A Shadow of All Night Falling - Part 1: Mother of Demons

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 2

© 2000 by E. Liddell

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<<I don't think so, my King.>> I shifted my grip on the armlet. <<I was never a Weavemaker, so I'm no expert, but I'd guess that the damage would preclude any possibility of revival.>>

<<Are you certain?>>

I sighed. <<No, not absolutely. The crystal still seems to be active despite the damage, which I wouldn't have thought was possible, but then Adamant was the exception to many rules, being the first and the most powerful of us. A part of his soul is still in here -->> I ran my thumb over the cracked surface of the stone. The metal of the ring that supported it felt cold even through my glove. <<-- and it's possible that, with a lot of effort and a few experts that we don't have, we might be able to bring him back. But...>>

<<But what?>> Malachite's silver-grey eyes were boring into mine. I tried to force myself not to notice.

<<I think that, even if we did succeed, he would be ...broken, my King. A spirit crystal isn't just a marker of some sort, it's a piece of the soul made physical, and this one is damaged. The person we would be reviving might well not even be able to remember what he meant to tell you. You'd have killed the person that you were using as a physical matrix for nothing.>>

It wasn't exactly a lie. But it wasn't the whole truth, either. I knew, with the absolute certainty that indicate a premonition at work, that trying to revive Adamant right now was exactly the wrong thing to do. But there was no use telling Malachite that. If there was one thing I had learned over the years that I had been here in the Negaverse, it was that our King didn't believe in fate, predestination, or predictions. He'd accept that I'd foreseen the future only after what I'd predicted had come to pass, and I sensed that we couldn't afford that this time. And so I followed Negaverse tradition, and lied.

It troubled me, though. I'd offered Malachite my obedience, and now I was implicitly breaching his trust. I'd seen my entire civilization disintegrate once before due to lack of trust. If the Lost had stayed with the rest of us in the city, would we have been able to fight off the Empyrean without committing racial suicide?

And if we had, we might all have died when the Wards began to fall apart, I reminded myself, reciting the formula as I'd done so many times over the years. There was no Malachite among us then, no one capable of taking Adamant's place. But there was still no way that I could make myself believe that all those deaths had been for the best. I'd lost too many people in the Empyrean War, friends and lovers and my parents and sister and daughter. People that I'd never managed to replace. The natives of the Negaverse tended to be passionate toward the people who were closest to them and cold to everyone else. They didn't make friends with strangers, and to most of them, I was a virtual stranger, even though some of them were related to me.

Oh, Amber tried... but she had a husband and children and grandchildren and her duties, which didn't leave her with much time to spend with her uncle. Jasper and Avi and Alex and Cass... they, too, all had lives that were completely separate from mine. Whenever I ran into one of them, they were polite, even affectionate, but a bit distant.

Oddly enough, the only two people I had been able to connect with here were both descendants of the Lost. Pyrope was the closest thing I had to a friend, and Zircon... Zircon was very nearly the son that I'd never had. But to the others, I was a stranger, trying to survive in a place where I'd never fit in. The Negaverse: dark, demon-tainted, run like a military camp. I hated it, but at the same time, I couldn't leave, not without precipitating another division among our people. And so I forced myself to stay here, never voluntarily venturing into the Earth Realm, because I knew that if I did, I'd never be able to force myself to come back here.

I looked up at Malachite again, realizing that the silence between us had grown uncomfortable. Did he know that I had lied?

<<I wish I could be of more help, my King.>> That, I could state with complete sincerity.

The silver eyes narrowed. <<So do I.>>

He plucked the spirit crystal in its golden setting from my hand, fingers tightening around it to the point where his knuckles must have been white under his glove. He turned away from me, as though about to walk out of the room, then paused and turned back.

<<Search your memory and whatever documents young Zircon has recovered for information on what might have killed Adamant,>> he ordered. <<I suspect that it may have some bearing on the message that he wanted to give me. I'll be checking on your progress.>>

<<Of course, my King.>>

He teleported, disappearing in pale blue streaks of light. I sighed and forced myself to my feet, knowing that it was going to be a long day.


A small gesture and a mental tug pulled the cork from the bottle, and I poured for us both. It was red wine, the color of blood. Well, normal human blood, anyway. A flicker at one corner of Malachite's mouth, which never quite had time to become a smile, indicated his approval as he tasted it.

<<You still do keep the best cellars in the Negaverse,>> he stated.

<<But you didn't come here for a drink,>> I countered.

<<No, actually, I wanted to know if you'd made any progress.>>

I didn't have to ask with what. <<I'm afraid not, my King. I've never been able to pick up anything from the Crystal Weaver city that dates from much before the Empyrean War. I think the amount of power released there back then destroyed the traces of past events in the area.>>

Malachite muttered something that I couldn't quite make out, although I could guess what sort of thing he'd been saying. Curses are more satisfying when spoken aloud, or so I've always thought.

