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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 9

© 2000 by E. Liddell


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Serenity

The sound of the clock striking midnight vibrated through my very bones. I was too tired to stay awake and too keyed up to sleep, so I sat in this little room, with Sumire standing outside the door, and stared at the two articles on the velvet cushion that sat on the low table in front of me. Both were absolutely familiar, among the few things in my life that hadn't changed when I had become Queen of Crystal Tokyo.

The diadem had been placed on my head by the other Queen Serenity, the last ruler of the Moon. Ever since then, I'd worn it every time I had appeared in public. More than an ornament, it was my physical link with Phoebe's Ward.

I should have passed this on to Rini years ago, I thought, running my fingers over the cool metal which some long-forgotten jeweler had moulded into a heart motif. Yes, I should have given it to Rini. I almost had, several times over the past five years, but something had always held me back. I didn't understand why, but something deep inside me doubted my daughter's ability to become the anchor for a Ward Major.

She can't possibly be less suitable than Malachite. After all, he *served* a demon for a thousand years.

Yes, but Malachite is strong, and he's a Crystal Weaver. Rini... I still couldn't describe what I felt was different about my daughter. What was wrong.

The Silver Crystal glittered balefully up at me from its position inside the circle of the crown. I barely dared touch it anymore. Just seeing it made me think of shattered dreams and broken lives.

But for some reason, the Crystal didn't disturb my daughter, and I was at a loss to explain why that was. Twenty-four years ago, she'd used it successfully and without damaging herself mere hours before it had burned me to the bone. Could she have become... not tainted, exactly, but somehow desensitized to the difference between good and evil?

I fidgeted, twisting a lock of white hair around my finger. I still wore it in the same style as I had when I was a teenager, but no one except Darien and Sammy and sometimes Raye dared tease me about meatballs now.

This isn't accomplishing anything, I told myself. I should put the Crystal back, dump the crown on the dresser, and go to bed. This is ridiculous.

But ridiculous or not, I didn't move. A peculiar lethargy had come over me. I caught myself slumping, and realized that I'd almost fallen asleep on the couch.

Definitely time to get to bed. I forced myself to my feet, steadying myself against the back of my chair. My hands were shaking.

"Serena? Is something wrong?"

"I don't know, Luna."

It took her two tries to make it up onto the seat of my chair. Luna's black coat was speckled with grey now, especially around the muzzle. Moon cats don't age any faster than humans, but they do age, and Luna was getting old and arthritic along with the rest of us.

"Something's been bothering you for quite a while now, hasn't it?" She turned around a couple of times, the way all cats do, before curling up.

I shrugged. "I'm just getting paranoid in my old age, I guess." I yawned. "Sorry, Luna. I'm feeling really, really tired all of a sudden. I'd better get to bed."

I moved toward the door, only to be brought up short by Luna's voice.

"Serena?"

"Yes? What is it?" I asked.

"Please tell me that is my imagination," Luna said, extending a paw in the general direction of the two objects on the table.

It took me a moment to focus my eyes on them, and a moment more to realize that the Silver Crystal was glowing faintly.

"If it is, then it's cont-- conta--" Why can't I speak straight? And why do I feel like I'm about to fall over? This can't be natural. But that means it's magical, and *that* means...

I picked the crown up off the cushion and set it on my head.

Instantly, an alarm shrilled along my every nerve. Danger, danger, danger! Evil is here!

What the--

"Mom? Are you in here?"

"Rini?" I sagged against the arm of the chair. "Thank the gods. Take the Silver Crystal back to its vault. Then I want you to alert the other Scouts. I think--"

"Serena!"

The note of urgency in Luna's voice made me raise my head and finally look at my daughter. And, oh, what I saw...

Her dress was black and pink, not the mostly-white of her Sailor uniform or the blue or pale rose that she usually wore when not on duty. And it was in a style that I hadn't seen in about forty years on my personal, subjective timescale, although I recognized it instantly. I'd never been able to wipe the memory of those terrible days from my mind. Rini still wore the locket that she used to transform into Sailor Moon, but it was blackened and scratched. But it was the crescent on her forehead that confirmed my terrible suspicions. It wasn't golden and upright. It was black, and inverted.

This wasn't my daughter. The person standing beside me was the onetime servant of the Doom Phantom, Wicked Lady.

The next few seconds were like something out of nightmare, as she stepped back to give herself room for a kick. I saw it coming, but I couldn't move fast enough to dodge. Luna squalled and leaped out from under me, aching joints forgotten for the moment, as I fell across the chair, clutching at my stomach. The crown tumbled from my head and rolled several feet across the floor before coming to a stop.

