Choices - Chapter 9

© 1999 by E. Liddell

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"So who was supposed to bring the deck of cards?" Lita asked as she seated herself on the floor beside me. Guard duty this deep inside the palace was only a formality, and we'd both known that we were going to be bored.

"Actually, I think it was me," I admitted. "Sorry. I've got a lot on my mind."

"I don't blame you. Poor Cass. Sometimes Malachite really is a louse."

I shook my head. "No, he's just doing his job, as he sees it. The son of a bitch. In a way, though, I'm almost glad she's out of the Negaverse." I'd never been happy about that part of Cass's life, although I'd seen the necessity for it. Now I didn't have to worry about it anymore. It was a relief, even though I knew that my daughter had lost an important part of what she was. I did feel guilty about that, though. My feelings just seemed so selfish.

Several moments of silence, during which I tried not to think about Malachite, or the Negaverse, or Crystal Weavers. Which was difficult, since my husband and daughter both belonged to that last category.

"So how's Artemis been doing lately?" Lita asked, obviously trying to change the subject. "I haven't been seeing much of him."

Thinking about that actually made me smile. "He's been trying to convince Luna that the new prince is going to need a feline guardian of his own. It isn't going over very well, and he's refusing to speak to me because I told him that I wasn't going to buy catnip for him this time."

"Is that how Diana was...? Oh, dear." Lita began to laugh.

"Not quite. Luna volunteered that time, but she got cold feet at the last minute." My smile widened as I remembered what Luna had said afterwards...

"Message for her Majesty."

I looked up. The servant was a thin man of medium height. He didn't seem at all dangerous, and I couldn't see any reason not to pass him through. I glanced at Lita. She shrugged. I got up and opened the door for him.

It was only when he was already inside that I noticed there was something wrong with his uniform. There was brown stuff on the back of the collar. Like...dried blood?

"Hold it!" I said, taking a step forward and reaching out to grab his arm. He shook me off and lunged deeper into the room.

It was Serena's informal audience chamber, the room in her quarters that she used to meet privately with court officials and members of our (still tiny) noble class. It was built like a miniature version of the big throne room downstairs, with a raised platform and two thrones at one end. Serena was sitting on the edge of that platform, with the Silver Crystal cupped in the palm of one hand. When the three of us barged in (Lita was right on my heels) she looked up, eyes widening, and began the slow process of pulling herself to her feet. That isn't all that easy when you're pregnant.

"Stop right there!" I tried. The pseudo-servant ignored me. "Okay, if you want to do it the hard way... Venus Crescent Beam Smash!"

The beam of yellow light scored the floor in front of the man's feet. He turned, slowly, to face me. But before he'd come all the way around, his eyes were glowing, and his skin was turning green. The demon! Damn!

"Venus Love and--" I began, and behind me I could hear Lita saying, "Jupiter Oak--", but neither of us ever got time to finish.

The explosive blast came without warning. I mean, the demon's body just spontaneously lit up and boom! there was green light all over the place and I was being smashed up against the wall. It really hurt! Through my daze, I watched Serena raise one hand above her head.

"Moon Crystal Healing Activation -- AAAAAAAAH!!!!!!" The scream wasn't any part of the invocation that I'd ever heard before. The Crystal fell to the ground as Serena clutched at her hand, obviously in pain. It burned her. The Silver Crystal burned her. But that's impossible!

"Lita?" I reached out to shake my friend's arm, but it looked like she was out cold. Guess it's up to me, then, I thought grimly, and grabbed a bit of ornamental carving on the wall to use to pull myself to my feet.

I didn't make it that far, of course, before the demon grabbed me.

"Well, having forced me to expend all of that energy, the least you can do is help me replace it," it said in something resembling a conversational tone of voice.

A day late and a dollar short, I thought muzzily as the cold of the energy drain began to take its toll. Hey, I think I might actually have gotten that right!



I leaped down off the top of a wall, landing in the Queen's garden. In a hedge. I swore and fought my way free of the thorny growth, then set off at double-time down a path.

Damn, I wish I could teleport! But even if I'd known precisely where the demon was going, I still wouldn't have been able to do so. I'd been taught from earliest childhood that teleporting was something that you just Didn't Do in Crystal Tokyo, unless you were in Negaverse uniform and on official business. You would have thought that one out of two would have been enough, but it wasn't, not without being able to stop and concentrate for ten seconds.

