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

Chapter 42

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Cassiterite

"... and so my dad's lying unconscious in the infirmary, my mom's sitting by his bedside, my grandparents are missing, my second-best friend isn't quite what I thought he was, and I'm about to have the interesting experience of serving under someone I was brought up to think of as an enemy," I finished, rubbing my eyes wearily. I was exhausted. I'd nearly drained myself protecting Mom from that blonde Dark Moon twirp. But I still couldn't go to bed, because I knew that if I did, images of what might have happened, of my mother twisting under the lash of demonic magic, of my father hurtling off that roof and landing on the street below with most of the bones in his body broken and blood splattered all over... Those images would haunt my dreams. It had just been so damned close, closer than I like to think about.

And it was all--or almost all--my own stupid, stubborn fault. But... if Mom had gone out alone... I didn't want to think about that one, either.

If this was what war was like, I never wanted to fight another one. Actually, I didn't even want to fight this one, but I had kind of been... issued it. Along with my spirit crystal and my transformation wand.

Emni Khimno. The only two words of the ancient Crystal Weaver language that I had ever learned. I'd just never expected to have to live by them, not really.

Sumire gave me a sympathetic look. "Man, that's quite a day."

"Yeah." And then, joking, "I don't suppose you'd like to trade jobs for a while. Guarding an unconscious King sounds nice and easy by comparison."

I regretted it the moment I saw the panic flood her eyes.

"Over my dead body," she snapped, reaching for the Silence Glaive.

"Hey, I was just kidding," I protested. "Anything more on Luna, Rhea, and the succession crisis yet?"

"Not a word," my friend said, leaning back in her chair. "In fact, the silence is starting to bother me. It's as though they're waiting for him to die."

I grimaced. "They probably are."

It's macabre, I thought, staring down at King Samuel's unconscious face without really seeing it. It's almost as though they've all given up on him as already being dead. Except Sumire. Sumire still believes, but I'm not sure if it's because she honestly thinks he's going to pull through, or because she's still so very much in love with him, even though she won't admit it to herself. Damn it, what is she going to do if he wakes up?

"You know, Cass, I like the way that uniform looks on you. Much better than either your greys or your Sailor Venus outfit."

"Well, you know the Sailor Venus outfit was never really me," I said. Truth be known, I had forgotten that I was still wearing the guard uniform until she had mentioned it. With Dad so badly hurt, my clothes had been the last thing on my mind. But at least it had gotten Sumire interested in something other than her daughter or her unconscious charge. "Think the guys'll go for my new look?"

"I don't know about that, but the other girls certainly will." And as she glanced up through her eyelashes at me in a way that I hoped was only mock-coquettish, I felt the expression on my face go very strange.

"You know I don't bend that way," I said.

"True, but you're going to break a lot of hearts, I'm sure."

"Anyway," I said, "I have to go. Duties. I just came up to see how you were doing." And I just about fled the room, and the weird feeling that seemed to be building up inside it every time that Sumire looked at me.

It was just a joke.

Wasn't it?

Then why is it making me so uncomfortable?


Sumire

Why in hell did I say that?

I had the Silence Glaive across my lap, and was pretending to examine the curve of its blade for nicks that I knew couldn't be there. It was easier than looking at the bed... or at the door.

I had been flirting with Cass. I knew I had, and it was leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Even if she had looked remarkably like a handsome young guardsman, dressed like that...

No. I knew exactly why I had fixated on Cass, and it had nothing to do with how she looked. It was because she was safe. Safer than what I... Than what I...

Than what I really want, I admitted glumly, looking down at King Sa--at Sammy. But... But what I really wanted had a lot of baggage hanging off it. The succession. Rhea. And Sammy's own personality.

Cass would be so much easier. She didn't come with all those problems attached. But...

I hid my face in my hands. What am I going to do?


Mina

I'd been sitting there for long enough that my legs were starting to cramp before Jasper finally woke up.

The familiar grey-violet eyes looked sunken, but at least they were aware and alert, even though he was frighteningly pale. Alex hadn't been sure that he would be all there upon first waking up.

"Mina?" he whispered.

"Yeah." I found myself blinking back tears. It was so easy to forget that, while my husband didn't age, it was still possible for him to get killed. And if his injury had killed him, and Malachite and the others never made it back...

"Tourmaline? How is she?"

"Exhausted and shocky, but otherwise fine, or so Alex says." I had expected him to ask about Cass first, that he would be able to sense Tourmaline's condition through the Weavelink, but... "She's asleep not ten feet away from us."

"Ah. Good. I would hate to... be responsible for her being injured." He had the strangest look on his face.

"What's wrong, Jas?"

