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

Chapter 32

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Almandite

I waited at the mouth of an alleyway, grey uniform blending into the shadows as it had been designed to do. This wasn't an oft-traveled street, and there hadn't been many passers-by yet. Three men walking together, and then a man and a woman, but no one seemed to be walking there alone. And I needed someone who was alone. This was going to be difficult enough for me without needing to worry about defending myself against additional people while I drained the energy of the first. Even if they were only humans.

There. A man, alone. Young and strong, too. That was good. I knew, from what Nephrite had told me, that the loss of life energy could put a strain on the human heart. The last thing I wanted to do was stop oh-so-carefully short of completely draining my victim, only to have him go into cardiac arrest.

I stepped out into the street, right in front of him.

"Whoa, lady, you startled me!"

He turned to brush past me, and I almost let him go. Reflexively. Because that was the way a normal human person would behave, and deep down inside, part of me was still a normal human person. But instead, I reached out and clamped my hand down over his biceps. It wasn't as firm as I had expected... but then, when was the last time I had touched a normal person this way, instead of a youma or a Crystal Weaver? This young man wasn't likely to have ever undergone the kind of training and conditioning that I had come to take for granted, living in the Negaverse. He could afford to be a little soft.

"Is there something you want? Let go of me!" But he couldn't break my grip. I wasn't sure which of us was stronger, in terms of raw strength, but he didn't know how to apply what he had, and I did. Somehow, the thought made me immensely sad.

"I'm sorry," I told him, and he stared at me, uncomprehending, until I began the energy drain. Then he began to struggle, but it was already too late.

I kept it up until he lost consciousness and sagged against me, then quickly terminated it and dragged him back into my alleyway, where he hopefully wouldn't be noticed or found for a little while. Then I weighed the ball of energy in my hand, and my already touchy stomach churned as I realized that it wasn't enough, that I was going to have to do this at least two or three more times before I had enough to really help Jadeite.

I decanted the energy into the chunk of rock crystal that I'd bought at a science shop to use for storage, and dropped the now-charged quartz back into the pouch I'd been wearing on my belt to accommodate it.

Only then did I allow myself to walk further back into the alley and throw up.

I can't do that again, I thought miserably as I swiped the edge of one gloved hand across my mouth. But I knew it was too late to stop. I had chosen, and now I had to live with my choice. And besides, our only chance of getting out of here is to get Jadeite back on his feet.

I forced myself to return to the mouth of the alleyway and wait for another victim.

Four passers-by later, I had almost reached my target energy level, and, more importantly, my quartz crystal was beginning to reach the upper limit of the amount of charge it could safely accept. Enough. That's enough.

I dragged my victims closer to the mouth of the alleyway and went looking for the nearest pay phone. This was the part that I dreaded the most, because it was the only part of my plan that would leave a record in any of the human bureaucratic systems, the only part that stood any chance of getting me caught, but I couldn't just leave those five poor men there to die of exposure. I had to call an ambulance for them.

I experienced a moment of panic when I realized that I had neither correct change nor a phone card, but the mechanism of the telephone was crude and easy enough to manipulate with my powers. I muffled the receiver with a thickness of cloth from my jacket in an attempt to confuse the sound, and spoke in the deepest, gruffest tones I could manage. Hopefully, even if I was being recorded, and Amy managed to break into the phone records with her computer, a voice analysis wouldn't tell her much.

When the call was over, I sagged against the glass of the phone booth's door. There. Done. All over. And I wasn't caught.

Someone knocked on the glass.

"All right, all right," I muttered, and reached for the handle. "Why are you in so much of a--"

I looked up... and locked eyes with Lita, who was staring at me, appalled. I was frozen, eyes wide, stomach churning, and I just knew that I had "guilty" written all over my face and had to get away from there right away.

It wasn't until I felt the familiar cold darkness of nonspace close around me that I realized that some instinct-driven part of my brain had just translated that need for escape into a teleport.

Well, if she didn't think I was guilty before, she certainly does now. And what did this mean for the future? What does happen when someone from the future messes with the past? Have I erased Crystal Tokyo? No. No, I can't let myself believe that. That way lies insanity. But... I'm going to have to convince Jadeite to erase their memories. Thank the gods he's the one who ended up coming with me. None of the others have the skills.

But my stomach still wouldn't quite settle down. I had ruined something subtle but precious to me, and nothing would ever be quite be quite right again.


Serena

Amy dismissed her visor with a quick touch to her earring.

"So what is it?" I asked her.

"I'm not sure."

"You're wha--?"

