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

Chapter 19

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Nephrite

We immediately spread out to protect Pluto, straining our eyes and trying to see through the mists. The lone Sailor Scout in our midst hesitated, looking around.

"This way, I think," she said at last, and led off through the grey monotony.

The progress we made thereafter was slow and resembled a game of leapfrog. Zoisite and I were trying to stay ahead of Pluto, but, unable to distinguish one location or direction from any other, we inevitably drifted off-course, and, since Pluto wasn't paying much attention to us, we sometimes ended up some distance from the others and had to be guided back, usually by Alex.

It didn't help that Zoisite seemed intent on... well... running away from the rest of us, or at least from Malachite. He'd been maintaining a sullen silence all morning. It had taken Alex hours to talk him out of my cellar last night, and we'd all felt the explosion along the Weavelink when Malachite's green-eyed lover had found out that he was going on an expedition into the Timestream with us. Again, it had been poor Alex who had talked himself nearly hoarse to convince Zoisite that it was vital for everyone's survival--including his own--that he come along. Just then, I was even more glad than usual that I wasn't Alex. Jadeite's brother seemed to be the only person that the Prince Consort wasn't being three times as prickly towards as usual, and that put Alex in the unusual and uncomfortable position of liasion between the green-eyed man and the rest of our Weave.

Once or twice I thought I detected an elusive flicker of motion in the mists, but it was gone before I could be sure. That really bothered me. Was something stalking us, or was I just nervous? No, better to warn Malachite. Even if it did turn out to be a false alarm.

<<My King?>>

<<What is it?>>

<<I thin-->> Something bumped against my leg, and I saw the flickering again, much closer than it had been the last time. I swore, lunged, and felt my hands close on... cloth. There was something solid under my hands, but I couldn't see it.

And then I could.

<<You little idiot! What are you doing here?>> I snapped, beating Malachite to it by a split second.

Kyanite flinched. <<No excuse, sir.>>

I raised an eyebrow. <<So you tagged along--and stole a charged invisibility warder from one of the armories, I suppose--for no reason at all? I find that difficult to believe.>>

<<Believe what you like,>> the boy replied, sullen.

<<And what am I supposed to do with you here?>> Malachite asked, coming up behind me. <<I can't send you back with a demon loose, and I can't bring you with us, either. If we're attacked, you'll just be in the way.>>

<<No, I won't.>>

Malachite just stood there for a long moment, staring at his almost-son. <<Well, then. Follow us if you like. But you protect yourself, is that clear?>>

<<And good riddance,>> Zoisite added.

<<Not if he's killed,>> Jadeite stated. <<If nothing else, he might still have information we need, and...>>

<<And?>> Zoisite prompted.

<<Well, there was a time when I suppose none of us would have cared, but I wouldn't do that to a child, Zoisite. I don't think most of us here would.>>

<<You're just putting on a show for the Sailor Scout, aren't you?>> Zoisite's comment went beyond his usual acidity and on into bitterness.

<<Zoisite. Enough.>>

The green-eyed man flinched and glared at his lover, ignoring the look of naked hurt in the taller man's eyes. Malachite recovered himself quickly in any case, turning one of his coldest looks on Kyanite.

<<I'll look after him, my King,>> my wife stated, causing me to glance at her in surprise. She shrugged. <<It has to be one of the weakest. The rest of you have other concerns.>>

<<Very well, but don't let yourself get distracted from our primary objective,>> Malachite warned.

<<Speaking of which,>> Alex put in, <<where is Sailor Pluto?>>

Malachite and I looked at each other and, at the same moment, swore again.

<<I wish we could have brought Cuprite,>> I remarked privately to him, and was acknowledged with a slight nod. <<Perhaps he could "see" through this mirk, but I certainly can't.>> I closed my eyes and concentrated, and was rewarded with a faint tugging coming from up ahead and off to my left. <<This way. I hope.>> And I led the way out into the fog.

The others spread themselves left and right, to cover the maximum area in our search. It was a terrible formation for defense, but there was no help for it. We needed to find Pluto before something happened to her.

And there was no question that something would happen. The mists were darker than I remembered them being on our last trip through this place, and and the shadows seemed filled with the same uneasiness that had inhabited the Negaverse for the past several weeks. The demon was here. Somewhere.

