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

Chapter 23

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Pyrope

I leaned on my halberd as my squad of youma finished cleaning up. Those freed of possession had been herded together against the wall, and those still maddened by the demon's shadow had been securely bound. The bodies were stacked neatly to one side, to wait for the cleanup squad.

The bodies...

We're losing too many, I thought, but I had long ago passed beyond feeling sick and was now merely tired. Sapphire's anti-possession devices almost worked--at least to the extent of snapping about half of the crazed youma out of it-- but they needed physical contact. Have you ever tried to get in close to a berserk youma during a fight? It just doesn't work, in the absence of a considerable numeric advantage. But this band had been almost as large as my squad, and, inevitably, some of them had died.

It was going to take the Negaverse centuries to recover from this. Few enough youma had survived the chaos between the end of Beryl's reign and the beginning of King Malachite's, or so the others had told me, and it was those senior, experienced individuals who had been affected by this. We were losing a disproportionate number of officers, and there had never been enough youma officers.

Thinking about how close I'd come to joining the berserkers gave me cold shivers. I hated even the memory of working for the Dark Moon, and hadn't wanted to go back over, but when the darkness had touched me, I'd begun to think that I wouldn't be able to help myself. I'd fought as hard as I could, until the internal conflict had become so intense that I'd blacked out. Then I'd woken to Cuprite shaking me and the feeling that something inside me had been dislocated and then forcibly wrenched back into place. It had been terrible.

The only thing that comforted me was that David couldn't possibly be one of these anonymous bodies. He was a young youma, not one of the original servants of Beryl and the Four. He had never belonged to a demon. I tried not to think about the possibility that he was a victim of one of the berserkers. If that was the case, his body might never be found. An empty place at my side and in my bed for the rest of my life... No. I didn't think I could bear it.

I was still hopelessly infatuated with Malachite, and knew it, but David was the person I had chosen to share my life with. I wasn't in love with him, and never would be, but his absence had left a gap in my life that I didn't think I would ever be able to fill.

The worst of it was not knowing. No one had seen David since before Morgan had given his original alarm. His assistant had said that he'd been in his office, business as usual, and then just... left. Then disaster had struck us, and no one had any time to search for my wayward lover. Including me.

And, just to put everything in perspective, my nerves were continually shrieking at me that Malachite was in danger, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it. It was like having an itch that I couldn't scratch, only multiplied by a factor of a hundred or so. Damn Zoisite, anyway.

The halberd slipped a little in my grasp, and I swore softly, realizing that youma blood had trickled down the haft to soak my glove. Those damned white gloves have got to be the most idiotic part of our uniforms. I mean, the grey and the high collars and the boots at least look classy in a stiff and nasty sort of way, but the little touch added by the gloves isn't enough to make up for the number of pairs that I ruin...

I snorted. Someone else's life is smeared all over my hands, and all I can do is worry about my gloves. I'm getting almost as jaded as Zoisite. Uncomfortable thought.

I shifted my grip on the weapon and turned to give orders to my youma.


Rhea

"... and I'll be back up to tell you, if I hear anything."

"Thanks," Mom said, but she wasn't really paying attention to me. Instead, she was watching the unconscious man on the bed.

I didn't understand why she was so fixated on King Samuel. Even Aunt Cass couldn't, or wouldn't, explain that to me. Why was he so important to her? Could he be... nah. Even a blind man could see that I didn't look anything like the royal family. And there was no crescent moon on my forehead.

Damn it, Mom, who was he? Who was my father? Who? It shouldn't have bothered me so much, I suppose. I mean, it wasn't like I didn't already have two parents: Mom and Aunt Cass. But I'd known all my life that I was different, and I wanted to know why. Had I inherited the power to heal with a touch from my father? And if not, why did I have it? What did it mean?

As I turned away from my mother, the back of my hand brushed against the Silence Glaive. Its metal was warm against my skin, and, for a moment, I thought I felt a hint of vibration... almost as though it were alive, and wanted to be held. Nonsense. It's just a weapon, a tool, a thing. It can't want anything. Which was a shame, since I wanted to hold it. I always felt so comfortable as Sailor Saturn, so calm, as though I could conquer worlds...

As I left the room, I felt eyes staring at me. Turning, I saw Luna, perched on the edge of one of the hallway's alcove benches. I didn't say anything to her, but I couldn't help but wonder why she was watching me. She'd been doing it all day, and it was making me uncomfortable.

What the devil is going on around here?


Alexandrite

I leaned over the orderly's shoulder as she put the baby back in her cradle.

"Any luck?" I asked.

"None, m'lord. I tried her on the formula again, but she wouldn't take it. I ended up feeding her sugar water."

