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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 7

© 2000 by E. Liddell


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Melvin

This way, whispered the voice in my mind. I didn't want to listen to it, but I seemed unable to argue it down. And so I did what it told me to, hoping to shut it up that way.

We were somewhere deep down under Beryl's old palace, although I couldn't exactly pinpoint my present location. I still couldn't really read the symbols on the walls, although I could at least see them now.

I reached out a hand to steady myself against the wall, feeling the sharp pain at the tip of my index finger as I did so. Another claw had broken through the skin. That made seven out of ten. I expected that they'd all be out in a few hours time. My hands, and, or so I assumed, the rest of me as well, had already turned a rich, deep blue. My youma transformation was proceeding at an alarming rate. My guess was that that had something to do with the voice inside my head.

I knew that it was playing with me. More holes in my memory had developed since I'd arrived in the Negaverse. One covered what had happened in David Santori's office the day after I'd gotten here, and another, what had happened shortly after I'd reported to work yesterday morning. And I wasn't able to talk about them. To anyone. Whenever I tried, I was hit with a wave of absolute panic that left me unable to speak or think. I just didn't understand. What was it doing to me, and why? I hadn't felt this frightened since I'd last been youma fodder, back in the old days when I hadn't understood that they -- that we -- weren't devils.

A nudge inside my mind pushed me through a doorway and into a room. I had the sense of a vast space above me, but the lighting was too dim for me to be able to tell exactly how big the room really was. It wasn't until I heard something crunch under my feet that I managed to guess where I was.

I managed to stop walking for long enough to bend down and pick up one of the shards on the floor. Thin, slightly curved, and viciously sharp-edged, it sliced into my palm. I could tell that the thin line of blood that welled from the cut was too dark to be human-red, even in this dim lighting, but I'd been prepared for that.

The voice pushed at me again. Only a little farther, it promised.

I took six more steps, then stopped as a stalactite pressed against my leg.

"End of the line." My voice echoed weirdly in the empty room. "Now get out."

As you say, came the silent reply which almost wasn't there at all. This is a nexus. Yes. It will do excellently. Breathe out.

It took me a moment to interpret that last as another order and force myself to exhale.

Dark mist puffed from my lips, quickly filling the room. Suddenly, the blood dripping from my hand was several shades lighter -- maybe even red again -- and I no longer felt trapped inside my own skin, compelled to obey the orders of a strange voice that came from somewhere deep within the recesses of my own mind.

I scrambled for the doorway, then realized that there was no way that I could possibly find it. Even the dim light from the sparse fungus on the ceiling was now gone, obscured by the huge cloud that filled the room. Frantic, I wished that I were anywhere but there, in the room that had once belonged to the Negaforce.

Blackness. Freezing cold blackness, more absolute than that created by the mist. I fell through it, then landed abruptly on a hard surface that seemed warm by contrast. Floor. Stone floor. And the room smelled familiar. I'm home. In Zantisa's quarters. The bedroom. I must have... teleported? Under my own power, yet. I guess that, by forcing my transformation to take place faster than normal, that *thing* saved me from itself.

For some reason I found that incredibly funny. I laughed until I was out of breath. Then I tried to pull myself up onto the bed, which was barely a foot to my left. But I just couldn't manage it. I was too weak. I wasn't used to doing magic yet, and my body didn't have the kind of reserves it needed.

Have to wait until Zantisa gets home, I guess, I thought. Sure hope it's soon. She'll know who to tell about this.

I curled up on my side on the floor. I was drifting off to sleep when I seemed to feel something like a ripple pass through the stone surface beneath me.

<<Forget,>> a familiar voice whispered. And then I slept.

"Melvin?" Zantisa was shaking me. "Melvin, are you all right? Why are you lying on the floor?"

I pushed myself into a sitting position, realizing that I was cold and stiff. "I kind of overexerted myself, and they sent me home to rest. Guess I didn't quite make it to the bed." There was something not quite right about that. I remembered teleporting -- or did I? It all felt like part of some very vivid dream.

