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

Chapter 45

© 2006 by E. Liddell


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Sapphire

I don't know what it was that first alerted me to the fact he was coming to. A change in his breathing patterns, perhaps.

<<Diamond? Brother?>> I touched his mind cautiously, not quite sure what his reaction was going to be.

His eyes flew open. <<Sapphire?! But you're dead too! Your body fell apart in my arms!>>

<<I was dead,>> I corrected gently. <<I'm very much alive now, and have been for more than thirty years.>> I self-consciously adjusted my blue-trimmed grey collar and smiled at him, or tried to. <<Malachite and the others brought me back.>>

<<Thirty years! Then why has it taken so long for you-->> And then he broke the question off. I could see how disturbed he was, and didn't even want to consider what he might be thinking. So instead, I closed my eyes.

<<Neo-Queen Serenity requested that you not be revived during her lifetime,>> I stated, which was actually true, as far as it went. <<In the interests of not making relations between Crystal Tokyo and the Negaverse more strained than they already are, King Malachite decided to comply with her request. I did the best I could, but how was I supposed to argue with a man who's more powerful even than you? So instead, I waited.>> And waited, and waited...

<<I think the hardest part was watching our attack happen all over again, from the point of view of the defenders this time, and not being able to do anything to change the outcomes of our actions or even spare you a little pain. You have no idea how much I've missed you.>>

<<I've missed you, too.>>

All the stiffness, the wariness went out of me when he told me that, and I slumped in my chair, suddenly very tired.

<<Sapphire? Are you all right?>>

<<Sorry. It's been a difficult few days.>> I forced myself to sit up straight again, to gather my thoughts. <<We didn't just choose today to wake you up at random. We have problems, and we need your help.>>

<<We?>> Softly, gently--and so very dangerously--asked. <<When did the Negaverse become we to you, Sapphire?>>

<<When they took me in and showed me that I didn't have to give up any of the things that I loved, the things that I needed, in order to get the others. The Earth, Prisma, our children, my magic... in time, even you. I have a place here. For decades, I've lived here, fought alongside them against the same enemies... learned to love this place, even, for all that it's almost as ugly as Nemesis, and, in some ways, twice as brutal. This is my home now, Diamond.>>

I hadn't known that I was so passionate about this place. I was so caught up in my own speechmaking that I didn't realize until I was done that my brother's face had gone hard and cold and suspicious again. This is wrong. This is all wrong. We've always worked together, like the two jaws of a steel trap... why can't we just fall back into those old patterns?

<<Sapphire... >> And there he stopped, letting an uncomfortable silence grow between us that I couldn't bring myself to break.

I hunched down in my chair, feeling increasingly sick. I've never argued with him before, not really. Never challenged him. But the person that I've become... the person that I've become is capable of doing that. I still love him. Very much. But my world doesn't revolve around him anymore, and I don't think either of us knows how to deal with that.

The humans do say that you should be careful what you wish for...


Diamond

I couldn't help staring at him. Was this really Sapphire? My gentle, scientifically-minded, always-supportive brother? If I hadn't recognized his mental signature, I might have doubted my sanity.

Or was this just another dream after all? I hadn't thought that the dead could dream, but that blurry memory of Malachite and Lapis in a strange grey room with a pillar of light at the center couldn't be anything else, could it?

No, this was too strange for a dream. Sapphire wearing the uniform of a Negaverse General, telling me that I'd been dead for such a very long time... and I'd never felt quite so rotten in a dream. I was shaky and exhausted, despite the fact that I knew that I'd just woken up.

"I'll send one of the youma to get you something to eat," Sapphire said at last, aloud, breaking the silence that had already stretched between us for far too long. "Alex says that will help you get your strength back, and we need you on your feet as soon as possible."

"Alex?" My voice was raspy, and I had to force the sounds out of a dry throat, but I didn't want to use mindspeech again quite yet. Not with this stranger who was also my beloved younger brother.

"General Alexandrite. He's a healer, and one of the most senior Generals left at the moment."

Someone that I had never heard of before was one of the more senior people left here?

"What happened?" I croaked.

Unexpectedly, his gloved fingers just barely brushed the back of my left hand. "I'll explain in a bit. Just let me send that youma down to the kitchens first..."