Rini scooped up the Silver Crystal, then went after the crown.

"You won't be needing this anymore, I don't think," she said as she raised one foot, and then brought it down.

She yelped, then stared at the crown in surprise and consternation. It was still undamaged, unbent and unbroken.

"Oh, all right then," my daughter snapped. "It isn't as though it could help you, anyway." And she vanished in a swirl of blackness.

I forced myself back to my feet, coughing, retching, and shaking with exhaustion, and retrieved the crown.

"Luna, are you all right?" I asked.

"More so that you are."

I staggered towards the door. "I have to check on the others." Darien... If Rini was now Wicked Lady, had my husband reverted to what he had been in the bad old days when he'd been captured by the Negaverse? No. Please, no. I don't think I could handle that.

"Serena, wait."

It took her three tries to complete the flip. I hadn't seen her do it in years, and only a couple of times since I'd first become Sailor Moon. But this time what fell to the floor as she completed the arc wasn't a locket.

I felt oddly numb inside as I picked up the wand. I hadn't seen it in years, either. The Crescent Moon Wand. The most powerful weapon of the old Moon Kingdom, except for the Silver Crystal. Which was lost to me now, as I'd thought that the wand had been lost.

"It returned to its place when you defeated Beryl," Luna admitted. "I didn't want to give it back to you because... I didn't want to see you die the way your mother did. But I don't think we have a choice anymore."

Tears prickled at my eyes. "Luna..." I understood her fears. Understood them all too well. Queen Serenity had been the focus of Phoebe's Ward at the time she died, which meant that her memories were part of the body of knowledge I'd gained when I'd put the coronet on. Normally I wasn't even aware of them, but now Luna's words and the Wand had brought my mother's last moments into painfully clear focus.

"Her last thoughts were of me," I said, dashing the tears away. "I never knew that. Come on. We've got a Palace to take back."

Kyanite

I floated in darkness. I didn't remember how I'd gotten here, only a tremendous blow striking the minimal wards that were all I could maintain, and then an endless fall...

I've failed.

Failed?

I didn't complete my mission.

What mission? I raked my hands through my hair, coming close to drawing blood from my scalp. What's happening to me?

An image appeared inside my head -- a sword made of crystal. Beautiful, impossible, and obviously never intended to be used as an ordinary, physical weapon. I held it in my hands --

Hands?

But they couldn't be my hands. They were too large and too pale, the hands of a grown man with a complexion more like, say, Zoisite's, than my own.

A crystal sword, and I'd been going to retrieve it when...

When?

I couldn't remember. And even the image in my head, the only fragment of memory that I'd managed to retrieve, was wrong somehow. As though it didn't really belong to me.

Then what is it doing inside my head?

As I emerged from my dark reverie, I ran my fingers through my hair again, jarring my spirit crystal as I raised my arms. I gritted my teeth and refused to whimper as that pain speared through me.

A dead man's spirit crystal...

A dead man's memories...

Maybe even a dead man's soul?

Now I did whimper. What a terrible, frightening thought.

I'm Kyanite, I told myself. I'm myself, not a dead man's shadow. MYSELF!!!

And I'm acting like an idiot, I realized. Something really, *really* bad is going on, and I'm sitting here on my bed having an identity crisis! I've got to find my fathers, and soon, or it'll be too late. I didn't ask myself how I was supposed to be able to help. I hadn't come back here because Zoisite had ordered me to, not after all that stuff Lady Aventurine had told me about a General having to be able to trust his judgment and not relying on anyone else's. No, I'd returned to my closet of a room because I hadn't been able to see how I could help, and anything was better than getting in the way. But now there was something inside me that was driving me forward. I had to go. I knew I had to. All right, objective decided. Let's go.

I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob. I didn't want to go out there unarmed, but I couldn't think of anything in here that could be used as a weapon. Short of manufacturing a garrote out of a shirt, or something like that. And anyway, what would I do with a weapon if I had one? My training hadn't gone much beyond learning how to fall, so far. Well, I'd been shown a few basic knife-fighting moves, but that was it. Not enough to win a real fight with.

I closed my eyes and expanded my senses, another of the pitiful handful of magics that I could reliably perform, but all I could sense was the Negaverse's dark heartbeat, racing now. I pulled back into myself rather precipitately as I sensed that I was drawing the attention of something. Something that shouldn't have been there. But anyway, I didn't want whatever-it-was after me.

I opened the door...

... and found myself staring into the face of General Zircon, who had one hand raised to knock.

He recovered faster than I did, snapping, "We have to get out of here!" with considerable authority.

<<I have to find King Malachite!>> I stated.

