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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 4

© 2000 by E. Liddell


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Marcasite

"The Stars know everything."

There was a trembling above me as I spoke the words. The spells in this room had almost engaged. Almost. But not quite.

No one had yet been able to duplicate my father's divination techniques, but for some reason, I continued to try. Sometimes, I felt something. Like I had today. But it never quite worked. Not that I had really been expecting much. Even my father hadn't been having much success in his divining lately. But still...

It's odd, when you think about it, that with so many of us in the Negaverse who have particular gifts in the areas of perception, none of our abilities quite overlap. Demantoid's rare precognitive visions... aren't, exactly, in that there's nothing visual about them. The correct long-term course of action just appears in his mind. My gifts are more modest -- my "visions" mostly take the form of dreams, and even when I can distinguish them from normal dreams, I can't see farther ahead than the next few weeks, or for anyone except myself and those I know well, and even then, I rarely know what to do about what I see. My father receives vague intuitions or the answers to whatever specific questions he chooses to ask the Stars. Cuprite only perceives more clearly the magic that we can all sense. And so on.

I often think that my twin, Morgan, was lucky. His special gift has nothing to do with perception. In fact, it's sort of the inverse of Lord Jadeite's gift for reading people. Morgan can't read a person's mood to save his life. What he does is project his own moods onto other people. The others all think it's just charm, but it's more than that.

Of course, it does help that he's conventionally good-looking. Whereas I... Well, I wasn't quite so lucky. My body's adjustments to my powers have left me with pointed ears and albino-fair skin that looks really odd in combination with my auburn hair. I'm also tall and thin -- I got my father's height, but not his build. Actually, if I bleached my hair, I could pass for a stereotypical High Elf. I could be politely described as "striking", but no one's ever accused me of being handsome. That's part of the reason why I rarely go to the Earth Realm. Looks don't matter so much in the Negaverse. Oh, it's not that I'm ugly. I'm a Crystal Weaver, after all. We all have a touch of glamour about us. I'm just... odd.

I closed my eyes and tilted my head back, trying to control the inner tension that I knew meant another one of my visions was coming. Soon, I told it. As soon as I can lie down. Then I'll let you come. I'd been hoping... Actually, I don't know what I'd been hoping. That the spells in Dad's workroom would mesh with the vision, somehow?

I stretched, trying to work the kinks out of my shoulders, and turned to make my way to my room. Morgan had long since moved out of our parents' house, making it seem a lot emptier than I remembered it being while I was growing up. I shook my head. Almost forty and still living with my parents. Only in the Negaverse.

I still lived in the same room on the second floor that had been mine as a child. I could have commandeered a large suite in Beryl's old palace, if I'd wanted one, but it wouldn't have been the same. This little space was home.

I hung my jacket on the back of the door, pulled my boots off, and lay down on the bed. All right, any time now, I told the vision, closing my eyes.

Blood. I was covered in blood, standing on the front steps of the Crystal Palace. Blood on my jacket, blood on my trousers, soaking my gloves and pooling around my boots. I didn't think that any of it was mine, but I wasn't sure. The white marble underneath my feet was scorched and furrowed, and overall, it looked like I was in the middle of a war zone.

Whoa, I thought as I became aware of my true surroundings again. What a mess. And that's going to happen within the next few weeks?

Then I was seized with the same feeling of tension again. Another one? Right after the first? That's never happened to me before.

A blue youma -- a pretty non-descript specimen, really, an older male with glasses, wearing badges that indicated he worked in Negaverse Information Systems, probably as a computer tech -- walked the corridors of Beryl's palace. To anyone unable to perceive magic, all of his actions would have seemed innocent enough, but to my eyes, his hands trailed an energy which corrupted everything it touched...

I forced my eyes open. I was still in my room -- my familiar, reassuring little room. I don't like that at all, I thought.

I need to find that youma, the blue one. But he wasn't anyone I recognized. If I have to check everyone in Sapphire's department one at a time, it'll probably be too late by the time I find him, but I have to try. I'll get Morgan to help. He's the only one who might believe me.

Zoisite

I scowled at the room, considering. Well, we had to put him somewhere, and this was about as far from Malachite's and my rooms as you could be and still be inside our castle. Moving Kyanite in here meant that I would run into him less often, and perhaps I would have a chance to sort out my feelings about him.

I had never been so confused in my life. I had never imagined that Malachite and I could possibly have a child, if that was what Kyanite was. I had the impression that my lover thought that the boy might be just what he seemed: a lost, frightened, amnesiac Crystal Weaver child, someone who should be cared for and reassured.

I let myself consider the idea for a moment. A son. What if we really did have a son?

I don't want a son.