I nodded, and he rose from his seat at my bedside. I watched as he strode to the door, opened it, and spoke to someone who was evidently waiting outside. Not that there was much of anything else to look at in this tiny room anyway. Bare walls, bare floor, three chairs made of some pale woody stuff, and the narrow bed on which I lay. I don't think much of the decor. Or the ambiance.

Realizing that I was still lying flat on my back in bed-- hardly the most dignified position--I forced myself to sit up, even though the effort made me shake. Something swung against my chest, and looked down, gathering it into one hand. My spirit crystal, set in gold and strung on a thin chain. I cupped it in my hand for a moment. It was reassuringly warm and bright.

Someone stuffed a thin, firm pillow between my shoulders and the head of the bed, and I leaned back a bit, trying to let it take some of my weight without letting myself look weak. Glancing up, I met Sapphire's concerned eyes.

"You really should be saving your strength, but I know better than to argue with you," he said. "Anyway, your strength should return quickly--mine did."

"Mmph," I said quellingly. "Sapphire, why am I alive? You said there was a reason." I was beginning to get curious. The decision to revive me could hardly be a popular one here, even now, decades after the end of the war. And... Neo-Queen Serenity dead? Where were King Malachite and all the senior Negaverse Generals? Now that my mind was beginning to work again, I was becoming more and more certain that I had awoken into the middle of a crisis. "You need me, don't you? The Negaverse, I mean."

"You or someone like you," my brother agreed.

I waited patiently for him to come to the point.

The story came out in confused fragments. Sapphire has never been much of a storyteller, and he was still looking a little shocked and queasy. He'd lost the eloquence he had so briefly possessed when he'd been talking about the Negaverse. And it's quite possible that what I did when he finally stuttered to a halt was the worst thing I could have come up with.

I laughed. I couldn't help it. The situation was so completely ironic.

<<I'm sorry,>> I told him, still laughing. <<It's just that... well... if you'd told me before the war that someday I would be offered the Regency of the Negaverse, I probably wouldn't have bothered attacking Earth no matter what Wise Man said.>>

A rueful smile graced Sapphire's lips for a moment. <<But if you hadn't, chances are that we wouldn't be here, like this, right now. There are some things you just can't second- guess.>>

Suddenly, I realized what it was about him that had changed the most. On Nemesis, there had always been this wasteland of utter despair hidden somewhere deep inside him. You could see it in his eyes, feel it in his mind. But now... He still carried a gentle melancholy with him, but the black hole at the center was gone, replaced with something else. Something solid. As though he had finally, for the first time in his life, developed some sense of self-worth.

I wanted to be happy for him, but I was more than a little... jealous? Jealous? Did I really envy him his happiness so much?

But...

Sapphire had Prisma and their children. (How many? Do I have nieces, or nephews, or some of each?) What did I have, in this new strange world into which I'd just awoken, other than a brother who really didn't need me half as much as he thought he did?

Serenity.

But she was dead.

My people.

But they were dead too, weren't they?

"Sapphire? I know you found out what happened to the crystals from the Repository of Souls." I touched the glittering ornament that dangled against my chest. "Rubius and Emerald and the others... are they... ?"

"Awaiting rebirth," Sapphire said. "And I think it would be better to leave them that way for now."

I rubbed the bridge of my nose, realizing that raising my arm was no longer quite so much of an effort as it had been when I first woke. At least they're still there. I wouldn't have put it past Malachite to have destroyed the spirit crystals of his worst enemies, and while I would have understood if Sapphire had petitioned him to save mine, my brother certainly wouldn't have put forth the same level of effort for Emerald or Rubius.

"Not his worst enemies," Sapphire corrected. Until he said that, I didn't even realize that I had spoken aloud. "None of us should ever have been enemies. We're one race, one people who should never have been divided in the first place, except that we didn't know. Our real enemies are the demons. That's the war we were born to fight."

The war we were born to fight... Was that why pulping Wise Man gave me that strange, savage satisfaction? Is this what we were meant to do--whatI was meant to do? But... One people...

"I won't bow down to Malachite," I said.

"You can discuss that with him if--when--he gets back," Sapphire replied. "In the meanwhile, you need to regain your strength. We're going to need you very soon."

I nodded grimly.

Even if this isn't my war, I need to fight in it. Otherwise, none of us may survive.


Tourmaline

I wasn't alone when I woke up.