"She's in love with me. I never knew, before she let me into her mind."

"Oh," I said, in a very small voice.

He raised one shaky hand a few inches off the bed, reaching for my face, then apparently gave it up as a bad idea and lowered it again. "Don't worry, Mina. It's you that I love. For the rest of my life, and all my lives to come."

I captured his hand in one of mine and lifted it up so that he could touch my face. "I can't... I don't want to want you to feel that way. It isn't fair to you. After I'm gone, I don't want you to be alone for the rest of your life. But for the rest of my life..."

"You're such a generous soul," he whispered. "That's part of the reason that I love you so much. Now, how long did Alex say it would be before I could get out of bed?"

"Four days, minimum." And I held my breath.

"FOUR DAYS!!" His shout must have woken every sleeping being in the Negaverse. "And just who is supposed to be in charge in the meanwhile?"

"Alex seems to have it in hand," I said, nibbling at my lower lip and wondering how I was going to tell him the rest of the-- well, not bad, but not exactly good, either--news without sending him into a relapse.


Phaeton

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Well, not really, but Marcasite was the last person that I was about to admit that to. He was just so damned competent that he made me feel embarrassed.

I hadyears to learn everything that I need to know right now. Why didn't I use that time more wisely? Why?

The minutiae of running a city under siege. Logistics, planning, troop deployment (although my useful troops consisted of less than a dozen current and former Sailor Scouts), strategy, administration... It was enough to make my head spin. It was making my head spin. Mostly, I just did what everyone told me to, signed what I was given to sign, and tried not to think too much about it.

I had never expected that being the Regent of Crystal Tokyo would be so damned boring, or that I would feel so powerless.

"So what now?" I asked my... Well, nominally, he was my liaison with the Negaverse, but I'd rather come to think of him as my keeper.

"Now... I think we wait and see what happens. Since their original tactic has failed, they're almost certain to regroup and try something else, but we don't yet know what it's going to be."

"Isn't this when we're supposed to attack them?" Well, that was how it would have worked in a tridee drama, anyway.

"It would be, if we had anything left to attack with," Marcasite said sourly. "The demon has pretty much decimated us."

I bit back an irritated I know that. "In that case, I'm going for a walk in the gardens, if you don't mind."

Hopefully, he would take that as a hint to leave me alone for a little while. That was another thing I couldn't get used to-- even temporary heads of state have very little privacy, and I'd gotten so used to going my own way...

The Crescent Moon Wand might have cleansed me of whatever subtle, malign influence had been ruling my life since I was a child, but I still had a lifetime of habit to fight, and I wondered sometimes whether or not I was winning.

But at least the gardens were peaceful, and while I stayed inside the Palace grounds, I didn't have to have a guard follow me everywhere. Or put up with Marcasite's sometimes almost nursemaidlike behaviour. When we'd gone out demon hunting together, he hadn't let me out of his sight for a second. Never let me take any risks of any sort. At least the other Scouts had gotten to make contact with the enemy.

And what, I wondered, would I have done if I had been attacked? Run away screaming? Or frozen and gaped like an idiot, like I did when Mom and Dad... When Mom and Dad... Damnit, why did they have to die? Why? And I didn't even get to tell them... To tell them...

My eyes stung with tears. Before the Moon Wand's rays had touched me, I hadn't cried since I had been very young, but now I was a bundle of raw nerves whose eyes got leaky at the drop of a hat! Some prince.

I wandered around the gardens, lost in a haze of self- pity, not really looking at the empty flowerbeds and the leaves whose colours were beginning to change from green to yellow and orange and red. My parents, especially my father, with his love of flowers, had cared about this place, but I never really had. It was just somewhere to be that didn't remind me quite so much of them as the rooms inside the Palace.

Not that that seemed to be helping.

I was staring into the spray thrown up by one of the ornamental fountains when a voice behind me said, "Hey, handsome!"

I turned and looked over my shoulder, expecting to see one of the guards. I barely had time to register my sister's presence before someone knocked me on the head, and the world went black.


Sapphire

It wasn't... I couldn't believe that it was actually happening, that in a few more minutes, my brother would be alive again. That the empty place in my life was about to be filled. That, on the other side of the door in front of me, Alex and Demantoid were checking over the youma chosen to be the vessel of my brother's rebirth to make sure that she was healthy and strong enough that Diamond's recovery time would be reasonably short.

The youma was a volunteer, fortunately for Alexandrite's tender conscience. It was difficult for me to remember that the creatures were people, sometimes. After all, the Droids hadn't been, and some youma rather closely resembled the Dark Moon's servants.

As I paced the anteroom, my hand clenched around the second spirit crystal that I carried, the one that, until now, I hadn't been supposed to have. Diamond...

