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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 6

© 2000 by E. Liddell


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David

"Have you heard?"

The whispers were just as common out here in the corridors of the palace as they'd been in the dining hall. The news was all over. Malachite had a son, or something.

"They say he was having an affair with Princess Serenity!"

"No, I heard that Zantisa --"

I shook my head and kept on walking. Were they all blind? Even I could see how much the King and the Prince Consort loved each other, and I rarely even got near them. And anyway, the sudden discovery of a bastard offspring of the King would hardly have posed a great enough danger to him to wake Pyrope up in the middle of the night. No, whatever had happened, it was more than that.

Pyrope. I smiled as I always did when the thought of him crossed my mind. He'd done so very much for me. But he really puzzled me sometimes. Why would someone so beautiful want a youma as a lover?

Not that I was complaining. I'd had a difficult life before coming to the Negaverse, and it was nice to be valued and cherished and protected for a change, even if Pyr wasn't all that effective as a protector.

Just about every youma has a story, I suppose, and most of them aren't pleasant ones. You have to be pretty desperate to accept what it means to live in the Negaverse. Military discipline and mushrooms served at every meal are the least of it. It takes a special kind of person to survive being turned into a monster. I might not have myself, if Pyrope hadn't...

"Morning, Dave," a blue youma somewhat shorter than myself said as I passed him.

"Morning, Jeff -- I mean, Captain." I hadn't known about his promotion, but Jeff now wore the same rank badge as his mother, Zantisa. "Congratulations."

He snorted. "Don't bother with the formalities. It isn't like we're even in the same legion." He tapped the strip of tooled leather that hung from the belt supporting his kilt. Despite his change in rank, he still wore the badge that indicated he was in Malachite's personal service. That was quite an honour for someone so young.

My own badges were displayed across my chest, embroidered on my shirt -- on the left, the symbols for Lord Demantoid's legion and Pyrope's company, and on the right, the one that marked me as a General's personal aide. Jeff, of course, wasn't wearing a shirt. Few of the warriors did. In a place as cold as the Negaverse, wearing as little as possible makes you look tough.

"Oh, and by the way, keep an eye out for my Dad, will you?" he was saying. "He finally made up his mind to cross over yesterday, and since he's kind of a special case, they assigned him right away, but he still doesn't know his way around very well. There were a lot of parts of this place that he wasn't allowed to get into while he was still a human. My sister Keenda is supposed to be with him, but you know how she gets..."

"Oh, yeah." Keenda was pretty notorious for a seventeen-year-old youma, but that's what you get for being General Morganite's favorite partner in crime. I honestly didn't know how that man managed to hold on to his rank as a General when he was constantly playing practical jokes. Rumor had it that Malachite had promised to let Zoisite loose on him the next time he was caught. "Sure, I'll keep an eye out for him. Not a problem."

"Thanks."

Jeff drifted away, and I continued on down the corridor to my office. Pyrope is nominally in charge of the Negaverse's quartermaster division, so I spend a lot of time checking requisition forms. Not that I mind. It may be boring, but it's a pretty easy job, compared to some.

Given what Jeff had told me, I wasn't surprised when, later that morning, I looked up to discover a short man with grey hair and only slightly bluish skin standing in my doorway. The glasses cinched it. This had to be Zantisa's mate Melvin.

"David Santori, isn't it? I'm, uh, sort of lost..."

"Where were you trying to get to?" I asked.

"I was supposed to take a message to Lord Sapphire..."

"Then you want his office," I said. "Go left at the end of the hallway, then... hmmm. Actually, it's kind of complicated. Do you want me to write it down for you?"

"If you wouldn't mind."

He came into the office and sat down while I was scribbling on the back of an old form. I was so intent on turning my knowledge of the twisting tunnels between here and his supposed destination into a set of coherent directions that I didn't notice the grey mist until it had already surrounded me.

"You'll do very well," whispered a voice that sounded not at all like Melvin's. And then I blacked out.

Kyanite

I pulled backward into the shadows of the doorway, unable to keep my eyes from filling with tears, and hoping that my companion would think that the reaction was caused by something other than fear.

<<It's very bright,>> I stated hesitantly. <<And loud.>> And crowded. I'd never seen so many people in one place before, even if they were only humans. But it was the light that bothered me the most. It hurt my eyes.

I just want to go home, I thought miserably. But I still had another twenty minutes to go. My first trip to the Earth Realm was supposed to last half an hour, and I'd grown to know Aventurine too well over the past few days to think that she'd let me get away with cutting it short.

<<It takes some getting used to,>> my teacher/captor admitted. "And we really should be speaking aloud. You have to learn to vocalize, Kyanite."

