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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 15

© 2001 by E. Liddell


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Malachite

We knelt opposite each other on the floor of the throne room. I touched the knife that lay beside my right knee, then began pulling my left glove off and rolling up the sleeve of my jacket to reveal the gold wristlet that was the real anchor for Adamant's Ward. Demantoid watched, his dark eyes inscrutable. We'd ordered all the others out of here, knowing that, if I failed in what I was setting out to do, the results could be ...messy.

My hand now bare, I picked up the knife and tested the edge. Not so sharp that I drew blood just by touching it, but sharp enough. I glanced up at Demantoid, but chose not to exchange any words with him. We both knew what we were going to have to do here.

I pressed the point of the knife against my left palm, feeling the skin part. A single drop of blood ran out along my index finger and dripped onto the floor. Quickly, I pressed my hand down on top of the little red blot, whispering a word whose meaning I didn't know and feeling the sudden strangeness of the stone where I touched it. It wasn't cold, the way it normally was. Instead, it felt warm, like living flesh. The initial linkage had been established.

<<Your turn,>> I prompted my companion. His job here was to create and support the linkage that would let me do the main work. Then, <<What is it? You have the oddest look on your face.>>

Demantoid frowned. <<I suppose I do. My King, I'm more certain than ever that this is absolutely necessary, but I also know that no good will come of it.>>

<<That doesn't make sense,>> I protested.

<<I know, but that's...>> He hesitated. I knew that he didn't like to talk about his supposed precognitive ability to me. He seemed to think that I believed that it didn't exist. That wasn't precisely true, though. I was willing to allow that the few predictions that he'd made to me so far had been accurate, and that his ability was most likely real. It was just that I didn't know whether or not it could be subverted by an outside force, an idea that Demantoid was never likely to come up with himself. He just wasn't suspicious enough.

<<It's probably just the demon, trying to stop us from doing this,>> I stated. <<Begin. Now. That's an order.>>

<<As my King wills.>>

He drew in another breath, then glanced at me again. I glared at him until he began to speak, or rather, to mumble.

"...hlenno mrobyela ardapa taniz, yaluno mrobyela heshpa taniz..."

I only caught a scrap, here and there, of what he was saying, and what I did hear I understood no more than I had when I had passed Adamant's words on to him in the first place, but I didn't need to understand in order for the spell to work.

Perhaps I should have been immune to strangeness by that point in my life -- I'd certainly seen enough of it -- but feeling my consciousness expand into the fabric of the Negaverse was a different kind of strange. I've wondered since, from time to time, whether what I felt that night was anything like what the Negaforce felt, back in the days when my home was its body and the rest of us were like parasites running around inside of it. But that isn't something that I really feel comfortable thinking about.

I felt ...everything. Every molecule of rock, every strand of glowfungus was part of me. I had to close my eyes, because I felt like I was seeing the surface of my home in a hundred thousand places, as though every outcropping of rock that poked up through the fungi outside had suddenly become an additional pair of eyes. Fortunately, closing my real eyes discontinued that disturbing mode of vision. But I couldn't shut down my ears, or my sense of touch. Most especially not my sense of touch, no matter how much I wished that I could just then. Because the moment the connection had become established, I had also felt the demon, or rather, its effects. It felt like something cold and diseased was gnawing at my heart. And it was working its way outward, sending spears of pain through my body...

Get a grip, I told myself in disgust. It's just an illusion. The pain isn't important, because it isn't representative of real damage -- or at least, not of damage to my real body. What it meant for my kingdom was another matter. That creature is going to pay for this... The pain receded as my anger -- and my ego -- reasserted themselves.

Take away its food source. That was the first step. It wasn't all that difficult on the surface -- I had an intimate sense of where every single energy flow in the Negaverse was right now -- but it was rather like performing surgery on myself without anesthetic.

I gritted my teeth and reached for one of the streams of magical energy, tugging at it until it stretched and I could anchor it underneath my hand. Then another. And another. And another. I could feel the demon stirring, but the sudden loss of energy had left it sluggish. By the time it managed to turn its attention to me, I had already shifted a dozen energy flows and linked them at the new nexus I had created. That appeared to represent some sort of critical mass, because after that the entire pattern took on a life of its own and tilted, positioning itself around its new center.

Now. While it's still off-balance.

My free hand rose to sketch a pattern in the air. My eyes were still closed, but that didn't matter. The symbols glowed in the forefront of my mind, and I could sense the potency of each as I completed it. This was going to be one hell of a spell.