<<So we still don't know,>> he stated, glaring balefully at his glass, then raising it to drain half the contents in one gulp.

<<So we still don't know,>> I agreed, shifting my own glass from one hand to the other. I hadn't even tasted the wine inside yet. <<Malachite...>> I rarely used his name anymore. I hoped that he'd understand that I'd used it now because I wanted my next remark to be considered as part of a conversation between friends, not official advice to my sovereign.

We hadn't always been so formal with each other. In the old days, before Beryl had captured and brainwashed us, Malachite and I had been close. Oh, not as close as he was to Zoisite, or as I now was to Almandite, but we had been good friends and comrades. We'd never managed to regain that warmth even after we were free again.

Malachite was still my King and my Center. I respected him and would give my life for him, but I sometimes missed the almost brotherly closeness of the old days.


<<Has it occurred to you that whatever Adamant had to say may be obsolete? I mean, he recorded that message over two thousand years ago. It's possible that whatever he was trying to warn you about is long gone.>>

My King frowned. <<Perhaps, but what I sensed down there in that little room... The ambient magic field was very thick there, Nephrite. And it was distorted. It reminded me of the Negaverse back in the bad old days, only this was worse. Furthermore, Zircon admitted that the tunnels were heavily warded, as though in an attempt to keep something in. No, I'm certain that there was something dangerous down there.>>

<<And so your theory is that this something was breaking loose of its confinement, Adamant went down there to try to bottle it up again, and something went wrong?>> Abruptly, I took a gulp of my wine, not tasting the fine vintage.

<<If you can think of something else that might have brought about what we saw, I'd like to hear about it,>> Malachite stated, emptying his glass and setting it back down on the table. <<I'd better get going. Zoisite should hopefully have some results for me by this time, and in any case, he'll be expecting me back.>>

I shook my head as he disappeared. Zoisite, doing a rational, reasoned magical analysis of Adamant's spirit crystal... there was a time when that would have been unthinkable. But then, there was also a time when I would have been able to throw Zoisite farther than I could trust him. Things change.

"What was that all about?"

I smiled as she slid into place across from me, taking over what had been Malachite's seat. "Just more about our latest little surprise from the past. You're home early, beloved."

She shrugged. "No serious injuries today, just the usual assortment of sprains, muscle strains, and bruises from practice. Oh, and two new pregnancies. It looks like Zantisa and Melvin are going to have another kid."

"How many does that make now?" I paid little attention to Malachite's favorite youma captain, and less to her human lover. They just weren't part of my life. It was different for Almandite, of course. Melvin had been her friend -- briefly, her boyfriend.

I always felt the sting of jealousy when I thought about the possibility that she might ever have belonged to anyone else. Almandite was the most important person in my life, and although I'd sworn that I would never become as possessive of her as Zoisite was of Malachite, thinking about her being with another man -- or woman, for that matter -- hurt.

"This will be the sixth. Probably not the last, though. Those two..." She smiled and shook her head. "I honestly don't know why Melvin doesn't immigrate. He's been living here most of the time for years now."

I captured her hand, glove and all, in mine, and raised it to my lips. <<Perhaps we should work on having another child,>> I suggested.

<<Oh, no. I'm not about to let my fertility controls slip now. This thing about Adamant's spirit crystal and mysterious warnings might turn out to be something serious, and I'll be damned if I'm going to go through another pregnancy in the middle of a crisis. But if all you want to do is work on it, I suppose we might be able to arrange something...>> She rose to her feet and walked around the table until she was standing beside me. I reached up to lock my hands behind her head as she bent down.

<<It's a good thing that Marc isn't going to be home for another couple of hours,>> I remarked before allowing myself to become lost in the kiss.

It's really remarkable what two athletic, inventive people can do in a chair, you know.


<<Am I ever glad that's over,>> I remarked, swiping the back of my hand across my forehead. My glove came away damp with accumulated sweat.

<<Oh, come on, it wasn't that bad,>> Jay replied.

<<For you, maybe. As for me, I keep on wondering when the youma are going to wake up and realize that the very idea of my training them is a farce. Most of them are a lot better at fighting than I am.>>

Jay smiled and shook his head. <<Or so you keep on telling yourself. Alex, I hate to tell you this, but you've improved immeasurably since the Silver Millennium. I'm not saying that I'd put you up against Malachite, but you've gotten very good.>>

<<I almost wish you hadn't told me that. I could do without being good at killing people.>>

Jay snorted. I knew that he thought I was a bit soft, but I couldn't help how I felt. During the time that he'd been committing atrocities in Beryl's service, I'd been dead. And although I knew that he deeply regretted most of what he'd done back then, it had hardened him, made him immune to violence and its consequences in a way that I hoped I would never be.

