A Shadow of All Night Falling - Part 2: Hunters of Worlds

(September 13, 3023 AD-October 4, 1994 AD)

Chapter 18

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Jasper

We all assembled to see them off.

I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be at home, with Mina. It had been so wonderful, waking up that morning with her beside me for the first time in years. And now, it looked like we were going to have almost as little time together as we would have if she had stayed... the way she had been. Some god had to have a grudge against us.

I didn't know how Malachite managed. I mean, he wasn't even gone yet, and I already had a dozen things that needed to be done, urgently, by me as his regent. But saying good-bye to my parents came first.

Seven Crystal Weavers, armed to the teeth. One Sailor Scout, looking lost without her staff. Mom and Dad and my nephew Alex were all standing together in a clump, but Alex nodded to me and stepped back as I came up to them, tactful as always, leaving the three of us alone.

I hugged Mom, barely able to get my arms around her because of the huge pack she was wearing. What the devil did she have in there, anyway?

<<Be careful out there,>> I told her.

<<You, too, Jas.>>

I nodded. Suddenly, I wished I was six years old again, and could just throw a temper tantrum and scream that I didn't want to be running the damned Negaverse while the King was away, and would Malachite please pick on someone, anyone, else. But I wasn't six, and the time for protests was long past.

And besides, there was no one else. Malachite had been careful to explain why none of the others were suited for my position. His selection of me had been cold and ruthlessly logical, just as you would expect of someone nicknamed Ice Blade. Damn him.

Dad clasped me in a firm forearm-to-forearm grip.

<<Try not to get too used to sitting in the big chair,>> he told me. <<We'll all be back soon enough.>>

<<I really hope you're right.>> The thought of what would happen if they didn't come back was too horrible to contemplate.

Then Avi was pushing in to take my place, and I found myself standing beside Alex.

<<No last-minute good-byes?>> I asked him.

He shook his head. <<To be honest, I hope they forget all about it. I don't know what I'd say to them--Mom and Dad especially. This isn't easy for me.>>

<<It never is, the first time.>> I wondered again why the devil Malachite had drawn Alex into his Weave. He belonged with Marc and Cass and the others his age, poor kid, not with the original Negaverse Four and the ancient shadows that still hovered over them.

Alex's expression went all strange, fey and distant and quiet and cold. <<Uncle Jas, you have no idea. None.>> He attempted a smile, but it looked a bit sickly to me. <<I'll be all right. Really. Don't worry about me, and don't let my parents worry, either.>>

<<I'll do my best.>>

"It is time." Malachite's voice brought my attention back to the center of the room, where all the others who were going had once more assembled.

<<I'd better go,>> Alex stated. <<Good luck on the new job, Uncle Jas. I hope you don't have to keep it long.>>

He joined the rest of them, who were grouped in a ragged semicircle around the King and Sailor Pluto. Malachite took the Scout's hand in his, and there was a brilliant flash...

... and they were gone.

I grimaced and turned to those who had stayed behind.

<<Marc, Avi, Demantoid--you're all with me,>> I told them. <<The rest of you, go back to your assigned duties.>>

The three I had named came over to join me as everyone else vanished. Avi had a rather strange expression on her face.

<<What is it?>> I asked her.

She shrugged. <<I was just wondering where Kyanite is. I lost track of him after a while, there.>>

<<He isn't your responsibility anymore,>> I reminded her.

<<I know. Still, I feel sorry for the poor kid. I hope those youma take good care of him.>>


Cass

"And so he sent you all back here?"

"All five of us," I agreed, staring without seeing at the sleeping form of the king of the Earth. "I guess I'm going to be stuck shepherding inexperienced junior Scouts through the streets of Crystal Tokyo on a youma-and-zombie hunt under the putative leadership of Prince Phaeton Mamoru Priam Tsukino for the next few days. Joy."

I was still annoyed at my father. Crystal Tokyo had its own guardians, the Negaverse was being overrun with renegade youma, and he'd sent my entire Weave here? What was he thinking?

"It wouldn't be so bad if this were peacetime," I added, "but it isn't, and I have a job to do, damn it, and he's keeping me from doing it. I want to be where I'm needed."

"And you think you're not needed here?" Sumire asked wearily. If she'd slept at all tonight, it had been sitting up in a chair at Sammy's bedside, with one hand resting on the Silence Glaive. I wished that I'd known that at the time. I doubt I could have persuaded her to leave the room, but I could have had a cot sent up for her, at least. "Cass, how many active Sailor Scouts are there who have any experience of real combat? Just you and me, and I'm needed here. Those kids need someone to lead them, and you and Marc and Morgan and Opal and Zircon are the only ones who could be spared."