"I know." I'd had the language for four days now, ever since her father, Lord Jadeite, had impressed it on my mind the morning after my arrival, but it still didn't feel right to me. I preferred the mindspeech. It seemed so much easier and more natural.

It hadn't been an easy four days. Aventurine's tests that first morning had determined that I'd never had any sort of training as a fighter, which was a big deal in the Negaverse. My reading, writing, and arithmetic were up to standards, but my lack of memory had stolen any other academic knowledge that I might once have possessed. And then there had been the most terrible discovery of all.

I couldn't do magic.

Well, actually, I could do some magic. Levitation, self-teleportation, the mindspeech, and very basic wards, the type that you form right up against your skin -- but I couldn't project magical energies outside my body. I'd never be able to conjure anything, or cast even the simplest of attack spells.

Lord Cuprite had managed to determine the cause of the problem, but there didn't seem to be anything that anyone could do about it. You see, a normal Crystal Weaver has these little energy concentrations in the center of the palm of each hand, that act as foci for projected spells. But I didn't have them. Another flaw in the spell that had created me, no doubt.

I'd gone into the practice room that first morning hoping that I was capable of doing something special, so that I would make my fathers proud and they'd stop hating me. It had been a stupid idea, a child's dream that no adult --

I glanced down at my hands. Even hidden inside the white gloves that I wore, they looked small and thin and fragile. But I am a child. Aren't I?

I looked up again, and saw Aventurine watching me.

<<Please,>> I began, then reconsidered. "Please, may we go back inside? The sunlight, it..."

She tilted her head to one side and looked at me, her hand making an odd gesture which I think had to do with the spear that she hadn't brought with her when we'd come over to this side. This was the first time that I'd ever actually seen her without it.

"Oh, all right," she said at last, "but you get an extra hour of weapons practice after supper to make up for it."

"That's okay." If I had to practice late, then I at least didn't have to go back to my fathers' castle, where the emotional temperature was currently on a par with midwinter in Antarctica. And it wasn't just how my fathers were acting towards me, either. They were being equally nasty to each other. And I was pretty sure that it was all my fault, just for existing.

I stepped back over the threshold of the huge grey building that housed the Negaverse's embassy to Crystal Tokyo, and gave a sigh of relief. It was cooler and quieter in here, and the dim lighting eased my tortured nerves. Not quite home, but close. The stone here wasn't veined with green, and I couldn't sense the heartbeat of the land the way I could in the Negaverse. Only when we crossed back through the Warp to the other side would I truly be home.

I nodded to the youma at the front desk. She ignored me, engrossed as she was in explaining something to a pair of humans. It was the closest look I'd ever had at any of those crippled, magicless creatures.

I shook my head, getting hair in my eyes. Says the crippled, near-magicless creature. I wonder which of us is unluckier, really? They aren't *supposed* to have magic, and probably aren't upset by its lack. Unlike me.

Aventurine led me back through the Warp and into the staging area on the other side. My internal timesense told me that it was just about time for supper, so I excused myself and teleported home to wash up.

I was still living in the little room on the ground floor of my parents' castle. I'd probably have to move eventually, but at the moment, everything I owned fit in the chest at the end of the bed, with room to spare.

I sat down on my pillow and leaned my forehead against the wall, letting the universal heartbeat fill me up, telling my subconscious that yes, I was home, back in the Negaverse. Where I belonged.

The Earth Realm -- that was horrible! I don't understand why anyone would want to live like that. The light, and that empty sky... I'd been above ground here in the Negaverse only once so far, also with Aventurine, but the stars had been beautiful. And they wanted to send me there... might still send me there, if I don't live up to their standards. Which I can't, I added miserably. Tears trickled from my eyes, darkening the stone of the wall, the coverlet on the bed, and the grey fabric of my jacket sleeve. I forced myself to choke back the sobs, stuffing the fingers of one gloved hand into my mouth to muffle any that did manage to escape. Strong. I have to be strong. A General never shows his fear, or his pain. The youma don't respect the weak. And I had to learn to be a General, or else they'd probably send me... there.

Hearing the rustle of cloth, I glanced up, wiping the tears away. Malachite stood in the doorway. For several seconds, we just stared at each other, with me forcing myself to meet those utterly cold grey eyes.

<<Father?>> It was more than just the word that slipped out. It was an appeal -- for understanding, for approval. For love.

