Choices - Chapter 8

© 1999 by E. Liddell


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Sumire

Cass's door was open when I got to her room, so I walked straight inside. Then I stopped and stared.

"Cass, what in hell are you doing?"

"Oh, hi, Sumire. I'm going on a demon hunt. Want to join me?"

"You're what?"

Cass grinned at me. She was wearing about two-thirds of a Negaverse uniform, shirt and trousers and boots but no jacket or belt. There was a smudge of dirt on her nose, and it looked like she'd been rummaging under her bed shortly before I'd walked in. Lying on the desk were a small bottle, some rags, a rock, and a flat wooden box fully four-and-a-half feet long. I had to admit that she looked a lot more cheerful than I'd expected when I'd heard, over dinner, the abbreviated version of what had happened to her. But a demon hunt?

"It was Alex's idea," she said, waving me over to the bed as she perched on the edge of the desk -- although where she found the room I'm still not quite sure. "He suggested that impressing Malachite might just get me reinstated. And I can't think of a better way to impress him than by capturing the demon single-handed." She gave me a sidelong glance. "Or even with help."

"You're crazy." There was no way that I was going to risk my neck in a venture like this!

Her grin widened. "That goes without saying. I'm from the Negaverse, after all. Are you with me, or not? I'll go alone, if I have to."

I froze. The idea of going out on a demon hunt with Cass made me feel very frightened, but thinking about what might happen to Cass if she went out there alone...

"I guess craziness is contagious," I muttered. Cass was my friend, even if she was a Crystal Weaver, and she'd saved my brother's life. That meant a lot to me, even though I couldn't seem to find the words to say so. Maybe, between the two of us, we'd find a way to save it for good. "But how are you going to find him? Or are we just going to run around the city at random until we trip over him?"

"Well, no." Cass slid off the desk and turned away from me for a moment, opening the wooden box and lifting out something large -- a sword, one only a few inches shorter than the box had been. "I have an idea of sorts. Might not work too well, though, which is probably why the others haven't tried it." She drew it out of its scabbard and examined the edges critically, then sheathed it again, and began to buckle the harness to which the scabbard was attached around her body.

"Do you actually think you're going to need that thing?" I asked.

"I doubt it, but it pays to be prepared." The sword was in position now, along her back, the hilt protruding beside her left ear. I didn't bother to ask her if she knew how to use it. She wriggled her shoulders. "Damn, but this feels weird. I haven't worn this since I was on training exercises with the youma last month, and I had a jacket on then. Anyway, what we're going to try to do is use you to find the demon, a little more directly than we did last time."

"What do you mean?" I didn't quite shrink back, but I wasn't sure that I liked the sound of that.

"DNA affinity sorting. I'm going to cast a spell that should find any males in the city who are genetically very similar to you. We've got about a fifty percent chance of picking up Taro that way -- well, along with two hundred or so other people. Just don't ask me how it works, because I don't know. Alex taught me the spell by rote."

"Oh," I said in a very small voice. "Then we check the two hundred or so people?"

"That's the idea, yeah. Like I said, it might not work too well, or at all for that matter, but I haven't got any better ideas."

I looked at her. Then I looked down at my hands.

"Okay, let's get started."

The Nameless

The foul scent was making my body sick to its stomach. Still, this seemed to be the best place to hide, and the last place where those searching for me would expect me, if I had read my host's memories correctly. They wouldn't expect to find me in the sewers. Even less would they expect to find me hiding at the confluence directly below the subbasement of the Customs building. With the personal energies of the youma above masking my own, I might be able to conceal myself here for quite some time.

Another unsuspecting rat wandered by, and I grabbed it and drained its energy, throwing the corpse into the dirty water that flowed past to my left. It would take hundreds of such morsels to truly replenish my strength, but at least they were something.

Typical, my co-walker observed. The location's good, but the food is lousy and the facilities are worse. You just can't find a good hotel these days.

I ground my teeth. Shut up.

It had occurred to me recently that I'd never been completely alone inside my own mind. First there had been Zoisite -- teaching me, shaping me, influencing me in ways that I wasn't sure I understood even yet -- and then this youma, this Taro Kagami. What frightened me was the thought that I might be reacting to a set of commands implanted in me by Zoisite at the time of my creation. The little Prince Consort had a twisted and subtle mind, and I wouldn't have put it past him to set me up to run away just to observe my capabilities...

I dug my clawed hands into the dirty, crumbling brick of the wall beside me. Where do I go from here? I needed to rest a little longer, and get my strength back. And then... What? I couldn't stay in Crystal Tokyo. If I did, they'd hunt me down sooner or later. The same thing went for any other place on this planet that I might have chosen as a refuge. So. I would have to leave this planet and strike out for somewhere else. One of the outer worlds, Neptune or Pluto or Nemesis, might be far enough away that they might not consider it worth hunting me down there.

