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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 10

© 2000 by E. Liddell


Back to Dark Kingdom Home | E.Liddell's DK Stories | Stayka's DK Stories | Other DK Stories


Lord Samuel

I'm still not quite sure what woke me up. I know that I was having nightmares, but not what they were about. I also know that I woke with a headache, and that I was feeling the same uneasiness as I often did in the presence of the Silver Crystal. That was what disturbed me enough to actually get out of bed and reach for my pants.

Two minutes later I was stumbling out into the hallway, wearing just the pair of discarded trousers that I had picked up off the floor. I'd given up on finding my slippers, so I padded silently and barefoot over the cold smoothness of the polished floors.

There was no one outside my door. That was the first indication that something was badly wrong. True, I didn't rate a Sailor Scout as an honour guard when I was lounging in bed, but there should still have been a pair of ordinary palace guards flanking the portal. They had to have been called away -- and in a hurry, or they would have woken me.

Suddenly awake and worried, I padded back into my suite. I put on my boots and the light armour that went with my officer's uniform. The battery in my gun didn't have much of a charge in it, though, and I didn't have a spare handy. I cursed and attached the holster to my belt anyway, making a mental note never to treat my sidearm as merely ceremonial again just because the space fleet which I commanded had never been in a fight. Two or three shots were better than none, but a couple of dozen shots would have been a lot better. As an afterthought, I grabbed the telekinetic ring from my dresser and slid it onto my finger. You never know what'll come in handy.

Then I went back out into the hall, feeling rather silly but not willing to go back to bed until I was absolutely certain that this was just a false alarm.

The private wing of the palace was eerily quiet. The Scouts' rooms were all empty -- Rini's, too, and the royal suite upstairs. There were no guards anywhere.

Phaeton's door was closed, though unguarded, and I hesitated for a moment before knocking. I relaxed a little bit when I heard irritated grumbling from inside. The door swung open to reveal my nephew, disheveled and rubbing his eyes.

"Uncle Sammy? What is it?"

"I wish I knew. It almost looks like we're the only people still alive here. Get dressed. I want to take a look around, and I don't want to leave you here alone."

"If this's some kind of weird nightmare you had, I'm gonna kill you," Phaeton mumbled as he retreated inside. I heard some rustling and some thumping, and then he reappeared, half-dressed. And unarmed -- but then he'd inherited his father's natural magic. I'd never thought much of roses as weapons, but Phaeton had never really had what I'd consider to be serious combat training, and probably wouldn't know how to use a gun.

"Keep an eye out behind us," I ordered him, and was rewarded with a sullen glare.

I opened the door that would give us access to the main palace as cautiously as I could manage. There was no one in the hallway on the other side, but I caught a faint whiff of smoke in the air.

This is stupid. A middle-aged space admiral and a kid, trying to investigate what's beginning to look like a major disaster, or maybe a rebellion. It sounds like the plot of a really bad movie. What in hell do I think I'm doing?

Trying to save both our skins, I told myself. If something really was wrong, it was imperative that Phaeton and I get ourselves out of the Palace and off the grounds. Phoebe's line had to survive, somehow, and neither of us had enough in the way of special powers to be of any real help in a fight. Someone had to run away, and we were the obvious choice. It was cowardly, but it was also the smartest thing to do.

Unable to tell which direction the smoke smell was coming from, I led the way toward the front gates. I didn't know if that was the brightest idea -- the courtyard onto which they opened, and the plaza beyond, were open and exposed and quite possibly not the best places to be just now -- but the main gates were the easiest way out.

Behind us, someone giggled. I turned, gun ready.

"Why, Uncle Sammy! Fancy meeting you here. And you too, little brother."

Rini was wearing some kind of outfit that I'd never seen before -- a long pink and black dress. The transformation brooch that was always pinned to the front of her clothing looked like someone had tried to burn it. And the moon crescent on her forehead wasn't the familiar and hated golden symbol that Phaeton and I bore, but the equally familiar and even more hated black symbol of Nemesis.

