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

Chapter 27

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Kunzite

I was lying on something hard and lumpy, but it should have taken more than that discomfort to wake me. I'd been sleeping on rubble-strewn ground for months, ever since I'd fallen out of favour...

<<I know you're awake.>> Familiar voice, familiar mind, but so cold. He'd never been cold to me before. Was I trapped in some strange kind of Hell? Was I dead? Was that it?

<<No, you're not dead--although I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't make you that way.>> Cold, so cold...

I forced myself to open my eyes and prop myself up on one elbow. He was sitting cross-legged on a crate, over to my left. My Zoisite. Or, not quite my Zoisite. My Zoisite would never have just sat there, giving me that cold, detached look, turning a slender sword over and over in his hands. That sword... hadn't it been destroyed? I would have sworn that it had been vapourized with the rest of our armoury, after... And there were little glitters of light on his uniform, where a flicker of radiance was reflected off his epaulettes or the crystal he wore on a thin chain around his neck. The childlike uncertainty he had never been able to completely hide from me was gone, replaced with something more solid.

"Who are you?" Spoken aloud, it was barely more than a croak, but suddenly I didn't want the intimacy of mental communication with this stranger.

"Zoisite. General of the Negaverse and consort to King Malachite."

General... How could he claim that hated, hated title? And consort to... who?

"You may have guessed that we're not from around here."

It was with relief that I turned to the woman, the stranger. The vaguely familiar stranger. Who had I ever known that had that nose and those cheekbones?

"Amber Tsumeta," she identified herself. The name meant nothing to me, even though she, too, wore the uniform of the service that I'd forsaken. She hesitated, then added, "We need your help, my Lord."

<<Amber!>>

Grey eyes stared into glowing green.

"Well, we do," the woman replied mildly. "And I don't know about you, but I need to know what's happened to the others."

"Which we'll never do if he kills us," Zoisite snapped. "We can't afford to negotiate from a position of weakness."

And isn't that just like him? It was just too much. I found myself laughing, weakly, even though it made my ribs ache. Surprised, I stopped. I'd been beyond any feeling, even pain, for so very long...

"I doubt I could kill time right now," I told them. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not in the best of shape. I doubt I can help you, either, although I'm willing to entertain the possibility if you are."

"And your price?"

I shook my head. He never does let his guard down, I thought affectionately, then caught myself. No matter how this slender blonde man might resemble... another slender blonde man, he wasn't my old lover, and I was going to have to be careful not to react to him as such. Still, it was on the tip of my tongue to name a price that--

"That depends on what you want me to do," I said, biting back what I wanted to say, reminding myself again that I was dealing with potentially hostile strangers, and that I'd already demonstrated far more weakness than I should have.

"For now, just provide us with information." Zoisite slid down off his crate and sheathed the sword he had been playing with.

"Such as?"

He managed to loom over me, a feat that would have been impossible had I not been sitting on the ground at his feet. "Are any of the others alive? Jadeite, Nephrite, my... double? Queen Beryl?"

"Queen Beryl?" I couldn't help that exclamation of surprise. I'd known that their questions would tell me about them, but this wasn't something that I had expected. Then I collected my scattered thoughts and said, "As far as I know, Beryl is alive. Jadeite may still be frozen in Eternal Sleep somewhere, or he may have been destroyed. The others you name are dead." Odd that he hadn't asked about him... or had Zoisite already known that he was alive?

Queen Beryl?

Zoisite frowned, and seemed to consider, then discard, several questions.

"What happened to you?" he asked, at last. "You're an outcast, that's obvious, but why? What did you do to make them so angry?"

I chuckled, then winced. Damn, Zoisite had hit me in the groin, then the jaw, not the ribs... I must have taken a fall and cracked one at some point during that long period when I hadn't cared much about anything.

"I failed to kill Endymion," I said at last, meeting his eyes for a moment, knowing that he'd understand what I meant.