But in order to get there, I needed a ship (or enough energy to fuel an interplanetary teleport, but I wasn't foolish enough to think that I could take that many human victims, or drain that much from the local energy flows, without being caught). The humans had only a handful of interplanetary ships, and they were very well guarded. I didn't know enough about their security to sneak past it, and in this body I'd never be able to bluff my way past it, so I needed some way to force them to knowingly let me through. I needed...a hostage?

A hostage. And who was the most important, most beloved person in Crystal Tokyo? Neo-Queen Serenity. But she had the Silver Crystal, and might hurt me badly. Then again, a move against her would be unexpected for precisely that reason. I clawed at my face, drawing blood, knowing that I was thinking far too much in the pattern of Zoisite, but unable to consider the problem in any other light.

So. I would mount an attack on the Crystal Palace. Singlehandedly. But first, I would just lie back here and rest a bit longer...

Cass

"Lucky thirteen," I muttered, gazing down at the manhole. Beside me, Sumire was beginning to look wilted. I didn't blame her. We'd been combing the streets of Crystal Tokyo for hours, and we'd found...what? A bank clerk. Three kids. A wino. A door-to-door shoe salesman. And six other people who just happened to be male and genetically similar to Sumire. We were both beginning to get more than a little discouraged.

And then the trail had led us to the Customs Office. The guards at the door hadn't wanted to let us in -- apparently Malachite had given some orders about me -- so I'd told Sumire to wait outside and teleported in. Into the basement, to be precise, because I'd been able to tell that the trace was coming up from below this time. From way below, I soon discovered, because there was no one in the basement. That meant it was coming from an old subway tunnel -- or from the sewers. And what would an honest citizen be doing in an abandoned subway or a waste water conduit? This had to be Taro. Or the demon. Whichever.

I'd already generated vapour-impermeable wards to protect us from the smell -- they'd let oxygen in and carbon dioxide out, but nothing else -- and, after a moment's thought, set them to repel water as well. The thought of actually falling into a sewer was gross, but better to be prepared and not have it happen...

I lifted the manhole cover and rolled it out of the way, then sat down on the edge of the hole with my legs dangling down inside. I peered between my ankles, trying to find a ladder. Surely there had to be one. They couldn't expect the sanitation workers to drop down into the dark from what had to be at least six feet up. Chances were that they'd miss whatever walkway there might be, and I didn't think that city workers were any fonder of the idea of immersion in filthy water than I was... No, there was the ladder. I slid further into the hole, grabbed the top rung, and began my descent.

Sumire waited until I was all the way down before beginning her own descent. She moved slowly and cautiously, blind in the poor light. But I wasn't about to conjure a light yet -- possibly I wouldn't at all, until we found our quarry. I'd have to make up my mind how much of an advantage my superior night vision was going to give me if Sumire was condemned to stumble around blind.

There wasn't really much space to sneak around in, though. I was standing on a narrow catwalk. To my left was a stream of dirty water almost four feet wide. To my right was a crumbling brick wall with metal rungs set into it. I took a couple of steps forward to make room for Sumire, who was almost all the way down.

She wrinkled her nose as her feet touched the surface of the catwalk. I grinned at her.

"Just be glad you can't smell it," I said. Smell it, smell it... a whispery echo repeated. "Damn," I muttered. "Sound's gonna carry in here like you wouldn't believe -- we'd better not talk too much." I'd started learning ambush techniques and tactics when I was five months old, because that was the way things were normally done in the Negaverse. I'd been pretty good at it. And if I spent the rest of my life in Crystal Tokyo, that training would be absolutely worthless. Sailor Scouts don't sneak up on their enemies; it isn't considered fair play, and Sailor Scouts just don't do anything that doesn't fall within the rules of fair play. That's why they're at a disadvantage when they have to fight an enemy who doesn't play by their rules. In the Negaverse, we just get the job done, by whatever means is most efficient.

I blinked back tears. I want to go home.

Forcing myself to keep my mind on matters closer to hand, I glanced over at Sumire. She was staring, wide-eyed, into the darkness. I breathed a curse. She really was blind in the dimness, even here where there was light coming down from above. So I conjured a light, and mourned the lost opportunity for surprise. I made sure that it was a very dim light, though, and I handed it to Sumire.

"He can't be very far away," I whispered to her. "Just a little ways to the left down that cross-corridor up ahead, I think. Stay behind me, and try to keep the light hidden behind my body."

"How can you possibly see that far?" she whispered back.

