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

Chapter 33

© 2006 by E. Liddell

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Zoisite didn't say anything when I met him in the entryway. He just shucked off his bloodsoaked jacket and walked on past me without even looking at me, and I am embarrassed and disgusted to admit that my first thought was, That man ruins more clothes than anyone else I've ever met. It wasn't until a moment later that I realized what that multicoloured blood, and the fact that I had met him just inside the doorway, meant.

Zoisite had been hunting youma again. The blood on his jacket represented the death of eight or ten innocent people--well, all right, maybe not quite innocent, but still.

I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. My little green-eyed Weavemate had been murdering a youma patrol or two a day every day for almost a week now. Judging from what I could sense over the Weavelink when he forgot to block, he was resorting to violence in an attempt to relieve his frustration, but all he was succeeding in doing was disgusting himself almost as much as he was disgusting me. Between him doing that and Kunzite wandering around the building like a ghost whenever he was awake, I was beginning to get cabin fever.

<<So I disgust you, do I? And who gave you the right to judge me?>>

I should have known that he would tune in on that particular thought. He's always had this way on picking up on criticisms.

<<Someone has to,>> I replied wearily. <<Look, I'm going out. Don't hold supper for me.>> And I slammed a barrier down on the Weavelink before he could remind me that he had forbidden me, as the most vulnerable member of the group, to leave the mansion, knowing that, if he chose to follow me physically, I could easily lose him in the foggy forest outside.

I let my feet pull me downward through the greyness, not bothering to follow the overgrown driveway, stumbling occasionally over exposed tree roots. Fortunately, there wasn't really much underbrush. I kept moving at a rapid pace for ten minutes or so, then slowed. I wasn't quite sure what direction I had been headed in when I left the mansion, and I didn't want to emerge unexpectedly somewhere that I didn't want to be. Like the Negaverse. On the other hand, if I had been on my way down the Negaverse side, the sky wouldn't have been clearing this way, would it?

I stopped for a moment and leaned against a tree. Damn, running out like that was childish of me. I was a grown woman and a grandmother, for the gods' sakes, not some moody teenager! But now that I was here, I thought I might as well push past the edge of the woods and take a look around. We were on the fringes of the city here, far from the area where the patrols were thickest, and I could always teleport or scream for help if I did get caught. Or even fight. I'd survived the years of unrest when Malachite had first come to the Negaverse's throne. I wasn't a total incompetent in combat. And, fortunately, Zoisite had insisted that I remain armed even inside the mansion, so I had my sword with me. Meager defence for one as relatively unskilled as I was, true, but if I only had to fight youma...

I walked a few yards farther downhill, moving more cautiously now, trying not to make any noise. Fortunately, unlike dried leaves and underbrush, dry evergreen needles neither rustle nor crackle. I'm not as good at stealth as some, and my boots weren't enchanted. It's my good luck, I thought, parting the last layer of branches to peer into the deserted street beyond, that there's no one around.

I stepped forward, crossing some intangible dividing line, and suddenly, a soft breeze was stirring my hair, and the midafternoon sun was blazing into my eyes. I raised a hand to shield those last, glanced around, and quickly stepped through a gateway into a yard still fringed by a half-rotted wooden fence. There was no point in tempting fate by standing out in the open like that.

My foot tapped something more than half-hidden in the unkempt grass of the lawn, and I bent down to examine it. Plastic, faded now, but I had no doubt that it had once been brightly coloured. A ball. A child must once have lived in the decaying house that dominated the overgrown yard.

I picked up the toy, turned it over in my hands. Where was that child now? Dead? Or living as a youma in the Negaverse? I remembered Jasper, age four or so, holding a ball not unlike this one, and my grip tightened. What must it have been like for them, when the Negaverse rolled over this city like a wave? It was difficult for me even to imagine. There had been a time when I had been not unlike the people living in this house, but that time was long gone.

I'm not entirely certain what alerted me--the crunch of a footstep against the broken pavement outside in the street, perhaps. In any case, I ducked instinctively, making myself invisible behind the fence, and put my eye to a knothole.

Youma. Four of them. Not enough for a patrol... And with them, someone who was not a youma, although I suppose an untrained eye might have mistaken her for such. Long, bright red hair, spikes at wrists and shoulders, pointed ears, sharp, vulpine face... Is that Beryl?

I continued to crouch behind the fence, frozen, as she gave orders to her youma. Beryl. The older sister that I had never known. In my world, her death had made me a Crystal Weaver, and, perversely, I was grateful for that. Without her, I would never have had Jadeite, Avi would never have been born... so many things would never have been.

The youma, at her sweeping gesture, went on ahead, while Beryl just stood for a moment. She ducked her head and ran her hands through her hair... and I realized suddenly that she was less than ten feet away from me, and she didn't know that I was here, and that, without her, there would be no one left in the Negaverse who could effectively hunt us.

It was just too good an opportunity to miss.

I drew my sword--slowly, carefully, striving for complete silence. So far, so good. She hadn't even looked up. Now. Along the fence to the gate, hoping that the wind would cover for any rustling noises that I made. I would have exactly one chance to pull this off, and it would only work if I took her completely by surprise.