"Damn," I whispered. Renna, the baby, had been abandoned by her mother when the latter had gone berserk. Due to her unusually high metabolic rate, the little youma had been dehydrated and close to death when she'd been found this morning, in a search of the senior officers' quarters. Unfortunately, she also had a peculiar biochemistry, and we couldn't feed her the human baby formula that the other very young youma whose mothers... weren't available... were getting. That was why she was in the infirmary. And that was why I was almost certain that she was going to die, unless her mother was found and cured soon.

"Carry on," I told the orderly, realizing that she was waiting to be dismissed. She nodded to me and moved on to another bed, which, like most of the others, was occupied by a youma who had been injured in the fights against the berserkers. I didn't know which side she had been on, and had no intention of asking. Whichever it had been, she was sane now, or she would be chained and locked in a cell, injuries notwithstanding. We weren't treating the berserkers, unless they were irreplaceable specialists. Our resources were strained as it was.

I wish that Almandite were here, I thought, not for the first time. Or even my brother Jay, with his limited healing gifts. Or a dozen human doctors. Non-magical treatment might have allowed many to survive that I just couldn't get to in time, but Jasper was refusing to ask Crystal Tokyo for help, on the grounds that it would mean showing weakness. And no matter how I pled with him, he refused to budge.

That sort of attitude was why, in the almost-thirty years of my second life, our relations with Crystal Tokyo had never progressed beyond a sort of armed truce, except very briefly in the first year, when the humans still remembered what we'd done for them during the Dark Moon War. Friends trust each other enough to ask for help when they need it, but those in charge of the Negaverse were pathologically unable to trust. It isn't really all that surprising, I suppose. Even before Beryl, Malachite had never been very trusting. But now that mistrust was killing people, people that could have been saved if only...

I could stop it, I reminded myself, hands clenching into fists. In fact, I was the only one that could stop it. I was senior to Jasper. I could relieve him. But I knew that disaster lay that way. I could no more organize the sweeps being made for renegade youma than I could fly without using my powers. No, Jasper had to stay in charge. It was the only way of preventing even more deaths.

<<Alex?>>

<<Oh. Hello, Uncle Jas. What can I do for you?>>

He looked like hell, but then so did we all. Lots of hard work, little or no sleep the night before and no prospect of any more tonight, and, just to add to the fun, we were all eating the same mushroom slop as the common youma because the cooks who normally served the officers' mess had been moved to more important tasks.

<<On second thought, don't tell me,>> I stated. <<Whatever the problem is, the prescription is rest.>>

<<Thank you, Doctor Landry-Tsumeta. And as soon as this is cleared up, I intend to get plenty of it, but I don't have the time right now. You know what I need you to do.>>

I sighed as I moved around behind him, positioning myself between his drooping wings. <<Yes, I know. And I really don't have the magic to spare, and you know that it isn't good for you, but I'll do it anyway.>> I spread my hands on his shoulders, thumbs touching the bare skin at the nape of his neck under his braid, and went to work on cleaning the fatigue poisons out of his body. <<I'm not going to do it again, though. I don't want to conduct a test to see if prolonged sleep deprivation has the same effect on us as it does on humans, thank you very much, especially with you as the guinea pig.>>

Jasper flexed his shoulders, raising his wings a bit. <<I understand. I promise I won't come back here for this again, no matter what happens. Is there any word from... ?>>

<<No.>> In fact, the Weavelink had been in a state of ominous silence, with that black curtain draped across it, so thick that I couldn't even have felt the others' pain. Wherever Malachite and Jay and the rest were, they were beyond my reach.

<<Damn.>>

I bit my lip. I'd asked before, but I could ask again. <<Uncle Jas, do you think that we could-->>

<<No. I know what you're going to ask for, Alex, and the answer is no. I'm not allowing any humans into the Negaverse until this is over.>>

<<Damnit, look at them!>> I'm sure my eyes were blazing as I gestured at all the injured youma who lay on the beds around us. <<For every two I save, I lose one, because I don't have enough skilled help! You're killing them, Jasper.>> Then I stopped, feeling chilled. It was the first time in this incarnation that I'd forgotten myself so far as to address him by his unadorned first name.

<<I know that. But this is the way things have to be.>>

I walked around to face him again, and discovered that his face had fallen into a familiar set expression. Jasper had only served under Beryl for a few days, but it had given him the same cold, hard edge as it had given the others. He could face terrible slaughter, if not without batting an eye, then at least without shedding a tear until the crisis was over.

There could be no reasoning with him. The only way to save them was... but I couldn't. I couldn't. I would have to pray instead, and hope that someone was listening.


