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

Chapter 20

© 2006 by E. Liddell


Back to Dark Kingdom Home | E.Liddell's DK Stories | Stayka's DK Stories | Other DK Stories


Amber

I remember the explosion, and a wind that tore at me as I tumbled through darkness, but I never figured out how long I fell before I felt a hand close around my wrist. My heart surged painfully. Jadeite had been the closest to me--in fact, we'd been reaching for each other when it happened. Surely we had to have been thrown in the same direction. Surely...

<<Amber? Is that you?>>

I stiffened. <<Zoisite?!>> The prickly little Prince Consort was the last person I would have expected--or wanted--to find here with me.

<<You wouldn't be my first choice of companion, either,>> came the exasperated reply, <<but I think we're stuck with it for now, and we're going to need to work together to get ourselves out of this.>>

<<Where are we?>>

<<Still in the Timestream, unless you remember passing through a couple of gigantic doors decorated with lunar phases on your way here. The misty grey plane we saw on the way in is only the most common manifestation of this place, as I understand it. In any case, we need to get out.>> He had both hands on my arm now, and I could feel him pulling me in towards him. <<We have to concentrate on a place... anywhere but here. Crystal Tokyo would be the easiest, I suppose. Think as hard as you can, and we should be drawn there. Hopefully, the others will think to do the same.>>

I tried. I hadn't spent much time in the city since the Dark Moon War, but I tried. It was difficult to hold an image of the city as it should be in my mind. The memory of the long night of horror just past kept intruding. Dying youma, screaming...

Crunch.

I blinked forced myself to sit up, wincing as I felt the bruises. Beside me, Zoisite swore viciously and wiped something slimy off the front of his jacket. We'd landed, hard, on the ground, in the middle of a narrow alleyway. It was dark. Had our fall lasted through the day and on into the night?

<<Must be one of the poorer districts,>> I stated to my companion, glancing at the rough brick walls to either side of us.

<<Perhaps... but listen.>>

I did so, for several moments. <<I don't hear anything.>>

<<I know.>>

<<So?>>

Zoisite swore again, but much more softly than he had the first time. <<Think, for the gods' sakes! Crystal Tokyo is the single biggest city on Earth. Even if they've instituted a curfew, there should still be noise--television sets, emergency vehicles, even feral animals wandering around. And there are no streetlights, and no lit windows above us. I don't like this at all. Something's wrong.>>

Now that he mentioned it, I could feel it too: the absolute emptiness of the city.

<<Could they have evacuated?>> I asked.

<<I doubt it. Where would they send everyone? And even if they did, where are the animals? I can't see them evacuating the rats. No. Something is wrong, and until we know what it is, we're going to have to be very careful.>> He rose to his feet, one hand on the hilt of the slender sword that he carried, the other extended to help me up.

<<Where are we going?>> I asked.

<<Scouting. And remember, stay behind me, do as I do, and no magic. I don't want us to be detected.>>

I glared at his back as he moved towards the mouth of the alleyway. Who the hell does he think he is, anyway?

<<Your senior,>> came the dry reply to the thought that I hadn't realized that I'd projected. <<And don't you forget it.>>

Then he froze, silhouetted against the faint light from the street. Moving cautiously, I came up beside him... and froze myself.

<<Dear God,>> I stated numbly.

Across from us gaped a row of abandoned buildings, their upper stories sheared off at a neatly even height, windows empty and dark, facades crumbling. Rusting hulks that might once have been cars lined the street. Rubble and broken glass were strewn everywhere. And the faint light came from a patch of greenish fire burning in the middle of the street.

<<... and the entire thing stinks of demon,>> Zoisite concluded grimly. <<Can't you feel it?>>

Somehow, just then, I didn't want to put forth the kind of effort that would have been required to check. <<I'll take your word for it. What happened? Did... did the demon come back?>>

<<I don't think so. Look at those cars. They're rusted almost to nothing, but you can tell that they're all models from the Shadow Millennium--and all from at least eight years before the end of it, at that. You don't see many of those anywhere in the Earth Realm anymore, not with the restrictions on gasoline. And look at the skyline. I can see the Tokyo Tower, but there's no sign of the Palace or any other Crystal Millennium landmark.>>

<<And what does this lead you to conclude, O Scientist?>> I asked.

To my surprise, he reached over and squeezed my arm.

<<I think this is an alternate universe,>> he stated. <<Probably one where we--the Negaverse under Beryl- -won.>>

I stared at him, and tried to swallow the lump in my throat.