<<Not a chance. He's on the other side, and the pathways between the Negaverse and the Earth Realm can't be traversed right now. And in any case, we have to get you to safety. Damn!>>

I turned to follow the direction he had just sent a glance in. A group of youma was just coming around the corner. Their eyes looked oddly glazed, and they were all carrying weapons...

<<Do you know where the main Warp to the customs office used to be?>> Zircon asked, positioning himself between me and the youma and unlimbering the whip that he had been wearing at his side.

<<Yes.>>

<<Then teleport there. Now!>>

<<Not unless you come with me.>>

<<Kyanite! We're running out of time!>>

Actually, we were out of time. The youma had broken into a run the moment that they'd seen us. Zircon had been pushing me back down the hallway behind him, but there was no way that we could possibly move fast enough, not while we were walking backwards. He spread his arms wide, forming a ward in front of us, but even I could see that it wasn't going to last more than a few seconds.

<<Go!>>

<<Not without you,>> I stated firmly. I wasn't going to let him sacrifice himself for me. Zircon was a real person, with a past, not just a memoryless, magicless cipher like me. If anything, I should be the one playing rear guard for him!

I didn't realize that I'd projected that thought until Zircon snapped, <<I've been trained. You haven't. They're only youma. And we'd both have been out of here by now if you hadn't insisted on arguing with me!>>

<<No, I-->> Then a youma's attack slammed into my side, and things started to get really strange. There was none of the expected pain, but my magic surged inside me. Startled, I tried to throttle it back down, but it wouldn't behave. <<ZIRCONGETOUTOFTHEWAY!!!>> I projected frantically as my personal energies seemed to develop a mind of their own.

There was a brilliant flash, and all of the youma staggered backwards. I screamed as something that felt like a wave of lightning clawed its way through my brain. My back arched and my entire body jerked as Zircon pulled me with him in a teleport.

When we emerged at the other end, I was back in control of myself, more or less. I felt exhausted, and I had the peculiar impression that my clothing had shrunk. Or at least, my jacket was tighter through the shoulders than it had been before.

I fell to my knees in the middle of a huge room, knowing that everyone was staring at me but not caring very much.

What in hell just happened?

Almandite

<<Hold still, damn it!>>

My husband obediently froze in place again as I raised my hands to his temples. Erasing his headache eased the secondhand pain I was feeling, but didn't make it disappear. Nephrite wasn't the only member of our Weave with an aching head, and I was still getting echoes from Zoisite.

<<I wish you'd waited until after I'd done this to set up that ward wall,>> I complained. <<It would have made things a lot easier.>>

<<Except that we'd be trying to fight off berserk youma. You must admit that you wouldn't be able to heal very effectively under those circumstances.>>

<<Don't remind me.>> I knew that we had to start for the Crystal Palace, but I turned and buried my face in my husband's jacket anyway.

Nephrite's arms came around me, and I felt him stroke my hair. <<Are you all right?>>

<<Until tonight, I thought I'd gotten used to the violence,>> I admitted. <<But I've never had to deal with anything like this before. It's never been a friend at the other end of the sword.>> I knew most of the youma who were now imprisoned under the dome -- in fact, I'd been present at the births of some of the younger ones -- and I was jointly responsible for all of them. Trapping them in there felt like a betrayal.

<<There are times when I forget how young you really are,>> Nephrite mused.

<<I'm well over a thousand years old,>> I replied tartly.

<<That's a technicality and you know it. Inside your mind, you're only about half a century old. You never lived in the Negaverse in the old days. You only have secondhand memories of what it was like.>>

I couldn't find the words or even form the concept to reply to that. Instead, I continued to lean against my husband until he initiated the teleport.

Nonspace provided us with a wild and twisting ride and spewed us out some twelve feet above the ground, over one of the private gardens outside the Crystal Palace. If Nephrite hadn't been quick with his levitative powers, we would have landed in a fountain.

<<I think we're lucky that we didn't reappear underground, or halfway through a wall,>> he observed as we floated downwards. <<I know, normally that wouldn't be possible, but tonight I wouldn't be at all surprised.>>

<<Then we walk the rest of the way, I suppose,>> I stated as my boots touched the crushed gravel of a pathway.

But we'd barely taken two steps when something like an earthquake shook the Crystal Palace and its grounds, and a painfully brilliant flash of light burst from several of the windows.

Nephrite froze. <<That felt... like the Crescent Moon Wand... but that doesn't make sense. It's been missing since the Shadow Millennium. And there was something more, something immensely powerful.>>

I nodded. <<It felt to me like it had something to do with Phoebe's Ward...>>

We turned to stare at each other for a moment. Then we both sprinted for the Palace.

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