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

Chapter 39

© 2006 by E. Liddell

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I was sitting on the edge of Tourmaline's bed, every muscle in my body tense, when Alexandrite came tottering out from behind the hastily set-up curtain that concealed Jasper. I opened my mouth, but couldn't force the words out. I was caught between hope and fear. He'd still been breathing when we'd gotten him back here, but he had lost a lot of blood.

Alex gave me a weary smile. "Don't worry. He's going to be fine, although he's still very weak and is going to have to stay in bed for a few days."

Suddenly, there were tears all over my face, and Cass was hugging me, letting me cry against her shoulder. I knew I was being silly, that even if Jasper had died we wouldn't have been separated for very long, but...

A warm hand closed on my shoulder.

"It's all right to be relieved," Alex said. How had he known that that was exactly what I needed to hear? "I wish I had enough power left to get him back on his feet faster, but the truth is, I'm just too tired."

"How long is Jasper going to be unable to fulfill his duties?" Aventurine asked.

Alex shrugged. "At least a week, if we're going to be safe. Maybe four or five days, if he forces himself."

My sister-in-law nodded. "Then I think we have a decision to make." She made a small gesture with her hands, and I saw light glitter briefly around us. A ward. I'd seen Jasper and Cass cast them often enough to recognize the pattern. "And I don't think we want the youma overhearing this."

Sapphire stirred. "Although I don't like saying this, is it really proper for the elder Sailor Venus to be present at a meeting involving sensitive Negaverse business?"

Aventurine hesitated.

"I don't think we have any real reason to believe that she is untrustworthy," she said at last. "If no one disagrees, I suggest we let her stay, with the understanding that she must not repeat any part of what we say to anyone not present here today."

"I promise to hold this conversation in confidence," I said immediately. "And I know how to keep my mouth shut." After all, I'd been Serena's ceremonial guard on all sorts of occasions, some of them quite sensitive.

"That's good enough for me," Sapphire said, and there were nods all around. "Now, what did you want to talk about?"

Aventurine closed her eyes. "Isn't it obvious? Jasper is incapacitated. We need someone to take his place as our leader until he's well again."

A few moments of silence.

"The order of seniority is Demantoid, me, Sapphire, Dad, Pyrope, you, Marcasite, Morganite, Opal, Cassiterite, Zircon, Tourmaline," Alex said at last.

"I decline the position," Demantoid said immediately.

"As do I," Sapphire added.

"I vote that we give it to Marcasite," Pyrope said. "He's the only one left who has the ability and doesn't have some urgent special project on his hands."

Heads nodded all around. I was the only one who didn't move. No, me and one other. Alex had his head bowed and seemed lost in thought.

Morgan slapped his older brother on the back. "Congradu--"

"You vote," Alex murmured, and then repeated it more loudly. "You vote. Well, since when has the Negaverse been a democracy?" And suddenly everyone was staring at him. He stared back, unflinching, and his eyes had suddenly gone deep and old and strange in a way that I'd seen once or twice before. "Demantoid has declined the leadership position. I'm the next most senior. And Marcasite isn't ready yet. If he had been, Malachite would never have needed to appoint Jasper in the first place."

"Does this mean that you're claiming the Regency?" his mother asked.

"Yes," the young healer said, without hesitation.

There had always been something a little strange about Alexandrite, but up until now, no one had realized quite how strange.


<<You're out of your mind!>> Morgan exploded.

<<I agree,>> Cass stated. <<Alex, whatever secondhand experience you've absorbed from Malachite and the others does not qualify you to run this madhouse even when things are going smoothly. You've told us over and over again that your seniority is just a formality, that Malachite only declared you equal to Lady Almandite to put you on an even footing with the rest of your Weave. You really should step aside for Marc.>>

I tuned what the rest of my Weavemates were saying out, instead focusing in to send a private message to Alex.