I shut my eyes for a moment, opened them again. "And I'm needed here..." That hasn't changed, has it? I had hoped...

"You've never really gotten over him, have you?" I asked, gesturing in the direction of the bed where King Samuel lay, barely breathing.

"I thought I had," Sumire said, but her voice held no conviction. "I... He's the father of my child, Cass. I can't expect you to understand what that makes him to me, I suppose, but I really do wish that it could have been different between us."

I shrugged. No, I didn't understand. How could I? I'd never been in love. If I decided that I wanted a child, I'd be able to make a rational decision about the father. Marc, probably. He was steady, responsible, a Crystal Weaver of my generation, and not related to me by blood. That seemed by far the better way to go, to me. But I couldn't help but wonder, just a little, what I was missing. Sumire and Sammy had seemed so happy together, before things had started falling apart for them...

"You know," I said, "I wonder sometimes what things would have been like if I were a guy, and Rhea's real father, instead of just her stand-in aunt." Which would have meant sleeping with my best friend. Weird thought.

Sumire smiled. "I suppose it would have made things a lot easier, at least in some ways."

I could feel something very strange developing in the air between us, and took it upon myself to change the subject a bit. "We haven't had time to talk about Luna and Rhea, yet."

My friend's hands tightened on the Silence Glaive. "No, we haven't."

I tugged at the hem of my jacket. Normally, I wouldn't have worn greys here in the Earth Realm, but in my opinion, miniskirts and high heels are a Bad Idea when you might have nasties jumping out of the corridor alcoves at you, and I had to wear one uniform or the other, so... "What are we going to do if Sammy dies? More to the point, what are Luna and Artemis and Prince Phaeton and the other Scouts going to do if Phaeton and Rhea become the only possible heirs? We can't keep it from her then. If we try, it'll be dereliction of duty. Someone has to anchor Phoebe's Ward, and Rhea may turn out to be the only possible candidate."

"Damn Phoebe's Ward!" Sumire snapped. "I won't have them hurting her, Cass. Not my little girl. No."

Sometimes, my father had once told me, it's easier to have no conscience. Compassion can get in the way of what you must do.

I winced. "Sumire, you know I love her too, but what choice do we have? Rhea's happiness isn't more important than the survival of the human race. It can't be."

"I know." She was blinking suspiciously fast. "I know."

I pulled her against me and held her, letting her tears soak the front of my jacket, until Marc called me away.

It was all I could do.


Cuprite

<<Any luck yet?>>

I couldn't see Sapphire shrug--my vision just isn't that good--but I did hear his sigh. <<I don't know. I've got three more ready for testing, though. How many youma captured?>>

<<A couple of dozen. Pyrope and his squad managed to round up another batch.>> I tightened my grip on the staff I carried--plain warded wood, chosen to replace the Time Staff that I'd carried so briefly, because my hands had felt empty without it. <<It's difficult, though. These little bands of four or five are almost impossible to track with the little manpower we have.>> Especially since a lot of our most experienced youma were on the other side, now. <<If these possession- reversers of yours really work, it'd be a big help.>>

<<That's the problem,>> Sapphire stated. <<I don't know if they will work. As far as Demantoid and I can tell, the theory is sound, but Zoisite keeps his notes in a demon-taken mixture of modern Japanese, the Silver Millennium language that he grew up speaking, and a sort of private shorthand, and he didn't have much of a chance to go over this with us. We'll just have to hope that I've figured out what he really meant, and implemented it correctly. Here.>>

He dropped three oval-shaped objects into the palm of my hand. The faint blue glow they carried indicated that they must be the promised prototype devices. I hadn't been able to see them before because they'd been hidden by the brighter blue glow of his hand, and by the white brilliance of the whatever-it-was that he wore around his neck. Something of his brother's, I'd always thought. Clearly both magical and powerful. But Sapphire never talked about it, and I didn't know exactly what it was.

<<I'll take these up to the others,>> I told him. <<If they work, you'll be the first to know.>>

<<Thank you.>>

Sapphire turned back to his workbench as I prepared to teleport. His hand rose to cover to white glow at his breast.

"I wish you were here," I thought I heard him whisper. "Gods of Darkness, I wish..."


Mina

It had been quite a morning. In more ways than one. Everything had changed so much. I mean, children I had known just... before... were now adults, and the adults I had known were all fourteen years older--those that had survived at all, that was. And on top of that, Serena was dead, Rini had vanished, and Phaeton, who I remembered as a little kid, was regent for his uncle. I felt so very... displaced.