Then I spotted an even darker patch in the mists, which could only be the shadow of a human figure.

"Sailor Pluto? Is that you?"

"Yes."

She wasn't moving, I realized as I drew closer--just standing there, arms at her sides.

"Have you found it?" I asked, as the others moved up to form a loose half-circle around me.

She didn't answer, instead saying, "Come here, all of you. I have something to show you."

"What is it?" Malachite snapped, moving forward beside me.

"Closer, my King."

He made as though to take another step, but I blocked him with my arm. I realize that he misses Zoisite, but I never expected him to be this distracted!

<<That isn't Sailor Pluto! She would never call you that.>>

<<You are good, aren't you, little Crystal Weaver?>> The voice that spoke into my mind was impossibly huge and dark and deep, and I would have flinched away from it if I could. <<Let's see if you're good enough to handle this.>>

<<WATCH OUT!>> I screamed at the others. I was a split second too late, as an attack whose nature I still don't understand flung us off in all directions.

I blacked out as I fell, still not certain whose shoulder was pressed against my hip.


Malachite

He was the only one of them within reach, and I was damned if I was going to let go, even if the tumble imparted by our unbalanced weight made it more difficult to get my bearings in the darkness and screaming wind.

<<Nephrite?>> But I knew that was only wishful thinking. He had been closest to the false Sailor Pluto, and the blast had knocked him unconscious.

That could have been me. But he'd placed himself between us. Protecting me. I wondered why that felt so strange. We were Weavemates, after all. I would have done as much for him, wouldn't I? Well, perhaps not. I might have frozen for a moment, weighing the situation in my mind. Nephrite hadn't.

Tug.

I frowned. Something was pulling at me, drawing me in a particular direction through the dark emptiness. Another trap? But wherever it led, it had to be better than this.

Falling for an eternity, blind, in the direction of the pull. There wasn't even enough light here for Crystal Weaver eyes. If I hadn't been holding onto Nephrite's belt in a death grip, I wouldn't have known that he was there. Then... light. Painful, brilliant light. I swore and shielded my eyes as the two of us measured our lengths on a grey floor that didn't seem to be quite there.

I rolled off Nephrite, who was still unconscious, and sat up.

I know this place. A room with vague, inconstant boundaries and a ruptured pillar of light in the center. This is where I found the anchor for Adamant's Ward. But why--

<<At last! I'd begun to wonder if you were ever coming.>>

I spun. <<You!>>

The image of Adamant that had once guarded this place spread its hands. <<Of course. I've been waiting for you for quite some time. You must come with me.>>

My hand descended to the hilt of my sword. Another trap. I was sure of it.

<<Nephrite!>> Desperate, I went deeper into his mind than I ever had before, and pinched.

<<Urgh. Malachite, what's going on?>> My Weavemate sat up, rubbing his head, then glanced at not-Adamant. <<Damn, but there are a lot of you around, aren't there? What do you want this time?>>

<<For you to come with me,>> the phantom repeated. <<You must! It's very important.>>

<<Hmmm. My King, I think we should do as he says.>>

<<What?>> I confined my question to the Weave-link, not wanting the phantom to overhear. <<Nephrite, are you sure?>>

<<How could I be? But I have a sense that this is something that we must do. It's peculiar, really. I've never felt anything like it before--like something's pulling at me...>>

I frowned. The pull which had led me here was gone now. I'd learned, over the years, to trust Nephrite's perceptions, but...

<<Where do you intend to take us?>> I asked the apparition.

<<To a place where your questions can be answered. Please, come!>>

I still had misgivings. But answers... I needed those. As usual.

<<Very well.>>

The phantom made a broad gesture with one hand, and a doorway appeared. I'd never actually seen it before, but I recognized it from a dozen descriptions. It was huge and golden and engraved with the phases of the moon. The door into the Timestream proper.

So when are we going? I wondered. Future or past? Who would have the answers to all my questions? Obviously, I would, if I survived this, but speaking to my future self would open up a whole can of temporal-paradox worms that I didn't even want to think about. Who else?

<<This way,>> not-Adamant told us, and led the way into the darkness beyond the doors.

Goto Chapter 20


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