Choices - Chapter 6

© 1999 by E. Liddell


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Cassiterite

I leaned back against the head of the bed with a sigh. Boring, boring, boring! I hadn't realized, before, how barren my room here at the palace was. All my personal possessions were back in the Negaverse. And I wonder what that really means? That the most important parts of my life are there?

I could have gone to the little pseudo-reception that the other Scouts were having for Sumire, I suppose, but I was feeling too sorry for myself just then to be good company. And I wasn't looking forward to what would probably happen when my mother heard about my adventures of the morning.

There was a knock at the door. Finally, something to relieve the tedium.

"Come in!" I called.

The door swung open to reveal Sumire. She tiptoed inside and shut it again very carefully.

"I'm not really supposed to be here," she admitted, plopping herself down in my desk chair. She was back in the page's outfit I'd loaned her.

I waved her comment off into the realm of inconsequential trivia. "I think you'll find that you can't do any wrong here for the next couple of weeks. You're the new Sailor Scout, after all." No, sneaking away from the others would definitely not be enough to make anyone angry at her. "So what happened?"

Sumire shrugged. "They called all the other Scouts in from wherever they were hiding so that they could introduce me around. I think I like your mother. She's nice. And the Queen's brother, Lord Samuel..." She didn't have to finish that sentence.

I grinned. "Well, he's a better man than Morgan, anyway. You could do worse."

"Oh, be serious! He'd never notice me, and anyway, he's twice my age! Anyway, we were all talking. I think they wanted to know what I'm like and where I'm from, but they were being very polite about it. But then all of a sudden Queen Serenity went all pale and doubled over, and they were all worried about her and weren't paying any attention to me. So I snuck away. I wanted to talk to you."

I raised my eyebrows. "About what?"

"About my brother. It seems like, in all the confusion, everyone else just forgot about him."

"Not quite. I think... Well, they can't help with the hunt, right? The Scouts are sworn to defend the Queen, and she's in such rotten shape right now that they don't dare leave her." I hesitated for a moment as I realized that I'd said they, and not we or even you. I'd never felt that I fit as a Sailor Scout, I guess, and my subconscious must have been lumping Sumire in with me and not with them. "So they're doing their best to pretend that it isn't happening, that there's no demon and no danger, on the grounds that Malachite and the others ought to be able to clean it up for them."

"'Clean it up for them,'" Sumire repeated. "This isn't just an 'it' for me, Cass. He isn't a thing. He's my brother."

"It's your brother's body possessed by a demon," I corrected. "Even if they capture it, there may be no way of bringing your brother back. No one knows. I doubt there's been a confirmed case of demonic possession since the end of the Blood Millennium War." Well, except for the Negaforce's possession of Queen Beryl, but I wasn't going to bring that up. It was a completely different situation -- and not a terribly hopeful precedent. "They may not be able to separate the demon from its host." And I stopped speaking as I realized I'd said they again. Not we.

"I suppose you'd know, if anyone would," Sumire whispered. "It's just... I need to talk to him, to tell him some things. The last thing we did before he left was fight. I don't want to remember him that way."

"I understand," I said, but I didn't, really. I was an only child. Oh, I'd been raised and trained alongside Opal and Alex and the twins, but it wasn't the same. Even I was bright enough to know that.

"If there's a chance... you'll try to help him, won't you?" Sumire asked, and I could see tears in her eyes.

"If it doesn't endanger anyone else," I said. "Yeah, I promise."

She sighed and seemed to slump down in the chair. "Thank you. Uh, the real reason I came in here, if anyone asks... I wanted to borrow some clothes. Something that isn't a uniform. And you're the closest to my size..."

I went over to the closet and began rummaging around on the upper shelves. "They'll be too big for you," I warned. I'd been subject to a tough physical training regimen ever since I was old enough to toddle. That made me a lot more muscular than Sumire. And even if I hadn't been... Well, Sailor Mars had recently accused me of having shoulders like a guy. To that extent, I've inherited my father's build, even though I don't have his wings.

"That's okay," Sumire said. "It's just that I can't run around in that skirt all the time, and being dressed like this is worse, in a way. I kept on expecting someone to stop me on the way here so that they could ask me to run a message. And I still can't find my way around. I made half-a-dozen wrong turns. I eventually had to ask a guard to sort me out."

I was just dumping a pile of folded cloth on the bed when I heard a voice that definitely wasn't coming from inside this room.

<<Cassiterite! I need you here. Now.>>

<<At once, my King,>> I replied reflexively.

"Sorry," I told Sumire. "I'm being paged. I think they want me for the hunt. Take anything you like, it's all stuff I don't wear much. I'll tell you how things turn out, okay?"