"Sis, what's going on?"

I grabbed my nephew's arm and forced him back behind me. "Shut up, Phaeton. That isn't your sister."

"Why, Uncle, I'm hurt! Still, you're pretty perceptive, for an old guy." Rini -- or not-Rini -- laughed. It was an eerie sound. "You can call me Wicked Lady."

I leveled my gun at her. She laughed again.

"You don't really think you're going to hurt me with that, do you? In fact, I don't know why I've wasted as much time with you as I already have. You're only males, so you don't matter. It's the Neo-Queen that I need to kill. Sayonara!"

She vanished in a coruscation of crackling black energy that made my head ache. By the time I recovered, Phaeton was already pushing past me. I grabbed at his arm again.

"And just where do you think you're going? We have to get out of here!"

"Weren't you listening, Uncle Sammy? She's going to kill Mom! We've got to save her!"

"With what?" I snapped. "In case you hadn't noticed, you're suggesting that we go up against some pretty powerful magic with a gun that's nine-tenths empty and whatever attack spells you may know. It's better if we just leave. At least then we won't get in the Scouts' way."

Phaeton actually glared at me. "Just because she's got magic doesn't mean that she's invulnerable to physical attack. All we have to do is wait until she's distracted."

All of which was true, but the person we were supposed to save... There were days when I almost hated my sister. Serena had been running my life for me ever since I'd been a teenager. She'd stolen all of my choices from me in order to mould me into someone fit to sire additional heirs for Phoebe's line, not that that had ever come to much. There was one young girl here at the Palace that I thought might -- might -- be my daughter, but I'd never been able to confirm that with her mother, and I was absolutely certain that I'd never fathered any other children.

But Serena... I understood why she'd done what she'd done to me, and I still loved her in spite of it, but I'd never forgiven her. And I never would. And sometimes I wanted to make her suffer, too. Just a little. Letting her get killed by her own daughter was probably a bit out of proportion, though.

I sighed. "All right, let's go. The throne room, do you think?"

"Give me a second." Phaeton traced a design in the air with his forefinger, and murmured a few words. I could only watch, and wish that I'd been born with something in the way of useable magic. For an instant, a glowing arrow formed in front of us at eye level, pointing right through the wall to our left. "Looks like it."

And in any case, it was a place to start.

Phaeton and I proceeded down the hallway. He was being more serious about guarding my back now. I covered the hall ahead of us with the gun, poking it around every corner of every intersection before even moving forward to take a look at what might be there. I felt ridiculous, knowing that I must look like a refugee from some old cop show.

The faint smell of smoke was soon joined by that of cooked meat. And then we discovered the source of both scents.

Presumably, it had been a person once. It still had that general form, but it was so badly blackened and burnt that I couldn't tell who it had been, or even if it had been male or female. The belt buckle, the only recognizable thing that had survived, indicated that the body was probably that of a palace servant.

I heard gagging sounds coming from behind me, and turned to see Phaeton dumping the remains of his supper on the floor. I felt a little shaky myself. It had been years since I'd last seen a dead body, and that had been an accidental death on the second Mars mission. I hadn't seen anyone deliberately killed since the Dark Moon War.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time right now to coddle my nephew while he got over the shock. I reached out to touch his shoulder.

"Come on," I told him. "We've got to find Serena."

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, still looking a bit greenish around the gills. "All right."

As we moved farther along the corridor, I wondered why the fire alarm hadn't gone off when that servant had gotten toasted. The lights were still on, so there had to be power to the alarms. Unless they'd been deliberately disconnected. Wonderful. One more thing to clean up when this is all over.

Then we were opposite the huge double doors that opened onto the throne room. They were just barely ajar, open wide enough that a single person might slip through the space between them. Cautiously, I poked my gun, then my head, through the opening. But none of the people inside were paying the least amount of attention to me.

