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

Chapter 22

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Kyanite

I cringed as the sunlight struck my skin. Too bright, too bright... How do the humans ever stand it? But I had to keep on going.

I don't know how long we're going to be here, Almandite had told me. Even if I figure out what's wrong with Jadeite and manage to fix it, it's going to be days before he's well enough to re-enter the Timestream. In the meanwhile, we're going to need supplies--food and water, blankets, clothes that aren't uniforms and won't get us stared at in the streets. And that means that you're going to have to go shopping, because I'm not good enough at conjury to make everything we need even if I had the energy to spare, and I can't leave him. And she waved a hand in the direction of the shivering man lying on the dusty bed that occupied one corner of the room.

Then she'd given me some conjured money and some instruction on how to use the arcane public transport system of twentieth-century Tokyo, and sent me out to shop.

I curled my hands into loose fists to keep myself from plucking at my shirt again. I felt naked without my stiff, grey trainee's jacket and the light armor that Lady Aventurine had instructed me to wear underneath it, but I knew I'd attract attention if I went around dressed like that, and attention was the last thing that I wanted.

"Oooooh, I am so late! Raye is going to kill me!"

The speaker was of about my height, wore her long, blonde hair in the most ridiculous arrangement I had ever seen, and came barreling around the corner and right into me.

"Sorry, sorry, my fault... are you all right?"

"I don't know," I said, and tried to gather my legs under me and get up. "Ouch!" I balanced awkwardly on one foot. It wasn't that it was absolutely impossible to put any weight on my left ankle, but it hurt like blazes when I tried.

"Oh, no! This is all my fault. Raye and the others are right. I am a bubblehead..."

I tuned her out as she continued to babble, but at least she pulled my arm around her shoulders and let me lean on her. We hobbled up the street together.

"You aren't listening to me at all, are you?"

"Well, no," I admitted. "Sorry." She really did seem like a nice person, even if she was terminally clumsy. Too bad she was insisting on doing exactly the wrong thing. If I'd been alone, I could have teleported back to the mansion and had Almandite patch me up, but under these circumstances, I had to go along with whatever this stranger wanted me to do.

She smiled. "That's okay. By the way, I'm Serena."

"Ky--Kevin," I said, remembering, at the last moment, the alias Almandite had insisted that I use. "Kevin Grey. Pleased to meet you. Um... Is wherever we're going much farther?"

She blushed. "You know, I really am an idiot. Of course you wouldn't be able to climb all those steps."

"Steps? Oh," I said, seeing the Shinto temple just ahead, although I was mystified as to why she'd be taking me there.

"Wait here, and I'll go get help."

She helped me sit down on one of the lower steps, and then began the long trek upwards. I breathed a sigh of relief when she finally got out of sight, and rose carefully to my feet, preparing to teleport.

"That Serena!"

I glanced around, trying to locate the source of the voice, which had trailed off into indistinct mumbling after the initial exclamation, but nothing was moving anywhere nearby except for the little black cat standing in the middle of the sidewalk, sides heaving like a bellows. Then it turned to look at me, and I saw the crescent moon marking on its forehead.

"Luna?"

The cat meowed, and I immediately felt like an idiot. Of course it was just a cat. There were probably dozens of them with markings just like that. What did I know about cats? There weren't any in the Negaverse, not that I knew of.

"Kevin? You shouldn't be trying to stand up."

"Sorry." Just about every other word I exchanged with this girl Serena seemed to be some sort of an apology. Oh, well... Anyway, she and four other girls were coming back down from the temple.

"Kevin, this is Lita, Raye, Amy, and Mina. Guys, this is Kevin."

They all made pleased-to-meet-you-type noises, but I wasn't paying much attention. Instead, I was staring at Mina. Isn't that Jasper's wife? She looks so young!

"Hey, are you okay?" That was... Lita. The brunette.

"Yes. Yes, I am." I am in control, I told myself sternly. My face and body show only what I want them to show. I am in control. I was supposed to be a Negaverse General in training, and Generals don't let anyone know what they're feeling unless they want to. Or that's what Aventurine had told me. Damn, I miss her already. And my fathers, prickly though they were. And my... home.

The girl with the blue hair--Amy or Raye? I couldn't remember--helped me sit down again, and I gritted my teeth as she and one of the others worked to get my boot off. Her fingers probed at my ankle.

"I don't think it's broken," she said, "but you've probably sprained it. I can strap it up for you, but you'd probably better see a real doctor about it as soon as possible."