Now, that rang of absolute truth. I had never wanted a child. A child would demand Malachite's time and attention, and between the kid and my beloved's responsibilities as ruler of the Negaverse, there would be nothing left for me at all! And without Malachite... without him, what did I have? He was the one good thing that had ever happened to me, the only person that had ever loved me, and I needed him so badly! Without him, I was... hollow. Empty. Nothing.

Such a remarkable weight of jealousy... I knew I hadn't always been this way. There had been a time when I had been stronger, when my universe had had more pillars to support it than just the one, but that had been before Beryl. The others had been ground down under her regime, but she had broken me, leaving Malachite to put me back together, piece by piece. No one else could possibly imagine what that had felt like, and it wasn't a memory that I ever shared. Not even with him.

Maybe I should try to talk to Alex. I tried to laugh, but it came out as a sob. No. It would never work. What possible advice could that gentle healer have for someone like me? I would just have to live with the fragility inside, and continue to hide it as best I might with shows of strength. And hope that no one ever caught on.

I stroked the grey stone of the wall before me with one hand, felt for the layer of wards that should be woven through it. They were thin -- this had been designed as a storage room for inessential goods, after all. Angrily, I shook my head. Damn, I won't be able to convince Malachite to let me put him in here unless I reinforce those first, and I am not going to do that much work for what might very well turn out to be a time-bomb on two legs--

<<Father?>>

I spun toward the doorway, where Kyanite stood, looking small and fragile. Why didn't I hear him coming? Damn, damn, damn!

<<What do you want?>> I snapped.

He shrank back. <<I'm sorry! I didn't mean-->>

<<Stand and face me, damn it, you miserable excuse for a Crystal Weaver!>> Attack, always attack, don't let him know that I'm confused or uncertain... <<How you ever expect to survive here when you can't even stand up to a few harsh words, I don't know. You're a disgrace!>>

<<Zoisite!>>

And suddenly, there was a second figure in the doorway, looming over Kyanite.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" Malachite asked aloud, in a tone of voice that he normally reserved for misbehaving youma. "No, don't answer. I know what you thought you were doing. And I think you know that you shouldn't have been doing it."

<<Malachite-->> I groped for his mind, but he was blocking me. I felt small and cold and very alone.

My lover's face had taken on an icy, regal expression. "We'll talk later," he said, deliberately lowering one hand to Kyanite's shoulder and steering the boy out into the hall.

Numb, I watched them go, and then slid down into a sitting position, back against the wall. Gods of Darkness, what have I done? He's going to be so angry with me now, and it's all that boy's fault. Well, I'll find some way of pulling them apart. If I don't... No, I won't even think about that. I'll come up with something.

I have to.

Zircon

It was a big book, and it carried the musty smell of age. Not that the smell of this particular book could be distinguished from that of most of the rest of the ancient library in this room. The preservation spells that most of the tomes bore should have prevented that sort of decay, but they'd all been cast over two thousand years ago, and not all of the casters had been equally skilled.

The volume that I held wasn't in the best of shape. The thick pages were yellowed and crumbling a bit around the edges, and they had to be handled with care whenever I wanted to turn one. It wouldn't have been my first choice for this kind of research, actually. There were other books, ones that I'd retrieved from a little locked room in the basement of the Crystal Weaver citadel, that should have promised more in terms of secrets. This one was a sort of combination history and diary that Demantoid and I had found lying open on a desk in a small house near the southernmost edge of the ancient city. Normally, I wouldn't even have bothered to take it down from its shelf, but when I'd come into this room, looking for information on the tunnels below the citadel in an attempt to figure out what Adamant might have been doing there, it had almost been as though a voice was whispering to me, saying, Here. Search here. And so I had.

I turned pages slowly, delicately, hoping that some instinct would tell me where to stop. A few words here and there caught my eye -- words like demon, and battle, and Ward. My command of the ancient language was as good as a native speaker's, since I'd asked Demantoid to plant a knowledge of it in my mind back in the days when I had first begun investigating the ancient city, and so I didn't have to pause to translate.

Here. Yes.

I flipped back a couple of pages, having reacted to the inner prompting just a bit too late. I read the first paragraph on the page, stopped, then re-read one particular phrase aloud.

"Mena Kimlubeniz." Mother of Demons. "But demons... just are, aren't they? They don't have parents."

It would have been nice if an answer had come wafting out of one of the shadowy corners of the room to tell me exactly what I'd found and why it was important. Nice, but too convenient to actually happen in real life. No, I'd have to figure this one out for myself.

I flipped back a few more pages and settled down to read.

An hour or so later, I finally put the book aside, and scrubbed my hands through my hair. Damn. Sixth- and seventh-hand accounts. Crystal Weaver fairy tales. No solid information at all. I couldn't go to Malachite with this. He'd laugh me out of the throne room. Hell, I didn't even want to ask Demantoid about it, for fear that he'd laugh at me. Maybe there was something else here in the library, some fragment of information that would tell me whether I had discovered a real danger, or had just wasted my time reading about the Crystal Weaver version of the bogeyman.