He was still my big brother, my protector, and I loved and admired him, but I didn't want to be like him. I wasn't a warrior, no matter how skilled I might become in matters of conflict. I was a healer. That was my life's work, my role, and everything else was just incidental.

<<I'm going over to the Earth Realm,>> I added. <<The atmosphere in here has just been so funereal, lately. It makes it difficult to relax.>>

<<If that's what you want. I'll see you at supper, then.>> Jay laid one hand on my shoulder for a moment, then stepped back and disappeared in a column of blue flame.

My own teleport signature these days was a swirl of autumn leaves. That hadn't been what I'd used during the Silver Millennium, mind you. I'd adopted this particular effect back in the days when I'd been pretending to everyone that I was nothing more than Cuprite and Aventurine's son, and I'd ended up deciding that I liked it better than my old one anyway.

I emerged from the cold blackness of nonspace into a familiar grassy area with a single tree at the center of it. A cherry tree. Its leaves were just beginning to change color, presaging autumn. The frosts had come early this year.

I sat down at the foot of the tree and kicked my boots off, digging my toes into the soil, feeling the familiar, comforting sensation that I derive from forming that sort of linkage with the earth. I think it has something to do with drawing on the ambient magical field or the life force of the planet or something like that -- I do know that I don't actually draw nutrients from the soil in the way a plant would, no matter how much my toes look like roots.

I leaned back against the tree and closed my eyes, thinking.

The past few days hadn't been easy ones in the Negaverse. Something had had everyone all keyed up even before Zircon had found Adamant's spirit crystal. Even if I hadn't been able to sense the uneasiness, I would have felt Jay noticing it. That was one of the disadvantages of having been absorbed back into Malachite's Weave. It filled up the empty spots inside of me with the presence of six others, but it also made me almost too sensitive to what they were feeling. And that sensitivity had contributed to the feeling that Something was going to happen. Very soon.

A mild breeze stirred the leaves of the tree, and I realized suddenly how very quiet it was here. There were no birds or small animals within earshot, only the restless wind. Early frost or no, the field mice should still have been abroad, collecting food to store for the winter and making little rustling noises in the grass.

No birds. There were no birds right before... I refused to let myself complete the thought, but I couldn't get the idea out of my head. Still, there were no demons wandering around loose, were there? The two Wards Major should have them all under control, and I knew that Zoisite had abandoned his experiments with the artificial ones as being too dangerous.

It's ridiculous to be this worried about something that probably isn't even the case! I told myself. This place is hundreds of miles from the Crystal Weaver city. Say that Malachite's right, and Zircon did attract the attention of something better left undisturbed. Then how can it be powerful enough to affect the wildlife in a place so far away? This is just so much jumping at shadows.

All the same, I made a mental note to ask Cass whether or not the pigeons were still frequenting the plaza in front of the Crystal Palace. She'd probably think the question was some kind of great joke, of course. She didn't know, didn't understand who I really was. That was a piece of knowledge that was still limited to my Weavemates. Nonetheless, we were friends, and she'd probably answer me.

Why, then, did I have the feeling that her answer wouldn't make me feel any better?


I didn't realize that he was standing behind me until his hands descended to rest on my shoulders and his lips brushed the skin just behind my left ear.

<<Any luck, beloved?>>

I snorted and forced myself to put the golden circle down gently. <<Not a bit. There's some sort of very powerful spell on it, but I couldn't tell you what it is, and it seems to be inactive, anyway. Probably just some sort of utility spell that Adamant wanted close to hand.>>

<<Are you certain?>> Malachite asked.

<<How could I be? I don't have the kind of skills that our ancestors did. I never will have.>> I knew that I couldn't hide my bitterness from him, so I didn't even bother to try. <<And furthermore, this spell was most likely cast by Adamant himself. It's possible that no one else would ever have been able to decipher it.>>

<<Does it really bother you that much?>> His breath was warm against my ear.

<<Sometimes,>> I admitted. <<When I think of everything that we lost at the end of the Empyrean War, when the original Crystal Weaver civilization was destroyed...>> An entire body of magical knowledge had vanished along with our remote ancestors, and we'd never be able to recover most of it. All we had was what Demantoid remembered, and what was written in the often fragmentary texts that Zircon dug out of the ruins. That provided a tantalizing glimpse, no more. And for me, that could never be enough.

<<Anyway, I think I've had enough for today,>> I stated, stretching. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until Malachite had distracted me from my work. <<Let's have supper, and then...>> I made a detailed suggestion that would have scandalized anyone else.

Malachite chuckled and bent down to scoop me into his arms. We teleported to the dining room together.


The Crystal Palace was full of the same malaise that had been infecting the Negaverse lately, and it didn't help that my assigned job for today wasn't one that I liked at all.