Zircon

I gestured for her to drop back as I moved forward, stalking, but she didn't seem to understand. I had to grab her shoulder and point at the mouth of the alleyway before she seemed to get the idea. Under other circumstances, I would have sighed, or cursed, but just then the best I could do was curl my lip. Sailor Scouts. What did they teach them, anyway?

I hadn't asked to be partnered with the current Sailor Jupiter, but then, no one had requested my opinion, either. Marc had just handed out the assignments--I was to go with Jupiter, Cass with Mercury, Opal with Mars, and Marc himself with Prince Phaeton, while Morgan, still a little the worse for wear after the knock on the head that he'd gotten yesterday, stayed behind at the Crystal Palace to coordinate. The problem was that Jupiter... well, she wasn't bad, exactly, but she seemed to have no idea how to handle herself when tracking and stalking what we thought was probably a youma.

I checked my gear again. Whip securely attached to my belt, shortsword at my hip, other nasty surprises arranged where I could get at them. Good. It probably wouldn't come to a physical fight, of course, but better safe than sorry. Sapphire's anti- possession talisman hung in a pouch beside my whip. Not the best place for it, perhaps, but it was of an awkward size and shape. The only other place that I could have put it would have been inside my jacket, which would have been worse.

I levitated up toward the window of the old warehouse and polished it gently with my sleeve, trying for a look inside. Non-space had mostly returned to normal in Crystal Tokyo by then, and there was no real reason why I couldn't have teleported blind, I suppose, but I was justifiably paranoid. I mean, I'd seen what had happened to Demantoid's hand, and I didn't particularly want to rematerialize inside a wall, with no Tourmaline there to help me out.

So. The interior of the building was unlit, but the alleyway wasn't, and it took not a bit of squinting for me to make out that more than half of it was empty. Well. So much for paranoia. I vanished from the outside and appeared inside almost simultaneously. I also very nearly made a bad mistake. My teleport effect looks sort of like a shower of blue-white fireworks, and it's so much second nature to me that I... Well, I almost... you know. So much for my being a skilled stalker! The only excuse I have is that skulking around in the daylight didn't feel quite real, somehow. I'd played out similar situations a dozen times in training, but they'd always taken place in the Negaverse.

The youma had her back to me as I appeared. As far as I could tell, she was alone. I didn't recognize her, but that only meant that she wasn't one of the Seven Shadows. And she didn't seem to realize that I was there, floating above her. Good. That would make all of this so very much easier.

Slowly, carefully, I uncoiled my whip, trying not to make any noise. I'd bind her arms to her side with the magically strengthened lash, making it much more difficult for her to fight me effectively, and then I'd move in close and touch her with the talisman. It should take minimal effort, and I wouldn't need to involve Sailor Jupiter at all.

Oddly enough, it went off like clockwork. Well, okay, the youma didn't depossess, but I had her bound and helpless on the floor within minutes, and was standing over her congratulating myself when a scream coming from just outside the dusty window almost shattered my eardrums.

Instantly, I teleported, flickering back into existence on the roof of the warehouse. Now, where did that... ? Then I looked down. And swore.

Sailor Jupiter was on her knees, trapped between two of them, a man and a woman. A familiar woman, with pink hair. Rini. Except, of course, that it wasn't really her anymore. The man was a stranger, medium-sized, blonde, and positively reeking of demon. I should never have left that inexperienced girl alone for a minute! They must have figured that she would be an easy target. Marc had told us to stay with our partners, precisely in order to avoid situations like this. It was because of my stupidity that we were in this situation. Well, so be it, then.

Whip in one hand and sword in the other, I stepped off the edge of the roof, yelling at the top of my lungs. I could have hit them with magic from three stories up, I suppose, but I'm not that good a long-distance shot, I wasn't sure how well my powers would work on them under the circumstances, and anyway, I didn't want to duke it out with them--I just wanted to get them away from Sailor Jupiter.

Well, they both teleported away, but I think it was just because they didn't want to mix it up with two of us. Or, at least, not yet. I wanted to slap a tracer on them, but I couldn't do that and help my assigned partner at the same time.

"Are you all right?" I asked Jupiter.

She nodded. "Battered and shaken, but I think so. And thanks. For coming to the rescue, I mean."

I shrugged. "All part of the job. But I thought I told you to stay out of the alleyway."

"Is that what you meant?"

What do they teach them in Sailor Scout School? But the answer was obvious: they were taught bodyguarding, which is fundamentally different from the sort of thing we were trying to do here. I'd just never thought about it before.

These girls belonged back at the Palace, defending, not attacking. I just hoped that Marc had figured that out, too.

Goto Chapter 24


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