<<No one understood the Timestream all that well even during the Silver Millennium,>> he continued after a moment. <<Unless your father knew something that he didn't have time to tell us. But I did hear it claimed, more than once, that more than one world was accessible from there. It looks like civilization disintegrated here at about the time we would have attacked, and that patch of fire looks like the residue left by a certain Negaverse weapon, one that you wouldn't be familiar with, so this is most likely a version of our world in which history took a slightly different path.>>

<<So we just go back into the Timestream and try again, right?>> I asked.

<<And just how do you intend to get there? I'm not strong enough to force an entry on my own, and I know you won't be of any help. I can get us there eventually, yes, but I'm going to have to construct a device, and for that, I'm going to need certain raw materials, and a place where I can work undisturbed. We need to find someplace safe.>>

Then we're going to be looking for a long time, I thought as I stared at the ravaged street. It doesn't look like there's much safety left here.


Almandite

I knew from the first that I wasn't close enough to him. Nephrite was near the front of the group, and I had positioned myself and the boy near the back. Why? Well, totally aside from the fact that it was safest, I'd seen the look on my husband's face when I'd offered to look after Kyanite, and I was too embarrassed to explain that the boy's completely lost look had activated all of my maternal instincts, normally kept under close wraps lest they interfere with my duties. It just wasn't proper behaviour for a General, and admitting that I could have feelings like that for a strange child made me feel a little embarassed, even though Nephrite probably would have understood. So I had decided to avoid him until we were done and Pluto had retrieved her staff. And now...

Someone who had been closer to the center of the explosion smashed into me, sandwiching Kyanite between the two of us. I think the boy may have whimpered, but the roar of the wind drowned him out. I tested the Weave-link, but there was a black veil across it. I couldn't feel my husband, or Malachite, only...

<<Jadeite? Is that you?>> I asked, suspecting that I knew whose body was mashed so awkwardly against mine.

<<I think so.>>

<<Are you all right?>> I asked.

<<I... oh, gods, Amber! I almost had her, I was almost touching her hand, but it wasn't good enough...>>

I wrapped an arm around what I thought might be his shoulders, offering what comfort I could. <<I'm sure Nephrite will protect her.>>

<<If they were blown off in the same direction,>> he replied gloomily. <<Damn.>>

Something squirmed between us, and a feeling of utter misery flooded my mind.

<<Careful, I think we may be squishing poor Kyanite,>> I stated.

<<That isn't it. It's just... all this was my fault, wasn't it? I mean, if I hadn't distracted everyone, they would have kept Sailor Pluto in sight, and the demon could never have fooled everyone with a lookalike...>>

I snorted, although I couldn't hear that, either. <<At your age, making mistakes is allowed. It's the rest of us who are at fault.>>

<<I hate to interrupt,>> Jadeite stated, <<but do either of you have any idea how we go about getting out of here?>>

I realized, suddenly, that I was the only one of the three of us who had previous experience with the Timestream. <<Just think of a place, somewhere safe that's back in the real world...>>

<<Crystal Tokyo, I suppose. The Palace?>>

<<That'll do. Kyanite, I know you've only been there the once, and that in the middle of the night--try to keep your mind blank.>>

And so we tumbled through emptiness and tried to think about the Crystal Palace, but my mind kept wandering. So many of my memories of the Palace were tied up with Serena--Serena, my best friend, who was dead. I couldn't help but picture her as she had been, back when we were really close, just before she had become a Sailor Scout... a beautiful but clumsy girl, with tremendously long hair done up in a ridiculous style that you normally only saw in anime...

Light blinded me, and we landed, with a crash and a thump, in some bushes. Urgh. We must have ended up somewhere in the gardens. I've made worse landings, though. The brush had mostly broken our fall. I might have a few bruises, but nothing worse.

<<Jadeite? Kyanite?>>

<<I'd be fine if you two would just get off of me,>> the boy replied plaintively. I immediately rolled to one side to let him up, ignoring the branches that stabbed at me.

<<Jadeite?>> I repeated, when the blonde man didn't answer.

<<So... cold...>> The words formed slowly in my mind, accompanied by a wave of chill.

<<Jadeite!>> I reached over to shake him, then snatched my hand back. His entire body was radiating cold, so strongly that I could feel it even through my gloves.