And that's my problem, I realized. I have to think about it too much, even though Dad keeps telling me that magic should be automatic and as easy as breathing. I made a face. Guess who's going to be spending a lot more time on the practice range from now on. At least I'll have time for it, given that I'll only have one set of duties and one set of lessons from now on. Huh. Maybe being turned out of the Negaverse is as much of a blessing as a curse. It was a feeble attempt at a joke.

I slid my hand into my pocket to make sure that my wand was there, even though I had no intention of using it. Surely there would be a whole bunch of other Sailor Scouts around when I reached my destination, not to mention the Queen and her Crystal. I probably wouldn't even get near the demon, so there was no need for me to wear the damned short skirt. I was annoyed that I'd fled the sewer so fast that I'd left my sword behind, though. That had been stupid.

Someone had left the door open, so when I came flying around the bend, I shot straight inside, unable to stop myself until I slammed into the far wall of the corridor outside my room. Ugh. Queen. Where's the Queen? Having the breath knocked out of me at least gave me the time to concentrate on a spell to locate her. The private wing's a big place, and I didn't just want to plunge around opening doors at random, and just following the demon pretty well ensured that I'd get there too late.

Ah, there. One floor up, in the informal audience chamber.

My legs began to ache as I pounded up the stairs. It was like some kind of weird nightmare -- you know, one of the ones where you're running and running and running, but either you're on a treadmill or the universe is expanding and pushing the place you're trying to get to farther and farther away, because you never seem to get anywhere, and there's something really nasty coming up behind you...

Get a grip, I told myself with disgust, and pushed open the door to the suite that Their Majesties shared. Well, you couldn't call it a suite, really, not when it took up the entire floor. The room I wanted was the second on the left.

I suppose my being too late was kind of inevitable. It's one of those things that kind of follows from Murphy's Law, if you know what I mean.

The demon had Neo-Queen Serenity backed up against the far wall. The Silver Crystal was halfway across the room from her, kicked into a corner, and she looked like she was in shock. Sailor Jupiter was lying unconscious on the floor, and beside her was... Mom? Gods of Darkness! I'd never understood what being a Sailor Scout meant before. I'd just thought of it as a boring, ceremonial-guard-type job, pretending to look after someone who was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. But it wasn't really like that, was it? It meant sacrifice. It could even mean death. It was just as dangerous as being a General, and just as worthy of my abilities. Even if it wasn't really the job that I wanted.

I'm not going to make a mistake this time, I told myself grimly. At least no one seemed to have a Ring of Entrapment on her this time. Giving one of those to an untrained person like Sumire had been another stupid mistake. It looks like I'm the one who has to save them, and I'm not going to screw it up again. Not with Mom's life depending on it.

I forced myself to close my eyes and cup my hands together in front of me. Gods of Light and Darkness, let it work this time -- it almost worked the last... I'd been taught meditation techniques, and I forced myself to use them now. At least my own life wasn't in immediate danger this time. And I had no physical weapon to resort to, as I had in the sewer. It had to be magic.

It wasn't until I felt the cold that I opened my eyes. Something small and black was floating between my hands. Vortex. A powerful explosive attack that I'd learned from Uncle Demantoid. This time, my attack magic had succeeded, and I was going to use it for all it was worth.

I threw the little black ball at the floor just behind the demon, causing a soundless eruption of floor tiles, bits of carpet, and various jetsam. I've never understood the lack of noise. It's ...very weird.

I hadn't actually injured the demon, but that hadn't been my purpose. I'd only wanted to attract its attention. And I'd done that. Boy, had I ever! It was glaring at me now. And scarcely six feet away.

"Hey, green-face!" I tried to project all of my usual bravado and then some. "What's the matter? Can't deal with one little kid?"

It growled and took a step forward. I cupped my hands together again.

But this time the power wouldn't come, any more than it had been willing to come during the fight on the rooftop. I swallowed, and started backing away. The creature lunged forward.

"Yaaaaah!" I screamed, and launched myself toward the demon. If I couldn't fight it with magic, I'd just have to move the battle into a realm where I could win.


