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

Chapter 38

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Jadeite

I shivered and wrapped the rough blanket more closely around my shoulders. I just could not seem to get warm. Even the extra life energy Almandite had infused me with hadn't helped much there. And I still didn't know what was happening to me, or why.

What if it's permanent?

I shook my head. It just isn't profitable to think about some possibilities.

"Are you all right?" Almandite collapsed into the chair beside the bed on which I sat.

I smiled wryly. "For what value of 'all right'? Nothing's changed, if that's what you're asking." I reached for the Weavelink, but she was blocking me. Still, I could tell from her body language that she was uncomfortable about something. The question is, what? Although that's kind of a multiple-choice test right now. And more importantly, is it something I can do anything about? We couldn't afford to have Almandite go into a funk. She was the only one of us in any shape to defend us, or to do anything else that required magic, for that matter. I barely had enough energy for mindspeech--and even that was difficult. Almandite had needed to give me a boost when I had tried to reach Kyanite at the Cherry Hill Temple. Which reminded me that Almandite had just been to check on him... "How is he?"

"Asleep. I can't detect anything abnormal about him, either. Whatever happened to him, it's over now."

I caught my lower lip between my teeth. "I don't like that. Obviously, there's something odd about either him or the creature that attacked him."

The creature that attacked him...

What did we know about the Cardians, really? Almandite was the only Crystal Weaver in the Negaverse to have encountered them prior to our arrival here, and she'd been merely human back then, lacking both the opportunity to observe them for longer than it took them to drain her energy and the subtler senses to notice anything useful even if she had been able to watch them for a while. What we knew about the Cardians and the power behind them was mostly hearsay gleaned from the Sailor Scouts, and I couldn't think of any reason for them to be targeting Kyanite just based on that information.

For that matter, what if Kyanite wasn't the only one of us who was being targeted? The Cardians and their masters were energy-absorbers, and there was no doubt that what was happening to me was some sort of energy drain--that was about all that we had managed to figure out about my condition. What if... ?

"You have an idea," Almandite said.

"I have an idea," I agreed. "And you aren't going to like it."


Almandite

I picked a branch that I thought would be wide enough to support me from among those that weren't within the line of sight of any of the windows, and sat down, preparing to wait and knowing that I might be there for quite a long time.

--So what are we going to do?

--Well, we know that they want Kyanite, right? So we give them what they want.

--Set up an ambush using him as the bait, you mean, and repeat as necessary until we flush out the Cardians' masters. Damn, but I wish I could remember their mundane names! Then we'd just have to break into the main office at Crossroads Junior High in the middle of the night and get their addresses.

--Funny that you should mention Crossroads...

--Oh?

--Well, I'm not willing to bet on your being able to take on the Cardians' masters by yourself. Not that I doubt your abilities as a warrior, Almandite, but there are two of them and only one of you, and we all have a bit of bad luck from time to time. I can't back you up, and neither can Kyanite unless something triggers another one of those flukey energy discharges of his. That only leaves one group of people that I can see.

--The Sailor Scouts.

--Exactly. And, given where they spend most of their time, I think our best bet is to enroll Kyanite as a student at Crossroads Junior High. If we can, we ought to try to pass him off as a young-looking thirteen and get him into Serena's and Amy's class.

--Which, I suppose, means that I'm going to have to pass myself off as his mother in order to enroll him, and then stake out the campus for however long it takes for the Cardians to show up.

--I warned you that you wouldn't like it...

--And he's going to like it even less, but unfortunately I don't have any better ideas. We'll try it your way, I guess, and hope that nothing goes wrong.

Which was why I was sitting in a tree on the grounds of my old school, waiting, unable to relax because if I lost my alertness for even so much as an instant, a Cardian might slip past me.

It was going to be a very long day.


Kyanite

Complete misery was getting to be so normal for me now that it wasn't even worth remarking upon. I just shuffled along the overlit hallways of the human school and tried not to look too out- of-place, no matter how I felt.

This is important, I reminded myself. It might be my only chance to find out why they're targeting me and make them stop. Cold comfort, but at least it was something.

Lady Almandite had told me that I should wait outside of my "homeroom", as she had called it, when I found it, and that I would be called in to introduce myself. And so I leaned against a wall near the door and kept on trying to look like I belonged. I wished that I could at least have worn dark glasses to cut down on the glaring light that the humans seemed to love so much, but Lady Almandite had explained that that would require a doctor's certificate and her answering a whole bunch of questions from the school officials, and that meant that I had to abandon the idea. It was paramount that we not attract attention.

"... a new student..." The teacher--I think her name was Haruva, Haruma, something like that--beckoned to me through the open door, and I squared my shoulders and raised my head and walked over to stand beside her, facing the rest of the class.

