine exchanging the light and beauty of Crystal Tokyo for the darkness of the Negaverse. Not permanently.

Assuming that either side is going to want me at all. That was my new, secret worry. I'd screwed up when we'd gone after the demon in the park. I'd screwed up badly. I'd forgotten everything I'd ever learned about fighting, lost all of my trained reflexes, and acted like a hysterical girl, making a total idiot of myself in the process. I'd wanted to save Sumire. Instead, she'd saved herself, with a little help from Malachite. I'd done nothing except get in the way. Unless I could learn to handle myself in a real fight, I'd be useless, to the Negaverse and Crystal Tokyo both.

But I had more immediate things to worry about. Sumire was still on her knees beside me, staring at the carpet. I reached out and took her hand, giving it a quick squeeze. Her expression didn't change, but she squeezed back. If I was a bit confused and disillusioned, how was she feeling about all this?

Jadeite at last finished his interminable explanation, saluted again, and took a half-step back.

"We thank you for your warning," Serenity said. "But We regret that We cannot do as you ask." One of her hands descended to touch the bulge at her waistline. "We are in no condition to use the Silver Crystal, and We are not prepared to expose Our daughter to this danger. She is, after all, only a child."

And Sailor Moon, I thought, but didn't say. Although barely older than I was -- younger, physically, in fact -- Rini was a full-fledged Sailor Scout. But that was only because her mother was now ineligible to be Sailor Moon. However, it was true that, on the rare occasions that the Sailor Scouts actually did have to do something risky, they were careful to keep Rini out of it. My mother sometimes tried to do the same to me, but she didn't succeed nearly as often.

But I hadn't known that Serenity's pregnancy had drained her to the point where she couldn't use the Crystal anymore. That was far worse than I think anyone had suspected.

"I will convey that information to King Malachite," Jadeite said. I think that only someone who knew my grandfather very well would have been able to perceive the strain in his expression.

<<I guess that means we're on our own,>> Alex remarked. There didn't seem to be any answer to that.

Malachite

<<And that's her last word on the subject?>>

<<I'm afraid so, my King.>> And I could tell that Jadeite was no happier with that than I was. He was probably fortunate that the days were long past when my normal reaction to bad news was to kill the messenger.

I buried my face in Zoisite's hair. <<Then I'm just going to have to do this myself.>> I had never counted on Serenity's help, although I had hoped to have the extra fail-safe...

<<We're going to need those extra projectors, my love,>> I stated.

<<Gods of Darkness! I had hoped...>>

<<I know,>> I replied.

He sighed and heaved himself up off my lap. I'd been on my way down to my study for a private, last-minute planning session when we'd run into each other in the hallway and chosen to steal a few brief moments for ourselves. Stolen moments. That seemed to be all we had these days. A ruler in the middle of a crisis so rarely has time for anything else.

<<If I pitch in, we should be able to make a couple of dozen by tonight,>> he told me. <<Sapphire should have four or five ready by now. I just hope it's going to be enough. We haven't had a chance to test these things in the Earth Realm, so the distortion...>>

<<I know,>> I repeated. No Crystal Weaver can spend even ten minutes in the Negaverse without realizing that the ambient magical field is slightly distorted by the remnants of the Negaforce. Normally it doesn't matter, but in this case we were trying to broadcast a very specific form of magical energy, and any minute change in the broadcast spell signature might ruin our plan.

Not that it was terribly complex, as plans go. Simply herd the artificial demon into a particular area, where I, with the support of the rest of my Weave, would ambush the damned thing and destroy it. It wasn't so powerful yet that we couldn't do that. It would have to drain hundreds of humans in order to achieve the stature of even the weakest of the major demons bound by Adamant's Ward. And we weren't going to give it that chance.

I gave Zoisite what I intended to be a quick kiss, but he clung to me tenaciously for the better part of a minute, fingers tangled in my hair, and there are certain temptations that even I can't resist.

<<You'd better get going,>> I told him.

He sighed. <<I know. See you tonight!>>

He blew me a kiss as he teleported. I shook my head. Typical impulsive, fiery, tempestuous Zoisite behavior.

It's why I love him so much.