<<My King?>>

I stiffened. Beneath me, Zoisite growled.

<<This had better be good, Alex,>> I stated.

I could sense him hesitating, choosing his words. <<Have you heard from Cassiterite, my King?>>

<<No, and I have no wish to hear from her,>> I snapped back.

<<Then you don't know either! Damn! I'd hoped...>>

<<Don't know what?>> I asked, frowning and sitting up. The mood had been completely spoiled, anyway.

<<Cass and Sailor Saturn confronted the demon. Sumire's injured, and Cass...has gone after it. She hasn't reported in to Pyrope, either, and I'm afraid that she may be in serious trouble.>>

I cursed and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. <<Do you know where she is? I know you've got a tracer on her.>>

<<Somewhere near the Crystal Palace, I think. Here.>> A fleeting mental impression of place, which I forced myself to hold on to. <<I just hope she's all right.>>

<<It's the demon I'm worried about, not her,>> I stated. <<She's made her choice.>> But I knew, deep down, that I couldn't really afford to reject Cass completely. There were just too few of us. We needed every available Crystal Weaver, as breeding stock.

Zoisite looked at me. I looked at him.

<<Sorry to have to cut the evening short, beloved,>> I stated. <<Get dressed and follow me. Bring my sword.>>

I prepared for the attack during the split second in nonspace, not knowing what I was going to find when I emerged, or how much danger I would be in. If Cass was under attack by the demon...

I emerged into the Earth Realm in the corner of an unfamiliar room which I presumed to be somewhere in the Crystal Palace. In a split second, I took in two unconscious Sailor Scouts, a shocky and apparently paralyzed Neo-Queen Serenity, and two figures wrestling on the floor. One of them was green. The other was Cassiterite. At least she didn't seem to be worried about the demon's survival anymore. Or perhaps she was just more concerned about her own?

Unfortunately, with her and the demon so close together, I didn't dare attack the creature with my powers. Any spell strong enough to hurt it would probably kill the girl. I'd have to separate them bodily.

When I took a step towards them, my bare foot landed on something small and hard and round. What? True, someone had blown a shallow crater in the middle of the floor, exposing the support beams and what looked like part of a crawlspace of some sort, but I would have expected the debris from that to be jagged, not...

Then I felt a vaguely familiar burning sensation in the sole of my foot, and I knew. The Silver Crystal. What in hell is it doing over here? Serenity must have tried to use it. Or did the demon stop her too soon? Regardless, it's too important to be left lying around. If the demon stole it, and was given sufficient time to work on it... I bent down and scooped the little thing up, placing it in a dimensional pocket for security. Then I lunged forward and grabbed for the tangled mass that was Cass and the demon.

I managed to grab the demon by the forearm, but at that moment, one of Cass's legs, flailing, caught me in the knee. Unbalanced, I took a step backward and landed on a tile splinter, ramming it into my foot.

I cursed as I hobbled out of range. Damn, damn, damn! Why didn't I take the time to put my boots on? There was no way I'd be able to get the combatants apart this way, not alone. And I wasn't about to ask Serenity to help me. A pregnant human! She'd be worse than useless. Conjuring footwear would waste too much power. That left me out of options until Zoisite got here. Unless...

I reached into my dimensional pocket and grabbed the Silver Crystal, unable to believe I was seriously considering doing this. Cass, who had never been corrupted by the Negaforce's residues, was in no danger from Serenity's ultimate weapon. But I was. If someone else had been using it, I would have been able to protect myself, but if I invoked its healing mode, I'd probably lose the use of whichever hand I was holding it in, at least until a healer could look at it. If I was lucky. There was a possibility, however small, that I'd cripple myself for life.

It's the only way, I told myself. Zoisite may not be here for another minute or two. An awful lot can happen in a minute, in a situation like this. I have to act now, or risk losing Cass. And no matter how angry I was at her, I wasn't willing to do that.

I cupped the Crystal in the palm of my left hand, extending it out at arm's length in front of me. I didn't need to speak the invocation formula that Serenity always used. All I had to do was focus my will to make the Crystal flare into radiant life.