"Thanks. I'll do that." Well, I'll see a Healer, at any rate. That's just as good, isn't it?

"You're sure you'll be okay?" Serena asked, as her friend wound something around the swelling.

"Yes." I winced as the blue-haired girl pulled the bandage tighter. Can't show pain. Don't dare show pain, not among strangers.

"We'd offer you a ride home, but..."

"That's all right. I'll be fine, really. Thanks for your help." It still hurt to put any weight on my ankle, but, with their help, I managed to stand.

Serena blushed. "I still think it's all my fault."

I shrugged. I figured out afterwards that I should have said something along the lines of, No, of course not, but at the time, I still wasn't all that good at understanding human social situations, or why, after a few seconds of silence, they all started giving me such weird looks.

"I... suppose I'll be going now. Excuse me." Their stares made me feel uncomfortable. I'd never been stared at before, except by my fathers, who didn't count, and by youma, who were far enough beneath me that I didn't have to notice them. But humans... how was I supposed to deal with humans? The only etiquette I knew was that of the Negaverse, which suggested that their stares were some kind of a challenge, but a challenge to what?

There's no shame in a strategic retreat, I told myself as I fled the temple steps at the slow, limping pace that was the best that I could manage under the circumstances. I could still feel their stares burning into my back, right up until I turned a corner.

Finally out of sight, I leaned on a low wall, and prepared myself for a teleport, glancing around to make certain that no one was watching. I caught sight of a gleam of eyes, somewhere in a tree to my left, but a more thorough examination showed me that it was only another crescent-marked cat, a white one. And cats don't talk, not unless they're the Neo-Queen's advisors.

I emerged from the cold blackness of nonspace into a dust-choked room. Jadeite lay on a narrow bed in front of me, and Almandite had dragged a chair up to his bedside.

<<What are you doing back?>> she asked sharply.

<<I twisted my ankle,>> I replied, hobbling over to perch on the edge of the bed. <<If you can just fix it for me, I can go right back out.>> I swung my foot up into her lap.

<<How did you manage this?>>

I explained what had happened, and she went absolutely white.

<<What's wrong?>> I asked.

<<Nothing,>> she stated, after a hesitation so brief I wasn't quite sure I hadn't just imagined it.

But I knew she was lying.


Serena

"I don't know, guys. There was just something kind of creepy about him."

It was Amy who frowned. "Something evil?"

"Maybe," Raye said. "I don't know. It felt familiar... and yet, it didn't. I just can't make sense of it. Luna, are you sure he recognized you?"

The black cat looked up from where she was industriously kneading a cushion with her front paws.

"He called me by name," she said. "If that isn't proof, I don't know what is."

"And yet there was no indication that he recognized us as the Sailor Scouts," Amy said. "Mina? Lita? You've both been very quiet. What do you think?"

"I think he's just a nice kid who had a bit of bad luck," Mina said firmly.

I cut Lita off just as she was opening her mouth to speak. "Wait, don't tell me--he looks like your old boyfriend must have at that age."

She blushed. "No, of course not. Freddy was never that good-looking."

Well, okay, I could agree with that. Kevin was downright pretty, despite those mis-matched eyes.

"I just wanted to say that I got the impression that he wasn't from around here. I mean, he didn't quite seem to know how to act."

"I'll say." Artemis loped in through the doorway and jumped up on the table. I hadn't even noticed that he was gone. "I think we have trouble, guys. That kid's a lot more than he seems."

"Go on," Luna said.

"I followed him when he left here," Artemis began, doing the cat thing of mincing around in circles several times before lying down. "I thought it was a bit odd when I noticed that he was heading away from the bus stop, but I thought that maybe he lived around here, or something. I wasn't even suspicious when he stopped after turning that corner--I mean, he'd been hurt, right? But then he disappeared, right in front of my eyes."

"Disappeared?" Lita said. "As in, teleported?"

"Exactly," Artemis confirmed. "I'd have thought he was that flute-wielding alien maniac, but he's too young and too small. Amy, I don't suppose you thought to scan him?"

"Why would I have? He just seemed like an ordinary boy."

"Whoa," Mina said. "Wait just a second, guys. Do we have any real proof that this kid is dangerous? He didn't try to do anything to us. He didn't even look like he was going to. Maybe we're overreacting just a little."

"There's one way to find out," Raye said grimly, and stood up. "Come on, guys."