Gritting my teeth, I forced myself to touch him, to use my healer's touch to probe for the cause of his sudden hypothermia, and found... nothing. Nothing at all. So he's just gotten tremendously sick for no reason?

I did my best to treat the symptoms, pushing his metabolism to run higher and warm his body, until he recovered enough to shiver, and then to sit up.

<<Are you all right?>> I asked. Kyanite, crouched miserably beside us, was silent.

<<Sort of. I feel very weak,>> Jadeite admitted.

<<We need to get you to bed,>> I told him.

<<I'm not sure that's a good idea. Something is terribly wrong here. Can't you tell?>>

<<We'll worry about it after you're in bed,>> I stated. <<Kyanite, help me.>>

Between us, we managed to get the blonde General to his feet, and we supported him out of the bushes. Staggering, we moved along a disused path that had appeared practically underneath us, Kyanite using his free hand to shade his eyes from the sun, Jadeite beginning to recover a little and support more of his own weight as the sunlight filtering down through the trees warmed him. Then we rounded a tight curve, and...

<<What in hell?>>

I didn't realize that I'd projected the thought until Kyanite asked, <<Is there something wrong?>> Jadeite was frowning. I think he could tell that there was something a bit odd about what we were seeing, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

<<Come on.>> I steered them both over to a bench as people shot curious glances at us. I suppose it was our uniforms, so very different from what everyone else was wearing. Jadeite's and my swords probably didn't help either.

<<Something really is wrong, isn't it?>> Jadeite asked as Kyanite and I eased him into a sitting position.

I wanted to scream at them both. Can't you see? Can't either of you see? <<Look at the people around us,>> I told them. <<Can you see the way they're all staring at us? It's almost as though they've never seen a Negaverse uniform before, isn't it? And look at the way they're dressed. That kid over there is wearing a Sailor V shirt. I haven't seen one of those since I was a human myself.>> There were other tell- tales--business suits had been going out of style in Crystal Tokyo since the Dark Moon War, until only the most conservative individuals wore them, but they were all over the place here, and I couldn't spot a single magical device anywhere.

Jadeite frowned. <<You're right, that is odd. Still, it could just be coincidence. One thing's for certain, though--this isn't the Crystal Palace.>> He shook off Kyanite and me and rose to his feet, although I could see that he really wasn't feeling much better. <<Let's go on to your place. There ought to be someone there who can tell us what's happened.>>

<<Can you teleport?>> I asked, standing up myself and positioning myself so that he could lean on me unobtrusively.

<<I'm going to have to. I seem to have forgotten my bus pass. We'd better get out of sight again first, though.>>

<<Why?>> Kyanite asked.

<<Just a feeling that I'm beginning to have,>> Jadeite replied.

We hobbled back over to the bushes together, ignoring the stares we received, and, once hidden, teleported...

... and arrived on a path knee-deep in weeds. In front of us was a huge, grey, gargoyle-covered hulk of a house. To the left was the bulk of a vehicle: my husband's beloved car, sold years ago because he no longer had the time to maintain it as he felt it deserved. It was undamaged, but the chrome was dull, a state of affairs Nephrite had never tolerated.

<<It looks like no-one's been here in months, maybe even years,>> Jadeite stated.

My heart surged into my throat. <<Morgan!>> I called. <<Marc! Are you here?>>

Silence.

<<Well, let's go inside,>> Jadeite told us.

<<Are you sure?>> I asked. <<It might be a trap.>>

My Weavemate shook his head. <<I don't think this is anything less than real. Come on.>>

I had to help him up the front steps. He was still far weaker than he should have been.

The door was locked. I hadn't expected that, but I levitated up the two feet or so necessary to withdraw the spare key from inside a gargoyle's mouth, and opened it. I took a step inside...

... and immediately began to choke. Dust covered the floor. Suddenly suspicious, I drew my foot through it, baring a swathe of stone floor. Stone floor, not the carpet I'd helped lay shortly after my wedding to Nephrite. A quick check showed a nearby anteroom unfurnished, despite the fact that I remembered going to pick out the furniture.

"I think--" I began aloud. A mistake, since I immediately began to choke on the dust that I'd kicked up. <<I think we've accidentally landed in an earlier time period than we intended,>> I stated as I wheezed and choked. <<Sometime between the first defeat of the Negaforce and the point where Onyx revived you and the others, Jadeite.>>

<<It does seem to fit,>> the blonde man admitted, examining the dusty entryway with a critical eye. <<The question is, what do we do now?>>


Alexandrite

Home. I staggered, but forced myself to keep running through the empty greyness. I have to get home.