White light poured from the Sailor Scouts' ultimate weapon, surrounding Cass and the demon. White light also bit into my hand, turning a layer of flesh into charcoal and dust. I gritted my teeth and endured, but to my surprise, the radiance went no deeper. The damage would be reparable, then. That was all I asked.

A black mass boiled up out of the green youma body that was now lying spread-eagled on the floor. There was a flare of brighter light as a symbol appeared, for an instant, in front of the cloud of black vapour. A pentagram, not the moon crescent that I'd expected. That had to be because the Crystal had been invoked by a Crystal Weaver, instead of one of Phoebe's line. The demon wailed as it vanished, but in the background I seemed to hear a faint, mocking laugh. Strange. And disturbing.

I dropped the Silver Crystal on the floor and went down on one knee to take the weight off my injured foot, cradling my left hand in my right. For the first time, I noticed that Serenity was doing much the same thing, except that she was holding her right hand in her left. She's been injured, too. I wonder how?

<<I missed all the fun again, didn't I?>>

Help at last. <<If you can call it that,>> I told my lover as he knelt beside me, positioning himself awkwardly because of the two swords he was carrying. <<In fact, next time you can have it all.>>

He grinned. <<I'll take you up on that.>>

<<Well, you certainly do know how to spoil a mood.>> Almandite was obviously not happy.

<<I'll make certain to plan my demon battles in advance next time -->> I began. Then I stopped and stared. Evidently, Nephrite and Almandite had been at about the same stage in their evening as Zoisite and I when my pain had...distracted them. Nephrite had a blanket wrapped around his waist. Almandite was only wearing a sheet, not very securely draped. I'd never seen her so...underdressed.

Zoisite grabbed me by the ears and wrenched my head around so that I was facing him. <<Don't you even think about it!>>

<<I wasn't,>> I protested, leaning forward a bit to plant a kiss on him. <<You know very well that there can never be anyone for me but you, Zoisite.>>

<<In that case, I forgive you,>> he stated.

<<But I'm not certain I ever will,>> Nephrite added.

<<Stop being such children!>> Almandite scolded. When I had finally managed to turn away from Zoisite again, she and her husband had both conjured proper uniforms. <<Now, is it you or Serena that I'm supposed to look at first, my King?>>

<<I'll be all right for a moment more,>> I told her. The grinding pain in my hand was nothing compared to what Beryl had subjected me to, a time or two. <<Check on her Majesty, on Cass, and on the Scouts and the youma -- almost-ex-youma,>> I corrected after giving the figure sprawled on the floor a quick look.

The final appraisal... Serenity hadn't been badly injured, but she was exhausted, her immune system was depressed, and her right hand was blistered. Somehow, the Silver Crystal had burned her. Almandite was recommending bed rest for the next several days, and possibly until the baby was born. The Scouts had had their energy drained, and Jupiter appeared to be concussed, but both would recover soon if permitted to rest. Cass had an interesting assortment of bruises and pulled muscles, but she'd kept the demon too busy for it to drain her. As for the demon's ex-host ... Well, he was badly drained. And although the Silver Crystal should have cleansed him and returned him to his human form, it hadn't -- quite. He was going to require several days of bed rest, and a detailed medical and magical examination to determine exactly what had happened to him.

Serenity's eyes met mine while Almandite was working over my hand. I didn't think I'd ever seen her so worried. And it was obvious that we both had questions.

"I'd suggest a meeting tomorrow morning, when we've all had time to sleep on this," I said.

"Indeed," Serenity replied. "It appears that we have much to discuss."


"I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?" I was only half-joking. Serena was in bad shape. Very bad.

"I didn't want to worry anyone," my oldest friend murmured, already half-asleep. "I swore the doctor to secrecy. My work's too important, Molly. I couldn't let anyone interrupt it."

"Not even to save your baby's life?" I gave her my sternest look. "Well, the jig is up now. From now on, I'm going to be checking you over daily, and so is your personal physician. And I'm going to tell your husband and your brother to keep an eye on you."

It would be up to the doctor to lay down the rest of the ultimatums. I'm just a Healer, not a physician, and I'm bright enough to know that there's a difference. But...she looked so pale... That was the immune disorder, and general exhaustion.

"The baby... He is all right, isn't he?"

"Yes, but if you want him to stay that way, you've got to follow my instructions, and your doctor's. Promise me, Serena."