Well, all right, physically there was no one closer to me than the other side of the curtain around my bed. But mentally... I moaned and twisted, trying to wall off my mind again, but I just didn't have the strength. Jasper had drained me to the dregs in order to make that last attack.

<<Go away! All of you, just go away and leave me alone!>>

<<Tourmaline, please.>> Cuprite's voice, Cuprite's mind...

<<Don't shut us out again.>> Pyrope.

<<We need you.>> Aventurine, uncharacteristically pleading.

<<And anyway, I won't let you,>> Jasper finished. <<Stop being so afraid! We aren't going to hurt you. We couldn't, because, if we did, we'd be hurting ourselves. We need to be a whole, a Weave, for once.>>

<<Get out!>> But all I could do was scream at them and cry into my pillow.

For a while--maybe as much as a few minutes--there was blessed silence. Then someone pushed back my privacy curtain and came over to sit on the edge of my bed. I didn't bother to look up. I didn't care who it was. I just wanted this visitor to go away, too.

"Are you all right?"

But I hadn't been expecting that voice. I hadn't been expecting her.

"No," I said sullenly.

Mina Aino-Tsumeta sighed. "I'm sorry. I wish there were something I could do to help."

Under other circumstances, I might have laughed. Help? You?

I felt a small, warm, human hand come to rest on my shoulder. "Look, you did save my life. I think I owe you something. Even if you are in love with my husband."

"He told you, didn't he? Son of a bitch." I dug my fingers into my pillow, clawing at it until I felt it start to tear.

"Jasper and I don't have many secrets from each other-- well, except for state secrets, but we're kind of stuck with those. You were married... before, weren't you? Surely you remember what it's like."

Wulf... The pain lanced through me like a knife.

"I try not to think about him too much," I said. "It's like I can't remember him without also remembering that he isn't here, and never will be again. And anyway, we were never as close as you and Jasper obviously are. We were really just good friends, not passionately in love." Wulf and I had been more like brother and sister than lovers or spouses, even though we had shared a bed for close to fifty years. What I had felt for him was nothing like what I felt for Jasper.

But she was right, in a way. We had shared so much...

"Jasper and I thought that that was all we were, too, once upon a time. Did you ever have any children?" Mina sounded genuinely curious.

"No. We didn't consider it wise. Wulf had a serious power deformity. He could barely pass for human, even fully clothed, and the Enclaves used to believe that that sort of thing ran in families. And you must know how important being inconspicuous was to us." I had almost forgotten, or allowed myself to forget, the old draconian measures that we had taken in order to make sure that no one ever found out that we weren't quite... normal. Not just hiding our magic, but killing our children, or mutilating them painfully in order to hide what they were. Jasper... they would have cut off his wings.

And I thought living in the Negaverse was bad. Suddenly, I was glad that my face was hidden by my pillow. How could I have forgotten those things? Was living free under the sunlight really worth that?

"Maybe you and Jasper will someday."

"What?" I mumbled.

"Have children."

I sat straight up in bed and stared at the blue-eyed human woman beside me. "But he's your husband."

"For another forty years, maybe. I'm human, remember? Not a Crystal Weaver like you. Even Alex's healing abilities aren't going to be able to keep me going indefinitely. And when I do die..." Her hand groped for mine, and caught it. Squeezed it, in the instant before I pulled away. "I don't want him to be left alone, Tourmaline. Will you look after him for me?"

All I could manage to do was sit there with my mouth hanging open. "You've got to be kidding me."

"No. I wish I were, but... no. I mean every word of it. It'll be easier on me, when the time comes, to know that I'm leaving him in the hands of someone who cares."

"Stop thinking about death!"

I don't know who was more surprised at my outburst, her or me. But I had to go on. Trying to do otherwise would have been like trying to hold back a volcano intent on erupting.

"Stop thinking about death," I repeated, more softly but no less intensely. "Do you have any idea how many people have died around me already? Not just my husband, but my entire Enclave. I... don't think I can bear to watch you planning for it, too. And anyway, we may all be dead in a few days, killed by Mena Kimlubeniz. If we let ourselves think about death and defeat, we're going to lose... everything. Oh, damnit, that doesn't make any sense! Even I'm not quite sure what I mean. But believe that you'll be there beside Jasper in a hundred years' time. Even if it takes a miracle."