Assassination is a fact of life in the Negaverse. Killing your superiors and your rivals is the surest way of getting ahead. After Beryl had brought him over, Endymion had been my rival. Of course I'd attacked him. The problem had been that I'd done it too soon, and too directly, and everyone had known of my grudge against him, the man responsible for my lover's death. And then I'd been fool enough to get caught.

The scars that covered the left half of my--well, you couldn't very well call it a face any longer, could you?-- pulled tight as I smiled twistedly. "Our Emperor was not in the least pleased," I said. "He let Beryl choose my punishment. She did this--" I touched the empty eye socket, the ruined flesh and bone around it--"and cast me out. To be honest, I'm surprised I didn't die. I should have. In the few moments when I was at all lucid, I wanted to."

Zoisite's eyes had narrowed to slits. "Your Emperor." Ah, I thought. Here it comes. "What is his name?"

"Onyx," I replied.

I don't know what kind of reaction I was expecting, but it wouldn't have been even half so gratifying as the real thing. Amber went white, and staggered against the crate that Zoisite had been sitting on, while Zoisite's eyes flared with a predatory hunger. It was satisfying to feel that I had unbalanced them for a change, instead of the other way around.

Then Amber whispered, "Father," and the world seemed to spin through ninety degrees again.

Father? This was his daughter? Beryl's sister? Just who were these people?

The two of them exchanged glances, Amber's face still unnaturally pale.

"I suppose it's our turn to explain now," she said at last.


Beryl

He stood in the lower jaw of the frozen stone beast. I almost always found him there, now, when I went to look for him. Ever since that triumphal moment when he had defeated the Sailor Scouts, long separation from our demonic patron had become painful to him.

<<Beryl,>> he greeted me as I entered. <<What news?>> A slight movement of his head caused the red glow from the great globe above us to glitter off the sleek black metal of his right cheekbone. I couldn't tell for certain in this uncertain light, but it looked to me like the skin around the juncture of flesh and metal was becoming inflamed again. Soon he was going to have to transform another fraction of an inch of living tissue into unfeeling alloy.

It was all that kept him alive.

<<Kunzite has resurfaced,>> I told him. <<Endymion encountered him in the city today.>>

Father waved his metal hand in a throwing-away gesture. <<Oh, that one. He's of no further danger to us, not broken as he is.>>

<<I'm not so sure,>> I replied grimly. <<Kunzite wasn't the only person that Endymion met.>> And I quoted the prince's report to him.

He was frowning when I finished. <<Zoisite is dead. Absolutely, utterly, and irrevocably dead, just like that traitor Nephrite. You know that. You saw me crush his spirit crystal yourself.>>

<<I know. But even if this person was only a good imitation, don't you think that his lover's apparent return from the dead would give Kunzite something to fight for? Broken spirits can mend, you know.>>

<<Of course I do.>> His head tilted upwards, and I followed his line of sight up to the great red globe. Oh, yes. We both knew.

<<Beryl.>>

I tore my eyes away from the play of glowing currents in the red liquid to find him right beside me, almost touching my arm. His dark eyes seemed to glow from within, but I thought--I hoped-- that they were only reflecting the red light.

"Beryl. I leave this matter in your capable hands." There was always a hint of Metallia's voice in his now. I could barely remember what it had sounded like before. "Deal with Kunzite and his little friends, whoever they may be. They must not interrupt the joining." His fingers reached up to caress my face. Despite the ruddy warmth that the light lent them, they were icy cold. Metal. Just metal. Like the rest of that arm and shoulder. He'd taken to wearing a jacket with the right sleeve cut away, as though to emphasize that. "I know you will not fail me."

I nodded, close to tears, and turned away. Why? Why must he do this? I'd give up my body gladly, if it meant that he could go free... But Metallia didn't want my body. The damned demon wanted my father.

As I understand it, normally a demon taking a body will just push the original inhabitant out. Metallia and my father were trying something far more complicated, and, potentially, more rewarding. They were trying to merge, to hybridize. If they succeeded, the resulting creature would have a demon's power coupled with a human's creative intelligence. It would be the next thing to a god.