Three words, given to me by Adamant. They burned at the back of my throat, echoed inside my head, and sent little ripples of energy out along my arm to the golden wristband that I wore.

I spoke the first, and the world shivered.

I spoke the second, and it suddenly became very silent everywhere in the Negaverse, as my heart skipped a beat. There I hesitated, even though the sense of something incomplete was pressing down on me. There was something I had to do before completing the spell.

<<Nephrite? Nephrite, are you there?>>

Nothing.

<<Damn it, where are you?>> I reached out along the Weave-link, but there was a barrier between me and Nephrite, thin, but elastic and infused with an untainted magic that burned my mind. <<Almandite!>>

<<My King?>> At least one of them was responding.

<<What's your husband doing? Tell him that I need him to complete his half of the spell now, or everything is going to be lost.>>

<<I can't. He's somewhere inside Phoebe's Ward... or maybe inside King Samuel's mind. I can't reach him.>>

I cursed, knowing that that was a mistake even as the spell structure that I had so painstakingly constructed shivered and threatened to collapse. I gritted my teeth and tried to hold out just a little longer.

Eternity doesn't have to be measured in years or millennia. It can just as easily be measured in seconds or in breaths or in heartbeats. The unfinished spell twisted in my mind, trying to complete itself the only way it knew how, which was by creating the magical equivalent of a short circuit and annihilating Demantoid and myself in a massive explosion.

I should never have done this. I should have known better. I couldn't disassemble what I'd built, not when it had taken on a life of its own and was using the node under my hand as a power source. I may be one of the most magically powerful creatures on two legs, but the ambient magical fields of even so small a world as the Negaverse are far more powerful than I.

<<Nephrite! Damn you!>>

This time, I thought I felt the beginning of a response. But I didn't have time to wait to be sure. I was on the verge of blacking out, and the spell was twisting away from me despite everything that I could do. My eyes were open again, but I really couldn't see anything. I was too busy wrestling with the magic.

I spoke the final word. Utter silence. Then I felt... I don't know. Like I had dropped a stone into a still pond, making the water ripple. But this time, the fabric of the Negaverse, which was also part of the fabric of my body and brain, was what was rippling. I groaned, clutching at my chest with both hands as I felt something trying to eat its way out from inside me (No, from inside the Negaverse...). Then Demantoid's eyes flashed, and he chopped his hand down through the air in front of him, severing the linkage that bound me to the land.

I collapsed onto my side on the floor and just breathed for a moment. I would have liked to stay there for a while longer, truth be known, but Demantoid took it upon himself to ask a question.

<<Did it work?>>

<<I don't know,>> I admitted. <<It isn't here anymore, but I can't tell where it went, either. If it's in the Earth Realm, were just as badly off as we were before. We'll have to send someone there to check, I suppose. And even if the bulk of it's gone, the people it corrupted may not be back to normal yet. In fact, they're probably not. We're going to have to exorcise the youma one by one...>>

<<Malachite? Are you there?>>

<<Nephrite?>> If he had been there in person, I would have grabbed my Weavemate's shoulders and shaken him until his teeth rattled. <<What happened? Where's the demon?>>

Nephrite hesitated for a moment. <<Well, my King...>>

Nephrite

Darkness. I fumbled through it. Then...

Light. Light? And water. What in hell is this doing here?

I seemed to be floating above the surface of a dark lake. I could see chunks of ice bobbing around in it. Suddenly, I was very grateful that I wasn't really, physically there. That water looked cold. Truth be told, though, I wasn't sure that I would be able to check its temperature even if I fell in. My body didn't seem to have made it here with me.

Well, of course not. I'm inside someone else's mind. I'm not part of his inner landscape, so I have no body here. It was a bit disconcerting not to have even the illusion of physicality, but there were other things that were more important right now than worrying about it.

So what do I do now? I looked around, but all I could see was more ice and dark water. Except... was that perhaps an island, way over there? Well, it was as good a mark to make for as any.

I floated toward it, cursing to myself as I seemed to be making very little headway. Despite the fact that I could sense that very little time was passing in the real world, I was feeling impatient. The next thing to a war was going on in the Negaverse, and here I was, disembodied, floating slowly and majestically through the mind of the man who might or might not survive to become the king of Crystal Tokyo. It made me want to scream.

But the maybe-island gradually did get closer, until I could see that it was actually just another floating chunk of ice, larger than the rest, but equally barren and pointless... except that I could see a darkness that had to be something frozen inside. Something maybe four or five feet tall and human in proportion... like the body of a child? A vaguely familiar child... No, that was Samuel himself! But much younger, the age he'd been when I'd first seen him scampering away from my car at the beginning of that doll fiasco, back in old Tokyo.