Malachite had given me a location as part of his summons. I didn't consciously know what it was, but I was used to flying blind that way. People rarely bothered to explain much to me in those days.

I concentrated. A shimmering blueness, like light glinting off the surface of calm water, surrounded me, and then I was elsewhere.

The Nameless

They were deploying themselves now, spreading across the city alone or in small groups for reasons that neither I nor the youma whose body I occupied could seem to fathom. Not that their precise purpose mattered. I knew that it had to do with the hunt for me.

I couldn't teleport to safety. Leaving the park that way had taken all the strength that I had to spare, and it would take weeks to feed myself up again to the point where I would be able to do any major magic. No, I needed some other strategy. Decoys? Could those do me any good, especially given that I sensed I would only have a brief period of time in which to create them? But I doubted I would come up with any better idea soon enough to save myself. So that was the one I would implement.

I climbed slowly down from the rooftop where I had been perched and went off in search of human victims.

The first assault struck me from the north as I crouched in the mouth of an alleyway, waiting for another lone human to be foolish enough to walk past. Well, not assault exactly, but there was something that made me want to cringe away from that direction. It was followed by other blows -- from the south, from the east, from all around me. The pressure was least in a direction slightly north of west.

They're trying to herd me. Well, I'll be damned if I'll give them that kind of satisfaction.

It was like swimming upstream or wading through glue, but I turned eastward and began to walk.

Alexandrite

I crouched behind the amplifier, watching them. Two... Damn, why did there have to be two? And how am I supposed to take them out without injuring them?

At first glance, the creatures that I was watching would have appeared to be human. It took a closer and more careful examination to reveal the subtle wrongness in the way they held themselves, the slightly twisted spines, the delicate tips of fangs protruding down over their lower lips, and the eyes that glowed with baleful fire. They had been human, once upon a time, but the demon had taken them and twisted them, and now they were... something else. Like the youma. But most of the youma were volunteers, and these poor creatures had never been given a choice. I had to keep them away from the amplifier, but at the same time, I didn't want to hurt them. None of this was their fault.

I curled my hand around the haft of the spear that I'd brought with me. Keep it simple, I told myself. Now, what's the easiest way to distract them from the amplifier?

When it popped into my mind, I almost laughed. Okay, maybe that's a bit too simple, but I don't have time for a protracted planning session. I'll go with it.

Fortunately, teleportation is silent, and the spear I was carrying was long, or I'd never have been able to pull it off. I just slipped through nonspace to reappear behind them and tapped each of them on the shoulder with the blunt end of the spear. Then, as they both spun around to face me, I clunked the nearer of the two on the head, still with the blunt end of the spear, dazing her and putting her out of the fight for a while.

Now I only had one of them to worry about. This one was male, but he looked young -- maybe eighteen or nineteen, which meant that he would have been too young to participate in the Dark Moon War. Which meant that he wasn't a trained fighter. Which might work to my advantage.

I poked him with the pointy end of my weapon, just hard enough to get his attention. As I'd expected, when I continued to hold the spear toward him, he grabbed for it. I let him. The only reason I'd done it in the first place was to get his hands occupied.

Instead of stepping back, as he obviously expected, I moved in towards him and swung my foot up, calculating the angle carefully, because I knew there wouldn't be any second chances.

Okay, I know that kicking another guy in the crotch isn't exactly sporting, but it was the quickest way to take him out. I'll heal him when I've got them both safely trussed up, I told myself, to assuage my guilty feelings.

All of that only took a few seconds, so the woman was still staggering around looking dazed. An easy target. I need to tie them up. A more powerful Crystal Weaver could just have dropped an energy net over them and maintained it more or less forever, but I wasn't that strong. And so I conjured.

The lianas were probably a bit out of place on a rooftop in Crystal Tokyo, but I didn't care. I didn't know enough about ropes to be sure that anything I might have conjured would hold them, but I did know vines.

I tied my two victims up securely, and stepped back to look at my handiwork. The two bound figures squirmed impotently against the rough surface of the roof.

My first really successful combat experience, I thought. I should have felt triumphant, I suppose, but I didn't. I felt sick. I'd played them both like hooked fish. All the advantages except physical strength had been on my side, and anyone can tell you that strength isn't what's most important in a fight. Skill and agility almost always carry the day.

Mom'll be proud of me, at least. Aventurine had always encouraged me to become a fighter, like she was.

I sighed softly and knelt down beside my male victim, to check to see how much damage I'd really done him.

All I'd ever wanted to do was help people. Why did it seem that my primary job always involved hurting them instead?