Sapphire

I ran my hands over the crystal. It was almost ready. Almost. But not quite. And given what had happened a few days ago, Zoisite was insisting on perfection this time. I couldn't exactly say that I blamed him. My last mistake, if you could call it that, had come close to killing several youma that the artificial demon had attacked before escaping from the Negaverse (not to mention an unknown number of humans in the Earth Realm), and the stakes were much higher this time. I didn't want that thing hunting in Crystal Tokyo. It was placing Prisma at risk.

I leaned back in my chair, contemplating my handiwork. What am I doing here? I wondered, and not for the first time.

I've often wondered if I wouldn't have been happier just living as a normal human. It's been a little fantasy of mine for years. I'd live in the Earth Realm full-time and have a normal job that wouldn't require me to handle crises, or force me to deal with political intrigue, or make me a target for assassins. And Prisma and I would have a half-dozen happy, normal children, not just Opal. My poor daughter. In some ways, she's even more trapped than I am.

It's a beautiful dream. But it's only that. My powers, erratic though they are, are a part of me, and I know I'd be miserable without them. Even Prisma sometimes regrets the choice she had to make, despite the fact that the powers she once had came very close to destroying her. And as long as I have my magic, I can never be truly human.

In all fairness, the Negaverse is ten times better than Nemesis was. It isn't as pleasant as Crystal Tokyo, but it lacks the barrenness of our world of exile. And, more to the point, it isn't at war with Earth. I can spend some time, at least, in the sunlit world, with my wife. And our daughter is growing up in a world at peace, one empty of the bitterness that so pervaded Nemesis. Having a world like that is worth the sacrifice of a few things. And certainly nothing that Malachite has ever asked me to do has been even close to as bad as what Wise Man required of us in those last hectic days of our war against Earth.

Still, the artificial demon project did make me a bit uncomfortable, even though I was only peripherally involved in it. I'd been worried that something like this might happen. Zoisite, as usual, hadn't listened to me. He seems to be one of those people who won't believe anything anyone else tells him until he can test it for himself. Malachite's the only person who can reason with him. At least he's got a brain inside his head, though. Not like, say, Emerald. Now that I'm free of the Doom Phantom's influence, I'm mystified as to what I ever saw in that woman. Especially given that she had a laugh like a sonic disruptor.

But still...

I don't want to be doing this, I realized, turning back to the projector I was constructing. I wish I hadn't agreed to help Zoisite in the first place. Unfortunately, I can't back out now, either. It would be irresponsible. And I've always been responsible. And dutiful. My brother's faithful supporter, and now King Malachite's.

I pulled the crystal out from under my jacket and cupped it in the palm of my hand. What would you say if you could see me now?

There was no response except a glitter of white light from the rounded surface. Diamond's spirit didn't speak to me. It never did. It would have taken more power than I had to raise him to consciousness without a body to house his soul.

I wasn't even supposed to have his spirit crystal, really. There's no hard-and-fast rule about it, but generally you don't handle someone else's crystal. Not even a dead someone else's. Not even your own brother's. And you certainly aren't supposed to remove one from storage and carry it around with you. But I'd almost been compelled to take this one.

It was all that I had left of him.

And perhaps that was why I'd taken pity on the human girl, earlier, and tried to reassure her. I knew what it was like to lose a beloved older brother. Dearly though I loved them, Prisma and Opal couldn't replace Diamond. It was... well, Prisma and I were always equals, in my mind. Diamond was the one I had looked up to, who had provided me with guidance.

<<Sapphire? Are you almost done with that thing? We don't exactly have time to waste!>>

<<Five minutes,>> I stated, and slid my brother's spirit crystal back into its hiding place. Diamond, I really do wish you were here. I need you.

Mina

I knocked on Cass's door, then entered without waiting for permission, knowing that if she had wanted to object to my being there, she would have done so immediately and vociferously. That's just the way Cass is.

She had the sliding glass door to the garden open, and was sitting half inside and half outside, with the wind ruffling her hair. She'd dismissed her Sailor Scout uniform in favor of civilian clothing. Trousers. Always trousers. I'd long ago despaired of getting my daughter to dress with any kind of style. She just can't stand anything that won't let her move freely, and any reasonably full skirt is near the top of that list, right after straitjackets. But I suppose that, from her point of view, she doesn't need to dress up. People's eyes would follow her if she was wearing a burlap sack. She's a Crystal Weaver, after all.

She glanced quickly in my direction, then turned to look outside again. "Oh. Hi, Mom."

"Hi, there." I perched myself on the foot of her bed. "I understand you had a little excitement today."

