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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 5

© 2000 by E. Liddell


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Melvin

I finished packing my briefcase and fastened it shut. My fingertips were stinging again. Damn. Feels like those claws are still trying to form. I guess Zantisa's going to be coming to me for the next few weeks.

I led a pretty strange life back then, when you get right down to it. Not many humans are welcome in the Negaverse, but I had the right of free passage across the border. And all because Malachite's favorite youma captain was fond of me. Well, okay, more than fond. I still had to be very careful, though. When I stayed in the Negaverse too long, the magic there tried to convert me into a youma myself. But without someone to prime me, as it were, like they did with the permanent immigrants, it was a slow process. So long as I was careful not to go too often or stay too long, I was safe. But I hadn't been all that careful lately. The hand that I raised to press the call button for the elevator was faintly bluish, and I could still feel those would-be claws forming under my skin. If I went back tonight, the process would pass the point of no return, and I didn't want that. I liked my job here in the Earth Realm, and I didn't want to give it up just yet. Maybe in a few more years. I was going to have to retire soon anyway...

I was among the last to leave the building that evening, and it was beginning to get dark out. I checked my pocket. Yes, the little stun-gun was still there. I'd gotten it through Zantisa, as a free sample, and kept it because even Crystal Tokyo isn't entirely crime-free, no matter what people would like to believe.

"Hey, there, can you spare some change to buy an old man a cup of coffee?" I couldn't tell if he really was old or not, though. Actually, I couldn't even tell if the panhandler was a man. All I could see was a bundle of rags, half-hidden by shadow.

I shrugged, fished through my pockets, and flipped the beggar a fifty-yen coin. "That's the best I can do. Sor--"

The rags swirled, as though lifted by the wind. Suddenly, it was a lot darker, and...

...I was sitting on a bed. A familiar bed, in a room with walls of grey stone. Zantisa's and my bedroom in the Negaverse. What the hell...? How did I end up here?

"Melvin, love? Are you all right?" Zantisa stood framed in the doorway. She was wearing her working outfit, which didn't amount to much more than a bikini. I'd always thought that she looked cute, dressed that way.

"I don't know. Darling, how did I get here? The last thing I remember, I was walking home from work..."

"Don't worry about it. Your memory should come back once your transformation is complete." She sat down beside me and put an arm around my waist. "Selective amnesia used to be the rule and not the exception among new youma, you know, and it still happens from time to time. I admit that I didn't expect you to be one of the victims, but--"

"What day is this?" I interrupted. New youma? Transformation? Oh, gods... Evidently, I'd chosen to emigrate to the Negaverse. I just couldn't remember when I'd made the decision, or why.

She told me. It was still the same day, and not more than two hours after I'd left work. It had to have taken almost that long to process me. I had to have flipped that coin to the beggar, then suddenly decided, for no reason that I could fathom, to come here, and walked straight to the embassy.

"I was so happy when I heard that -- Melvin, are you sure you're not feeling ill?"

"No, just worried." I did feel strange, but I put that down to the effects of the magic infusion that I must have received within the past couple of hours. I stared down at my hands, which were resting palm up in my lap. The blood vessels in my wrists, clearly visible through the fair, bluish skin, had turned black. I had to be undergoing some sort of systemic biochemical change. Well, there was nothing odd in that. Not even half of all youma bleed red.

Selective amnesia? Maybe. But I still had the feeling that there was something wrong.

<<...forget...>>

"Did you say something?" I asked Zantisa.

"No."

"I'd swear that I heard..." Then I shrugged it off. So I'd made the decision to cross over a bit abruptly. So what? It wasn't like I hadn't been thinking about doing this for years. All my surviving family, which meant the kids and Zantisa and the several other youma under my mate's command with whom I had relationships of a sort, was here. I'd get used to having blue skin and black blood and claws, and I'd have magic and immortality to compensate me for the fact that I wouldn't be winning any beauty contests. Overall, that wasn't a bad trade.

"So it looks like our next kid is going to have a full-time father after all," Zantisa observed.

"Yeah, sure, I -- Next kid? You're certain, then?"

"Lady Almandite confirmed it."

I smiled. "That's great! We can talk about names over supper."

And I forgot all about the beggar and the mysterious voice in my mind, the more fool I.

Zoisite

I flipped the dart up in the air, caught it, and tossed it in the general direction of the target on the far wall. It struck badly but managed to stick all the same, dangling down at a rather precarious angle. I swore, but didn't bother to use my powers to pull it out again, as I might have on another day.

I was too distracted to care much about the darts. I was confused, and I hate being confused. Come to think of it, there aren't many things that I haven't hated at one time or another, but that's beside the point.

Kyanite. It took no effort at all to call up an image of the boy's face. It was much like seeing my reflection in a distorting mirror. Malachite had been right -- the boy and I really did have the same bone structure, coupled with my lover's original coloring. But other than that, I couldn't see many traces of my lover in that child. They didn't have anything like the same temperament. Malachite had always been strong. Kyanite was weak. Even Malachite could see that.

So why was Malachite so protective of that worthless child?

I still didn't understand how I felt -- about Kyanite, about Malachite's reaction to him, about any of this. I still loved Malachite, of course. There was no question about that. There never has been and never will be. We've been together for far too long. But Kyanite...

<<What is it that's bothering you so much, beloved?>>

I'd been so preoccupied that I hadn't heard or felt my lover enter the room. I rose from my chair and went to embrace him.

<<Nothing, now,>> I told him, planting a kiss at the base of his throat.

<<Don't lie to me, Zoi. Judging from the way you were acting at the conference this morning, and then the way you chewed Kyanite out this afternoon, something is disturbing you. Badly. And I think I'm going to need you in the best possible shape very, very soon. So tell me, please.>>

<<Kyanite deserved to be chewed out,>> I snapped.

