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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 8

© 2000 by E. Liddell


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Amber

Unlike most of the others, I carried no weapons. I had never learned how to use them effectively, and I was little better with offensive magics. Actually, I wasn't all that great with magic, period -- even after decades as a Crystal Weaver, I had no real feel for my powers, and still had to speak activation formulas to cast most spells.

<<I trust I don't have to tell you to stay close to Alex or me,>> Jay stated, slipping an arm around my waist. The hilt of the short sword he wore ground against my side.

<<I know,>> I stated.

I was rarely called out for expeditions like this. Unlike Almandite and Nephrite, for instance, my husband and I weren't working partners. I didn't really have the abilities required. That Malachite had asked me to go on this search was a clear indication of how desperate he was. I could feel his tension arching along the Weave-link, making me feel shaky and nervous.

There were a number of unexpected downsides to being part of Malachite's Weave that I'd discovered over the years since I'd been bound to it. I still wasn't used to that. It felt like some part of my mind was swollen to several times its normal size, distended to accommodate Malachite and Nephrite and Almandite and Zoisite. And my husband. And Alex.

Alex. I wasn't used to that yet, either. I'd been hearing Alexandrite stories ever since I had married Jadeite, although few of them had come from my husband. It would have hurt him too much at first, and after that... Well, he must have thought that he had something to hide. Which he had. And that had been only one of the many secrets that had been opened to me when the others' minds had melded with mine.

I'd finally seen my father again, watched his death, experienced it from my husband's point of view while I wept, helplessly, in his arms. Jadeite had opened his mind to me as completely as it was possible for him to do and still have us remain two separate people. It's humbling to look into someone else's mind and feel the absolute certainty that he loves you more than anything else in this world. We were so incredibly close now, in a way that I'd never have known if I had remained human. That alone had made everything I'd experienced -- the debilitating illness of my original transformation, the pain I'd experienced during the surgical removal of the two bony spikes that had once protruded from my shoulders, and even the emotional anguish that I'd felt when I'd decided to make a clean break with my human existence -- worthwhile.

And now here I was, waiting for my turn to step through the gateway into the real world. Jay and Alex and I were each supposed to lead a hundred youma in this endeavour, but we all knew that they would really be reporting to Jay. Nephrite and Almandite were in front of us, waiting, at the head of their two hundred. Malachite and Zoisite had gone on ahead, and the last of their youma were now trickling through the Warp and into the Customs office on the other side.

I just hoped that Malachite knew what he was doing. There were still many people in Crystal Tokyo who didn't trust the Negaverse, and I didn't know how they were going to react to what was going to look to them like an invasion of armed youma. Still, if there really was a powerful demon on the loose, I didn't see what else we could do. We had to stop the thing before someone got seriously hurt.

I glanced over at Alex. He smiled at me. He really does have a sweet smile.

<<It'll be all right,>> he told me.

Then it was our turn.

Stepping through the Warp made my stomach lurch a bit, as it always does. There's just something about that method of transport that disturbs me. Emerging into the huge, dimly lit room at the Crystal Tokyo end of the transit, I moved aside to allow the youma to pass through the gaping black maw.

When almost all of them had passed through, the Warp ...rippled, or at least, that's the best word I can find for what I saw, and vanished. I have never had full use of the special senses with which my magic should endow me, but even I could feel space-time rippling and lurching around us. And as it did so, a sharp pain speared through my head.

I turned toward my husband, intending to ask him if he knew what was going on. I was just barely in time to see his eyes go cold and blank, his face twisting into an expression that I hadn't seen there since before the death of my half-sister.

His hands slowly rose toward my throat, his face still blank, as though he was trapped in a dream or a trance. But when I batted those encroaching hands away, he moved with frightening speed, grabbing me at the waist and locking his arm across my throat. I realized that he would choke me soon if I didn't do something, so I drew my arm forward, and --

<<Jay! Damn it, Jay, snap out of it!>> Alex was half-pleading and half-frantic. <<Don't do it, Jay, or you'll regret it for the rest of your life!>>

Jay blinked as Alex grabbed his shoulder, and some measure of sanity seemed to return to his eyes. <<Alex? But you're -- Amber? Great Gods of Darkness, what was I about to do? Thanks, little brother.>>

<<You're welcome.>>

And that's when the lights went out. I could hear roars, screams, sounds of people struggling in the darkness.