<<Why didn't Malachite think I was ready?>> I asked him. <<I presume that you know, and that you consider it important, or you wouldn't be doing this.>> I had to know whether to accept or refuse the offer. I had to do what was right. Even if I thought I was ready, and didn't want to defer to Alex, regardless of whether he was nominally my senior.

Alex hesitated, with that strange look still in his eyes, turning them into bottomless dark pools.

<<It isn't something that's easy to articulate,>> he stated at last. <<An infinitesimal lack of trust, or commitment, or judgement... Remember that vision you had about the blue youma? The one you only told us about after it was too late to do anything about it?>>

I winced. <<That was stupid,>> I agreed. Anything that got one of my Weavemates hurt, especially Morgan, for no good reason, was stupid.

<<The point is that you overestimated the abilities of your Weavemates and didn't trust anyone outside that group nearly enough, and there are enough other, smaller incidents like that in your history that Malachite was worried. If this were twenty years from now, or if we weren't in a crisis situation with absolutely no leeway for mistakes, I'd be behind you all the way, but as it is, I think you need more seasoning. I'm sorry.>>

<<And you think that there's a better alternative?>> I asked.

<<Maybe. I hope. If I'm wrong, I'll step aside for you, I promise.>>

<<You'll never persuade the others to let you take over... my Lord Regent,>> I stated, and I noticed the faintest hint of a shiver running through Alex's body when I gave him that title.

His reply was shadowed by the ghost of bitter laughter. <<Oh, I can convince them, all right. I just wish I didn't have to.>>


I can't believe that I'm doing this. I must be out of my mind. And it was obvious that everyone else thought so too, because they were still all staring at me, and Cass and Morgan were taking turns telling me so, in no uncertain terms. I just wish that I had a choice.

But I couldn't not do this, unfortunately. Because, if I refused to act, even more people were going to die, and I didn't think I could bear that.

Everyone in this room had some experience in leadership, but none of us were really much good at it except Marc, and Marc needed to develop better judgment before he could handle a crisis like this. We needed Malachite or Nephrite or even Jay back, but we weren't going to get them any time soon, I knew that. The black void inside my head was still as empty as it had been during those years of my second childhood when I hadn't been part of a Weave at all. So alone... No. I do not have time for self-pity right now. Have to keep my mind on what I'm doing, and not on how badly I want not to have to do it.

<<So what all of you are basically saying,>> I stated, <<is that I'm only Cassiterite's age, really, and have even less experience than Marcasite, who at least lived through the Dark Moon War. Well, you're all wrong.>>

Well, at least they've all gone back to staring in silence now, I thought, and plunged onwards.

<<Dad, about four months before I was born, you and Mom went to the original Alexandrite's gravesite. And you saw something very odd that day, didn't you? Would you mind describing it?>>

<<How did you... ? I saw what looked like a diffuse cloud of copper-coloured sparks rise from the grave and enter your mother's body. They were so faint that I wasn't quite sure that I'd really sure that I'd seen anything at all.>>

I closed my eyes. <<Oh, you saw something, all right.>>

It took very little effort to pull the memory up. After all, that had been one of the three most important days of my second life. But I had to force myself to show it to them...

"Almandite says it's going to be a boy," Avi was saying. "We thought that maybe we'd name him after you..."

I found myself floating over to her, curious. I could tell that she was probably somewhere in the fourth month of her pregnancy, or maybe her fifth, and if I did decide to finally uproot myself from my bones and seek out my final reward, this might be the only chance I would get to get to know my great-nephew.

While she continued to talk, I sank my non-substance carefully through her skin, seeking the second soul that should now be nested inside her. Nothing. If I'd still been physical, my breath would have caught in my throat. No spirit had yet taken up residence inside the baby's body, although it had just reached the stage of development where that would be possible.

Had the gods meant for this to happen? Had they guided my niece here, on this particular day of all days, just so that I would have this chance? I couldn't prove it. But surely this couldn't be just coincidence. If this body had been meant to house a specific soul, surely they would have allocated it by now?