<<That's not how I understood what happened. You can't hate him just for existing, beloved. It isn't his fault that he's here.>>

No, it was our fault. Actually, as I'd discovered when I'd managed to pry that damned armring away from the boy for a few minutes, it was my fault. If I'd examined it a little more closely the first time, I would have been able to figure out that the spell on it was triggered when someone with a greater-than-average amount of power made physical contact with it. It hadn't reacted to Malachite when he'd retrieved it from the old city because he'd been wearing his full uniform, with the gloves. Last night, he'd been bare-handed.

<<I don't care whose fault it is! I don't like him and I don't want him here!>>

I wriggled out of Malachite's arms and stormed off down the hallway to my laboratory, ignoring his calls of Wait! and Come back! I'd just go and conduct one of the experiments that I'd had on hold for a while. Maybe torturing a few lab rats would make me feel better. Malachite would come around to my point of view eventually. I knew he would.

He just had to.

Malachite

In the end, I gave up and just stood there, watching as Zoisite walked away from me. It was only when he was out of earshot that I permitted myself to sigh. Eventually, he'd get himself under control, and then he'd see that I was right. But it would take time. It always does. Zoisite is the sort of person who only seems to think after damage has already been done. His temper really can be a nuisance sometimes, but loving someone like Zoisite means taking the bad with the good.

I reached along the Weave-link, trying to sense him, but he'd blocked that line of communication as well. He was probably sulking. Well, it happens.

I hoped that he would understand that I had been trying to keep him from making a mistake. True, Kyanite might be a danger to us, but if he was here to help us, we didn't need to alienate him. No. He still needed to be held at arm's length, but we would have to do so carefully.

I sighed and turned around, heading for my study.

<<Father?>>

I looked down. <<Oh. It's you.>>

Kyanite wilted a bit. <<I just thought that you'd like to know that I was back from my lessons.>> He still looked very much like a younger Zoisite, but I wasn't going to allow myself to be tricked this time. This was no time to be thinking with my heart instead of my head.

<<So now I know,>> I replied. <<Excuse me. I'm busy.>>

<<Of course.>>

I forced myself to ignore the stab of pain that underlay his message, and continued on my way. Gods of Darkness, if this went on too long it was going to tear me apart! I wanted Zoisite. His presence alone was usually enough to wash away tension and make me forget my problems for a little while. But he wasn't about to offer me any comfort just then. And the time when I might have discussed anything this personal with any of my other Weavemates was two thousand years gone. I wasn't just their Center anymore. I was their King. And that meant maintaining a certain distance.

Gods, gods, let this be over soon!

Marcasite

Eighty-six, I counted, glancing into a cubicle. Eighty-seven -- no, that's the one I saw in the hallway earlier. Damn. Still just eighty-six, then. Eleven of the youma I had examined had been various shades of blue, and two had worn glasses, but none so far had been both blue and bespectacled.

This could take days, I realized. I *am* going to have to tell Morgan. Two of us might have a chance, but I'll never finish this alone. Not in time. I hated to do it, though. I didn't care if my brother laughed at me, but he had a bad record of spilling secrets over the pillows of his youma sort-of-harem, and I didn't need to be made to look like a fool in front of the entire population of the Negaverse.

That was assuming that my vision was wrong, of course, or that it could be averted. I hoped very much that it could be averted. I had to believe that it could be, or I would go insane.

I backed away hastily from the entrance to the cubicle that I had been about to peer into as the youma inside sighed and stretched and pushed her chair back. Her neighbors were doing much the same. Shift-change, I realized. And then, as my stomach growled, I'm hungry. Better do something about that.

The youma officers' dining hall was on the other side of the palace complex. I teleported out there and then blithely jumped queue to fill my tray. The food wasn't as good as what I might have gotten if I had gone home, but I couldn't afford the time for that right now. I needed to talk to Morgan, and he ought to be coming in here to get his own supper any minute now... Yes, there he was. I waved at him from across the room. He waved back, and I waited impatiently while he picked up a tray and threaded through the youma to join me at the table I had commandeered.

<<So what's up?>> he asked as he broke open a roll.

<<I need your help.>> I hadn't touched my food, beyond the few bites necessary to assuage my hunger.

<<And what else is new?>> Morganite smirked through his mouthful of stew. <<You know you could never manage without me, big brother.>>

Normally, I would have swatted at him for that, but I had other things to worry about today. <<This isn't a joke, Morgan. It may be life or death for everyone in the entire Negaverse. Maybe even everyone in both worlds.>> And I told him what I'd seen.

Before I'd finished, he'd stopped eating, too. <<Are you sure about this?>>

<<Sure?>> I could have laughed. <<I'm not sure about anything. All I know is that if something is going to happen, and I could stop it but don't try, I'm not going to be able to live with myself.>>

Suddenly, Morgan's head jerked upwards. <<Say, isn't that Zircon over there?>>

<<So what if it is?>> I asked. <<It isn't that odd for him to be in here, and he's no part of this.>>

<<Like hell he isn't. Marc, there's no way that the two of us can check every youma in Sapphire's company in just a few days. We need more help. I understand why you don't want to tell the senior Generals, but Zircon and Opal and Cass should all be safe. They have to be. We're all of the same Weave.>>

<<... and therefore, they'd find out what's going on sooner or later anyway,>> I stated wearily. <<I know. It's just that, if this turns out to be nothing, I'm going to feel like such an idiot-->>

Unexpectedly, Morgan stretched out a hand to clasp mine. <<Do you honestly believe that any of us would think so little of you? You're our Center, Marc. We believe in you.>>

I swallowed. <<Thanks. I needed that.>> I picked up my chopsticks. <<Zircon! Come over here. I need to talk to you.>>

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