<<We have to get out of here,>> Jay stated. <<Back to the Negaverse, I think. Amber, Alex, coordinate with me.>>

I braced myself for a teleport as he fed me the location, and began the mental exercise of pulling myself into nonspace.

I actually made it halfway into the teleport, if that makes sense, but when I tried to shift myself into the Negaverse, I suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous. It was as though everything was whirling around me, and I couldn't find my way to where I was supposed to be going.

A split second of that feeling was all that I could take. I quickly chose another destination, emerging on the roof of the Customs building in Crystal Tokyo. Alex appeared beside me a moment later. Jay didn't show up until almost a full minute after that, apparently fighting to the last.

<<Stay where you are!>> Malachite's voice in my mind was crisp and cold. <<Try to keep your youma inside the building. Half of them are going berserk, and we don't need any more of this mess spilling out into the streets than has already. Nephrite and Almandite are on their way to the Crystal Palace. Zoisite and I are going to try for Nephrite's mansion -- with the pathways between the two universes twisted out of shape, it's our only way back into the Negaverse.>>

<<And the other youma?>> Jay asked.

<<Nephrite and I are going to throw containment wards around our groups. Hopefully that will be enough. We don't have the time to do anything more, not when it seems that three or four hundred berserk youma are going to be the least of our problems. Just stay there and do what you can.>>

Jay bit his lip.

<<I'll take the front entrance,>> he stated. <<Alex, you ward the back. Amber, do the roof exit, and then we'll start on the windows.>>

I felt strangely hollow as I moved to follow my husband's orders. How had everything gone so wrong so quickly? And what were we going to do now?

Malachite

It was after we'd led the youma out into the street that I felt something like a black-and-white explosion inside my head. The bracelet that linked me to Adamant's Ward squeezed my wrist so tightly that it almost cut off my circulation, but I didn't notice it. I was too busy fighting for my life.

The pressure on my mind was tremendous. On the one side, some vast demonic entity was trying to slip past my personal protections, while Adamant's Ward was trying to shore them up. And they did need shoring, because they were flawed in a way that made them less effective than they should have been against a demonic attack. It was one of the Negaforce's lingering legacies. Sensing the pattern of the attack, I realized that anyone who had ever been under a demon's dominance was at risk. Everyone. All of the older youma, and the four of us who had been Beryl's Generals. Jasper. Pyrope. Sapphire. King Endymion and his daughter the princess. And dozens of perfectly innocent citizens of Crystal Tokyo, who had once been turned into youma or Empyrean-controlled zombies or any one of a dozen other sorts of pawns used in the battle between demons and Crystal Weavers.

I gritted my teeth and used every ounce of power I possessed to push back at the demon. I will not be dominated! Get out of me! You have no right!

I didn't know how long I had been struggling when it finally started to recede, but I was tired and shaking and my uniform was soaked with sweat. I was staring at a youma's back. Zantisa's back, to be more precise. She and a group of other youma had formed a ring around Zoisite and me. Beside me, my lover knelt on the ground, face hidden in his hands, shivering as though in the grip of some nightmare.

I reached out to touch his shoulder. "Zoi? Are you all right?"

He came to his feet with frightening speed, an ice crystal spear appearing in one hand. I dodged frantically as he threw it. The weapon took one of the encircling youma in the leg, and she screamed and collapsed, clutching at the injury.

I reached out along the Weave-link, feeling for him, and fetched up against an all-too-familiar black wall. The demon had him -- or at least, it had his body, and some parts of his mind as well. I knew it could be driven out again, but it would take time, and I didn't have that while he was trying to stab me.

<<I'm sorry,>> I told him, although I knew he wouldn't be able to hear me.

The next time he came at me, I grabbed his wrist, pulled him forward, off-balance, and struck a single, accurately-placed blow with the edge of my free hand, gritting my teeth against the reflected pain. He dropped the spear and collapsed, unconscious. I lowered him to the ground as gently as I could. Only then was I able to take a look outside the protective youma circle.

Beyond the wall of flesh that had been protecting us, a full-fledged war was taking place. And a civil war, at that. Youma against youma, the older ones who hadn't been as successful as I had at resisting the demon against the more recent recruits and those who had thrown off the creature's hold.

Sickened, I bowed my head. You led them to this, whispered a little voice at the back of my mind. I ignored it, recognizing it as the beginning of a demonic blandishment. I'd known that driving it out wouldn't be sufficient to keep it from dropping hints. And in any case, what did it want to make me think I was supposed to have done? I had made the best choices that I could based on the information that I'd had. It wasn't my fault that it hadn't been enough, and in any case I couldn't afford to be paralyzed by guilt right now. I had to figure out a way to keep things from getting any worse.