What would it be like, seeing him again after all these years? I... had changed, I knew that. Since he and I had parted ways, I'd become a husband and a father, and lived a lifetime under the bright sun and blue sky of Earth--well, all right, when I hadn't been living among the Negaverse's grey tunnels, so like and yet so unlike the empty grey corridors of the old Nemisian citadel.

Will he be happy here?

It surprised me to realize that I didn't know the answer. Had Diamond ever really been happy? Anywhere? Not since we were children. Young children. And even then, Wise Man and the elders were feeding him all that nonsense about the evil Earthans and the evil Negaverse and how he was the Chosen One who would go out and defeat them and take us all home where we belonged...

I smiled crookedly. Well, it'll be different here. Is different here. The only war he and I will ever fight in again is the one against the demons.

Youwill be happy here. I'll do everything within my power to make it so.

<<Sapphire? We're ready for you now.>>

<<Coming, m'Lord Regent.>> It felt very odd to be giving Alex, of all people, that title. The little Healer still didn't seem like a very commanding person to me, Jadeite's brother or no.

We are down to the dregs, I reminded myself as I pushed the door open. A horrible thing to realize about Malachite's proud kingdom, but true nonetheless.

The room that I entered was furnished with three chairs and a narrow infirmary cot on which a youma lay, unconscious. Alex and Demantoid stood to either side of the bed. The green- haired Crystal Weaver would be the one performing the actual revival, since my knowledge of how to do it was only theoretical and now was not the time to start experimenting. I'd known that all along, but I still had to force myself to hand my brother's spirit crystal over to him. Without it, without Diamond's soul touching my own, I felt oddly empty.

<<He has a strong spirit,>> Demantoid observed as he accepted my precious burden. <<This should be easy.>>

He knelt down beside the bed and placed the glimmering white crystal on the youma's chest, and, for several minutes, nothing happened. Then a light peeped out from between his fingers--not bright, but steady and a very pure white. The youma twitched, and its flesh rippled in the most peculiar way as its skin began to fade from its intense cobalt blue to the colour of human skin that hadn't been exposed to Earth's sunlight more than once or twice in the owner's life. Nemisian skin. Diamond's skin.

We all watched as the transformation continued. The youma had been naked and the blankets had been pulled back, so we could see every detail. Alex had insisted on that, over my protests. He had said that it was more important to make sure that nothing went wrong than it was to preserve my brother's modesty. And he was right, but I still found myself blushing as the body on the bed finally stabilized in Diamond's form.

There is no truth to the rumours about Diamond and I that I know were circulated around the Nemisian court. No truth at all. But seeing him lying there naked was bringing a few embarrassing memories to the fore, like the time I'd interrupted him after he'd retired to his chambers with one of the younger female cousins. Hey, I'd only been about two years old! And we'd laughed about it together, years later, when it had stopped being important.

I'd heard his laugh, the genuinely good-humoured one, so seldom even back then...

<<You can cover him over now,>> Alex told me. <<It looks like he's going to be all right. I take it that you're going to want to sit with him until he wakes up.>>

I nodded, not quite sure of my physical voice and not willing to touch his mind in case some of my bizarre mood might spill over.

Tenderly, I reached down and pulled the blankets that dangled from the foot of the bed up and over my brother's unconscious body, then sat down in the chair beside him. First Sailor Saturn and King Samuel, then Mina and Jasper, and now me and Diamond. There are too many people keeping vigils by bedsides today. But I couldn't just leave.

Diamond was going to need me when he woke up, and I was going to be here for him. I wasn't going to fail him again.


David

I watched her without moving, my eyes barely open, as she crossed the empty throne room with her burden in her arms.

She did glance at me once, sniff, and say, "Stupid slave," but apparently I had managed to convince her that I really was unconscious, because she ignored me thereafter. Grossularite wouldn't have, but Princess Serenity's... passion... didn't seem to be inflicting pain just for pain's sake. In fact, I had never quite been sure what her passion was, until I saw her with her brother.

The gentle way she smoothed his hair back, the way she loosened his shirt collar... it didn't look sisterly to me. Not one bit. But she can't be quite that crazy. I don't think.

Oh, why am I thinking about that at a time like this? She's kidnapped the Prince of Crystal Tokyo. That means that someone will be coming here looking for him soon. It's my chance for escape, but...

Let it not be him. Please. Let him stay at home, and stay safe. If he doesn't... Oh, dear gods... I don't think I would ever forgive myself. Dying for love is one thing, but dying for me... No. I won't let it happen. No.

Not that I thought that was an oath that I would be given any opportunity to keep.

Goto Chapter 43


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