"...promise..." That came out in the middle of a yawn. She rolled over onto her other side and seemed to fall asleep. I waited beside her until I was really sure, though.

Human life is so remarkably fragile, I reflected as I left the room. It didn't seem fair. But then, nothing ever is. And many people would rather live their fragile little lives than take the risk I did, or pay the prices that I must pay, just to gain immortality.


<<We're ready for you now.>>

I swallowed and stepped forward. The door, manipulated by a guard, swung silently open as I approached it, then shut again behind me with a dull thud.

I hooked my thumbs in my belt to keep my hands from shaking. The last time I'd been called before an assembly like this had been during the argument over whether or not I was going to be permitted to train to take my mother's place. For that matter, I don't think there had been another assembly like this since then. There aren't many policy decisions that require all the Negaverse Generals and all the Sailor Scouts and the royal family of Crystal Tokyo to be in a room at the same time to discuss the matter.

Morgan caught my eye and gave me an encouraging wink. I tried to smile back, but I think it looked more like a grimace. Dad was doing his poker face, but I thought I could see relief in his eyes. I glanced at the other side of the room. My mother was smiling, too, but it looked almost as though it was hurting her. Sumire was grinning. I took that as a good sign.


"My King." Everyone was staring at me -- some of them with compassion, like Lady Almandite, some of them with concern, like my parents, and some with animosity, like Zoisite. I could feel it. But I kept my eyes centered on Malachite.

"It appears that you were responsible for saving Neo-Queen Serenity's life last night. She appears to think it appropriate--" he glanced leftward, to where Serenity was sitting -- "to reward you, and has negotiated with me to that effect. I cannot, however, ignore your previous irresponsibility. We have therefore decided on a compromise.

"I hereby reinstate you as a citizen of the Negaverse. If you wish, you will be permitted to resume training as a General, on a probationary basis. Since your previous instructor appears to have been remiss in teaching you about responsibility and proper behaviour, Lord Zoisite will be your new mentor."

The green-eyed man shot me a very unfriendly glare at that point. I didn't care. When Malachite had stripped me of my rank and citizenship, I'd lost something very important to me. I'd tried to fool myself into thinking that wasn't the case, but all I'd been doing was lying to myself. I belonged in the Negaverse, as a General, with others of my kind. It was what I wanted, more than anything. But... I belonged in Crystal Tokyo, too. I was part of both worlds, and they were always forcing me to try to give one of them up. Well, I'm not going to let them! I decided. I'm going to be twice as good as everyone else, so that both sides are begging to have me! Then they won't force me out. Either of them.

It wasn't going to be an easy four years. Not with the Prince Consort as my mentor. I expected hard work and humiliation. But if I could get through it, no one on the Negaverse side would be able to say that I hadn't earned my place.

<<Cassiterite!>> Zoisite's eyes were glowing softly with controlled power and repressed fury.

I am *not* going to let him intimidate me! <<Yes, Lord Zoisite?>>

<<What are you doing standing there? As a trainee, your place is behind me. And hurry up. We have matters much more urgent than your position to discuss.>>

I scurried around the tables to the indicated position. Yes, it was going to be a long four years. But I could do it. I had to.

"And now we come to more important matters. The Silver Crystal, your Majesty?" Malachite shot Neo-Queen Serenity an expectant glance.

"Is here." Her hand rose slowly and placed the small, round, white object on the table.

"So." I don't think anyone else at the table could see it, but as Malachite spoke that word, his hand shifted to fondle Zoisite's thigh under the table. It looked like standing behind those two all the time was going to give me an interesting perspective on some of their behaviour... "I think we all agree that something is wrong with the Crystal. I think we are also agreed that we must determine the precise nature of the problem and whether or not it can be fixed. I submit that Lord Demantoid, as the only surviving member of the group that created the Crystal, is best suited to examine it, and respectfully request that your Majesty turn it over to him."

"You can't be serious!" That was Raye -- or Sailor Mars, if you prefer, since she was in uniform. "Giving the Silver Crystal to you Negatrash would be"

"That is enough." It was the first time since I'd entered the room that Serenity had spoken with any force. I'd almost been worried about her. She'd looked so...forlorn. But there was steel there now. "King Malachite is entirely correct. His people are best suited to troubleshoot the Crystal. Lord Demantoid."