"My name is Kevin Grey. I'm pleased to meet you." And I bowed formally, just as Lady Almandite had instructed me to. Don't cringe, I told myself as Serena's eyes met mine over the head of a bespectacled boy. Generals don't cringe. Phrases like that had become my mantras, and I must have thought the words "Generals don't [something or other]" a dozen or more times a day, back then.

I still wanted so very badly to be worthy of my fathers.

"Thank you, Kevin. Take the seat at the back, please, behind Molly Baker."

I was breathing a sigh of relief that I hadn't been told to sit beside Serena or Amy when the name finally registered. Molly Baker? Isn't that... ? I took a long, careful look at the red-headed girl who was gesturing at me from somewhere around the middle of the room. Oh, gods, it is. She's Lady Almandite's younger self. Guess I'm going to have to be careful...

The morning was a blur of things I had mostly never heard of before and didn't want to, either. Pre-Crystal-Tokyo Japanese History, Japanese Literature, Mathematics, and English (where I astounded both myself and the teacher by displaying something fairly close to a native accent--Lord Jadeite had impressed the language on me at the same time as Japanese, but I had completely forgotten about it). I was staring idly out the window and pointedly not-listening to the teacher droning on about irregular English verb forms when it happened.

"Excuse me..." The voice floating in from the doorway was vaguely familiar, and not in a way that set off any alarm bells in my mind, so I ignored it and continued my window- gazing.

"Patricia? Is there something--Aargh!"

Well, that got my attention, let me tell you. I concentrated, forming the pitiful weak little wards that were my only means of defense, as I turned.

"Give me your energy!" whispered a voice that was like nothing I had ever heard before. I couldn't determine its source. Quick glances to either side told me that the other students were staring at the doorway and at the teacher, who was slowly crumpling to the ground, but there was nothing unusual there that I could see (well, okay, except for an unconscious educator, but that was no help). It was obvious that the Cardian had come for me, and was in the room somewhere, but I couldn't see it.

<<Lady Almandite, it's here!>> I screamed mentally. Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to compose myself. Despite being a cripple, I did have some of the more subtle senses that the gods had given Crystal Weavers, and this seemed like a good time to use them. Although we didn't know much about Cardians, they had to be creatures of magic, which meant that I should be able to feel the one here even if I couldn't see it.

It took what felt like forever to sort through my impressions of the room. I didn't have much practice when it came to picking out the deeper patterns of magic that permeate everything everywhere, and I wasn't quite sure what was normal there, but fortunately that sort of background noise seemed to be less intense in the Earth Realm than it had ever been in the Negaverse. There was a nexus of energy that radiated the familiar signature of crystal power that was Almandite's over by the window, and something else that I couldn't readily identify over by the teacher's desk. It could only be the Cardian.

My first instinct was to run for the window and hope that I made it without smashing into anyone or anything, but I didn't want to attract the creature's attention, so I just sat, frozen, where I was, and hoped that Almandite would get to it before it got to me. I wasn't even sure that it was safe to open my eyes, but I did anyway. It was worth the risk to be able to watch what was going on.

About half the class was staring at the window instead of the door now--or rather, staring at Almandite, who was somehow managing to balance on the two-inch-wide windowsill while she tried to slide the bottom pane up. No luck. I saw her mouth a curse and back up a pace or two, standing on thin air. She drew her foot back.

I breathed a sigh of relief as glass shattered and wood splintered under the force of her kick. At least I wasn't alone now. If she was here, I had a chance.

But the first kick didn't destroy enough of the window to let her into the room without ripping herself to shreds on the jagged, broken glass, and the Cardian was saying, "Give me your energy!" again. Tendrils of shadow whipped through the room, and I threw myself sideways, managing a clumsy roll down the narrow walkway between the desks, which ended abruptly when I smashed my shoulder into the leg of some piece of furniture or other. I mouthed a word I had learned from my father Zoisite and rubbed at what I suspected was going to become a very nice bruise.

<<Kyanite? Are you all ri-->> And then her question cut out abruptly, in mid-word.

<<Lady Almandite?>>

There was no reply.

<<Lady Almandite?>>

Still nothing.

I took a chance and began scrambling under the desks, heading for the window, pushing the dangling limbs of the unconscious students seated at them out of the way as necessary. Was that... ? Yes. Familiar grey and yellow. But why was she lying on the floor?

<<Lady Almandite?>> I was close enough to reach her ankle now, so I reached out and shook her foot. It moved easily under my hand. And still no response to my mental query. Her face was turned away from me, but it was obvious that she had to be unconscious, perhaps even... no, I could see her chest rising and falling. Not dead, then. But what had knocked her out? Somehow, I just couldn't see her hitting her head on the windowframe on her way through.