Cassiterite

Oh, hell... were the first words that came to mind when I heard the door being torn down.

I had been given what should have been the most secure position, on the roof of a ten-storey building midway between my father's position and Marcasite's. It was pretty well inaccessible from the ground -- only one door opened onto the roof, and it was locked and didn't look like it had been opened since before the Ice Millennium. There were scattered debris, odd chunks of crystal, strewn across the flat expanse of the roof, and I would have sworn that they'd been left there during the Dark Moon War. All I had to do was sit around and watch Sapphire and Zoisite's enchanted device as it hummed away, projecting a magical signature into the air. Until it knocked down the door, that is.

Five foot eight, green skin, vestigial tail, clawed and fanged and dressed in rags... It was the demon. Damn. I can't... can I?

I closed my eyes, blotting out the intrusive presence, and drew my hand back. Dark Wind. It was one of the simplest attacks in my Negaverse repertoire. Please, let it work this time. Gods of Darkness, let it work!

I opened my eyes as I made the pushing gesture that went with the attack. It should have slammed the demon in the face with a hurricane-force gale woven with streamers of explosive magical energy.

I did feel some power trickling out along my arm, but all I managed to produce was a light breeze. I suppose that's a bit of an improvement... but it's still not good enough. It had only been seconds since the demon had arrived, and I knew that the inadvertent exclamation I'd made when it appeared should be bringing help soon. Maybe it would be enough just to run.

Then I glanced around the roof. It really wasn't that big, the guard rail at the edge was crumbling, and anyway, I had to guard the amplifier. Damn, damn, damn! I took a step back, towards the enchanted device, which was still humming away as though nothing had happened. Something bumped against my hip. A small pouch. My eyes opened wide, and I began to smile. My transformation wand! I'd forgotten I had it with me! And the attacks I used as Sailor Venus didn't require any concentration. I just had to wave my arms around and say the right words.

"Venus Star Power!"

I felt the familiar sensation of a giant hand picking me up and whirling me around. It's kind of a weird feeling, really. Like I'm not in control of my body. It does all these poses as my Sailor uniform appears on it, but I never tell it to. Fortunately, the whole thing only lasts a few seconds.

"Venus Crescent Beam Smash!"

Bright yellow light shot from my fingertip, barely missing the demon, which jumped to one side. I grinned and turned to aim again, then froze. What am I doing? Sumire's brother is in there, and I promised to protect him!

That made things a whole lot more difficult. Sailor Venus's powers weren't designed to capture people without hurting them, and I didn't have a Sailor Moon with me to use the Silver Crystal and heal my opponent. Theoretically, I suppose you could trap someone by wrapping the Love Chain around them, but it wasn't a maneuver that I'd ever thought to practice.

<<Cass? Are you all right?>>

<<Grandpa!>> Then I blushed and corrected myself, remembering that we were both on duty and I wasn't six months old anymore. <<I mean, General Jadeite. Sir. Could you please give me a hand here?>>

<<That's what I came for.>> He winked at me and raised his hands. Yellow fire gathered between them. It was almost too late when I recognized the spell.

<<Grandpa, no!>> But he'd gone to far to stop now. I lunged forward, desperately. <<You can't kill him! It isn't just the demon that's in there!>>

His attack smashed me in the chest, knocking me backwards into the projector. There was a glassy tinkle, and a cracking sound, as the device broke. The demon, meanwhile, was at the edge of the roof, vaulting over the guard rail. It was gone by the time I managed to haul myself, shakily, to my feet.

<<What in hell did you think you were doing?>> Grandpa Jadeite wasn't smiling anymore. <<You foolish, foolish girl! Do you have any idea what Malachite's going to do to you?>>

<<I promised,>> I told him, feeling very small and very miserable. My chest felt like it had been burnt, but I knew that was mostly in my mind. My lowest-level wards, which clung to my skin all the time, even when I was asleep, had protected me from any serious damage. <<I told Sumire that I'd keep her brother from being hurt.>>

<<Cass, Sumire's brother is dead! You and she appear to be the only ones who have failed to grasp that! All you've done is let the demon escape.>>

<<Cassiterite!>> Malachite's soundless call bored into my brain. I felt like crying. Oh, I was in big trouble all right. But at least it would probably make everyone forget that I'd smuggled a human into the Negaverse this morning.

Somehow, that didn't seem like much comfort.

Zoisite

It had all been going so well, until the damned demon had turned out to be smarter than we'd thought it was!

I hurled another slender spear of ice at the scar on the wall of the alleyway, and swore, stamping my foot, not caring that I probably looked like a child throwing a temper tantrum.