"I'm not sure," she repeated. "It doesn't match the currency of any country known to me or my computer, past or present, all the way back to the Silver Millennium. The alloy is a bit odd, but not beyond the capacity of a really good metallurgical facility. It isn't more than a couple of years old. And it's apparently worth a thousand Universal Planetary Credits, whatever they are."

"Universal Planetary Credits? Weird. Sounds like something out of a bad mecha show." I was trying hard to prove I was paying attention. For once, I actually wanted to know what Amy had to tell me. That blue coin the woman--Almandite--had left in the cafe... There was just something strange about it.

Amy suddenly went very still. "Serena, sometimes you have the most incredible ideas. Luna!"

"Mmmm?" The cat glanced up at us from the cushion on which she was lying.

"Do you know if there's a way to check to see if an artefact comes from the future?"

"The future?!" Okay, so I had said something about mecha shows, but I hadn't expected anyone to take me seriously. Especially not level-headed Amy.

"I don't--Wait. Scan it for--" And Luna used a bunch of long scientific words that I didn't know.

"Thanks." Amy waved her computer over the coin again. Then she bit her lip.

"Well?" I said.

"It tests positive. This thing came from the future."

"Which means that Almandite, and Kevin--and maybe even Jadeite--are all here from..." And I just couldn't bring myself to complete the thought. You'd think that, after more than a year of being a Sailor Scout, I'd have gotten used to weird things going on around me, but it just doesn't always work that way.

Amy didn't seem to notice. Instead, she was tapping away rapidly at her computer.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Trying to see if Almandite is anyone that we know in this time. I'm using the computer to try to figure out what she would have looked like when she was younger. It won't be perfect, of course, since the only footage I have of her is from the fire reading, but I think it's worth a try. She looks like she's about twenty-five. So here's what she would have looked like at twenty... seventeen... fifteen..." And then my friend was quiet again for quite a while.

Luna jumped up on the table and looked at the computer screen... and suddenly got really quiet, too.

By that time, the suspense was driving me crazy, so I went behind Amy and looked over her shoulder.

"No way!"

The hairstyle was wrong, of course, and so were the eyes and the expression, but I'd known the person in the picture long enough and well enough that it would have taken more than that for me not to recognize her.

"Molly?" I whispered.

We all just kind of stood there, quiet and frozen in place, until my communicator beeped, and I shook myself out of it and flipped it open. "Lita? What is it?"

"Serena? I'm down by the docks. I think you'd better come down here. I've got some people that look like their energy was drained, and not a Cardian in sight. And... No, I think you should see this before I tell you about that part."

"Right," I said, and shut the communicator without even bothering to complain. I was too numb for that.


Jadeite

It felt like I was swimming in liquid ice, although I know that's not physically possible. Even my thoughts seemed to be frozen.

I've been this cold once before.

When?

Then I remembered, and I started to shake. Frozen in ice. The Eternal Sleep crystal. I can't be... back there. Please, no. No! But... I can move, so I can't be trapped inside that thing. Or am I just hallucinating being able to move? They say that prolonged sensory deprivation can really mess with your mind...

<<Jadeite? Jadeite, are you there?>>

<<Almandite!>> I grabbed for her mind, as though I were drowning and she was offering me a lifeline. <<Yes! Yes, I'm here!>>

<<Thank the gods. For a moment there, I thought we might have lost you. Listen, I think I've found a way to bring you out of this. You'll be weak, but at least you'll be able to function for a few days. Once you're back on your feet, maybe we'll be able to figure out why this is happening, and fix it for good. Just don't fight me, all right?>>

<<I won't.>> I would have promised her the moon on a silver platter for offering me a way out of this frozen hell...

Slowly, slowly, I felt warmth begin to creep into my body, seeping through the skin over my breastbone. Warmth. Life. Energy. At first, I was so overjoyed at feeling my body begin to thaw that I didn't realize that the energy had a familiar flavour to it...

"Oh, Almandite." My lips and tongue were still mostly numb, but I forced the words out anyway. Some things just have to be said aloud. "What have you done?"

A drop of water--hot, excruciatingly hot--splashed against my face. I opened my eyes, and the shadows above me gradually resolved themselves into her face and body. She was crying, and looked absolutely wretched, and, knowing what she had done, I couldn't blame her.

<<The only thing I could. The only answer I could find. I... tried my best not to hurt anyone.>>

I was still cold and stiff, but I managed to prop myself up on one elbow and wrap the other arm around her, offering what little comfort I could give.

It was only as I thawed and became a bit more aware of my surroundings that I realized that there was something--or, rather, someone--missing.


Kyanite

I did not just see that. I did not just see that.

But I knew I had.

I sat at the edge of the roof, with my knees drawn up to my chin and my arms wrapped around them, hoping that I was far enough back from the edge that Almandite wouldn't be able to see me, and feeling utterly miserable.

