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

(August 30-September 13, 3023 AD)

Chapter 17

© 2001 by E. Liddell


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Mina

It had been like waking up from a nightmare, like a cold wind had blown inside me and ripped away the mists and the cobwebs inside my head that I'd been fumbling my way through, trying to find a way out. Suddenly, I'd remembered. I'd remembered everything.

I'd looked at the calendar, and winced. Has it really been that long? That many years? Have they really been trapped here with *that* all this time? I have to warn them before it gets worse... if they'll believe me. I hadn't believed that the Silver Crystal could have become something so terrible, if it hadn't attacked me the way it had...

And it's far too late, I realized as I jogged along the corridor beside my daughter, listening to her recite a concise history of the years I'd lost. I've failed. I failed her. My friend. My Queen. Serena. And now she's dead, and there's nothing I can do to bring her back.

Lita's death had been bad enough. If only I'd been a bit quicker... Her blood had been splattered all over me, staining my skirt. But losing Serena... Like Lita, she'd been a friend, but my life for years had centered around protecting her. And now I couldn't help but feel like I'd failed a second time. Or a third. If only I hadn't tried to confront the Silver Crystal myself, I might have prevented all of this. Hindsight is always the clearest, isn't it?

Cass walked through into the first-floor anteroom where the others were gathered without pausing, but I stopped in the doorway. Gods... That can't possibly be Phaeton, can it? He'd been a child of about ten in my last clear memory of him. Now he looked a great deal like his father had when I'd first met him. And then there was Rhea. I wouldn't have recognized my honorary-sort-of-granddaughter at all if she hadn't been standing beside her mother. She'd been a baby the last time I'd seen her.

Actually, while Cass was describing Pluto's arrival to everyone, I took time out to stare around. Sumire appeared to be my daughter's only contemporary among the current Scouts. The others were all much younger women whom I vaguely remembered as apprentices. Sammy looked like he'd changed surprisingly little, although it was difficult to tell for certain, given that he was unconscious. The three Negaverse Generals scattered around the room didn't appear to have changed at all, but... Who's the kid? An Enclavite?

It felt very strange to be there, among the too-young Scouts and their dark opposite numbers. Strange, but good. For the past fourteen years, I'd been a ghost wandering these halls. People had been able to see me, but I couldn't see them or touch them, trapped as I had been within my own mind. Now... Now I was back.

I could never regain those lost years of my life, but damned if I wasn't going to make the most of what I had left.

Phaeton

We crowded together into the little room to listen to what Sailor Pluto had to say. The antechamber really wasn't the best place for something like this, when you got right down to it. It was full of nooks and alcoves, but it didn't have enough seating for the fifteen of us now gathered there. Sixteen, I corrected myself, but Luna didn't need an entire chair to herself. At the moment, she was sitting in Rhea's lap. Or maybe even more. I didn't know how many of the other Generals might be watching through Lord Nephrite's eyes. Or Lord Alexandrite's. Or Aunt Molly's. Or Cass's. Or... I never had gotten the kid's name, come to think of it. Still, any such watchers didn't need chairs, either. If only Uncle Sammy hadn't needed all of the couch... Well, when you got right down to it, we didn't absolutely need to keep him in here, since he wouldn't be able to contribute anything useful to the discussion at hand, but moving him meant sending one of the Scouts along with him to guard him, and...

I groaned and rubbed at my forehead. Being in charge, even just being nominally in charge of Palace operations until Uncle Sammy woke up, wasn't as fun as I'd hoped it would be.

Alexandrite and Aunt Molly were bent over Sailor Pluto now, trying to coax her back to consciousness so that her message could be heard. When she'd been told that my parents were dead, she'd fainted. I didn't blame her. Even those of us who had been there were just beginning to come out of shock.

Tired of just sitting there and doing nothing, I went over to stand by the healers. Alexandrite was crouched beside the patient, eyes closed. Aunt Molly looked up as I came to a stop beside her.

"Hello, Fayn. We're almost done, we think."

Why had everyone suddenly reverted to calling me by my childhood nickname? "Do you have any idea what happened to her?"

"Well, whatever it was, it wasn't good. She's all over bruises and soft tissue damage, although, oddly enough, there aren't any cuts or broken bones. Very painful, but probably not life-threatening now that we've got the internal bleeding stopped. I can't imagine what could have done this to her, though. Anyway, Alex is trying to prod her awake. I couldn't manage it, but he's got the more delicate touch."

And, right on cue, Sailor Pluto's eyes slid open. She mumbled something and closed them again. Alex sighed.

"I hate to do this to her, but..." And he slapped her across the face. Delicate touch. Right.