The Scouts were there, Mars and Mercury and Jupiter and Sumire as Saturn. The others must not have been on duty when things started going wrong. Serena was there too, the crown on her head, holding something that glittered pink and gold in her hands. And Darien, white-faced, knelt in front of his wife with Jupiter gripping his left arm and Mars, his right. He wore clothing that I'd never seen before, dark armor and a long cape. It looked vaguely ridiculous on a man who was only holding on to the tail end of middle age with his teeth.

Serena held up the pink and gold thing -- a wand, one that I'd never seen before, but that matched the descriptions I'd heard of the long-lost Crescent Moon Wand.

"Moon Healing Activation!"

The little sparkles of golden light washed over the room, a few of them even slipping through the narrow opening between the doors to caress me and Phaeton. I felt a tension inside me ease, something that I hadn't even been aware of until it was gone. It was as though some wrongness in my life that had been there for years had suddenly been made right. Behind me, I heard Phaeton gasp, then draw in a shaky breath, and I knew that he had been affected as well.

But it was Darien, at whom the wand's power had been aimed, who received the most benefit from it. His dark armor flickered and vanished, to be replaced by pajamas, and he sagged in the grip of the two Scouts.

I was so enthralled by the healing that I almost failed to notice when something changed. Not that that black lightning would have been easy to miss. I found myself staring as Rini appeared, high above the floor. Then I began to lift my gun -- too late, too late! -- trying to take aim at her. I wasn't ready yet when her hands began to come down, so I squeezed off my shot anyway, and...

... it missed. I heard the odd, flat sound of a blaster bolt hitting the reinforced stone of the wall, then nothing.

At least I'd attracted the Scouts' attention, but by the time they were able to react, it was all over.

Darien screamed "SERENA!!!!!!" and flung himself at his wife, trying to tackle her out of the way, but all he succeeded in doing was getting caught by the fringes of Rini's blast. There were two screams, and they both collapsed. The crown fell from Serena's head and rolled off the dais and across the room, ending its trajectory only a few feet away from me.

"Mars Flame Sniper!"

"Jupiter Oak Evolution!"

Those and other attacks filled the air. Only Sumire remained silent. Come to think of it, I didn't think I'd ever seen her use a traditional Scout sort of attack. She always used the Silence Glaive, and that usually as a melee weapon. I'd only seen her call upon its magic once or twice.

Rini laughed, that high-pitched sound that I was growing to hate. The attacks had all been absorbed by the crackling tongues of black lightning that surrounded her. "Do you really think that you can hurt me with those? Oh, please."

"Moon!"

"No!"

But despite Rini's protest, the attack was very real. I don't know where Serena found the strength to wield it. She was still lying on the floor, mixed into a tangled pile with Darien, the arm and hand supporting the wand the only parts of her that were really visible. Gold sparkles were fountaining from the wand once again, but there was something different about them this time, something sharper and more dangerous. This wasn't an attempt at healing. This was an attack.

Rini swore and vanished again. The moment she was gone, the last of Serena's strength seemed to leave her, and she dropped the wand.

I hurried into the room, pausing only to scoop up the crown. Phaeton followed, not quite as quickly. Then I was kneeling beside my sister. The Scouts clustered around me, but none of them tried to stop me from shaking Serena's shoulder.

Her eyes fluttered open. "Sammy?"

"Are you all right?" I asked. Okay, so it was inane, but it was the best that I could do.

I think she tried to laugh. It came out as a croak. "I'm dying. Darien's already gone."

"There has to be something we can do --" That was Phaeton, leaning urgently forward over my shoulder.

"No, Fayn. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have used the wand, but I couldn't see any other way. At least she didn't... get the crown..." One last little gasp of breath, and her eyes went glassy. She was gone.

I clenched my hands around the crown that I held, feeling too hollow for tears. No, Rini hadn't gotten the crown, but without her it was useless anyway. My niece was the last of Phoebe's female descendants. She was the only one who could use the crown to anchor the Ward. Had that been what Rini had meant to do? Destroy the Ward?

Some part of the design on the crown had bitten into my hand, and I saw blood trickle out, gathering in the intricately engraved pattern on its surface. It seemed to form designs, runes whose meaning teased at my mind...

