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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 16

© 2001 by E. Liddell


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David

I was crouching at the foot of the throne, where I had been chained, when it happened.

A glow erupted from Rini's cleavage. Frowning, she reached inside the front of her dress and extracted a thin chain on which a jeweled key hung. A jeweled key that shattered almost as soon as I saw it.

"What was that?" Grossularite was above me, seated on the throne that I believed had once belonged to Prince Diamond of Nemesis. I couldn't see his face, but the sound of his voice implied that he was feeling tense.

"The Time Key." The ex-princess's voice sounded almost plaintive. "I don't understand."

Then Grossularite screamed. It was an impossible, high- pitched sound that echoed back from the vaulted ceiling of the dusty throne room. At the same time, Rini gasped and raised her hands to her head.

"Cut off," she moaned. "Cut off."

I didn't understand what was happening, but I did know that this would probably be the best chance that I'd ever have to make a break for it. I pulled at the chain that secured me to the foot of the throne. I knew that I couldn't break it, but I also knew that the staple to which it was attached was loose, and maybe, just maybe...

It slid a bit, stuck, slid a bit more. Come one, come on, come on! They'll recover soon! I pulled until the chain cut into my hands, and blood dripped off my fingertips, and then I pulled some more.

Finally, the staple came loose. I wrapped the chain around my arm. A quick glance confirmed that Grossularite was still doubled over, and Rini was still rubbing her head. I wasn't quite sure how to get out of the old Dark Moon citadel--they'd teleported me in here--but even wandering the halls until I died of thirst was better than staying here with them. Grossularite had mentioned a few things that he wanted to do to me, things that I don't think even Zoisite at his worst would have thought of.

I reached the archway that led out of the room, raised my foot to step through... and was flung backwards by an explosion of magic the moment my foot crossed the threshold.

"You should have known better, slave." Grossularite's face was white and drawn, but he was obviously back in control of himself.

"I'm not your slave," I snarled, even though I knew what it was going to cost me.

Grossularite smiled. "Not yet, perhaps."

The whip that materialized in his raised hand had a lash that looked like a length of braided light and burned like acid wherever it touched my skin. I gritted my teeth as he worked me over. I survived my father, and I survived my apprenticeship as a youma. I can survive this, too. Except that this time, Pyrope wouldn't be able to rescue me. Pyrope...

I pictured his face in my mind, held to that image as Grossularite abandoned the whip and moved on to more refined torments, trying to ignore both my tormentor and the pink-haired woman who was watching me over his shoulder. My mind... They couldn't touch my mind, or my heart. Now or ever. I wouldn't let them.

Cassiterite

<<Are you sure you're all right, Dad?>>

"I've never been better." But I had a sneaking suspicion that he had said that aloud so that I wouldn't pick up on his residual headache. His wings were drooping.

<<You don't have to come with me, you know.>>

"Yes, I do. I have to check on Mina." He offered me a tired smile. "I'm not going to be able to get any sleep until I know that your mother's okay."

And I'm not going to be able to sleep, either, until I've checked on Sumire and Rhea... and Mom, I forced myself to admit. Yes, I'd at least look in on her, even though I knew she wouldn't notice, or care.

It wasn't that I didn't love her anymore, it was just that it hurt so much when she didn't react to my presence. Mom had always been so very alive, and seeing her the way she'd been for the past fourteen years... it was sickening.

<<Damn, this hill is steep.>> Well, okay, it wasn't on the list of "Ten Most Brilliant Comments of All Time", but it would change the subject.

"Just be glad that it's still here. After tonight, I wouldn't have been surprised if the local terrain had undergone some sort of rapid mutation. Or the vegetation."

I snorted. <<Looks like the same old grey moss and mushrooms-with-tentacles-that-want-to-be-bushes that you find in places like this the Negaverse over.>> Except for the shadows of pine trees, visible through the mist at the summit, but those weren't properly in the Negaverse.

Nephrite's house was the only really safe way through to the Earth Realm until we had a chance to figure out what the demon had done to uproot all of the Warps and forcibly mis-target our teleportations. The Warps were wandering back to their original locations now (which didn't necessarily mean their normal locations--the first re-routings pre-dated even Beryl's arrival in the Negaverse), but that didn't mean that anyone felt safe using one quite yet. Especially when there was no way of telling where the far end might have been re-routed to.

Into the mists. It was warmer here than in the Negaverse proper, but the stars blazing above us were the same. We slogged through the woods, past the house, down the drive, and into the Earth Realm proper before we dared teleport.

I homed in automatically on the feeling of Sumire's presence. I'd put the locator spell on her the year after we'd met, and slapped a similar one on Rhea when my adoptive niece had reached the crawling stage. It had made finding the little girl a lot easier, although she'd complained about the advantage it gave me in playing Hide and Seek.