I tapped Zantisa on the shoulder. "Report."

Experienced, she didn't bother to turn around, after one quick glance to make certain that I wasn't berserk, too. "We're holding our own, my King. We'll probably even win it, eventually, if those of us who are still sane can force ourselves to kill. It's going to be hardest on the younger ones, I think. The rest of us remember the days of legion against legion."

"I know. Do the best you can to take them alive. Every death that takes place here is going to be wasted." Each death reduced our numbers, not those of some enemy. I hated that, but I couldn't see any way around it, and I couldn't forbid killing when the youma under the demon's control were berserk and trying to tear the throats out of the others.

"I understand, my King." And then she was shouting orders to the other youma. I ignored that, instead reaching out along the Weave-link to find the others. Jadeite, Amber, and Alex were nearby, and all seemed to be all right. Nephrite, when he answered, transmitted part of his splitting headache to me. He had fought off the demon, but it had been a near thing. Almandite had barely been touched by it, but then she had never been dominated by the Negaforce.

I issued my orders, knowing that we had to at least try to contain those taken over by the demon. It couldn't be mounting this kind of attack over the entire surface of the planet. Even if it had had that kind of power, there wouldn't have been any point -- Crystal Tokyo was the only Earth city with any kind of useful concentration of ex-demonic-victims. So if we could confine the damage to this city, it would eventually burn itself out. Or at least, I hoped it would.

But I had other worries. The largest concentration of former demon's servants anywhere was in the Negaverse, and I somehow couldn't believe that my realm had been left unscathed. Not when everyone had been so edgy and having all of those premonitions. Not when the trouble had started on our side. I had to get back home and find out what was happening. I had to. But I could sense the warps in the fabric of space-time that the demon was creating, and I knew that I couldn't teleport back there. Likewise, the Warps would have torn free from their anchors and were probably wandering around town wreaking havoc. I didn't think much of my chances of finding one, under those circumstances. Nephrite's house was the only alternative that suggested itself. It was half in one universe and half in the other, and what I knew of the technique he had used to create that peculiar discontinuity suggested that it probably would have remained stable even with all of this going on.

<<Beloved, do you think-->> I began, then stopped myself. Zoisite was lying unconscious in front of me. There would be no help from that quarter.

"Jeff." I beckoned to the young youma captain. "You'll be coming with me."

"My King." The vicious, scythelike weapon in his hand had obviously seen some use tonight, because it was slimed with yellow gore. It left a dripping trail behind as he left the circle to stand beside me.

I bent down and tenderly scooped my lover into my arms. We would leave him at Nephrite's, in a locked and warded room. It was probably as much safety as any of us would find tonight.

I gritted my teeth and refused to let panic take me as I initiated the short-distance teleport.

Zircon

I was just taking my place at the tail end of the line when the Warp disappeared and the youma all started to go crazy. I immediately backed up into a corner and tried to figure out what was going on.

Half the youma were either clutching at their heads or running around the room trying to kill everyone who got in their way, without any regard for rank or position, while the others were just looking bewildered. Most of them were probably blind, as well, since the wall globes had gone out, leaving only a straggle of glowfungus and the pulsing green light from the veins in the stone of the walls to provide us with light. That was enough for me or any other Crystal Weaver to see by, but not for a lot of the youma.

<<Everyone! Form filtration wards! I'm going to flood the area with sleeping gas.>>

Well, Aventurine might not be the most senior person present, but she was senior to me, and she seemed to have her wits about her. I created a ward that would filter foreign substances out of the air around me, and waited. Fortunately, none of the crazier youma seemed to be noticing me.

Then I saw something dark swirl through the air in front of me. The shock as it brushed against my wards set my teeth on edge, and I quickly strengthened them to repel supernatural attacks as well as sleeping gas. I was panting, trying to control a mad surge of adrenaline as the darkness slammed against my wards, sending a shock wave rolling through my brain, and every nerve in my body shrieked at me that this was the enemy. I'd never been so frightened before in my life.

Mena Kimlubeniz. Mother of Demons. I'd suspected before, but now I was certain. A lot of what I was seeing here matched the description that I'd found in that ancient book. And I didn't even try to warn anyone! my conscience wailed. But until now, I hadn't really believed, and I doubted that I would ever have been able to convince anyone else of the existence of an all-powerful demonic creature of which even the author of the crumbling document had known little.