I'm of Phoebe's line too, I realized. Maybe the thing about the Ward's anchor always having to be a woman was just tradition. And if it was, then maybe...

No one was paying any attention to me now. They were all trying to disentangle Serena and Darien, checking for pulses, hoping...

I glanced over at Phaeton. His eyes were closed and his face was blank, and I couldn't tell what he was thinking.

No. He's young, and strong, and has magic. He's the best hope we have left. And if I'm wrong, this could easily turn out to be fatal. Better that I do it. I'm not much good for anything else anymore. Even the space fleet doesn't really need me -- Enrico can handle it just fine. It has to be me.

I raised the crown above my head, then brought it down.

At first it felt like just so much smooth, cold metal. Then there was an itching sensation inside my head, and then... then something seemed to tear into my mind, ripping it open and spilling out my memories everywhere, like stuffing from a torn pillow. It was just too much to endure.

I blacked out.

Marcasite

I dipped the cloth in the bowl again, and wiped my brother's face. The action was becoming almost habitual.

It made me want to scream.

There was this hollow space inside me where Morgan's mind should have been. Through the Weave-link, I could sense that he was alive, but nothing else. I didn't remember him ever being so deeply unconscious before. Without the constant subtext of his thoughts infringing on mine, I felt oddly empty.

There had always been a powerful bond between the two of us, even if it was mostly one way. Or at least, I thought it was, but I'd never been sure if Morgan didn't feel my thoughts, or just wasn't able to separate them from his own. Although the fact that he never seemed aware of my visions was an argument for the first theory, I guess.

I didn't know if he needed me, but I needed him. And now, he'd been hurt because of me. I'd never felt so incredibly guilty in my life before.

And so I sat here, by his bedside, waiting for him to open his eyes. Mom had said that he would be okay, that there was no serious damage, but the brain was a delicate organ and it was better to leave him to wake up naturally rather than mess with it. And I believed her. It was just that waiting was taking a toll on my nerves.

I should have been out on the demon hunt, with the others, but I was just too worried. I'd told Malachite as much. He'd given me a very strange look, but then he'd excused me, for which I was forever grateful.

My head snapped up as I felt a sudden surge in the wards that surrounded the house. Someone had just teleported into our family's private sanctuary. The protections subsided again after a bit, which meant that whoever had just arrived was supposed to be here, but I decided that I would go and have a look anyway. I hadn't dared to contact any of my Weavemates, since I could feel that they were busy, but I would have had to be deaf, blind, and human not to sense that there was something peculiar going on tonight.

The door to the balcony was the third on my right as I strode down the hall. Outside, it was dark, but not so much so that a Crystal Weaver's eyes couldn't make out the figure approaching the doorway below, with a much smaller and slimmer person cradled in his arms, and a third person, armed with something long and sharp, trailing along behind them.

<<My King? What are you doing here?>>

<<I don't have time to chat, Marcasite. Come down here and open the door. The two of us have work to do.>>

<<Work, my King?>> I asked as I strode out into the hallway and took the stairs two at a time.

<<There's a demon on the loose. A very powerful demon. More powerful than I've ever seen before. Didn't you feel it?>>

<<Feel what?>> I opened the door, and Malachite entered the building, carrying Zoisite, and the youma -- damn it, I couldn't remember his name -- still trailing along behind them. The blue-skinned warrior's weapon was coated in what had to be blood. Involuntarily, I lowered my left hand to my hip, feeling for a sword that wasn't there.

<<The moment when it took over the Negaverse. You wouldn't have been as susceptible as myself or Zoisite, but surely you must have felt something.>>

<<I don't know.>> There had been a moment when I thought I'd felt something change, a little twinge of pain like a toothache, but I hadn't paid much attention except to hope that it was Morgan, waking up. <<What do you want me to do?>>

<<First of all, I need a warded room that locks from the outside. Somewhere to leave Zoisite. I'd prefer to keep him with me, but that's not an option right now.>>

<<A lock on the outside?>> I asked, not certain that I'd understood him correctly.