His eyes narrowed, and he turned away without replying. No -- Please -- I forced myself not to project the thoughts, lowered my outstretched hand to my side as the trailing corner of the white cape passed out of my field of vision. Strong. I have to be strong. If he sees me beg, he'll know I'm not worthy. I have to believe that he'll change his mind eventually, when he's sure that I'm not here to hurt him. I just have to!

I wiped the tears away more thoroughly and stuck my head out into the hall. There was no sign of anyone. I went to the bathroom, three doors down, and splashed a little cold water on my face, then teleported to the officers' dining hall.

I'd tried to eat a meal with my fathers only once, on the day of my arrival. The food had been far better than even the best of what was offered to the youma, but I hadn't been able to eat much of it. Not when the two of them were so pointedly not-looking at me. I'd been taking my meals here, with the youma, ever since.

I wasn't the only Crystal Weaver to do so. Morganite and Pyrope both ate here as often as not, and I'd seen Lord Demantoid put in an appearance once or twice. I didn't know any of them to speak to, not yet, but at least they kept me from feeling so completely alone.

I ate slowly and methodically, doing my best to postpone the moment when I would have to go... home... again. Gods of Darkness, how I dreaded that! My parents... How can I fix this? I don't even understand what it was that I did! I just want them to feel the same way about me as I do about them, or they do about each other. I just want them to care. Is that too much to ask?

I was scraping the last grains of rice out of my bowl when a shadow fell across the little table that I'd staked out for myself. I glanced up, inadvertently meeting Aventurine's eyes.

<<I'm almost finished,>> I told her.

<<It's all right. Take your time.>> To my surprise, she pulled out the chair across from me and sat down, propping her spear against the table.

I fiddled with my chopsticks for a moment longer.

<<Lady Aventurine, why do my fathers hate me?>> Again, it sort of... slipped out. I just didn't know, back in those days, when it was best to keep my mind shut.

She sighed. <<I don't know. Are you done?>>

Even if there had been any food left, I had lost my appetite. <<Yes.>>

<<Then come with me, please. I want to show you something.>>

Malachite

It tore at me to watch him there, with tears in his eyes. I remembered, all too clearly, a time long ago when I had seen Zoisite under the influence of a similar emotion. It was all I could do to keep from showing what I felt, to keep my face dispassionate when he looked at me.

I've done the best that I can by him, I reminded myself. Avi was an experienced General and long overdue to take a student. She would make a good teacher for him.

Still, I wanted to reassure him. My son. The only child that I would ever have. And I knew that I couldn't, because he might actually be a demon in disguise.

If only there were some way that I could find out the truth!

Aventurine

The tunnel was a long one. It seemed to take forever for us to get to the other end. Fortunately, Kyanite didn't appear to be feeling talkative. I don't know what I could have said to him.

Why do my fathers hate me?

Damn. Poor kid. I just didn't know how to reassure him. A human would have fed him some platitude or other, I suppose, but that just isn't the way I do things. I may have borne a son, but I'm not the nurturing type. I'm a warrior of the Negaverse. And in the Negaverse, we're taught to face hard truths, not turn away from them.

Still, I knew that hauling him off to weapons practice again wasn't the answer. I found a sort of peace there, but he just wasn't a good enough fighter yet. He needed a distraction, and I intended to provide him with the best one that I knew of.

Finally, we came to the mouth of the tunnel. I stepped out into a small area dappled with starlight and shade, while Kyanite paused at the entrance.

<<Thank you, Lady Aventurine,>> he stated. <<It's beautiful.>> I could sense the delight underlying the message, and congratulated myself on having chosen well.

As far as I know, that garden is unique. Youma aren't interested in growing flowers, and lack the magical expertise to adapt Earth plants to life in our cold and sunless world. Earth gardeners, on the other hand, wouldn't have had access to the Negaverse fungi which also grow there. This place had been my mother's creation originally, although Sapphire and my son Alex had both made contributions to it as well.

<<Take your time,>> I told him. <<I'll be back in a bit.>>

I followed a narrow stone pathway to the garden's edge, and stood there, looking out over the rolling hills while a cold wind played with my hair.

I understood now why Malachite had chosen me to be the boy's mentor. The Negaverse was all that Kyanite had ever known. All of the other junior Generals had either been born in the Earth Realm, or -- in the case of Marcasite and his Weavemates, and also that of my son -- they'd taken frequent trips over to the other side when they were still very young. They couldn't possibly understand what it was like to belong only here. But I could. Born as I was in the trailing years of the Shadow Millennium, it hadn't been safe for me to spend much time on the other side as a child. It was here that I'd always lived, and it was here that I fit. And Kyanite, being unable to remember what he might have been before, was in much the same position.

I just hoped that that insight would be enough to help me guide him.

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