If I'd been physical, I would have snorted. All right, so he thinks that parts of him have been frozen away. That isn't exactly of much help to me. Where's the damned Ward? But there was absolutely no variation in this place, just dark water, and ice, and ...a light source?

I'm an idiot, I told myself. Sure enough, there it was -- the Moon. There weren't any stars, though. I wondered if that was supposed to be a subtle indicator that I was powerless here.

I willed myself upward, towards the white light in the sky. This time, I found myself moving rapidly, as though the Ward was pulling me towards itself. Which might even be true, if it wants to tap my powers.

--snap--

The sudden transition landed me on my knees. Then I realized that I had knees again, which meant that whatever passed for reality in here had suddenly done an abrupt about-face. And then I realized that the place where I was kneeling was a lot more familiar than I wanted it to be.

I'd been there exactly twice before. The first time, I hadn't had much time to look around -- I was too intent on destroying the place. I hadn't had much time for sightseeing the second time, either, when I'd been escorting two women to a ball, but I did have blurred memories of the pattern of the flowerbeds, and the statue off to my left.

The Moon Kingdom. But why am I...?

"You are inside our mind."

I sprang to my feet and spun around to face the speaker. I had never seen her outside of a history book before -- and a Silver Millennium history book, at that -- but I knew instantly who she was.

She wasn't all that tall, although certainly she was taller than Neo-Queen Serenity, her latter-day descendant. But she was muscular where Serenity had been slim, and her waist-length white hair was pulled back from her face in a no-nonsense braid. It would have been immediately obvious to anyone meeting this woman that she was a soldier, someone whose profession was war, even if she hadn't been wearing polished steel armour instead of one of the long, white dresses that her descendants seemed to favour.

"Queen Phoebe," I greeted her.

"Lord Nephrite," she returned.

"I won't bother asking how you know my name," I said. She was a figment of King Samuel's imagination, just like any other, and therefore she must know what he knew.

She shook her head. "You must understand that it is our mind, now," she said, answering my thoughts instead of my words. "The Ward stores the memories of each of those who have anchored it. Samuel is ...having some trouble with that. But you did not come here to learn about us. You came for help."

"I came to accomplish a task," I corrected.

Her brilliant blue eyes, one of the few features that she and Neo-Queen Serenity did share, flickered shut for a moment. "Just so. But you need our help, all the same. You would not even be able to touch the fabric of the Ward, or the mind of its anchor, without burning yourself, if we were not shielding you."

My eyes narrowed. She was telling the truth, I knew she was, and yet...

"Why?" I asked.

"Because if we do not help you, we will be helping the demon," she said.

...which would go against the Ward's purpose, and, by extension, yours, I completed. "So what do you suggest?"

"Come." She turned away from me and began walking without checking to see if I was following.

I shook my head in bemusement. Now, there is a woman who is -- was, rather -- used to getting her own way, I thought. Then I followed her.

As we walked through the garden, I realized that there was something a bit abnormal about our surroundings. Not something threatening, for a change, just something odd. The patterns of the vegetation were just a shade too regular, and the water in the fountain that we passed, which should have been making little tinkling falling-water noises, was completely silent. It reminded me of a bad piece of computer animation from the earliest days of Crystal Tokyo.

"It's all an illusion, isn't it?" I asked my silent guide. "Something that you've generated for my benefit. Not even as real as the ice water."

"If you're asking if this place has any deep psychological significance for the person whose mind we're inhabiting, then no, it does not."

"Mmm." So it was her creation, or the Ward's.

We entered the Moon Palace, or a good imitation of it, together. I hesitated fractionally when I realized that we were headed for the area that had traditionally been reserved for the royal family's private apartments, but Phoebe didn't pause.

We climbed down a flight of stairs, then another, into a sub-basement that I suspected had never existed underneath the real Palace. The passageways were low and dark and twisting, and I would have sworn that I had seen them before.

And then we stopped opposite the doors, and I knew where we were. I had never seen in person the real place on which this particular fantasy was modeled, but I'd viewed it through Zircon's eyes less than ten days ago. This was the complex of tunnels under the Crystal Weaver citadel, and we were outside the room where Adamant's spirit crystal had been found.

The doors weren't locked this time. They opened under Phoebe's hand, and she stepped inside. I followed her, even though there was something about this place that made my hair -- all of it -- want to stand up on end. There was a massive amount of power concentrated here in this room, and I could tell that the creature that wielded it had a gift of perception that made my own look like a pathetic joke. But that creature was invisible, and I was rather more interested in the other occupant of the room, the one I could see.