Malachite drew his unconscious lover in closer to his chest, as though to protect him. <<He went berserk and tried to attack me. Even if he wakes up sane, it'll be some time before he's completely himself again. Better that he stays out of this. Anyway, once I have somewhere to leave him, I'll need you to come back to the Negaverse with me. I suspect things are in a shambles over there, and I'm going to need all the help I can get to restore order.>>

I bit my lip. <<Your servant, my King.>> I didn't want to leave Morgan here alone, or as good as, but I knew where my duty lay. <<The best-shielded room is down in the basement, next to the wine cellar. This way.>>

I led the way downstairs. The door to the room I was thinking of was locked with a heavy old mechanical lock, which probably would have been easy to pick if it hadn't been so stiff. The key, which hung on a hook beside the door, was almost four inches long, which was a good thing, because I needed both hands to force it to turn.

There wasn't much furniture inside, just a rough bench, a couple of stools, and a scarred table with a wobbly leg. The only reason that the room was so heavily warded was that this was where Morgan and I had been given our initial lessons in magic. Dad had chosen it because it was as far as possible from his workroom and its delicately balanced magical forces, which he hadn't wanted disturbed by two novices. I don't think anyone had been in there since Morgan and I were about two or three.

Malachite's mouth flattened as he surveyed the room and its contents.

"I'll go get a blanket and a pillow, my King," I offered, then ran back upstairs without waiting for a reply.

When I got back, Malachite was sitting on one of the stools, still holding Zoisite in his arms. The youma had positioned himself outside the door, weapon at ready, looking as though he was going to stand guard. I spread one blanket over the bench, strategically placed the cushion that had been the closest thing to a pillow that I could find, and held the second blanket ready while King Malachite gently deposited the slender blonde on the narrow surface. Then I covered the unconscious man over and stepped back.

Malachite bent down over his lover, whispering something that I couldn't quite make out, then kissed the slender blonde gently on the lips. I was still trying to figure out how to react to that as he pushed past me and back out into the room at the foot of the basement stairs. I shook my head and followed.

He locked the door himself, while I stood by, somehow managing to do it with one hand. There was a frown on his face as he turned away from the locked portal.

"Jeff."

The youma stiffened his spine. "My King."

"You will stay here and guard Lord Zoisite."

"But, my King --"

Malachite's eyes flashed blue-white. "I can look after myself, but Zoisite can't right now. One of you has to stay behind and look after him, and Marcasite is more powerful than you are."

The youma didn't comment on that, but the look he shot Malachite spoke volumes.

<<My King,>> I stated after a moment's hesitation, <<this may be out of line, but... you don't have to do this, you know.>>

<<You're quite correct, Marcasite. That is out of line.>> But then he paused and put one gloved hand against the door, palm flat. <<This is as much security as any of us are going to know tonight. Don't you know what it's like to love someone and want to protect him, even though he may not appreciate it?>>

I thought of Morgan, lying unconscious upstairs. It wasn't quite the same, admittedly. Morgan was my brother, not my lover. I'd never had a lover, unless you counted the youma that I'd hired to... But that had been strictly a business transaction, with little emotion involved. Morgan was just the opposite. He had dozens of lovers, but, as far as I'd ever been able to tell, he'd never found a soul mate among them. I was still more important to him than any of them, just as he was the most important person in my life.

<<Yes,>> I stated. <<Yes, I know.>> I shouldn't be feeling so guilty about Morgan. At least I know my brother's going to be okay when he wakes up.

Malachite made an irritable gesture. <<We're wasting time. Come on, let's go.>>

Goto Chapter 11


Back to Dark Kingdom Home | E.Liddell's DK Stories | Stayka's DK Stories | Other DK Stories


This page belongs to Stayka's Dark Kingdom Home at http://www.dark-kingdom.de

© by E. Liddell - Email: eliddell@despammed.com

Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!