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

Chapter 35

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Kyanite

"You'd think he'd be awake by now."

"Oh, give the poor kid a break, Raye--how would you be feeling after getting hit in the face with one of your attacks?"

Her attacks... Vague images of fire and death, vague memories of pain.

"Well, it doesn't look like it's hurt him any... and damn it, I want him out of here! I don't trust him, and I wish you hadn't convinced me to let you bring him here. I mean, he came right out and admitted he was from the Negaverse. What more do you want?"

"Even if he's from the Negaverse, he's still only a kid. We couldn't just leave him there, especially not after that Cardian attacked him."

Ugh. I feel awful. Who's talking, and why won't they just go away and let me sleep?

"You'd think that, if anything, the Negaverse and the Cardians would be on the same side."

"I don't know. Maybe there isn't enough energy in the world for all of them, or something."

"Amy, you're giving your computer one of those weird looks again. What's up?"

"There are some anomalies in our guest's physiological structure. I've never seen anything like this before."

There was a moment of silence.

"So what does that mean?" I thought that was Mina's voice. I was beginning to be able to focus a bit better now, although I still felt strange and dizzy and had no desire whatsoever to open my eyes and demonstrate that I was awake.

"I have absolutely no idea. I can't even determine whether or not the differences between him and a normal human are good for anything, or they're just some sort of random variation. For all I know, this could be normal for the Negaverse's top officers. I've never managed to get a good scan of one of them before. It stands to reason that there would have to be some physiological accommodations to the magics that they wield, which are much greater than the powers we enjoy as Sailor Scouts..."

Another brief silence, then, "Yeah, Amy, whatever you say."

So what am I going to do now? It was obvious that the Sailor Scouts had moved me while I'd been out and brought me to some place that they considered safe--which meant that there was a good chance that for me, it wasn't safe. I had to get out of here as fast as I could, but I wasn't sure whether or not revealing that I was awake would speed things up at all. I might be better off pretending I was still asleep until they all went away, and then...

"Here, help me get his jacket the rest of the way off." I hadn't even realized, up to that point, that someone had opened the front of the grey garment, but hands were lifting me and beginning to work at first one sleeve, then the other. "Man, it's tight! He must have poured himself into this. I'm not sure we can get him out of it without cutting it."

"Let me try." Other hands joined the first pair. "What's he wearing under this, anyway? The stuff on his front feels almost like leather--some kind of armour?"

"Yes, I think so." That was Amy. Her voice, I'd discovered, was the easiest to pick out, since the others normally didn't manage to sound as calm--or as educated. "It doesn't seem to have any sleeves, though, so that isn't what's causing your difficulty. That lump there... there's something underneath it, perhaps an armring... I can't good a good reading on its physical structure. There's too much energy involved, and it's pulsing too erratically."

"Magical?"

"Probably."

"Then we should get it off him before he comes to. No point in giving him any more weapons against us than we have to." A hand wormed its way under grey cloth and just barely brushed the edge of the setting that held my spirit crystal.

I screamed and sat bolt upright, snatching my arm away and cupping the other hand protectively over the stone. "Don't touch that!" Even that glancing, not-quite-contact had been one of the most horrible things that I had ever experienced. Having my spirit crystal touched by an indifferent, maybe even a hostile, stranger, was an absolute violation that I doubt I will ever be able to explain to anyone who has not experienced it.

"Whoa..." I'm not sure exactly which one of them said that, but they all seemed to think it was appropriate.

"Look--" the black-haired girl began.

"Please, just don't," I repeated more softly. "It hurts like you wouldn't believe. You might even kill me. Please. I'm not a threat to you. I can't even use attack magic. I'm pretty much helpless." And useless. And too stupid to remember that you aren't supposed to volunteer information to an enemy, especially not information about your weaknesses, without bargaining to get something in return first. Lady Aventurine would have my hide, and Lady Almandite will have it when she finds out.

<<Oh, stop that. You're only a trainee, Kyanite. You're expected to make mistakes, and that was a pretty minor one by comparison to some I've seen.>>

<<Lord Jadeite!>> I don't think I'd ever been so relieved in my short life. <<I-->>

<<Enough. I'm still not very strong, and so we shouldn't keep this up any longer than we have to. What happened? We know where you are--Almandite managed to scry you out, after I gave her a bit of coaching--but not how you got there.>>

<<I, uh, followed Lady Almandite down to the docks...>> It all came tumbling out in no particular order, what I had seen Lady Almandite doing mixed in with the conversation I'd had with the Sailor Scouts, the fight with the Cardian, and what everyone had said while I'd been feigning unconsciousness here. <<... wherever here is.>>

<<The Cherry Hill Temple. Not the public part, but the part set aside for the use of the resident priest and his family. Gods know, I cleaned those rooms often enough.>>

<<Cleaned them?>> To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. I just couldn't picture Lord Jadeite doing the type of labour normally reserved for low- level youma.