I had been the farthest from the blast, behind even Almandite and Kyanite. And so I'd had the opportunity to watch the others getting flung off in all directions, while being powerless to help. I couldn't tell where any of them were now. A black veil inside my mind seemed to be blocking the Weavelink, and I suspected that trying to probe past it would be a Bad Idea. I was fairly certain that they were all still alive, but that was all.

Home. I pictured it in my mind--not the Negaverse, not the Silver Millennium castle where I'd grown up, not Crystal Tokyo, but the tree. My tree, under which the bones of my first body lay buried. Please. I need to get home.

Greyness parted to reveal blue sky and brilliant sunlight. My foot landed in a hollow that had been concealed by the grass, and I fell at the foot of the young cherry tree. I embraced its trunk, almost sobbing. Yes. I was back.

I hope the others made it, too. But I still couldn't feel any of them. Mind you, it was possible that I wouldn't--Crystal Tokyo and the Negaverse were still full of demonic effluvium. And here I was in the middle of nowhere. Well, good though it might feel to hug my tree, I couldn't stay here forever.

I ended up hugging a tree when I emerged from my teleport, too, but that was because I emerged in the upper branches of one of the pines that surrounded Nephrite's house and acted instinctively to save myself from falling. Apparently nonspace hadn't quite returned to normal yet.

Collecting my wits, I let the poor tree go, stepped off the branch, and allowed myself to drift down to the ground, then wended my way through the woods to reach the front drive. I jogged up that, past the house, which a quick mental probe confirmed as empty, and on down the other side of the hill and into the Negaverse. Don't ask me to make sense of that, though, because I know that if I'd climbed the side of the hill that I was now descending, the drive would have been there, and the side that I had climbed to get there would have backed onto the Negaverse.

Confused? So am I.

Once I knew for certain that I was over the line into the dark dimension where I'd spent most of my second lifetime, I decided to risk another teleport. I aimed carefully for a spot some hundred or so feet above the roof of Beryl's old palace, and was only about ninety feet off-target.

Oof, I thought as I dropped the short distance remaining. That was close.

I nibbled at my lower lip. This was one of the disused wings, and even if I managed to find and open a trapdoor down into the main building, it was going take forever for me to reach the inhabited parts, at risk of attack by possessed youma every inch of the way. I couldn't wait that long to notify those who had stayed behind about what had happened. They needed to know that they had to prepare for the worst.

<<Jasper!>> I called.

<<Alex? Is that you? Then you did it! Where are the others?>>

I winced and closed my eyes. <<We were separated. I don't know what happened to them. Any of them. Or if Pluto got the staff, but things didn't look very hopeful.>>

<<Then... >>

<<We're on our own for now,>> I told him, knowing that I was probably confirming his worst nightmare. <<I don't know where Malachite is, and I'm not strong enough to contact him through the interference that the demon is throwing up.>>

Silence. Then, <<Damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn! I'd rather face a demon, exhausted, powerless, and barehanded, than continue on as regent of the Negaverse.>>

<<It isn't as though you have a choice,>> I reminded him. <<Demantoid's already put himself firmly outside the line of succession, and Marcasite isn't ready yet. Everyone else is both junior to you and magically weaker.>>

<<Except you,>> Jasper pointed out.

<<Oh, no,>> I stated when he seemed to be seriously considering the idea. <<Not on your life. I can no more run this place than a jellyfish can fly. Malachite only gave me the status so that I'd be equal to the others in his Weave.>> It was my usual excuse, and I'd practiced it enough that it came out smoothly.

<<Well, I had to try,>> Jasper replied. <<How long is it going to take you to get down here?>>

I sighed. <<I'm on the roof of the east wing. Give me a good half an hour, assuming that the trapdoors haven't rusted shut.>>

<<It'll have to do, I suppose. Be careful, Alex. There are still bands of berserk youma wandering around.>>

<<Right.>> I checked the scabbard at my side to make sure that the shortsword I'd carried on this morning's ill-fated expedition was still with me, and went looking for a trapdoor.

Goto Interlude V


Back to Dark Kingdom Home | E.Liddell's DK Stories | Stayka's DK Stories | Other DK Stories


This page belongs to Stayka's Dark Kingdom Home at http://www.dark-kingdom.de

© by E. Liddell - Email: eliddell@despammed.com

Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!