I gave her a Look. I was comfortable right where I was, thanks very much. "Come where?"

"I'm going to try to do a fire reading for him. Maybe that'll tell us a little more."

I sighed and gave in.

We all knelt behind Raye (well, except the cats, who were already low enough to the ground) as she intoned whatever it is that Shinto priestesses intone when they want to see the future. I don't know. I've never paid much attention to that part. I just stared into the fire and tried not to think about how much contorting myself into that position hurt and how much longer this was going to take...

The fire flared up, and an image formed within it.

"No way," someone said. I could agree with that.

Inside the fire, Kevin was sitting on the edge of an occupied bed in a dusty room, talking to a woman who sat slumped in a chair. But I wasn't paying much attention to them, because the man lying on the bed, apparently unconscious... was Jadeite, General of the Negaverse.

"Hey, waitaminute," I said. "Isn't he supposed to be dead?"

"We never did find out what really happened to him," Amy corrected. "He just... disappeared... after the fight at the airport. I know we all thought that he was dead, but I think it's obvious that we were wrong."

Mina and Lita and Artemis were all giving us these blank looks, so Amy stopped and explained to them exactly what we thought we were seeing.

"Okay," Lita said. "So the guy on the bed is a Negaverse type that somehow escaped getting blown to kingdom come. What does that make the woman, and Kevin? Youma?"

"I don't think so," Amy said. "Look."

Kevin had disappeared from the room inside the fire at some point while we'd been talking. The woman leaned forward a bit and touched Jadeite's wrist, evidently to take his pulse. Then she shivered and stood up, pulling a jacket that had been hanging loose from her shoulders forward into position, probably for warmth. Thing is, it was a familiar style of jacket, grey and high-collared, with yellow trim. It wasn't Jadeite's, though. I would have known that even if I hadn't remembered that he wore red trim, because his jacket was lying on the bed.

It was Mina who finally said it. "Well, she doesn't look like a Negaverse General." No, what the strange woman looked was tired. She was, well, drooping, although she'd hidden it pretty well until Kevin had left.

"You know," I said, slowly, "I think I feel kind of sorry for her. She looks like she hasn't got a friend in the world."

"Serena, are you crazy?!" Now, that couldn't have been anyone but Raye. "She's dangerous!"

"We don't know that," I insisted.

"We need more information," Luna said.

Well, everyone agreed on that one. Raye dismissed the image in the fire, and the meeting broke up.

Why didn't I tell them? I wondered as I filched one of Raye's comic books and hid it under my shirt to smuggle it out of the temple.

You see, while I hadn't been quite absolutely sure, you understand, I'd thought that the woman we'd seen in the fire had been vaguely familiar somehow, as though I'd maybe met her years ago and then forgotten, although you'd think I'd have remembered someone like that. Red hair, those exotic yellow eyes... No, surely I'd have remembered someone like that.

Still, it nagged at me all the way home. Who was she? And where did I know her from? I just had to find out.


Almandite

Jadeite's hand was ice cold. There had been no change in his status since we had brought him here, really. External heat sources didn't seem to help him. Magic didn't help much, either, although I suspected, somehow, that it was at the root of the problem. His condition seemed to have no cause and no cure, and furthermore, even with the Weavelink as thoroughly blocked as I could manage, it was bleeding over onto me. Or was that just psychosomatic? Still, I was shivering. I pulled my jacket back into its proper position and fastened it.

How could I have been so stupid? The moment Kyanite had told me about the girls that he had met, I'd figured out how we had ended up here. My fault. All my fault. I'd been so preoccupied with Serena that my memories had drawn us back into the twentieth century, so I had only myself to blame for the three of us being alone here, and friendless, and, in Jadeite's case, ill. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I wasn't a girl anymore. Serena wasn't the first friend that I had lost, and I didn't expect her to be the last. I had been such a fool to let that emptiness overwhelm me at the moment that it had.

Nephrite... Oh, dear gods, how I needed him just then. Husband, teacher, lover and best friend... I needed his comfort, his advice, his perceptiveness. A word or two to the Stars, and he would have known how to help Jadeite. I'd tried to scry for an answer already, using my Weavemate's spirit crystal, but all I'd seen was empty darkness. I suspected that I just hadn't invoked the spell correctly. I'd never needed to use my long-ago, rather sketchy training in divination before.

I needed an answer, and I couldn't seem to come up with a way of getting one.

Goto Chapter 23


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