I edged a little farther into the as-yet uninhabited body and brain. No divine wrath struck me down. Perhaps it is meant, after all.

I pulled as much of myself as I could inside. It would take some time to wear away the ties that still held me to the skeleton of my old body. But I thought that the task could be accomplished before it became time for me to be born again.

Alive again! The strong surge of emotion made my as-yet-poorly-controlled body thrash and kick. There was just enough of me left on the outside to see Avi smile and lower her hand to her stomach.

Cuprite's eyes opened wide. "He moved?"

"He moved," Avi confirmed. And they exchanged a kiss, while I curled up inside my warm, wet haven and went to sleep.

<<... I'm sorry,>> I added, privately, to my parents, as I let the memory fade. <<I don't know, I can't know, what your son might have been if I hadn't usurped his body for my own purposes. It was incredibly selfish of me, and I had no right. I'm so very sorry...>> A single tear slid down my cheek before I caught myself and blinked the rest of them back. Not that I was embarrassed to cry, but there's a time and a place for everything, and this wasn't the right one for that.

<<Oh, Alex...>> Avi shook her head. <<Did it ever occur to you that if we'd known that such a thing were possible, we might have wanted you, instead of whatever random child we might have had?>>

"Thank you," I whispered aloud.

"I am not just a child who was conceived in the aftermath of the Dark Moon War," I added more firmly, so that everyone could hear me. Just to make it official... "I am the original Alexandrite, Jadeite's younger brother, reborn into a new body. I was part of Malachite's original Weave of two thousand years ago. Are we all agreed that my seniority is deserved?" No responses, but no one seemed to be arguing, either. That was good enough. "Good. In that case, I claim the title of Lord Regent, to hold in trust for a more worthy individual."

I gave them all a self-deprecating smile. "Cass was right," I said. "I no more belong in charge of this place than a jellyfish belongs in a tree. But all of us are in pretty much the same position in that regard. Even the best of us are only tacticians, and we need a good strategist to tell us where our battles should be fought and why." Military metaphors didn't really come all that easily to me, but I thought it would be the easiest way to make myself understood by those still a bit reluctant to trust me. "There are probably a number of people among the dead of the Enclaves and the Dark Moon who would be capable of doing the job, but the only one that I know of, the only one I think we could conceivably trust, would be Prince Diamond."

"Diamond! Alex, senior or no, you're out of your mind!" That was just about the most reaction anyone had gotten out of Pyrope on any topic for the past several days. Ever since David had disappeared, the former Enclavite had seemed almost apathetic. I hoped for his sake that his lover wasn't dead.

But I'd been expecting that just about everyone would think I was crazy. Except for Tourmaline and Zircon, everyone here in this room had either fought in the Dark Moon War or grown up in its immediate aftermath. And almost all of them had a rather dismal view of human--and Crystal Weaver--nature. They didn't believe in redemption. They'd never really needed to. Only Sapphire's eyes had any kind of light, any kind of hope, in them.

"Think about it," I said. "Diamond gave his life to save Neo-Queen Serenity. He helped King Malachite defeat Lapis. He's on our side, he's an experienced leader, and, under the circumstances, I think he's as good as we're going to get. And furthermore, we're going to need another strong Crystal Weaver to fight the princess and her friend, and while Diamond isn't quite on Malachite's level, he's at least as strong as anyone here."

"That cuts both ways, you know," Avi said. "If we do revive Diamond, and he goes rogue on us, there isn't a damned thing that any of us could do to stop him, short of an all-out suicide attack by Marc and his entire Weave, and if we ended up doing that we'd be even worse off than before."

I closed my eyes. "That thought had crossed my mind, too. If that happens, Malachite can take care of him when he gets back."

"And if Malachite doesn't make it back?" I don't know who asked the question. One of the men.

"Then we're probably dead anyway," I said wearily. "Without a leader, with only one Crystal Weaver powerful enough to take them on toe-to-toe, we don't stand a chance unless the demon somehow miraculously disappears."