I reached out and took her hand, realizing as I did so that this was the first time since I'd awoken in this terrible future that I had voluntarily touched anyone that way, skin to skin. The respect and deference normally accorded the Generals, the pseudomilitary protocol of the Negaverse, the confining grey uniforms with their gloves... all of them seemed to be designed to make it easy not to touch. Not to get to close. But I had torn down my defenses once already, and here I was doing it again. And I had never felt more confused in my life.

I hadn't thought that I wanted Jasper to be happy more than I wanted him, and yet here I was, effectively giving him up to another woman.

I hadn't thought that I would like this woman whom I'd tried to convince myself was an enemy, or care that she seemed depressed, and yet here I was, trying to reassure her.

I hadn't thought that I could find friends in this terrible, grey place, even though I'd pretty much known that I was the one who had been pushing others away all along, and yet...

<<... Here you are,>> completed Jasper's voice inside my head, and oddly, his presence in my mind didn't seem intrusive. <<Welcome home, Tourmaline. Even if it isn't everything you might have wanted it to be.>>

"Home," I whispered out loud, and then began to cry-- not tears of anger or frustration, but the healing tears that I had needed to shed for so long.

I felt Mina wrap her arms around me, pulling me against her, and then the bed shook under a third person's weight, and grey-violet wings were spread around both of us, shutting the world out.

"Home," I said again, softly, wondering, and sighed, feeling the warmth of two other bodies on either side of mine.


Mina

Jasper didn't say anything as we cradled her between us. He didn't need to. I knew he had heard everything.

--Believe that you'll be there beside Jasper in a hundred years' time. Even if it takes a miracle.

And, oh, I wanted to believe...

But how could I?


Phaeton

Drip.

It wasn't a very loud noise, but it echoed through the empty room. That had been going on since I had first woken up here, and it was enough to drive me insane.

Drip.

I didn't know where the water was coming from, or what it was landing on, and I couldn't get up to check. Whoever had left me here, lying on this bare, dusty mattress, had tied my hands behind my back, and then roped my ankles together for good measure.

Drip.

I hope someone comes to check on me soon. The dust was making my nose itch, and my bladder was beginning to get uncomfortably full. And I was thirsty, and my head ached.

Drip.

A Crystal Weaver would have been able to untie himself by using magic, I suppose. If I'd been better trained, I might even have been able to untie myself by using magic. Unfortunately, I only knew how to do one or two things with my minimal abilities, like power-jumping and conjuring roses. Applying magic to an unfamiliar task took a lot of concentration, and I found all the minor discomforts I was experiencing too distracting to manage that.

Dri--

"Ah, you're awake. Very good, little brother."

"Rini..." At least she hadn't gagged me. I wasn't sure whether to be thankful for that or not. "What in hell do you think you're doing? Why did you bring me here?"

"That should be obvious even to an idiot like you, Phaeton." Finally, she entered my field of vision and became more than a disembodied voice. The pink and black dress she was wearing didn't suit her at all, and the blackened brooch... Does that mean that there will never be another Sailor Moon again? I don't think that any of us even considered that. What does it mean for the future of the Scouts? "You're bait, dear brother. As the only surviving heir to Crystal Tokyo, you have a lot of value to the other side. Someone is sure to come here looking for you, and when they do, we'll be waiting. And once we've dealt with your would-be rescuers, our enemies will be that much weaker."

I sneered at her. "Is that the best plan you can come up with? Picking people off one by one, while you hide in the shadows? Are you too scared to stand and fight?"

She laughed. It was one of the most horrible sounds I had ever heard.

"Oh, nice try, little brother, but I'm not stupid enough to let you pull that on me. 'Stand and fight' indeed. Are we supposed to win the war by taking the Sportsmanlike Behaviour prize? You know as well as I do that it doesn't work that way."

I shrugged as best I could while bound hand and foot. Drat. It always works in the tridees.

Her hand snuck up to stroke my cheek. It was a really strange gesture, coming from her. Even when she hadn't been possessed, my sister and I hadn't exactly been the best of friends. "But I can't stay to chat. Is there anything you need, before I go?"

I didn't like the look on her face, but covered for my discomfort by saying, "Some water. A little freedom of movement. And a trip to the washroom."

"I'm afraid that I can't untie you quite yet, but I'll send a couple of the Droids that we've reactivated to help you with all that. In the meanwhile, I think I'll kiss you good night." And she leaned forward.