<<It's a long story. Part of an energy-gathering plot back in Beryl's day. Do you think you can manage to get away from them on your own, or should we come to pick you up?>>

<<I hope that you're using that "we" very loosely indeed, because you are not going anywhere you don't absolutely have to until we figure out what's wrong with you and how to fix it,>> interrupted Almandite.

<<If he needs help, then I do absolutely need to go along, I'm afraid,>> Jadeite stated. <<The Sailor Scouts know me, and they know just how powerful and dangerous I normally am. They won't be aware that I'm just barely strong enough to stand up. We'll be able to get him away from them a lot faster if they're intimidated.>>

<<Let me at least try to talk my way out first,>> I suggested.

<<Oh, by all means. After all, they aren't our enemies.>>

<<The question is,>> Almandite added grimly, <<do they know that? Especially given what I had to do.>>

"Hey! Are you even listening to us?"

I forced myself to smile at Raye. Harmless, try for harmless... they'll be a lot more likely to let me go if I look as undangerous as I feel. "Sorry. My mind was wandering for a moment there." Well, I suppose that's one way of putting it. "What did you say?"


Serena

I don't think I'd ever seen a sicker-looking smile than the one that Kevin was giving us just then. I'd been trying to ignore how the others had been acting up to that point, but he just looked so miserable... On impulse, I went over to crouch beside the futon we'd laid him on, between him and the others.

"We're not going to hurt you," I said, ignoring Raye's outraged "Serena!" coming from behind me. "We just need to know some stuff. Like, what's your real name? You've got to admit that 'Kevin Grey' doesn't sound very Negaversish."

His smile faded, and he closed his eyes for a second, but he didn't seem quite so tense all of a sudden. "My name is Kyanite."

"There, you see? That wasn't so bad." And I smiled at him. He didn't really smile back, but I did see his mouth twitch.

"So what's a nice kid like you doing mixed up with the Negaverse?" That was Mina. Realizing that she was standing just behind me, I glanced up and saw her smiling that brilliant smile that always put everyone around her at ease. "I mean, I never knew that there was anyone as young as you living there--I always thought it was just full of those creepy youma things..."

"They're not things," Kyanite said. "They're people. And I live in the Negaverse because I was born there. It's where I belong."

"Ooooh, that's gotta be depressing!" Or at least, I'd always thought so. "I mean, it's all dark and gloomy and--and ugly."

"I suppose it would be, to you humans. After all, you live in a world where the light is so bright that it hurts my eyes and half-blinds me, where half the time I can't feel safe because there aren't any walls for me to put my back against and anyone could attack me from anywhere at any time. I don't understand how anyone could want to live in the Earth Realm."

"Well, I don't understand how anyone could want to live in the Negaverse, so I guess we're even." I shuddered.

"So if you hate this place so much, what are you doing here?" Lita asked.

"Trying to get home, of course." He said it as though it should have been obvious. "We aren't really supposed to be here. But Lord Jadeite got sick as soon as we got here, and we need his help to get back, and we haven't been able to figure out what's wrong with him so that we can fix it, and now those Cardian things are after me, and I don't understand why, and I can't fight them, because I'm a magical cripple, and why won't everyone just leave me alone so that I can figure out who I am and why I'm here?" That last part came out really fast, words tripping over one another, and Kyanite was leaning forward with his shoulders hunched, as though he wanted to curl up in a ball but didn't quite dare.

"So you came here from the future, and because Jadeite's the only one of you who can do whatever it is that you do to move through time, and he's sick, you can't get back?" Amy asked slowly.

"Yes. Yes, that's exactly it. And we have to get back really soon, because if we don't, there may not be a future after the time that we come from."

"Kyanite, that's enough."

I recognized that voice. I had never expected to hear it again, but I recognized it.

"I can see that I'm going to have to tell Avi to teach you when to stop talking," Jadeite added. For a guy who was supposed to be really sick, he didn't look at all bad. A little tired, maybe, but he was still standing as straight as ever, filling the doorway. Strange that none of us seemed to have heard him open the door.

The others were all staring at him. Raye had her transformation wand out. So did Lita. Mina was just standing there, with her hands on her hips, kind of looking at him, if you know what I mean, and Amy was pecking away frantically at her computer, trying to do who knew what.

Jadeite shook his head. "Oh, for--I suppose all of that would be fresher in your minds than in ours, wouldn't it? Please. We're not here as your enemies this time. We just want Kyanite."

"We?" It was Lita that asked it, but I'm pretty sure we were all thinking it.

Jadeite stepped forward into the room, and someone else came up behind him, looking at us over his shoulder. Almandite. And she was staring at me in such a weird, intense way...