My mate reached down to tweak my nose. "I told you that you should take it easy until you get used to your new body. Come on, let me help you up."

She lifted me onto the bed, then headed for the officers' mess to collect some food for the two of us, while I drifted off to sleep again, still trying to figure out what it was that wasn't quite right here.

Kyanite

The stone of the bench was cold, but that was okay. I had enough magic to keep myself warm.

I loved that garden. I still do, in fact. I've never encountered another place that's so peaceful. The day after Aventurine showed it to me, I went there directly after supper, trying to relax after a long day of combat training.

It was easier than going home.

I leaned back against the trunk of a -- well, I don't suppose that you could call it a tree, exactly, not when the leaves were white instead of green, but what do I know? -- and closed my eyes, listening to the pulse of the land. I'd discovered that I could hear the odd throbbing sound anywhere if I just stilled myself and listened, not just when I was in direct contact with the stone that formed the Negaverse's skeleton. Everything here resonated to that peculiar beat -- the rocks, the trees, the mushrooms, even the people, although I'm not sure how many of them were really aware of it.

I sat there for several minutes in what was almost a trance. Well, why not? I'd been advised to meditate. It was supposed to give me better control over my powers, pitiful though they were.

Then the steady pulsing sound lurched, and started to speed up.

What in hell? There was a scent on the breeze that hadn't been there before, a sort of... rottenness, maybe. I don't know. But when I smelled it, something came together inside my mind.

This was what I had been supposed to warn Malachite about.

And I was most likely already too late.

I muttered a word that I'd overheard one of the youma using when she'd thought that I wasn't listening, and stood up. I forced myself to stop for a moment, and think. I didn't think my father was likely to respond if I reached out to him mentally. That meant I had to find him in person, and tell him... what? That something had contaminated the Negaverse and we were all in danger from it? He'd never listen to that. Not coming from me.

Then I'll just have to make him listen, I told myself. I had no choice. I knew instinctively that this was important. It might even be the purpose for which I'd been created.

I focused my mind on my fathers' castle, priming myself to teleport there, and trying to ignore the cold knot of fear in my stomach that was trying to warn me that it wasn't possible for me to get there in time.

Morganite

Keenda shook her head. "And so we're looking for a blue male youma wearing Sapphire's badge."

"With glasses," I added. "Don't forget the glasses." And I reached out to tweak the tip of her nose.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing? Morgan, if you weren't a General, I'd --"

"Shhh." I extended my senses to check the hallway outside of the alcove where we were standing. "We don't want to draw any attention. Marc seemed to think that was important."

Keenda pouted. "You're no fun." She's kind of cute when she pouts -- actually, she's kind of cute all the time, if you're colour blind. Unfortunately for Keenda, she has pink hair that clashes with her orange skin. But I'd long ago discovered that didn't matter much in the dark.

"Not when I've got my Center breathing over my shoulder, no," I replied. "Maybe we could work something out for later, though. There's no one on my social calendar after ten o'clock."

"You're terrible." And she reached out to tweak my nose. "But I like you anyway. It's just that I'd like you better if you had fewer girlfriends. Aren't we supposed to be looking for a blue youma?"

And before I could gather my thoughts, she'd left the alcove, drifting off in the general direction of the prototype engineering lab. Marc was up in the public areas. I was going to check the sysadmin offices... as soon as I was sure that my nose was still there.

Blue youma with glasses. Older male blue youma with glasses. He must be someone new. I didn't pay all that much attention to Sapphire's division, but the glasses were fairly distinctive. Most youma have perfect vision. It used to be that the ones who didn't died young. But anyway, you'd think that would have made it easy to find him. It should have. Except it hadn't. This wasn't the first day of our search, and so far none of us had turned up anything. These divisions, on this shift, were all there was left to check. If we didn't find him here, we would have to give up.