Pluto slapped him back before her eyes were even completely open. Alex just stayed there and took it.

"I'm sorry," Pluto said hesitantly. "I didn't mean..."

Alex shrugged. "Forget about it. Healers heal fast. I'm more concerned about the news you bring than the condition of my face." And he reached up to rub the red handprint that was beginning to show across his cheek, fingers trailing coppery sparks.

"News... I was attacked. Again. By something much worse than that Dark Moon flunky who got me last time." She shivered. "I don't know exactly what it was, and to be perfectly honest, I don't think I want to know."

Almandite and Alexandrite exchanged glances. It was Aunt Molly that asked, "What happened to your staff?"

Pluto sat up. "You mean it isn't here? Then it must be back in the Timestream..." And she went pale.

Another quick exchange of glances between the two Generals. Why do I have the feeling that this isn't a good thing?

"Then the demon has it." I jumped as Nephrite spoke.

"Not necessarily," Aunt Molly replied.

Her husband shook his head. "We must assume the worst, which, in this case, is that the demon has the staff and can go anywhere that it pleases in Time."

"D-do we have any way of stopping it?" I winced as I stuttered. I thought I'd stopped doing that years ago, but now that the Crescent Moon Wand had burned away the layer of egotism that I'd used to protect myself from the world, I was feeling very young and very uncertain.

"Not that I know of," Nephrite replied. "Or at least... not selectively." He glanced at Sumire. "If I recall correctly, Sailor Saturn has sufficient power to destroy the demon, but not without causing an unacceptable amount of collateral damage -- I don't think that having her destroy the world gets us any further ahead than letting the demon do it." Sumire looked relieved. "The rest of us wouldn't stand a chance. It was all that Malachite and I could do to drive it away, and we had help."

"Not even your Weave, working together?" Jasper sounded almost like he was pleading with the older General.

Nephrite bit his lip. "I doubt it. Not without a sizable external power source and an amplifier at least as effective as the Silver Crystal. We might be able to find the former, but not the latter. Not quickly enough to save us."

Silence.

Then the boy -- Kyanite? -- who had arrived with General Alexandrite blurted, "There's a way."

Kyanite

I flinched as everyone's eyes turned to me, but forced myself to continue speaking.

"There's another amplifier, even more powerful than the Silver Crystal, which was designed specifically to kill Mena Kimlubeniz -- the demon," I corrected myself, quashing my uncertainty. I'd only seen the image reappear in my mind for an instant, when Nephrite had mentioned amplifiers, and I couldn't seem to call it back now. It was almost as though Adamant was trying to hide it from me. I was certain that it was one of his memories, and I had the feeling that he thought I shouldn't have seen it, although I wasn't entirely certain why. But I didn't entirely trust him. I'd sensed from the first that he was hiding something from me. "It's a crystal sword..."

<<No! You must not!>> Adamant just about screamed the words.

<<Why? It's our best -- maybe our only -- chance. If you didn't want me to see it, why did you show it to me?>> Tell me the truth, damn you! Why am I here? Why did you create me? Why are you playing with me this way? I was getting immensely tired of the whole business.

<<Any attempt to use it now will fail.>>

<<Why?!>> I repeated. <<Damn you, tell me why!>>

I felt Adamant's hesitation before he replied, <<The sword was meant to be used with a specific energy source, which is not quite ready yet. When the time comes, I will guide you to it. In the meanwhile, it is absolutely imperative that Sailor Pluto's staff be retrieved. Without it, she is crippled, and her effectiveness as the Guardian of Time is severely reduced. With it, she may be able to prevent Mena Kimlubeniz from spreading its influence any farther.>>

<<I don't understand. Are you saying that she can herd the demon?>>

<<No. She can only prevent it from corrupting what is under her guardianship -- perhaps bar parts of the Timestream against it. I am... not certain. Parts of my memory are not what they once were.>>

<<Oh, aren't they?>> The knife-edged whisper wasn't mine, and I glanced up to meet Nephrite's eyes. The auburn-haired General was lounging almost casually in his seat, his expression neutral, but there was an intensity in his gaze that I hoped wasn't intended for me.

Someone must have repeated some of Adamant's remarks about Pluto's staff aloud, because there were several people talking around or past me about it as Nephrite and I -- or Nephrite and Adamant? -- stared at each other.

<<I think I begin to understand,>> Nephrite stated. <<Two minds in the same body, one of them a trustworthy innocent and the other an attempt to reconstruct the damaged pattern of someone who once held what he believed to be our best interests in mind. So.>> Then he turned away and broke the eye contact, and I was left wondering what he had meant.

Goto Interlude 4


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