Jas and Cass were pretty much the only ones who hadn't changed. I'd wanted to cling to my husband until I managed to adjust, and I knew he would have liked nothing better than to let me, but he had more important responsibilities. Like ruling the Negaverse. Damn. That felt the weirdest of all. Not that I felt he wasn't capable of it. It was just that I couldn't believe that Malachite and all his Weavemates were gone off somewhere, leaving only Jas and the youngsters.

My lips twitched into a smile. I can hardly wait to find out what the pillow talk's going to be like tonight... But my expression quickly faded back to melancholy. I just felt so damned useless. It seemed like everyone else was off hunting possessed youma in the Negaverse or helping to coordinate the clean-up of the Palace, but every time I offered to help, someone shunted me off to the side. I supposed I couldn't blame them. After all, whenever they looked at me, what did they see? A mid-fiftyish retired Sailor Scout. They couldn't tell from looking at me that that wasn't the age I was inside. It was still a shock to look in a mirror and see this old woman staring back at me.

"Grandma Mina--"

I turned, surprised, to see a slender, dark-haired figure standing in a delicate archway that framed the path that led to Lita's grave. Rhea.

"I hope you don't mind if I call you that," she added.

I smiled at her. "No, I don't mind. At the rate Cass is going, you're very likely the only grandchild I'm ever going to get a chance to know." It had been so very weird, at the time, to see my daughter taking responsibility for a child that couldn't possibly be hers, but I was glad, now, that she had. "Come sit down, kiddo, and tell me what's on your mind."

She perched on the bench beside me, face solemn. When had she become so serious? As a baby, she'd been one of those ones who smiled more often than she cried.

"You know," she said, "you're probably the only grandmother I'm ever going to have, either. I mean, Mom's parents are dead, and they still won't tell me anything about my Dad at all." She looked up at me hopefully, and I could guess what question she wanted to ask, but didn't quite dare. Unfortunately, I couldn't answer it for her. I suspected the answer, but I didn't really know, and I didn't dare risk being wrong. Not about this.

"I'm sorry," I said, hoping that she could tell it was heartfelt. "I wish I could tell you, but I don't know who he is either."

I could imagine what Cass would have said under similar circumstances, but Rhea just sighed. Well, at least she'd managed to keep from learning some of my daughter's bad habits. Hey, I don't particularly like the fact that Cass can swear like a stevedore, but given that she's spent her entire life around youma, it would have been difficult to keep her from learning that sort of language.

"Thanks anyway," Rhea said, but there was something a little... odd... about the way she said it.

I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder. Poor kid, she's still half in shock from last night. "But if you need anything, anything at all, Jas and I will help, I promise. After all, what good is it to be a grandmother if you can't spoil your granddaughter?"

She smiled. "None, I guess."

A moment of silence.

"So," I said at last, "why aren't you out cleaning up debris with everyone else?"

"Because they all say I'm too young." Rhea made a face. "And they're right--I wouldn't be much help like this. Mom's got the Sailor Saturn transformation wand, and she's sort of appointed herself the King's guardian, so there's no way she's going to detransform and give it over to me. Why did everyone from Saturn on out only get issued singletons, anyway?"

I shrugged. "I wish I knew. Maybe it takes a special kind of person to be Sailor Saturn, or Uranus, or Neptune, or Pluto." Especially Saturn and Pluto, from what I had seen. And, although I wasn't about to admit it in present company, Sumire just wasn't good enough. Jas, who is better at reading people than I will ever be, said that she was afraid of what she was.

I was making some sort of grand, sweeping gesture that would have led into my next comment, but I'd forgotten how little space there was behind me, and smacked the back of my hand against a bush. I muttered a word that Cass had brought home from the youma training grounds when she'd been about three, and lowered the damaged appendage into my lap to examine the injury.

All I can say is that I hope that damned bush put out some really nice flowers during the summer, because otherwise it wasn't worth having around. It was ten times nastier than a rosebush, with thorns like needles. There must have been some sort of irritant on them, too, because the area where several of them had embedded themselves into my skin was red and itching and beginning to swell.

"Ouch. That's got to hurt," Rhea observed.

I shrugged. "My own fault, for not paying more attention to what I was doing." I tried to get a grip on one of the thorns and pull it out, but it slipped through my fingers. "Here, you've got smaller hands than I do. Maybe you can get these things out."

"Um, actually... Do you mind if I try something?"

"Go ahead," I said, mystified.