I stuck my head cautiously around the edge of a doorframe and quickly scanned the room beyond. Seeing no grey uniforms, I relaxed. Sapphire was senior to me, and the former Nemisian prince was a conscientious man who would be more than willing to report that I was AWOL again. I was supposed to be supervising youma training manoeuvres. Marc had ordered Opal to cover for me, but I knew that would only last until someone asked where I was.

Confident that no mere youma would dare to question my presence here, I strode down the narrow open path between the cubicles that lined the walls, glancing inside each as I passed. The only youma with glasses that I was able to spot was female and brown.

Maybe Marc and Keenda have had better luck, I thought as I reached the back of the big, open room. Hello, what's this? There was a small door hidden in a sort-of alcove behind the last set of cubicles. I wouldn't even have noticed it if it hadn't been ajar.

I read the symbols that marked the wall beside the portal, which were invisible to anyone except a General or a youma. So there's a warp back there. An interdimensional one. That means it should be locked up.

I decided that I would poke my head in and see if there was anything wrong. If not, I'd give the local staff a tongue-lashing before continuing on my way.

Huh? What the --

The Warp was open, and looked like it had been locked that way for quite some time. This was more than negligence. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised if it had turned out to be outright treason! Well, we won't be having any more of this! I may be an irresponsible goof-off, but I'm still a General, and there are some aspects of my job that I take seriously.

I reached out with my powers to try to close the portal, and then discovered that I couldn't. Whoever had wedged it open was stronger than I. Which, as far as I knew, meant another Crystal Weaver. And I didn't know of anyone but me who would do something like this.

<<My King!>> I called.

<<Morganite? What is it?>>

<<I've found -->>

Something hard and heavy struck the back of my head.

<<Danger,>> I stated as the scene in front of me splintered into disconnected fragments. <<Treason -- invasion -- don't know what -->>

Then the whatever-it-was hit me again, and I fell forward into darkness.

Malachite

<<Go away.>>

I ignored the... request... and remained where I was, standing just inside the door of the bedroom, with my hands resting on my lover's shoulders. <<Not yet. Not until you tell me what's wrong.>>

<<Can't you tell?>> Zoisite reached up to rub the bruise that decorated his upper left arm. I winced. I hadn't meant to do that to him, but when he'd decided to give me the cold shoulder in bed last night, I'd come perilously close to losing my temper and tried to pin him, and he's always been so fragile compared to me...

The humans claim that it's only the people you love who can hurt you. Zoisite and I had spent the last few days proving that, and I wasn't sure with whom I was angrier as a result -- him, for refusing to talk to me, or myself for not persisting and trying to draw him out.

<<No,>> I admitted. <<You've blocked yourself off from me. As you well know. Damn it, Zoi -->>

<<My King!>>

<<Morganite? What is it?>> And it had better be damned good, when you're interrupting me at a moment like this!

<<I've found -->>

A sudden flash of pain was transmitted along the thread of contact between us.

<<Danger,>> Morgan stated. <<Treason -- invasion -- don't know what -->> His message cut out in mid-sentence.

<<Morgan? Morgan!>> I heard a grating sound coming from somewhere nearby, and I realized that I was actually grinding my teeth together. If this turns out to be another one of that brat's practical jokes, I'll use his hide to upholster the seat of my throne! <<Marcasite!>> Hopefully the older, more responsible twin would be able to give me some idea of what his errant brother had been up to.

<<I heard as well, my King.>> Which was almost inevitable -- Morgan and Marc were the only two people in the Negaverse with a mental bond stronger than mine with Zoisite. Than mine with Zoisite usually is. I often wonder how they're able to tell which thought belongs to whom, or if they care. <<I don't know what happened, except that he was struck from behind shortly after he found... something. He was down near the offices of some of Lord Sapphire's youma.>>

<<Doing what?>> I asked. <<Never mind! Meet me there. Immediately.>>

I looked at Zoisite. He looked at me.

Damn the timing!

<<I'll be back,>> I told my lover. <<We'll talk then.>>

I found Marcasite in a small room at the back of one of the large composite offices that lurked in the bowels of Beryl's palace. He was kneeling over his unconscious twin. But I didn't spare the two of them more than the brief glance required to determine that Morganite's injury wasn't life-threatening before I turned to the Warp at the back of the room, which was standing open.