"I guess so." She didn't sound very enthusiastic. She was playing with her spirit crystal, turning it around and around in her fingers. Actually, she has the strangest spirit crystal. It's half yellow and half purple, and the two colors are twisted together in such a way that it looks almost like one of those yin-yang symbols. I guess that it's appropriate for her, in a way, since she's a child of both the Negaverse and Crystal Tokyo. Child of the darkness and the light.

It's been difficult for me. Raising her, I mean. We can never entirely understand each other, my daughter and I, because I'm not a Crystal Weaver. I can't understand what it's like to have those kinds of powers, no matter how hard she and Jasper try to explain it to me, any more than a blind person could understand color. I'm only a Sailor Scout. I have some powers, yes, but not like hers.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

"I don't want to talk about it." The wind was making a terrible snarl of her hair.

I waited patiently.

"Mom, if... What happens if I decide that I don't want to be a General or a Sailor Scout?"

"Then you won't be a General or a Sailor Scout," I said firmly. What brought this on? All she's ever wanted is to be a soldier. "And your father and I will support you all the way. I promise."

"Thank you." It was barely more than a whisper.

There is one thing that I have learned in attempting to raise a Crystal Weaver daughter, though, and it's that what I don't understand, I can still accept.

Almandite

<<You're worried.>>

<<Yes, I am,>> I admitted. <<Aren't you?>>

<<Not really.>> Nephrite propped himself up on one elbow, and ran his fingers absently through my hair. Normally we don't end up in bed in the middle of the day, but neither of us was expecting to get much sleep after the demon hunt tonight. And yes, we were intending to sleep, or at least rest. Some people! <<It's just one minor demon. More powerful than a youma, granted, but still not much of a challenge. And anyway, we'll be with Malachite. I'd be very surprised if either of us even gets so much as a paper cut.>>

<<It isn't us that I'm worried about,>> I admitted.

I felt the warmth of his breath against my ear as he sighed. <<It's Morgan and Marc again, isn't it? They're grown men and full Generals in their own right, beloved. You're going to have to start to get used to the idea of them placing themselves at risk.>>

<<I know, but...>> In my mind, my sons were still the two little boys that they'd been back in the days just following the founding of Crystal Tokyo. I knew it was irrational, but I still couldn't help worrying about them. Morganite: handsome and personable, but also impulsive and irresponsible, and, like me, only moderately powerful as Crystal Weavers go. And Marcasite: dreamer and poet, gifted with a power that fell only slightly short of his father's. My older son would be a Center some day. I'd known that ever since the biochemical shifts wracking his young body had made him so ill. But despite his power, I worried more about him than about Morgan. Marc was... I don't have the words to describe what Marc was. Quiet. Self-contained. Subject to prophetic dreams and rare spontaneous visions that not even Demantoid had been able to help him control. And tough as old leather despite all of that, a true Negaverse General. But still I worried. It seems to be a mother's lot in life.

<<They'll be all right,>> Nephrite stated. <<If the demon does decide to bother them, Marc will see it coming from a mile away, and Morgan will charm it into buying one of the projectors.>>

I choked back a laugh. Morgan probably would, at that. And he'd have one handy, too, since, like all of the other Generals who weren't actually part of our Weave, he was going to be minding the projectors during the demon hunt.

<<I suppose, when you get right down to it, they're safer than we are,>> I admitted. I just wished that Serena... What was with Serena, anyway? Normally, I visited her at least once every couple of weeks, but she'd been avoiding me lately. Mina had tried on several occasions to convince me that something was wrong, but I'd assumed that Serena was just busier than usual. Until she'd refused to used the Silver Crystal. What was going on with her? <<Either the projectors will work, and the demon won't want to get close to them, or they won't work and it won't care.>>

<<Exactly. Now, if we're going to be awake anyway...>>

I returned his kiss, but at the same time, I told him, <<I really am going to go to sleep now, Love. I swear, sometimes you're as bad as Zoisite!>>

He chuckled. <<No, far, far worse. Zoisite, after all, never spent a thousand years as love-starved as I did.>> And with the words came the fleeting image of a park, and a girl with shoulder-length red hair...

<<We've come a long way since those days,>> I observed drowsily. Both of us. I could barely remember a time when I hadn't known him. Couldn't imagine what it had been like to be innocent.

Nephrite's arms wrapped protectively around me as I dozed off.

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