I grinned crookedly. "I'm a Crystal Weaver. How else?" I half-expected her to flinch back -- she'd done that before, when I'd reminded her of my heritage -- but instead, she just took a deep breath.

"Whatever. Look...it's stupid of me to ask this now, but you do have a plan for capturing him, don't you?"

"Well, yes." I slid the second cheap-looking ring off my finger. Many of the magical weapons and devices that the Negaverse made for the Crystal Tokyoan military forces were disguised as pieces of jewelry, and this one was no exception. "This is called a Ring of Entrapment. Just throw it at him and say 'activate', and it'll grow bigger, wrap around him, and pin his arms to his sides. Prevents teleportation, too. Go on, take it." I shoved it into her hand.

"Uh, Cass, where did you get this?"

"I kind of borrowed them without asking," I admitted, displaying my own. "There are hundreds of them in the Palace Guard's armory -- they're standard issue for them, and they only work once, so they keep a lot of them on hand, and since they aren't lethal they don't worry much about them falling into the wrong hands. Can I help it if they left a couple mixed in with a bunch of pencils and loose change in the top drawer of the front information desk?"

"You're not going to get in trouble for this?"

I shrugged. "I'm already in eighteen gazillion kinds of trouble, so what's a bit more?"

Sumire smiled, but she looked as though it was hurting her. "Shouldn't we get going, before he notices that we're here?"

I nodded, but drew my sword before leading off. I probably wouldn't need it and had no real intention of using it, but it comforted me and gave me courage. Sort of like a security blanket? The mental image was so incongruous that I almost laughed. But it had been a birthday gift from my father, and it meant a great deal to me.

Ahead and left, yes...and there he was, sitting with his back to us, apparently unaware of our presence as yet. This was going to be easy.

I slipped the other Ring of Confinement -- which is a pretty fancy name for a pretty cheap piece of spell-trash, when you get right down to it -- off my finger and tossed it at the being sitting there, beside the wall. "Activate!"

It grew and snapped shut...around a cloud of dust?

I swore, not caring who heard me. Mom would have been really embarrassed, if she'd been there to overhear, but there'd been no way she could have kept me from learning words like that from the youma that I worked among. Had worked among. Would work among again, if I pulled this off. If I could pull it off, now. I frowned, and closed my eyes, fighting to detect the gentle pull of the affinity spell I had cast. The demon was...

...behind us?

"Sumire, look out!"

"Saturn Pla-- Aaaah!"

Stupid, stupid, stupid! I should have told her to transform before climbing down here. I shouldn't have brought her along at all. All those thoughts, in the split second that it took me to turn around and face the enemy.

Have I just been responsible for the death of my only friend?

Sumire

Something hard and massive smashed into my side, and sent me flying across the narrow channel to the catwalk on the other side. It was a miracle that I didn't hit my head on the way down, or lose my grip on the wand in my hand. I did get the breath knocked out of me for a moment, though, and when I tried to sit up, I felt a sharp pain in my chest. Cracked rib? Oh, hell...

On the other side of the channel, Cass and the demon were facing each other, maybe ten feet apart. They weren't doing anything, though -- just standing there, staring at each other. Cass seemed not to want to make the first move...or at least, I hoped that that was all it was. If she'd frozen up again, we were in trouble.

Then I bit my lip. Idiot, you're not entirely helpless!

"Saturn Planet Power!" I barely whispered the words, then gritted my teeth as a giant hand picked me up and whirled me around.

I leaned on the Silence Glaive when I had struck the finishing pose, breathing hard and wincing as each inhalation sent a spear of pain through my chest. Okay, I've gotten this far. So, now, what do I do to attack? It occurred to me that I'd never asked anyone what Sailor Saturn's attacks were, or what to say or do to activate them.

So I resorted to intuition again, raising the Glaive above my head, feeling tears come to my eyes as my ribs twinged. "Silence Gl--"

Then I froze as I felt something shift inside me, something huge and terrible and extremely destructive, straining at invisible bonds, waiting for me to complete the formula and let it loose. And I couldn't. I couldn't. I could sense that, if I made a mistake and let it all the way off its leash, it wouldn't stop until it had destroyed the entire world. Maybe both entire worlds. No, I couldn't risk that just for one artificial demon, no matter who it was attacking.

I lowered the Glaive again. I'm sorry, Cass. Crystal Weaver or no, she was my friend, and she'd given up something very valuable to her to help me. But I couldn't risk the Earth and everyone on it just to save her life.

The demon's eyes -- like it or no, it was a demon to me now, a green-skinned thing in which I couldn't see even the least part of my brother -- flashed, and it made a sweeping gesture with one hand. Hundreds of needles of purplish light flew at Cass. She closed her eyes and raised her sword vertically in front of her, and the needles glanced off a faintly glowing orangish barrier. Still, she was clearly on the defensive.