The gold bracelet that linked me to Adamant's Ward squeezed my wrist, and I felt a sense of foreboding. There had been a demon here. A powerful one. Recently. But it didn't seem to be anywhere nearby now, although I could feel lingering traces of it spread over the entire area, which meant that it had most likely passed through the Warp and entered the Earth Realm.

I whispered a single, vicious word.

<<Take your twin home,>> I ordered Marcasite. <<Then summon your Weavemates. We're going to have to search the Earth Realm for this thing.>>

I experienced a slight feeling of deja vu. In a way, this was altogether too much like what had happened when that artificial demon had escaped, most of a quarter-century ago now. But I wasn't going to make the same mistakes this time that I had then. I wasn't going to waste my energies on keeping this a secret from my own people. I was going to turn Crystal Weavers and youma out together, in force, to search for this creature and bring it to bay. One way or the other, this would be over soon.

Zoisite

I rubbed the back of my neck and grimaced. I suppose I should see about getting a shirt on. Damn. Why do things like this always happen at the worst possible moment? I'd been sure that Malachite and I were going to work things out.

<<Father?>>

I spun, one hand drawing an ice crystal spear out of nothingness, then dismissed the weapon again when I realized that it was only Kyanite that was standing in the doorway, looking very small and very frightened. How dare that brat sneak up on me when I'm half-naked? Although I suppose it wasn't really his fault. I'd been in the process of undressing to take a shower when Malachite had interrupted me.

<<What do you want?>> There had been a time, many years ago, when I wouldn't even have bothered asking what he had to say for himself. And there had been a time, even longer ago now, when I would have killed him for daring to speak out of turn. But I wasn't the Negaforce's pawn now, to be driven to murder for so little cause. These days, I only killed when I had a good reason for it.

<<I was looking for Lord Malachite. Please, will you tell me where he is? There's something I really have to tell him. It's important.>>

<<Coming from you? I doubt it.>>

He waited impassively, much as Malachite might have done. Seeing even that much of my lover in this creature unnerved me, an emotion which, as usual, I tried to conceal behind anger and spite.

<<Malachite's busy right now,>> I stated, giving him a cold look. <<If the opportunity arises -- which I doubt it will -- I'll tell him that you want to talk to him. In the meanwhile, go to your room and stay there. There are dangerous creatures roaming the Negaverse tonight, and I am not going to let you get yourself killed before I figure out how you came to be alive in the first place.>>

Later, I came to regret those statements, but at the time, I only glared at Kyanite until he left, and then went back to looking for a clean shirt, being too lazy to conjure anything.

I had a demon hunt to attend.

Pyrope

I wasn't paying any attention to the summons when it came. I was too busy worrying about David.

Three days. Three days! Sudden pain in my scalp led me to discover that I had meshed my fingers into my hair and was pulling on it. Hard. I swore and carefully disentangled my hands, lowering them to my belt.

Where could he be?

I was in my quarters, standing beside the bed. My half of it was rumpled and unmade, but on David's side, the blankets were smooth and unmarked. He hadn't been home in a long time, and I was worried about him.

He couldn't have tried to kill himself again, could he? My hands clenched themselves protectively over my spirit crystal when my overactive imagination threw that up. I'd never let David touch the gem. Maybe if I had, even once, I would know now whether this was just the natural fear anyone would experience if a close friend went missing, or something more.

<<Pyrope!>>

I winced and raised my hands to my head again. <<Yes, my King?>>

<<Come here. Now. We need you. Bring your halberd.>>

The weapon was leaning against the wall, its blade razor-sharp, oiled, and gleaming. I'd spent hours sharpening it, trying to keep my mind off David. I picked it up and swung it in a loose figure-eight, then grounded it beside me and prepared to teleport.

The last thing I saw before my room vanished was that forlorn, empty bed.

Goto Chapter 8


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