Rhea cupped her hands over mind, and closed her eyes. For several seconds, nothing happened. Then a faint glow seemed to flicker from between her fingers, and I could feel the itching tightness in my injured hand ease. When she opened her eyes and lifted her hands away from mine, the thorns were gone as though they had never been.

I didn't have a chance to say anything--to ask how she had done it, or even just to thank her--because my honorary granddaughter slid off the bench and bowed to me, very formally.

"Thanks for letting me do that--I've only done it with animals before, and I didn't know how it would work on a human. And this seemed like it would be a good time to find out."

Then she, well, ran away is probably not putting it too mildly, leaving me sitting there with my mouth open.

I stayed there for several minutes after she was gone, staring at the back of my hand.

What was that? I knew she had magic, but I didn't think it was anything like that. Or... or is this what it means to be Sailor Saturn--to really be Sailor Saturn?

I wondered about that, but I didn't quite dare ask anybody whether or not it was true.


Sumire

I woke to a peculiar quivering sensation inside myself that I'd only felt a few times before. My hand was automatically reaching for the Silence Glaive before my eyes were even completely open, and I found myself scanning the empty room for a threat.

Well, all right, not quite empty. After Cass had left, I'd dozed off in the chair at Sammy's bedside. Again. He was lying on his back, ramrod straight, just as they'd placed him. If it hadn't been for the slow, steady rise and fall of his chest, I would have taken him for a corpse, laid out in state. I almost reached out with my free hand to touch his face, but stopped myself. That phase of our lives had been over for years, whether or not my subconscious would agree to acknowledge it.

My King. It was difficult, almost ludicrous- seeming, to pin that title on my former lover. And, technically, I should be using the more formal Your Majesty. This wasn't the Negaverse.

I sighed and scrubbed my hands across my face, wiping away the last dry residues of my tears, missing the feel of Cass holding me. Since I'd broken up with Sammy, I'd been pretty much alone, except for her and Rhea and my brother. Cass helped me with everything, easing the burden of trying to raise my daughter alone. She'd been a better "father" to Rhea than most men would have been, and I couldn't help but wish that things could have been just a little different there, too.

But what was it that had woken me?

Frowning, I tried to remember the exact sensation, the feeling of something plucking at me, making the sleeping mass of power that I bore as Sailor Saturn stir restlessly. That's the second time this month! And I still didn't know what it was. I'd struggled for hours, once, to describe it to Cass. In the end, she'd said that it sounded vaguely like what she'd sometimes felt when she and her mother were both being Sailor Venus at the same time, and Mina had used her powers. But there could never be more than one Sailor Saturn at a time, and right now, I was it.

So what was that thing I had felt, and what did it mean?


David

I squatted on cold, bare stone. I would have lain down instead and let the floor take the weight of my chains, but every time Grossularite saw me making any motion to ease myself, he flicked his whip warningly in my direction, and with my back still dripping blood, it didn't seem like a good time to court that aspect of his displeasure again. I'd lost quite a bit of blood, actually. A human would have passed out hours ago, but I'm a youma. I'm tough-- physically, at least. So I forced myself to endure, and to wait. Surely another chance to attempt escape would come.

It had to.

"Why are we still here?" Wicked Lady, as she preferred to be called, had been pacing in front of the old Throne of Nemesis almost since her companion had tired of beating me. "The powerful ones are gone. Now is the perfect time to pick off the weak ones."

"Patience." Grossularite was stroking the arm of the throne of Nemesis--his throne now, I supposed. "Even the weak ones can be dangerous, if they band together. Witness the success of the Sailor Scouts. No, we will wait a little longer, until they have forgotten about us, and dispersed to hunt the minor dangers revived by our... patron. Then we will pick them off, one by one. A little stealth is more effective than a direct confrontation. You'll see."

"But what if Malachite and his lackeys come back?" Wicked Lady asked.

"They won't." Grossularite smiled. It was a chilling expression. "I have it on excellent authority that they won't be back for a long, long time."

She smiled, too. "Well, in that case..."

I suppose that someone heroic would have said You can't win, or something similar, at that point, but I'm no hero-- I'm just a youma--so I only wished that I dared say it. And in any case, making such a comment would have served no purpose except to annoy Grossularite, who would then have beaten my back into a bloody pulp again. If I became so badly injured that I couldn't move, my last hope of escape was gone, and what I'd just overheard made escape even more urgent. Gods, gods...

But in the meanwhile, I kept staring stoically at the floor.

Come on, slip up. You have to eventually. It's inevitable.

But I had the strangest feeling that it wasn't.

Goto Chapter 19


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