There was a flare of light as someone nearer to the center of the room, where the Warp had been, blasted one of the dark swirls. Almost all of the youma were lying prone on the floor now, and those that weren't appeared to be dazed and non-dangerous. I began to pick my way through the sprawl of bodies to where the other Generals were grouped.

Pyrope was lying on his back, as unconscious as any of the youma, with Cuprite standing over him. Jasper, who would have been the most senior General present, was kneeling on the floor with his head in his hands and whimpering. Cass was kneeling beside him, apparently trying to reassure him. Aventurine was talking to Tourmaline, and although I couldn't make out what she was saying, it sounded both important and urgent.

My sister and my father had been on the other side of the Warp, and so were the farthest away from me. Dad was crouching forward, off-balance, with Opal supporting him. I dove past Aventurine as she tried to snag my arm, almost dancing over the sleeping youma as I went to join my family.

<<Is he all right?>> I asked my sister.

<<I don't know. He won't talk to me.>>

I stepped over one last youma in order to position myself in front of my father. "Dad?"

He didn't look up.

"Damn it, Dad! Look at me!"

Nothing.

For a moment, I almost gave up. Then I remembered something that my mother had once told me. She'd said that I looked like my uncle -- that is, my father's late older brother, Diamond, Ruling Prince of Nemesis. And sounded a bit like him, too. I knew that Dad had always looked up to his big brother, and the lighting in here was dim enough that I doubted he'd be able to make out any details...

"Sapphire." I tried to force my voice down to a lower register as I spoke. "Sapphire, look at me."

Dad shook his head.

"Sapphire," I repeated.

"Diamond." It was barely more than a whisper. "But you're dead, aren't you?"

"Do I look dead?" I tried to make the question sharp, but I think some of my worry showed through. That may even have been what convinced him, finally, to look up.

The expression in his eyes was terrible, bleak, like nothing I'd ever seen before. And flickering on his forehead, now almost invisible, now black and solid, was an inverted crescent moon, the old symbol of Nemesis.

I forced myself not to pull back as he reached out to touch my face.

"No," he said then, "you don't look dead, but..." Then he drew me into a sudden, fierce embrace. I hugged him back, feeling the touch of something warm against my chest. My spirit crystal, which I wore as a pendant, grated against something under his jacket.

"I need you to be strong," I found myself saying, not understanding where the words were coming from or why this deep stranger's voice was suddenly issuing from my mouth without any effort on my part, but willing to go along with it if it would help him. If it would save him. We'd never been particularly close, he and I, but he was my father, and I owed him... everything. "We're not going to stay on this sunless world forever, Sapphire. One day, we'll be able to return to the Earth that our ancestors left. We'll be able to go home. But I need your help, little brother. I need you to watch the others. Especially Wise Man. I don't trust him."

"Wise... Man..." My father's eyes suddenly opened wide. "Damn you... get out... of my head!" His entire body went rigid in my arms as the black moon crescent flickered one last time. Then it disappeared, and he relaxed. For the first time, he actually seemed to see me. "Zircon? I thought--"

<<I know what you thought,>> I told him. <<It's okay.>>

<<Damn you, Zircon, get over here now!>>

I repressed a sigh as I released my father. <<Yessir.>> It doesn't do to keep Aventurine waiting when she's in a mood like that.

I stepped over more prone youma, moving more slowly this time, until I arrived at Aventurine's side.

<<What is it?>> I asked.

<<I need you to go fetch Kyanite.>>

<<What?>>

Avi sighed. <<Malachite made me responsible for him, but I'm senior at the moment, so I can't leave here until either Jas recovers or Tourmaline finds Demantoid. And I don't think Kyanite is safe at his fathers' castle right now, since I doubt that the ...youma craziness... is limited to this room. Someone has to go fetch the kid, and I think you're the one we can most easily spare.>>

I didn't want to leave until I was absolutely certain that my father was all right, but I could see her point. <<All right, I'll go, but...>>

<<I understand. Don't worry. Sapphire and Opal are as safe here as any of the rest of us.>>

Which wasn't saying much. But I nodded and bowed my head in concentration, knowing that finding my way through nonspace to the castle on the other side of the Negaverse was going to be a real pain this time.

I teleported.

Goto Chapter 9


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