I glanced around, and shook my head. Easily eight hundred books, and less than half of them had ever been read by anyone now living. What were my chances...?

I sighed and turned to the nearest shelf. I suppose I'd better get started.

Sapphire

The room where I materialized was lit only by a single globe, embedded in the wall above the desk at the far end. There was someone seated at the desk -- slumped over it, in fact -- but my view of the seated person was blocked by someone else standing between me and him.

<<Is he asleep?>> I asked. It was late, after all.

<<I'm afraid so,>> Demantoid replied. <<Do you want some help with him?>>

<<No, I'll manage.>> I had enough magic for that, at least.

<<If that's what you want.>> And the green-haired man faded back among the bookshelves, leaving me alone with my son.

Zircon often fell asleep at that desk in the library that he and Demantoid were painstakingly compiling, mostly out of documents retrieved from the ruins of the old city. I shook my head. But it was relatively healthy, as obsessions went. Far better that he be interested in our race's distant past than in the more recent events on Nemesis.

My son didn't stir as I placed my hands on his shoulders. It was just as well that he hadn't been born on Nemesis -- he would have been assassinated in his sleep before he'd turned five. Potential heirs to the throne often were. My own mother, who I barely remembered, had been killed that way...

My hand crept up to touch the place where my brother's spirit crystal was hidden under my shirt, as it often did when I thought about the bad old days. Asleep, Zircon looks quite a bit like Diamond, despite the differences in hair color and styling. When he's awake, the resemblance vanishes, though. My son's eyes are blue, not violet, and he doesn't have my brother's forceful personality. No, when Zircon is awake, I usually see Prisma in him. I never have been able to see myself there, or in Opal either. I don't know if that's because neither of them really is like me, or if it's some failing on my part.

I don't think I've ever really been a father to Zircon, not the way I should have been. I was only half a man without my brother. A shadow. A cipher. Only Prisma ever saw me as more than that, I think, and she...

I exerted my powers to deepen my son's sleep, and then to assist me in hoisting him to my shoulder. I need physical contact to help me focus my powers, unless I'm very frightened. Zircon has a version of that problem, too, although it wouldn't really be correct to say that he inherited it. Normally, he's an averagely powerful Crystal Weaver, like his sister, but under the influence of adrenaline, he's capable of what might be called feats of hysterical magical strength. He'd beaten Marcasite once, in a stand-up fight, just because Morganite had tapped him on the shoulder at an inopportune moment and frightened him half to death.

I glanced absently down at the book my son had been reading. I'm not very good at the ancient Crystal Weaver language, and I'd never been interested enough in the past to ask Demantoid to plant a working knowledge of it in my mind, so it took a moment for me to figure it out. I had to translate the half-familiar symbols into sounds, and then try to render them into modern Japanese...

"Medoth Adamantüniz yarrgyenö eolize shezik..."

" Adamant's hosts heard a mighty roar, as though a thousand dragons had descended upon the spot. The grey mist came and covered the human soldiers..."

It looks like some sort of history of the Blood Millennium War, I thought, frowning. Why would he...? I knew that Zircon had been looking for information on the events surrounding the death of Adamant ever since he had found the ancient Crystal Weaver leader's remains. Why this sudden interest what had occurred two thousand years before Adamant's crystal had been lost?

One page further on in the book had been marked with what looked like a scrap of ribbon. With my sleeping son balanced precariously on my shoulder, I couldn't bend over to turn the pages, but even magic as weak as mine should have been able to perform such a small task. The trick was to do it without either letting Zircon wake up or accidentally negating the sort-of-levitation-spell I'd placed on him and having his full weight come down on me, but I eventually managed.

The page in question had apparently been exposed to water at some point in the distant past, because the ink, sharp and black on the page that I had previously read, was blurred here. Not so badly that someone with a native's command of the language couldn't have deciphered it, perhaps, but badly enough that I could only puzzle out a word here and there.

"...lef dwaol...ekü aki hunaüdana..."

"...tunnels... black mist that kills... do not... most ancient evil..."

I shook my head. I've probably mis-read. Gods know that there's little enough that's legible in that hash. And I'd better get Zircon home.

But as I initiated my teleport, something in those remembered words sent a shiver down my spine. Black mist that kills... most ancient evil... *Quickly!* Before you attract *its* attention.

Was that what Zircon almost found down there? Is that the source of the shadow that everyone's been feeling descending over us?

Most ancient evil...

And if it was powerful enough to frighten even Adamant, how are we going to fight it?

Goto Interlude 1


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