It wasn't that I cared about the humans she had just drained so much. Humans weren't... well, they weren't real to me as people, I guess. But Lady Aventurine had told me about the Bad Old Days under Beryl, a little, and I just couldn't believe that Almandite--one of my father's own Weavemates!--was doing what I thought she was doing.

She... Doesn't that make her a traitor? I mean, I thought... Damn it, I don't know what I thought. What I think. I had been alive for less than a month, in total. That isn't really enough time to form anything like a moral code, and my education up to that point hadn't spent a lot of time on questions of right and wrong. She... she'd better have a good explanation for this, that's all I can say.

I shouldn't even have seen it, really. I mean, Almandite hadn't explicitly forbidden me to follow her, but I hadn't exactly told her what I was doing and asked her permission, either. It was just... I was almost completely powerless to begin with, and not knowing what was going on around me would have made matters worse. At least, knowing, I could apply what powers I did have where they could do the most good. I hoped. Assuming that my meagre abilities could do any good at all.

I swallowed, tasting bile, and rose to my feet, since my lessons had emphasized that teleporting from a sitting position was a Bad Idea unless I wanted to take a chunk of whatever I was sitting on with me.

"Stop right there!"

I jumped, flinched, and spun to face the voice.

"I am Sailor Moon, the Champion of Justice! And in the name of the Moon, I will punish you!"

She looked like such an idiot, waving her arms around like that, that it was a moment before I recognized her.

"Serena?!"

"Don't give us that innocent look, Kevin!" It wasn't Serena who spoke, but the black-haired girl--what was her name? "We know you're from the Negaverse, and that your friend Almandite has been draining people's life energy. Don't even bother trying to deny it!"

"Then I won't." I wanted to cringe, but instead I forced myself to stand straight, with my head held high, as a General should. "I am from the Negaverse, but I am not your enemy."

Mina tossed her head. "And yesterday, before your-- what is she, your aunt?--started draining people in the street, we might even have believed that."

"I don't know why she's doing that," I said desperately. "And she's my father's Weavemate, not my aunt. I think it might have something to do with Lord Jadeite."

Mina opened her mouth as though to say something else, but was interrupted.

"Chi-ME-ra!"

We all turned to look at the source of the voice.

Is that a youma? My instinct was that no, it wasn't. It was one of the oddest looking female creatures I had ever seen, with three vastly different heads and a body that looked sort of like that of a... an anthropoid lion with scales, but it didn't feel like a youma. Something else, then.

"Give me your energy!"

A jet of energy shot from its upraised hand. My mind froze, but the reflexes that Lady Aventurine had begun to train into my body took over, and I ducked and rolled away from the blast, finishing up in the lee of some kind of metallic structure, purpose unknown, that protruded from the roof on which we all stood.

"Jupiter Thunder Crash!"

"Venus Love Chain Encircle!"

I panted, trying to catch my breath, and watched as the Scouts battled the monster. All right. So I now know a few things about that creature. First of all, it's after me. Second, the Scouts recognize it. And third, it's their enemy too, because they're fighting it, and I don't think it's to protect me.

I knew that my best course of action was to run away. I couldn't help fight the thing, after all. All I could do here was be a target. But in order to teleport safely, I needed to stand up and expose myself, since the thing behind which I was sheltering was only about three feet high.

I'll just have to take a chance, I thought, and rose cautiously from my crouch.

"Mars Fire Ignite!"

I didn't even have a chance to duck. My bad luck that I'd stood up right at the moment that one of the Scouts had chosen to take aim at the monster, double bad luck that she had missed, and triple bad luck that I'd been so close and in the way.

The blast of fire slammed into me, and it burned--oh gods it burned--but not in quite the way I had expected it to. Instead of beginning at my skin and working its way in, this pain began deep inside my torso and radiated out along my arms and down my legs and up my neck. I felt like my head was going to burst. And then I felt like the rest of me was going to burst, as though I'd been pumped too full of something.

I could feel the backlash coming, as it had once before when that group of berserker youma had trapped Zircon and me in a Negaverse corridor. My magic surged and exploded out of me, undirected and uncontrollable. It seared the not-youma into ashes and melted the metal thing in front of me into a shapeless lump.

In seconds it was over, and I was kneeling at the center of a charred circle, my uniform somehow miraculously intact but feeling oddly tight around my shoulders and upper arms, as though it had shrunk. I felt strange--not just dizzy and sick, but altogether wrong in a way that I didn't quite understand.

I fell forward on my face. It seemed like a good time to lose consciousness, so I did.

Goto Interlude VIII


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