"Your Majesty." My great-uncle inclined his head.

"We place the Silver Crystal in your charge. Please determine what is wrong with it and how it can be fixed."

"As your Majesty wishes." Demantoid stretched out his hand, using his powers to draw the Crystal to himself. It glittered softly against the white of his glove.

Malachite leaned back in his seat. I was the only one who saw Zoisite's hand slide down to cover his, where it rested on the smaller man's leg.

"That appears to conclude our business for today," my King observed. "Unless anyone else has something to contribute?"

"King Malachite..." Sumire looked nervous, but she wasn't letting it stop her.

"Sailor Saturn." Malachite acknowledged her gravely.

"What do you intend to do with my brother?"

"Nothing." He held up a hand -- the one Zoisite didn't have pinned down. "I am not being facetious. It has been determined that Taro Kagami's personal energies were cleansed by the Silver Crystal. Despite certain lingering physical effects, he is no longer a youma and the Negaverse has no jurisdiction over him."

Sumire's smile was radiant.

The meeting broke up after that. I had to ask Zoisite's permission to take a moment to speak to my family and friends. He granted it, but not without letting me know that I was going to have to work for that kind of privilege from now on.

"Congratulations!" Sumire actually slapped me on the back, although she winced afterwards. Her ribs had to be tender, still. I grinned and gave her a V-for-victory sign.

"You, too," I said. Then I was pulled away from her as Mom hugged me. Dad wrapped his wings around both of us. Neither of them said anything. They didn't have to.

<<Cassiterite! Your ten minutes are up.>>

<<Coming, Lord Zoisite.>> No, it wasn't going to be an easy four years. But I was back where I belonged. In both places where I belonged. And so I just couldn't stop myself from grinning like an idiot.

Everything was going to be all right.


I allowed myself to be pushed to one side by the other people who had come to congratulate my -- yes, my friend. I felt that I could safely say that now.

I was only beginning to realize just how silly I had been, thinking of the Crystal Weavers -- or of the youma, for that matter -- as being evil or monstrous. They were just people. Some of them were good, and some of them were bad.

I'd begun groping towards that idea when I'd realized that Taro was still my brother despite having been turned into a youma, and that I still loved him and wanted to protect him. And then there was Cass, who'd very nearly destroyed herself for me. And Alex, whose timely healing might well have saved my life. And even Malachite, who, in his own strange way, had saved the lives of both my brother and my friend. Although I hadn't believed that part, at first.

Alex had gotten us to the second floor of the Crystal Palace just a little too late to see any of it happen. Lady Almandite had been tending King Malachite's hand, while her husband conversed quietly with Cass. I'd seen my brother lying there on the floor and immediately assumed the worst.

"You killed him!" I don't know whether the tone of voice I used was closer to a scream or to a snarl. I don't remember swinging the Silence Glaive at Malachite, either, but I do remember Cass grabbing my hands to stop me while Alex twisted the weapon out of my grip with a skill I hadn't known that he possessed.

"Sumire, don't! He's fine, really. You didn't think that, after all this, I'd let them kill him, did you?" And that grin of hers lit up her face. "He's going to be out for several hours, probably, but he's going to be okay."

"You're sure?" I'd almost forgotten how to hope, by that point.

Well, I'd made my apologies to Malachite for attacking him, but Taro still hadn't --

"Your Sublimity?" A servant popped up by my elbow, startling me. Servants. I was going to have to get used to that. "A message for you, from the infirmary."

He placed an envelope in my hand. I opened it and read what was written on the single sheet of paper inside.

"Sumire? What is it?"

I shoved the paper in Cass's face, grinning like an idiot, and winced again. Alex had told me that the pain was psychosomatic and should pass in a day or two, but right now I wasn't sure that I believed him. "He's awake! He's really okay!"

"That's wonderful! Look, Zoisite's let me off the hook for the next half-hour, at Malachite's insistence. Why don't we go down to visit your brother?"

"That would be great." I'd been going to ask her myself, if she hadn't brought it up first. You see, embarrassing thought it might be, I still couldn't find my way around the palace alone, so I'd never have found the infirmary without help.

Goto Epilogue

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