The truth was that I was just too good a craftsman. I'd put too much of myself into the damned demon, made it almost as twisty-minded and devious as I was.

I raised my hand to create another ice spear, but instead found my arms being pinned to my sides.

<<Stop that,>> Malachite half-ordered and half-pleaded.

<<I'm sorry,>> I told him. <<Please, my love, let me go.>> The tempest of rage and self-hatred inside me had to be let out somehow, and I was afraid that, if I wasn't able to express it as anger, it was going to come out as tears instead.

Instead, he turned me to face him and bent down. I returned the kiss hard, passionately, channeling all my emotion into that instead, clawing at his jacket. None of the others were here -- Jadeite had gone to his granddaughter, and Nephrite and Almandite had rushed to the assistance of their son, Marcasite, when he'd been attacked and called for help. No, Malachite and I were all alone, and...

But my lover was holding my wrists now, pulling my hands out of his jacket.

<<I'm sorry, beloved, but we really don't have time for that right now. There are disciplinary measures to be taken.>>

I sighed. <<The job. Always the damned job. I wish you'd abdicate, or something.>>

<<No.>> His fierceness took me by surprise. <<No one is ever going to have power over me again. Never. I'm not going to take that risk ever again.>>

<<Let's go and get this over with,>> I suggested after a moment of silence. <<The quicker you deal with that brat Cass, the more time we'll have for ourselves afterwards.>>

Damn Cass anyway, I thought as we teleported. She's been trouble from the start -- I suppose it comes of being half Sailor Scout! Well, if I have my way, she's never going to make trouble for us again!

Almandite

<<Marc, what did you think you were doing? You weren't even assigned to this amplifier!>> Obviously, I'd been right to worry about him. He hadn't been badly hurt, but that was only because his father and I had gotten there in time...

My elder son gave me a pained smile -- well, I was trying to close a nasty, bone-deep cut on his hand that had apparently been left by the wire garrote that his attacker had dropped when Nephrite and I had caught him in our crossfire. <<I tricked Morgan into trading with me. I... I had another dream last night. If he'd stayed here, at his assigned position, he would have been killed. So I decided to take a chance, and took his place. Do you think Malachite will be very angry at me?>>

I bit my lip. Nephrite, in the process of binding our son's attacker, looked up at the two of us.

<<I think Malachite has other concerns right now,>> I stated at last.

<<And in any case, Malachite doesn't quarrel with results,>> Nephrite added. <<Nothing got past you. That's the important thing.>>

It was too bad that Cass hadn't remembered that. That girl... I could sympathize with her, in a way. I'd spent a bit of time trapped between two worlds myself. But in the end, I'd been able to decide which of the two was more important to me, and at least partially separate myself from the other. I felt that Cass was going to have to do the same, or she was going to get herself pulled apart by the conflicting demands that were being imposed on her.

<<Mom?>>

I shook my head and returned at least some of my attention to Marcasite's injury. <<Sorry.>>

<<It's okay. I'm worried about her, too.>>

There are some times when Marc is just too much like his father for my comfort.

Taro

That was certainly close. Or at least, I think that's what the demon was thinking. I shied away from its thoughts when I could. It hurt to be in contact with that slimy mind.

When I'd seen that yellow fire between Lord Jadeite's hands, I'd thought it was all over. I'd almost been relieved. Almost. I wanted very much to have a chance to talk to Sumire again before anything irrevocable happened to me. I had a lot of apologizing to do.

I tried to move a hand again. Still nothing. I might have hated my body -- I'd hated it even before the magical energies of the Negaverse had twisted it into this green misshapen thing -- but it was all I had, and I wanted it back.

I tried to focus my will against the demon. No help there, either. When I'd applied to enter the Negaverse, they'd told me that I had a lot of potential as a magic-user, and that I was going to be one of the powerful youma. But it hadn't seemed to work out that way. I might have had magic, but I'd never had much conscious control of it -- none at all, now that the demon was running my body. I wouldn't be able to oust it that way.

We were crouched in the mouth of yet another alleyway, my puppet master and I. So far, the creature had kept to areas of the city that were still much as they had been when the name of the city had been simply Tokyo, without any leading adjectives. They did still exist, out on the fringes, outside the boundary formed by the Crystal Points. Dark, dingy, poor areas. Every city, even this place of magic, has its ugly side, I suppose.

So what are you going to do now? I asked the creature sharing my body, not expecting an answer.

Feed, it unexpectedly stated. Hide, it added. And then, much more softly, Hate. Or perhaps... And then it trailed off.

I had the strangest feeling that I wasn't going to like "perhaps".

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