Damn, she's moving!

My not-exactly-half-sister had lifted her head and rearranged her features into an expression of calm arrogance, apparently in preparation for following the youma up the street. I wasn't quite in position, but... wait for it... There!

Just as she passed the opening in the fence where the decaying gate had once hung, I sprang forward, sword extended, ending with the point under her chin as she froze in disbelief.

We stared at each other. I should have killed her, I knew I should have, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Not like this. Not face to face with her, effectively in cold blood. Not my sister.

Zoisite would be disgusted with me. But, in a way, that wasn't a bad thing. Circumstances might have forced me to become a warrior, but I wasn't about to stoop to my green-eyed Weavemate's level and become a murderer as well.

<<Make a noise and you're dead,>> I told her. Her mind flinched away from mine.

<<You--who are--?>>

<<Never mind that right now. You're coming with me.>>




<<The next time you feel inclined to do me a favour... don't.>>

<<Are you saying that I should just have let her go?>>

I sighed in exasperation. <<That's exactly what I'm saying. Before this, they weren't really putting all that much effort into looking for us--we'd just killed a few youma, after all, and they aren't very valuable. Now they're going to be out in force, and while the three of us together can probably deal with a hundred or so youma, they'll bring us down eventually if they have to stack a thousand corpses on top of us to do it. And we can't let her go and short-circuit the search that way, because she knows where we're hiding.>>

I glanced over to where Beryl sat, tied, on the floor in a corner of the room. She looked back at me, the expression on her face showing that she was beyond surprise. So very unlike the old Beryl, who would only have looked angry at this point.

I realized that my hands were shaking, and, enraged, turned away again. She isn't--I'm not--Oh, how can she make me feel this way, after all this time? It wasn't nearly so bad before I died. But that was because I hadn't been able to remember, back then.

A fragmentary image presented itself to my mind's eye: Beryl, magenta fire crackling around her hands, reaching toward me... I shook my head and balled my hands into fists. No. No, I will not remember that. I will not. The event that I'd forgotten, that had made me go nearly catatonic and erased my memory of my first century-and-a-half as a servant of the Negaverse... No. That was a part of my life that I didn't want back.

<<Zoisite? Are you all right?>>

I realized, suddenly, that it wasn't just my hands that were shaking, and the shirt I wore under my uniform jacket was drenched in cold sweat. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and thought fixedly about the magical capacitance and resistance of various types of natural crystals and the pros and cons of using them as magical amplifiers. The exercise helped me get my composure back.

<<Zoisite?>> And I felt the weight of a small hand on my arm.

I slapped it away. <<Don't touch me,>> I snapped. "And what are you staring at?" I added to Beryl.

I brushed past Amber and marched straight out the door, slamming it behind me. It was only after I had climbed the stairs to the second floor and barricaded myself inside Nephrite's workroom that I dared to relax. The room was teleport warded, and with the door locked, only Nephrite or a really good magical analyst would be able to enter it, which meant that I could rely on being left alone for the present.

I peeled off my jacket and the sodden shirt underneath, tossing them both at different corners of the huge, empty room. My epaulettes clinked against the floor, an unwelcome reminder of responsibility.

"Damn you!" I conjured an ice crystal spear and hurled it, neatly transfixing the jacket. "Damn you," I repeated in a whisper, not sure whether I was cursing Beryl for reviving the memory of a horror I thought I had put behind me, or Amber for capturing her and bringing her here, or Malachite for not being here when I needed him, or myself for being so weak.

It would have been better if I weren't so alone, if I'd had Alex or Jadeite or even Nephrite to talk to. Any of them would have understood. But they were all so far away, and my only Weavemate here was Amber. And I couldn't bring myself to confide in her. Not in a woman. Not about this facet of my history.

Shadowy scraps. Fragments. Memories of terrible torture, both mental and physical. And then... Malachite. My lifelong love, who had carried me home and protected me and spent decades patiently piecing my shattered mind back together. Malachite, who wasn't here because he'd thought that boy was more important than I was, no matter how badly I needed him.

Feeling a familiar burning in my eyes, I began to blink frantically. I am not going to start crying. I am not! But... I needed... a kiss, a touch, or even just his affirmation that I was worth something...

I'd almost be willing to share him with that damned child, if he were here with me right now. Almost.

I shivered, suddenly aware of the sweat drying across my back and the cold air of the room biting into those portions of my torso that were still damp. Needing to cover myself, I walked over to my jacket and tugged the pinning spear loose so that I could pick up the discarded item of clothing. It wasn't as badly damaged as I had feared--just a tear in the back, about two inches long, near one shoulder seam. Good enough for now, anyway, I thought as I slipped it on. But how could Malachite stand wearing one of these, day in and day out, without anything underneath? It scratched. However, I wasn't about to put on my sweat- soaked, stinking shirt again quite yet. Better to itch.

And I still have to think of something to do with Beryl... Murdering her, unfortunately, would have been a bit extreme, and Amber would probably have objected, damn it all. Frowning, I wandered into the center of the room. All of Nephrite's wards were centered here. Surely there had to be something...