Molly? I mouthed the name, but couldn't quite bring myself to say it. Was this what my best friend was going to turn into, in ten years or so? This hardened stranger? It isn't just the way she's looking at me that's intense, it's just about everything about her. I'd swear she wasn't like this when I ran into her in the coffee shop.

"If I may ask, exactly when do you people come from?" That was Amy, always the curious scientist.

Kyanite seemed like he was about to say something, but Jadeite overrode him. "I'd prefer not to tell you that. We don't know exactly what effect our presence here is going to have on the future, you see, so I suspect that the less any of you know, the better."

"You don't... ?!" Amy was tapping frantically at her computer again.

"We didn't exactly plan to come here," the Negaverse General said, "and this isn't like the handful of other cases we know of where someone has traveled back in time and done things that interfered with the past, because I know for a fact that your future selves won't remember any of this."

"And normally they would have?" Amy suggested.

Jadeite shrugged. "We're all the products of a timeline that has already been tampered with."

I didn't understand what he meant by that, but Amy must have, because she nodded.

In the silence that followed, I realized that Almandite was no longer standing behind Jadeite. Instead, she was kneeling beside me, her hands on Kyanite's shoulders, staring into the boy's eyes. For a moment, I almost thought I saw yellow sparks flicker around her fingertips. Then she let him go and shook her head.

"You're healthy enough, but..."

"But?" Kyanite prompted.

"I don't know. It's subtle, difficult to be sure, but if I had to guess your age now, I'd say you were six months older than you were this morning. What happened?"

"I don't know. I took one of Sailor Mars's attacks, it kind of rebounded, I started to feel like I was going to burst, and then I fainted and woke up here. Lady Almandite, what am I?" He was looking sick-scared again, the way he had when he had first woken up and Raye had been acting like she was going to torture him for information or something. What kind of question is "what am I?" anyway? I mean, isn't that the sort of thing you're just supposed to know the answer to? But even I was bright enough to be able to tell that there was something weird going on with this kid. Something really weird, I mean, more than just him being from the Negaverse and probably not quite human.

Almandite's face went kind of strange, and she gave Kyanite a quick, rough hug. "Don't worry. We'll figure it out somehow, or your fathers will." Fathers? "Anyway, are you ready to go now?"

"I think so. You may have to help me, though. I'm still feeling a bit dizzy."

And in a few minutes, we were all sort of looking blankly at the empty space where they had been standing.

Luna, who'd been curled up in a corner and being very quiet while all that had been going on, got up and stretched, very slowly and carefully.

"Well, girls, it looks like we have a lot to talk about."


Alan

I lowered my flute into my lap and stared down at the trunk of the Doom Tree.

The dying Doom Tree.

I knew it was true, and yet I refused to say so to Anne. My sister-love was... not like me. Not less than I was, exactly, but less likely to think ahead. Anne liked to live in the moment, and how could I begrudge her that, especially now? We didn't both have to worry about this.

I was capable of worrying hard enough for both of us.

But all that also meant that I had to make plans for our future alone, without Anne's help. Like my plan to take that boy... What had happened there, anyway? It couldn't--it couldn't--be just coincidence that that idiot Cardian had found him after he'd met up with the Sailor Scouts, and gotten itself killed as a result. Damn stupid creatures! Unfortunate that they were more efficient than I was at gathering energy right now. As the Doom Tree had wilted, we had weakened. I was paying for every day of school, every fly-by exchange of insults with the Scouts, with hours of sleep so deep that it was almost a coma. It was taking more and more human life energy every day just to keep the Tree alive, and there was less and less to spare for us.

We needed that boy, damn it! But...

His guardians, I reminded myself. I had to separate him from them. Not just the Sailor Scouts, but the older man and woman in the grey uniforms. I had only glimpsed them, when they had gone to retrieve him from the Scouts, but I had sensed the power in them, and it frightened me. If only I could have harnessed it for the Doom Tree... but they were far too strong to fall to a Cardian, or even to me as I now was, and I knew it. No. Best not to confront them.

I pulled out the deck of cards and fanned them. A lot of the better Cardians were already gone, thrown away on unsuccessful ventures that had resulted in them tangling with the Scouts. No, not this one... or this one... but maybe this one? No... Ah!

I extracted the card that I wanted and squared the rest of the deck away, returning it to where it had come from.

"Cardian Mangoran," I said, fingering the cool, slick, infinitely thin object that I had selected from among a dozen others like it. The image on the face of the card depicted a sunny hillside, softened by the golden grass that had once been common on the planet from which Anne and I and the Tree had come. A perfectly innocuous scene. Almost. It would have been completely so if it hadn't been for the pool of shadow in the lee of the hill--a shadow with green eyes.

"Mangoran," I repeated. "Come forth!"

I tossed the card to the air and raised the flute to my lips, mouth already pursing to begin the melody that I alone now knew how to play.

Mangoran was very subtle and intelligent for a Cardian, even more so than poor Racy had been.

I would have to instruct it carefully.

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