But "why" is a question that can wait. I need her awake. I need her awakenow. In a few seconds, that thing is going to finish with the other students and start coming after me, and I need her to protect me.

Her spirit crystal was only inches from my hand now. I steeled myself and reached for it, knowing that this was going to be excruciatingly painful for her, but she wasn't responding to my shaking or my frantic mental calls, and I didn't dare even whisper a word aloud, so what else could I do?

My hand closed over it. It was smooth, glassy, warm, too heavy for its size... I barely had time to catalogue the sensations before her body jerked and it was pulled out of my hand.

"Wha... Kyanite... so cold..." Barely a whisper, but at least she was awake.

<<Lady Almandite, please! I need your help!>>

"Too weak. M'sorry. I failed..."

<<Please!>> I shook her. It was only when a drop of liquid splashed down on her sleeve that I realized that I was crying. I could practically feel the Cardian breathing down my collar. <<If you don't help, it's going to get me, and I don't know what's going to happen this time!>>

Lady Almandite lay still for a moment, then levered herself up on one elbow. "Serena and Amy--where are they?"

<<I don't know. I can't see them.>> Anywhere. All the other students, including Molly Baker, were slumped across their desks, but of the two Sailor Scouts, there was no sign.

"They probably went somewhere where no one would catch them transforming. If we can manage for a minute or two more, they'll be back, and we won't have to fight it. Stay down here, on the floor. It may not notice us until they come back. In the worst case, I'll try to hold it off while you go out the window. Right now, every second we can stay here and rest counts--I'm already feeling a bit better."

<<Okay.>> I hesitated for a moment, then added, <<I'd give you what little energy I have, if I could.>>

<<Oh, Kyanite...>> Unexpectedly, she enveloped me in a weak, one-armed hug. <<I don't know how you've been managing so well. So young and so frightened, and yet you somehow manage to carry on... You're stronger than I think any of us would ever have imagined. If your fathers--yes, even Zoisite--aren't proud of you when we get back, I shall personally wring both their necks.>>

I smiled weakly. <<Thank you.>>

And then there was nothing to do but hide, and wait, and hope.


Serena

"How come all those superheroes in those American movies get to change into their costumes in phone booths, but we've got to use broom closets and alleys and out-of-order washrooms? Huh, Amy?" I knew I was whining, and I didn't care. I hated it when monsters showed up and ruined what might otherwise have been a normal sort of day for me.

"Because phone booths are see-through, and we don't have super-speed to help us change faster than it would take people to notice that we were standing around in our underwear." Well, at least we really were succeeding in corrupting Amy's mind with bad movies and video games. "Now hurry up and transform."

"Oh, all right, already. Moon Crystal Power!" It was a good thing that the transformation was pretty fast, though, 'cause I didn't like the idea that anyone, even just my friend Amy, might be looking at me in my underwear. Especially given that it had been stored in the same drawer as my old swimsuit and had almost as many moth holes in it. Hey, what can I say? Sammy'd had the twelve-hour flu that week, and Mom hadn't had any time to do laundry.

"Mercury Power!" Amy seemed pretty composed about the whole thing, though. I wish I could stay that calm when things go wrong.

Then we pounded back along the hallway to our classroom, hoping that we weren't too late and wouldn't meet anyone along the way.

Amy skidded to a stop right outside the door, and I nearly crashed into her.

Everyone inside the classroom was slumped over their desks. There was no sign of Kevin, and something black was hovering near the front of the room.

"Hey, you!" I snapped, waving my arms. "I am Sailor Moon, the Champion of Justice! And in the name of the Moon, I will punish you!"

So it's a dumb speech. I'm not exactly much of a speechwriter. I have more important things to do most of the time, like fighting Cardians and playing video games and mooning over Darien.

The blackness stared at me out of green eyes for a moment, then gathered itself into a ball and shot off across the room.

"Heyyy!" I fumbled for my sceptre, but the thing was out the window before I could say the magic words or do the little dance-thing that goes with them. "Well, so much for that idea. I don't think we can go after it, not if it's that fast."

Amy was punching at her computer again. "I can't even tell where it's headed. Its trajectory doesn't show up on here."

"So what you're saying is that we're going to have to wait for it to attack us again," said a weary voice from somewhere over near the windows.

"Who's there?" I asked. Well, actually, I could see plenty of people, but they were all out cold.

Two figures rose slowly from behind the desks. One wore a grey uniform with yellow trim. The other was short and slim and dark, with eyes that didn't match.