He was waiting for us by the altar, a slender, upright figure whose face was mostly concealed by his multicolored hair. Crude bands of hammered gold circled his upper arms. That would have tipped me off as to his identity, if I hadn't already figured it out.

<<Adamant,>> I greeted him. <<I thought you were in Kyanite's mind, not here.>>

<<Not exactly. This version of me that you see here is only a shadow, as is the other one. Neither of us has the full knowledge or perception of the original. Do not place too much of your trust in either of us.>>

I absorbed that in silence for a moment, then asked, <<What is this place? Or rather, what purpose did the original serve?>>

<<A temple. More than that, it is the place where we began. Five thousand years ago, I knelt here and asked the gods for the power to defeat the demons. And they gave it to me, in their own inimitable way.>> He turned away from me to face the altar. Two candles burned there, set in crude copper candlesticks, and a curl of scented smoke wafted lazily up from the incense burner. As I looked over his shoulder, I noticed that there was a small square of bronze set into the center of the upper surface of the granite altar. Someone had incised an unfamiliar symbol into it.

Adamant, or his image, glanced back up at me with a quick smile. <<Remember that. It will be important to you, eventually.>>

I nodded, and looked at him expectantly. I suspected that reminding him of my mission would be useless, since he didn't seem to be the sort of person who would react well to being prodded, but I needed to finish what I had set out to do.

Adamant's head tilted to one side, and his smile became oddly wry.

<<Take my hand,>> he ordered, holding it out.

I gave him another long, searching look, then reached out. I noticed, bemused, as my fingers closed around his, that my hand was bare, not gloved, and my jacket cuff was blue, not gray. I was wearing, not my Negaverse uniform or even one of my Maxfield Stanton outfits, but one of the old training uniforms from the Silver Millennium. And I am not even going to attempt to guess what the significance of that is supposed to be.

Adamant's hand squeezed mine. His grip was painfully tight. I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes, refusing to pull away. But all of a sudden, it didn't feel like something was squeezing my hand, it felt like something was burning it.

My eyes snapped open. The thing that was burning me was the crown that anchored Phoebe's Ward. I was back at the Crystal Palace -- not that I'd ever left, really, but the transition was still a bit of a shock. My vision was a bit blurry around the edges. I shook my head, trying to clear it, but the distortion effect remained. It was as though there was a faint greyness hovering here in the room with us.

That's a demonic trace, I realized. I must be linked with the Ward. And there was a message echoing in my mind, something that must have dropped through the Weave-link just before I'd returned to the real world.

<<Nephrite! Damn you!>>

I recognized the touch of Malachite's mind, and realized what he wanted me to do. <<Kyanite! How do I do this? Quickly!>>

<<Call up an image of the city in your mind. You have to visualize a perimeter and work from the outside inwards.>>

...and hope that no little bits of demon are caught outside, I added to myself, or we'll have to start all over again.

It had been some time since I'd last seen a map of Crystal Tokyo, but I did my best, tracing a perimeter that extended out some ten miles or so and hoping that the magic would compensate for any little variances between my mental image and the reality of the city.

<<Now what?>>

<<Speak these words-->>

I didn't understand any of what he was spouting, and to be honest I don't think he did either, but fortunately, this was a true spell, whose success relied on symbolic connections rather than any attempt of mine to shape the magic. I could sense Malachite's desperation, and knew I didn't have the time to speak the formulae aloud, so I ran the words through my mind, concentrating on each, trying to make them as distinct as possible.

At first, nothing seemed to be happening. Then I saw a faint glow coming from between my fingers where they rested on the forehead of Serenity's unconscious brother. I snatched my hand away just as a beam of light shot out of his moon crescent. I muttered a curse and raised an arm to protect my eyes.

<<You're just a little too close to it, I guess,>> Alex stated. <<A shame. Here, have a look.>>

It was only a brief flash, a single, still image of what he and the others were seeing, but it was more than enough. A pillar of light almost filling the middle of the room, so that my left arm and part of my shoulder were swallowed up in it, and, balanced on top of the column, a creature of light, almost human-shaped, but with wings.

Then there was a splintering crash as reality pulled itself apart and reassembled itself. It was only when that was over that I dared open my eyes. As far as I could sense, the demon was gone. But not dead. I was certain that I would have known if we had killed it. Still, we had squeezed it out of this universe and out of the Negaverse. Where could it have gone?

Goto Interlude III


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