But I didn't want a god. I just wanted my father back, the father that I hadn't known since he had disappeared from Mars all those years ago. The father that I loved. I was certain that Metallia knew that, too, and was feeding off my despair.

I teleported, emerging in the throne room that my father no longer used.

"Endymion!" I called.

I would set him to looking for Kunzite and the others. And then... then we would see.


Zoisite

"... and that was when you showed up," Amber concluded.

Kunzite was looking slightly stunned. I supposed I didn't blame him--the entire history of a parallel universe is quite a lot to absorb at one sitting.

<<A king,>> he stated, looking down at his hands. And he began to laugh again. It was an odd, frightening, brittle sound. <<If you're trying to flatter me into helping you, it won't work.>>

I gave him my best Look. <<Do you think we'd bother making up something this elaborate, complex, and bizarre, and expect you to believe it? Malachite is neither stupid nor a fool, and I don't think you are, either. Everything she's told you is the truth. Take it or leave it.>>

And I'm a fine one to be talking about truth right now, I told myself cynically. As usual, I was using irritation and bluster as a means of avoiding dealing with a truth that I didn't want to see. Kunzite... I forced myself to look at him, at the scarred face, the missing eye, the tattered uniform, the filthy hair. Kunzite was clearly a broken man, or as good as. Normally, I'm not very good at reading people, but I had seen that brittleness, that fragility, often enough in the mirror to recognize it in him. So. Kunzite was broken. But Kunzite shared Malachite's personality and spirit, if not his history. If Kunzite was broken, that meant that Malachite could be. And that meant... that meant that Malachite, my emotional pillar of support for thousands of years, wasn't as strong as I had thought he was.

What did that say about me?

I shied away from the question. I just could not face it. I had spent so much time portraying myself, inside my mind, as weak, that I didn't know how to deal with the idea that everyone was weak, that whatever it was that had happened in Beryl's rooms on that night that I still didn't remember could have broken anyone.

Kunzite shrugged. <<Well, you could both be quite thoroughly insane. Or I could be hallucinating all of this. Not that I suppose it matters. Helping you can't hurt anything at this point, and I have nothing better to do, although I don't think I'm strong enough right now to attempt to force an entrance to the Timestream.>>

<<We'll find you somewhere to rest and recover a bit,>> I promised, already making plans. Nephrite was dead. That meant that his house--if it's there, I reminded myself, although Kunzite had given me no reason to believe that it wasn't-- was probably the safest place for us, despite the fact that it was also on the Negaverse's doorstep. Whatever else I might have thought of my auburn-haired Weavemate, I accepted that he was highly skilled and made good wards. And he had never been the sort of person who gave out his address. <<If your price is agreeable to us, that is.>>

<<My price.>> Slowly, with a shadow of Malachite's familiar grace, he uncurled himself from his sitting position and rose to his feet. The look in that one grey eye was familiar, too. <<Can't you guess what my price is, Zoisite?>> His hand stopped moving mere inches from my face. I forced myself not to shudder or flinch.

It's the only way home, I reminded myself. And, I prostituted my soul to the Negaforce for years for a lot less reward. One time... I can force myself to let him touch me one time. If I had been alone, I might have allowed myself the luxury of curling into a little ball of misery on the floor. It isn't as though they're so different. He cares for me. And... if it were Malachite, maimed and alone... wouldn't I...

Malachite. That was the root of the problem, wasn't it? My last words to my lover of more than a thousand years had been words of anger. And now, being without him, I was so empty and I needed so badly, and I didn't want to be needing him, because as far as I knew, he was still obsessed with that damned kid... And no, damn it, I was not going to look to Kunzite for a Malachite-substitute. No, no, no, no, no. But we did need his help, so...

<<It's a bargain,>> I stated. Kunzite inclined his head to me, accepting.

At least I know he'll clean up pretty good, I reflected wryly as I began to form the image of where I wanted the three of us to go in my mind.

Goto Chapter 28


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