I emerged from the teleport into a crowded room on the ground floor of the Crystal Palace. But I had eyes for only two of the people there.

I hugged Rhea first, even though she squirmed with adolescent self-consciousness and tried to wriggle out of my arms, and then I embraced Sumire, as well. My best friend tried to match my smile, but the expression looked strained on her.

"What's wrong?" I whispered the words in her ear, knowing how it would look to some of the people present in the room, and not caring. The rumours about Sumire and me being lovers had been going around for years--in fact, we'd set them up ourselves, when we were spreading disinformation about Rhea's parentage. It had proven to be one of the most tenacious of those rumours. After all, someone had had to help her with Rhea when she was little, and to some people, it seemed strange that we would be so close and trying to raise a child together if we weren't lovers... Morgan teased me about the story from time to time, even though he was my Weavemate and knew that there was nothing going on between the two of us. No, Sumire liked boys, and I did too. It was just that I hadn't found the right one yet, and Sumire's attempts to find the right one had ended in disaster.

"Luna knows about Rhea's father," Sumire whispered back.

I froze. "Oh, hell... Does he know?"

"She hasn't told anyone... yet. Cass, you've got to help me. I can't let this get out. It would ruin Rhea's life."

"Yeah, I know." I guided Sumire into an alcove along the wall, and created a sonic barrier between us and the main room to keep our conversation private. "I honestly don't see what we can do, though. It isn't like we can erase Luna's memory, and I've never had much pull with her."

Sumire bit her lip. "I was wondering if Morgan maybe could..."

I snorted. True, Morgan's persuasive abilities bordered on the hypnotic, but... "I wouldn't trust him not to plant a suggestion in Luna's mind that she was a chicken, or something like that."

My friend giggled. "Oooh... Shame on you for planting an image like that in my mind, Cassiterite Aino- Tsumeta! I wonder how well Luna clucks..."

<<Cass!>>

<<Dad? What is it?>>

<<I think you'd better get over here. Now.>>

Sumire had gone silent. She usually could tell when I was involved in a conversation via mindspeech.

"I'll be back in a moment," I said. She nodded. I teleported.

I popped out of nonspace at the foot of my mother's bed, on which my parents were sitting, holding each other. Mom was crying into Dad's jacket. And Dad... Dad had the strangest look on his face, fear and pain and exaltation all mixed up together.

"Dad? Mom?"

Mom jerked her head up. "Cass?"

And that was when I noticed several things. That the vagueness that had been in her eyes for the past several years was gone. That I could see the band of a silver ring, the ring that supported his spirit crystal, on my father's hand, and Mom wasn't flinching away from it. And that they'd both been crying, not just Mom.

"Are you both all right?" I asked cautiously.

"We're fine," Dad said. <<She's back with us, Cass. All the way.>>

"Oh, my gods..." I found myself on my knees beside the bed, and realized that I was crying, too. Mom reached out an arm and gathered me against them as Dad unfurled his wings. I felt curiously light, and free.

"Listen," Mom said, "there's something I have to tell you both."

But she didn't have time. There was a peculiar tearing sound from somewhere out in the anteroom, and then someone staggered to the door and fell across the threshold. A tall woman with green hair, dressed like a Sailor Scout.

"Get me to the Queen--I have to tell her--" Then she coughed, and blood spattered the floor underneath her.

"Sailor Pluto? What happened?" Mom asked.

"The...Queen," Pluto repeated stubbornly. "Must see the Queen. Help..."

It was Dad who rose decisively to his feet. "Cass, go on ahead and warn them." He helped Pluto to her feet and slung her arm over his shoulder. "I'm not about to teleport with her when we don't know how badly injured she is."

I nodded, but I couldn't help but remember that the last time Pluto had shown up here in this condition, that event had heralded the beginning of the Dark Moon War. I wasn't old enough to remember that, but I'd heard all the stories.

The question was, what did her arrival mean this time?

Zoisite

Nguh. Ouch. I raised a hand to my head, which hurt like hell. What happened? Who left me here? For that matter, where is "here"?

I rose to a sitting position, still cradling my head in my hands. Not much furniture... warded... That's Nephrite's work! Then I must be at his place. But who brought me here?

I strained my memory and pulled up a fuzzy image. Of Malachite. Malachite hitting me. Malachite betraying me.

My eyes burned with tears. We'd loved each other for two thousand years! How could it be over?

But I could still feel, distinctly, the bruise where his hand had struck me. It throbbed as I lifted cold fingertips to touch it.

I hugged myself and wailed like a lost child.

A child...

Kyanite! This was all his fault! He was the one who had stolen my Malachite from me!

And he'll pay for it, I swore grimly. Yes. He'll pay!

Goto Chapter 17


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