I laughed when it finally came to me. The sound echoed back from the workroom's high ceiling. Simple, elegant, obvious. Oh, yes!

When I unlocked the door and stepped into the hallway, Kunzite was right outside waiting for me. He drew breath, as though about to say something, but I cut him off.

"Whatever it is, it can wait. Come with me."


He's... He really is...

And there my mind stalled. But I was sure there was no mistake. That man had indisputably been Zoisite, and he was indisputably alive.

What had he been arguing about with the woman? Obviously, it hadn't just been a polite exchange of views, but the conversation had been shielded from me, so I didn't know exactly what they had said.

The woman...

Why was she so naggingly familiar? I had never seen her before, I knew I hadn't, but...

Make a noise, and you're dead.

She'd been completely sincere when she had told me that, and yet it would have been far less risky for her just to kill me and leave the body lying in the street. Instead, she had brought me here. Why? And why hadn't Kunzite, if these were indeed his allies, put in an appearance yet?

The stranger-woman who had captured me shifted her stance, adjusting the sword at her hip awkwardly, as though she wasn't used to wearing one. Damn it, what was it about her? Shoulder-length blonde hair, level grey eyes, a face that would have been utterly forgettable without the Crystal Weaver glamour backing it...

<<Are you going to tell me your name yet, or am I destined to spend the rest of my life wondering about it?>> I asked, since one of us had to do something if we didn't want this standoff to continue indefinitely.

<<I suppose it doesn't matter if you know. It's Amber.>>

<<And what are you going to do with me?>>

<<I don't know. That's up to Lord Zoisite.>>

Zoisite. Not Kunzite?

"You're certain this will work."

"As certain as I can be without actually trying it."

It wasn't all that easy for me to turn toward the hallway that provided access to this room, tied as I was, but I managed. Kunzite, yes, thin and unkempt and with his hair hanging forward into his face, wearing clothing several sizes too large, but still unmistakable. And beside him, Zoisite, looking much more in control of himself than he had half an hour ago.

"I'll need your help, though," the blonde man added. "If the demon is feeding her its power, she may be stronger than me, but she almost certainly isn't stronger than you. I may need you to restrain her while I work."

"Fair enough," Kunzite said. "Keep in mind that I'm still not quite back to my full strength."

Bile burned at the back of my throat. "You might need Kunzite to restrain me while you do what?" I asked, voice raspy. "Tear me apart like you did those poor youma?"

Green eyes slid shut for a moment as a shudder wracked the slender body. "No. I was... never mind. Suffice to say that I don't mean you any real harm, or at least, not right now. In any case, I doubt Amber would stand for my hurting you."

I glanced at the blonde woman, the vaguely familiar stranger who was standing very still over on the other side of the room, face expressionless, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of her sword. Why would she care whether I lived or died? True, I was technically her prisoner and not his, but...

She looked straight back at me, and one of her hands rose, seemingly involuntarily, to touch the pendant that she wore, black metal set with a glimmering, pale green stone. Wait! That's my spirit crystal! What is she doing wearing--

Then I snarled in outrage as I felt a spell clamp itself around me, and realized that Zoisite had been waiting for me to get distracted. Under other circumstances, I would have attacked him for that, but it's difficult to aim spells when bound hand and foot, and in any case, I was very conscious of Kunzite, standing off to my left. I'd never been a match for him. No, I would just have to bear up under this... whatever... and hope that Zoisite had been sincere when he had said that he didn't want to hurt me.

I could feel his spell working itself deeper inside me, and struggled against my reflexive desire to fight it. I had no illusions about what would happen to me if I tried. It stopped... burrowing, after a while, but I could still feel a sort of internal constriction, and knew that I'd been bound to... something.

"You can untie her now," Zoisite said, and the comment was apparently aimed in Amber's direction, because she came forward and began picking at the knots in the cord that held my arms behind my back. "She won't be able to get away now."

"What did you do to me?" Any spell he cast, I can find a way around, right? But, truth be known, I wasn't really all that sure about that. Zoisite had always known how to craft a spell.

"The short version is that I've linked your lifeforce and powers to the wards Nephrite left on this place," the blonde man replied. "Leaving the warded perimeter would be fatal for you right now, and you won't be able to project magic beyond the confines of the wards. Oh, and if you're considering what you can do with your powers on the inside... remember that I'm the only one that can undo this, and that I have every intention of doing so before I leave."

"Leave?" I asked, but he didn't answer. Amber shook her head. She was still working at the knots. "Why don't you just cut it?" I asked her, after a couple of additional minutes of struggle seemed to have brought her no closer to freeing me.

"Can't afford to," she said, attention still mostly absorbed by the knots. "We don't really have all that much in the way of supplies, and conjury takes too much energy, so we need to be careful of the resources that we do have..."

I filed that away for future reference. And then my arms were free, and I was trying to use the right to chafe a little feeling back into the numb left. Amber bent further down to work at the ropes around my ankles, biting her lower lip in concentration as she did so. I hadn't realized that she had fangs. And, for that matter, why hadn't I noticed the bony spikes on her wrists, so like those that I bore myself?

"Who are you?" I asked.

Goto Chapter 34

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