"Why do I have to spend so much time practicing this stuff anyway? It isn't like I'm ever going to use it outside of a barroom brawl."

Most twenty-four-year-old men have long since lost the ability to whine, and how Prince Phaeton had managed to retain it, I wasn't quite sure. Most days, I would cheerfully have beaten it out of him. It was difficult to remember that he was only four years younger than I was, because he hardly ever acted his age. The only things that he was good at were drinking and seducing chambermaids, although if I and the other Sailor Scouts hadn't had a royal order to force him to join us in our exercise regimen, he would have quickly acquired a beer gut that would have deterred all but the blindest of young women.

"Because her Majesty orders it," I said quellingly. Oh, well. It could be worse. I could be working with his sister today. Don't ask me why, but Rini and I have never exactly gotten along. I think it goes back to when we were kids. She always used to call me "Casserole", and never seemed quite insulted enough when I'd called her "Flamingo Head". I was just glad that although she was technically the leader of us Sailor Scouts, she rarely bothered to actually do the work that went with the position, so I almost never had anything to do with her anymore.

If I absolutely had to be someone's bodyguard, I preferred to work for King Endymion, who was courteous and undemanding, or for Lord Samuel, whose acidic wit at least kept me entertained. I certainly didn't enjoy pretending to protect a spoiled princeling who would be able to more than adequately protect himself if he ever got off his --

"Aunt Cass? You're hyperventilating again."

"Thanks, Rhea."

My adoptive niece grinned. "Want me to take over here?"

"No, it's my job. And anyway, I thought your mom was being Sailor Saturn today."

Sumire's daughter shrugged. "Well, she is, but I checked the laws, and it only says that he needs to have a Sailor Scout nearby to protect him if he wants one, not that she needs to be in uniform or on duty." Sumire and I were the only two who knew for certain who her daughter's father was -- in fact, we'd gone to a lot of trouble to spread disinformation on the subject. It would have been a terrible scandal. Still, I was sure that there were people out there who had at least guessed the truth. Rhea had her mother's dark hair, but there was only one man that Sumire had been dating around the right time who could have given her those blue eyes.

I tweaked Rhea's nose. She glared at me. I had to admit that it was a habit that I'd have to start getting out of. At fifteen, she was really too old to be treated like a child.

"I'm not going to cheat on this just to spare myself a little discomfort, squirt," I said. Then I noticed that Phaeton had been slacking off while we'd been talking. "Hey, you! Back to work."

He gave me a venomous look and raised his hand in front of him. There was a flicker, and a black rose appeared in his palm. He drew his arm back, aimed, and threw.

I'm not sure who was more surprised by the explosion, him or me. It blew away the target he'd been aiming at and the two adjacent ones as well. I do know that I recovered before he did, though.

"Maybe you ought to get angry more often," I told him, receiving another glare for my pains. "Anyway, it's four o'clock, which means that you're off the hook for the afternoon. Let's go back inside."

And once I got him back to his suite, my shift was over and I was off the hook. I dismissed my uniform with great pleasure and strolled out into the gardens to enjoy what was left of the afternoon sunlight.

I sat down at the edge of a fountain and listened to the water splashing into the basin. It seemed awfully quiet somehow. No birds, I realized. And come to think of it, there hadn't been any this morning, either. Didn't Alex ask me to check on the birds? Where could they have gone? It's too early in the year for them all to have flown south for the winter.

It wasn't like me to forget one of Alex's requests, even for a little, even though we weren't particularly close friends anymore. Alex had changed since he'd been absorbed into Malachite's Weave. He now gave me the same impression of agelessness as the Weave's founding members. I wished... I don't know... that he'd joined Marc and Morgan and Opal and Zircon and I in our Weave, instead. Then he might have remained the concerned not-quite-brother that I remembered, instead of becoming a stranger.

I picked a pebble up off the ground at my feet and performed the rather delicate magical exercise of increasing the surface tension of the water just enough to support it. But the birds... It's probably just because I'm sitting here. I mean, it isn't like they're *tame* birds, or anything, and I'm probably human enough to make wild animals uncomfortable...

I wonder what would happen if I brought the Silver Crystal out here?

The pebble slid into the water, unnoticed, as I turned the thought over in my head. No, that's silly. No matter what's happened to the Crystal, it isn't demonic. Although my mother had thought so. It had been almost the last thing she had talked to me about before that terrible night when we'd found her sprawled on the floor of the Crystal's vault, after which she'd been unable to talk about anything. Gods, gods, I miss her! I didn't even go to visit anymore, because she never recognized or even looked at me, and that made me feel like I'd been stabbed through the heart.

But the Silver Crystal had nothing to do with what happened to her, and it is not demonic, I told myself.

Is it?

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