I looked at the Glaive in my hand, and assessed the width of the channel that separated me from the fighters. It couldn't be more than three or four feet wide. The Glaive was probably long enough to span it. It was a chance, at least, or...

The ring! I'm an idiot!

I pulled my glove off and slipped the Ring of Entrapment off my finger.

"Activate!" I shouted as I hurled it, ignoring a twinge from my ribs.

Unfortunately, it was at that moment that both combatants sprang at each other. The ring bounced off the catwalk between them and split in two. Cass said something nasty as her arms were pinned to her sides and her sword dropped to the ground. The demon said nothing at all, just turned and looked at me and waved one pinioned hand in my direction.

Cass hadn't warned me that the Ring of Entrapment couldn't block the magical attacks of the person that it pinioned.

The demon's tiny gesture slammed me backward in a wave of displaced air. For the second time that day, I was slammed against the wall, hard. I tried to use the Glaive to pull myself back to my feet again, but then I coughed. And kept on coughing, spattering something dark and wet on my gloves. Blood?

I couldn't tell for sure, because my vision was fading in and out. And then it faded out for good.

Alexandrite

I sighed as I released the tree and pulled my toes out of the soil, shaking first one foot, then the other, to get rid of the loam still clinging to them. Only then did I think to glance up at the sky, and saw that it was dark. I'd been standing there, rooted, for hours. But I felt a lot better than I had when I had arrived.

I was sitting on the stone that surfaced the deserted plaza, pulling my second boot on, when the call came.

<<Alex!>>

<<Cass? What's wrong?>> I froze with the boot half on and half off. <<Please tell me that you didn't do anything stupid.>>

<<All right, if it'll make you feel better. I'd be lying, though.>>

<<What happened?>> I jerked the boot the rest of the way on and stood.

<<Sumire and I went after the demon. We screwed up, and Sumire's hurt, and I can't help her!>>

<<How badly? No, give me a location fix first, damnit!>> I absorbed the wordless transmission and used it to direct my teleport.

<<She was coughing blood,>> Cass stated. <<And my arms are pinned and I wouldn't know what to do even if they were free.>>

I popped back into existence in a place that I never would have visited voluntarily, nearly knocking Cass off the narrow ledge on which she stood and into the water.

<<How in hell did you get into this fix?>> I asked. It was the work of a moment to pinch the Ring of Entrapment out of existence. They're really easy to destroy from the outside.

<<Don't worry about me,>> she snapped, and gestured to the crumpled form on the other side of the channel.

Sumire, when I got to her, was unconscious and breathing shallowly. Blood bubbled from her nose. I ran my hands over her torso and quickly determined that she'd broken a rib, which had then shifted and pierced her lung.

<<She'll be okay,>> I told Cass. <<Where's the demon? Can you tell?>>

<<Not precisely enough to teleport to it, but yeah. It's aboveground, and moving northwards...>>

<<Then go after it!>> I snapped. <<Warn Pyrope and the youma, and tell them where to find it. I'll look after your friend. I promise.>>

She looked at me for a long moment. <<You'd better.>> Then she vanished in a teleport.

I sighed and bent to the long task of stabilizing Sumire so that I could move her.

Cass

It was a relief to be back at street level again.

The demon was still headed northward through the city. I was surprised. I would have expected it to have shifted to the east or west by now, so that it could skirt the palace grounds. Its behaviour made no sense.

Unless it was headed for the Crystal Palace.

A cold prickling sensation swept through me. The Palace. The Queen. It's going to attack Serenity. I was irrationally certain of that. And, I have to protect her. That was something I'd been trained to do ever since I could toddle.

I speeded up, leaping from building to building, almost crying when I realized how fast the demon was moving and that it had to be in a taxi or on the subway. It was a race now.

Well, I'm not going to let it win. There was no time to call for backup now, even assuming that Pyrope would listen to me. I had to catch the creature myself.

The Nameless

Terror. I'd never experienced it before. Fear, yes, but not this all-encompassing emotion that made me want to do insane things. And it had been inspired by two children, one a relatively weak Crystal Weaver, the other a new-minted Sailor Scout who obviously had no idea how to control her powers. I hated to think about what would happen if I encountered a mature Sailor Scout or a more powerful Crystal Weaver. I might as well just kill myself, here in the palace garden, and have done with it.

I'd drained two humans on my way here, stealing their vehicle to let me keep a little way ahead of the Crystal Weaver girl. She was persistent, that one! And then I'd drained another, just now, to steal his uniform. If I hadn't done so, I wouldn't have had the strength to make it this far. I had to get to Serenity! I had to take her hostage. I didn't see any other way that I could possibly survive.

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