"And the chances of that are roughly on a par with those of your hypothetical jellyfish making it into a tree in the first place," Mom said, sounding slightly disgusted. "Oh, all right. If you honestly think it's for the best, then do it."

"Anyone else have any objections?"

Several people shuffled their feet, but no one spoke.

"Fair enough," I said.

There was still one more thing that needed to be done, unfortunately. One more distasteful thing that my mind was flinching away from.

I gritted my teeth and forced myself to say it anyway. "We're going to need a volunteer from among the youma to provide a physical matrix. If we can't get a volunteer, we're going to have to use one of the berserkers. Pick one that's healthy and not very valuable." There. Done. Sickening though it was. I never wanted to be a murderer. What has this place done to me?

"Marcasite, I want you with me," I continued. "It's going to be a good day or two before Diamond is properly with us, and I'm going to need your advice in the meanwhile. Sapphire... He's your brother. I'll leave his revival to you. The rest of you are dismissed. Go back to whatever you're supposed to be doing."

I wanted to sink into the floor as teleport effects started going off around me. Or, failing that, I wanted to go to the Earth Realm, find myself a scrap of clean soil, and root myself there. But I was trapped here in purgatory until Diamond could take my place.

I could have cried, but I was so tired, so worn down by tragedy after tragedy, that I had no tears left. Is this how Jay felt for all those years? So empty? Oh, gods... I think I would rather die, than endure this for that long. It's just... wrong. No one should ever have to feel this way.

And somehow, if this is ever over, if I survive, I'm going to try to find a way to prevent it from happening to anyone ever again.

I forced myself to stand up and signal to Marcasite.

"Come on," I said. "We have work to do."


I snuck into Mom and Dad's quarters because I knew that the photo was there, and I wanted a look at it. I wanted to see if it really was my son's face that graced that ancient picture, beside my father's.

It still stood on my parents' dresser. I hadn't seen it in years, not since I had moved out, and even then I'd only looked at it closely once or twice.

Five young men stared back at me from inside the frame. Difficult to believe that Malachite and the rest of the original Four had ever looked that young. Oh, physically they still weren't any different, I suppose, but you could tell that the people in the picture didn't yet have the hard, brittle edge that the Negaverse tends to put on those who live there. You can always tell. It's something about the eyes. People from the Earth Realm have eyes as open as the night sky, but those from the Negaverse have shadowed eyes. It's all about secrets, I suppose. We learn to hide what we are, not to reveal it.

And there they were. Blonde head and dark, side by side, one's hand on the other's shoulder. Jadeite and Alexandrite.

Damn. Itis him.

<<Avi? Are you all right?>>

Able to tell that it was Cuprite standing in the doorway, I didn't bother to turn. My husband is just about the only person anywhere who can be behind me without making the skin on my back crawl.

<<I'm still a bit in shock, I think,>> I replied. <<All these years, and I never even guessed...>>

<<Why would you have? We all assumed that your uncle's spirit had departed at the moment that his spirit crystal was destroyed. Hell, I saw it happen, all those years ago, and I still didn't figure it out... Despite what you told him, are you sorry?>>

<<No, not really. It's difficult to mourn for a hypothetical someone who might never have existed even in Alex's absence. I should feel hurt, but...>>

<<Yeah, I know. It's difficult to stay angry at Alex for more than ten seconds at a time, especially over something that was obviously making him far more miserable than it could ever make us. And anyway, you've told me more than once that you wished you'd had a chance to meet your uncle. Now you have.>>

I heard the sound of footsteps as Cuprite padded over to my side and took my hand in his. As always, it was a bit of a shock to see them together and realize just how much smaller than me he was. Inside, where our minds met and blended in the Weave, he felt as big as any of us.

I carefully returned the photo to its place on the dresser.

<<You know,>> I stated, suddenly wrapping an arm around my husband's shoulders and hugging him close to my side, <<I get the strange feeling that, in the end, we came out ahead after all.>>

Goto Chapter 40

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