"It looks like I messed up this time, Sailor Moon," Almandite said ruefully. "Thanks for chasing that thing away. It looks like you saved us along with everyone else."

"If I'd known it was you I was saving, I might not have done it." That wasn't true, actually, but she didn't need to know that. "What are you doing here, anyway?"

"Kyanite called me for help. Unfortunately, I wasn't of much use. That thing didn't actually get near enough to drain me, but..." And then she stopped talking and got a really strange look on her face. "Amy, can you tell me..."

"Yes?" my friend said.

"Is there any kind of magical linkage between me and anyone else in this room besides Kyanite? I'd check myself, but I'm too weak for my perceptions to be trustworthy right now."

Amy frowned and began punching at her computer again.

"There's something there," she said, after a moment. "I think it's you and Molly Baker."

Almandite laughed. It was an ugly sound, more hysterical than anything else. "Great Gods of Darkness, it's so obvious and so simple! I don't understand how we could possibly have missed it!"

"Lady Almandite?" Kyanite sounded just as worried as I felt.

"It's all right." Almandite reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "I understand now. I know what's wrong with Jadeite, and what we're going to have to do to fix it."

"Would you mind letting us in on it?" Amy asked.

"Yeah," I added, feeling left out. "And don't think we're going to let you get away with stealing any more energy, either."

Almandite shook her head. "This doesn't have anything to do with you or the Earth Realm at all. It's purely Negaverse business, and therefore none of yours."

"Lady Almandite?" Kyanite was pulling at her sleeve. "I think we should tell them. After all, with Lord Jadeite so weak and me useless, we might need their help."

"Kyanite... this isn't the sort of thing they're going to want to get involved in. It isn't something a squeamish person can do. It isn't something that a human can do."

"When did you change?"

Everyone was suddenly staring at me, and it was only then that I realized that I was the one who had asked the question.

"When did you change?" I repeated. "Molly, you used to be the kind of person who wouldn't hurt a fly! When did you turn into... into an inhuman monster that steals people's energy?"


Almandite

"I suppose I changed when I learned that there are situations in which all choices will lead to you doing something evil," I said wearily. "You'll understand, one day. I'm trying to save the world, Serena. I can't afford to let myself get tied up in knots just because I have to make one or two people suffer in order to save the rest."

But there wasn't much conviction behind the words. I... I knew that I had lost something important at some point during the years since I had last stood in this room, but I wasn't entirely certain what it was.

I ran a quick glance over the figures slumped behind the desks. People I had known, all of them, although I hadn't thought about some of them in years. Mutual friends of mine and Serena's, like the chubby red-headed girl whose name I couldn't remember anymore. Melvin, as he had been when we'd been dating. Poor guy. I'd dumped him pretty abruptly when Nephrite had reappeared, and I knew it had to have stung, even though he'd never really said anything. Maybe I even owe him an apology, although it's probably too late... And there, at the back of the room--myself, asleep.

She looks so very young and innocent. I wonder, if I woke her right now and warned her about dark alleys, strangers with prosthetic hands, and beautiful auburn-haired Crystal Weaver men... No. Even if she didn't laugh herself sick... I wouldn't want to trade in everything I am now, just to have a normal life. Despite the pain. The things that I've done... they've made a difference, I think, in a lot of people's lives, and it's mostly been a difference for the better.

Realizing that felt like shedding a weight I had been carrying around for far too long. No regrets. I am what I am, and I'm going to go forward, not back.

I don't think it was the first time that I'd had a revelation like that one. Far from it. But sometimes I suppose I had to be reminded that I'd arrived at where I was by choice.

I glanced at my younger self again. Innocent, yes, and she was also the key to the puzzle that had been bothering me for so long.

"There seems to be a link of some sort between those of us who came here from the future and our present-day counterparts," I said, not exactly addressing the Sailor Scouts, but not exactly not doing so, either, if you know what I mean. "When that Cardian drained her--" I gestured in the direction of the young Molly Baker-- "it drained me as well, through her, which is why I couldn't fight it off. And Jadeite's present-day self is trapped in the Negaverse, inside an ice crystal coffin designed to drain his energies so that he can't fight his way out of it..."

"Which means that the Jadeite who came here with you is being drained as well, through him," Amy completed for me.

"But that's horrible! We have to help him right away!"

I smiled at Serena's enthusiasm. "I can't ask you to come with us. The Negaverse of this time is a horrible, chaotic place. With Beryl dead, there's no-one in charge, and most of the youma don't know how to get out. They're trapped there, in the dark, fighting to control the supplies of food and clean water... eating each other, for all we know. We did find some evidence of that sort of thing. No, I can't ask you to come... but if you want to, we could use the help, and we'd be glad of the company."

Goto Chapter 39


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