"Rini, what in heck do you think you're doing?! Mmph!" That last was really meant to be "Help!", but her mouth closed over mine at that point and muffled my voice.

It wasn't a sisterly kiss at all. She kept on trying to get her tongue between my lips, while I gritted my teeth and kept my mouth shut. I don't believe this! My own sister... I think I'm going to throw up.

"Well," she said at length, finally coming up for air. "Maybe you'll be a little more cooperative later. I really do hope so. You're even cuter than Dad was at your age."

"You're sick!" I was shaking and shocky and my mouth tasted of bile. I knew that she was a bit weird about Dad, but I never expectedthis... Oh gods, oh gods, if someone doesn't get me out of here soon, she's probably going to try to rape me. Not that I could figure out how a woman could rape a man--I'd had a lot of lovers, but they'd all been pretty submissive. Still, if there was a way, I got the impression that my sister would find it.

I can't let her do that to me. It would kill me! Oh gods...

I waited until she had vanished from the room before I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on the knots in the ropes that trapped me here. I wasn't anticipating much success, but I had to try something.

It was either that, or give myself up to a sickening fate.


King Samuel

I couldn't straighten up anymore. The pain in my back forced me to bend forward. I didn't have more than minutes left before the skin would burst, and let... something... out.

Minutes? Or were they hours, or days, or mere seconds? Who can say how an individual's subjective time correlates with the objective time of clocks with which human society is so obsessed? All I knew was that it felt like I had been here for a damned long time.

I still had the knife that she had given me. Phoebe. My not-exactly-ancestress, or her shadow. The edge sparkled as I turned it in my hands, knowing what I had to do but still unable to make the first cut.

Will it really be so bad?

I tried to make myself believe that it wouldn't be, but I had seen Serena being eaten away from the inside by the Ward for so long that the attempt lacked conviction. When I had first seen her again, after she'd taken it up, at the beginning of the Crystal Millennium, it... well, it hadn't been her. Not the goofy, clumsy big sister that I had known all my life. She'd become Neo- Queen Serenity, poised and gracious and... empty. And I had almost rather become a human vegetable than be changed that much, against my will.

However, the key word there was almost.

I could feel the first slight release of pressure, the first drops of fluid trickling down, as my skin began to split.

It's now or never.

Clumsily, I twisted, trying to reach my back with the knife blade, wondering if I had left it too late. My head was full of a strange, hollow ringing, a sensation like nothing I had ever felt before, as I gashed myself at mid-back, too low down and not far enough to either side to do much good. Gritting my teeth, I kept the edge against my skin as I moved it around, willing to bleed if that was what it took.

There.

The overstressed skin on the left didn't need much encouragement to split apart and release its contents. And suddenly, there was just something there, attached to my back, that hadn't been there before. Part of me, not foreign. I moved the knife rightwards, and there were two of them.

Wings, I realized, glancing to either side. Delicate things, made of gossamer and light. And the ringing in my head was gone.

But Phoebe had promised me escape, and I was still trapped in here. Or was I? The ceiling seemed so very much higher, all of a sudden...

And then I laughed, understanding, and beat my new wings. They lifted me up, through a roof that was no longer there, so high that I could no longer see the tunnel maze. Below me was desolation, a sea studded with ice floes, but my wings were radiating light and heat, and the ice was beginning to thaw...

Higher. The air should have been too thin for me to breathe, but I felt no discomfort, just a rising euphoria. I couldn't see the ocean of ice anymore, just a sea of stars... then searing light. The sun? But it was too red, and why couldn't I feel my wings, all of a sudden?

I'm... lying on my back with my eyes closed? And my body felt like lead, and there was something else wrong...

I forced my eyes open. Light, very bright light, that resolved itself gradually into the ceiling of a well-lit room. I'm... back in the real world?

<<Yes.>> Phoebe's voice, but I paid no attention to that. Somehow, it didn't seem to matter much anymore if there were a few other people's memories inside my head.

And speaking of heads... I turned mine, and discovered someone sitting in a chair beside my bed.

"Sumire?"

She froze in her seat, nearly dropping the Silence Glaive.

"Sammy? Oh, thank the gods you're awake!"

"Has much happened?"

She laughed, an odd, shaky sound. "Well, you could say that..."

To Be Continued


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